It’s finally here! The big boy that everyone has been waiting for a long time has finally arrived and with everyone else we cannot but feel excited by this fact. You see, Yamaha started a complete overhaul of their entire AV receivers lineup but the first batch included the more consumer friendly RX-V series and only the smallest of the Aventage models, the RX-A2A. So everyone else waiting for the bigger units were left in the cold until their second run which completed Yamaha’s Aventage refresh. So in today’s Yamaha RX-A6A review we will be testing their top tier AV receiver and determine of it is a worthy successor to such an iconic series.
The RX-A8A is more important than you can imagine. Until now Yamaha’s flagship, the RX-A3080 was only capable of 9.2 channels with its built-in amplifiers. Yamaha didn’t have a 11.2 channels AV receiver which was unthinkable for such a premium AV receiver and certainly felt like the competition was far ahead in this area. The RX-A8A seems to finally put Yamaha back on track as it is capable of supporting up to 11.2 channels with its built-in amplifiers with many applauding Yamaha’s decision to go this route.
So let’s go quickly over what the RX-A8A brings on the table. As we mentioned there are 11.2 channels of built-in amplification with 150 watts of power (8 ohms, 0.06% THD, 2 channel driven). We get the usual Dolby Atmos and DTS:X while Auro-3D will be available with a firmware update. The receiver uses Yamaha’s Cinema DSP HD3 and Surround:AI while it comes packed with specific Aventage enhancements in its hardware for better audio output. As for features we get the YPAO Sound Optimization, high resolution audio, WiFi and Bluetooth streaming, MusicCast, Airplay 2, multiple zone capabilities and most importantly HDMI 2.1 support. But more on these shortly.
In theory the Yamaha RX-A8A seems to be more than just a worthy successor to the previous Yamaha flagships. Does it manages to claim its place among the top tier AV receivers in the market? Keep reading to find out…
The RX-A8A is a huge one and with 11 channels of built-in amplification this was to be expected. The big guy measures 17-1/8” x 10-5/8” x 18-3/4” (435 x 271 x 477 mm) but as always you can save a bit of height by turning the antennas in a horizontal position which lowers its height requirements to just 7 1/2” (192 mm). The receiver weights 47.2 lbs (21.4 kg) which surely shows that it packs some serious hardware.
Now as far as the design goes the RX-A8A is extremely similar to the other Aventage AV receivers including the RX-A2A that we had reviewed some time ago. In fact the only difference there is between all the available models is the size as the RX-A8A is taller and deeper in order to fit the extra components needed. But as for its looks don’t expect to see anything different.
Featuring an almost entirely front gloss side, the volume knob has been repositioned in the middle compared to previous years and the display screen got updated as we get an LCD variant that is placed on the right side of the volume knob. On the far right a second smaller knob is used for navigating the display screen and selecting input sources.
Above the smaller knob we find three small indicators for Zone and Pure Direct and Surround:AI (with the last one missing from the RX-A2A) while on its right side, under the LCD display, there are some touch controls with four SCENE buttons, Return and Menu.
On the lower part of the front face there is a small part that features a matte surface and this is where we find a circular button on the far left for power along with a single USB port for connecting external storage, the YPAO microphone input port and the usual Headphones jack. All these redesigned AV receivers seem to have lost the front analogue stereo input. Also we miss a front HDMI input which we consider such a huge practical feature to have.
All in all there are no surprises here. Having already checked the smaller of Aventage units, what we have here is more of the same but on a larger scale.
And while in terms of design the differences are small the RX-A8A comes with a few differences in terms of internal components used. As with all Aventage units we find a high slew rate amplifier. The slew rate measures how quickly an amplifier can respond to a rapid change of input level, which contributes to delivering a precise signal transmission and is especially effective with high resolution audio signals.
