Dolby Atmos is an immersive-sound format that uses object-based audio to create 3D soundscapes. One of the most innovative things about the technology is that it’s not based on channels; it can render sounds to assorted speaker arrays on the fly. In movie theaters, Atmos-based systems use dozens of speakers to generate a sense of immersion.
Less than a year ago, Dolby introduced Atmos for home theater. With it, listeners can experience the same sense of envelopment found in Atmos-equipped commercial cinemas. As a bonus, Atmos for the home includes an upmixer called Dolby Surround that converts 2-channel and 5.1 or 7.1 content into 3D immersive sound.
You need two things to add Dolby Atmos to your home: speakers and a surround processor.
I got my first taste of surround sound at home 23 years ago, thanks to a Yamaha DSP-E200 integrated surround-sound processor and amplifier. Once I went multichannel, I never looked back.
It’s amazing how much has changed in the two decades since that first foray into multichannel audio immersion; today’s AVRs are digital signal-processing powerhouses. Yamaha’s RX-A2040 ($1600) Atmos-enabled AVR is a perfect example of how far surround sound has come.
The RX-A2040 is a UHD/4K-capable, 9.2-channel AV receiver with four zones. It produces 140 watts/channel into 8 ohms with 0.06% THD (2 channels driven). Unlike many AVRs, it can safely power speakers with a minimum impedance of 4 ohms for the front channels and 6 ohms for all other channels.
Dolby Atmos is a major new feature in the RX-A2040. Yamaha’s Atmos implementation offers 5.1.2, 5.1.4, or 7.1.2 configurations using either ceiling-mounted speakers, Atmos-enabled reflected-sound speakers, or front and back presence speakers wall-mounted near the ceiling—which isn’t an “official” Dolby Atmos configuration, but Yamaha includes it in the RX-A2040’s Atmos options. It also handles non-Atmos speaker configurations ranging from 2.0 to 9.2.
ESS Sabre Premier DACs handle audio conversion for all nine channels. The RX-A2040 supports up to 24-bit/192 kHz PCM audio, and it decodes DSD over HDMI. Internally, the amplifier uses a symmetrical layout that, according to Yamaha, improves channel separation and signal-to-noise ratio, resulting in a wider soundstage.
AV connectivity includes eight HDMI 2.0 inputs and two HDMI 2.0 outputs, all with 18.2 Gbps of throughput. However, the HDMI connections lack support for HDCP 2.2, which will be a major problem when Ultra HD Blu-ray becomes available. In addition to HDMI, the RX-A2040 offers three optical digital inputs, three coaxial digital inputs, and one optical digital output.
The RX-A2040 is generous when it comes to analog audio and video inputs. It has three component video inputs and nine RCA stereo inputs, including one phono input (with ground). It accommodates analog multichannel audio with a 7.1 RCA input, and it features preamp outputs for all channels.
The back panel offers lots of connectivity options, including robust support for analog signals.
Built-in Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections include support for Apple AirPlay, iPhones and iPads, and Android devices, and streaming apps include Pandora, Spotify, and vTuner Internet radio along with Sirius XM satellite ratio. Yamaha’s AV Control app for Android and iOS devices offers a graphic interface for adjusting various features, including basics like volume and source selection, plus more advanced features like DSP control and content browsing. You can even control the RX-A2040 from a web browser!
Yamaha’s YPAO (Yamaha Parametric Room Acoustic Optimizer) takes care of room correction. It offers EQ, reflected-sound control, automatic speaker-level adjustment, and distance calibration.
Support for Atmos is a headline feature, but this AVR handles other popular audio formats as well. It decodes Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby Digital Plus along with all the older formats, and it can process audio with DTS Neo:6, Dolby Surround, and Dolby Pro Logic II/IIx upmixers.
You can control the RX-A2040 with its included infrared remote, and it also works with home-automation systems using an IP or RS-232 connection. Speaking of automation, the Yamaha includes a pair of 12-volt triggers and a pair of IR in/out connections for home-theater installations.
When it comes to video, the RX-A2040 offers UHD/4K 60p video pass-through (but no HDCP 2.2), support for 3D, and aUHD/4K upscaler. It also converts analog component and composite video signals to HDMI.
