Yamaha

A-S2100 In­te­grated Am­pli­fier

NOVO - - REVIEW - by George de Sa

Founded by To­rakusu Yamaha, back in the late 1800’s, Yamaha had its be­gin­nings mak­ing reed or­gans. To­day, Yamaha is one of the largest man­u­fac­tur­ers of mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, well rec­og­nized world­wide for its pi­anos, string and per­cus­sion in­stru­ments. Grounded in mu­sic, even the com­pany logo fea­tures three tun­ing forks over­laid in a cir­cle. Along with in­stru­ments, Yamaha pro­duces au­dio/video prod­ucts; from A/V re­ceivers to loud­speak­ers through to stream­ers and head­phones. Yamaha has seven in­te­grated am­pli­fier mod­els; sec­ond from the top sits their A-S2100 ($3,499 US) su­per­seded only by their flag­ship A-S3000 ($6,999 US). NOVO’s Glen Wa­genknecht re­viewed the less ex­pen­sive A-S801 in­te­grated am­pli­fier in 2015. I though, had never eval­u­ated a Yamaha au­dio com­po­nent and won­dered, could a com­pany so ac­com­plished with mu­si­cal in­stru­ments cap­ture such mu­si­cal verve in its top-line in­te­grated am­pli­fiers?

DE­SIGN & FEA­TURES

Yamaha cre­ated the A-S2100 to sat­isfy dis­cern­ing lis­ten­ers…both au­dio­phile and mu­si­cal lovers alike. Built like a tank, weigh­ing at over 50 lbs given its mas­sive EI power trans­former and fil­ter caps (22,000 F x 4), it has a mid-‘70s aes­thetic. Real wood side pan­els fin­ished in a pi­ano gloss black lac­quer give trib­ute to the com­pany’s pi­ano her­itage, while front VU / peak power me­ters add panache to the retro-chic style. A 5mm thick alu­minum face­plate comes in brushed black or sil­ver. The vol­ume, source se­lec­tor, bass/tre­ble knobs are made of real alu­minum, ex­em­pli­fy­ing its qual­ity. The Yamaha A-S2100 es­chews an in­te­grated DAC in favour of a Moving-Mag­net (MM) / Moving-Coil (MC) phono-stage for turnta­bles. A front head­phone jack is con­nected to a dis­crete head-amp cir­cuit with its own trim level and pos­si­ble speaker con­nec­tions in­clude A, B or A+B.

On the back, the A-S2100 has three stereo sets of sin­gle-ended (RCA) in­put jacks, phono (RCA) jacks, an in/out (RCA) tape loop, and a sin­gle stereo set of bal­anced (XLR) in­puts. In ad­di­tion, there is also a Pre-Out if you’d like to con­nect the A-S2100 to an ex­ter­nal am­pli­fier. There is also a Main-In, al­low­ing the A-S2100 to be used as a ded­i­cated am­pli­fier, by-pass­ing its pream­pli­fier sec­tion. Though im­pres­sively equipped with in­puts/out­puts that are well laid out, it was the solid brass, se­ri­ously over­built five-way speaker bind­ing posts that had me floored - talk about hid­ing the jew­els. An­other sur­prise was found on the bot­tom, where well-built vi­bra­tion in­su­lat­ing feet are con­ver­tible to spikes via re­mov­able mag­netic pads, and ad­justable for lev­el­ling - talk about at­ten­tion to de­tail. A svelte brushed alu­minum faced hand­held full-func­tion re­mote is also sup­plied.

With­out get­ting heav­ily into the elec­tronic de­sign and be­lieve me there’s much to be said, I’ll sum it up in a few sen­tences. The Yamaha A-S2100 is a sym­met­ri­cal bal­anced float­ing A/B MOSFET de­sign with low noise, to fa­cil­i­tate pure trans­mis­sion of sig­nal. Out­put power is 90 Watts/chan­nel (8Ω ) and 150 Wpc (4Ω ). Within the A-S2100 lies a mas­sive EI cus­tom built trans­former mounted with brass wash­ers for vi­bra­tion con­trol. The pream­plifer cir­cuit of the A-S2100 is the same as that of Yamaha’s flag­ship A-S3000; it is fully bal­anced from

in­put to out­put.

PER­FOR­MANCE

I eval­u­ated the Yamaha with a MOON by Si­mau­dio 280D DAC and MiND player as the digital source, with digital files from my PC and also streamed from Tidal HiFi. My res­i­dent VPI Scout turntable was the ana­log source and ca­bles were all Nor­dost Heim­dall 2. I pri­mar­ily used my Au­dio Physic Scor­pio 25+ loud­speak­ers but also tried my Fo­cal Elec­tra 1008 Be mon­i­tors with the A-S2100.

I thought since the Yamaha has a ded­i­cated cir­cuit head­phone am­pli­fier, I’d give it a whirl with my Grado SR325e head­phones. Lis­ten­ing to digital tracks as well as vinyl, I was im­pressed with the ex­ten­sion on both ends of the spec­trum. There was lots of air around and be­tween the in­stru­ments and the head­phone am­pli­fier is ad­mirably si­lent. Trans­parency and de­tail was abun­dant, yet this came al­ways with a sense of warmth. I was im­pressed with what I heard and would es­ti­mate the A-S2100 head­phone am­pli­fier would stand up to stand-alone head­phone am­pli­fiers in the $500 plus range.

