Behold an exquisite musical instrument. A hand-crafted guitar, lovingly sanded and polished to perfection. It’s an impossible feeling to describe – but it’s one that Yamaha, one of the world’s most prestigious audio companies, knows only too well. With a musical heritage spanning over 125 years, and hundreds of ground-breaking, world-renowned products under their belt, the word ‘Yamaha’ is synonymous with music.
Yamaha’s professional audio equipment is used to entertain crowds worldwide, while their revered musical instruments frequently take centre stage in the hands of some of the world’s most respected musicians. And their consumer electronics are no different – Yamaha’s range of natural sound AV and hi-fi equipment remains a long-standing favourite amongst audiophiles who wish to hear their music as the artists originally intended.
There is no company better placed to introduce a statement hi-fi system – a system that represents the pinnacle of audio technology, with the exquisite, illustrious design of a world-class musical instrument. Introducing the Yamaha A-S3000 and CD-S3000 – the companies flagship integrated amplifier and CD player/DAC combination. First up, the A-S3000.
With its distinctly retro appearance, large BU meters, and vertical control knobs, you’d be forgiven for thinking the A-S3000 was, in fact, a classic Yamaha amp. But no – behind those retro knobs, beneath that 6MM aluminium top panel is an amplifier packed with modern technology, clever engineering and subtle touches designed to draw every detail from your music.
The A-S300’s monstrous enclosure is built for battle – indeed, the enclosure itself weighs approximately 18KG before any electronic components have been added.
The chassis has been designed to be as rigid as possible, the primary goal being to reduce vibrations that can affect sensitive electronic components. It features a frame within a frame design, each circuit board supported by an inner frame. A massive 626VA toroidal transformer and 22000UF power supply capacitors are supported by a further frame, held firmly in place by the front and rear panels. These frames help to isolate the power supply and power amplifier circuits, minimising the effect of vibrations generated by the large power supply on sound. The inner frame is copper plated for shielding, and its cleverly shaped design allow cables to be run underneath ensuring the shortest signal paths. The bass to which the transformer is affixed is fashioned from brass – which, after exhausted listening tests, yamaha found to be effective in further reducing vibrations.
The A-S3000 sits on a set of adjustable feet allowing you to level the amp on any surface. The magnetic feet can be removed, revealing small spikes that can be used to reduce the effect of vibrations on the set if placed on suitable furniture.
Inside that chassis, The A-S3000 employs Yamaha’s innovative floating fully balanced amplifier technology, first seen in the previous A-S2000. This fully symmetrical amplifier circuit employs a push-pull amplifier design, using MOSFETs. MOSFETs have the same polarity on each side (an ideal characteristic for a floating balanced power amplifier), and offer a warm, tube-like sonic character. Floating the amplifier from the ground results in less noise, and eliminates and negative impact caused by minute voltage fluctuations. The A-S3000 also features all-stage balanced transmission – even in its preamp stages, where the tone and volume control are also fully balanced.
Separate pre and power amp blocks, both fully symmetrical in design, help to separate the delicate low-energy input signals from the high-energy amplified signals. Signal loss is reduced by directly wiring the transformer’s windings to the various power supply circuits using screw-type connections. Screw-type connectors are also adopted in other areas of the circuit – including connection of the preamp to the power amp, and the power amp output stage to the speaker terminals. Along with the copper plated chassis, this helps to significantly lower impedance and reduce signal loss.
The volume control is a high quality ladder-type resistance control designed by New Japan Radio Company LTD. This digital control features stepped resistors to alter the volume level, and employs a motor for remote adjustment.
Finally, large level meters visually convey every nuance of the music, 2 sets of speaker terminals switchable from the front panel allow you to bi-wire your speakers or run a separate set in another room, and a discretely configured, high-quality phono stage caters for both MM and MC cartridges.
Just lifting the box is enough to give you the distinct impression this is a quality piece. Weighing over 24KG, this certainly isn’t an amp you’re going to be moving unless strictly necessary. The A-S3000 is supplied in standard yamaha packaging – a strong box with the usual thin blocks of polystyrene keeping things in place.
The presentation is neat – the a-s3000 comes wrapped in a cloth-like foam material, with its remote and power cable situated on top and some documentation held within a cardboard insert to the side. There’s also ample room at either side to easily lift the A-S3000 from its box. Tape prevents the rocker switches becoming damaged, and also serves to keep the magnetic feet in place.