I found the RX-A2040 easy to program and easy to use, despite the plethora of features and adjustments it offers. On the device itself, there are two large knobs—one controls volume and the other selects the input. The machined, textured-aluminum volume knob has an old-school damped feel that is satisfying to the touch. Between the two knobs are a metal flip-down door and a monochrome dot-matrix display.
Opening the flip-down door uncovers a complete set of controls for programming the AVR. It also reveals the 1/4″ headphone jack, a USB input, an HDMI input, a stereo analog input with composite video, and a jack for the calibration microphone.
The Infrared remote is standard fare for a mainstream AVR. It’s a bit cramped, and it lacks a backlight. However, it gets the job done, and it has a switch that enables direct control any of the four zones. It’s similar in form and function to AVR remotes I’ve used from other Japanese manufacturers.
Thanks to iOS and Android, apps are a convenient and intuitive way to configure and control modern AVRs. Yamaha offers two very useful apps: AV Setup Guide and AV Controller.
The AV Setup Guide app uses a wizard-like approach to initial system configuration. It asks a series of questions about your system’s components, speaker layout, and other details. Systematic instructions and illustrations help you connect everything, and it automatically sends the chosen configuration to the AVR. It’s as foolproof as it gets for something as complex as a 9.2-channel networked AVR.
The AV Setup Guide provides a visual and interactive guide for system configuration.
AV Controller offers users complete access to the AVR’s features. A number of functions are directly accessible through the GUI, including zone and input selection, DSP mode selection, and DSP adjustments. It offers full control over the AVR by duplicating the menu navigation buttons found on the IR remote.
In addition to Dolby Atmos decoding, the RX-A2040 handles a variety of surround-audio formats including Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Pro Logic IIx, DTS, DTS-ES, DTS-HD MasterAudio, DTS-HD High Resolution, DTS Express, DTS 96/24, and DTS Neo: 6
As far as back panels go, the RX-A2040 manages to squeeze in a lot of physical connections and a Wi-Fi antenna. It’s all good because of the commendable amount of connectivity Yamaha offers, but it is a bit crowded.
Yamaha backs the RX-A2040 with a 3-year warranty.
The RX-A2040 arrived Atmos-enabled and ready to rock—no firmware update required. I hooked up two sources using HDMI: a DIY PC running Windows 8 64-bit and an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player. I use my PC for most media playback, but I rely on the Oppo for streaming Vudu and watching Blu-rays.
The first thing I did was connect the RX-A2040 to my home network via Wi-Fi so I could control it from my SamsungGalaxy Tab Pro tablet. I configured the AVR for an Atmos 5.2.4 speaker layout with ceiling-mounted height speakers.
I used a GoldenEar 5.2.4 speaker system for the duration of this review, including two Triton Seven towers for the front L/R channels, a SuperCenter XL, a pair of SuperSat 3s for the surrounds, four Invisa HTR 7000s in-ceiling speakers mounted in hanging enclosures, and twin ForceField 5 subs. I connected all the speakers with Monoprice 12-gauge OFC speaker cables and Mediabridge Ultra Series cables to connect the subs.
The speaker system is intentionally similar to the best-sounding affordable Atmos-enabled system I heard at CEDIA 2014. At that show, I asked GoldenEar founder Sandy Gross if I could borrow a system for use as my Atmos reference system, and he agreed. While I have yet to post a review, suffice to say—spoiler alert—it delivered a superb experience akin to what I heard during the CEDIA demo.
I ran YPAO to set speaker and subwoofer levels, distance, EQ, and crossover points. Once the automated setup completed, I took a look at the results using the RX-A2040’s on-screen display (OSD). It did a good job with its adjustments—I confirmed the settings with Room EQ Wizard software, a UMIK-1 measurement mic, and a tape measure.
I used YPAO to calculate crossover points for the GoldenEar speaker system.
After I had completed the measurement-based setup process, I played a few clips from a Dolby Atmos demo disc to confirm everything was working properly. I liked what I heard, and I congratulate Yamaha for designing a receiver that’s as flexible yet easy to configure as the RX-A2040.
