Yamaha RX-Z7 7.1 Channel Receiver Review
The Yamaha RX-Z7 offers benchmark performance in virtually every category with the only caveat being it generates a lot of heat. Armed to the teeth with all of the latest audio and video processing features, along with a host of multi room and networking capabilities, the RX-Z7 leaves little to be desired for even the most sophisticated home theater installs. Its ability to transform your listening space into a concert venue or mega Cineplex is unrivaled. The RX-Z7 proudly lives up to the “Z” heritage and in some aspects out Z’s their very own flagship RX-Z11.
Although the power ratings look the same on paper, how these receivers actually deliver the power is another story. Due to the enormous power supply of the RX-Z11, it really shows its brute when driving 4 ohm loads. While the RX-V3900 and RX-Z7 seem similar in size and ratings, the RX-Z7 is 2.2lbs heavier and slightly bigger. Yamaha has been known in the past to offer slightly bigger power supplies on the more expensive of the two models with similar ratings. Make no mistake, this is the case here as well and although a modest difference, the RX-Z7 has more juice available under the hood than the less expensive RX-V3900. This can translate to improved fidelity depending on your listening habits and the type of speakers you are running.
Unlike other Yamaha flagships, this is their first Z series receiver to be manufactured at their Malaysian facility. Had it not been for the markings on the back panel that indicated this, I would have never known. The chassis seems rigid, partly thanks to the horizontal support beam underneath the hood which took me 22 screws to get to.
Inside, the RX-Z7 sports many of the attributes that defines their Z heritage, big meaty power supplies (large E-core and 2 x 18,000uF 71V capacitors), a big finned and tapered heatsink towards the front of the receiver to house all of the power devices. Past Z receivers have two rows of heatsinks but they were also rated at higher power and had additional amplifiers for presence channels. Although very compact, the layout of this receiver is clean and methodical, something I’ve grown accustomed to with Yamaha.
The RX-Z7 is certainly not connection deficient. The four HDMI inputs and two HDMI outputs are vertically aligned on the far left of the receiver with an additional HDMI input on the front panel. Component video connections are grouped in close proximity to the right of the HDMI with S-Video / Composite video horizontally located right of the component video connections.
There are 11 high quality WBT speaker connectors on this receiver where two pairs can be used for assigning the internal amps to other zones, or presence/back channels or bi-amplification for the main channels. iPod and Ethernet connections are available to support network and streaming functions. With six memory settings for the main zone and four for the other three zones, the sky is the limit with configurability not just for where you assign the speaker groups but how you customize and configure any parameter in the receiver. There are two switched power connections, and this receiver comes with a detachable power cord which is a real handy convenience during installation.
The first part of my review was conducted in the main Audioholics showcase theater room where I set up the RX-Z7 for 5.1 but biamped my front channels full range which consisted of RBH Sound T-30LSE towers that dip into the 3-ohm range to really give the amplifiers a real workout. I used the matching RBH T-1SE/R center channel and MC-6C bookshelfs on stands for the rears and one of my Velodyne DD-15′s for the subwoofer channel. The transports were the Denon DVD-5910, Toshiba HD-A2 HD DVD player (yea I know, dead format) and the Yamaha MusicCAST MCX-2000 and an Epson 1080UB LCD projector.
The second part of my review was conducted in the Audioholics showcase family room which consists of all RBH Signature SE/R speakers in a 7.1 channel configuration, Axiom EP 500 subwoofer, Denon DVD-2930CI DVD player and a 56″ Samsung DLP RPTV.
All of my cables were Sonicwave by Impact Acoustics / Cables to Go with the exception of my front speakers which were wired with Rivercable Starflex. In fact Impact Acoustics was kind enough to supply me with all of their models of HDMI cables (Velocity, Sonicwave and RapidRun) to test on this receiver.
Choosing the Speaker Impedance
I tested the RX-Z7 in the “8 ohm or more” and “6 ohm” settings and as you will see in my lab tests, power was drastically reduced in the “6 ohm” setting. In NO circumstance do I ever recommend using this setting regardless of your loudspeaker impedance. This switch is put there for one purpose only – to pass UL heat dissipation requirements of driving low impedance loads. All it does is limit the output voltage to the amplifiers so that they clip at lower power and thus under their test condition, the receiver generates less heat.
