Review: Yamaha CR-840 Vintage AM/FM Receiver Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

How cheaply could I assemble a satisfyingly musical system for my bedroom? Much cheaper than I thought, as it turns out, thanks to the discovery of a vintage Yamaha receiver at my local hi-fi trading post.

After a failed experiment with the Cambridge SoundWorks Model 88 radio -- which, although very good as a table radio, suffered from annoyingly prominent port chuffing even at low volumes when playing CDs, and generally buzzy build quality -- I started to think of this project as a fun challenge. Could I put together a great little system for the price of, say, a Bose Wave Radio?

After all, my main system, which consists of seven separate components plus a MonsterPower HTS2500 power center, occupies about 30% of my living room’s total square footage. Simple could be good for a change. Without the HTS2500, just powering the beast up would be like cranking up the juice in Frankenstein’s laboratory. Don’t get me wrong; the system sounds wonderful. But for once, instead of asking, “How much will it take to make me happy?” I decided to ask instead, “How little?” (Besides, I’ll have to make major compromises sooner or later if I ever want to get married, since no woman in her right mind wants her home to resemble a demo room at the CEDIA Expo. Better start thinking about consolidation now and get a head start, I figure.)

I have a Phillips CDR-785 CD recorder that functions as a very nice 3-CD changer. (Not as a CD recorder, though. The CD-R is shot, and this is my second CDR-785 unit with a malfunctioning drive. Unfortunately, both failed when they were safely out of warranty.) A trip to a local used hi-fi store yielded a bargain—a minty Yamaha CR-840 receiver. When I say mint, I mean it: the (simulated) wood cabinet is spotless, all lights and meters work, and the silver face just needed a quick polish with Flitz (as did the jacks) to make it look 100%. The dealer cleaned the internal contacts and tuner section, and vacuumed the insides thoroughly. Total cost: about $100 for a tank-like unit (with giant heatsinks!) that sold for $500 when new during its 1979-1981 production run. How much would that be in 2003 dollars?

I have no idea how much power the Yamaha puts out, but it ain’t much. Still, it easily drove a pair of power-sucking, six-foot tall vintage Acoustic Reseach floorstanders in the showroom, though not to deafening levels. The dealer and I decided the receiver delivers about 50-70 watts or somewhere thereabouts; more than adequate, considering I had no plans to fill my bedroom with large speakers. In fact, I’d be choosing something that was easily concealable, meaning small and efficient.

But first, just for fun, I decided to connect the Yamaha to my ProAc Tablette 2000 reference speakers and take the old girl for a spin. The spring terminals around back meant I’d have to use some Radio Shack 16-gauge zip cord in place of my Kimber Kable speaker wires. Even so, the performance when connected to my Sony CDR-775 SACD changer was damn good—so fine, in fact, I could easily live with this receiver in my main system. It sounded a lot like my Rotel electronics in many ways, the only major difference being that the music was just a bit hazy and less spacious. (There are other differences, of course, but why overanalyze the fun out of this project?)

I hadn’t planned on testing out the Yamaha’s phono stage, but then I thought: Back in the late 1970s, LPs were the main program source. For $500 in 1979 money, you’d think this bruiser would have a decent phono section. (And, since it has preamp out jacks too, maybe it could someday temporarily stand in for my Rotel phono stage should the need ever arise.) As I expected, the phono stage is superior to anything you’d find in a modern HT receiver. I spun a few discs on my upgraded Rega P2 with Denon DL-160 cartridge, including Peter Gabriel’s “So” and a half-speed pressing of Springsteen’s “Born to Run” before packing it in. I came away impressed with the overall coherence and accuracy.

The tuner section is outstanding. Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of experience with tuners, certainly not with top-performing units like the Magnum Dynalabs. I can tell you that my Phillips digital tuner, which is hooked up to a Terk Pi powered indoor antenna, struggles to lock onto most signals in my area. The same is true of just about every digital tuner I’ve ever owned. The analog Yamaha, without any antenna at all, embarrasses everything I’ve ever owned. With an antenna, it’s unstoppable. The analog signal strength meters are a boon for fine-tuning fringe stations. Sound quality is warm and natural. (If anyone is interested in a nice Philips tuner, make me an offer. Please.)

