Yamaha RX-S601 AV Receiver Review by mark2410
Thanks to Yamaha UK for the sample.
TLDR? Try here http://www.head-fi.org/t/821124/yamaha-rx-s601-av-receiver-review-by-mark2410#post_12886846
First Impressions: So the box, for a receiver it looks pretty small, it is a “slim” receiver after all. It still weighs like a receiver though. Mind you the numbers say its “only” weighs 7.8KG verses my own RX-667 at 10.5KG, because only 7.8 KG its practically a feather, right? Getting it out of the box and looking at it, I’d been told that I was getting white one. White is a new colour, from the black and silver versions they have now started making white. Apparently it’s a thing these days and people want white. As I look at it I don’t know what to make of it. It is nice, it really stands out though visually and I’m not sure if I like that or not. Hmm but then everything else I have is silver or black so………I can’t quite make up my mind on the colour.
Getting the thing properly out of the box, there is the usual bits, an FM radio wire, an AM antenna, the remote control, batteries for it and lastly a bunch of manuals and CD. The CD isn’t music though, it’s all set up stuff so basically you’re never going to touch it.
Setup: As AV receivers go the S601 is a reasonably lower mid ish of the range, plus with it being slim line receiver the back of it has relatively few bits. I say relatively as if you aren’t familiar with AV receivers you’ll look at the back and think it absolutely covered in sockets. Compared to old school things of the pre HDMI days it’s a paragon of simplicity. One thing I find curious is that there are speaker outputs for 5 channels. That’s normal but what’s really odd is that the rear channels can be repurposed as zone 2 speakers or used to bi-amp the fronts. This strikes me as a most excellent idea, I mean people who want a slim line receiver may well have issues fitting in the rear speakers. They do require wires trailing about the place and it’s not like the rear channels are really all that especially significant for most TV watching. Let’s face it, most TV watching is bland stuff where the front three speakers are what matter. However as I have 5.1 speakers set up already that’s what I’ll be using them for.
Inputs: An AV receiver is by its very nature awash with inputs. The ones that will matter most I bet are HDMI, of which there are 6. A healthy amount I think, I can’t think what you’d do to fill them all but hey, much better to have more than you need than not enough. It’s also the expected optical and coaxial inputs and an old school composite video input. The inputs that are a little more interesting are the newer ones. The Ethernet socket, USB and the aerial stick out the back. Yes that aerial brings Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. They offer up a range of input possibilities such as Airplay and Musicast. Not to mention Spotify and Pandora and “internet radio.” If you don’t already know, there are roughly 500 million radio stations out there and it seems they almost all broadcast on line too. The S601 can access a database of these online radio stations. While that sounds like a good thing, in use it’s a nightmare. You suddenly get presented with such an insanely vast array of stations you could spend half your lifetime just scrolling through them never mind trying them all. Then there is of course actually FM and AM radio stations you can use too.
Okay in terms of inputs, the data / network functionality is something that opens up so many options that is just silly. I mean the radio, the online radio stations there are sooooooooo numerous its option overload. Unless there is one in particular you want you could spend all day scrolling through them so frankly I gave up. Sometimes too many choices just becomes overwhelming. It’s not a bad thing really but when I’ve Airplay and DLNA with all my own music on the computer just there. Not that it’s just there but that its right click, send to and boom its done, the radio stuff was never going to get much look in. There is just such an abundance of possibilities human lifespans aren’t long enough to explore them all.
DSP: One thing that Yamaha receivers have always been notable for is their large array of DSP options. While some of these are nice, for example Straus sounds great using their “5 channel stereo” setting, gently sweeping and pleasing to the ear but most of the settings, I mean what exactly is “Hall in Munich” or “Hall in Vienna” just name the halls. I rather feel that the huge number of options is a little like the radio stations, there is just too many. So for the most part I kept it on “Straight” which is the no adding DSP anything. I realise that once the research for these settings is done it costs them nothing to add in but the purist in me winces. However I do rather like that they have an option called “Direct” that is it kills a bunch of internal audio processing and offers a theoretically more pure sound. I love that idea though using relatively small speakers that means 2 channel in, 2 channel out so no sub, therefore no bass.
