Monday, 31 December 2012

Yamaha RX-A820 AV Amplifier Review

Model: Yamaha RX-A820
Purchased: 31/12/2012
Price: £799 from Richer Sounds, Newcastle.
Speakers: B&W 685 Cinema package (685 Front,686 rear, ASW610 Sub, HTM62 Center)
TV: Samsung 40" B650
Previous Amp: Deneon  AVR-1802
Speaker Cables:  QED Silver XT (could not detect a difference when upgraded to this from cheap 2.5mm core speaker cable from HW store)
DVD/CD player: Play Station 3.
Experience Level: Above average?

There are no HiFi shops within 200km radius of where I live at the SW tip of Spain.  I wanted an Amp which supported HDMI, AirPlay and Spotify, and, ideally, sounded better than the current aging amp.  So I did my homework and settled on the Yamaha RX-V673 for £450 from Richer Sounds.  I ordered it over the phone and went to UK to pick it up.  When I got to the shop, and they heard I had the B&W 685's they said the RX-A820 would be a better match.  I had about 20 minutes to decide.  I listened to them both in their audition room, and did a brief Google for reviews, then bought the RX-A820 and flew back to Spain.


  • The A820 picked up my internet connection (via cable) automatically and I was able to play a radio station in a couple of clicks.
  • Internet radio is operable without switching on your TV, i.e. just using the amps display and the remote.  This is surprisingly nice feature.  If only it remembered what you played last instead of having to tediously search each time you switch it on.
  • In the Richer Sounds show room, this unit (with a stereo source) sounded better than the RX-V673.  More wow factor, separation and clarity.  The 673 was a bit dull by comparison.  However, neither unit was properly setup - both were out of the box.  Back at home, movies sound much more coherent and exciting than the old Denon.  Had to crank the sub to the max to hear it properly though.
  • ipad/iphone app is a nice, but limited (e.g. you can view radio stations, but not mark any as favorite or bookmark them, no access to setup features etc.)
  • After some hunting through menus, I found how to enable HDMI control to allow the amp remote to control the TV and the TV remote to control the PS3 etc.  This control feature should be enabled by default, not hidden away.  Works well though - TV remote controls PS3 and AMP etc.
  • Airplay works flawlessly out of the box - no configuration required. 
  • Supports lip sync - correcting the lag between audio and video when playing back from some sources.
  • Supports Bi-Amping using the second zone outputs. 
  • As a hidden bonus, the devices magically appears as a "media device" on any windows pc connected to the same network.  Clicking on this gives you a clear web page which gives you remote control and some basic setup features.  Sadly, it doesn't show you the MAC address, which is what you need to setup a vTuner account.


