Everything but the 'X' factor
What is the Yamaha RX-A850?The RX-A850 is Yamaha's latest mid-range Aventage AV receiver and boasts a host of features including support for their new MusicCast multiroom system. The A850 has seven channels of built-in amplification at 130W per a channel and supports most of the main surround formats including Dolby Atmos - although it can't decode DTS:X. Otherwise the A850 comes with everything we'd expect from Yamaha such as an attractive design, great build quality, built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, high resolution audio support, Ultra HD 4K support with HDCP2.2 and even an impressive remote app. The receiver isn't cheap and will set you back £899 as at the time of writing (August 2015) but, does it offer enough to make a mark in such a competitive market segment.
DesignThe RX-A850 is another well designed receiver from Yamaha and whilst the overall look might not be revolutionary, the build quality is better than some receivers that are twice the price. The A850 sits on four large feet and includes an Anti Resonance Technology (ART) wedge, which acts as an additional fifth foot in the middle to provide greater stability and isolation. There is an aluminium front panel, coupled with an attractive gloss and brushed metal finish. On the left hand side of the front panel is the customary input dial for selecting different sources and above that is the power button. Whilst over on the other side is a large volume control with a Pure Direct button above, which is designed to turn off all the video circuits and give you the cleanest possible sound.
Situated in the middle of the front panel is a large and informative display that can easily be read from a distance and dimmed if necessary. Along the bottom of the display are some basic controls and under these are four quick select buttons. Beneath these buttons there is a drop down flap behind which you'll find a few more controls and some extra inputs. These include a 6.3mm headphone jack, a USB port, a composite video input, analogue stereo inputs, an extra HDMI input and 3.5mm jack for the setup microphone. The RX-A850 is nicely engineered and very well made, it measures 435 x 171 x 382mm (W x H x D), weighs in at 10.6kg and comes in a choice of black or titanium.
The RX-A850 has all the looks and build quality that we would expect from Yamaha.
Connections and ControlAside from the additional inputs behind the drop down flap, all the other connections are at the rear. Here you'll find seven more HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs. The first three HDMI inputs and both HDMI outputs are HDMI 2.0 and support HDCP2.2, which gives the RX-A850 a nice degree of future-proofing. The HDMI connections also support Ultra HD 4K, 3D, CEC and ARC (Audio Return Channel). There is an aerial at the rear for the built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, although there is also a LAN port for a wired connection. The A850 has terminals for various configurations but the pre-outs are limited to 7.2 channels. There are optical and coaxial digital inputs, analogue inputs, composite video inputs and component video inputs, along with a phono input for those with a turntable. Finally there's an RS232 serial connector, a 12V trigger and IR in and out, along with connectors for the provided AM and FM aerials.
In terms of controls there are a number of basic ones on the receiver itself including buttons for accessing the second zone and the built-in tuners. There are also scene select buttons for quickly turning the receiver on and accessing the more commonly used inputs and a button for bypassing the DSP processing. There is also a full remote control that uses a two-tone black and silver finish that matches both the black and titanium models. All the keys you will need are present and the main buttons are sensibly laid out in the middle, making general control quite intuitive. However some of the other buttons are quite small and fiddly and there's no backlight, making it tricky to use in the dark.
If you are planning on using the RX-A850 in a very dark room you might prefer to use the free remote app, which is available for both iOS and Android. The app not only uses a well designed user interface but it's also more intuitive than the receiver's actual onscreen menus and it obviously lights up making it more practical in the dark. The app itself is responsive, effective and includes all the buttons that you need to control the receiver. It also has different pages for Zones, Inputs, DSP modes and Scenes, making it easy to select exactly which configuration you want and tailor the DSP processing to your personal tastes.
Yamaha RX-A850 Unboxing Video
Features and SpecsAs we have come to expect these days, the RX-A850 is ladened with features so let's break it down into those that are most important. The main selling point of the A850 is that it supports Dolby Atmos but we'll go through that in more detail later. It also supports all the other main surround formats like Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Pro Logic IIx and DTS-HD Master Audio, although it doesn't support DTS:X and Auro-3D. There's Yamaha's usual Cinema DSP processing with 17 different DSP programs and their YPAO room equalisation system with its own dedicated microphone. There's also dialogue level adjustment, dialogue lift, virtual presence, virtual surround and silent cinema features, along with compressed music enhancer, audio delay and a pure direct.
The receiver itself has seven channels of built-in amplification at 130W a channel into 8ohms and uses 192kHz/24-bit DACs for all channels. There are 7.2-channel pre-outs, a second zone feature and the option for bi-amping; whilst the receiver itself supports 5.1, 7.1 and 5.1.2 channel configurations where the additional two channels can be front height (presence) speakers or overhead channels depending on the decoding format used. On the video side of things the RX-A850 has HDMI 2.0 with support for HDCP2.2 and there will be a firmware update to HDMI 2.0a to add support for HDR (High Dynamic Range), so it has plenty of future-proofing. It can also handle Ultra HD (4K60p 4:4:4), 3D, CEC and ARC, whilst there's also video processing with upscaling to 4K resolution.