Controls: So you get a remote control, duh everything comes with a remote control. It is fine, actually it’s rather better laid out than my old one but what is more interesting is the Yamaha AV app that you can control it with. Not only does it work perfectly, every time, never one did it screw up. It gives you all the controls in such an easily viewable fashion that I would suggest that if you’re doing anything other than changing the volume it is the controller app you’ll reach for. I remember when this sort of thing would have cost a fortune yet here it is on a relatively cheap receiver. It also makes it so much easier to play around with tone controls and such stuff.
Aesthetics: So this comes in white, yeah this is a new thing from Yamaha, actually maybe for anyone. They still make their traditional black ones and the black / silvery grey ones but apparently there is some demand for white so they have decided to make some. I must confess I have had the thing sitting for a good while now and I still don’t know what to make of it. The white is very certainly rather eye catching and I certainly don’t hate it but it’s just so bright. Everything else I have is black or silvery grey and this just pops out at you like something out of a DAZ advert. Brilliant gleaming white is just so, well, bright. Still having options is good and it’s not like they have scrapped a colour to make this happen. It’s just so brilliant I could really see this capturing your attention in a show room. You may not end up buying the while because you have nothing else while but I’d bet it will certainly make you pay attention as you wander by it.
Bluetooth: So yeah this is getting its own little section. You see the S601 has Bluetooth, you can pair your phone and play music, nothing very new there. But…… it can also output over Bluetooth. Yeah, you can pair up your Bluetooth headphones and use them with it. Genius. Now I don’t have small kids to not wake up but many do and while I have wireless headphones I could use not many do but plenty have a pair of Bluetooth ones for gym or whatever use. So you could pair them and then sit watching whatever and not bother anyone else. I really rather like that.
MusicCast: From speaking to Yamaha I know they are really proud of their new MusicCast system and they really wanted me to play around with it, chat about it. So, I tried to make a special point of using it and there are some aspects of it that are really nice. There is a bunch of things you can do with it that make it different, like you can have the receiver repeating the MusicCast broadcast to other compatible devices, you can use it to play back a heap of different formats from a home server which offers up vast potential. Seriously you have a home server set up and you could access everything you have. Not to mention you can hook up Spotify or Jukebox (Pandora too if you’re in the US) oh and obviously you can play back what’s on your phone and you can have every music cast device playing back the same thing if you want. So yeah, it’s basically party time stuff. You can have things play throughout your whole home. So yeah this is kinda cool but it does feel as though it’s a little replicative of what Airplay does. Now I realise not everyone is in the Apple world and they are rather annoying in that they don’t play with others well but I already use Itunes. The only bit that I found to be a significant benefit over Airplay is that when you control the volume on your device it changes the volume on your outputting device, not just reducing the volume in software. That is clever. I also rather liked that you can pair a device to a photo in the app, so much nicer than a generic icon. Still these aspects while all nice, and they all worked perfectly, never once did they hiccup for me, I would like that it wasn’t a Yamaha only tech. While I like Yamaha stuff and they let me borrow a speaker for playing around with I don’t have anything else compatible. For example I have an Apple Airport Express that I then have hooked up to a separate speaker system. I also have a little portable Bluedio Airplay enabled speaker. Not to mention there are whole array of other manufacturers that have Airplay.
MusicCast is a great system and if I was just starting out with audio stuff I wouldn’t have any particular issue going all Yamaha but I have existing things. While they do now have some separate Amp and source in the form of the WXA-50 and WXC-50 they are quite expensive. This is a system that is competing less with Airplay but with Sonos. Now Yamaha make waaaaaaaaaaaay more things than the dire range Sonos offers I still can’t help but find myself wishing there was a universal standard every one used. So while arguably MusicCast is the superior system to those two its lacks the established age of Sonos, the ubiquity of Airplay (which the S601 supports itself) and lacks the cheapness of Googles music casting dongle.
