Arguably one of the most prestigious brands in the music and audiovisual industry, to summarise Yamaha’s musical heritage would require a review in itself. Since building their first reed organ in 1887, Yamaha have remained a key innovator in almost every area of music technology from musical instruments, to recording equipment, professional audio and consumer hi-fi. If you listen to music, chances are it was in some way influenced by Yamaha’s technology.
While their professional audio equipment and musical instruments have remained the standard for professionals and budding musicians for many years, Yamaha’s critically acclaimed hi-fi and AV components have taken the world by storm thanks to the resurgence in popularity of both budget-oriented and high-end hi-fi. Their A-S500 won numerous awards – and with such stunning sound quality for such a modest price, it’s not hard to see why. Their statement S3000 range caused something of a stir in the market on release; a highly desirable amp and CD player combination with the attention to detail found only in the finest musical instruments, bringing together Yamaha’s considerable expertise in both fields.
The A-S201 sits at the bottom of their amplifier range – but it’s packed with advanced technologies found only in Yamaha products. With 100W per channel, enough inputs to hook up a decent array of components (including a turntable), and classic yet contemporary styling; it’s an amp clearly designed to dominate the budget market. Let’s see if Yamaha have achieved their goal.
With a claimed 100W per channel, the A-S201 packs enough power to drive even the most inefficient loudspeakers to uncomfortable levels. Of course, power isn’t just about going loud; a high power amplifier is able to more easily cope with large dynamic swings in music – such as large orchestras or heavy bass notes. In theory, a more powerful amplifier can reach higher volumes without clipping – a form of audible distortion that can damage not only your amplifier, but also your speakers.
Yamaha have optimised the circuit layout – placing the transformer near the power amplifier section to increase the power supplies peak output power, again helping to cope with large dynamics when required. Pure direct bypasses the tone and balance controls as well as the back buffer amp, shortening signal paths and offering better sound quality. And 2 pairs of speaker outputs allow you to power a set of speakers in another room, or take advantage of bi-wiring if supported by your chosen speakers.
Stylistically, the A-S201 is designed to match other hi-fi components (both from Yamaha and other brands). An automatic power-down function sends the A-S201 into its eco-friendly, <0.5W standby mode after a user-configurable period of inactivity. And last but not least, it’s equipped with a moving magnet phono stage – a welcome addition, given the recent resurgence of vinyl.
The A-S201 comes packaged in a thick, strong cardboard box. This is something manufacturers often overlook, instead choosing thinner, cheaper boxes; not Yamaha. Opening the box reveals a neat presentation – clearly a lot of thought has gone into this packaging to give a good first impression.
polystyrene blocks keep everything in place, and even the included AA batteries for the remote have their own designated slot (not to mention the AC power plug which slots in neatly with the cable out of sight).
The amp itself comes wrapped in a rectangular felt-like cloth material, neatly taped in a single location. It might not sound like much – but it sure makes repackaging the amp easier should you ever need to do so.
In the box, You’ll find the remote, a quick-start guide and a set of batteries. No cables, as the power cable is permanently attached. A huge A+ on the packaging – I wish more brands packaged their products this way.
The A-S201 isn’t a weighty amp – in fact, the left-mounted transformer is undoubtedly heavier than the rest of the machine. . That said it’s well built – there’s no flex in the casing and the aluminium front panel feels solid. The usual tap test on the top panel results in a metallic thump – hardly surprising, as the top casing is fairly thin. It doesn’t resonate though – which is a good thing – and it’s further supported by a screw on the top as well as the sides.
Only the speaker terminals show slight signs of cheapness – they’re thin plastic, and have a tendency to flex when inserting banana plugs.
The A-S201 may be a budget amplifier, but that doesn’t mean it’s connection options are limited. Around the back, you’ll find the input for the moving magnet phono stage, as well as an associated ground screw for your turntable. 4 Line inputs and a record output allow you to connect line level devices such as cd players, streamers, tuners, DACs, computer sound cards, cassette decks etc.