The RX-A850 includes built-in WiFi and Bluetooth and, thanks to a recent firmware update, it also supports MusicCast. This is Yamaha's new multiroom system that allows you to connect all your MusicCast devices into a single network that can be controlled from one smart device. It also allows anything connected to the A850 to be easily streamed to other MusicCast devices. The built-in WiFi allows you to stream content from your network as well as access music streaming services like Spotify Connect. The A850 also includes a wireless direct feature for connecting directly to devices and it supports Apple's AirPlay. The Yamaha supports gapless playback and can handle just about any file format including WMA, AAC, MP3, ALAC (up to 96kHz/24-bit), WAV (up to 192kHz/24-bit), AIFF (up to 192kHz/24-bit), FLAC (up to 192kHz/24-bit) and DSD (up to 5.6 MHz).
There are plenty of features including WiFi, Bluetooth, Dolby Atmos, HDMI 2.0/HDCP2.2 and MusicCast.
SetupSince we reviewed the RX-A850 immediately after Denon's AVR-X3200W, it gave us a chance to compare the two menu systems and setup procedures and we have to say that Denon's is definitely superior. We have always found Yamaha's menu system to be slightly fractured and often less than intuitive and so it proved with the A850. In terms of the menu itself you scroll down through options along the left hand side of the screen and then along another set of options along the bottom. We actually found that using the remote app made more sense because all the different features were more intuitively laid out, making it easier to navigate the entire system. When it comes to setup, the onscreen displays aren't always that easy to follow either and once again the AV Setup Guide app can come in handy when configuring your RX-A850.
In terms of the speaker layouts you basically have three main choices - 5.1, 7.1 or 5.1.2 - along with options for bi-amping, a second zone and up to two subwoofers. If you're using the extra two channels, you have a choice of two front height (presence) speakers, two overhead speakers or two upward-firing speakers. The latter two choices relate directly to Dolby Atmos but choosing them isn't immediately obvious and required us to go through the manual to find these options. Once you have chosen your specific configuration you can then run the YPAO - R.S.C (Reflected Sound Control) sound optimisation feature in conjunction with the included microphone. The system gives you a choice of a single point measurement or multi-point measurements (up to a maximum of eight) but the more measurements you take around the seating area the better the analysis of the room's acoustics.
TestingWe started by testing the RX-A850 in a two channel configuration before moving on to a standard 5.1-channel setup for both movies and multi-channel music. After that we used a full 7.1-channel speaker layout before testing the A850's Dolby Atmos capabilities using a 5.1.2 configuration that included two overhead speakers. Since the Yamaha only has seven channels of amplification and 7.2-channel pre-outs, it is restricted to a 5.1.2 setup and can't support a 5.1.4, 7.1.2 or 7.1.4 configuration. If the most you can handle in your room is a 5.1.2 setup then that's not an issue but if you hope to expand your immersive audio experience through additional amplification later then the RX-A850 isn't suitable for your needs. However you can connect all the speakers for a 7.1-channel configuration and two height or overhead speakers and the receiver will automatically switch from 7.1 to 5.1.2 depending on the content, which is a handy feature.
Yamaha RX-A850 Video Review
We were testing the RX-A850 immediately after reviewing the Denon AVR-X3200W, so it made sense to use the same listening material, thus allowing us to directly compare these two similarly priced receivers. After a period of running in we started off with a number of 5.1-channel soundtracks and the A850 receiver did a superb job of decoding Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio mixes. It handled the overall sound fields with genuine authority, creating a real sense of balance and cohesion between the five speakers. The Yamaha steered the various effects in Gravity with ease and also handled the more atmospheric scenes in The Water Diviner with great skill, really creating a sense of environment.
Moving on to a 7.1-channel configuration and the results were equally impressive, with the additional rear channels creating a slightly more immersive experience. We found the RX-A850 handled Pacific Rim's highly active surround mix very well, producing an open and detailed front soundstage and effectively moving surround effects through the side and rear speakers. It also integrated the subwoofer very effectively, giving the film's monster vs mecha action real low frequency impact. The same was true in the sandstorm and battle scenes in The Water Diviner and overall the A850 delivered a very accomplished performance with both 5.1- and 7.1-channel surround mixes.
Since the RX-A850 can decode Dolby Atmos, we tested it in a 5.1.2 configuration, which is the only option available. Whilst it would have been nice to have additional pre-outs to allow for a 7.1.2 configuration, the reality is that in an average sized room a 5.1.2 configuration will still deliver an immersive surround experience, especially if you use tripole speakers to fill the gap at the rear. We used the Dolby Atmos version of Gravity and the A850 immediately showed that Yamaha's years of experience with height channels has paid dividends. The receiver delivered a great performance that took full advantage of that film's highly directional soundtrack, moving effects smoothly around the room and immersing you in the complex audio design.
