Don't you just love the feeling you get when you arrive home and there's a letter or package waiting for you, especially when you know it's something nice? No? Oh, guess it's just me being easily pleased then. Naturally, a man with such a low entertainment threshold would be positively quivering like a jelly upon returning home to find his Yamaha RV-X596 Dolby Digital A/V amp had arrived from good old Upgrade Heaven, (for the then bargain price of £280). At last, a chance to replace his trusty Yamaha 495 Prologic amp with something special. The chance to find out if this Dolby Digital malarkey is all it’s cracked up to be. So, lets open the box and see what we have. Hmm, strange looking remote. Ahh, a nice, thick, hefty manual. That’ll make good bedtime reading. And of course, a large black slab of electronic trickery. Taking it out the box and having a look at the front panel, it’s pretty much business as usual for Yamaha. A fairly quiet fascia containing a large and well weighted volume knob (which unfortunately doesn’t have an indicator light), a smaller but equally solid input selector knob a clear amber lit display and discrete but completely usable set of buttons for DSP and tuner settings. There’s also knobs for bass, treble and balance, and buttons to select between 2 sets of speakers. The remote is a very handy little device which features a rotary dial towards the top. By turning this to the relevant setting it can be used to control a variety of devices, such as TV, VCR, CD, DVD, (unfortunately not my Wharfie, but that’s not Yamaha’s fault in this case) and Cable/satellite box (eg Sky Digibox). Quite useful. The only downside is you have to keep turning the dial for whatever you want to control and if you forget what mod it's in, it becomes awkward in a darkened room, (although certain functions never change, i.e. TV and amplifier volumes, Power). <
br> OK, what connections do we have? Nice solid binding posts for 2 sets of main speakers (currently my trusty pair of Mission 701’s). Damn, they’re still using spring terminals to connect the Mordaunt-Short rears and Eltax HT-2 centre. There’s a nice LFE channel phono output to plug my Paradigm PDR10 into. A pair out phono outputs for the main channels should you wish to connect a separate amp (more on which later). 9 pairs of phono inputs for audio sources, 4 of which also have video inputs (should you desperately need to use composite input for your video), 4 S-Video inputs and 2 outputs, 2 digital co-ax inputs, 3 optical inputs and finally, a set of 6 phonos’ for and external decoder. Basically, enough sockets to turn the back of your TV/Hi-Fi cabinet into a mass of seething cables. Enough of all this, onto connecting it up and the all-important first listen. I have connected a Technics CD player (phono) , Wharfedale 750 DVD player (Digital Co-ax) Sky Digibox (Phono) and Playstation 2 (Optical). Before we play anything, it’s time to use the test tones to make sure all the speakers are closely matched. A quick press of the TEST button, and a blast of pink noise rotates around the room, moving from speaker to speaker every 5 seconds. A simple press of a button on the remote adjusts the volume of each speaker individually. Pretty painless really. Now it’s time for the good stuff. First test of the day has got to be the Gladiator DVD. The opening 10 minutes should have a mix of delicate soundtrack, good surround, (the horses and the arrow shots are particular examples) and wonderful use of the LFE. Up comes the Universal logo, resplendent in shades of bronze and the first chords of the soundtrack kick in. The first thing to notice after listening to pro-logic is how much more defined everything is. There is a crystal clarity that at first simply takes your breath away. So, onto the first r
eal scene of the movie and the chorus swells and the horses ride into shot from the rear and sides. WOW. Instantly convinced this was a good purchase. The steering of the sound, the dynamic range. It’s simply leagues ahead of Prologic. I may not be able to compare it to other DD amps of a similar price bracket, but suffice to say, they would have to be something to beat this. Dragging myself away from the movie, it’s time to try a Prologic source to see if there is any difference there to the old amp. Switching on Sky and flicking to the movie channel, we find that Godzilla is on, (ok, not exactly a classic, but a good sound test). Listening carefully, it’s soon apparent that the amp delivers far more clarity and punch than before. Whether this is due to the increased power output to the surround channels, (75w instead of around 30w), but suffice to say the difference is noticeable and most welcome. Now onto the hardest test for any home cinema amp; a stereo music source. Listening to Nine Inch Nails “Broken” EP and the improvement over the previous amp is noticeable and much needed. Stereo separation has been improved and the midrange is much tighter. However, I’m still not 100% happy with the sound. My problem is I have a friend who owns an Arcam Alpha 7 amp and a pair of Linn Majik speakers. The sound quality from this £1500 set-up is enough to make sure you are never truly satisfied with anything less. So to counter this, I’ve bought a Cambridge Audio A500 amplifier for stereo duty, and routed the main output from the Yamaha through it. Is there a difference? Well, possibly. The soundstage appears marginally wider and more composed, but at the loss of some midrange detail. I can honestly say that for those who are debating the difference between a £300 A/V amp and a sub-£200 stereo amp, the difference is negligible. You will have to spend a bit more to see any significant
improvement, (and I would hazard that this will apply to most A/V amps in this price range). If I have any issues with the amp, I would have to say the lack of proper binding posts for the surround speakers. Also, to some the design is a little bland and industrial, (although I find the lack of flashing lights and gimmicks refreshing and makes it look more professional). To conclude, the Yamaha is a very fine piece of kit indeed. It handles any thing you throw at it with ease and is gauranteed to bring a smile to the face of even the sternest visitor.
