It's been a while since we've had a Yamaha AV product in for review, nearly four years in fact. However we hope to remedy this over the next few months by taking a look at some of the Japanese manufacturer's latest products. Yamaha has been carving quite a niche for themselves in the rapidly expanding soundbar market, so we'll be taking a look at that line-up soon but to kick things off we'll review one of their AVENTAGE AV receivers. The RX-A1020 sits in the middle of Yamaha's receiver range but as part of the AVENTAGE line of high-performance models it incorporates a design concept intended to deliver a full-bodied sound for movie sound effects and accurate reproduction of music sources.
Yamaha claim that by expertly harmonising traditional and advanced technologies, every factor that affects sound quality from materials and parts used in construction, to the layout, vibration damping and 'fine-tuning', is handled with no other thought than to achieve the best possible audio quality. As a result, every AVENTAGE model has the ability to reproduce the most subtle details of high-definition sound, so that listeners can enjoy a truly high-class sound studio experience at home. It is certainly good to hear a manufacturer placing a priority on sound quality, rather than a multitude of features that you almost certainly wouldn't use.
Not that the RX-A1020 is lacking in the features department and includes a construction that is designed to maximise sound quality and minimise unwanted artefacts with an Anti Resonance Technology (A.R.T.) Wedge (that's a fifth foot to the rest of us), a symmetrical amplifier layout and a rigid bottom frame. In addition the RX-A1020 includes Apple's AirPlay for wireless music playback and 4K upscaling and passthrough. There's also YPAO R.S.C (Reflected Sound Control) for sound optimisation, as well as Dialogue Lift and Dialogue Level Adjustment. Not to mention 8 HDMI inputs and 2 outputs, along with USB ports, advanced network features and a remote control app. So let's see how this all comes together as we put the Yamaha RX-A1020 through its paces.
Design and Connectivity
The RX-A1020 uses the classic receiver design and layout but then if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The front has two large control dials, the one on the left is for selecting the input and the one on the right is the main volume control. Above the input dial on the left is the Main Zone (on/off) button and on the far right there is a small LED to indicate if the Pure Direct mode has been selected. Between the two dials there is a drop down flap and above that a large, well laid out and informative display window. That's it as far as the front facia is concerned, so the RX-A1020 has a very clean and slightly minimalist look that really suits the solid aluminium front panel. Aside from its aesthetic value, the panel is used to effectively shield sensitive circuitry from external noise and electronic radiation generated by dimmer switches, fluorescent lighting, video monitors and so on. This ensures optimum sonic performance in the widest range of installation environments. The chassis comes in a choice of two colour schemes, one is the traditional matte black and the other is a two-tone 'Titanium' finish.
Behind the drop down panel you will find a basic set of controls, which is handy if you misplace the remote. There are navigation and enter buttons for the onscreen menus and displays, there are multi-zone controls, 'Scene' selection buttons and controls for the built-in AM and FM tuners. There are also some inputs including an additional HDMI connector, composite video, analogue stereo, an Optical digital input and a USB port. There is also a 3.5mm jack for the YPAO microphone and a headphone socket with Yamaha's proprietary Silent Cinema DSP algorithm for headphone listening. Beneath the centre of the chassis there is a fifth foot that Yamaha refers to as the Anti Resonance Technology (A.R.T.) Wedge, which is designed to dampen vibrations from the power transformer, power transistors and heat sinks, as well as vibrations that might be caused by the sound from the speakers. The rigid chassis includes additional bottom frames and the interior of RX-A102 uses a symmetrical layout so that the left and right channels are physically and electrically isolated, which maximises channel separation and improves signal to noise ratio. As an AVENTAGE model, the RX-A1020 includes high quality parts that allow Yamaha's sound engineers to 'tune' the receiver for optimum performance.