  • No Spotify, only Napster.  The RX-V673 has Spotify, and costs half the amount, and is slightly older. The sales guy assured me that the RX-A820 supported Spotify.  It doesn't.  This is a huge showstopper for me, as its the service I use all the time on my PC.  Spotify premium has better bit rates and audio quality than Napster (320kbps vs 64-128, allegedly) and is cheaper.  I would not dream of using Napster on a £2000+ stereo system.  Oh, and Napster is not available in Spain.
  • 10 minutes after plugging in for the first time, it started doing a network ROM update when I thought I said no. Rom update should not be pushed on you like this.
  •  Rom update failed for no obvious reason (I have rock solid internet), which rendered the Amp inoperable (ROM Error) on switch-on until manual USB update was made.
  • All HDMI & all rear RCA sockets are poor quality - no gold plating which all my cables are inter-connects are.  The sockets will be rusty within 2 years in my damp environment. 
  • You can't use your Wii with this. It doesn't support anything other than 480i, even using the 720p component source input, and it looks terrible compared with directly plugging the WII into my TV.  It will upscale Video in and HDMI in, but downscale any Component in to 480i/576i.  However, it will pass through 720p component, so this may be an option if you want the audio through the amp and can get an additional component cable from your amp to the TV (the avoidance of which is the whole point of using a single HDMI cable).  Apparently, this feature was available on the older Yamaha amps.
  • Only two optical inputs.  I need 4.  The old Denon had 4 digital inputs.
  • No printed manual, only a CD.  Many laptops now don't have CD drives.  If it came with a manual, I would have read it cover to cover before using it.   So to use this unit requires that you have a PC or MAC with a CD drive.  I have to read the manual in a different room to the Amp, which is a pain.
  • Remote only works +/- 30 degrees from head on.  Most of the time I have to stand up and move to get the remote to work as my amp is not directly in front of me.  However, this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that with the HDMI entabled on all devices, the key functions can be performed on any remote.
  • When I connected a stereo source, e.g. CD played through PS3, or my Flac collection over media server, it only outputs to 2 speakers (i.e. 2.0, not even using the sub).  On my old amp, I had a mode which cycled between all the different speaker modes, incl. 5.1, dolby, 2.1, 2 etc.   Interestingly, there are lots of DSP modes, such as "Munich Hall" and "7 channel", but these all say "Not Available" when selected, even with direct mode etc. switch off.  According to the manual, pressing the "Music" button on the remote should cycle through sound programs but it doesn't - it just says "Not Available".  I did find this statement in the Manual "When you playback audio signals with a sampling rate of higher than 96kHz, the straight decode mode is automatically selected".  I think this means the amp cannot do any surround modes with any source which is not low quality.  How come my old amp which cost half the amount supported this?   I have raised a support request to Yamaha to find out how to get multi-channel output from a 2 channel input.  After 2 weeks,I got a mail back saying they too so long to respond to my request, they assume I have already found the solution so are closing the ticket.   After weeks of searching I found an answer.  In the PS3 you have to change the music (not sound or DVD/BD) output frequency settings from 176.4 kHz down to 48 kHz (see end of post).  Now I can at least use the sub woofer with CD playback.  However, I guess that means my 96 kHz flac files are worthless.  I had a similar problem with DVD playback not using the SUB in most (but not all) of the DSP modes.  This took more work to fix, and required matching exactly the right PS3 output formats to those supported by the amp (see later).
  • 4k up scaling - I will never need this.
  • USB only supports FAT 32 which doesn't support files over 4GB (i.e. HiDef movies), and is limited to 2TB.    Unfortunately, all my media drives are NTFS, which came out exactly 20 years ago.  I would not have dreamed that Yamaha would not support this, and it is a show stopper for me. 
  • The volume knob on the front has a mind of its own.  Its like setting the temperature on an old shower.  Turn it one way and its too hot, the other and its too cold. Im guessing the knob is turn rate sensitive but only in one direction, so it frequently way overshoots, and trying to turn it back overshoots the other way.  Not a showstopper, but annoying none the less.
  • Not earthed (no 3rd pin on kettle lead).  With Spanish electrics and children, this is a significant worry.
  • Does not support browsing network based music servers by folder.  I have a lot of music on my Twonky media and other servers, perfectly arranged by folder (e.g. one called "cafe del mar" with 20 folders underneath for my 20 CDM albums.  Instead this shows up as nearly 300 individual artists and albums.  Much of it was ripped more than 15 years ago, and does not have tags.  I have a lot of compilations, which itunes will not group into a single album (despite setting the compilation flag and group compilation settings in itunes), so browsing my collection is painful.  My TV supports browsing by folder, so is perfect, but I need an amp which can do this.
  • 5 Feet.  The 5th foot is rather pointless and gets in the way (I have uneven floors). It doesn't seem to unscrew.  Only a marketing team could make a 5th foot a feature.
  • It only has 4 "scene" modes, which are basically pre-configured inputs and outputs and sound settings.  They are "BD/DVD", TV, NET and RADIO.  There is no mode for what I do most of the time - listen to CDs.  This means I would have to manually set the sound settings, turn off enhance etc. every time I listen to a CD, or hijack one of the scenes for this, and manually set that.  They should have at least one "custom" scene mode in addition to these 4.
  • The Internet radio system is good, except one flaw.  You cant set your favorite (i.e. bookmark) stations via the remote control, Amp front panel or iPad app.   It is apparently possible via website if you create an acount then enter the mac address which is ridiculous.  You can register FM radio favorites with a button, why not internet radio favorites?  As there are probably tens of thousands of radio stations to wade through, the lack of this option is mind boggling.  It doesn't even remember the last station you were playing requiring tedious navigation each time you switch on the amp.
  • The AV remote also has a section for controlling your TV.  You enter a remote control code for your TV.  Unfortunately, the codes are only on he CD (not website), and when you search the codes, it lists 41 different codes for Samsung TV.  There are no indication of which model TV requires which code.  You have to try all 41, one by one & test it. 
  • Internet radio does not show bit rate or quality on the TV menu, front panel or iOS app.   This is a real showstopper, as you cannot chose the higher quality radio (or even lower quality if you are getting dropouts).
  • No indication of source format.  My old amp had LEDs for DTS, Dolby Digital5.1 etc.   This allows you to quickly diagnose input problems.  The A820 has nothing like this.  The only way you know you are listening to a two channel input is that either:
    • it wont use the sub-woofer in any of the DSP modes or
    • It wont allow anything except stereo playback


