Review: Yamaha RX-V685 Offers Big Bang For The Bucks
Yamaha has long earned high accolades for the natural sound quality it gets from its highly engineered audio video receivers, and over the years this distinctive high-level of natural sound has filtered down into lower price ranges.
The Yamaha RX-V685 is an example of a excellent upper-mid-fi AVR that comes loaded with some of the latest and most compelling features, while managing to hold on to the company’s traditional high-end feel, even at what we consider to be a value price point.
As a recently reduced $549.95 choice in the Yamaha RX-V AV receiver series, the RX-V685 stands at the top of its range, before moving on to Yamaha’s higher-end Aventage AVR lineup. This unit may lack some of the flair and high-end components of the Aventage models, but it still delivers sizable punch for this price class. The overall performance is helped significantly by the company’s excellent range of DSP surround sound shaping tools and support for many of the lastest theatrical surround sound features including Dolby Atmos/DTS:X object-based audio decoding. In this case object-based audio output is limited to only a 5.1.2-channel (two front height channels) speaker setup.
For the price, the RX-V685 has a nice, powerful amp section, rated at 105 Watts (8 ohms, 0.9% THD) at 1 kHz, 2-channel driven, two HDMI audio outputs and two subwoofer outputs. The receiver offers a second zone for listening in locations outside the main zone. Also offered is a 12 volt trigger for more ambitious home installations.
If 3D surround sound is not required, the receiver can be configured to output 7.2-channel surround without the presence channels.
Yamaha also includes a nice range of wireless connectivity options, including support for its well-regarded MusicCast wireless multi-room audio platform that allows connectivity with mobile devices through a free control app. It also allows distributing music wirelessly throughout the house to MusicCast-compatible speakers and system components. Streaming support also extends to access of some of the most popular streaming music platforms including Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, TIDAL.
A useful added benefit of MusicCast in the V685 is the option to connect a pair of Yamaha MusicCast wireless speakers to serve as the surround channels. This gets around the need to run long wire runs that can sometimes be hard to hide.
Further, the V685 integrates Amazon Alexa voice-assistant control through the MusicCast platform.
For wired connectivity, the receiver handles its source switching duties without a hitch, offering 5 HDMI inputs, and 2 outputs, all equipped to handle signals carrying HDCP 2.2 content protection, and HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG high dynamic range (HDR) profiles. The connectors will also support up to the BT.2020 wide color gamut when it finally gets here in a consumer TV.
Another major plus is the fact that the V685, like several other Yamaha AVR models, is due to get a firmware update bringing support for the new enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) connector, which will enable connecting a 4K or even 8K video component to the television and directing the audio out to the receiver over the eARC port. This should provide more flexibility while averting the risk of rapid obsolescence with 8K video on the horizon.
HDMI 2.1 and eARC
Although the receiver won’t accommodate the full HDMI 2.1 specification (which was still awaiting compliance testing and silicon as this was written), Yamaha said the RX-V685 will be firmware upgradeable to support perhaps the most important feature HDMI 2.1 will offer — enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC).
Unfortunately, this didn’t arrive in time for us to test it out; The eARC feature offers significantly greater bandwidth than the prior ARC version, increasing from 1-3 Mbps in standard ARC to 37 Mbps. This will be sufficient to send 7.1-channel surround and lossless HD audio formats like Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio, along with object-based surround sound information. It will also offer a new Lip Sync Correction system to ensure pictures and audio always match. Also gone in eARC will be the headache of the HDMI CEC (control protocol), which has been famously problematic for incompatibility issues between different devices and brands. Instead, eARC will offer its own dedicated data channel to help connected devices better exchange information back and forth. Connected products will instantly know each other’s capabilities and limitations and will be able to pass along the proper signal and protocols without any hiccups.
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What you won’t be able to do in the future, without having support of the full HDMI 2.1 spec, is get direct access to the maximum 48Gbps bandwidth the new conduit was engineered to support. This eventually will used to pass formats like 8K/60Hz with 10- or 12-bit 4:4:4 color, etc. Right now that shouldn’t be a problem, and as we pointed out, eARC will provide a neat work around, allowing a user to connect the video signal directly into the TV first, and output the audio to the AVR through the TV’s eARC output stream. So, for the vast majority of applications available right now and to come in the near future, the Yamaha RX-V685 should be more than up to the task.
The Yamaha RX-V685 offers 4K TV owners a nice range of options. First, the unit will pass through 4K and lower-resolution signals to be decoded by the on-board video processor in a connected television. For those with older or less capable 4K Ultra HDTVs, the receiver will also upscale lower-resolution signals to help images look clearer, sharper and more colorful some weaker built-in TV video processing systems can deliver. However, with the level or processing power in many 4K TVs today, we expect most people will opt to pass-through the signal to current-generation televisions.