I would have loved to experiment with better speaker cables, which may have increased the three-dimensionality of the sound and lifted the veil over the music. (I used a Kimber Hero 0.5M from the CD player to the receiver.) But this was a project about staying on budget, so that question will have to remain unanswered. I do suspect, however, that anything with tone controls like the Yamaha’s bass, treble and presence knobs can’t be expected to perform as cleanly as my straight-through Rotel preamp/amp combo. Still, in its day, the Yamaha would’ve made the heart of a cool system when paired with big, warm-sounding classics like Klipsch Cornwalls and a sensibly priced turntable, like a Dual CS-505 and a middle-of-the-range Audio-Technica moving magnet. (Go ahead, spring for the Shibata stylus!)

But Klipsch Cornwalls were out of the question and out of my budget range, so it was off to Best Buy. I decided a pair of indoor/outdoor speakers would be easily concealable, and they could be wall-mounted if I wanted. Since the Yamaha has preamp-out jacks, I could always add a small sub later.

I listened to all of the display models (via the automated in-store demo, which allows you to select from a few different types of source material pumped out via who knows what type of amplification). This is not, of course, the best way -- or even a good way -- to audition speakers, out in the middle of the store next to the booming car stereo aisle. But then again, these speakers were designed to function out in the backyard, so maybe it’s a fair test after all.

The sad truth about outdoor speakers, I discovered, is that they all kind of sound the same. The plastic enclosures and paintable metal grilles imbue them all with the same basic sonic signature. As you ascend the price scale, you get a little more low-end (though I wouldn’t exactly call it bass) and a little more clarity and tonal balance. But not much more. In the end, I found that the cheapest pair, at $69.95, sounded about as good as the way-overpriced Bose units (which cost three times as much) and other current offerings from manufacturers like Yamaha.

The speakers, marketed under the moniker “HomeTech,” have a model number but it really doesn’t matter. This same unit appears to be sold under at least three other brand names. I saw a pair this weekend marketed under the “HiFi Home” name that appeared identical to the HomeTechs for just $61.99 on closeout at Lowe’s. At any price, they’re not going to knock anyone’s socks off. But I was shooting for a system that will gently sing me to sleep, not part my hair from 10 feet away. So I brought the HomeTechs, ahem, home.

In truth, the little white boxes are fairly rigid (at least as rigid as my Model 88 radio and almost as stiff-feeling as a Bose Wave Radio when tapped with my knuckles). And you know what? They don’t sound half bad. Honestly. In fact, for the type of program material I normally listen to at bedtime -- solo guitar, paino, light jazz, vocals -- they’re just the ticket. The midrange is actually fairly sweet, if you can allow for that slightly “plasticky” sound that all speakers in this class exhibit. Various Michael Hedges CDs were a pleasure to listen to, as were offerings from artists like Earl Kulgh, Keith Jarrett, Wes Montgomery, John Williams and Bucky Pizzarelli (and son John Pizzarelli’s “Kisses in the Rain,” a typically well-recorded Telarc disc).

On rock and orchestral music, the system falls short. Its lack of bass and the speakers’ resonant cabinets make it more painful than pleasurable to listen at room-filling volume. But with a sub to help take the pressure off, who knows? Maybe someday I’ll grab a cheapie and see what happens. Maybe I’ll just leave well enough alone.

Either way, for less than the price of a Bose Wave Radio, I have a very nice bedroom system that doesn’t take up too much space. Here’s the tally:

Yamaha CR-840 Receiver

Philips CDR-785
$75? ($399 new, but worth about $75 as-is?)

“HomeTech” speakers

Monster Standard Interlink 200, 1M

Radio Shack 16-ga. zip cord, 30-ft spool

Oh, I almost forgot about my best discovery. At Lowe’s, I found doorstops that look and feel a lot like Audioquest Sorbothane feet, for just $3.99 per package of two. So I had a piece of glass cut to serve as a platform ($5.74) and placed the feet underneath to elevate the receiver and CD player off the floor. For about $14, I have a cheap and seemingly effective isolation platform. (When I say “seemingly,” I mean it sounds about the same as if the components were just sitting on the floor, which is about the same effect I got when I tried isolation platforms in my main system.) Really, I just wanted to lift the receiver an inch off of the floor to shield it from dust. The platform certainly doesn’t hurt the sound quality any, so if it helps, that’s a bonus.