Auto Setup Via YPAO
I’ve covered YPAO extensively in other Yamaha reviews, most recently my review of the RX-Z11. As a general overview however, YPAO automatically checks and calibrates the following parameters:
Equalization (manual, flat, front, natural, “through” which means bypass)
Like the RX-Z11, the RX-Z7 features Yamaha’s latest YPAO iteration of doing standing wave correction via a Frisbee looking device that you place the YPAO microphone on at each of the three legs in the primary calibration location. It would be more useful if YPAO would run this part of the calibration right after it takes the measurements for the primary seat so you don’t have to hassle repositioning the microphone in that location after you’ve run the multi point calibration suite (up to 8 locations). YPAO does some low frequency equalization down to 32 Hz for all channels with roughly 1/6th octave resolution. It offers a manual adjustment mode with a variable Q of .5 to 10.08 and Gain: +6 to -20dB with up to up to 3 bands per channel.
YPAO Calibration Results
Given my past experience with YPAO, I was honestly not going to test YPAO but was pleasantly surprised that the calibration results this time exceeded my expectations. Either there was perfect celestial alignment in the galaxy or Yamaha tweaked YPAO performance, or I just got lucky that YPAO nailed speaker level, distance (including the subwoofer) and size correctly. The only tweak I had to make was the center channel crossover which I lowered from 100Hz to 80Hz. I only used a 3 point calibration and kept the mic in relatively close proximity to the main listening position. I have found that keeping the sample points closely spaced towards the primary one or two seats does produce more consistent and usable results in virtually all auto calibration systems.
YPAO didn’t drastically change the shape of the measurement curve as much as it subtly lowered some problematic areas most notably 40-50Hz and 90-120Hz ranges. The Left graph above shows the calibration results for the mains + subwoofer with/without YPAO while the right graph shows the subwoofer channels only. YPAO lowered the subwoofer amplitude about -2dB below 38Hz and an additional 1dB from 38Hz to about 60Hz. To date the only auto correction system I’ve experimented with that significantly changes (not always for the better) system bass response is Audyssey.
Sonic Results of YPAO
One thing I’ve learned about Yamaha is that if you complain about something enough times in reviews, they eventually listen. Such is the case with this receiver and the RX-Z11 when it comes to selecting different PEQ settings simultaneously for all channels on the fly so you can instantaneously here the sonic results. It was a real delight to compare the different PEQ settings which as I previously mentioned weren’t offensive sounding to me like that have been in the past. I found “Natural” mode slightly tightened up the low end with a slight reduction in overall impact. It slightly dulled the top end but did a good job of preserving the soundstage while also anchoring the vocals towards the midpoint of my main speakers. It wasn’t quite as focused as the results I got from Pioneer’s MCACC system, but it also didn’t drastically reduce the soundstage like I heard with MCACC. “Flat” mode extended the treble response, perhaps sometimes a tad too much depending on source material but overall this was my preferred EQ setting.
Yamaha made some significant upgrades over the RX-Z11 with respect to video processing in this receiver. While the RX-Z11 is powered by Anchor Bay Technologies’ ABT1018 chipset, the RX-Z7 utilizes the newer and arguably more advanced ABT2010 chipset with VRS technology. Full 1080p upscaling for all inputs with OSD is supported on this receiver, including 1080p / 24fps. Unlike the Pioneer SC-07 A/V receiver, the Yamaha offers video processing and video adjustments for HDMI, such as Mosquito Noise Reduction, Block Noise Reduction, Detail Enhancement, Edge Enhancement, and Brightness/Contrast/Saturation control for HDMI as well. In fact, based on my performance testing, its got the most advanced video processing capabilities I’ve seen in a receiver in this price class and it can go toe to toe with the very best Denon has to offer on their flagship receivers and pre/pros using Silicon Optix HQV.