This amp is a beast. The enclosure is extremely solid, and well damped. The wooden side panels, and aluminium front panel yield only a dull thump when tapped. Only the 6MM thick aluminium top panel, with its precision cut air vents yields a slight rattle and some resonance – I would’ve expected an internal central bar to keep this firmly held down.
Beginning with the front panel, and the retro-inspired knobs and switches have been designed with the strictest attention to detail. Flick one of the large rocker switches, and it’s impossible to discern the gap between the front panel and the switch. The large aluminium dials glide smoothly when turned – the bass, treble and balance dials have a central detent to alert you to their flat position.
The slot for the glass display panel covering the large VU meters is precision cut, with the class affixed behind the front panel leaving no surrounding gap. It blends in perfectly with the rest of the panel. This attention to detail is clear across the board – with all panels, metal and wood, lining up just so with no screws or fixings visible from the front.
Turn the amp around, and you’ll immediately notice the large speaker terminals. Cut from pure brass with ergonomically shaped handles, these substantial terminals will accept bare wire, spade connectors or banana plugs. If you’re in the UK, you’ll have to remove the tiny end caps to connect banana plugs – these are extremely difficult and frustrating to remove. The sets of terminals (2 for both A and B speakers) are located on the extreme left and right of the amp. If like me you change amps a lot, you’ll notice the unusual terminal arrangement – with the + and – terminals positioned horizontally as opposed to vertically.
Aside from the speaker terminals, the A-S3000 offers a plethora of input and output connections. There are 2 valanced XLR inputs, complete with switches to set the phase and sensitivity. These are joined by 4 singled-ended RCA line level inputs, the phono input with associated ground, and a main in to connect a device with its own preamp/volume control, for example an AV receiver. Outputs come in the form of a preamp output for an external owed amplifier or sub woofer, and a single line level recording output.
It’s worth noting that the record output is linked to the line 2 jacks – so a source played through these jacks cannot be recorded. This is done to prevent feedback – and essentially acts as a tape loop. However, there’s no way to monitor the device being recorded without changing the input source, so this isn’t a tape loop in the traditional sense.
Trigger jacks allow you to power on the A-S3000 from an external device such as an AV receiver, remote jacks allow the unit to control and be controlled by other components, and a system connector is used for diagnostics and servicing.
Finally, a 2-pin IEC connector provides power to the unit – this connector is positioned rather awkwardly in the centre, so if your rack has a leg at the back you’ll need to make sure there’s enough clearance to clear this cable’s strain relief. All terminals are extremely high quality, with no flexing or unpleasant cracking sounds when connecting tight plugs.
The aluminium-clad remote supplied with the A-S3000 is a solid, chunky affair with a thick aluminium faceplate closely matching that of the amp. Controls are few, but you do get direct access to each input, volume, mute and power. The remote can also control compatible Yamaha CD players and tuners.
The buttons are small, but feel great when pressed, offering up a nice tactile click as the amp responds instantly to your commands. Range is great, and unlike other remotes the yamaha works well even when not aimed directly at the amp – useful when lounging in a listening chair, vaguely aiming the remote in the right direction.
Only the central 5-way control gives me cause for complaint – the central button, used to initiate playback on the companion CD-S3000, often catches on its surrounding controls. Attempting to skip to the next track using the remote can cause the 2 buttons to effectively stick together, and it’s necessary to wiggle that central control to restore proper operation. This is probably due to their being no gap between the buttons. There were also several occasions when I’d attempt to change the volume with the remote, only to find it unresponsive – repeated pressing of the appropriate button eventually brought the remote to life.
Interestingly, I didn’t encounter any of these issues when using the control for the companion CD-S3000 CD player. The batteries were brand new, so not to blame. These are small but constant frustrations with what is otherwise an excellent controller.
Being a pure analogue integrated amp, operation of the A-S3000 is simple – no menus, no fancy light shows, just old school dials. The power switch is a hard switch, instead of a standby control like that found on most modern equipment. If the front panel switch is in the off position, the amp cannot be powered using the remote – however, if you leave the front panel switch on, the remote (and other AV components) can bring the amp in and out of standby. In standby mode, the A-S3000 draws only 0.3W – so power usage isn’t a concern.
Flick that power switch, and you’ll hear a series of relay clicks in rapid succession. Many of the A-S3000’s switching functions, such as speaker switching, input switching and cartridge type selection are switched by relays to eliminate crosstalk, resulting in a cleaner signal. The tone controls are also relay-switched – move either control from their central position, and a relay switches them into the signal path, leaving you free to make your required adjustments. Return them to the centre and they’re bypassed completely for a cleaner, more direct signal path.