The receiver also features Dual ESS SABRE ES9026PRO Ultra DACs which come with ESS’s patented 32-bit Hyper Stream, Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) compensation function that works to minimize noise levels. In combination with the Yamaha original D.O.P.G. (DAC On Pure Ground) concept, it eliminates the potential difference between audio circuit stages to reduce ground noise and dramatically enhances silence and resolution over the entire audio range. The receiver also comes equipped with a Qualcomm QCS407 with 64-bit high precision DSP to support Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive home audio.
One element that seems to be very characteristic in the entire Aventage receivers is the fifth foot that is placed directly in the middle underneath the receiver. The Anti-Resonance Technology (A.R.T.) Wedge, as Yamaha calls it, dampens vibrations from the power transformer, power transistors and heat sinks, as well as vibrations that might be caused by the sound from the speakers providing dynamic sound and focused, accurate reproduction. In the RX-A8A it seems that this foot has been brought towards the front, probably for best results from Yamaha’s testing.
As for the supplied remote it seems that the Aventage series will use a different remote than the one we saw in their RX-V series. The one that came with the RX-A8A looks a little bit better but nothing that speaks premium quality. Compared to the remote we had used with the RX-A2A there seem to be only two differences and these have to do with the additional features this big boy has. As such the zone switch at the top has more positions to choose from as the receiver supports more zones and also there is an AI button added for the unit’s Surround:AI functionality.
Overall the layout has improved compared to what Yamaha has been offering in their lower tier units but still it’s cluttered with buttons that most of the time you will never use. Yamaha gives a lot of attention to its Scenes feature and thus has positioned these buttons in a prominent place.
In general it’s a pretty long remote and it has too many buttons with many of them that will be rarely used. At some point AV receivers have to go the way of TVs with more simple remotes and more advanced user interfaces.
The RX-A8A has all the tools it needs in order to give you the best audio output possible. Yamaha did their best when it comes to internal audio components and this was to be expected for their flagship unit.
This is the first time that Yamaha releases a 11.2 channels AV receiver and finally you have the ability to create a system that has a 7.2.4 channels configuration. As usual we get support for both Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and obviously all the older audio mixes like Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital and DTS.
What is interested is that Yamaha has promised they will add Auro-3D support through a firmware update and although support for that is not so wide many fans will appreciate the addition. It seems that as of writing these lines a new update (ver 1.59) is being released which adds Auro-3D support. Unfortunately it was not out yet in time for testing it for our review.
Up-mixing technologies couldn’t be missing from this one so we do get the usual Dolby Surround and DTS Neural:X that are the standards for most receivers nowadays and can up-convert legacy tracks like stereo mixes into full surround audio.
One difference we find compared to the smaller RX-A2A is that here we get Yamaha’s best DSP solution which is the Cinema DSP HD3 which usually Yamaha has been using only in their top tier models.
If you don’t know what Cinema DSP HD3 is, it’s Yamaha’s proprietary sound field creation technology that utilizes multiple CINEMA DSP engines and permits lossless decoding of 192kHz signals, while providing 3D processing that gives the sound field an extra vertical dimension. With Cinema DSP the receiver is capable of recreating various audio spaces like concert halls or sport arenas which can bring a whole different level of immersion.
The unit comes with the maximum number of DSP programs that Yamaha has made available which is 24 which gives you plenty to try out. This stereoscopic sound field technology is a really interesting one and there are cases where it can boost the overall volume and immersion of sound but there are also a lot of cases where the end result can feel very artificial. Keep in mind that a lot of processing is at play here and we are not very fond of processed sound that alters the original mix very much. But it’s nice to have this system as you may find it more to your liking than us.
With the use of Cinema DSP HD3 the receiver is also capable of offering various virtual features. First of all there is Virtual Cinema DSP which can reproduce up to 7 channels of surround sound without the need to have any surround speakers connected. Next we get Virtual Cinema Front which lets you position your surround speakers at the front and still get surround activity at the back of the listening position. This can be very handy in case you are limited by space and you cannot place your surround speakers where they should really be.