The RX-A1020 has an extensive set of connections at the rear and as you would expect from a modern receiver, there is a healthy combination of both up-to-date connectors and a surprising number of legacy ones too. You do wonder how long it will be before an AV receiver manufacturer has the courage to drop all these legacy connectors and just concentrate on the ones that most people use these days? When it comes to modern connectors the Yamaha has seven HDMI inputs at the rear (and an eighth at the front), along with two HDMI outputs. There are is also an Ethernet port, along with an RS232 connector for serial control, two 12V triggers and remote inputs and outputs. The RX-A1020 has seven channels of built-in amplification and there are speaker binding posts for the front, centre, side and rear channels, as well as an additional set of binding posts that can be used for a second zone, bi-amping or 'front presence' speakers. There are analogue multi-channel inputs and outputs, along with analogue outputs for a second zone. There are also connectors for optical and coaxial digital inputs and outputs, as well as phono connectors and the antenna sockets for the built-in tuners. Finally there are input and output connections for component video, composite video and even S-video - now that's a blast from the past.
The RX-A1020 comes with an attractive and well-designed remote control, that is also comfortable to hold and simple to use with one hand. The remote includes a backlight, making it easier to use in the dark, although the buttons only light up when you press one of them and there's no dedicated button to turn the backlight on, so you need to make sure you know where certain regularly used keys are located. Thankfully the buttons have been sensibly placed, with the navigation and volume keys all located in the centre of the controller, making them easy to find. All the buttons that you need to control the RX-A1020 are included and you can even enter preset codes to use the remote to control other devices - very handy.
Setup and Menus
The RX-A1020 uses Yamaha’s latest Graphical User Interface, which has a high resolution display with clear, easy-to-use menus and also includes a selectable Status Bar that shows input source, volume level, DSP mode and audio format. The GUI provides a choice of seven languages and can be displayed over both normal and 3D pictures. The SCENE PLUS function simplifies operation by providing one touch power-on along with selection of the desired source and the appropriate DSP programmes. SCENE PLUS offers a choice of 12 SCENE selections, four of which can be assigned to the second zone in a multi-zone system. SCENE PLUS can be selected from the front panel, remote control, GUI and even from the AV Controller app. However the menu system sometimes falls into the trap of trying to be too intuitive, which means that whilst it may be easy to follow for novices, it can sometimes be frustrating for the more experienced user.
When you press the 'On-Screen' button there is an option bar that runs down the left hand side and this provides a series of choices including Input, Scene, Sound Program and Setup. Once you choose Setup, there are a number of choices you can scroll through along the bottom of the screen. First there is the Sound menu which provides controls for setting the Lipsync, Dynamic Range, Max Volume, Initial Volume, Pure Direct Mode and Adaptive DSP level. Then there is the HDMI submenu which allows you to set the HDMI Control (CEC) functionality and the Audio Output. You can also set the Standby Through feature and when the RX-A1020 is in this mode, the input source (Blu-ray player, game console, etc.) for viewing on the monitor can be changed via the remote control. There’s no need to turn on the AV receiver in order to switch sources.
The next submenu relates to setting up a Network connection and here you can set the IP Address either manually or automatically. You can also set the Network to Standby which means the receiver can be turned on by other networked devices. There is also the MAC Address Filter and the Network Name. Next up we have the Multi Zone submenu where you can set both the main zone and the second zone, as well as assign the Monitor Out. You can also set the Party Mode which allows you to play back in zone 2 the same music that is being played back in the main zone. During the party mode, stereo playback is automatically selected for all zones. Utilize this function when you want to use main zone music as background music for a house party.
The Function submenu allows you to set the Input Assignment for different connections and sources, as well as select the Display Set which configures the settings related to the front display and TV screen display. It is here that you can also dim or turn off the front display, set up the two 12V triggers and lock the settings with the Memory Guard. Finally there is the ECO submenu where you can set the timer for the Auto Power Down and also turn on the ECO Mode if you want to save energy.
In terms of its audio prowess, the RX-A1020 has an excellent set of features above and beyond the structural improvements already mentioned. The 7-channel amplifier is capable of 170W per a channel at 4 ohms and 110W per a channel at 8 ohms. The RX-A1020 uses a high speed thermal feedback power amplifier and a heat sink with anti-vibration and anti-thermal properties. There's also a DAC on Pure Ground circuitry and Ultra Low Jitter PPL circuitry to help optimise sound imaging. The RX-A1020 includes decoding for every audio codec you'd care to shake a stick at including Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio.