Speaker Configuration: So on the back there are binging posts for 5.1. However the rear speaker outputs are variable. They are labelled Extra SP/surround/Zone 2/Bi-Amp. So you can use them as the standard rear speakers in a 5.1 set up, or as front virtual surrounds. Or you can even use them to be a zone two for use as a separate HiFi. Or you can use them to Bi amp your main fronts. I love that you can do this, even if I’d not likely really use them the fact is that in 5.1 setups the front 3 and the sub are the ones that do all the work and that actually matter. Rear’s are nice but a pain as you have to run wires all over and that is an issue for many not to mention actually having somewhere to put the things and that you actually have a symmetrical room so they aren’t all over the place anyway. None of these functions are crucial but I like that you get the option to potentially do something with those amps inside that might otherwise never see use.
Sound Quality: Overall the sound is that of a Yamaha amp. Every company has a house sound and this amp is no different, it sounds like a Yamaha so if you have heard any you’ll know it. it has a certain warmth to things, a little creamy, buttery hint. I don’t like the term but, it has that “organic” natural feel to it. There are plusses and negatives to this flavour, personally it’s the style I like. There is a reason my regular receiver is a Yamaha so for me its audio flavouring is great. In TV and films it’s a robust and hearty sound, everything thing feels natural, realistic, with a sort of gently dark yet comforting feel to it. That curl up on a winters evening on the sofa with a blanket, room in darkness, lit only by the glow of the TV screen.
Tonally the “natural” sound of the amp would pair well with speakers that are either middling or bright, myself I use Audica CS speakers which are middling to slightly middy and a smidge natural themselves which works great for me. Though in my head your ideal pairing is going to be something like Monitor Audio, Acoustic Energy, Klipsh something to contrast. Though my being rather treble sensitive I’m happy to go a touch over natural and smooth. I would personally probably skip the likes of Tannoy unless you really want warm on warm. I find the amp to provide a wonderfully smooth assemblage with a good degree of clarity yet there is never any abrasiveness. This does mean that if you’re a detail junkie then you may find its lack of aggressiveness a little too polite. It may also mean that you can or may decide to turn it increasingly loud. You can really crank the bejeasus out if this thing and it still sounds easy on the ear. Easy in a way the cinema rarely does for me. Likewise harder sounding amps like those from Onkyo can have your ears screaming out for a reduced volume. This thing you can have the walls come down around you and it’s still comfortable.
Timing wise, there is that typical Yamaha casualness, that gentle and effortless nonchalant behaviour. That even when played at volume, at serious neighbour upsetting volume it feels completely relaxed. It never feels like it’s being pushed. There is a very “natural” if slightly lingering timing. Never feeling fast even when you throw fast paced music at it. Subtle things remain subtle, ever unhurried. In movies this works great for my tastes but in rambunctious dramatic fight sequences it can’t quite ever provoke itself into conveying the brutality and hardness some may want. Violent action sequences may be able to blow your socks off with its power and scale but there is ever and certain grown up refinement.
This stylistic flavour is depending on how you look at it a boon or a problem. The amp likes to play powerfully and most especially in films over music it feels like its urging you to turn it up a notch and while I found myself revelling in its acoustic lusciousness moments later I would remember that I live in the UK where we have neighbours close by. I noticed that once or twice when I saw my neighbour leaving I experienced a dash of glee and reached for the volume dial. It was beauteous, Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 were both much played these last handful of weeks. The Fifth Element may have had a look in once or twice too. I can see there being certain advantages to living the middle of nowhere with no neighbours.
Lows: So much of the output in terms of volume and tone are determined by the sub you use and not the receiver. However there are something’s that can still be talked about. Namely the number of options you have. Seriously Yamaha, you do love your DSP tweaking don’t you. Not only can you bass boost, set your speakers to large so they output bass too. You can also alter the treble and the bass in the tone controls. There is an “extra bass” button right beside the Subwoofer trim controls. Personally I’m no fan of these things as if you want to add more bass than there should be, just turn up the sub. But hey, you’ve get a ton of options here to amuse you.
