A-S2100 Integrated Amplifier
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 Yamaha has seven integrated amplifier models; second from the top sits their A-S2100 ($3,499 US) superseded only by their flagship A-S3000 ($6,999 US).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.
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.