Product review: Yamaha RXV381 AV receiver

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When a particular team or individual dominates a sport for successive years, it’s easy to assume that they’ve got all the money, resources and luck of the gods behind them. Thus allowing them to leisurely jog along ahead of the competition who are busting blood vessels just to keep up.

It’s also easy to assume that for some reason they have an unfair advantage or that they somehow unfairly tipped the balance in their favour behind closed doors. The reality though is that they’ve ticked all the right boxes by making the right decisions at the right time. Now, replace the word “team” with “manufacturer” and the word “sport” with “product”, and you usually get exactly the same situations in the AV world. Yamaha have been a fantastic example of this by winning the What Hi-Fi Award for “Best Budget AV Receiver” for the last few years. In 2015 it was the RXV379, in 2014 the RXV377, in 2013 it was the RXV375, in 2012 it was….well, you get the idea. Now in 2016, it’s the turn of the RXV381 to take on the rivals nipping at their heels.

From the outside, not much has appeared to change on Yamaha’s entry level AV receiver from last year. There’s still all the usual buttons on the familiar front panel that we have seen for the last few years and its smaller size chassis is still being used making it easier for you to accommodate it into your cabinet or rack system. Taking a peak at the rear doesn’t yield any immediate surprises either as the connections used for last year’s RXV379 are all there too – 4 HDMI inputs and an ARC (Audio Return Channel) enabled output, optical and coaxial digital audio inputs as well as a few RCA analogue connections for older sources. Only once you delve into the spec sheet do the improvements become apparent – the 4 HDMI inputs are now ALL capable of accepting 4K HDCP 2.2 signals (and at 60 frames per second too). This isn’t just a lip service though, as they also all support HDR (high dynamic range) and BT 2020 colour gamut specification as well, two considerations that are sometimes forgotten about when considering equipment compatible with Ultra HD.

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Yamaha have stuck with their discreet amplification using PLL circuitry for low jitter (preventing irregularity of the digital signal) and also Burr-Brown DACs ensuring that whether it’s music or cinema you get a detailed sound. All the soundtrack decoding you’ll need are here bar object-based soundtracks like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and of course, the excellent DSP modes that we’ve come to know and love are present too. Along with Yamaha’s SCENE facility (allowing you to select an input, power on your devices and make sure that your receiver comes on with the right sound mode) it seems as though Yamaha know what the public want and are delivering accordingly.

Now, because this receiver was received at the Richer Sounds Bristol store only 10 days or so after the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players were released, it seemed fitting to give the RXV381 its first outing with a spin of The Martian. The picture is particularly mesmerising as is to be expected but after forcing ourselves to focus on the soundtrack, it’s immediately apparent that the RXV381 hasn’t lost anything in sound quality from its previous versions. The film’s opening scene of astronauts navigating on foot through a dust storm feels precise and thrilling as you hear the wind rushing past you from the comfort of your own sofa. The explosion of the launch rockets as they abandon the planet feels meaty too especially with Yamaha’s “Extra Bass” function and you’d be forgiven for assuming that there’s more power under the RXV381’s shell than the 70 watts quoted per channel. Switching to some music with a live performance from Stevie Wonder and it’s clear that Yamaha haven’t forgotten their roots either as the atmosphere of the concert grabs you and gets your feet tapping along. As with most Yamaha’s though, the amp really comes into its own when you start to explore the various DSP modes in order to eke out every ounce of sound quality that you can.

Now that most people have some form of streaming option available to them, Yamaha haven’t felt the need to over-spec the RXV381 and so have included a USB connection on the front panel for stored music and also Bluetooth for streaming content via a portable device. Their Compressed Music Enhancer sees to it that your digital music isn’t jangly and brittle by delivering a surprising smoothness and richness despite the potential of lower quality files jarring against your ears.

On top of all the positives of its performance, Yamaha have also made sure that usability is top notch too with the YPAO speaker setup mic measuring your room and setting the speaker levels appropriately as well as offering an app to assist you in connecting and navigating through the menu system. So, all in all it’s another successful product from Yamaha’s AV receiver department. Time will tell as to whether it’s the one to beat this year but all signals are that Yamaha mean to continue forward with the momentum that they’ve built up over the years and this can only be a good thing for those looking for a quality amp that doesn’t break the bank and doesn’t overcomplicate things.

Why not pop in-store for a coffee, and we can help you find what you are looking for!

To find out more about the Yamaha RXV381, click here.

Author – Steve, Bristol store