In 2010, Yamaha introduced the Aventage line of A/V receivers. Similar in some respects to Pioneer’s Elite brand or Sony’s ES series, the Aventage models are meant to be distinguished from the company’s standard receivers by way of superior build quality, advanced components and high-end sound.
Yamaha’s first flagship receiver under the Aventage brand was the RX-A3000, which was the first Yamaha receiver to adequately uphold the high standard that was set two years earlier by the now almost legendary RX-Z7. The A3000 offered similarly robust build quality and power as the Z7, but added an additional HDMI output and HQV Vida video processing; plus it came in for about $800 less. My, how times do change.
The $1900, 150 watt per channel RX-A3010 is the A3000’s replacement and even though there isn’t much to discuss in the way of changes over the prior year, this is our first time getting our hands on the Aventage bad-boy, so we’re going to dig into the A3010 and share our view on what it’s all about.
Out of the box
In terms of size and weight, the RX-A3010 is one monster of a receiver. We highly recommend closely following safe lifting practices both before and after de-boxing this 40 lb., 17-1/8 x 7-1/2 x 18-3/8-inch behemoth.
Our Marantz SR6005 – which is no small receiver itself – was dwarfed by the A3010’s immensity as we set the two side-by-side in our testing lab. Because of its large size, the A3010 is not going to be a wise choice for those with restricted entertainment cabinet space. In fact, it would probably be best to keep this receiver out in the open; not just to help maximize ventilation but also to facilitate maximum wow-factor for visiting guests.
Yamaha didn’t soften any edges on this receiver, so to some it may come off looking like a massive black box. We have a different take, though. We feel the glossy black display panel is offset nicely by the matte black finished aluminum located on the lower ⅔ of the front face. Yamaha also chose to place all but two control buttons and dials behind a large flip-down panel, keeping the front face very clean and appealing.
In the box with the receiver we found a detachable power cable, a master remote control, zone 2 remote, batteries, YPAO calibration microphone, three position “angle measurement” platform, AM and FM antennae, a manual on CD-ROM and a few sheets of product literature.
Features and Design
As we mentioned before, much of what makes the RX-3010 unique is actually carried over from last year’s RX-A3000, but for those new to the Aventage line, we’re going to go ahead and highlight some of the more interesting features anyway.
First, let’s start with what is new. For this year, Yamaha has added two channels of amplification. This makes the A3010 a true 9.2 channel receiver capable of powering both surround back speakers and either front or rear “presence” channels (Yamaha’s proprietary “height” speakers which it came up with long before Dolby developed Prologic IIz). Of course, that’s just one potential configuration since two sets of the receiver’s amplifier channels can be assigned any of several different roles. The best part? It’s not necessary to unplug and re-plug speaker wires should you decide to change your configuration. The A3010 allows two of its stereo speaker outputs to be assigned to any “extra speaker” role that goes beyond a 7.2 speaker arrangement. Zones 2, Zone 3, front presence, rear presence…take your pick. Of course, there are pre-outs for zone 2 or 3 too, which allows for even more possibilities.
Much of what distinguishes the Aventage receivers are build quality aspects and layout design. For instance, the receiver’s power supply has been placed in the center of the chassis with the left and right amplifier circuits placed on either side. This permits a physical separation between the left and right channels. Directly under the power supply is what Yamaha calls the “ART” wedge. ART in this case stands for Anti-Resonance Technology. The idea here is that the fifth foot provides better isolation from external vibrations. Doing so is meant to make an appreciable improvement in sound quality but, on that point, we’re undecided. It’s also possible that placing a heavy power supply smack in the middle of the receiver’s chassis required some additional support. Just sayin’.
The back panel of the A3010 is laid out pretty well, though we found the way in which Yamaha ordered the speaker terminals confusing. If you look from the top down (as so many of us do when making speaker connections), the front speaker terminals are the second bay in from the left. Next comes the center channel, then extra speaker 2 (what?) then surround back, then surround. Weird.
We are happy to see that the A3010 is flush with connections. You get eight HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs that work simultaneously, four component inputs, 11.2 pre-out, 7.1 muti-channel in, a phono input and, dig this, five s-video inputs matched with the five composite video inputs. We don’t know who might have five S-Video devices still integrated into their system, but we do appreciate Yamaha’s love for legacy devices. They stand as one of the few companies that hasn’t abandoned S-Video entirely.