Unlike previous HDMI receivers from Yamaha (including the RX-Z11), the RX-Z7 has enhanced black level to accept true RGB range of 0-255. This is the default setting and you cannot toggle between RGB or YCbCr. Although the majority of DVD’s and Blu-ray discs are mastered in YCbCr with a range of 16-235, its useful for people connecting PC’s or other RGB type sources to their receivers without worrying about cropping blacker than black information.
For more information, read our article on HDMI Enhanced Black Levels
Component video can be assigned to either the main or secondary zone and includes 480p upconversion and OSD support. Just like every other A/V pre/pro and receiver we’ve tested, the RX-Z7 does not support 1080p via component video input so for those using an XBOX 360, you will either have to run it directly into your display or upgrade to their newer Blade unit that has HDMI capability.
I found myself really taking advantage of the video tweaking options the RX-Z7 sports. It did a great job really sharpening the resolution of my Nintendo Wii, most notably when playing Wii Pool. With my Wii set to 480i and the RX-Z7 upscaling to 1080p, I adjusted the “noise reduction” to low and “detail” control up to about +10 which took on a lifelike appearance on my 56″ Samsung DLP RPTV.
If the native video signal coming into the RX-Z7 is anything other than 4:3, the zoom features are bypassed on the receiver which prevents the user from messing up the proper aspect ratio of a 16:9 signal on an HDTV display.
Progressive re-processing features include:
Mosquito Noise Reduction – reduces noise artifacts but can also reduce resolution if set too high
Block Noise Reduction – reduces noise associated with errors in encoding video with too low of a bitrate. Setting this level too high tends to blur the image
Detail Enhancement – adjusts the finesses of the image
Edge Enhancement – adjusts sharpness of image
Brightness – adjusts black level by adding or subtracting an offset, or bias, into the red, green, and blue signals
Contrast – picture control that applies a scale factor (gain) to the red, green, and blue signals.
Saturation – adjusts the color of the image
Rather than going the route of memorizing the video settings per input like Denon does on their flagship products, Yamaha offers six memory presets which encompass audio, video and other settings. Many calibrators may prefer the individual presets to calibrate based on source resolution and not necessarily input. However, with the exception of my Verizon FIOS box, all of my sources are pretty much locked onto a fixed resolution so I prefer the Denon approach of memorizing video settings per input. Thankfully, if you select any particular input on the RX-Z7, it offers you the option to store a particular memory setting as well as to what extent to recall its function. Thus I kept my audio calibrations the same for three of the six presets but customized the video settings and recalled them on their respective inputs for optimal picture settings.
The RX-Z7 has only 3 Component Video inputs and a selectable output for the main or Zone 2/3. As standard procedure, I always wire up my systems with Component Video as a backup should HDMI fail (trust me this happens more often than not). Thus I tested all of my sources via component video and they worked just fine with the RX-Z7 handling them. It’s important to note however that the video upconversion features of the RX-Z7 only operate via the HDMI outputs. If you route component video for all of your sources and outputs, you will have native resolution (up to 1080p) with no video processing or enhancements.
Although not quite as effortless sounding as my much more expensive reference separates rig when directly compared against it, not once during my evaluation did I find the amp sections of this receiver limited or strained like I did in a similarly priced competitor model I had on hand. The GUI, although a bit daunting at first glance, is pretty straight forward to navigate through. Yamaha has accounted for virtually every conceivable configuration option of all receiver parameters, included a memory bank of 10 settings to ensure the installer has the right tools to seamlessly slide this receiver into any system where it will serve as the center piece.
Armed to the teeth with all of the latest audio and video processing features, along with a host of multi room and networking capabilities, the RX-Z7 leaves little to be desired for even the most sophisticated home theater installs. Its ability to transform your listening space into a concert venue or mega Cineplex is unrivaled thanks to the powerful arsenal of DSP processing and multi speaker configuration capabilities coupled with a robust well designed amplifier section. With its very clever power amp assignability and music mode distribution, the RX-Z7 proved to be the ultimate multi channel / multi zone receiver capable of whole house entertainment. The RX-Z7 proudly lives up to the “Z” heritage and in some aspects out Z’s their very own flagship RX-Z11.