Yamaha RX-A1080 AV Receiver Review
Add some AI smarts to your surround sound
What is the Yamaha RX-A1080?The Yamaha RX-A1080 is the latest mid-range entry in the company's AVENTAGE line of AV receivers, and sits just below the higher end RX-A2080 and just above the RX-A880. It's a 7.2-channel AVR that comes with support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, although it is limited to a 5.1.2-channel configuration.
The A1080 supports 4K/60p, 4:4:4, HDR, Rec.2020, and HDCP 2.2. There's built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, Hi-Res audio support and MusicCast, along with a new Surround:AI mode. That's an impressive set of features, but at a price of £949 as at the time of writing (June 2019) it's up against some fairly stiff competition.
DesignThe Yamaha RX-A1080's design is business as usual for the AVENTAGE range, with a minimalist front and two-tone gloss and brushed metal finish. There's a large input selection dial on the left and an even larger volume dial on the right. There's a power button on the top left and a Pure Direct button on the top right, whilst in the middle there's a large and informative display. This display is large enough and clear enough to be read from across a room and it can be dimmed if necessary
The A1080 uses an aluminium front panel, a symmetrical power amplifier layout and comes in a choice of either black or titanium. The receiver also includes Yamaha's Anti Resonance Technology (ART) wedge, which is basically a fifth foot under the chassis to provide greater support and isolation. It's certainly well built, with a level of construction that is superior to receivers in a similar price range, and in terms of its dimensions it measures 435 x 182 x 439mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 14.9kg.There's a drop down panel beneath the display, behind which you'll find all the buttons necessary to control the A1080 if you happen to misplace the remote. There are also some additional inputs including a headphone jack, a USB port, stereo analogue inputs and a 3.5mm jack for the YPAO setup microphone. However, Yamaha has ditched the front HDMI input for some reason.
The design is business as usual but Yamaha has decided to drop the front HDMI input
Connections & ControlThe Yamaha RX-A1080 has a solid set of connections with seven HDMI 2.0b inputs and three HDMI 2.0b outputs, all of which support 3D, 4K/60p 4:4:4, High Dynamic Range (HDR10, broadcast HLG, and Dolby Vision, but currently not HDR10+), Rec.2020, and HDCP 2.2. In the case of the main output, it also supports eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel).
There is the usual array of legacy connections with composite and component video covered, along with coaxial and optical digital inputs and analogue audio inputs that include a phono stage for vinyl fans. There's also an RS232 serial connector, 12V triggers and IR repeaters but no direct USB audio input.
There is a provided aerial for the built-in wireless, Bluetooth, and AirPlay 2, although if you'd rather use a wired connection there's also an Ethernet port. There are also nine sets of speaker terminals for the seven channels of built-in amplification (plus bi-amping), along with 7.2-channel pre-outs.The included remote has finally been redesigned, with the previous controller's mass of tiny buttons now replaced by a simplified and more logical layout. All the buttons you'll need are present and correct and there’s finally a useful backlight as well. Unfortunately, the rubber keys are almost flush with the surface of the remote, making them hard to locate in the dark (even with the backlight).
If you’re the kind of person who likes to use their smartphone for almost everything, there are two excellent apps available for both iOS and Android. The AV Controller app is an excellent remote app, with a well-designed and comprehensive interface that makes using the A1080 much easier. There’s also the MusicCast Controller, which allows you to use the processor as part of a multiroom system.
The redesigned remote is an improvement, and Yamaha has finally added a backlight
Yamaha A1080 Features & SpecsThe Yamaha RX-A1080 is a solidly specified mid-range AV receiver, with an ESS Sabre ES9007S DAC handling the seven channels and a claimed 110W of power. It can decode Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, plus all the other variants of those formats (aside from IMAX Enhanced DTS:X).
Naturally, there's Yamaha’s proprietary Cinema DSP HD3 processing, which promises up to 11 virtual channels and 24 different modes designed to enhance various genres such as Sci-Fi, Action, Sport, etc., or replicate the acoustics of specific venues.
New this year is the addition of Surround:AI. This feature uses machine learning to analyse scenes by focusing on distinct sound elements such as dialogue, background music, ambient sounds and sound effects, and automatically optimises the surround effect using DSP processing in real time.
The A1080 is compatible with Yamaha’s MusicCast multiroom system. This superb platform allows you to stream files up to 24-bit/192kHz to other MusicCast devices, and vice versa. It’s a doddle to set up, and everything is controlled via the MusicCast App. Assuming you have at least two compatible devices, your multiroom system can be up and running in minutes.
You can easily switch between different sources on the receiver itself, or even different devices connected to the network. There's even the option to use MusicCast 20 or MusicCast 50 speakers as wireless surround channels. MusicCast offers an extensive selection of integrated music services that includes Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, and Deezer.
