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Yamaha RX-A2040 Dolby Atmos Sound Quality Tests

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Legacy Studio HD SpeakerI did the majority of my listening in 5.1 and 5.1.4 using the following configuration:

  • Fronts: Legacy Studio HD
  • Center: Legacy Studio HD
  • Surround: JBL Studio 310ii
  • Front Height: RBH MC4C
  • Rear Height: JBL Control Now
  • Sub: SVS PB12-NSDReflecting speakers:
  • RBH MC4C angled with Auralex MoPads
  • Speaker Wiring: Blue Jeans Cable Twelve White
  • Atmos Source: Yamaha BD-A1040 Blu-ray
  • Non-Atmos Movie Sources: Plex Media Center via HDMI
  • Music Sources: USB Flash Drive direct to RX-A2040 and Plex Media Center via HDMI

Room 1: lightly-treated with 2” OC 703 panels, 13x14’ with a vaulted 9-14’ ceiling, and has lots of openings to the rest of the house
Room 2: untreated, carpeted, 10x11’ with a flat 9’ ceiling, and the back wall opens to a larger room  

Dolby Atmos and Yamaha Presence in Movies

For Atmos listening, my main room has a vaulted ceiling with no back wall, so while I couldn’t adhere to either the recommended Dolby Atmos or Yamaha Presence speaker setups, I did put together a 5.1.4 setup using the very accurate RBH MC-4C speakers, a lot of Blue Jeans Cable speaker wire, and some 8’ speaker stands/bar stool combos.

Pseudo-Dolby Atmos Setup

Pseudo-Dolby Atmos Setup

compared to 5.1 playback, I found Atmos transformed the whole room.

I spent a lot of time listening to actual Atmos-encoded content from the Dolby Atmos Demo disc in basic 5.1, 5.1.4 Atmos, and 5.1.4 Yamaha Movie Standard Soundfield.  The program material was obviously created to highlight the ability of Dolby Atmos object-oriented mixing which meant lots of attention-seeking sound cues flying around your head.  I found the experience dizzying on many of the clips, which is probably why I came back to a clip called “leaf” where more subtle wind and insect noises rustles through the trees while a seed pod whirls around the listening position.  Compared to a simple 5.1 playback, I found Atmos transformed the whole room in a purposeful way.  It wasn’t just that everything was bigger, but there were layers of sound above, such as wind and insect noises, that could be differentiated from lower layers of the seed pod and rustling branches.  Comparing Atmos to the Yamaha Presence speakers in “Movie Standard” was a closer match, though the Atmos mode still felt more realistic with more distinct cues.  While I’d like to reserve final judgment until I hear some content that wasn’t designed specifically to showcase the technology, I’m pretty convinced that, for those few who can squeeze the requisite speakers into the requisite positions in their room, Atmos is a worthy upgrade.

Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos "Leaf"

I wanted to see how Atmos and Yamaha would upmix standard 5.1 content to include height speakers.  I cued up an episode of “New Girl” (don’t judge me), and tested out the Atmos Upmixer with “Center Spread” off (this anchors the sound in the center channel, as opposed to spreading it to your left and right speakers).  The particular episode features a scene in a shopping mall, and the addition of height speakers did a very admirable job of creating a sense of space, even without being mixed for height speakers.  It sounded like the room got larger and was filled with the murmur of crowds and sounds of commerce.  I also thought the rear height speakers helped create a more diffuse and less localizable surround field.  It was all very subtle, but noticeable.

New Girl

An episode of New Girl mixed in 5.1, but played back through Dolby Atmos and Yamaha Presence. 

Direct-firing over Atmos reflection speakers are definitely the preferred choice.

Switching to Yamaha’s flavor of height channel upmixing, I listened to the same content using Yamaha Presence speakers in the “Movie Standard” Scene on some more typical program material.  Switching as quickly as I could between the Yamaha and Atmos results, I had difficulty telling the difference between the two.  Again, in my opinion, immersive audio shouldn’t have you cranking your head around the room, so differences bordering on negligible aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

With both the Yamaha and Atmos approach, using direct-firing height channels, I was impressed to the point that I’m now trying to figure out whether permanent height speakers could be in my future. The effect certainly made for a “taller” front soundstage and, though I think I would still switch it on/off to taste, felt it improved, at times, even non-Atmos video content.

