A few weeks ago, I was at D.'s house listening to his Marantz CD player and Wharfedale bookshelves. We also listened to the Dynaudio Excite 14s, all through the refurbished NAD C326BEE I picked up from Spearit for a song. Unfortunately, I did a terrible job of note taking, and the pictures weren't very good either. In fact, it may be time for a new cell phone just to upgrade my camera. Overall I think the sound was very good, but we certainly did not get the Excite 14s dialed in properly. In fairness to the Excites I keep expecting to hear Focus 110 or Focus 140 sound out of them because they are all roughly the same size, but there is really no comparison- the Focus series was a far superior speaker, both in bass output and quality, along with the greater smoothness of the midrange. The Excites are less expensive, and you get a lot of the Dynaudio sound with them, so they are still an excellent buy, especially if you can find them on sale. All that being said, I will need to set up another get together and organize myself better to make sure I get useful information to write about. Sometimes one gets wrapped up just listening.
More recently however, I spent some quality time with my primary setup, which is comprised of a Yamaha A-S2000 integrated amplifier, a Yamaha CD-S2000 SACD player and Dynaudio Focus 220 (first version) using a variety of Audio Quest and Kimber interconnects and speaker cable. Thoughts about selling the amp triggered the listening session.
I bought the amp as B-stock five years ago (that approaches a record for holding an amp that long for me), at a very good price, $1,099. There seems to be some confusion about B-stock items, but equipment with that label can be returns, refurbs or scratch and dent from my experience. In the case of my A-S2000, there was not a mark on the unit, but the aluminum face of the remote has a scratch. Given the abuse that remotes take, this is a non-issue for me. By contrast, the CD-S2000 I bought also B-stock for $695 has a mark on the face plate. It's hard to notice, and I would still prefer it not be there, but at such a deep discount I can live with it. More about the SACD player in a future post. The only indicator that the amp is a B-stock unit, is a small sticker on the rear panel and the inclusion of B-stock warranty information in the box. I have never compared it to another A-S2000, so I can't say if mine is out of the ordinary in any other way.
As you can see, I tend to use either a PS Audio or an Audioquest power cord with the amp, as they look very nice. I have never conducted a listening comparison with replacement power cords, maybe I will in the future. Please drop me a line if you have any insight about them. Also shown is the remote for the CD-S2000.
The A-S2000 manual opens with a brief overview of Yamaha's history in Hi-Fi since 1920 (complete with picture of piano), and mentions such iconic products such as the NS-20, NS-1000M and NS-10M monitor speakers, A-1 integrated amplifier and MX-10000 and CX-10000 separates, all great stuff. The first thing that the manual tells you about the A-S2000 is that it is a "full floating balanced circuit design . . . that achieves complete symmetry and permits full balanced transmission (amplification) from the input jack to just before the speaker jack" and continues on to tell us that the A-S2000 is " . . . the world's first integrated amplifier to offer full stage balanced transmission, combining high power output with good sound texture and outstanding S/N performance."
Sound texture? Hm. Well, here is what they are going on about:
I am not an engineer, so regarding the impact of this circuit design on performance, permit me to quote from Steve Holdings' test/review for Australian Hi-Fi magazine (a copy of which came with my amp):
"Yamaha's use of balanced circuitry seems to have paid off when you look at the signal-to-noise results, because the IHF A-weighted figure came in at 98dB referenced to just one watt, which is exceptional for an integrated amplifier. Likewise, the unweighted S/N ratio referenced to rated output broke the three digit barrier, coming in at 101dB . . . I also suspect the balanced circuit helped with the excellent channel separation figures: 94dB at 1KHz is a terrific result . . . "
From a listening perspective, these words translate into an "A+" for the turn the volume up with nothing playing and listen for noise test, and contributes to the way music with sudden, forte beginnings simply explodes out of the speakers and can shock the casual listener. This is a very quiet amplifier.
The Dynaudio Focus 220 is a floor stander, and in the world of speakers it is probably on the medium or medium small size. Nonetheless in a 12 by 20 room, they can easily be overpowering, and they are provided with foam plugs to help tune the bass port. With a Marantz AVR or with the Marantz 8801 and 7055 pre/pro multi channel amp combo, the bass of these speakers can be a little boomy, and I have to be careful with room placement. I do not find that to be the case at all with the Yamaha. The bass is always strong and tightly controlled, appearing only when it is called for. A fan of more bass-heavy music might even find the Yamaha/Dynaudio combo too polite. I find it wonderful for energetic piano music, and live and small set percussion. I wish I had the expertise to comment in more detail on this design choice by Yamaha, but alas I do not. I can say that the entire unit is massively over built, a thick front panel, large, high quality speaker binding posts, aluminum switches, etc. perfect for an eighties Sony ES junkie. What I believe is that the attention to detail and the excess in design are not merely cosmetic but plays out within the circuit design as well.
The front panel is almost spartan, black with the trademark Yamaha font in white (it looked identical on my vintage R300, which was far from a flagship). The headphone jack has its' own trim control, which is great, and right next door is the speaker selector knob. The A+B is also labelled for bi-wiring, which Dynaudios do not permit, but I might try with an older pair of B&Ws at some point.