Analog and Hi-Rez Audio
The Yamaha RX-V685 offers lovers of analog and Hi-Rez Audio formats some very nice options for this price point, including a phono input for vinyl purists looking to support a classic record collection. Digiphiles will find a wide range of lossy and lossless standard and Hi-Rez music formats including: ALAC: up to 96 kHz / 24-bit, FLAC: up to 192 kHz / 24-bit, WAV / AIFF: up to 192 kHz / 32-bit, and DSD: up to 11.2 MHz, as well as the more standard MP3 / WMA / MPEG-4 AAC: up to 48 kHz / 16-bit.
As setup goes, the Yamaha RX-V685 was fairly intuitive, offering clear graphical user menus and on-screen instructions that step users through the process. For those who don’t have the time, knowledge or patience for manual speaker configuration, the RX-V685 carries Yamaha’s excellent Yamaha Parametric Acoustic Optimizer (YPAO) auto-setup/room EQ calibration system that measures emitted sound and makes adjustments to fit the particular characteristics of the room in relation to best seating location.
This requires plugging in a supplied microphone to a mini-mic input on the front of the RX-V685 and positioning it using a supplied cardboard stand it at approximately ear level in the choice listening location or the room. The receiver then produces a series of signals that the mic picks up and relays to back to the YPAO system to automatically applied the approximate corrections to volume and tone. We found the YPAO system did a particularly nice job of adjusting center channel levels to over come a centrally positioned audomen to make dialog standout slightly from the surrounding soundtrack. We found this slightly better than audjustments made with an entry level X-series AVR running the Audyssey EQ platform.
The Yamaha RX-V685 does an excellent handling music, in particular acoustic instruments with little electricified bass or mic embellishment. We ran through a few 50s-era selections from the Dexter Gordon catalog on CD and found the sound to be clear, with Gordon’s sax nicely placed out front. Cymbols were crisp without being overly shrill, while midrange was well defined without unnatual color. Yamaha’s excellent DSP system gave just a slight boost in bass and depth with the “Enhancer” button turned on, making the original mono track of “The Steeple Chase” sound slightly more three dimensional.
Switching over to Hi-Rez multi-channel audio, we sampled the new 5.1-channel Blu-ray mix of Jimi Hendrix’s ”Electric Ladyland’ (96kHz/24-bit), with a very interesting mix by original engineer Eddie Kramer that preserved the at-first-accidental and later anointed out-of-phase recordings that make sounds and instruments seem to leap over head on a pair of headphones. In multi-channel Kramer transforms this into a merry-go-round of sound swirling around the listener. To keep the mix as intended we used the “Pure Direct” button to take the signal direct from our Oppo BDP-83 universal Blu-ray Disc player.
For the purpose of these listening tests, we intentionally used a lower-mid-fi speaker setup that we envisioned to be more in line with the typical use cases for a receiver of this price class. For speakers we used rather pedestrian 5.1 setup of Polk Audio TSi200 series speakers. We were delighted at how pleasant these speakers sounded through this receiver, both running DSP enhancement and straight off the disc. In rock music–particularly from this exceptional multi-channel 50th Anniversary issue–the bass is deep and punchy without drowning out Hendrix’s masterful lead guitar exchange with the pulsating Hammond organ played brilliantly by Steve Winwood on the classic “Voodoo Chile” studio jam.
The RX-V685 proved to be equally well suited at presenting the thrill of exploding missles overhead and the whistle of machine gun fire sprayed all round from the Dolby Atmos sound track on the Blu-ray Disc of “Kong Skull Island.” We felt completely immersed in the sound and action, as falling rain drops seemed to splash around us with the pulsing punch of helicopter blades seemingly chopping up the air above our heads. The Yamaha RX-V685 not only presented all of this with a convincing level of realism, it also seemed to add a velvety rich, nuanced tonal quality to midrange and bass tones, sounding like an audio component costing several hundred dollars more. More impressive was the way it made average speakers sound much better than they have before.
In the sub-$600 price class the Yamaha RX-V685 is up against a wide field of contenders for compelling AVR sound, but at this level of power, audio detail and clarity, it makes a very good argument for standing as one of the top picks in its price range. Yamaha has also smartly featured this unit with firmware upgradeability for the forthcoming eARC HDMI feature, which we predict is going to be an essential capability for content and components coming to market in the next several years.
We therefore award the Yamaha RX-V685 our recommended buy status and a rating of four out of five hearts.
The Yamaha RX-V685 used for this review was a company loan.
By Greg Tarr
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