In closing, I’m personally digging Atmos using direct-firing (aka. discrete) speakers.  Yamaha was smart to include the Atmos technology via a free firmware upgrade in the RX-A2040, and for those who can easily add a few extra speakers, I found it to be worth the effort.

Dolby Atmos and Yamaha Presence in Music

For critical music listening, I played content through both my HTPC/Plex via HDMI and via USB on the RX-A2040’s front panel jack.  I really appreciate how easy the USB port makes it to playback High-Resolution Audio, like one of my go-to tracks as of late, Cassandra Wilson’s “Another Country” off the free HDtracks.com High-Definition Audio Sampler in 96 kHz/24 bit resolution.  The RX-A2040 reproduced the track with all the weight and clarity that I’ve come to expect from the articulated bass line and ringing percussion.  The power of the AVR was more than sufficient to drive my 4 ohm-rated Legacy Studio HD speakers beyond a reasonable listening level and left nothing wanting.

Another Country

Cassandra Wilson "Another Country"

I preferred Stereo mode over the Atmos mixer for two-channel music sources.

I wanted to see what Atmos could do to expand a 2.0 Music recording, so I listened to the aforementioned Cassandra Wilson track, as well as a CD-quality copy of Greg Brown’s “Sleeper” off the album “Dream Cafe” a few dozen times in the various modes.  I compared Stereo, Dolby PLII Music in 5.1, and Atmos in 5.1.4 with the Center Spread on.  Even with Center Spread on, the Atmos upmix sounded more anchored in the center channel (which did not go completely silent, as implemented in some other receivers) than with either PLII and Stereo, which reproduced centered vocals more broadly across the front sound stage.  Any heightening effect in the front sound stage with Atmos was very, very subtle, to the point of being nearly indistinguishable in my room from PLII or Stereo.  Elements seemed more distinct in the PLII mode.  In Stereo, the surround effect was, predictably, absent.  In stereo, it felt like the sound started at my shoulders and filled the front of the room.  In PLII and Atmos, the sound enveloped me from the front, behind, and overhead (even in PLII 5.1 mode).  I still generally preferred Stereo mode compared to the surround modes with 2.0 content, but this will certainly be a matter of preference.

Greg Brown - Dream Cafe

Greg Brown - Dream Cafe

There is one more thing that I just can’t fight the urge to comment on, and that’s Yamaha’s Cinema DSP Sound Fields.  I really tried to find a scenario in which they were useful.  I took some fairly dry orchestral arrangements, like Yo-Yo Ma’s “Soul of the Tango” album and tried to give them more of a live hall feel with the Munich Sound Field.  The result sounded like I was stuck in the cheap seats.  I took some boisterous rock tracks, like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones “Someday I Suppose”, and attempted to recreate the feeling of hearing the track live, in a club, with the Roxy Sound Field.  The result sounded like I was listening to an old live bootleg.  Sure, you can dive into the settings and adjust aspects of the sound field such as initial delay, room size, and liveness, but for me, that just meant turning everything down to lessen the effect.  Sticking to “barely there” modes such as “Movie Standard” seemed the only reasonable course of action.

Yamaha Presence

Yamaha Presence Recommended Speaker Setup

So I say to Yamaha: I know that years ago, there was little surround content and your experimentation with surround scenes was a fun way to play with those extra channels when our only sources were 2-channel.  Now, at best, they’re goofy.  This wouldn’t be so aggravating if these sound modes weren’t so prominently displayed.  They are intermingled with actually useful surround modes like Dolby/DTS lossless and matrixed modes, and triggered via remote buttons that are the same size and shape as the most commonly used button, the volume button.  Yamaha, this is an intervention; stop modeling the backseat of Elvis’ Cadillac and bathrooms in Vienna.

However, that’s only my opinion.  Readers, am I a totally off-base jerk on this one?  Do you use Yamaha’s Sound Fields, or something similar, to enhance your listening experience?  If so, please let us know.  I’m completely prepared to get schooled on this one.