As you would expect from a modern receiver, the RX-A1020 provides a variety of network features that enable you to access more sources and also enhance its operation. You can connect the receiver to your network and enjoy Internet Radio, which is a handy addition to the already built-in AM and FM tuners. The RX-A1020 is also DLNA v1.5 compliant, meaning that you can access files on your network and operate your system via Web Browser Control. There is a LAN port at the rear for an Ethernet connection but there's no wireless capability out of the box, although you can buy the optional YWA-10 WiFi dongle for around £75. A USB port on the front panel allows for playback from a USB storage device or convenient connection of an iPod/iPhone/iPad, which can also be charged when connected, even if the receiver is off. In addition, you can use the receiver’s remote control unit to operate the iPod/iPhone/iPad music playback functions. The interface is very attractive, easy to read and navigate and album art is included where applicable.
The RX-A1020 allows you use the Yamaha AV Controller app that is downloadable from the iTunes App Store or Google play to control power on/off and volume, select input and DSP modes and operate other functions from an iPod, iPhone, iPad or Android phones and tablets. We found the app to be well designed, with an attractive interface that was easy to navigate. Overall it was definitely one of the better remote apps we have tested, allowing for effective control of the receiver and making a great alternative to the standard remote control. The RX-A1020 also supports AirPlay, which means they can accept wireless music streaming from iPod touch, iPhone or iPad, as well as from iTunes on Macs or PCs. This makes it easy to enjoy music from your mobile devices or computer on your home theatre system. You can also view metadata such as song title, artist name as well as album art, where available, via the receiver's on-screen display.
The RX-A1020 includes video processing features that centre on deinterlacing and scaling the image, although there is the option to pass the signal untouched. As is becoming more common these days receiver also includes HDMI input/output support for 4K video pass-through and it can perform 4K upscaling to boost a lower resolution image to ultra high-definition resolution. This ensures compatibility with the latest higher resolution video formats and displays. The receiver can also pass 3D content, supports Deep Colour (30/36 bit), x.v.Colour, 24Hz Refresh Rate and Auto Lip-Sync compensation. The RX-A1020 includes edge adaptive deinterlacing which, unlike ordinary deinterlacing, doesn't use upper and lower ranges to interpolate pixels in areas of movement. Edge adaptive deinterlacing detects the direction of the line and interpolates the pixels optimally, thus avoiding jaggies to diagonal lines.
Thanks to this high quality video processing when it came to handling standard and high definition content, the RX-A1020 delivered an impressive performance, deinterlacing 480i, 576i and 1080i signals and scaling up to 1080p/24/50/60 over both component and HDMI. We were pleased to see that the RX-A1020 also had no problems detecting both 3:2 and 2:2 cadences, as well as scaling standard definition content without introducing unwanted artefacts or jaggies. It is encouraging to see Yamaha concentrating on deinterlacing and scaling, both of which are useful features for a receiver, and avoiding the temptation interfere with the signal in other ways or include unnecessary picture controls. The Audio Return Channel function enables data to be sent and received via the same HDMI cable, so you can hear the sound from the TV via a single HDMI cable, with no need for an extra optical cable.
As you would expect from a modern receiver, setup is very straightforward thanks to a highly effective wizard that is simple to follow. Rather than license from a third-party provider like Audyssey, Yamaha uses its own proprietary automatic setup and room correction program called YPAO (Yamaha Parametric Acoustic Optimizer). YPAO analyses the room acoustics and measures various speaker characteristics, then calibrates the audio parameters needed to achieve optimum sound at any of eight listening positions. It employs Reflected Sound Control to correct early reflections and it also provides DSP Effect Normalisation, which varies the CINEMA DSP parameters according to the reflected sounds.
