Yamaha RX-V685 receiver of 2018 is with 7.2 channels and a price point of 699 euros, this versatile AV receiver with voice support and MusicCast is in the sweet spot of the market. It is a tough challenger for the rest, thanks to the optional wireless rear speakers and subwoofer.
Yamaha RX-V685 introduction
When you spend about 700 euros on a receiver, you get a lot. You may not be surprised, because that is how it has been for a few years. Which brand you choose, the receivers that you receive for this amount are relatively powerful, support two height channels for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and have many streaming options. But this year Yamaha wants to distance itself more from competitors. The Yamaha RX-V685, which is introduced together with the RX-V385, RX-V485 and RX-V585, comes with a number of new features that are particularly interesting. In addition to the extensive range of streaming options via the MusicCast platform, the RX-V685 is the first fully-fledged receiver we visit with support for wireless speakers for the rear channels. This function is called MusicCast Surround. With that Yamaha makes it much easier to build a surround setup in an average living room. Instead of bringing two long wires from your receiver to the rear speakers, you work with two wireless speakers. They need their own power sockets, but that is less challenging to arrange than eliminating speaker cables. Even better is that you can combine the RX-V685 with a wireless subwoofer – another cable less! The Yamaha receiver is therefore ahead of the HEOS AVR a more design-oriented and not so function-rich receiver that can use HEOS wireless speakers as rear speakers.
The RX-V685 is the successor of the RX-V683 and is the highest model of the RX entry line at Yamaha. If you want to go higher, you have to make the jump to the Avantage series, starting with the new RX-A680. The RX-V685 is just like its predecessor a 7.2 receiver but has a different HDMI range and some cosmetic changes.
The Yamaha RX-V685 is a AV receiver that higher than the 5.1 entry models you buy for several hundred euros. It offers 7.2 channels, freely configurable for a 5.1 set-up with 2 height channels (5.1.2) or with a second zone. Some alternative setups are possible, such as 5.1 with the front channels double connected (bi-amp useful for demanding stereo speakers). The Yamaha also has a few unique tricks, such as Virtual Surround Back Speaker (VSBS). With this function, the receiver tries to simulate surround back speakers (which are really behind you) through the surround speakers (which are arranged at an angle at the back). Definitely try it out; it really gives more space to the rear channels. Also completely Yamaha is the unique option to build a surround setup with all speakers in front. It is absolutely not an arrangement that many people would ever use – imagine, 5 to 7 speakers placed around your screen! – but it is nice that it is possible. There may be scenarios where it can be useful, such as a surround setup in a very large loft.
You might see the RX-V685 in the store as a 150-watt receiver, but that figure is heavily overclaimed. A more realistic figure is 90 Watt, at 8 ohms and with two channels controlled over the entire frequency range.
Two HDMI outputs
The back of the Yamaha RX-V685 is neatly organized and not overfull. A change from the previous RX-V683 is that the new receiver exchanges an HDMI input for an additional HDMI output. So you can image two video zones, which is handy for viewing rooms with beamer and TV. The five HDMI inputs on the back are less than some competitors, but seem sufficient for the most home situations. The RX-V685 is fully equipped for HDCP 2.2 and the main HDR standards (Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG). Anno 2018 it should not be otherwise. There are also sufficient inputs for connecting audio sources: two optical, two coaxial, and three cinch inputs (one of which is phono-compatible).
The RX-V685 is a middle class, so expect we are not the most high-quality loudspeaker terminals. Nevertheless, they are ‘real’ screw terminals where you can also insert banana plugs – if you are very patiently removing the plastic caps with a pliers. Interestingly, we find that the Yamaha RX-V685 has separate pre-outs for a second zone and for the front channels. If you wish, you can control your stereo speakers separately via your own stereo amplifier, a convenient option for discerning audiophiles who also love a movie in surround.
As always, Yamaha offers a black or titanium version of its receivers. We got the RX-V685 in the silvery titanium inside, which by the way does not mean (as with rivals) that the whole device is made out of a metal color. The top half of the front panel with the screen section remains a black plastic. We have always found clever. In general, the RX-V685 is acceptable for the price point. It looks slightly more premium than it feels, but that is not so bad.
The layout of the front panel of the RX-V685 looks very familiar. As always with Yamaha there are quite a few buttons, including some handy ones. The radio-related keys may be redundant for some, but the four big scene buttons (which you can set up) are useful. Unlike many competitors, the Yamaha RX-V685 only has one big knob for the volume and no second big button for inputs to change. You do that in the place via two modest buttons in the middle. Do we mind that? Not at all. We can not count the number of times we’ve inadvertently changed the input on two-button receivers when we thoughtlessly grabbed the volume button.
Interface seems to be tidied up
When configuring the speakers, we notice that the familiar Yamaha interface this year seems something tidy. Although there are still familiar elements, such as the background photo of the strings of a Yamaha piano in the main screen. They are proud of their instrument department at the company – rightly so. The Yamaha approach still looks more ‘technical’ than Denon’s accessible interface, with many options and options that are presented without distinction. Conveniently, you will find a? Button on the remote. Press to get some additional explanation about the selected function. The interface is still not in true 4K, but scales up pretty well and shows pretty sharply on our 60-inch Samsung KS7000 TV. Yet – and this year we are going to put in every receiver test, we suspect – it’s time for a native 4K interface.