Mids: Ever more a function of the speakers than the amp but…… yeah they work well, they work damn well. I’m a big mid fan and the slightly natural, creamy buttery fluidity of the S601 really worked for me. They are very clear and have a highly natural, slightly rich dash to them. They just flow over the ear so well. They may not be the most directly explicit as you would get from a more dry and cold amp but this is exactly what I like best. Again it’s that curl up on the sofa, turn off the lights sort of mid-range that you can easily just melt into. A gloriously liquidy flowing mid-range. It just works so well in midcentric music and films. Particularly the likes of very flowing musicals.
Highs: They are nice in terms of detail but they in no way hurl that detail at you in the way some do (cough Onkyo, cough) so while this may not make the most dazzling of first impressions on you in a show room. There is something very liveable about the treble level and tonality. It has a very “natural” feeling to it, a particularly relaxed, gently casual treble. It is just prefect for me and my ears. The thing is while I’m treble sensitive and I’m used to listening out for detail there is a lack of obviousness. This wort give you a dazzlingly dramatic performance with JJ esq acoustic lens flare all over the place. I like this grown up more mellow and realistically natural presentation. If you want all of the sparkle and drama, this isn’t for you.
Soundstaging: While there is a certain ability to face soundstage with multi-channel DSP there is still is a certain flavour imparted and the S601 like many Yamahas has a certain warmly comfortable intimacy. Even when the audio is clearly coming from all around you there is an intimacy to it. It’s a performance that is all just for you and you alone. There isn’t that airy open space that brighter, dryer setups can offer. I personally very much like this presentational style.
Music: So I get that this is an AV receiver but…. yeah whatever. So for music, ooooooooooh I was pleased. Very pleased. For some reason in particular piano’s sounded gloriously realistic. Strings, in particular cello’s were great too but there was something about piano’s that just made them feel so perfect. I know Yamaha makes some so did they maybe configure this when tuning to get them perfectly right? I don’t know. Whatever they did for music the choice they have made shine, not just in its tonality with that faintly warmed creaminess which it may make for a less dramatically explosive style for films but in music, its damn good. The timing and intonation capture acoustic instrumentation so wonderfully well. That every so tiny lingering hint to notes just is so convincingly good for an AV amp. There is a reason that for music playback I only ever think receiver wise that Marantz and Yamaha are the ones to look to. Yamaha would appear to have done an excellent job with music playback here.
Not to mention the 8 million ways you can make it play music. The inclusion of so many digital music options, Spotify, the radio stations, Airplay, Jukebox etc etc and that before you look to the direct audio inputs and its own rather decent Burr Brown DAC’s in there. Those little buggers can decode almost anything including 24bit 192kbit FLAC and even DSD files, upto 5.6 MHz. Okay so they are likely overkill, I mean this is a £500 amp so I doubt you could tell much or any difference between a DSD and red book FLAC file but hey, options. Clearly when they designed this they have made music not just an afterthought like some.
Movies: While I have adored the S601 for music, and for me that is more important than films but I recognise that it’s primarily a TV / movies device. For TV playback, the smoothness offered with the faintly creamy mid range is excellent. It’s just so easy on the ear for everyday use. However in many films you want a dramatically explosive presentation and that is not the S601’s forte. While the Fifth Element, Diva song / fight is outstandingly epic, seriously the music is seriously bloody good. The likes of more generic smash smash boom boom films, it doesn’t convincingly have enough brutality. It just never feels vicious, cutting, hard and abrasive. While it can do a superb job of the Lord of the Rings battle at Helm’s Deep is almost symphonic in its scale and power, vast acoustic power is displayed and it works well. However modern Transformer style, clanging metal, hard cutting effects they have that edginess tamed a fraction. The S601 simply cannot do savagely brutal acoustics convincingly. It’s too polite for that.
Dynamics: Well it has now problem doing power, vast amounts of power and volume for sure yet its tonal politeness means that it hasn’t the same cuttingly dramatic dynamic range of other amps. It’s very pleasing and its can certainly go from a gentle whisper to a vociferous roar in a moment, there is still an analogue rise and fall to it. Other amps can do a much more digital and instantaneous explosion out of nowhere. Again it’s that natural and “organic” tone of the S601 that offers a more sumptuous presentation style, it just doesn’t do brutal.
