When it comes to the ever-changing world of A/V receivers, it’s tough staying ahead of the curve. It helps of course if you’re one of the original trendsetters in the category, such as Yamaha. Its original mid-‘80s, ambient surround-synthesizing DSP-1 processor led to a string of A/V receivers incorporating this proprietary DPS technology, putting the company near the head of the A/V pack, where it’s been sitting pretty ever since.
Fast-forward nearly 30 years, and Yamaha’s ambient surround processing features still play an important role in its newest line of Aventage receivers. Conceived as a more upscale sub-brand within the Yamaha range, the Aventage line aims to combine a performance-oriented ethos with first-rate construction techniques, all wrapped up in a user-friendly package.
We reviewed last year’s top Aventage model, the RX-A3010, and were impressed with its performance enough to give it a solid recommendation. That model has since been replaced by an upgraded version called the RX-A3020, with a few more key features and slightly higher MSRP of $2199 instead of the RX-A3010’s $1999. We dig in to see how well the newer version performs.
Out of the Box
Visually, the Yamaha RX-A3020 looks identical to last year’s RX-A3010. Both feature a flip-down front panel that hides most of the control buttons and features, save for the large volume and input knobs flanking either side of the centrally-located panel door.
The RX-A3020 also retains the duo-toned, gloss and matte black finish from the RX-A3010 and gently-raked lower façade, making the receiver appear less bulky than typical for its size. Kudos to Yamaha for really stepping up its game in recent years by incorporating a refreshingly tasteful and appealing aesthetic that’s commensurate with the Aventage line’s more premium price tags.
The RX-A3020 weighs exactly the same as last year’s receiver as well—a backbreaking 40.1 lbs. By the look of things, we’d have to guess a good chunk of that weight is due to the massive power supply we spotted by peaking through the receiver’s vented top plate.
We also caught a glimpse of a cross-braced and rigid frame-type construction inside, something that no doubt adds to the aforementioned heft, but should also lead to improved sonics as well. Overall, we came away impressed with the RX-A3020’s excellent aesthetics, solid internal construction, and well-thought out design.
In the box we found a backlit remote control, along with a quartet of AAA batteries to go with it, a detachable IEC power cord, an FM antenna, YPAO setup mic with 3-point “angle measurement” platform, Easy Setup guide, and a CD-ROM manual. Like many others, Yamaha no longer includes a full paper manual with the RX-A3020, but one can be downloaded online or printed from the CD-ROM.
Features and design
At first glance, the Yamaha RX-A3020’s features list seems nearly identical to the RX-A3010 we reviewed previously: same robust, 9.2 channel, 150 watt power rating with 11.2 channel expandability; same alphabet soup of surround format decoding; and same suite of multi-room connectivity options.
The current model does however sport a couple of key differences, including 4k video pass-through and up-scaling for future high resolution formats. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a 4k video system on hand to test the Yamaha’s capabilities in this regard; nevertheless, this sort of future-proof design can only help stave off any impending obsolescence.
Perhaps the most important upgrade for owners of Apple products however is the RX-A3020’s inclusion of Airplay. Many receivers on the market have been featuring Apple’s wireless music streaming technology as standard for some time now, so we were more than a bit miffed that it was missing from the RX-A3010.
Nevertheless, we’re happy to see it onboard the RX-A3020, and its inclusion rounds out an excellent networking-capable feature set that includes DLNA 1.5 certification, HD Radio, and support for streaming services such as Rhapsody, Pandora, SiriusXM Internet Radio, and vTuner Internet radio.
One thing that we’re glad to see hasn’t changed from the RX-A3010 is its performance-oriented design. The RX-A3020 utilizes the same H-shaped, rigid frame construction, physically separate and symmetrical left/right amplifier channel layout, and hefty, centrally-anchored power transformer as its predecessor, all in an effort to improve sound quality.
And no Aventage receiver would be complete without Yamaha’s “5th foot” A.R.T., or Anti-Resonance Technology wedge that we described in our review of the RX-A3010. It’s a defining feature of all Aventage receivers and is said to help dampen vibrations from the power transformer, power transistors and heat sinks, as well as any air-borne speaker vibrations as well, leading to increased clarity and improved sound quality overall.
While there’s much more that separates the Aventage line from Yamaha’s main line receivers, we’ll refrain from totally geeking out and describing every audio-focused feature that makes them different. Suffice it to say, we came away mightily impressed by the sum total of attention paid to optimize the Yamaha RX-A3020’s circuit layout and design. All of the high quality and custom designed parts, including custom block capacitors, Shottky barrier diodes, and Burr-Brown DACs that take up residence inside the RX-A3020 could make many much more boutique audio brands jealous. Add all of it up and you have one of the best-built, most fully featured, circa $2k receivers we’ve seen yet.
Once we set up the calibration microphone in the correct positions utilizing the included three-point angle measurement platform, total auto setup time using the built in YPAO system (or Yamaha Parametric room Acoustic Optimizer), took less than 20 minutes. Per our usual practice, once we completed the auto setup program, we went back into the receiver’s manual setup menu to double check its settings.
And this is where we have to commend Yamaha for the advancements it’s made to its auto setup program: the YPAO feature did the best job yet of accurately measuring each of our speaker’s low end capabilities, very nearly setting the correct crossover points to perfection. This is one receiver where we could’ve left the stock setup parameters in place and came away pleased as punch with our system’s performance quality.
