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Equipment Review

May 2000


Yamaha RP-U100 Receiver

by James Causey

 

In October 1999, SoundStage! published my review of the Yamaha RP-U100 Personal Receiver. Since that time, the sleek little jack-of-all-trades (It’s a USB Sound Card! It’s a two-channel receiver! It’s a floor wax! It’s a dessert topping!) has garnered a great deal of attention from other audio and computing publications. Accordingly, the Yamaha review has received attention from SoundStage! readers and from Yamaha themselves.

In order to provide a fair analysis of any product, it’s important to evaluate that product in the manner in which it was designed to be used by the device’s target customers. A number of concerns have been raised about the ways in which I used the RP-U100 during my review; this follow-up review addresses those concerns, and elaborates on the procedures used to evaluate the Yamaha Personal Receiver.

I spent my quality listening time with the Yamaha RP-U100 in two configurations. The first, and by far most important, placed the Yamaha with my home-brew Intel Celeron-A 300 (overclocked to 450mHz) with 128MB of RAM, a Toshiba DVD-ROM drive, Matrox Millennium G200 AGP video card, and 12GB hard drive. I listened to the Yamaha both through a pair of Grado SR-60 headphones and through my B&W CDM2SE loudspeakers on Target stands. For evaluation with gaming software, I placed the speaker stands directly at the ends of my four-foot-wide computer desk, with the speakers toed in to provide optimum imaging. This extreme nearfield position (for which the RP-U100 was designed) allowed me to compare the system’s performance against that of my Sound Blaster Live! Value sound card connected to two Yamaha YST-M5 powered speakers. I also evaluated the sound of audio CDs and MP3s played from the computer through the Yamaha in this position.

In both cases, as noted in the original review, this configuration clearly bettered my traditional PCI sound card and powered speakers. Much of this improvement is likely due to the Yamaha’s 30Wpc of output power, but a great deal is also likely due to the Yamaha’s use of the Universal Serial Bus (USB) to remove the processes of digital-to-analog conversion and line-level amplification from the RFI-laden environment inside the computer’s case. However, as with other competing USB sound cards, this process places more of a burden on the computer’s CPU than traditional sound cards; this minor drawback would only prove significant under heavy CPU loads, such as when playing CPU-intensive games. I was never able to produce any audible distortion or dropouts when playing games such as Quake III Arena or FreeSpace 2, but it might be more evident on slower computers.

I also evaluated the RP-U100 as a two-channel receiver in my high-end audio system. This comparison was unfair to the Yamaha receiver in the extreme; not only was it being compared to equipment whose total cost exceeded the Yamaha by nearly eight times, the RP-U100 was never designed to serve as a primary home-theater or two-channel audio receiver. However, using the RP-U100 in my listening room gave me the opportunity to evaluate the Yamaha’s sonic characteristics objectively and fairly. Again, I connected the Yamaha to my B&W CDM2SE loudspeakers and moved the stands so that I sat in the speakers’ extreme nearfield. While the Yamaha didn’t fare well against my McCormack DNA-1 and TLC-1, it was never expected or designed to do so; it did, however, impress me with its lack of fatiguing highs and ability to drive my B&W speakers to pleasantly loud listening levels.

Concerns were also raised by the order in which I installed the RP-U100’s software under Windows 98. The owner’s manual clearly prescribes, beginning on page 16, an installation procedure under which the user first installs the RP-U100 application software (which provides control panels and documentation on the receiver’s use), and then connects the RP-U100 to the computer, triggering the Windows 98 driver installation process. During my first read-through of this installation procedure, I was somewhat skeptical about the described installation order; due to past computing experiences, both as a home user and as a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), I worried that the application software would rely on being able to communicate with the RP-U100 via its driver software in order to install and run properly. On my first installation attempt, however, I followed Yamaha’s instructions to the letter. The application software installed successfully, but attempts to run it without completing the driver installation resulted in an error message that the RP-U100 could not be detected.

As I mentioned in my original review, I felt that this installation order could be confusing to the less-experienced users. More importantly, regardless of the order in which I installed the application and driver software, Windows 98 detected the RP-U100 as a "Composite USB Device," a "USB Human Interface Device," and a "USB Audio Device," rather than as a "YAMAHA RP-U100 Composite USB Device," "YAMAHA RP-U100 HID Audio Controls," and "YAMAHA RP-U100 USB Audio," as specifically depicted in the manual on page 17. I felt, and still feel, that this seemingly minor error in the manual could confuse less hardware-savvy users.

Finally, concerns were raised about the fact that I did not, in the course of my review, take advantage of the RP-U100’s digital inputs. I didn’t by choice; in my computer system, I have no devices with digital outputs, and relied on the RP-U100’s USB input to deliver the sound from my computer’s games, Windows sound effects, and CD Audio and MP3 music playback. I also avoided using the RP-U100’s digital inputs in my brief comparison with my two-channel high-end audio system. This was a deliberate choice; the RP-U100 was never intended to work with a high-end digital transport and replace a two-channel DAC, preamplifier, and amplifier, and I felt such evaluation was both unnecessary and unfair.

The Yamaha RP-U100 Personal Receiver occupies a unique niche; it combines functions commonly found in other devices (USB Sound Card, integrated amplifier, and tuner) into a device that provides functionality difficult to match with any other single unit (or combination of devices, for that matter). Its most unique feature, the ability to mix the sound output from the computer with the RP-U100’s own tuner or other connected devices, is (to my knowledge) only matched by the AMC 3020 integrated amplifier. However, I found its $500 price tag difficult to justify, considering the excellent sound quality and lower price of the AMC 3020 and the poor sound provided by the Yamaha’s other major feature, the DSP-based soundfield modes. To my mind, the potential sonic advantages of the Yamaha’s use of USB was offset by the ever-increasing quality of the preamp outputs on Creative Labs sound cards, the availability of other USB sound card systems, and my concerns over USB solutions’ increased CPU utilization.

As I noted in my original review, however, the Yamaha combines gorgeous industrial design with excellent control software and decent sound; for many potential buyers, this combination could add up to clear value.

...James Causey
james@soundstage.com

Yamaha RP-U100 Receiver
Price:
$500 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.

Yamaha Electronics Corporation, USA
6660 Orangethorpe Avenue
Buena Park, CA 90620
Phone: (714) 522-9105

Website: www.yamaha.com

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