Total cost: about $289.94. Not bad, considering the receiver itself retailed for $500 when new. With a pair of used classic speakers in place of the HomeTechs, like those Cornwalls I love so much or some old ARs, this would make a very nice main system for the audiophile on a budget. Hell, I even have a Yamaha YP-B4 turntable that’s currently on loan to a friend that would only have added only about $100 to the system cost. (I think I paid about $75 for the table and new belt, and about $25 for an unused Grado Black from a fellow ‘Goner.) With its gimbal-bearing arm and full-bodied Grado, the YP-B4 would probably sound OK. I may try it out when I get it back.

The moral of the story, if there is one, could be that the best place to start for anyone on a budget is with quality, vintage equipment. Late 70s solid state stuff isn’t the pinnacle of audio art, but to my eyes, the substantial build quality and wood/silver styling of the era is quite attractive. Those soothing green lights and analog meters don’t hurt, either. With forgiving speakers and sensible source components, one could conceivably assemble a lower mid-fi, audiophile-grade music maker for the price of an ordinary mini-system.

Maybe it’s time to drag those old receivers out of the attic and start a revolution by handing them down to young music lovers before we lose them to MP3s and iPods. (Heads-up to Radio Shack store managers: stock up now on contact cleaner.)

Associated gear
Rega P2 turntable
Denon DL-160 moving coil cartridge
Rotel RC-980 preamplifier with MM/MC phono stage
Rotel RA-970 amplifier
Rotel RQ-970BX phono stage
Sony SCD-CE775 SACD player
Phillips AM/FM tuner
Realistic laserdisc player
RCA DVD player
Apex Digital 27” TV
ProAc Tablette 2000 loudspeakers
Paradigm speaker stands
Kimber 4PR speaker cables
Various Audioquest/VampireWire/Kimber/Monster interconnects
Monster Power HTS 2500 Power Center
Record Doctor II record cleaning machine/Disc Doctor record brushes
StudioTech HF series racks
Audioquest MC cartridge demagnetizer

Similar products
Various receivers from the early 1980s to the late 1990s, specifically A/V and home theater models from Teac and Pioneer Elite.
Could not agree more. One of the better CR Yamaha receivers, properly serviced, and a good pair of speakers..maybe some Vandersteen 1 series, can make for a superb 2nd system. Also of interest are the Nakamichi SR 2 and SR 3 Pass/Stassis series.

Thanks for the excellent review and insight.
Thanks for taking the time to share your project. It was fun to read about ! Nice to have the ProAc's for it.

I've done a bit of the same thing for my wife's and kids' bedrooms. At the risk of driving up used prices, I will share my experience and say that the HK receivers of the same vintage sounded and tested better (and ran cooler) than either the Yamaha or Marantz equivalents. At least, that's true for the amp sections. The Yamaha tuner section was very good indeed, as you discovered. Another receiver brand with a good tuner was Sherwood.

Here's a good, low-cost replacement for the zip cord: Audioquest Type 2.
Oh yea! Scraped and saved until I could afford the Yamaha CR2020. Paid $850 in 1978 dollars! Not easy when you only made about $110 a week as I remember.

Real Walnut cabinet (think the 40 series had simulated walnut), MM and MC phono stage, variable loudness, 3 sets of speaker outputs and 100wpc. The "40 series" (CR840, CR1040 and CR2040) were the models that followed my series.

Don't agree at all that the HK receivers sounded anywhere near as good, much less better! My CR2020 gave up the ghost after over 20 years. Bought a CR1020 from a guy in Canada as replacement and it was virtually destroyed during shipment.

After the 1020 was destroyed saw an add for some vintage equipment that was somehow stored and never opened. Bought a Hk460i circa very early 1980s that amazingly enough was still in the box and had never been opened.

No comparison, The Yamaha was warm, detailed and organic sounding. The HK was thin and bright, probably the brightest unit I have ever owned, seriously. Gave the unit many months and set ups to prove itself and the HK460i still sounded thin and bright.

Of course realize the HK and Yamaha were designed when vinyl was king. The HK may have sounded very fine with vinyl but paired with CD's forget it.

Sold the Harman Kardon after about 4 months without a second thought.
I understand what you say about the HK460i. I think it sounds exactly as you describe it. I'm sure your Yamaha is much better.

The slight superiority of a previous generation of HK receivers--the 930 especially--was audible in the bass and visible in the square wave, both slope and rise time. Contemporaneous Yamaha receivers had longer rise times when tested with a 1KHz square wave and the top of the wave sloped more. This translates to less speed, more restricted bandwidth and a less robust power supply. (The HK630 and 930 were dual powered designs.) The Yamaha receivers of that period ran hotter too. This is not to say they sounded bad. They were good for the time and better than most.

