Yamaha @PET RP-U100 personal receiver Page 3
Playing back DVDs from a standalone DVD player gave me the opportunity to compare the linear PCM version of the soundtracks (when included) with the compressed Dolby Digital version, as decoded by the RP-U100. My preference depended very much on the music. I definitely preferred the PCM track of James Taylor's Live at the Beacon Theater (Columbia Music Video CVD 50171), while the Dolby Digital track of Fleetwood Mac's The Dance (Reprise 38486-2) gave better involvement in the music. But with some DVDs having only a 5.1 DD mix, such as Karajan's performance of Dvorák's "New World" Symphony (Sony SVD 48421), I didn't care much for the too-close sound, regardless of how I set up the Yamaha.
Shannon Dickson wiil discuss his experiences with the RP-U100's virtual surround modes in the Sidebar, but I had difficulty getting any sense of envelopment behind me. Spacious, yes; true envelopment, no. I ended up preferring the Hall and Jazz settings, which seemed optimally tuned for classical and rock music, respectively. But with the radio, I had to be quick to dive for the Thru button when the announcer started talking, if he or she wasn't to sound bathroomy. And applause never worked very well, tending to sound colored and comb-filtered regardless of the chosen algorithm.
To give Yamaha credit, with the exception of the occasional effect on Sting's Soul Cages album, I have never been very sensitive to virtual surround techniques—even the much-hyped QSound of a few years back failed to impress me. The shape of my ear pinnae must be too far from the norm, or at least from the models used by the auralization engineers.
But as I write these words in the Stereophile office, I am listening to "Amelia," from Joni Mitchell's Painting With Words and Music DVD (Eagle Rock 14381-5515-2), the 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack fed to the Yamaha's optical input with AudioQuest's new OptiLink 1 TosLink cable and processed with the receiver set to Hall, the video fed with an S-video connection to my Apple Studio Display. The experience of reproduced music has never approached this level of satisfaction before—at least at work!
I may have been critical of some aspects of the Yamaha's technical performance, but this needs to be put in its price perspective. At $499, it costs the same as both the soundcard I have installed in my computer and the Musical Fidelity D/A processor I used to audition it, yet it includes A/D and D/A converters, versatile digital signal processing, an AM/FM tuner, and a beefy output amplifier. Considered in that light, it actually performs remarkably well. Its sound quality is respectable. It is also terminally cute!
I can heartily recommend the Yamaha RP-U100 as the audiophile's essential desktop companion—I'm buying the review sample.—John Atkinson