We’d also like to unleash our inner geek for just a moment and mention a YPAO setup feature we thought was a blast to use, even if it was more window dressing than anything else. After the RX-A3020 finishes its auto setup procedure, the user can access the YPAO equalization curves for each speaker by opening the on screen manual setup menu and selecting “Parametric EQ” from the speaker setup icon. Then, select the YPAO curve of your choice, and highlight each individual speaker to view its applied curve and specific EQ information. If you’re prone to exploring the more technical side of how you’re A/V gear does what it does, we’re sure you’ll enjoy this feature, too.
To fully put the Yamaha receiver through its paces, we used it with a variety of gear, including: A Samsung UN40C6300 LED TV; Samsung BD-C5500 Blu-ray player; Denon DCD-CX3 SACD player; HP Pavilion G6-2320DX laptop; Apple iPhone 4; Bowers and Wilkins P5 headphones; and Aperion Audio Verus Forte surround loudspeaker system.
We first took the RX-A3020 for a spin by cueing up the some of the same high-octane movie scenes we tested the RX-A3010 with, such as the 2009 version of Star Trek on Blu-ray. Right from the opening action scene, the RX-A3020 had the same powerful, gutsy, and dynamic sound we mentioned in the earlier review. This latest, top-line Aventage receiver could go just as big and bold as its older sibling without ever breaking much of a sweat.
What’s more, the RX-A3020 never lost track of lower level auditory information while it was rocking the house. Running through our favorite test discs, such as the Batman trilogy, Iron Man I and II, and all the Daniel Craig Bond films, we were continuously impressed with the 3020’s ability to reproduce all manner of nuanced and layered sonic details. Sounds like footfalls, windows shuttering, and layered dialog were easy to discern, serving to heighten their overall impact.
Unlike an increasing number of A/V receivers, the Yamaha RX-A3020 let’s you adjust each individual speaker’s channel level directly from the remote, thank goodness.
Album after album, we enjoyed the way the Yamaha RX-A3020 made music, and our experience with this latest version mirrors the excellent performance we got from the 3010—including the one consistent bugaboo we found with the previous model: its mildly bright treble region. Listening to “The National Anthem” from that same Radiohead album, cymbals just had a bit too much bite and presence, with crashes sounding a bit harsher than we’re used to hearing.
We then tried taming that treble a bit with setting the YPAO EQ to its flat setting, and that did the trick. Though this change seemed to cause a glossing over of some of the music’s natural harmonic decay and made the sound slightly less transparent, our system did sound noticeably smoother through the upper mids and lower treble regions, even if it was still a smidge too bright and spotlit. The net result, however, was a more thoroughly enjoyable listening experience overall, especially given the wide variety of music and movies we tried.
Even classical music, such as Michael Tilson Thomas and San Francisco Orchestra’s recording of Mahler: Symphony No. 1 sounded better balanced and more refined, with the sort of silken violin timbres and rounded horn tones most lower-quality receivers seem to miss. We had no trouble listening to symphonic and massed choral music for hours on end through the Yamaha receiver.
Functionally, the Yamaha RX-A3020 performed just as well as the previous incarnation. We were able to access its networking and applications features instantly and without a hitch. What’s more, our iPhone 4 found the Yamaha receiver straight away and had us streaming tunes in an instant.
We also took Yamaha’s iPhone remote app for a spin and thought it was well laid out and easy to use. Navigating it was fairly intuitive, thanks largely to the app’s excellent icons and graphics. These echo the same graphics used for the RX-A3020’s excellent on-screen menu system, which itself is one of the most streamlined, easily navigable, and visually appealing user interfaces we’ve used yet. Figuring out the vertical main menus and horizontal sub menus was a snap, and we were completely comfortable using it after only a few minutes.
Unlike an increasing number of A/V receivers, the Yamaha RX-A3020 let’s you adjust each individual speaker’s channel level directly from the remote, thank goodness. This proved immensely useful those for those rare occasions we felt the need to tweak ‘n trim our volume levels just so. We remain perplexed as to why so many manufacturers are eliminating this feature from their remote controls; thankfully, Yamaha isn’t one of them, at least not with its top-end model.
Lastly, we’d like to make special mention of the RX-A3020’s video processing capabilities. The Yamaha’s HQV Vida processor was a champ at resolving fine details, such as the various clothing patterns and surface textures throughout the visually stunning film Amelie. Even the cloud patterns scrolling behind the “torch lady” from the logo that opens every Columbia Pictures release popped with more depth and color gradations than we’re used to seeing. Those who are stepping up to the RX-A3020 from a lower end receiver will definitely be impressed with the Yamaha’s video prowess.
We thoroughly enjoyed using the Yamaha RX-A3020 receiver. Its class-leading performance consistently allowed us to better enjoy our music and movies, and its inclusion of Airplay and other future-forward niceties help bring its feature set in line with competing receivers in its price range. Plus, its user interface was an absolute joy to use—something that can’t be said of most receivers that pass through these doors. That alone may be enough to seal the deal for many potential users out there who’ve grown tired of lousy receiver ergonomics.
Still, we have to wonder why Yamaha chose to artificially brighten up that treble, given all of the care taken with and attention paid to every other aspect of the RX-A3020—from its parts pedigree, to its circuit layout, to its excellent setup program. If Yamaha could only bring that treble performance in line with the rest of the sonic spectrum, it would easily be one of our go-to recommendations for a top-flight receiver around $2k.
Nevertheless, we think there’ll be plenty of users who may prefer getting their sonic thrills from a more forward and upfront sounding receiver, and who would really love to build their home entertainment systems around something so flexible and robust. If that sounds like you, look no further than the Yamaha Aventage RX-A3020.
- Clean, gutsy and powerful sound
- Excellent detail reproduction
- Fine performer for music, too
- Accurate auto setup program
- UI extremely logical and a joy to use
- Upper mids and lower treble a little too bright
- Sound could be more transparent