It’s worth noting that the recording output is just that – a single output. It’s linked with the Line 2 input, so that when line 2 is selected as your input source nothing is sent to the record output; this prevents possible feedback. However, it’s not a monitor loop – so it’s not suitable for use with 3 head tape machines.
The aforementioned speaker terminals allow you to connect 2 pairs of speakers or bi-wire your speakers if supported. The ends of the terminals are plugged with small plastic caps – these are extremely annoying for those of us who wish to use Banana plugs. You can’t pull them out with a fingernail – you need a bent paperclip or similar to remove them. It would be nice to see Yamaha include a removal tool in the box for these, or even better – leave them out altogether.
Finally, affixed to the back panel and surrounded by a plastic strain relief, you’ll find the permanently attached power lead. This has the advantage that there’s no bulky IEC plug protruding from the back of the amp – however, if the cable gets damaged it does mean the amp will need to be repaired, rather than a simple cable replacement. Perhaps an IEC or figure of eight cable would’ve been a better choice.
As previously mentioned, the front of the A-S201 is designed to match that of other hi-fi components, such as Yamaha’s own cd players, tuners, and streamers. Due to its flat, classic design, it’ll look good with just about anything – from modern AV kit to a classic cassette deck.
The most obvious feature of the front panel is the large volume control. As with many modern amplifiers, the A-S201 uses a digital volume control – however, Yamaha have put a great deal of thought into the feel of the controls – and it shows. The volume feels smooth to turn, and doesn’t flex. Its large size means it’s easy to grab and turn quickly, and it fits nicely in the hand.
To the left, you’ll find the large square power button, a headphone jack, and controls to enable or disable both sets of speakers. As is the case with most budget amps, the headphone jack takes its feed directly from the power amplifier, rather than having its own dedicated circuit.
Along the bottom, you’ll find the tone and source controls – these are push buttons, with a thin style designed to match those on Yamaha’s other components, and somewhat reminiscent of the vertical dials found on classic equipment.
Interestingly, the volume control is not used to increase and decrease the tone controls values as is the case with many other designs – instead, Yamaha provide an increase and decrease button for both bass and treble. The tone controls offer +/-10DB boost. Pressing the pure direct button to the right of the source controls disables the tone controls for a cleaner signal and thus better sound quality. . The A-S201 doesn’t remember whether pure direct is enabled for each individual input. Storing settings for individual inputs is something that many products with digital interfaces can do, so it would be nice to see it implemented here too.
I like that the A-S201 has physical buttons rather than a click wheel to select the source – that being said, it would be nice to see direct access buttons. As there are relatively few inputs, a small row or even grid of source controls would take up very little space on what is a fairly large front panel.
The gap surrounding the central display panel is almost non-existent – again showing Yamaha’s attention to detail. The display shows the status of the amplifier, including the selected source and current volume – as well as allowing access to the configuration menus.
Adhered to the upper left-most area of the front panel, aligned with the display, is an advertising sticker, promoting the virtues of the a-s201. This can easily be removed, but I’d rather it not be present in the first place. It looks a little cheap and unnecessary.
All controls, from power to volume and tone, are fully digital, meaning they can be controlled either using the front panel controls or the remote. Interestingly – though one is present – the balance control is not featured on the front panel. This requires the remote – which is disappointing. The same can be said for the sleep timer, and the control giving access the options menu.
The A-S201 is supplied with a Yamaha system remote. This remote controls all functions of the A-S201, as well as Yamaha’s matching CD players and Tuners (such as the CD-S300 or T-D500). It’s slim but thick, thanks to the AA batteries that slot in behind the removable rear cover. It doesn’t sit in the hand as well as other remotes – however it’s far from being uncomfortable, and is more than adequate for changing tracks or occasionally adjusting the volume. The buttons are also fairly small – it would be nice if key controls such as the volume were slightly larger, making them easier to locate.