Once I figured out how to get anything other than "straight" 2 speaker mode from CD input, I tried various DSP modes with my favorite test album: Gish by Smashing Pumpkins.  NOTE: I am 45, and certainly don't have golden ears (Brass ears?).
  • In straight mode, the result is OK, and better than the Denon, but not spectacular.  I would not invite anyone to listen.  The Drums are punchy and clear, but the voice is somewhat distorted and unclear.  The grungy guitars, which many amps turn into an un-listenable mash, are coped with.
  • Pure Direct.  Same as straight to my ears.
  • Dolbly II Music.  Didnt sound good, just like Dolby on my old amp. I dont understand why anyone would use this. Doesn't use the Sub for some reason.
  • Neo 6 Music.  Worse than Dolby, but does use the sub.  Sounds flat.  Its like listening to an mp3 version of the track - poor definition and general lack of clarity.
  • Hall Modes.  Various camber effects.  All a waste of time to my ears.  Does anyone use these?
  • 7 Channel (but with 5.1 speakers)  The only improvement over 2 channel straight. This really adds depth and excitement to the music, without loss of coherence or clarity.  This is what I use all the time, for music, from any source.  I wish I could remove all other DSP modes from the list to save time.  This mode is a big improvement over the equivalent on the Denon.
  1. I only set the front 2 speakers to Large in the setup.  I have no idea if this is correct.  As Yamaha don't respond to support requests, there isnt really anyone to ask how to setup the system. Are B&W 686's large or small?
  2. My rear speakers are directly behind the listener, not to the sides which is the recommended setup.
  3. I have my sub on nearly max volume.  I could have used the sub adjust in the Amp menus to boost it.
  4. I didn't use the mic. based auto-setup.  I don't really have one place I sit.


There are too many show stoppers to recommend this amp.  Yamaha have chosen a random mix of forcing you to use old technology on one side (e.g. FAT), and not allowing you to use older technology on the other (no support for Wii).

Show stoppers are:
  • No Spotify. 
  • No gold plated connectors.
  • Wii video much better quality when connected direct to TV.
  • no NTFS support
  • No button to make mark radio station as favorite.  Doesn't remember the station you were playing.
  • ROM update failure + dead machine should not happen in this day and age.
Good features:
  • Easy to use internet radio and airplay.
  • Zero configuration network setup.
  • Sounds good.
  • Child friendly features (lock settings, set max volume) (but no earth)
  • Mobile control app

I regret this purchase, and if I lived in UK, would try and swap it for the cheaper and better featured RX-V673.  Now I need to go and buy something which supports spotify, and NTFS media.

ROM Update Failure.

Within 10 minutes of switching on the am, it asked me if I wanted to do a firmware update.  I selected what I thought was no (its not clear), but it did the update anyway.  After about 15 minutes it said "ERROR 2000!" which is never a good sign.  Nothing responded, so I had to switch the unit off. On switching on, it simply says "ROM ERROR".   There was no interruption in the internet - I have 100% rock solid internet and had several connections (including VPN) open at the same time without issue, and am using a wired cable (cat 6) direct to the ADSL router.

Googling, I see that one can try manually installing a ROM via USB. It can be downloaded from here:

Taken from the downloaded instructions:

Recovery method using USB method:
  1. Unplug the AC power cable from wall outlet.
  2. Insert the USB thumb drive which has the firmware data stored inside, into the USB port located on the front panel.
  3. Press and hold the PURE DIRECT key and keep it pressed while you plug the AC power cable back into the wall outlet again.
  4. “ USB UPDATE ” will appear on the front display. Then, release the PURE DIRECT key.
  5.  The update will start automatically.
  6.  When “ UPDATE SUCCESS ” appears on the display, firmware update is completed.
  7. Power off the receiver and remove the USB thumb drive.
  8. Confirm updated firmware version.

