Yamaha RX-V581

FOR Large-scale per­for­mance; su­perb bass; ex­cit­ing de­tail AGAINST Midrange could be more sub­tle

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Yamaha’s £500 AV re­ceivers have had to bow down to su­pe­rior ri­vals from Denon and Sony over the past cou­ple of years, but 2016 could just be the year that the tide turns back in Yamaha’s favour. The com­pany is due a come­back, and the Yamaha RX-V581, a beast of an am­pli­fier, may be a har­bin­ger.

The RX-V581 it­self is the sturdy rec­tan­gu­lar box we’ve come to ex­pect of AV re­ceivers. It’s a touch shal­lower and lighter than its Denon and Pi­o­neer ri­vals, but the build qual­ity is as solid as ever. It’s an easy amp to live with.

In deep

Fire up the John Wick Blu-ray and the Yamaha rel­ishes ev­ery sec­ond of this ac­tion-packed film. The way it deals with bass is gor­geous. The low end goes im­pres­sively deep, more so than we’ve heard from any re­ceiver at this price. It’s a pow­er­ful, mus­cu­lar per­for­mance, but the Yamaha han­dles all that brawn in a ma­ture way. The bass could eas­ily over­power all other fre­quen­cies, but it doesn’t. It un­der­pins the de­tail, re­sult­ing in a sat­is­fy­ingly solid sound.

Gun­shots are pierc­ing, and there are lay­ers of tex­ture in the re­ver­ber­a­tions after a trig­ger is pulled. Ev­ery car crash is a rau­cous grind­ing of me­tal on me­tal, and the Yamaha makes you fully aware of the scale of, and de­struc­tion in, each im­pact.

The edges of notes are pre­cise, and at no point does the low end start to go boomy or lose its shape. Yamaha keeps its thun­der­ous ap­proach on a tight leash. There is a touch of brash­ness at the top edge, when shat­tered glass and ex­plo­sions make you wince. It doesn’t stop the Yamaha from be­ing an ex­cit­ing lis­ten, though.

All of that de­tail and power en­velops you in a large sound­field, and Yamaha’s prow­ess with sur­round ef­fects just keeps get­ting bet­ter. Fly­ing ob­jects sweep ef­fort­lessly across from speaker to speaker, demon­strat­ing the height and width of which the RX-V581 is ca­pable. You can al­most feel the move­ment of space­ships soar­ing above you.

Voice recog­ni­tion

Where the Yamaha takes a dip is with voices. It’s a touch vague com­pared with its ri­val, the Denon AVR-X2300W. Even with the Pure Di­rect mode turned on (which we would rec­om­mend for the best sound per­for­mance), the midrange isn’t quite as sub­tle and clearly de­fined as we’d like. We want it to con­vey more ex­pres­sion. The Denon is more adept at con­vey­ing sar­casm or an­guish in di­a­logue – the Yamaha is just a touch ret­i­cent in com­par­i­son.

The Denon’s way with voices keeps you cap­ti­vated. The sub­tlety and fluid dy­nam­ics en­gage you – the build-up to the flour­ish when the En­ter­prise is re­vealed in Star Trek has a sense of ex­cite­ment and won­der­ment to it. On the Yamaha, the swell of mu­sic doesn’t quite reach that soar­ing high and you don’t get that last ounce of en­ergy from the horns. It’s a small dif­fer­ence, but it tips the bal­ance in favour of one amp over the other.

Mu­sic comes to the fore

But the Yamaha can’t be con­tested for its power and im­pact. That punchy rhythm is great when you’re lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, with songs played with en­thu­si­asm and drive. The Denon is pre­dictably sub­tler with voices, but put the Yamaha in two-chan­nel mode and its mu­sic per­for­mance is sur­pris­ingly en­joy­able com­pared with most other com­pa­ra­ble AV re­ceivers.