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

Dean1219 posts on December 08, 2016 06:51
Why no testing of DTS:X? That is what I am most interested in.
Wellz posts on October 27, 2015 08:41
gene, post: 1101368, member: 4348
That tech gave you the lawyers approved answer. The Yammie will drive your speakers just fine as long as you don't change the impedance switch from its default 8 ohms or more setting.

The Pioneer counterparts have no advantage of driving low impedance loads than the Yamaha. In fact up until recently the Pioneers used ICE Class D amps which did not do well at all with 4 ohm speakers.

Thanks for the swift reply Gene. So judging by your answer would listening at reference level with the Yammie be ok? I have all the speakers set to 80Hz at the amp with the subs set there too (although the yammie's auto setup had the speakers set lower at 40-70HZ and the sub at 120Hz).
Alternatively, would you I be safer with the new Class D3 amps in the Pioneer SC-95? I called Pioneer and the tech said that their MCACC PRO calibration software would calculate all of the specs from the speakers and calibrate the unit so that it would not damage itself nor the speakers..
gene posts on October 27, 2015 08:25
Wellz, post: 1101366, member: 76575
I recent purchased the Yamaha RX-A2050 to drive my full Andrew Jones pioneer elite dolby atmos set up. I have a 5.2.4 set up with the elite atmos towers up front, the elite center channel and the elite atmos bookshelf speakers in the back. The Yamaha seems to drive them well, but after contacting Yamaha, I am now looking at possibly having to change receivers. My speakers are all rated at 4 Ohms, and according to the Yamaha tech, the RX-A2050 can only handle the 4 ohms in the front channels. So even though the amp is currently running all of my speakers, the tech said that it could be a matter of time before the amp gave out due to the extra load that all of the additional 4 ohm speakers place on it. I read the article here about using 4 ohm speakers with an 8 ohm amp as long as it was a high quality amp. I think the Yamaha could fall into that category, but the Yamaha tech's hanswer is not comforting. At this point I'm considering a Pioneer Elite SC-95, which I'm being told can drive all channels at 4 ohms. What do you guys think?

That tech gave you the lawyers approved answer. The Yammie will drive your speakers just fine as long as you don't change the impedance switch from its default 8 ohms or more setting.

The Pioneer counterparts have no advantage of driving low impedance loads than the Yamaha. In fact up until recently the Pioneers used ICE Class D amps which did not do well at all with 4 ohm speakers.
Wellz posts on October 27, 2015 08:02
I recent purchased the Yamaha RX-A2050 to drive my full Andrew Jones pioneer elite dolby atmos set up. I have a 5.2.4 set up with the elite atmos towers up front, the elite center channel and the elite atmos bookshelf speakers in the back. The Yamaha seems to drive them well, but after contacting Yamaha, I am now looking at possibly having to change receivers. My speakers are all rated at 4 Ohms, and according to the Yamaha tech, the RX-A2050 can only handle the 4 ohms in the front channels. So even though the amp is currently running all of my speakers, the tech said that it could be a matter of time before the amp gave out due to the extra load that all of the additional 4 ohm speakers place on it. I read the article here about using 4 ohm speakers with an 8 ohm amp as long as it was a high quality amp. I think the Yamaha could fall into that category, but the Yamaha tech's hanswer is not comforting. At this point I'm considering a Pioneer Elite SC-95, which I'm being told can drive all channels at 4 ohms. What do you guys think?
mhdaniels31 posts on October 19, 2015 16:05
what happened to your detailed receiver reviews such as internal pictures of construction and hardware measurement these are the things that always made audioholics stand out to me over everybody elses presumptious reviews based on this review I didnt really get a sense of the receiver itself just personal feelings and hard to understand opinions I know that this review was done several months ago but was hoping to use it to help base my choice on a new yamaha receiver possibly since the amp and dac overhall from your last detailed flagship yamaha receiver review no hard feelings im a marshall also so we marshall,s have to stick together but would love if you did the comprehensive testing like gene does next time and hopefully you guys will get some flagship receiver reviews this year with it being the first year since my last upgrade 3 years ago that i felt i had to upgrade for my 75inch 4k tv upgrage or hdmi 2.0 and hdcp 2.2 i forced myself to wait all year anyway thanks for the review please keep in mind my request
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