The Bass, treble and balance switches are old school Yamaha. they are out of the circuit when set at twelve o'clock, and when you turn them, there is an audible click before you hear their effects (which are quite subtle in the case of bass and treble). The input selector is treated to a tiny, tiny array of amber lights indicating you have selected phono, tuner, CD, CD balanced, line 1, line 2 or main direct. Below is the audio mute switch (providing 20dB of attenuation), and the cartridge selector switch. I use an Ortofon Red MM on my Rega, so that switch doesn't get much use.
And now we get to the one point where I have a quibble with this amp, and I am afraid that for me it is a major one. For some readers it may seem silly. the Volume knob is large and aluminum, and it moves smoothly by motor in response to the remote. There is no indicator as to its position other than a small notch in the black surface that is virtually impossible to see. I wish Yamaha had used one of those tiny amber lights to indicate the volume position. Unfortunately not, so adjustments made in low light are mostly guesswork. Since my listening room does not have overhead lighting and only one window, it is low light most of the time. It's a shame, and I see it hasn't been changed with the newer, metered models of the amplifier.
The A-S2000 has fantastic wood side panels, but one may wish to consider a silver model, which makes the wood more prominent. If you don't care for the wood look, go with black as in most conditions you hardly know they are there. There is also a neat trick in the feet. There is a magnetized spike that fits into a recess on the bottom of each foot, so you can choose to mount the amplifier spiked to your stand or flat, simply by flipping the spike over in its recess. Get help doing so however, as the amplifier is very heavy, over 50 lbs. I have managed not to ding mine moving it around, but I do not undertake the task casually.
The rear panel has a full complement of very high quality connections. Cables connect with authority, and I don't worry about breaking a connection when I switch. I have a short .5 meter run of Kimber XLRs (The A-S2000 is 2:hot/left, 1:ground/right) connecting the CD-S2000 (or Sony SCD-XA5400 ES when it is in rotation), and I do not worry about cats pulling them out. If you have cats you know this problem. If you have cats and use equipment needing HDMI cable connectionss (which have inherently crappy connections) there is a hotline you can call. The speaker binding posts are brass, and they do oxidize, so they need to be cleaned (which reminds me to do that). They are large enough to grab without looking directly at them and they have no sharp edges. All good things.
The remote is just fine. It is perfectly functional, and does not feel particularly cheap, but at the same time there is nothing exciting about it either functionally or in a tactile sense. I would feel a bit more underwhelmed by it if I were writing about it in the context of a $7000 A-S3000, that's for sure.
The A-S2000 starts up very quickly, no prolonged wait time, such as I experience with my Marantz amplifiers. I have been told that the Yamaha draws a lot of juice even at idle, so if you have green considerations you may wish to investigate this further. The amp is rated to produce 90 watts into 8 ohms from 20Hz to 20KHz at 0.02% THD, increasing to 150 watts with a 4 ohm load. The manual indicates it has 0,67dB of dynamic headroom and a maximum output power of 160 watts ( 4 ohms, 1KHz, 0,7% THD). The damping factor at 1kHz 0.02% THD is claimed to be 160, which is also reminiscent of some of my favorite Sony ES super amps from the eighties. I have to look up what the TA-F555 ES was when I get a chance.
So with the wife away for the weekend, I poured a shot and a half of bourbon into a glass with just the right amount of ice, and sat down to listen. I knew all of the above stuff, as I've had the amp as my primary for five years, and I have listened to it countless times. But I was looking for some key audio/literary experiences to pass on to you what I think this amp sounds like in this set up. So compared to the other things I have in the house, the A-S2000 does not sound like the NAD C326BEE, nor does it sound like the Marantz AV set up I mentioned above. Nor does it sound like the Sony STR-GX90ES, although it is closer to that one. I think above all, the amp is really adding so much less to the signal than I am used to hearing in lesser gear, that I would have to say the operative word to use is "clean." For example, I told myself that I have heard Led Zeppelin III or Houses of the Holy sound better on these speakers, but that is only true only because I was using an amp that wasn't as good at the time so I probably had a bit more to drink in order to get past some of the more unfortunate aspects of those recordings and got to that magical boozed-up point where I didn't care about all the added noise. Not so with the A-S2000. I got really drawn into the recording of "Since I've Been Loving You" because of the emptiness that surrounded each individual aspect of the recording. And on other tracks, that same lack of grunge coming from post-recording electronics helped me to appreciate the way Bonham and Plant played against and with one another so well. Switching to Marcus Roberts "Deep in the Shed," a go to test disc for me, the Yamaha reproduced the dynamics of the percussion just effortlessly, and I don't recall having the same feeling when we last listened to that disc at D.'s house. Different set up of course, and different room, but that is how most of us experience stereo- in various manifestations. The A-S2000 is clean, natural and effortless. It is to my ears, completely without gimmicks.
So bottom line, since I am not confident that I can get a pair of Sony TA-N77 ES amps in immaculate condition and maintain them for any realistic price, which also rules out Accuphase and Esoteric, I think I am in the right place with the A-S2000. I think that for someone with my tastes (notice I have not mentioned McIntosh, marantz integrated or Denon, not that they are bad, just not for me), it is a wonderful thing that Yamaha has taken the time to bring these amps to life. I believe that the A-S2000 is no longer being made and has been replaced by the A-S2100 and 3100, which are metered, which is very cool, but more expensive which is not. I think they also use toroidal power supplies, which is different from the original A-S2000. So am I selling mine? No, at least not yet. At $1,099 I'm unlikely to find something better, so the answer is probably not, even though the lack of an indicator on the volume knob makes me nuts. I might just start saving my pennies for a 3100 though!