I’ve come to expect a lot from AVRs in the RX-A2040s price range. That includes quality amplification and high fidelity digital-to-analog conversion. The moment I started watching and listening, I knew that reviewing the Yamaha was going to be a pleasure.
The GoldenEar speaker system proved to be a good match for the Yamaha’s clean and clear amplifiers. I was especially impressed by the sound of Atmos soundtracks rendered by the RX-A2040. I watched Unbroken, which features many immersive sound effects, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 in Atmos was similarly enveloping.
During my listening sessions, the RX-A2040 never faltered. I used a Kill-a-Watt power meter to determine that the power draw never came close to the AVR’s 450 watt (maximum) rating. Most of the time, the power draw remained at the 85-watt idle level, with occasional bumps into the 100-watt range during louder scenes. Of course, that’s because thesubwoofers do most of the heavy lifting.
YPAO room correction was extremely effective at integrating the Atmos speaker system. The time-aligned and timbre-matched sound resulted in a transparent soundfield where the speakers all disappeared, leaving nothing but a dome of sound.
The Dolby Atmos demo disc served as my reference to judge the cohesiveness of the 3D soundfield. I’ve played those clips so many times, I’ve memorized all the content on the disc. I’ve heard it played on over 17 separate demo systems over the past year. Hearing those clips on the Yamaha/GoldenEar combo confirmed that the system delivers a true immersive audio experience—you forget about the gear and simply enjoy the ride.
I appreciate Yamaha’s inclusion of Dolby Pro Logic II and IIx in the RX-A2040. The Pioneer Elite SC-85 I recently reviewedonly offers Dolby Surround, the new upmixer included with Atmos. With the Yamaha, I could easily switch between Dolby Surround and PLII upmixing. Sometimes I enjoyed the “old school” sound of PLII, but I must confess that I preferred the Dolby Surround upmixer—height channels add quite a bit of extra immersion to the listening experience.
Much of my music listening centers around hip-hop/rap and electronic music. I listened to various albums by Bassnectar, Howie B, DJ Krush, The Orb, Massive Attack, Nas, Teddybears, and Com Truise using the RX-A2040 in various modes from Pure Direct stereo to full-on Dolby Surround. I heard the nuances I’ve grown accustomed to when I listen to music from those artists play through an excellent system. I’m hard-pressed to say the Yamaha has any character to its sound aside from precision, accuracy, and neutrality—which is a good thing in my book.
The RX-A2040 switched between HDMI sources without any hiccups. Connectivity via Wi-Fi was good, although I found it a minor hassle that you can’t sign into streaming services like Pandora or Spotify directly from a tablet—you have to use the OSD and IR remote. Nevertheless, once it’s connected, streaming audio works well, and you can browse content on the tablet. Apple AirPlay worked instantly and flawlessly with my iPhone 6.
Yamaha’s RX-A2040 is a highly competent and flexible AVR. It’s easy to program, easy to operate, and it delivers the sonic goods. Its Atmos implementation offers flexibility in terms of speaker placement, and its automatic setup is accurate. Furthermore, it allows for precise manual customization of speaker parameters—you can dial in your ideal sound.
There are quite a few features in the RX-A2040 that I did not get to try, mainly because it has so many capabilities that do not apply to my home system. For example, I did not get to test its phono input or its multi-zone capabilities. Nor did I take advantage of its numerous analog video and audio inputs. However, those features make it an appealing option for anyone who wants more that just an Atmos-capable HDMI-centric AVR.
I have no qualms recommending Yamaha’s RX-A2040, aside from concerns about the exclusion of HDCP 2.2—which will a fairly big problem as UHD/4K content appears with this form of copy protection. It is a well-thought out and highly capable AVR that capitalizes on Yamaha’s long experience with surround sound, and it’s sure to please anyone looking for a flexible, well-rounded, great sounding AVR.
Speakers & Subs
Monoprice 12-gauge OFC speaker cables
Mediabridge Ultra Series subwoofer cable
Mediabridge Ultra Series HDMI cable