Yamaha's traditional styling lacks the pizzazz of the new Harman Kardon and Sharp receivers, but the look and feel of its controls is useful and intuitive. The orange display is easy to see yet won't sear your eyeballs at night. Measuring 43.7cm wide and 41.9cm deep, the Yamaha RX-V550 will occupy a healthy patch of shelf space; it weighs 11.1 kilograms.
With its mercifully low button count, the slender remote is a model of restrained design, yet it still offers direct access to a bevy of surround settings and a complete DVD player control contingent.
Yamaha's simplified setup option, Basic Set-Up, streamlines the process, but it isn't much easier than the more complete routine. (If an easy, comprehensive, and accurate autosetup feature is important to you, check out Pioneer's VSX-D914-K instead.) Lacking onscreen displays, you're stuck using only the RX-V550's front panel.
Yamaha's 90-watt-per-channel receiver incorporates the brand's Digital ToP-Art and High Current Amplification circuitry. That's not just hype; the RX-V550 can safely drive lower impedance (6- or 4-ohm) speakers, a feat few receivers in this price class can equal. The receiver's 6.1-channel processing extends to the all the latest surround formats, including Dolby Pro Logic IIx, as well as 29 Yamaha-engineered surround programs.
The Yamaha RX-V550's adjustable lip sync (0 to 160 milliseconds) is intended for use with digital video displays or sources whose images lag behind audio signals. The delay lets you synchronise the audio and video, which is a great feature if you're sensitive to lip-sync issues.
Connectivity is pretty good, though not exceptional. You get component-video switching for two sources; three A/V and S-Video inputs, one output; two stereo inputs; a DVD-A/SACD input; and six speaker outputs, plus B stereo connectors. The RX-V550 also offers three digital audio optical inputs and one coaxial in; there's one optical digital output. Multiroom provisions include stereo outputs, a remote jack set, and a 12-volt trigger control.
The Yamaha RX-V550 unraveled every detail on Roxy Music's Avalon multichannel SACD. The spectacularly dense surround mix was especially evident on "India," where the sound slowly sweeps from speaker to speaker, performing clockwise circles around our listening room. The spaciousness adds more dimensions to the music and sound -- it's simply gorgeous.
Yamaha's proprietary digital signal processing was put to the test when we played jazzman Don Byron's Ivey-Divey CD. It sounded pretty darn sweet in plain old stereo, bigger and more room filling in Dolby Pro Logic II, and even more reverberant and alive with Yamaha's Concert Hall or Jazz Club processing switched on. While it's true that most receivers offer similar effects, this Yamaha has a more refined sound.
The Kill Bill, Vol. 2 DVD's visceral stamina came to the fore in the scene where the nails were hammered into the bride's coffin (ouch!), and the soil shoveled onto her plywood prison sounded convincingly dirty. The DVD's many hard-hitting skirmishes never threatened the RX-V550's power reserves.
We finished our time with the Yamaha RX-V550 by comparing it to two similarly priced receivers: Pioneer's VSX-D914-K and Onkyo's TX-SR502. While the RX-V550 isn't rated the most powerful of the three receivers -- the Pioneer boasts 110 watts per channel, and the Onkyo rolls out 75 -- it was the most natural sounding. They're all good receivers, but the Yamaha was the least stressed when we ramped up the volume, and its bass was cleaner and more powerful. The Yamaha's soundstage didn't flatten when we cranked up the volume as it did with the other receivers. The RX-V550 is the audiophile contender of the group.