The Yamaha also supports Apple's AirPlay 2, allowing easy control from your iPhone or iPad, as well as asking Siri for assistance. Speaking of smart interactivity, there's also the option to control the receiver and a MusicCast system using either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. There's even a compressed music enhancer that's optimised for Bluetooth audio. Finally, there's an FM and DAB tuner built in for any radio heads out there.
There's an extensive set of features, headlined by Yamaha's new Surround:AI mode
Setup & OperationThe Yamaha RX-A1080 boasts an updated menu system, with a user interface that finally looks like it was developed in the 21st century. However, once you start using the menus, you quickly realise that the underlying functionality is largely unchanged. I’ve never found Yamaha AV products particularly intuitive to set up and that hasn’t really changed, with the company still using some confusing terminology.
The A1080 includes the YPAO-R.S.C. (Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimiser – Reflected Sound Control) automated room correction system. It analyses the room acoustics and measures various speaker characteristics using a provided microphone, and then calibrates audio parameters to achieve optimum sound. It applies 64-bit precision EQ calculations to reduce the negative aspects of the room itself, and while not as sophisticated as Dirac, or as user-friendly as Audyssey, it can prove effective.
Unfortunately, despite the updated menus, YPAO retains its dated and confusing UI. So make sure you choose the correct speaker layout (including the overhead or presence channels) and then assign the amps accordingly. YPAO isn’t particularly intuitive compared to Audyssey on a Denon, but the automated EQ routine starts up when you plug in the mic, measuring all the speakers in the system up to eight times. You can take fewer measurements, but the more you do, the more data the system has to analyse.
YPAO has an annoying tendency to automatically assign the speakers as large, but if you’re using a subwoofer it’s best to set them to small and then select the appropriate crossover (as a general rule of thumb 80Hz works well). There’s also a choice of three parametric EQ curves: Flat, Natural, and Front. Unless you’re using a pair of mega expensive front speakers I’d ignore the latter, and choose either Flat or Natural. In general, I find Flat works best for most content.
I started testing with a basic two-channel layout, before moving on to a 5.1-channel setup, a 7.1-channel system, and finally a 5.1.2-channel configuration with two overhead speakers for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. The A1080 is limited to 7.1-channels of processing, so you can't expand the receiver to 5.1.4, 7.1.2 or 7.1.4 by adding extra amplification.
The speakers I used for testing were three M&K S150 monitors at the front, a pair of M&K S150T tripole speakers at the rear, and two JBL Control Ones overhead. The Yamaha allows you to run up to two subwoofers, which I did in testing with a pair of M&K V12 subs at the front of the room.
The A1080 was connected to a Panasonic DP-UB9000, an Oppo UDP-203, and an Apple TV 4K. For testing I employed a range of content including music in stereo and 5.1, as well as movies with 5.1, 7.1, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks. As my primary sources, I used CDs, SACDs, DVD-Audio discs, Blu-rays and Ultra HD Blu-rays, along with high resolution audio files and various streaming services including Spotify and Tidal.
The menus have been updated but YPAO remains confusing to setup and use
PerformanceThe Yamaha RX-A1080 is a particularly strong performer when it comes to music. Yamaha has a fantastic pedigree with two-channel audio thanks to some impressive tuning, and don't forget the company also manufacturers musical instruments. As a result, when you combine this musicality with both MusicCast and Hi-Res audio support, the result is a highly effective network audio player, that sounds fantastic in stereo.
Listening to the remastered release of Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love reveals a pleasing level of detail retrieval on The Ninth Wave. The complex layers of this single long piece are easy to pick out, while the sense of stereo imaging is excellent. Kate's vocals are beautifully rendered, and the various voices and effects that pepper the track are nicely defined. There's a driving bass beat to the album's title track and, overall, this is a pleasingly musical performance for a receiver.
The headline feature on Yamaha’s latest models is undoubtedly the Surround:AI mode. This uses machine-learning algorithms to enhance content based on specific aural signatures. It analyses elements such as dialogue, music, ambient sounds and effects, and optimises the surround effects in real time. What that essentially means is that receiver selects the appropriate DSP mode on the fly, depending on what you're actually watching.
How useful you find this feature will largely depend on your opinions relating to DSP manipulation of audio signals. If you're a fan of Yamaha's various acoustical processing modes, then you might like the idea of the receiver just applying the optimal mode for you automatically. There's no denying that the effects are often impressive, making the audio sound bigger and more immersive. However, it is changing the incoming signal and manipulating it accordingly, so purists might prefer to leave Surround:AI off.
If you fall into the latter category then with careful setup, the results are often very impressive. The recent 4K Blu-ray release of Alien retains the film’s original 5.1-channel mix, and the A1080 does an excellent job of rendering Jerry Goldsmith’s opening musical cues. As the title slowly reveals itself, Goldsmith's sparse instrumentation is both tense and eerie. The receiver delivers the score in a clear and defined manner, creating a genuine sense of unease before the film has even really started.