Firstly, let me get the “where did you get it?” bits out of the way. My Yamaha receiver came from www.letsbuyit.com for £259, very reasonable when you consider the Musical Images in Hounslow had a “shop-soiled” one in the window for £350! If you don’t want to risk Letsbuyit, and there seems to be a wealth of opinion why you shouldn’t at the moment, £259 is also Richer Sounds’ price (www.richersounds.co.uk). At the time of writing (10/01/01), it wasn’t in stock, but they offer to e-mail you when it is. What is it? A hi-fi tuner amplifier that doubles as a Dolby Digital/DTS surround sound decoder for the 5-channel sound being output from most DVDs. For those with older soundtracks and VHS tapes, it can create a Dolby Pro-Logic surround effect, or even play back in steam-powered stereo! What can you connect to it? The RDS* radio is built-in, so that’s one off the list. There are digital connections of both the optical and co-axial flavour for a DVD player, a set-top box like my On-Digital Nokia, and a “D-TV”. My digital TV doesn’t seem to be “D” in this respect, so you can actually connect an optical output from a CD player instead, as long as you don’t mind it being called the wrong name on the selector dial. It also has analogue connections for VCR, cassette deck, CD player, and a turntable. It’s all a bit daunting at first, but the bit-by-bit approach pays off – speakers first, then try the radio to make sure you have wired them up the right way round, and then attach other peripherals one-by-one, testing that they work as you go. *RDS shows station details like Station Name, Programming Type, and sometimes the Programme Name. This is the kind of thing that car radios have had for ages. Being an audio/visual amplifier means that it can be used for connecting video sources like the VCR and DVD player, cr
eating one single output to the dear old “telly”. The front panel has a convenient set of connectors for a camcorder – great for transferring to VCR. You can choose composite or S-Video, both for the front and rear panel video connections, for those who know what I’m on about. (Whilst S-Video plugs are very compact, in can be quite difficult to get an “S-Video+2 phonos to SCART” lead for connecting to the TV. If only they could have found the room to make the output to TV a fully wired SCART socket) As well as two sets of stereo speakers, the Yamaha has the extra three for surround sound, and a “pre-amp” output for a sub-woofer if you really hate the neighbours. The main stereo speakers binding-posts seem able to take “banana-jacks” instead, although I haven’t tested this theory (yet). Is it loud enough for you? Eh, what? Speak up! Loud?! Is the Pope Catholic? With 70w RMS or 110w DIN on all 5 channels in a 13x13 room, I’ll say it’s loud. In fact “DIN” is quite prophetic. Fortunately, my semi is of the “halls adjoining” variety and my neighbour is also into home cinema, so he can’t complain, especially since we swap DVDs. You should hear Gladiator on it! My neighbour can. What about the extras? The remote control is multi-appliance and can be taught to control the TV, CD, cassette deck, VCR and set-top box. The latter refuses to give in, so I still have a brace of remotes at my side. Grrrr! Yamaha also build-in what they call digital sound processing (DSP) which adds atmospheric effects e.g. making your room sound like a cinema, or your records as if they are being played at a disco. Useful, I suppose, but I leave it switched off. Any other point you’d like to make? Although I’ve waxed lyrical about movie sound, 5-channels cannot compensate for a crap film, so buy y
our DVDs because you want the film, not because you can impress people with helicopters flying diagonally across your lounge. The Yamaha is a fine piece of stereo kit as well. It is easy to overlook this, but there would be no point in buying it if it wasn’t. Build-quality is fine, in an understated Yamaha way. The front panel display is a discrete orange – if there is such a colour! You can eyeball it at the www.yamaha-audio.co.uk site by following the Products>Home Cinema>RX-V596RDS pointers. If you’re not fussy about the radio section, the amplifier-only version appears to be the DSP-A5 Any Niggles? Yes, when I first connected it up, I was looking forward to losing some of the “spaghetti” behind my hi-fi rack by making as much use of single digital connections, i.e. the DVD, the On-Digital box and the CD player. It transpires that these links are only for listening to. If you want to record sound to your cassette deck or VCR, then the analogue phono plugs must also be in place – hallo again, spaghetti. I need my reading glasses for the remote control, as the use of different coloured lettering makes it difficult to read in the gloom of a “cinema” Oh yes, there’s no popcorn maker, and it doesn’t make “Anaconda” seem any better! Am I pleased with it? Yes – an enthusiastic “two thumbs-up”, as the US film critic puts it. I’m not sure that at the list price whether I would have been tempted to buy it, but at £259 it’s excellent.