Another feature we get is Silent Cinema. With that you can enjoy surround and sound field effects by only using your headphones. There is also Virtual Presence Speaker (VPS) support as these can be created without any actual presence speakers available. With the Virtual Surround Back Speaker (VSBS) feature you can get activity when there are no actual surround back speakers available.
Lastly what was missing from previous releases was Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization. If you don’t have the option to add in-ceiling or upward firing speakers in your system, Dolby Atmos Height Virtualization technology can simulate the Atmos experience. You can configure up to five speakers to replicate the effect of two in-ceiling speakers, or utilize all seven channels to simulate the powerful effect of four overhead speakers.
A feature that makes a return from the previous models and it was only included in the top tier releases is Surround:AI. Now this technology, that is built-in the DSP, optimizes the surround effects in real time by analyzing each scene and focusing on specific sound elements like ambient effects, music, dialogue and special effects.
This can be a nice feature for those that don’t want to mess around with the individual DSP programs and prefer a more automated system to handle everything but as with all these technologies that are available, the source content will very much determine the actual result. Specific content can benefit from it while that was not always the case with the end result feeling much more altered than what we would like. But it’s good to have it as a feature to try it out.
When it comes to its internal amplifiers the receiver can output 150 watts per channel (8 ohm, 20 Hz – 20 kHz, 0.06% 2ch drive). Obviously the more channels in use the lower this number goes. It’s a pity that manufacturers include only 2 channels power ratings as this can be a very misguiding number when it comes to full surround systems that utilize much more channels than just two.
For our movie testing we opted for a 7.1.4 channels setup with four height speakers and a single subwoofer that was placed at the front left corner of our testing room. The film we decided to try out was the 4K UHD version of Midway with its immersive Dolby Atmos mix.
The entire film is reference material and was exactly what we needed to feel the prowess of the RX-A8A. The immersion of the battle scenes was simply unreal and one has to experience it to understand the level of quality we are talking about here. The film has so many grand scenes and battle sequences and every one of them is better than the previous one.
The front soundstage became so much bigger as sounds felt coming further away that the physical presence of our speakers. There was obvious side expansion as well as convincing depth. With fighter planes all over the place and anti-aircraft fire hitting the skies, the receiver proved an excellent handler of all elements. What could be a cacophony of sounds turned out to be the most pleasing cinematic experience you could have.
As great was things at the front the same could be said about its surround activity. You could feel the bullets flying right next to our ears as the machine guns were trying to bring down the attacking planes, aerial combat was accurate with panning sounds delivering pinpoint precision while you had a clear sense of what was happening behind the camera at all times.
Such a film requires the best from all channels to deliver the immersion it is capable of and the overhead layer was more active than ever. As with the surrounds, the heights channels proved very active and added the necessary height in the immersion bubble we were in. And with four height speakers available panning sounds felt more precise throughout their movement in space.
Lastly it wouldn’t make sense to test such a film and not mention the Earth shaking low end action we found ourselves in. The Yamaha had no trouble delivering clear and precise bass that truly made our wall shake with every explosion on the Japanese ships. The receiver never felt loosing control of the low end and even through all this mayhem it felt clear, very natural and full of power.
The RX-A8A certainly has the quality output but it also has enough juice to push the volume knob to levels that will make your neighbors ask for mercy. And it was particularly impressive how the Yamaha wouldn’t buckle under the pressure but kept its balance and exceptionally quality output even when pushed to its limits.
As for music the receiver supports not only the usual lower quality audio formats like MP3, WMA and AAC which by the way all of them can go up to 320 kbps but can also playback High Resolution Audio in the likes of FLAC (384/24 bit), ALAC (96/24 bit) and WAV/AIFF (384/32 bit) files. DSD streaming is also available for up to 11.2 MHz. It seems that Yamaha has updated the specs in their newer releases as previous models could support FLAC and WAV files only up to 192kHz.