“The RX-V581 is an ex­cit­ing am­pli­fier, and the way it han­dles bass and sound ef­fects is sure to whet the ap­petite of any home cin­ema fan”

We’re con­stantly amazed at the amount of fea­tures that man­u­fac­tur­ers are able to in­clude for just £500. Dolby At­mos and DTS:X are be­com­ing manda­tory ticks on the ever-in­creas­ing spec­i­fi­ca­tions sheet, with the RX-V581 ca­pable of a 5.1.2 At­mos con­fig­u­ra­tion.

With wi-fi and eth­er­net on board, the Yamaha is more than just a home cin­ema sur­round am­pli­fier – it’s the hub for any streamed mu­sic in your house. Air­play, Blue­tooth and DLNA let you stream mu­sic from smart­phones, lap­tops and NAS de­vices.

The am­pli­fier is also part of Yamaha’s Mu­s­ic­cast multi-room sys­tem, which lets you stream con­tent from any other Yamaha kit you have in your house us­ing the Mu­s­ic­cast Con­troller app.

Cd-qual­ity stream­ing

Yamaha is also the first home cin­ema amp man­u­fac­turer to pro­vide na­tive sup­port for Qobuz, which is good news for sub­scribers of the Cd-qual­ity stream­ing ser­vice. For ev­ery­one else, Spo­tify Con­nect re­mains a has­sle-free way to play mil­lions of songs.

The amp sup­ports hi-res 24-bit/192khz files, too. The USB port at the front does more than charge a smart­phone – it can play DSD files from a mem­ory stick also.

Con­nec­tiv­ity seems a lit­tle sparse on the back panel, with only four HDMI in­puts and a sin­gle HDMI out­put pro­vided. It might be enough for most, but it feels some­what lacking when you re­mem­ber that Denon and Pi­o­neer of­fer seven or eight HDMI in­puts and at least two out­puts as stan­dard at this price.

All set for 4K

On the plus side, all HDMIS are ca­pable of Ul­tra HD 4K/60fps and HDR passthrough. They are also HDCP 2.2 cer­ti­fied, which means you’ll be able to play 4K Blu-ray discs and sources with­out any hic­cups. Dig­i­tal in­puts in­clude two coax­ial and one op­ti­cal, while there’s a smat­ter­ing of com­po­nent and ana­logue in­puts avail­able as well.

Yamaha has made the set-up process as sim­ple as possible. The built-in YPAO cal­i­bra­tion and in­cluded mic mea­sure your room’s acous­tics swiftly and ac­cu­rately. If you need to make any tweaks, the sim­ple menu is easy to nav­i­gate for the var­i­ous speaker set­tings.

The RX-V581 responds in­stantly to any changes. The re­mote con­trol is re­spon­sive, the vol­ume con­trol turns smoothly, and you can switch to Blue­tooth, net­work or USB play­back with the press of a but­ton.

For once, though, we pre­fer us­ing the con­trol app rather than the hand­set. The re­mote con­trol is, of course, the ob­vi­ous choice when you need to ad­just the vol­ume, but it’s far quicker and eas­ier to se­lect the in­put and sound mode you want in one go us­ing the free app. The colour­ful, la­belled icons are neatly laid out and the app is fuss-free. It’s more ap­peal­ing to use than cy­cling through all the op­tions on the re­mote, hop­ing you land on the one you want.

The RX-V581 is an ex­cit­ing am­pli­fier, and the way it han­dles bass and sound ef­fects is sure to whet the ap­petite of any home cin­ema fan. It faces fierce com­pe­ti­tion from the Denon at this price, but we think the Yamaha’s mus­cu­lar pre­sen­ta­tion can sit com­fort­ably next to its ri­val five-star re­ceiver – even bet­ter it in one or two ar­eas. It’s def­i­nitely one to put on your home cin­ema short­list.

PURE THOUGHTS It’s al­ways good to ex­per­i­ment with the var­i­ous sound modes on an AV re­ceiver but we’d rec­om­mend keep­ing the Pure Di­rect mode switched on for the best all-round per­for­mance

The Yamaha’s ar­ray of con­nec­tions looks a lit­tle sparse along­side its Denon and Pi­o­neer ri­vals

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