Yamaha RX-V381 Review
2016 is off to a good start. The Yamaha 381 outperforms it’s “entry-level” designation. 4K readiness and solid sound quality make it a real bargain at its price point.

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Sound Quality9
The Good
  • The Yamaha RX-V381 has great sound quality for an entry-level receiver. Bluetooth means you can easily stream your music to the amp with little fuss. The 381’s HDMIs fully support 4K video.
The Bad
  • Three of the 381s speaker connections use spring clips instead of 5-way binding posts. A front USB port would have been a nice feature.
8.4Overall Score

Yamaha RX-V381 Review

If you’re expecting this year’s Yamaha RX-V381 to look different from last years 379, then prepare to be disappointed. If it wasn’t for the RX-V381 stamped on the upper left corner of the 381, I would think it was the same receiver. The front face of the Yamaha 381 is bisected into two distinct areas. The top half which houses the LCD display has a glossy finish. The bottom half has a brushed metal look and houses the volume knob as well as input select and pre-configured sound field buttons

RELATED: Yamaha RX-V383 Review

The remote bundled with the Yamaha 381 is solid. We’ve lambasted Yamaha in past years for their overly complicated remotes, but the 381’s remote isn’t over stuffed with buttons. It has a logical button layout and is easy to use. The on screen interface of the Yamaha RX-V381 uses a simple text driven design which is expected on an entry-level model. I give it high marks for usability. It’s not the prettiest interface, but it gets the job done.


For connectivity, the Yamaha RX-V381 has 4 HDMI inputs and 1 output, a couple of analog inputs, 2 digital coaxial and 1 digital optical inputs. The 381 doesn’t have a ton of inputs, but what it does have is pretty much the status quo for an entry-level amp. If you peruse the manual, you’ll see that some 381 models include a USB input on the front. Unfortunately for us, the U.S., Australian, and Canadian models don’t.

Yamaha RX-V381 Review
Bluetooth is built-in to the 381, however with the amp you don’t get the options for a wired network connection or WiFi. This is something that the Yamaha 381 also has in common with last years counterpart. Without WiFi, ethernet or a USB port your only way to stream music to the 381 is via bluetooth. Luckily, Yamaha’s compressed music enhancer can now be applied to bluetooth audio transmission. Basically this feature is designed to improve the sound of compressed audio. In our testing this does slightly improve the dynamics of compressed audio, but it’s not night and day.


On the video front, all of the HDMIs support HDCP 2.2 copy protection, with High dynamic range (HDR) and BT.2020 compatibility. The 381 will pass through a 4K video signal, but it will not upscale video to 4K levels. 4K video is roughly four times the resolution of 1080p. Some would argue that the true potential of 4K video lies in its ability to produce a wider color gamut and greater contrast ratios. This is why HDR and BT.2020 are sought after features on new AV receivers. Thankfully the entry-level 381 is equipped to handle both.


Setup & Calibration

Setting up the Yamaha RX-V381 is a straightforward and easy process. For the right and left front speakers, Yamaha supplies 5-way binding posts. For the center and surround channels you have to connect your speakers via the spring clips on the back of the unit. If this is your first time hooking up an av receiver, Yamaha offers an AV setup app on the Google Play and Apple Stores. The guide will take you step-by-step through the initial setup. Beyond setup, the app also makes the full user manual available for access if you have any questions about the specifics of the receiver. The only drawback to the app is it’s only available on devices with a 7 inch screen size which means you’ll most likely need a tablet to use it.

Yamaha AV Setup

Yamaha AV Setup App

Yamaha uses its tried and true YPAO calibration system for the Yamaha 381. Place the supplied microphone at ear height in your listening area and the receiver does the rest. It sends out a series of test tones and based on the results, it sets up the correct levels and crossover configurations which are ideally suited for your room’s acoustics. The Yamaha RX-V381 did a good job dialing in our speakers. The only thing I needed to change was the level of our center channel. The 381 knocked back the volume level a good bit which I fixed easily in the settings menu. Other than that, the speaker distances and crossovers were spot-on.


Sound Quality

The Yamaha RX-V379 was one of our favorite entry level amps last year. The 381 is just as good. The little receiver sounds bigger than its 70 watts per channel would indicate. With Star Wars the Force Awakens, the Yamaha RX-V381 displayed good spacial depth. As the Millennium Falcon is getting harassed by a couple of Tie Fighters on Jakku their engines zipped around and behind us.


The Sci-Fi flick Edge of Tomorrow is big on action and explosions. The 381 delivered a weighty and powerful performance on par with amps costing twice as much. With Mad Max Fury Road, the 381 brutally attacked the sound track happily reproducing the growling car engines of the Wild Boys with glee. The 381 wasn’t just brute force. It also showed some finesse with dialogue sounding crisp and clear.


The 381 showed that it was no slouch in the music department as its sound was dynamic and punchy. Even bluetooth audio sounded pretty good coming from the entry level amp. Yamaha’s compressed music enhancer did provide a slight improvement with compressed MP3 files.


The Verdict

The Yamaha RX-V381 is a more than capable entry-level receiver. Combine the 381’s 4K video readiness with its superb sound quality and you have all the makings of a great receiver. If you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles on a new amp, then the Yamaha RX-V381 could be a good choice for you.

Where to Buy:

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