Not to bore anyone with my story of bad luck and troubles with receivers, the short story for my buying this receiver is to tide me over while my Marantz SR 8001 is in the shop getting repaired.
Physical / build quality –
Considering that I paid $499 shipped to my door for this receiver, I wasn’t expecting much. I wasn’t disappointed when I pulled it out of the box either. The 661 is one of the lightest receivers I’ve ever had. Closer touching and feeling of this thing confirmed my initial thoughts that the sheet metal case and front panel are made of fairly light weight metal. The control knobs turn just fine and don’t feel cheesy, but Yamaha could have made them a bit more robust. Good thing we all use remotes nowadays because I doubt these knobs will take much abuse. The speaker binding posts are pathetic but they do accommodate banana jacks, so that’s a plus. They are plastic with an aluminum lining. This is one bitch I have with my Marantz too. All my HK's had stout as hell binding posts with gold plated inserts. The power cord isn’t much thicker than a lamp cord, so I suspect the power supply isn’t very taxing. Moving on……
Not too many gazintas and gazoutas on this thing, but how many does one need anyway? I’m just used to seeing receivers with many more. The important thing for me is it has two HMDI inputs and one HDMI output. The HDMI version is 1.2a. It also has a component video output, which is a really good thing because the OSD and set up menu do not output over HDMI. Without the component output to my projector, I’d have been pissed trying to set this thing up. For more info on the inputs / outputs, you can hop on over to Yamaha.com or try to make them out on my crappy pictures below.
Set up –
For those who don’t know already, I use a stand alone video processor (DVDO VP-50). All my sources go to the VP first, and it has one HMDI output that goes to my receiver. From the receiver, an HDMI cable goes to my projector. I have the VP’s output set to 1080P/24 Blue Ray and HD/DVD and 1080P/60 for and satellite and SD/DVD. The receiver does nothing more than strip the audio off the HDMI feed and passes the video stream on to my projector. It is very important to me to have a receiver that will pass 1080P without molesting it. The 661 appears to pass it without issue.
Set up is pretty darn simple. Any idiot can do within minutes. The manual isn’t all that bad to follow, but I didn’t really read it so I reckon I’ll find out exacly how good it is sooner or later. I used the auto set up feature to see how close it would get everything. I plugged in the little mic and in about five minutes, the dead was done. It got all the distances spot on and the DB level of each speaker was perfect. The sub however was all screwed up. It put the sub at 1 foot, so I changed that to 16’ (ten feet away + 6’). It also had every speaker set to large…..weird. I haven’t seen that trick before either. I eventually changed them all to small and set the X-over to 80. I wanted to hear it as is first and will get to that in a minute.
This thing has a gazillion different pre-set parameters for all sorts of different sound fields. I flipped through some of them and was farly impressed. Some sound pretty darn good, and some down right suck too though….You can set this receiver up to have different sound fields with different inputs and even tweak them to your liking. I don’t have patience for that crap, so it’s running straight right now.
Again, for those who don’t know, I have M80 mains and I run a set of M22’s in Parallel for my center channel for a 4 ohm front wall load. I was curious to see if this receiver would drive them, and if it would, just how well. With the mains set to large still, I popped in the SACD, Pink Floyd, DSOTM. This is my favorite test CD for new gear and I know it well. This is where I encountered my first issue. I don’t know why, but there appears to be a HDMI handshake issue with the 661 and SACD. It would just drop the signal and then pick it up again if I skip tracks. If I just let it play, it does fine. I’m not sure if it’s the receiver or my VP, but I don’t really care because I rarely use this system for music anyway.
When I had the Marnatz hooked up I could play the track “TIME” and after all the alarm clock clatter and the track settles down some, I could pin the volume on the Marnantz and the SPL meter would read between 105 and 110 DB’s. This is in a pretty small room too….(12’ X 16’ X 8.5’) Knowing this, I gave the 661 a spin with the same track. 90 to 96 db is as loud as I could get it to go before it shut itself down. Not bad, not bad at all considering it’s only rated at 90 wpc and Yamaha usually overestimates their ratings. The odd thing however is it took out my Belkin battery back up / power conditioner in over load. The Marantz wouldn’t ever get the load meter above 70%, at full volume. It would appear this Yamaha is drawing more current as the Marantz. I’ll have to experiment some more with this thing. I ended up plugging the 661 into Belkin power conditioner instead of the battery back up. One other thing is this little feller gets hot!! Wholly crap it get’s hot! I can barely hold my hand on the thing. The Marantz wouldn’t even get warm. And yes, it's well ventelated.
So after that little test I changed the mains from large to small and gave it a go again. This time I was able to get the room DB’s up to 96 – 100 dbs before it would shut down. Much better…
As much as I wanted to believe that my Marantz would blow away this “budget” receiver in sound quality, I just don’t hear it. In direct stereo and pure direct stereo, I’ll be damned if I can tell a difference between the two. The ONLY difference I could tell was the in-between track times when there is no music playing. With the Marantz, there is complete silence. With the 661 I can pick out a very, very slight white noise hisssss…. But other than that, it sounds great.
I then popped in the SD / DVD movie Turistas. I started watching this movie last night with the Marantz in the rack and wanted to play a couple scenes again with the 661 to see how it handles LFE in comparison with the Marnantz. I was impressed once again. I think that Audysey has Yamaha’s room EQ beat, but the Yamaha is definitely no slouch in this department either. I kept toggling the EQ on and off and prefer it on.
To see how well this unit plays HD audio, I put in the Blue Ray movie Decent. Decent is one of the few disks with a discrete 6.1 channel Uncompressed PCM track on it. Not all HDMI receivers process LPCM multi channel very well and only a small group processes anything over 5.1 channels. Well the 661 processes 6.1 just fine. It doesn’t simply matrix into 7.1 either, it recognizes all channels and plays them all. The only 7.1 source that I am aware of is a PS3 game, Resistance Fall of Man. I put this in to test it, and sure enough, all seven channels play. I’m not a gamer, but my kid is. I miraculously survived for a few minutes playing this game and hid in a corner of some building while monsters were shooting at my back. This was way cool to hear. I could tell EXACTLY where the bullets were coming from directly behind me while other monsters were running at me from the sides. Another problem some receivers have with LPCM is when it has a rate above 96 kHz. There aren’t many disks out above 48 anyway, but there are a few. Batman Returns is one with 5.1 channel LPCM at 96 kHz. The Yamaha played this just fine, including matrixing the 5.1 into 7.1. Another score for the Yama… .
I still have some more tweaking to do, but as of right now, I’m very impressed with this little receiver. For $500, I don’t think anyone could go wrong with it. It does better with HDMI audio than many other receivers and Pre/Pros selling for 300% more and up….including my Marantz. I might just keep this in my rack and get rid of the Marantz. I would have to pick up another amp, but for those running 8 ohm speakers in a similar sized room as mine, I suspect this little guy would do just fine.
I’m tired of typing, so if anyone has further questions, fire away. I’m outa things to say.