More impressive than the back panel is what we found tucked under the front flip-down panel. Here, we found every control we could possibly need to operate the receiver along with an iOS device-friendly USB input, one of the HDMI inputs, S-Video/Composite A/V inputs, optical input and headphone jack.
Here’s something special: Those who want the benefits that come with having an A/V receiver do all the video switching but don’t necessarily use their receiver every time they watch TV will appreciate the Aventage lines ability to pass HDMI signals AND switch between inputs while in standby mode.
Of course, the A3010 is hip to the networked home. With an Ethernet connection, access to Pandora, Rhapsody, Internet radio and content stored on networked computers is available due to DLNA 1.5 and Windows 7 compliance. Yamaha also has their own iOS and Android apps available that allow full remote control and setup of the receiver.
As for the remote control: We think users will either love or hate it. Rather than label input buttons as “Blu-Ray”, “CD” or “SAT” as so many others do, Yamaha labels them as “AV 1, 2 or 3” video switching inputs and “Audio 1, 2, 3” etc. for analog audio inputs. Of course, Yamaha allows for these inputs to be relabeled in the receiver, but they remain labeled as such on the remote. This could cause confusion for family members or guests not familiar with the system’s setup.
So what doesn’t the RX-A3010 offer? In a word: Airplay. And that’s a bit of a hang-up for us. For our money, Airplay is the most user-friendly wireless music interface available and, when an option, way more likely to be used than a receiver’s on-board Pandora, Rhapsody or network music/photo interfaces. If there’s one thing we’d suggest Yamaha change for next year, it would be the inclusion of Airplay. It’s kind of a must-have in a flagship receiver. Then again, not having to plug a game console into an input marked “SAT” on the remote might have its advantages too. At the end of the day, we feel the RX-A3010’s master remote (which is backlit, by the way) is no better or worse than most other manufacturer’s designs. They all have their ups and downs.
Our test bench for this review included an Oppo BDP-95 Universal Audiophile 3D Blu-Ray disc player, Xbox 360, iPhone, Aperion Audio Verus Grand Towers (2-channel testing) Aperion Audio 633 Concert HD speaker system and Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS Special Edition speaker system. We used speaker cable from Monster and KimberCable and interconnects from AudioQuest.
First, we want to give a nod to Yamaha’s graphic user interface (GUI). We understand that it hasn’t changed much since last year, but this is the first time we’ve had a crack at this version, and we were really pleased with it. Navigation is easy and the graphical representation of different speaker/zone configurations is the most intuitive we’ve seen yet.
Once we completed a manual speaker calibration, we decided to put the A3010 through a pretty intensive workout right off the bat. Yamaha rates this receiver as “150 watts per channel” but, according to Yamaha’s spec page, that measurement was made with two channels only (albeit over a wide frequency range and with low distortion figures). In our experience, a lack of multi-channel output ratings is usually a sign that something is being hidden. So, we decided to lay the smack down on the receiver by queuing up J.J. Abrams’ 2009 version of Star Trek and cranking the volume up to near reference level.
With so many bombastic scenes in this film, there’s no shortage of opportunities to make an A/V receiver wince. We took every single one of them in an effort to bring out the A3010’s raucous side but found that the RX-A3010 was able to hold together remarkably well. With all channels blazing, the Yamaha kept its cool, remaining dynamic and in control of the explosive presentation. We did feel as if some of the high frequencies were overly accentuated-a characteristic we would listen for while testing music later-but walked away confident that this receiver can deliver power on demand as well as similarly priced competition like the Denon AVR-4311CI.
We then moved to a two-channel music playback evaluation. Here, the A3010 drove two different sets of Aperion floorstanding speakers with no subwoofer and the Boston Acoustics SoundWare XS system (which requires a subwoofer due to the small size of the speakers). For media we chose the DVD-Audio (96kHz/24 bit) version of Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Raise Your Spirit Higher on SACD and Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard on SACD.