It’s well made though – there’s no flex in its casing – and the buttons, though not as tactile as some, are very responsive. Whereas some remotes are very unidirectional (I.E, they must pointed straight on at the IR receiver), the Yamaha’s works fine as long as it’s aimed in the amps general direction.
Usage is simple – following a short press of the stand by button and 2 relay clicks, the a-s201 is ready for use.. Select your speakers (using the a/b controls on the front panel), select your source, turn up the volume and you’re good to go. Pressing the pure-direct button will after a few seconds disable the display. It comes back on temporarily when required, for example after a volume change or when entering the options menu.
The first thing I noticed when powering up the A-S201 was the noise floor – it’s somewhat higher than many other budget amps I’ve tested, such as the NAD D3020. It’s not overly obtrusive; it’s a gentle hiss that’s especially noticeable when using speakers with sensitive tweeters. Once the music gets going you won’t notice it – but it’s worth noting if your speakers are particularly efficient.
Natural sound is a term Yamaha use to describe many of their hi-fi products. The concept of ‘natural sound’ is, quite literally, to amplify the sound with as little colouration as possible, remaining faithful to the artists performance.
The A-S201 achieves this, though you do trade a little excitement and rhythm for smoothness and balance. The sound stage is wide, with decent separation between the instruments. It lacks the separation of NAD’s D3020 – but if you’re using similarly priced source equipment and speakers, you’re hardly going to notice.
The second thing that hit me (quite literally) was the power. Yamaha claim the A-S201 can output 100W per channel – and they certainly weren’t exaggerating. Bass notes are deep and powerful, even when hooked up to the Tannoy V1is with their relatively small, 5” bass driver.
Play Lorde’s ‘Royals’, a current favorite amongst reviewers, and allow those bass drum hits to slam, 1 by 1, into your chest – each one hitting with bruit force and precision. The synth line is well-controlled, and the reverb, not to mention the multi-layerd vocals, are beautifully portrayed.
Spin Queen’s ‘live at Wembley’, an album featured on my Top 5 Live Albums – and allow the Yamaha to transport you back in time to 1986 – and your very own, free of charge front seat at Wembley stadium. There are some issues with this recording – mainly the panning of instruments and the overly aggressive reverb, probably caused by the room mics. But the Yamaha doesn’t mind – in fact, unlike some more revealing systems, it’s a very pleasant listen.
The built-in phono stage is excellent. It’s better than many of the cheaper, sub-£50 units on the market – and is perfectly suited to an amp at this price point. It’s sensitive, too, meaning it’ll work well with the majority of cartridges on the market, even high output moving coil designs. It’s quiet, lacking the obtrusive pink noise of many integrated stages – perhaps its only weakness is in its low end punch (or lack thereof); but it’s nice of Yamaha to include a decent phono stage as standard.
Spin Pink Floyd’s ‘money’, and you’re rewarded with a beautifully wide sound stage. Instrument placement is spot-on – arguably better than using the amp with a line level component. It’s not too bright, unlike many other integrated stages – and rhythmically, it’s astounding. It’s an enjoyable performance – if you’re a vinyl fan on a budget, this amp should be on your shortlist.
All in all, a great effort from Yamaha – and one that pays off. Only a few things let the A-S201 down – the lack of a front panel balance control means that, if you’ve lost the remote, you could be left with unbalanced sound. Perhaps it would be better to ditch the digital controls – and simply use good old potentiometers instead. The speaker terminals are also a little flimsy – and the capped ends are an annoyance for anyone using banana plugs.
That said – these are minor complaints. The A-s201 is a solidly built, well-specified amplifier for very little cash. You can add fantastic sound, and an excellent built-in phono stage too. If you’re looking for a simple, smooth-sounding integrated amplifier – the A-S201 should be on your shortlist.