In subsequent generations, Yamaha receivers could well have outclassed the competing HK's, but I never compared these. IMO later HK's were not as good-sounding or as well-built as the earlier models.
Although all receivers are somewhat compromised,due to their inherent weakness. But nonetheless the CR line of receivers proved their point that a receiver could have sonic merit. Of all the receivers produced during this period of time the Yamaha and Sansui were exemplary in their execution and build quality and offered rock solid value for the money, as well as stepping stones to higher end products.

Still have a Sansui 8080 around here somewhere. This just may tempt me to dust it off and tune it up. Got it in trade some years ago and up till this point kinda forgot about it.

Enjoy the CR 840 it is a very good piece of audio gear.
In the late 1970s I bought a pair of Yamaha NS-1000 speakers and T2/B2/C2 combination. Eventually sold the T2/B2/C2 and bought a new CR-2040. I have kept this as a 2nd system, except the NS-1000s are on the main system and a pair of NS-1000Ms are on the 2nd system now, along with a Sony ES CD changer and DAT tape. I even kept the old Technics SL-1600 turntable with the Shure V15 Type 5 and listen to some of the half speed and digital mastered vinyl. Maynard Ferguson - Conquistador still sounds like it did 20 years ago, brilliant but showing Maynard's mistakes very well. I love the clean and open top end that the NS-1000s and CR-2040 give. The Shure cartridge takes a little edge off, tracks about anything and sounds very good in this combination. The main system is Sony ES digital video/audio with the NS-1000s, and I really prefer the second system for listening. Wish that the CR receivers had more inputs. Two tape decks, phono, tuner, and one auxiliary is it. The lights seemed to be short lived, I eventually bought some "grain of wheat" bulbs from Radio Shack and put them in the original plastic holders, about 5 years since a problem now. The bulbs were green as I remember.

The Yamaha CR-840 has always been my favorite of the "pre-piano black" Yamaha amps. I would also though, highly recomend (for a second system) some of the higher model Kenwood amplifiers from the late 80's. I've had a Kenwood KA-5010 in bedroom for many years. It is rated at around 70wpc, has many inputs, runs very cool and very clean, has a MC stage, and a very spartan black face. That with a pair of Celestion SL-6's, an EARLY steel chasis sony discman, and a DUAL 601 (w/ AT-30 MC cartridge) is my favorite bedroom configuration. I will also say, for what it's worth, I agree that the Yamaha amps put those silver HK integrateds from the same period to shame. HK's amps are sterile, lacking in accurate bass response, and terribly "fussy". The Yamaha's are durable, clean, meticulously well built in every way (unlike HK's crappy switching and even crappier pots). Yamaha has always had a much warmer aesthetic and sound to me and thats what audio is all about.
Hello all,
probably should point out first off, that only being 16years of age, i cant say i have had much experience with all the expensive names. But do agree that the Yamaha CR-840 is an awsome piece of equipment to own. After owning a Teac A-70, the CR-840 is a real treat to have. Always get a great reaction out of people (namely friends) who havnt heard a proper sound system before (most are used to those sad excuses called "mini hi-fi" ?? still dont get the point of them). At present the Yamaha is running off the computer (anyone here heard of MP3 ?), with a Teac GE-6 EQ inbetween. Pretty amazing sound when used with the "Linear Design 4500s" (although i have upgraded the main drivers).
End of the day, The Yamaha CR-840 certainly has my vote for a good foundation system. Well recomended, & as others have said: I was surprised how it can pick up the radio stations with such ease... and sound great while doing it!

Thanks for the review, it was very useful for my decition of purchase.
I have a Yamaha Natural Sound Stereo Receiver CR-1020 Receiver, Sansui Stereo Graphic Equalizer SE-7, Teac V-450X Stereo Cassette Deck, & a JVC XL-V200 Compact Disc Player. I have just moved and I don't know how to hook it back up. Can anyone explain it to me via e-mail? Or if you are have AOL, IM me. Maybe you can walk me through it, my screen name is kericostner.