The receiver also features Yamaha’s Compressed Music Enhancer that is capable of enhancing lower quality audio like MP3 files to near High Resolution Audio quality levels. Compressed Music Enhancer can also work through Bluetooth which usually lowers the audio quality to meet the necessary transmission requirements. This is a feature we have seen in almost all their releases and although you shouldn’t expect a day and night difference in certain cases it can really help with lower quality content.
Next, as we usually do, came our music tests and as such we selected a few favorite tracks in FLAC format that we streamed through the front USB port for the best quality possible. Yamaha receivers are famous for the music reproduction and the RX-A8A continues the tradition.
Nothing can be said about the musicality of the RX-A8A that could make it real justice. Everything we heard was highly accurate, with nice articulation, exceptional tonality and masterful balance. The stage in front us became alive, you could close your eyes and feel like the performance was happening live in front of you. Sound imaging was highly accurate with the various sound elements easily distinguishable in space. Panning effects were impressive while the famous DSP programs of Yamaha could create a really unique atmosphere if you are really into that kind of output.
We didn’t notice any unbalance and this was happening across the entire dynamic range. Yamaha knows their art and the receiver handled each song accordingly. Careful when needed, more playful when it could and more delicate when asked for it. Overall there was not a single moment where we felt that the unit couldn’t handle the material in the best possible way.
As always in our reviews we try various content that range various genres like classical, heavy metal, pop, rock, country, jazz and electronic music and the receiver rendered everything in a very natural way without altering the original mix of each performance at all. Obviously each song is a different case but the RX-A8A proved a capable handler of all kinds of music.
Something that we keep saying in may of our reviews is that when it comes to AV receivers it may not be the preferred way of many audio purists. But having everything in one box is very practical and space saving and in the end if you can have top quality sound being output by a single box then why not, especially if your space does not allow for more flexibility. And the Yamaha RX-A8A is the epitome of this. By offering amazing performance in both movies and music and managing to do that from the practicality of one box is a testament of Yamaha’s ability to create top quality audio devices.
Ports and Connectivity
Next we will be looking at what ports are available in this unit. The RX-A8A is a really interesting receiver, as you will find out, as it is not entirely clear what is offered out of the box and what is not.
First of all we already mentioned above that at the front we get a headphones jack, the YPAO microphone port and a single USB for connecting external storage. What is missing is any kind of analog ports, which we don’t mind too much, but also there is no HDMI port, which we do mind. It’s a bit unacceptable for such a premium device not to include a single HDMI input at the front which can be so useful in many situations.
Now, as we turn the unit around we find 13 speaker terminals, from which only 11 can be used for the main zone, along with 7 HDMI inputs at the top and 3 HDMI outputs. The impressive thing with these new Yamaha receivers is that they offer more HDMI 2.1 ports than all competing brands in 2020. The RX-A8A has even more than the smaller RX-A2A as that one utilized only 3 HDMI 2.1 inputs while the RX-A8A comes with all 7 of them!
But there is a catch here. It seems that Yamaha has, for the time being, locked HDMI 2.1 functionality from all the available ports. So while these support the full range of HDMI 2.1 features most of them will become available with a firmware update which at the time of writing had not been released yet.
The HDMI 2.1 ports in the Yamaha unit support up to 40Gbps of bandwidth along with 4K UltraHD Video (include 4K/60, 50Hz 10/12bit), 3D Video, ARC (Audio Return Channel), eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel), HDMI Control (CEC), Auto Lip Sync, Deep Color, “x.v.Color”, HD audio playback, 21:9 Aspect Ratio, BT.2020 Colorimetry, HDR Compatible, Dolby Vision and Hybrid Log-Gamma.
The expected firmware update will unlock the full potential of these ports and will add all HDMI 2.1 centric features including 4K@120Hz, 8K@60Hz, HDR10+, ALLM, VRR, QMS and QFT support. Also keep in mind that the RX-A8A is not plagued by the HDMI 2.1 bug that affected many of the 2020 AV receivers. So when Yamaha unlocks these ports with the update all sources including the PS5, Xbox and any kind of PC rig will be handled as expected.
