Yamaha’s Aventage range of AV amplifiers has thrilled us in recent years with their powerful and immersive surround sound.
The brand new Yamaha RX-A1040 fits into this brawny, muscular mould, but the £1000 seven-channel amplifier isn’t quite the resounding success we’ve come to expect from Yamaha.
Yamaha plays to its strengths: the RX-A1040 is powerful, punchy and energetic. Play Captain America: The Winter Soldier on Blu-ray, and the RX-A1040 relishes the chance to flex its muscles. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack sounds solid and weighty, with special effects whizzing across the room with a great deal of gusto.
Explosions are big, loud and pack quite a meaty punch, while gunshots are taut and piercing. It’s not lacking in detail either, with the zing and clank of metallic objects having plenty of bite. Voices are clear and direct, and the sparkly dialogue doesn’t get lost amid frantic action scenes.
Switch to a music Blu-ray, and Beyonce’s vocals are smooth in her I Am Yours live performance, while rhythmically it’s snappy and enthusiastic enough to keep us hooked. It might not have the outright finesse and precise cohesion needed for music, but the Yamaha does make it exciting.
What surprises us is just how aggressive the RX-A1040 sounds. Crashes and bangs are delivered with more force than expected – there’s a slightly hard edge that makes us wince when the action gets explosive.
The piercing top end has a spiky edge, too. While we’ve always enjoyed the brawny character of Yamaha receivers, there’s always been a great deal of subtlety, a grand sense of scale, and stunningly precise surround steering to go with all that power.
It’s disappointing, then, that the RX-A1040 isn’t quite as immersive, or as open as we hoped. Special effects jump out at you from all directions, but we can’t feel the movement of objects as they travel across the soundfield.
Likewise, there’s no sense of wide, expansive openness as the scene moves from a crowded street up to the roof of a skyscraper – it doesn’t have the subtlety to reflect the change in scale.
Compare it with the Pioneer SC-LX58 (one of the RX-A1040’s direct rivals in this price range), and you will immediately hear how the Yamaha is missing that last ounce of insight that would allow for a more rounded and expressive performance.
The Pioneer amplifier is admittedly more expensive at £1400, but its performance is just that much more refined, engaging and flat-out thrilling.
Build and design
The RX-A1040 unit itself is a solid, sturdy chassis, and the finish (available in either black or titanium) is impeccable. The aluminium fascia is neat and sleek, with control buttons and various inputs hidden away under a panel. The display is crisp and easy to read from a distance.
The auto-calibration system is crucial for setting up the RX-A1040 and optimising its sound according to your speaker package and room acoustics.
It’s quick and fairly accurate, although we’d encourage you to dive into the manual settings and check the speaker settings to make sure they’re correct. If you have a sound level meter at hand to fine-tune the levels, then even better.
The menus are informative and easy to navigate with the included remote. It’s responsive and best for changing input, volume and trying out Yamaha’s various sound programs, although anyone wanting to use their tablet or smartphone for controls can download Yamaha’s AV Controller app.
Free for iOS and Android devices, it’s a nicely designed interface, with colour icons and graphics to guide your way through all of the RX-A1040’s features. It makes streaming from various devices and services much slicker too, although using the physical remote for adjusting volume seems more natural.
The RX-A1040, as expected, is kitted out with an exhaustive list of features. There are a generous eight HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs, all of which conform to the latest HDMI 2.0 specification to support 4K Ultra HD upscaling as well as 3D films.
Don’t worry if you haven’t upgraded your AV system to include HDMI yet, as Yamaha offers a full complement of analogue sockets, including five composite and three component inputs. An MHL input lets you play HD content from Android devices, while Apple users can play music using the front panel USB port (it will charge the device too).
You can also play hi-resolution files (24-bit/192kHz) stored on a USB stick or flash drive. No amplifier is complete without streaming features, and the inclusion of Spotify Connect, Napster and vTuner internet radio ensures you will have hours of new music to discover. DLNA-certification means you can play music libraries stored on a laptop or NAS box over your home network – while iOS users can stream their tunes wirelessly using AirPlay.
We’d always recommend a dedicated stereo amp if you’re playing music, but the Yamaha’s warm, solid sound is well suited to streaming songs (especially of lower quality) from a smartphone or laptop.
If you want the convenience of Bluetooth, however, you will have to plug in a separate YBA-11 receiver (which costs around £50). You can connect to your home network using the built-in wi-fi or wired ethernet – both proved stable – while there’s another way to connect to your network: simply plug your Apple device into the USB port and transfer its wi-fi settings to the Yamaha amplifier.
It’s neat and fast, and means you don’t have to faff about with the set-up menu.
The RX-A1040 is great in every other respect – features, design, use – so it’s annoying that the one thing it is supposed to excel in, surround sound, is what holds it back from five stars.
There’s no need for that jarring, aggressive tone, and we miss the gleefully grand scale that’s usually apparent in Yamaha receivers regardless of their price or position in the Aventage range. However, we don’t want to end on a downbeat note, as the amount of power, punch and boundless energy behind the RX-A1040’s sound is commendable.
But it’s not the class-leading performance you’d expect at this price. It might be a more affordable option than its main rival, the Pioneer SC-LX58, but we’d probably kick ourselves for not handing over the extra cash for the SC-LX58, for it offers a more thrilling and satisfying cinematic performance.
Give the Yamaha RX-A1040 an audition, though. Its beefiness of sound and numerous features means it’s still a good, if not great, AV receiver.