With its amber fluorescent display and solid brushed-aluminium front panel the RX-V3900 is as unmistakably-Yamaha as the brawny beast of an AV receiver lurking behind it. And given that it can deliver nigh-on 100W RMS to each of its seven channels, I'm talking pretty serious brawn here.
No wonder, then, that the 3900 is so heavy. It weighs in at around 17kg, suggesting that the gurus from Hamamatsu have specified enough power-supply meat to satisfy the hunger of such amplification, which is of conventional Class A/B design, unlike the ICEPower of Pioneer's competing SC-LX71. That means an enormous mains transformer, which is clearly-visible through the ventilation slots.
But there's brains too. As with most recent upper mid-range AV receivers, the 3900 will decode hi-def soundtracks if a compatible Blu-ray player is connected via HDMI. The AVR has four such inputs – all of which are version 1.3 and DeepColor/x.v.Color compliant.
Network media player
Then there's the DLNA-compliant networkable media player. Although this doesn't cater for photos, video or losslessly-compressed audio (e.g. the FLAC supported by the aforementioned LX71) it can act as an integrated client for Yamaha's MusicCast servers, complete with onscreen album art.
The wide-ranging joys of internet radio can also be experienced, thereby compensating for the lack of a DAB tuner – it's FM and AM only.
iPod owners will appreciate the 3900's ability to dock their device – the necessary plug-in cradle is an option. There's a USB port for playing music from storage devices, but plugging your iPod into here merely charges it.
Another optional accessory lets you enjoy music stored on Bluetooth-enabled devices, like mobile phones and laptops. Yes, we've come a long way since the LP – which hasn't been forgotten either, thanks to a magnetic-phono input.
The attractive onscreen GUI caters for functions ranging from manual setup to choosing music from a networked server – it's fast, intuitive and well laid out. You don't, however, need the menus for the next bit of cleverness – Yamaha's YPAO automatic audio-calibration system, now in a multi-point guise.
Getting ready to roar
Simply plugging the supplied mic in the front panel jack wakes up the sleeping YPAO giant. And yes, its calibration signals – a chorus of thumps and machine gun-like tirades emanating from your speakers – create the impression that you're sharing the room with a bad-tempered behemoth. You're probably better off leaving while YPAO works its magic.
Those electronically-generated noises allow the system to work out what speakers you're using and sense the acoustic properties of the space they occupy. YPAO then automatically adjusts parameters like delay, level and equalisation for the best possible sound – all of which is completed within a few minutes.
During setup I also noted a useful 'HDMI-through' mode. Basically, one of the HDMI ports can be automatically looped to the output when the receiver is in standby. In other words, you don't need to power up the receiver on those occasions when your TV's own sound will suffice.
Even better, the 3900 is equipped with two HDMI outputs (which you toggle between) so those who own both a projector and a TV can feed them without faffing about with leads.
Naturally, the Yamaha is equipped with analogue AV inputs – stereo sound, composite, S-video and component. It can convert such video to HDMI, with or without upscaling (to 1080p). Deinterlacing and scaling rely on VRS circuitry from Anchor Bay.
As far as the audio is concerned, though, the technology is Yamaha's own. All of the main silicon here, with the exception of the Burr-Brown 192kHz/24-bit digital-to-analogue converters, has been developed in-house.
The 3900 also boasts no fewer than 22 uniquely-Yamaha 'Cinema DSP' soundfield emulations, on top of the expected 'standard' surround formats. In addition to Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, the 3900 will cope with bitstreams containing standard DTS/ES/Express, Dolby Digital/EX/Plus and DTS 96/24 – which are fed in via HDMI or one of the seven digital inputs. For two-channel sources, analogue or digitally-fed, there are Dolby Pro-Logic II/IIx and DTS Neo:6 modes.
Other sonic wonders include a compressed-music enhancer (for MP3s/net radio), silent cinema (for headphone listening), lip-sync adjustment and adaptive dynamic-range control (neighbour-friendlier late-night listening).
Particularly smart is dialogue 'lift', which virtually raises dialogue so that it seems to be emanating from the screen rather than the centre-speaker beneath. You also get 7.1 analogue input/output, a Pure Direct mode and HDMI support for SACD's DSD high-res audio.
The RX-V3900 will convert all analogue sources to HDMI. This facility is good to have – a single cable can now carry all sources to your display. Fewer expensive cables to hide, in other words!
This conversion has a 'straight' non-upscaled mode (i.e. standard-def PAL video is converted to 576i), or you can specify upscaling ranging from 720p to 1080p. Pictures converted from the analogue output of a DVD player and then upscaled to 1080p are surprisingly faithful to the source. There's a smoothness and density to the upscaled images which is very satisfying.
For the best possible picture performance, use the HDMI output. That said, component-delivered hi-def was rather good. Indeed, it was surprising that the improvement via HDMI wasn't more marked, given that I was effectively going from digital to analogue and then back again.
As for the audio, I can't fault it, and the latest YPAO incarnation does a good job of optimising reproduction for the room without the need for further adjustments. Musically, the V3900 has a clean and dynamic character that complements most types of material – although the receiver's Pure Direct feature can reveal more of the detail.
Yamaha continues to offer a superior selection of acoustic-altering modes on its AVRs, and on this model I found some of the surround effects to be great fun with music, if carefully chosen.
Naturally, the V3900 is a movie machine at heart, and can deliver a stunning soundstage. Back-catalogue actioner Tears of the Sun (BD) offers contrasts that will test any AV system. The ambience of the Nigerian jungle, with its chirping crickets and the calls of exotic birds, showed to good effect the 3900's careful detailing and the expansiveness of the soundstage that can be mustered.
At the other end of the subtlety scale is the fully-blown battle that ensues as Bruce Willis leads his band of refugees towards the Cameroon border. Yet even here, among the carefully-steered 'whooshes' of rockets and foundation-rattling explosions, the dialogue was always distinct.
So, while it's unfortunate that Yamaha's RX-V3900 lacks the THX post processing of its nearest rivals, and offers audio-only networking, there's no denying its premium performance capabilities.