Yamaha is also one of the few manufacturers that include XLR ports into an AV receiver which is greatly appreciated among fans. The previous RX-A3080 flagship also had them and the RX-A8A continues this trend.
As for the rest of the ports, there are 5 analog stereo inputs with another one dedicated to phono, 2 coaxial and 3 optical digital inputs, 2 composite and 1 component video input, 11.2 channels pre-outs, Zone 2 and Zone 3 analogue stereo outputs, two 12V trigger outputs, two mini jacks for remote input and output, an Ethernet port for wired connection to a local network and the usual FM/AM and WiFi/Bluetooth antenna connectors.
The receiver comes with built-in WiFi that supports both 2.4 and 5 GHz networks while it also comes with Bluetooth v4.2 which supports SBC and AAC codecs.
The inclusion of more HDMI 2.1 ports along with the unique XLR ones is what sets the RX-A8A apart from the rest of the competition. Now if only we can get the update that will unlock the full potential of the HDMI 2.1 ports and the RX-A8A will have no competition at the moment.
OS, Apps and Features
One thing that we noticed during reviewing the other RX-A and RX-V units is that with the new models Yamaha decided to include exactly the same features across the board. The only difference seems to be on the type of YPAO calibration system they come with and as you have guessed the RX-A8A comes with the best version you can get.
In the RX-A8A we get the YPAO Sound Optimization with R.S.C. (Reflected Sound Control), 3D, 64-bit High Precision EQ Calculation, Low Frequency mode and Angle Measurement…yeah a long name we know! Basically it’s the same version we had seen in the previous flagship, the RX-A3080.
YPAO analyzes your room acoustics, measures speaker characteristics and adjusts unwanted reflected sounds to optimize every channel of your home theater. In addition the R.S.C. (Reflected Sound Control) feature is responsible of correcting early reflections and provides DSP Effect Normalization through the Cinema DSP parameters according to these reflected sounds. This results in a more balanced outcome compared to the basic system and it can improve Dolby Atmos and DTS:X performance.
YPAO 3D optimizes the sound parameters automatically in order to provide a much improved 3D soundfield with CINEMA DSP HD3, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X while multi-point and angle measurements correct audio reflections and also achieve the best sound possible by analyzing eight different listening positions. Lastly the 64-bit, high-precision EQ calculation is used in order to achieve the most natural acoustics possible compared to the less capable versions.
By following the on-screen instructions you can finish the whole process relatively easy and the YPAO will even warn you if there is some problem with your setup. In general these calibration systems offer pretty good settings and especially for those that are not used to make manual tuning it can be an excellent helper.
But before you even make this sound calibration you need to follow the initial setup in order to connect everything to the receiver. Things are pretty simple here if you have done some basic connections before and you shouldn’t have any trouble finishing this part very fast.
But even if you have any trouble Yamaha has created the Yamaha AV Receiver Setup Guide App which is a dedicated setup app that you can install to your mobile device, choose the appropriate AV receiver and follow the instructions to make the necessary wire connections. Yamaha is the only manufacturer that offers such an app, as far as we know, for guiding you through the installation process.
This app if free to download and is available for both iOS and Android devices and provide you with very simple visual information on how to connect everything for your specific system. A nice small app and although not many are going to use it, if you are are totally new to all this then you will certainly find this one very handy.
A common feature in most AV receivers is ECO mode that you can enable and let the receiver manage its power output in order to achieve power economy. But if you want the unit to perform at its peak power at all times then we suggest you to better leave this setting turned off. We would only recommend this if your unit becomes really hot due to being in a closed environment and you have no other way of cooling it down, then this could potentially help a little. But for that there are additional cooling solutions to consider also like the AC Infinity AIRCOM T8.