However if you so wish you can also setup the RX-A1020 manually and the menu system gives you an extensive set of submenus to help you with this process. Within the Speaker Manual Setup there are options for selecting the Setting Pattern, copying the Setting Data to different patterns, assigning the Power Amps, Configuring the setup, measuring the Distances, setting the Levels, adjusting the Parametric EQ and starting the Test Tone. The RX-A1020 also includes Intelligent Amp Assign which automatically assigns amplifier channels to certain speakers, depending on what functions are selected. For example, in a 7.1-channel system, when Zone 2 is off, all 7.1 channels will be used in the Main Zone. However, when Zone 2 is on, power to the two Surround Back channels will be directed to the two speakers in Zone 2, and the Main Zone will receive 5.1 channels of power. Similarly, when CINEMA DSP 3D is on, the two Front Presence speakers will be powered and not the two Surround Back speakers. When CINEMA DSP 3D is off, this situation is reversed. Thanks to Intelligent Amp Assign, all this is done automatically and there’s no need to switch the speaker cables at the rear of your receiver, which can make life considerably easier.
Yamaha has been at the forefront of Digital Signal Processing for years, so it should come as no surprise to discover a wide range of DSP modes on the RX-A1020. From a hall in Munich to a church in Freiburg, from a cellar club to a warehouse loft, you can find a DSP mode to suit your mood. Personally we prefer listening to our movie soundtracks and music 'au naturale' but if you fancy experimenting the option's there. There's also CINEMA DSP 3D which provides a wide, high and dense sound field, designed to complement the more immersive visuals from 3D content. Long before everyone else got in the act, Yamaha had been pioneering the use of additional height or, as they call them, presence speakers. Now there is also a Virtual Presence Speakers feature, which can deliver three dimensional sound without the actual use of presence speakers. The Dialogue Lift feature raises the sound of dialogue from the centre speaker to a position in the centre of the screen and the newly developed virtual dialogue lift achieves the same effect without the need for presence speakers. Dialogue Level Adjustment lets you control the volume of the vocal sound, so you hear movie dialogue and music vocals at the ideal level for clear, comfortable listening.
The RX-A1020 also has exclusive features to help with the bane of modern life, excessive digital compression. When music is encoded into a digitally compressed format like MP3, the frequency response suffers, so Yamaha’s Compressed Music Enhancer employs sophisticated DSP algorithms to restore what was lost. Whilst the RX-A1020 can also deliver plenty of impact, there are times when you might need to keep the volume in check. The Adaptive DRC feature automatically adjusts the dynamic range of the sound according to the volume level. This ensures that you hear clear dialog and vocals, and all sound effects at comfortable levels. There is no need to adjust the volume level as you listen; everything from whispers to big explosions will be heard clearly and comfortably at the same volume setting. It also tones down loud TV commercials, and is ideal for low-volume, late-night listening, when you don't want to disturb others.
So after all that, how does the RX-A1020 sound? Well traditionally Yamaha receivers have had a sound that would be described as precise and detailed rather than warm or musical. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially when it comes to multi-channel soundtracks where the ability to coherently reproduce the complex sound designs of modern movies is vital. So it should come as no surprise to discover that the RX-A1020 sounded absolutely stellar with multi-channel film soundtracks. We'd recently picked up Pixar's 3D re-release of Monsters Inc. on Blu-ray and given the fact that an animated film's soundtrack is built from the ground up, it can often give a receiver a thorough working out. The absolutely fantastic 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack on Monsters Inc. did exactly that, with perfect imaging of objects within a three dimensional space. The soundfield was very active, with plenty of localised sounds, imaginative use of steering and highly effective bass. The dialogue was clear and well integrated and the musical was beautifully rendered, resulting in an extremely enjoyable experience.
After our Pixar high-jinks we moved on to something a little more grounded in reality and tried out Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, both of which have very atmospheric DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks that are integral to their stories. In the first, Ben Affleck uses the sound design to place you in the middle of action as he deftly moves from actual news footage to flawless recreations. As he switches to a recreation the surround channels burst into life, enveloping the viewer in the chaos of the crowds of students storming the US Embassy. It's is a highly effective filmmaking tactic that the RX-A1020 ably helps to deliver, with a perfectly orchestrated cacophony of sound effects. In Zero Dark Thirty the intention is similar but in Katherine Bigelow's brilliantly recreated assault on Bin Laden's compound, it is the absence of sound and the subtle use of sound effects that leave the viewer on edge. The dynamic range is so important during this scene and as your ears adjust to the deliberate silence of the night-time raid, the sudden sounds of small arms fire and explosives seem more like howitzers. Just incredible and superbly handled by the RX-A1020.