As soon as things kick off, the receiver does a fantastic job of reproducing the film's expertly crafted sound design. The Yamaha picks out all of the subtle surround effects that help create a feeling of claustrophobic space, giving the Nostromo interiors a greater sense of realism. There's plenty of sonic chaos in the surrounds as the spacecraft lands on LV-426, and the bass is tight and impactful. The cacophony of sounds that accompany Ripley running around corridors towards the end are placed with precision and yet, within all this surround action, her desperate breathing remains clear and focused.
Star Trek: Discovery boasts an energetic surround mix for a TV series and at the end of the second season there's a spectacular space battle involving the titular vessel, the USS Enterprise, Klingon warships, and thousands of smaller craft. The RX-A1080 handles this sound design with skill, steering effects around the room and controlling the active surrounds with precision.
Yamaha's expertise when it comes to multichannel audio is immediately apparent, and the A1080 gives the audio a greater sense of size and depth. Phaser beams rip across the room, explosions tear through the fuselage with plenty of low-end impact, and ships zoom from speaker to speaker creating an immersive soundstage. The camera is as active as the audio, running down corridors and panning around bridges, but despite all the directional sound effects the dialogue remains clear and focused on the screen.
Yamaha receivers excel at delivering a big and bold soundstage, and the RX-A1080 is no exception. It might be limited to only seven channels of amplification, but the benefit is that, compared to the competition, there’s more power on offer. As a result, this receiver is capable of an extremely dynamic performance, as evidenced during the opening battle in Bumblebee. This sounds incredibly cinematic in Dolby Atmos, with laser blasts and explosions spread across all the available channels, including behind and overhead.
Unsurprisingly for a Transformers movie, Bumblebee has a highly complex sound design, with plenty of immersive sound effects. However, the Yamaha ensures the mix always remains coherent, with the processing highlighting the various surround action with precision and energy. There's plenty of bass as well and it's nicely integrated, giving the Autobots size and weight but also ensuring their punches have more impact. Low frequencies are also subtly mixed with the centre channel to give their voices more depth.
The Blu-ray of Crimson Peak boasts a superb DTS:X soundtrack that makes full use of the format to enhance the amazing visuals, and the A1080 utilises its seven channels to deliver this highly immersive sonic experience. The house in the film is a living character, and this is conveyed through the sound of wood creaking and groaning. These effects move seamlessly from speaker to speaker and the Yamaha steers these aural cues with precision. The sound of water rushing through heating pipes also moves from speaker to speaker fluidly, and the receiver retains the tonal balance of these constantly moving effects.
However, when watching both Bumblebee and Crimson Peak, the A1080's limited number of channels does reduce the overall sense of immersion compared to 5.1.4, 7.1.2, and especially a 7.1.4 system. The more channels there are, the more effective the delivery of these object-based audio formats. The absence of back speakers, in particular, leaves a sonic hole at the rear that affects the seamless steering of sound effects. The RX-A1080 sounds excellent in a 5.1.2 configuration, but there's no option to expand this if you so wished. The competition not only includes nine channels built in but also has the ability to decode more channels, thus putting the Yamaha at a disadvantage.
The A1080 delivers a big and dynamic sound, backed up by state-of-the-art processing
- Great multichannel sound
- Dolby Atmos & DTS:X support
- Excellent with music
- Impressive build quality
- MusicCast is effective
- Atmos/DTS:X processing limited
- Setup not always intuitive
Yamaha RX-A1080 AV Receiver Review
Yamaha RX-A1080 VerdictThe Yamaha RX-A1080 is a solid 7.2-channel AV receiver that boasts a big and dynamic soundstage, backed-up by state-of-the-art processing. It’s extremely musical in terms of its delivery, and thanks to MusicCast it’s also a very capable network audio player.
The A1080's seven channels of built-in amplification are powerful, but the surround processing is restricted to 7.1 or 5.1.2, eliminating any upgrade path. As a result, while this particular receiver is a great choice for fans of Yamaha’s DSP approach to surround sound, there are more flexible alternatives available.
However, if you only need seven channels and you're looking for a well-made and comprehensively specified AV receiver, then the Yamaha RX-A1080 is certainly worth considering.
What are my alternatives?The big problem with the Yamaha RX-A1080 is that compared to the competition it's less capable in terms of immersive audio because it is restricted to 7.2-channels of processing. The reality is that if you're in the market for an AV receiver, you should really be looking at the Denon AVR-X4500H. This particular model has nine channels built in, and it can process up to 11.2 channels. It also decodes Dolby Atmos, Auro-3D, and DTS:X (including IMAX Enhanced), and includes Audyssey MultEQ XT32.
There are eight HDMI inputs and three outputs, with support for eARC. It also includes Denon's HEOS multiroom system, an FM tuner, Apple AirPlay 2, and compatibility with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. If that wasn't enough it's attractively designed with a choice of black or silver, it's well made, has an excellent remote control, and an incredibly intuitive menu system. What's more, all this will only set you back £949, making the X4500 the AV receiver to beat at the moment.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,099.00
Value For Money8
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