Thank You

Keri Costner
I know this is a reaaly old post, but hopefully someone can help.
I own a CR-840 and cannot find a preamp out on this. Is it possibly labeled something else?
This model did not have a pre in/main out rca connectors.
The CR x40 series are a great find. I still own my 640; a friend has an 840. Beautiful sound and rock solid reliability. These units survived many college nights and parties during the early eighties-driving 2 pairs of paralled speakers. A fan was a must!! I bought a R900 to upgrade the 640. If only my "shop queen" R-900 was so robust...
If one gets a chance to try the Yamaha CR 1020, give that one a try. It truly rivaled the McIntosh 4100 Receiver, at far less cost in the used market and when new the price differential was considerable.
Wow your posts and pictures bring back great memories of my 1040, really great gear. Sound, build and looks over the top. Ended up giving the unit to by sister many years back. When some of the lights went out and the unit needed to be cleaned I took it back to clean and replace lites for her. Loaning her a Sherwood unit I had on hand. She could not wait to get the Yamaha back. And listening to it again after so very many years, I did not want to give the Yamaha back to her it sounded so very good still. It is one of the reasons I fell in love with this hobby.

Found your website whilst trawling for information on my Yamaha on a wet windy afternoon (known as summer here in the UK).

Very pleased to read your opinions on the Yamaha tuner-amp as I had recently acquired a CR-800 for the princely sum of £40 on e-bay. It was all a bit of a gamble as I knew very little about them but I was staggered on the almost “as-new” condition of the beast. Was also pleasantly surprised at its performance on FM Radio on a simple indoor aerial and its handling of old-fashioned vinyl. It also amazed me how well the ”aux” input handles modern c.d.’s.

It is hooked up to a pair of Tannoy Devon speakers (which I managed to find replacement foam gaskets for and they now sound as good as new) and a Lenco L90 deck (with new drive belt a new Shure M75 cartridge).

Also in the set-up are a Tandberg 9000X reel-to-reel which is currently with our local Hi-fi engineer for some more fettling and an Aiwa F850 cassette deck. The c.d. deck is a modern thing and I will find a good replacement for it one day.

Having now cleaned all my records thoroughly and re-baked all my old reels of tape as per this excellent guide
I am enjoying the rediscovery of my 60’s & 70’s collections.

Thanks for the information

I have a CR 2040. Euro version. It's nice, but I have found other units from the latter 80's, and on that sound much better. And it's not the only large vintage unit I have had.
I thinks it's a nice unit. But I think that much of the Vintage 70's Gear is way overrated for what kind of sound you are getting from these units, and the price being paid.
Somebody mentioned memories, and I am old enough to remember going to the Audio Stores in the late 70's, early 80's and seeing this stuff. Never thinking I would own it one day. I think the look of the equipment, and the nostalgia behind it is driving a generation of Boomers to overly hype this stuff. The 840 is not a bad unit. Just way to much hype behind vintage gear.
I wanted to add, since this set up is limiting my response.
I have put my entire system together cheap. I wouldn't do it any other way. I mean nice stuff like Tannoy Monitors, Citation Power Amp, Rotel, Yamaha, Sony ES among others. Some Kef. I am patient, and know that sooner or later something will turn up. You have to get out there and look. You may find a heck of a nice piece for a laughable price. And that goes for any piece, in any price range.
I have less the $100 in my current set up. The Tannoy's alone on the current market are about $500. It's out there. So get out there and look. Best of luck.
I have a smaller but similar yamaha receiver in my second system (2 channel A/V system in our family room) that I picked up for $60 used on Ebay and cleaned up myself.

I use it with a highly regarded (though not exceptionally expensive) DAC and speakers and the resulting sound is top notch, way beyond my expectations. The phono section on the old yamaha is really quite exceptional, perhaps the best I have had in a long time with my old Dual 1264 table and 80's vintage Goldring cartridge. The limiting factor in that system for me is my less than optimal speaker placement due to logistics (see my system pics).
I recently got into vintage Yamaha and have aquired a CR-820, an A760 amp and T560 tuner and an a1 amp and T1 tuner. They all sound great and my only issue w/ any of them is the speaker terminals.
coincidentally, i also just scored a virtually mint yam cr-820--$20 off of craigslist from a guy who was moving back to korea the next day. such a deal. sonically, i agree with tobias--i prefer the late 70s hk receivers (730/930), which sound warmer, quicker and more powerful (unlike 70s peers like marantz and pioneer, the yamaha's power ratings don't seem conservative). as per the op, the low end on the yamaha is a little thin, however the tuner is outstanding, and the aesthetics of this series are incomparable.