At the TAVES Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show in 2016, I man­aged to score a signed copy of Anne Bis­son’s Con­ver­sa­tions LP. Lis­ten­ing to this al­bum through the Yamaha’s phono-stage, I was well sat­is­fied by the re­sult. Anne’s voice pro­jected just be­yond the front wall of my lis­ten­ing room, and pos­sessed not only nat­u­ral­ness but re­al­ism. The pi­ano strokes were clearly placed to the right and just be­yond the wall, and por­trayed with the glow and warmth of the in­stru­ment. Her voice pos­sessed life, with de­tail, del­i­cacy and pres­ence. Notes flowed with ease, pal­pa­ble and smooth, while the lower reg­is­ter car­ried sub­stan­tial mass, por­tray­ing life­like size. The imag­ing and sound­stag­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the A-S2100 were fab­u­lous. Turn­ing my at­ten­tion to the up­per fre­quen­cies, I took plea­sure in their smooth­ness, buoy­ancy and lu­mi­nous qual­ity; no grit or rough edges that might de­tract from mu­sic. There was also a no­tice­ably black back­ground from which im­ages emerged, con­firm­ing the A-S2100’s in­her­ent low noise.

I com­pared the A-S2100 phono-stage with my Pro-Ject PhonoBox II SE. The Pro-Ject was brighter and as a re­sult sibi­lants and noise were more ev­i­dent. This also made the Pro-Ject some­what more re­veal­ing and at the other end, the Pro-Ject, was more ar­tic­u­late and dy­namic with bass. Yet it couldn’t muster the melo­di­ous beauty that the Yamaha’s phono-stage drew from the grooves. The Pro-Ject was per­haps more faith­ful to the record­ing but the Yamaha was faith­ful to the mu­sic. This was not so much a case of bet­ter or worse but dif­fer­ent. In fact, the Yamaha phono-stage was very rem­i­nis­cent of the Hafler PH50 ($500 US) I re­cently re­viewed, in both its strengths and per­for­mance, which says a lot about its value.

Moving to Tidal HiFi, stream­ing Lake Street Dive’s “I Want You Back” from their Fun Ma­chine, I was awestruck with what I heard. The Yamaha A-S2100 de­liv­ered her voice with a vi­brancy, di­men­sion­al­ity and rich tonal­ity that I wouldn’t have ex­pected from an in­te­grated amp, much less one at this price point. From the open­ing bass plucks I was glued to my seat. The standup bass had out­stand­ing dy­namic pres­ence with a full-out meaty bass tone that pro­jected life­like size. Its strings sounded oh-so-taught, snap­ping at each pluck with re­veal­ing tex­ture. Trum­pet, back­ground vo­cals and lead vo­cals, all clearly sep­a­rated in real space, tak­ing their spots be­fore me. Over­all imag­ing was su­perb, spot-on with a size­able de­fined sound­stage. Lis­ten­ing to the cym­bals, I got a taste of metal­lic tru­ism, ever so lightly warmed with del­i­cate nu­ance. The tap­ping of the drum sticks, educed a wood­i­ness that had me con­vinced of the A-S2100’s power to de­liver life­like tim­bre. My thoughts kept turn­ing to how full, smooth and har­mon­i­cally rich the Yamaha’s sound was, sug­ges­tive of some fine tube in­te­grated am­pli­fiers that have crossed my way.

I moved from fe­male vo­cals over to male and the track “House of the Ris­ing Sun” from the Son’s of Anar­chy – Sea­son 4 al­bum. I am quite fa­mil­iar with the large, deep vo­cals of this song but that didn’t stop me from

drop­ping some ex­ple­tives, when I heard what the A-S2100 could do with it. The Yamaha didn’t just play large and deep; it did so in a most phys­i­cal man­ner, con­vey­ing a gi­gan­tic, omi­nous im­age. With­out hes­i­ta­tion, I re­played the track, this time crank­ing the vol­ume up to 90dB peaks, and the A-S2100 de­liv­ered with­out any sense of strain or lack of head­room. I shook my head and thought, ‘wow - this is an in­te­grated amp play­ing like big boss power amp’. My notes from this lis­ten­ing ses­sion sim­ply say…‘full, kick-ass rum­bling bass and drums!’

From del­i­cate to pow­er­ful, loud to soft, digital to ana­log the Yamaha A-S2100 did not fail to please. I spent many hours in front of it, eval­u­at­ing its met­tle but I spent many more just in­tox­i­cated by its mu­sic. And, when it comes down to it, what more could one ask. This is a cool look­ing, well­built in­te­grated amp that plays in a way that just makes you want to lis­ten and lis­ten some more. The Yamaha A-S2100 is not only a great in­te­grated amp, it’s a gate­way to mu­si­cal plea­sure.

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