When we moved on to music the precision, detail and clarity of the RX-A1020 slightly worked against it, robbing the music of some warmth. That's not to say it didn't sound great and the efforts that Yamaha have put into the design and construction of the RX-A1020 certainly paid dividends. A recent recording like Suede's glorious return with Bloodsports sounded fantastic, all high notes and screeching guitars that reminded us how much we've missed that merry band of mincers. The more gentle Fade Into You by Mazzy Star, with its acoustic guitars and fragile vocals also sounded wonderful but there was a feeling that it bordered on clinical, perhaps a little too detailed for its own good. The same was true of Into Dust, which is another track on the same album, the acoustic guitars and bass lines were somehow exposed, never quite gelling with the plaintive vocals. If it sounds as though we're being harsh that isn't our intention, the RX-A1070 is a fantastic performer and its exceptional imaging capabilities will appeal to anyone who finds their current system rather vague and fuzzy. Thanks to its clean amplification it can bring genuine authority to multi-channel film soundtracks, whilst delivering a nuanced performance with well-recorded music. If it fails to reach the musicality of something like an Anthem, well that's no great failing, very few receivers can.
- Excellent multi-channel performance
- Very good two-channel delivery
- Impressive video processing
- 4K passthrough
- Superb build quality
- Attractive design
- Excellent remote app
- Network capabilities limited
- Menus could be frustrating
Yamaha RX-A1020 7-Channel AV Receiver Review
The Yamaha RX-A1020 may not break the rule book when it comes to AV receiver design but that's no bad thing and the classic looks and clean lines are sure to please. There's a choice of the traditional matte black or a slightly more sexy two-tone 'Titanium' finish but whichever you chose, the build quality is excellent. The AVENTAGE range pride themselves in their superior construction, high quality components and improved resonance damping - the results speak for themselves. The display on the front is large and informative but can be dimmed if necessary, whilst the remote control is well designed and can be used to control other devices. At the rear is a comprehensive set of connections, with eight HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs, although there are also a surprising number of legacy connections.
The RX-A1020 uses Yamaha's menu system, which is clear, easy-to-use and has a selectable status bar that shows input source, volume level, DSP mode and audio format. However, the menu system sometimes falls into the trap of trying to be too intuitive, which means that whilst it may be easy to follow for novices, it can sometimes be frustrating for the more experienced user. As you would expect from a modern receiver, setup is very straightforward thanks to a highly effective wizard that is simple to follow. Yamaha uses its own proprietary automatic setup and room correction program called YPAO (Yamaha Parametric Acoustic Optimiser) which analyses the room acoustics and measures various speaker characteristics, then calibrates the audio parameters needed to achieve optimum sound.
The RX-A1020 has an excellent set of features with a 7-channel amplifier and decoding for every audio codec you'd care to shake a stick at including Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. As you would expect from a modern receiver, the RX-A1020 provides a variety of network features that included Internet Radio and file access but compared to much of the competition it seemed rather limited. A USB port on the front panel allows for playback from a USB storage device, as well as convenient connection of an iDevice and the receiver also supports AirPlay. We were impressed by Yamaha's AV Controller app which is one of the better remote apps we have tested, allowing for effective control of the receiver and making a great alternative to the standard remote.
The RX-A1020 includes some very effective video processing that concentrates on deinterlacing and scaling and includes 4K passthrough. When it comes to its audio capabilities, the RX-A1070 is a fantastic performer and its exceptional imaging capabilities will appeal to anyone who finds their current system rather vague and fuzzy. As is often the case with a Yamaha receiver, the RX-A1020 is precise and detailed, resulting in genuine authority with multi-channel film soundtracks. However, whilst the Yamaha could deliver a surprisingly nuanced performance with well-recorded music, it did occasional lose some of the warmth and musicality found on other receivers. Overall the Yamaha RX-A1020 is a first class performer that combines looks, build quality, features and performance at a price that makes it hard to resist.
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