We also watched Insurgent in Dolby Atmos and the scenes that used the additional speakers most effectively still sounded good in 5.1.2, even though we originally listened to them on a 7.2.4 system. The scenes set inside the test simulations retained their sense of hyper-real immersion, making them more visceral than simply watching them in normal surround. The YPAO automated room equalisation software did a very good job of smoothing out any acoustical variations in the room, creating a nice sense of tonal balance. Since this is a Yamaha receiver there is a multitude of different DSP processing modes but we normally used the unprocessed straight mode which just seamlessly switched between whichever type of soundtrack the receiver was decoding.
In the the same way that we tested the Denon AVR-X320W immediately before reviewing the RX-A850, we also had Cambridge Audio's new CXU universal Blu-ray player in our home cinema, so we took full advantage of that player's universal capabilities. We went through CD, HDCD, DVD-Audio and SACD discs, along with high resolution audio from Blu-ray, and overall the A850 showed a lovely sense of musicality. We have always liked how Yamaha's receivers handle both stereo and multi-channel music and the RX-A850 is no exception.
Regardless of whether the music was stereo or multi-channel, the receiver delivered a clear and cohesive soundstage that retained plenty of detail. On two-channel recordings there was an excellent sense of stereo separation, with instruments placed effectively within the front soundstage, and listening to Modern Blues by The Waterboys the mix of electric and acoustic instruments were nicely rendered, with the A850 never sounding shrill or sibilant. When it came to high-resolution multi-channel recordings like Roger Waters Amused to Death the Yamaha had a chance to really strut its stuff, delivering a highly immersive listening experience.
We also streamed music to the RX-A850 from our network media server and whether it was lossy MP3 recordings or lossless high resolution content, the receiver handled them with equal aplomb. Yamaha's compressed music enhancer certainly helped make the lossy tracks more listenable and with lossless audio the 850 took full advantage of the greater detail on offer. The fact that the RX-A850 also supports MusicCast means that the receiver can also form part of a single multiroom network and play content from any device within that network or stream audio from any source connected to the A850 back into the MusicCast network.
Yamaha know multi-channel like the back of their hand but are just as adept when it comes to stereo.
- Great sound with movies & music
- Dolby Atmos decoding
- HDMI 2.0/HDCP2.2 support
- Impressive set of features
- MusicCast included
- Excellent build quality
- Attractive design
- No decoding for DTS:X
- Limited to 7 channels
- Menus & setup confusing
- No backlight on remote
Yamaha RX-A850 7.2 AV Receiver Review
Should I buy one?
The Yamaha RX-A850 is certainly a well made and feature-packed receiver that delivers a great performance with both movies and music. The design is attractive, the build quality is excellent and the ART wedge makes for a stable and isolated chassis. There are plenty of connections and the use of HDMI 2.0 with HDCP2.2 means the A850 has a decent level of future proofing. There's built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, not to mention support for Yamaha's new MusicCast multiroom system. There's excellent networking capabilities, a well-designed remote app and impressive file support for high resolution audio. Since this is a Yamaha receiver there's plenty of sophisticated DSP processing and the YPAO automated set was very effective. In general our only complaints would be that the menu system and setup wasn't always intuitive and there's no backlight on the remote control.
The RX-A850 has seven channels of amplification built-in and supports Dolby Atmos, although only in a 5.1.2 configuration. It also decodes just about every other surround format but there's no support for DTS:X, which might be an issue if you feel that's important. The A850 delivered a great performance with movie soundtracks producing an open and immersive experience with both 5.1 and 7.1 mixes. Yamaha's years of experience with height channels paid dividends in terms of the Dolby Atmos performance, the steering of effects was excellent and the receiver retained plenty of detail in the overall sound field. The RX-A850 had plenty of head room and the bass was also well integrated, which made watching movies a visceral and enjoyable experience. The Yamaha was equally adept at handling music, whether stereo or multi-channel, with a clear and precise degree of imaging.
What are my alternatives?
The Yamaha RX-A850 currently has one obvious competitor in the shape of Denon's AVR-X3200W. This 7-channel receiver also supports Dolby Atmos, uses HDMI 2.0 with HDCP2.2, has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, includes extensive features and has an effective remote app. However it also includes DTS:X decoding thanks to an upcoming firmware update and it has a more intuitive menu system and setup procedure, along with a simplified remote control and rear panel. The build quality might not be quite as good as the A850 but the X3200 has slightly more power and it's £150 cheaper - making the Denon a very tough act to follow. However the Yamaha RX-A850 is still a class receiver and delivers a great performance for the money, making it more than worthy of a recommendation.
Value For Money7
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.