UI: While this is a fancy device in terms of its options (oh god so many) the UI on it is very basic in terms of its visuals. Functional for sure, it’s pretty easy to navigate as well but it’s just not the most pretty and so you may find your doing things using the far more visually appealing phone app to set up things and tweak bits and bobs. The actual remote control for me, became a stick with 3 buttons on it. The red on / off button and the volume control. I did also use for source selection sometimes but again the app was the attractive way to navigate proceedings. I really would have appreciated the inclusion of one of the super simple remotes Yahama do for their zone 2 control, sadly you don’t seem to be able to buy them.
Build Quality: The thing may be slim but it’s not exactly a lightweight. Clocking in at 7.8KG it weighs almost exactly what other more full sized amps do in the price region, okay it’s a little bit less but if you’re carrying it, trust me you won’t be thinking oooh so light. It’s a receiver, it weighs what receivers weigh. So, as best as my eyes and fingers can tell it’s a nicely put together unit. Actually I was really pleased with the physical bit on the front, the buttons and dials. They in real life get zero use but they felt very good quality. In fairness I’ve never met a Yamaha product I thought was crappy built.
Value: So the S601 comes in at £449 or US$600 in Americaland. Receivers are funny things in terms of value as there are always new models every year, every single year form the main 4 makers, Onkyo, Pioneer, Denon and Yamaha. Sony usually too and Marantz does whatever. Still it means that every year last year’s models get slashed in price and they usually sound almost the same and the “new” model. The thing that begins to set this model apart, well first that you can buy in white if that floats your boat but the main thing is that it is a “slim line” amp. It’s hardly mobile phone thin but for an AV receiver its very slender. You lose having additional speaker outputs such as 7.1 plus zone 2 but frankly 7 over 5 speakers has always felt a bit of a scam by speaker makers to make you buy another par. I feel you certainly get your money’s worth here in terms of its myriad inputs, stupid number of options really, and it’s exceedingly pleasing tonal effortless ness. In particular I felt its music performance was particularly good for an AV receiver.
Conclusion: I like it, part of me wishes I’d never get it in as I was perfectly happy with my old V667, not that I use it much but it pleased with its Yamaha house sound. Sadly for me the S601 has given it a bit of a spanking and now I’m not sure I’ll ever be quite so pleased with my old amp again. Not to mention the ridiculous increase in functionality. My old 667 hasn’t any networking stuff and I used the think, pfffft what the hell networking do you need on a receiver. Stupid feature creep nonsense. Having now gotten used to it, in particular the Airplay music playback, it’s just so handy. I know I can play any music I want directly form the computer I have hooked up to it and I can “cast” stuff to the Chromecast I have plugged in and I can network playback anything using my WDTV. It’s just not the same though. I also got to really liking having the track information displayed on the TV. This just seems perfect for at parties, you know when that song comes on and you know you know it but for the life of you, you cannot recall its name?
Film wise I enjoyed the robustness of its hearty oomph. That slightly warm and creamy tonality was ever so pleasing on my ears. While I admit it is the style I prefer so I’m inclined to like it, I am also more likely to watch a Disney song fest like Aladdin or Beauty and the Beast than I am some JJ Abrams visual and acoustic lens flare special. The smooth gentility it offers acoustically is just so easy and pleasing to the ear it’s something I’ve been happy to use all day long. Granted it does a little encourage you to turn things up louder than you ought too so you do have to exercise a measure of restraint. It’s more than capable of upsetting those not just in your home but those around you too.
So would I / should you buy one? I would be more than happy with one of these however I don’t need its slim line figure so I would more likely opt for its more chunky sibling and get the extra speaker outputs. However for you, it’s while colour aside, I mean if you must have white then I don’t of any other options. If you need or want slim line then your options narrow too and while its small by receiver standards it sounds as acoustically beefy as its bigger siblings. It tonality is excellent for music especially and indeed for my preferred movies too. Richly enveloping as is the Yamaha receiver house sound, it is a fine offering in a compact form. I shall miss it when it goes back, I think I shall miss it rather a lot.