PS3 and Surround Sound

If you use the optical (Toslink) cable between the PS3 and Amp, you get 5.1 surround sound automatically.

If you want 5.1 (or better) with your movies through HDMI on the PS3, you need to make some changes.

  1. Set the ouptut to HDMI, not optical:
    1. Settings->Sound Settings->Audio Output Settings->HDMI 
  2. Change audio output format from Auto to manual.
  3. Tick as many of these as you dare (I have them all checked)
    1. Dolby Digital 5.1 Ch.
    2. DTS 5.1 Ch.
    3. AAC
    4. Linear PCM 2Ch. 44.1 kHz
    5. Linear PCM 2Ch. 88.1 kHz
    6. Linear PCM 2Ch. 176.4 kHz
    7. Linear PCM 2Ch. 48 kHz
    8. Linear PCM 2Ch. 96 kHz
    9. Linear PCM 2Ch. 192 kHz
    10. Linear PCM 5.1 Ch. 44.1 kHz
    11. Linear PCM 5.1Ch. 88.2 kHz
    12. Linear PCM 5.1Ch. 176.4 kHz
    13. Linear PCM 5.1Ch. 48 kHz
    14. Linear PCM 5.1Ch. 96 kHz
    15. Linear PCM 5.1Ch. 192 kHz
    16. Linear PCM 7.1Ch. 44.1 kHz
    17. Linear PCM 7.1Ch. 88.2 kHz
    18. Linear PCM 7.1Ch. 176.4 kHz
    19. Linear PCM 7.1Ch. 48 kHz
    20. Linear PCM 7.1Ch. 96 kHz
    21. Linear PCM 7.1Ch. 192 kHz
Warning: it does say if you chose modes the AMP doesn't support, you may damage your equipment.  The A820 manual says this, which implies all modes are supported:

  1. some posts say that you should only select Dolby Digital and DTS, and leave all the LPCM unchecked. Other posts say you should leave it on auto (which doesnt seem to work for me), other posts say you should only Select the LPCM options (and leave the DD and DTS unchecked).
  2. Another option is to change the output type to bitstream under:
    1. Settings->Video Settings->Audio outoupt Format->Bitstream (Direct).
  3. I do not know which is better for this amp: bitstream or PCM. I am guessing if you select bitstream,it bypasses all the LPCM options.  Some people say that the PS3 has better decoder than most amps, and to not use the bitstream option, except it doesnt support true HD.  If anyone knows the answer let me know.
Stereo Playback.
To use any mode other than "straight", which uses only your front two speakers, not even the sub, you need to lower your music output frequency to the minimum in the music settings. This is because the A820 cant handle the higher frequencies with any DSP or surround mode, not even 2.1.  Set it to this:
    Settings->Music Settings->Output Frequency->48 kHz

Interestingly, my old cheap Denon had no such difficulty with the higher rates.

Further reading:


  1. Hey :)

    You say it does not use the sub when playing 2.1.
    Have you tried to set your front speakers to smal?

    1. Yes, initially I had the front speakers set to small. The issue seems to be the amp can't handle stereo input better than 48kHz. When the PS3 was playing back at 96kHz, I just got 2.0 - no other option. When I downgrade the input to 48kHz, I could then use all the DSP modes, including 5.1. To get around this incomprehensible limitation, I have wired my sub to my my front speaker output, and am using the subs own crossover. This seems to be the way to go if you want to use a sub with a high quality stereo input.

  2. Hi Simon...

    you said... When I connected a stereo source, e.g. CD played through PS3, or my Flac collection over media server, it only outputs to 2 speakers (i.e. 2.0, not even using the sub).

    Well... I encountered the same issue and here's how to solve the problem.

    You need to go into the setup menu and select Speakers, Manual Setup, Configuration and set "Extra Bass" to "On". Now the sub woofer is available with every DSP mode. 2 channel is 2.1, 7 channel is 7.1, and so on.

    So not really an "incomprehensible limitation" just Yamaha's vague instruction manual.