The interface of Yamaha has become more accessible after the recent finery, without suddenly to be very stupid. You will still find many options that rarely occur elsewhere. It is logically organized and has useful extras so that you can properly tune the user experience. That’s how we always like it when you can switch off unused entries. And given that Yamaha really likes an abundance of DSP options, it’s equally positive that you can turn off unwanted scenes. Choices like ‘Hall in Munich’ and ‘Cellar Club’ may be fun to try out, after a trial phase you will not use them anymore.
An underexposed advantage of the Yamaha receivers are the flexible Scenes that you can fully configure, so that when you switch to the turntable, you immediately switch off the HDMI output, switch to stereo mode, switch off all sound processing and set a basic volume. You can set up a scene by adjusting your receiver for a specific input as you wish, and then long pressing one of the eight scene buttons on the remote or receiver front. After that you can still see which choices are connected to a particular scene in the main settings. A bit regrettable is that you can only switch on / off a certain option (such as the standard volume), it would be nice if you could also adjust values in this menu (eg enter a volume level).
 We spend some time on the scenes because it clearly indicates the strength of the Yamaha RX-V685: you can personalize a lot. That impression is reinforced several times, for example when looking at the extended trigger settings, the adjustable program key on your remote, adjustable HDCP levels per HDMI input, adjustable DSP settings and many other things you rarely encounter in this price segment . In short, the interface offers you a lot of possibilities, real bacon for the mouth for the enterprising hobbyist who is happy to fine-tune his receiver. The slightly higher learning curve is the downside.
MusicCast is a strong asset
Yamaha launched some years ago MusicCast their own platform for streaming and multi-room music. MusicCast is now included in many Yamaha devices, including AV receivers such as this device. There are soundbars, stereo products and wireless speakers with MusicCast, so someone who wants to provide their home with a music system can choose from dozens of diverse products – including premium audio equipment. That is already a very big plus for Yamaha. In addition, MusicCast as a platform is well put together and works fine. The beating heart of the system is the MusicCast app (Android and iOS) that is equally optimized for smartphone and tablet screens. Via the app you control all connected MusicCast devices via a main screen where all devices with photo and name appear. It is typical Yamaha that you can actually use your own image for that photo, so you can fully personalize the app. Tap on a device / room and you get an overview of all available inputs, both physical (such as a CD player or turntable) and streaming sources.
The competitor most comparable with MusicCast is HEOS from Denon. Now HEOS is also well put together, with a clear app that is built up in three panels, Airplay 2 and relatively good streaming support. However, MusicCast has a few additional advantages, such as Qobuz support and better options when it comes to streaming a connected music source. A nice extra we always liked being able to stream to a Bluetooth headset or speaker, but the RX-V685 seems to have lost this function. During our test, Bluetooth was only usable as a receiver, for example for connecting your smartphone as a source. Inquiring at Yamaha, however, learns that a software update will make it possible to also stream to Bluetooth speakers and headphones. For the time being, the RX-V685 is only compatible with Airplay, there is still uncertainty as to whether an update to Airplay 2 will be possible. Those who have their own music collection with many types of files will be very happy with this receiver. It passed our codec test with gloss. Only the obscure multichannel FLAC and ALAC files do not play, as does hi-res AIFF.
We said it all: Yamaha sticks to receiver-front where a lot of buttons rise. But you do not actually need it at all. Yamaha delivers a very good remote with buttons that form one whole with the front. No loose buttons makes this box more durable and less sensitive to dirt or an overturned glass. There has been really thought about. Some buttons are sunk, others are just a little higher, while others have a border. The result is that you can quickly find the right button in a darkened room. Without looking you immediately feel the volume buttons, because that is a few keys of which the + sticks up and the – forms a small valley. Small things all, but believe us: these are things that can be very valuable in long-term use. They prevent a lot of small frustrations.
At least as handy is the second app that fits the RX-V685: Yamaha AV Controller. You use this app in tandem with the MusicCast app. Where it mainly serves to regulate streaming, AV Controller gives you mainly access to various settings. Yes, you can also adjust settings in MusicCast and also arrange streaming in the AV controller, but it is clear that each app has its own strength.
The AV Controller app visually matches completely with the TV interface of the receiver. This means that you can count on a lot of possibilities, but that it is quite busy in terms of lay-out. What we find very good is the button ‘Option’. Press this, and you immediately have access to a series of grouped audio functions that are less easily accessible via the TV interface or remote. When setting up your home cinema or when you are confronted with a film with a different sound mix, it is really very practical that you can quickly switch on / off things such as subwoofer trim, dialogue level and gain, and YPAO Volume. What you can not do in AV Controller is really to adjust all basic settings (such as the speaker configuration). This has to be done via the TV interface.