Another standard feature is voice control. Yamaha made sure to add support for both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant but obviously if you want to use these you will need to have an external device like an Echo Dot or Google Home device. You also have the ability to use Apple’s Siri voice control through the Airplay 2 app in your mobile device.
And since we mentioned Airplay 2 we should talk about the streaming and multi-room capabilities of the receiver. As with most Yamaha receivers MusicCast is supported and with it you can connect various MusicCast enabled devices to the receiver. This can be done through the MusicCast Controller mobile app that is available for both Android and iOS devices. If on the other hand you are more of an Apple guy the included Airplay 2 app will do for you and let you connect various Airplay 2 devices to the unit. The Airplay 2 app is available in the Apple store for you to download.
The receiver also comes with some of the best multi-room capabilities we have seen in any AV receiver. It allows you to add up to three additional rooms at the same time with your main zone but obviously this will limit the available channels of your main zone to just 5.2. With such a configuration you can create a 5.2 + Zone 2 + Zone 3 + Zone 4.
Obviously the less additional zones means that you can use the free channels for a better surround system in the main zone. The RX-A8A gives you plenty of flexibility in this regard.
But MusicCast and Airplay 2 are not only capable at creating a multi-room environment but can be used to stream music online through various streaming services. Many of the most known names are available like Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, Napster, SiriusXM, Tidal, Deezer and Qobuz to name a few.
But streaming is not restricted only to it’s online services as you can also use the receiver to stream audio from a NAS server or network drive you have connected to your local network. We already mentioned above about it’s USB streaming capabilities so the last thing we need to mention is its Bluetooth support. The unit comes with Bluetooth v4.2 and it can be used to stream music to a Bluetooth enabled speaker or headphones.
But except from the above features there are many more on offer and we will try to include everything here. One is HDMI to HDMI up-scaling to 4K resolution if you prefer this to be done by the receiver instead of your TV. Now if you should use this or not depends on how capable your TV is, so it is our suggestion you try both ways in order to determine which one is better. There is also HDMI-CEC with which you can use the TV’s remote to control the receiver and thus lower the number of remotes you have to use in your home theater.
Bi-amp capability could not be missing obviously from such a high profile unit and you want to drive the high and low ranges of the front channels by using independent amplifiers which can improve the acoustic result and performance of the front soundstage.
Lastly there is support for wireless speakers including the MusicCast 20 and MusicCast 50 surround speakers. Also there is the MusicCast SUB 100 subwoofer that you can connect to the unit. This way you are not bound by wires and you can place the speakers wherever you want in your room.
The RX-A8A may not offer much more than its smaller brothers and the YPAO is the only difference we find here. But overall the unit has everything a newly released, high profile AV receiver should come with and it will satisfy even the most demanding of users.
It’s been a while since Yamaha updated their flagship unit but now that the RX-A8A is here things got much more interesting. The receiver is the natural evolution of things and Yamaha made sure to take their time with the higher tier Aventage units before releasing them to the public. So is the RX-A8A the flagship unit we were expecting it to be?
You bet it is. The inclusion of 11 channels of built-in amplification was a wise decision from Yamaha as it felt they were behind the competition in this regard. The RX-A8A has everything it needs to be a top choice. Excellent build quality, amazing audio output, a huge list of features and the guarantee of Yamaha’s experience and expertise. And don’t forget that Yamaha offers more HDMI 2.1 ports than both Denon and Marantz do.
On the downside there is not much to say about such a beast of an AV receiver. Many of its HDMI 2.1 features are still locked and waiting for a future firmware upgrade that will unlock their full potential which is not exactly ideal when you are ready to pay such a premium price. Also the remote is not the best of designs we have seen while we definitely miss a front HDMI input for easy access.
This marks the end of our review and if there was one thing we could say to summarize everything we experienced is that the Yamaha RX-A8A does so many things right that it deserves to be considered one of the best AV receivers you can get in 2022. It is not perfect, as no electronics device is, but it is as damn close as it can get.