Yamaha is a respected giant in terms of audio pedigree. You can see the craft in everything from their music instruments, MIDI keyboards, synthesizers, to production mixers — and of course, home AV receivers like the RX-V781. A fine and well-balanced example that’s rigorously dialed in, okay, maybe not like one of their grand pianos, but technically excellent in its own right.
So why haven’t we reviewed anything from Yamaha until now? That’s a valid question and the broad answer is very simple: We’ve always wanted to but never had a reasonable opportunity. The irony (aside from their third-party press relation team not answering our inquiries) is that we’ve covertly paired or recruited a few of their receivers like the HTR-3066, RX-577, and the recent AVENTAGE RX-A850 to test other components.
Companies that have the widespread appeal of Pioneer, Onkyo and their reaching enterprises (which owns the former’s home AV group), or an assumed definitude like Sony have more ground to stand on. However, when it comes to Yamaha, it’s a brand that seems to be content through word-of-mouth or being hardly noticed at all — an attribute that only a fastidious and discreet owner will find pride in. Hell, I even asked five random home theater connoisseurs to name three brands off the top of their heads, and only one of them mentioned Yamaha.
The Dignified Receiver
That impromptu consensus was a little surprising, but quite telling. Maybe it’s the look of the RX-V781 itself, as most receivers are black metal boxes with exterior styling separating them. Yamaha tries a little harder through carefully placed array of buttons and dials. The front of the RX-V781 is split between a glass top with a row of adjustment buttons, while the main sources, volume, and auxiliary controls (HDMI/USB/headphone) adorn the brushed bottom half. The entire look is easily one of the more elegant AVRs to grace a living room, a scarcity among typical choices where absolute technicality comes before aesthetics. Even the onscreen interface also got nudge in higher definition, it’s visibly cleaner but little has changed overall.
Because I’m begrudgingly old-fashioned or trying in vain to become a deluded hipster I like my remote with buttons. Yamaha keeps me happy with a unit sporting everything I need in plain sight without too much overindulgence. Granted, it is the same clicker they’ve been using for more than a few years, but it’s still functional.
Nothing is Obsolete
Connectivity is also well-rounded with the usual HDMI (6 input/2 output) Bluetooth, and wireless network options. However, we appreciate that the RX-V781 doesn’t skimp on the legacy stuff with four ways to hook up composite video and two for YPBPR component video, each defined and laid out for either analog or digital (coaxial or TOSLINK) audio inputs. Pre-out and turntable phono is standard across the board as well.
For those still clutching to their old-school game consoles or amassing LaserDisc collections, the RX-V781 is prepared with analog outputs (monitor out) and you’ll be glad they didn’t ditch them. This is definitely an advantage for legacy devices and worth noting since most modern AVRs are omitting this option entirely — which is a problem we encountered often with numerous models and hooking up the older stuff in general. As a result, upscaling is either very poor, or in typical cases, won’t even register at all if the native resolution is too low to pick up. For example, a Nintendo 64 has a base native resolution below 640×480 and couldn’t be processed through the HDMI output, getting nothing but a blank screen.
YPAO, for Beginners
All receivers nowadays incorporate some form of sound optimization and the YPAO (Yamaha Parametric room Acoustic Optimizer) is no different. It’s basically an optional calibration process that involves a microphone that measures various characteristic within its immediate space— usually speaker size, volume output, and room dimension — for proper output and sound reflection.
It’s not that confusing to use since it’s automatic, takes just a few minutes, and recognizes most physical properties of your setup the first time through. For us, YPAO did a decent job but we had to correct the size of our ELAC A4 “object height” speakers and manually turn down the volume of our front left/right Polk T50 towers. Obviously, YPAO won’t be a game-changer for seasoned users, but it can be utilized as a mild fine-tuning aggregate for daunted first-timers.
In a lot of ways, getting acquainted with the RX-V781 was like going back in time to the capable (at the time) Pioneer VSX-1123-K. In a loosely similar vein, the profile you get here has a richness that delivers believable depth and just a slight tinge of brightness with 160-watts per channel. That’s not to say the RX-V781 is lacking, we just noticed that like many mid-priced AVRs the acoustic warmth and clarity tends to favor music a bit more over blockbuster movies. As we calibrated everything to our environment.
Case in point is Star Wars: The Force Awakens in cinematic presentation. The first dogfight chase was very engaging to the ears, albeit with faint cues of hardness breaking through. Notably during those intense close-up shots of the Millennium Falcon and the echoes heard within the hollowed Star Destroyer. But the clarity does exist in the much of the movie, typically when the action is scaled down to lightsaber duels or paces itself for character dialogue the RX-V781 really find its natural sweet spot. It’s was an inconsistent occurrence of the receiver, but never disappointing.
Despite having just 5.1.2 surround (7.2-channel derived) at its disposal, the RX-V781 exhibited exactly what we want from object-based sound for both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X playback. with the Everest 3D Blu-ray the dramatization of the fateful 1996 expedition was brought to unexpected levels of depth, aiding to the intentional unease and howling winds when the blizzard reaches the mountain. The height effects really do their job as far as dynamic impact goes, the whipping gales naturally portray a dire situation for the ambitious thrill-seekers.
Music is an area where the RX-V781 gleams when listening to Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road Blu-ray as the electric guitar and bass carry the melancholy tune with range, coupled by a stronger presence of the piano and backup vocals. The DSD of Lady Blue by Stefania Salvador is a relatively calm track showcases the forwardness of a single guitar with soothing upper-mid vocals on top, making it a good song with simplicity and plenty of range to spare.
All the Apps
Yamaha didn’t forget the media either, with suites of Spotify Connect, Pandora, and SiriusXM at your fingertips. They also encourage you utilize your smartphone and Wi-Fi to access local files with their MusicCast app which allows streaming of your library or additional services, or you could just enable DLNA or AirPlay if you so desire — trust me when I say you’re not short on choices no matter what, so just pick the easiest one for you. If you want to command the receiver with a touchscreen you can certainly do that with the optional AV Controller app, which (like its name implies) turns your smartphone or tablet into a remote control of sorts.
The RX-V781 is a wonderful piece of hardware with a strong reputation, that long-time audiophiles know about, at least. And even though it probably doesn’t get it right away, Yamaha continues to make an AVR that rightfully deserves your attention — especially against the competition and their apathetic array of features and connectivity. That realization alone is worth choosing the RX-V781, if nothing else is a deal breaker.