Less cables and speech
Wireless rear speakers and a wireless subwoofer are, in our view, things that can convince a lot of people who would not consider an AV receiver. Because cables through the living room, people do not like that at all. A good move from Yamaha that they make this possible with the Yamaha RX-V685 (and a number of other receivers). Unfortunately, the required MusicCast Sub 100 subwoofer and the MusicCast 50 or 20 speakers are not yet available. So we have not been able to test this exciting new functionality. Should that opportunity arise, we will be happy to give this review an update.
MusicCast was the first platform to be announced with Alexa support (although Denon was almost finished at the same time), making you can control the Yamaha RX-V685 with the voice. For Belgians and Dutch people who like to operate their receiver with the voice, the restriction remains that you can only speak to the receiver in English – and that you must first get Alexa working. This is not very difficult, but you have to make some effort. Voice control has a lot of potential
As always with Alexa, you have to activate the necessary skill in the Alexa app to operate a device. Unusually, Yamaha offers two MusicCast skills. The MusicCast Smart Home Skill offers a basic operation (media control plus switching inputs), while the MusicCast Skill adds zone controls (to link two or more MusicCast devices) and the playback of favorites. You can find an overview of what is possible here.
Just like with Denons Alexa skill you can not ask to select specific media. To play songs from David Bowie on the receiver, you still have to go through the MusicCast app. Yamaha says that these possibilities are coming. Based on the Alexa integration at Sonos we suspect that you will only be able to request music from Spotify or Amazon Music.
The setting of a Yamaha receiver is always fast. This is mainly because Yamaha’s YPAO measurement system such as Sony’s DCAC requires only one measurement, much less than the 7 or 8 in Dirac or Audyssey. Dirac, in particular, yields a more accurate result in our experience, but that system can only be found in receivers that cost at least twice as much. The big advantage of that one measurement at YPAO is that you are quickly inclined to execute it if something changes small, such as a subwoofer that is being moved a little. It really is not much work. You can also switch between three YPAO equalizers via the TV interface, something that is definitely worth trying. Or you opt to adjust a parametric equalizer for each speaker manually, something that would be more convenient via an app.
We have tested the Yamaha Yamaha RX-V685 with the Q Acoustics 3000i-setup which is still in the test room is after a recent review. We also used the same set-up to test the Denon AVR-X2500H and (partly) the Pioneer VSX-933. With this setup, there are much larger floor uprights in the front and compact rear bookshelf speakers that are closer, an imbalance that YPAO found more difficult to compensate. Manually we felt it necessary to set the rears a bit higher, which was arranged in a few seconds. We would recommend you to any receiver in any case to listen to and fine-tune your taste even after a measurement. It’s your home cinema, right?
As usual, we tested the Yamaha RX-V685 with a variety of content, including UHD Blu-ray from the remake of ‘Jumani’ – under the slogan that if you never to escape The Rock you better take the initiative yourself. And yes, it is not the best movie of 2017, but still fun and with a reasonable soundtrack. The sound effects when the four heroes are dragged into the game console and end up in Jumani’s jungle, is set up very powerful by the RX-V685. YPAO has the sub well integrated with the 3050i floorstanders and the pretty small center speaker, so the spectacular scenes in this film really come to you as a whole. Dialogs also sound pretty full, surprisingly even given that the 3090Ci is really very compact. If we switch to the earth-shattering confrontation between Thor and the Hulk in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, which we have added to our list of fixed test scenes, the more than acceptable integration between speakers comes to light again, with a sub that is just fine tuned. YPAO has detected and compensated a standing wave around 70 Hz in the room, so that action effects are powerful but not extremely woolly. Sophisticated, we could also argue. If you prefer overwhelming performance in the low, then you have different settings with this Yamaha that you can use. Adjusting the bass a bit higher is the easiest way, but you can also adjust the YPAO measurement via the parametric equalizer. We also did this at the final conference in Asgard, on the tones of Led Zeppelin, when we felt that the music was pushed too much into the background. This is, of course, a matter of taste. Overall you can say that the RX-V685 has been tuned to neutrality more often than with Denon or Sony, like with Yamaha. But thanks to the finetuning possibilities, you can of course adjust the sound completely – the great asset of a receiver like this one.
The Yamaha RX-V685 does not really have any power, but we notice that in some high-volume scenes we did find boundaries. This is the reason why you still have to grab a higher model for a comprehensive home cinema.
The Yamaha RX-V685 is a Yamaha receiver that thanks to some small improvements (such as the extra HDMI output and tidy interface) and MusicCast Surround becomes a serious challenger for rivals at the same price. Especially the separately sold wireless speakers at the back and the wireless subwoofer are strong arguments to go for this receiver. In addition, MusicCast remains the best streaming platform at receivers.
At least as important is that Yamaha has paid a lot of attention to many small details, which gives the Yamaha RX-V685 a very good impression. You can adjust this receiver to your own taste, also quickly and spontaneously while watching. In a segment where every rival is well equipped, just those small things make a big difference.