Designing a new A/V receiver must feel a bit like trying to hit the ducks at a carnival shooting gallery as they zip across your line of fire. In both cases, timing is everything. Aim right at the bull's-eye, and by the time your shot gets there, the target will have passed. Aim too far ahead, and you'll find that your ducks aren't quite in a row yet.
In other words, the features that your customers expect to see on a well-equipped receiver seem to change on a monthly basis. But if you jump in too soon, your product can be marred by functions that are underdeveloped and buggy.
We see this happening more and more today as companies rush to get their models to market before the other guy steals their thunder. The real kicker has been the ongoing development of the HDMI connection, which I actually heard someone (who shall remain nameless) refer to as "an evolving standard" - an oxymoron if ever there was one. Hopefully, version 1.3a will be with us for a while, although history suggests otherwise.
At any rate, going for a well-timed shot at a busy price point, Yamaha has fired off the RX-V1800 - which, at about a third of the cost of a do-everything flagship receiver, lands at a key sweet spot in the balance between price and performance. At this level, you still get most of the features found on the big boys, including video transcoding and upscaling to HDMI, high-def surround-sound decoding, and options for an iPod dock and XM satellite radio. In return, you give up a little amplifier power and some of the more obscure functions that most of us would never use anyway.
Few things separate what's new and fresh in A/V receivers from yesterday's news more easily than the connections you find when you turn the unit around and look at the back panel. In this case, you get four of the latest HDMI 1.3a inputs (yes, I know there's a 1.3b, but it has no functional relevance) plus three analog component-video inputs, eight digital audio inputs, and a bevy of both composite A/V (with S-video) and analog audio inputs, including a moving-magnet phono stage. All of the high-def video and digital audio inputs can be assigned and renamed as needed. You also get a 5.1-channel audio input (expandable to 7.1) and a 7.1-channel preamp output. All 7 amplifier channels are rated at 130 watts, and there are separate assignable speaker outputs to support two additional zones and, typically for Yamaha, a pair of front-mounted presence speakers that utilize the company's proprietary DSP room re-creation modes. If you use a standard 5.1 speaker rig, the two remaining amplifier channels can be fed the front left- and right-channel signals to allow for biamping.
As delivered, the amp is set for a minimum 8-ohm speaker-impedance rating, but many high-quality speakers (including mine) dip somewhat lower than this. So my first step was to go into the advanced setup menu and change it to the 4-to-6-ohm setting.
Calibrating the RX-V1800 automatically with its supplied microphone and YPAO setup program couldn't be easier. Just plugging in the mike sets the onscreen display to the correct menu page - and yes, the receiver's menus work over HDMI, too, so no need for a separate run to your monitor or to switch TV inputs. After putting the mike in the listening position, I pushed start, then stood back as the receiver sent a series of noises and swoops to each speaker, checking for wiring polarity, bass extension, distance, and level. It also measures each speaker's frequency response and makes corrections using a 7-band parametric equalizer.
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