As we listened to the drumming bonanza that takes place during the title cut on Money for Nothing, we couldn’t help but feel like the RX-A3010 was trying to flex its muscles a bit to prove that, yes, it really does have what it takes to beat us over the head with unbridled acoustical power. Then, after the intro peaks and the bombastic drumming gives way to Knopfler’s crunchy sounding, classically distorted guitar riff, it became apparent that Yamaha built the RX-A3010 to operate with finesse, too. The subtle harmonics in Knopfler’s chords were openly exposed and had a bite to them rarely experienced outside of listening to live instrumentation.
The DACs at work in the RX-A3010 do a superior job. We did several A/B comparisons between its conversion and our Oppo BDP-95’s conversion and, though the Oppo had the advantage in detail and resolution, the receiver ran a very close second. We also felt the receiver’s phono input is well above average for any receiver. While we preferred our Bellari just a bit more, the RX-A3010 surprised us with its full bodied and warm rendering of our favorite vinyl tracks.
This receiver sounds truly fantastic. The attack and decay of notes and effects was smooth and realistic. Vocals, particularly when played through the Aperion Verus Grands, sounded natural and lifelike. It was all extremely fun to behold and, yet, we just couldn’t get past the persistent tinge of artificially bright treble.
This sound we’re referring to…this accentuation at the very top of the treble region, may not be heard by everyone simply because it is so incredibly high that it’s out of the range of hearing for a lot of people. Still, it’s there and, in a way, a defining characteristic of this receiver. It’s not the super-hot, unnatural treble we’ve heard from some of Yamaha’s receivers from decades ago. This was a subtle addition that added an airy quality to almost any sound the receiver played back. Hearing it was kind of refreshing, as if we’d walked through a super fine mist on a ridiculously hot day but, after a while, the sensation got a little old and we found ourselves wanting to see what we could do to tame it. Enter: YPAO
YPAO is Yamaha’s proprietary parametric EQ system which also happens to take speaker distance measurements and adjust speaker size and crossover settings automatically. We’ve been clear in the past that we generally do not enjoy the results of these systems (though we were recently surprised by the generally acceptable results that Pioneer’s MCACC system gave us while evaluating the VSX-1021-K receiver). Our result with YPAO, however, was surprisingly positive.
Yamaha supplies what looks like a plastic version of the old Nerf boomerang. It’s a three-armed device that is meant to be placed on a tripod so that YPAO can take “angle measurements” from two points relative to the main point. The idea is that it would somehow handle first order reflections (sound reflected off walls, ceilings or floors that arrives to the ear less than 8ms after the source signal). To say we were skeptical of its results would be a gross understatement.
We ran YPAO (which cleverly gives you 10 seconds to get out of the room – why don’t they all do that?) and sat down to check the results. Our skepticism proved misplaced in this case. The high frequencies had been tamed without the receiver’s natural sound signature getting totally obliterated in the process. Almost everything sounded exactly the same (an observation we could easily verify by quickly turning the processing off and then back on again) but the ultra-high airiness had been calmed down and the bass had lost some of its delayed resonance. We did miss some of the lowest octave of bass that we were getting before but, ultimately, that ultra-low stuff is best handled by the subwoofer anyway and, overall, the bass was much tighter.
The Yamaha RX-A3010 is so feature rich and full of character that we could easily fill another two pages detailing our experience with it over the last couple of weeks. Rather than ruin any surprises, we’ll just let you discover some of this receivers secrets for yourself should you choose to pick one up. We do think that not including AirPlay was a mistake and hope to see this rectified in the future.
For now, know that the RX-A3010 is otherwise worthy of its flagship position. It competes very well in an increasingly tricky high-end receiver space by producing powerful, dynamic and engaging sound and providing a pleasant user experience through a superior graphic interface and effective auto-setup software. We’re also impressed by the use of premium parts, as evidenced with the receivers DACs and phono pre-amp.
While we tend to prefer a slightly warmer sound to Yamaha’s slight briskness, we have no doubt this receiver will find loads of fans who enjoy its lively, up-close approach. We highly recommend checking out this gentle giant of an A/V receiver.
- Powerful, dynamic sound
- Great user interface
- Effective auto-setup routine
- Excellent build quality
- No Airplay
- Slightly bright on some tracks
- Odd speaker terminal layout