Despite being a digital ladder-type control, the A-S3000’s volume control behaves much like an analogue potentiometer. An internal motor allows it to be controlled by both the remote and the muting circuit, which reduces the volume by approximately 20DB when either the button on the remote, or the front panel mute control, is pressed. The motor is silent, and the control operates smoothly.
Being a ladder-type control, the volume moves in pre-defined steps. It doesn’t glide smoothly like the digital controls found on amps such as the Cambridge Audio 851E – in fact, Very little movement of the control is required to raise or lower the volume. The steps are larger than I’m used too – and, at times, it can be hard to get the volume exactly where you want it. If you have sensitive speakers, it’s unlikely you’ll be using a large majority of the A-S3000’s volume scale. But if you use headphones, the sensitivity switch means you can get more volume out of the amp – resulting in better sound.
The A-S3000 offers a fully discrete headphone stage, with a corresponding 6.25MM jack on the front panel. The accompanying sensitivity switch, as previously mentioned, allows you to adjust the output of the headphone stage according to the sensitivity of your chosen phones. Essentially, this feature gives you more power to drive lower-impedance headphones, often resulting in better sound.
Separate power supplies power each channel of the headphone amp, and its design is such that the output impedance is as low as possible. When connecting headphones, both sets of speakers are muted automatically. There’s no way to run speakers and headphones simultaneously, which is surprising given that the speaker dial on the front panel also provides an ‘off’ position.
Inputs are accessed using the remote control or via a single dial on the front panel. I was pleased to see the front panel dial did not continually scroll through inputs – it stops at each end of the input scale. However, it’s impossible to change inputs quickly – rotating the dial quickly simply causes the next input in line to be selected. To reach the required input, you must click individually through each selection – a lengthy and often frustrating process when you have a lot of inputs to scroll through. Direct access buttons, or at least a faster input selector are definite necessities here. Inputs are switched instantly when using the remote.
The amps large VU metres can be set to peak or VU mode or switched off entirely using a switch on the front panel. In peak mode, they’ll show peaks in the music – in VU mode, the show a ore accurate representation of the music as it is heard by human ears.
The final control on the front panel allows you to choose between moving magnet and moving coil phono cartridges. There are no options for cartridge loading or capacitance, which would be nice to see on and amp at this level. Capacitance is a fixed 100pF, cartridge loading is fixed at 47/50K Ohms for MM and MC respectively, and as expected, cartridge type is switched by an internal relay.
It’s clear out of the box that this is a power-packed amplifier. Turn that volume too quickly, and the monster inside comes to life – delivering power that truly belies the 100W per channel rating. It’s detailed, too – dragging every tiny detail from the music. A drummer’s subtle ghost notes, preamp hiss, and every nuance of the human voice are brought to the forefront with startling accuracy.
The A-S3000 totally shines when reproducing stringed instruments and orchestral music, as shown by ‘Can’t Take It’ from the All American Rejects’ ‘Move Along’ album. The orchestral arrangement flows around the sound stage, reaching both extremities of the frequency spectrum with ease. ‘Love Of My Life’ from Queen’s ‘Rock Montreal’ is equally beautiful. The guitar sounds simply sublime, with every emotional nuance of Freddie’s voice accurately portrayed.
What the A-S3000 has in power, however, it lacks in excitement. This is an amp that favours detail and neutrality over a desire to rock – and, as such, those who value an amps ability to draw excitement and ‘get up and go’ from a musical track may be disappointed. And, while its sound staging is great, it lacks the ability to separate the layers of a sound stage, resulting in a somewhat flat-sounding performance.
Queen’s Rock Montreal is arguably one of the best concerts ever recorded and mastered to CD. It’s an iconic concert, demonstrating the incredible musicianship of the band when they were at their best. However, played through the A-S3000, I found the concert left me feeling somewhat uninspired. Sound staging was rather 2-dimensional, allowing the audience to mix in with the musicians. The attack of drums was spot on, particularly during tracks like ‘Killer Queen’ and ‘Save Me’. But when the going got tough, what had previously been classed as a sound stage became a messy, jumbled wall of sound.
Switch to the A-S3000’s built-in phono stage, and results improve dramatically. ‘Love Bites’ from Halestorm’s ‘The Strange Case Of…’ is explosive. The A-S3000 does an excellent job of separating the layers of this track, from Arejay’s furious drumming to Lzzy’s metal scream. Even the distortion that often plagues this track doesn’t affect the A-S3000 – if it’s there at all it only serves to improve the performance.
One of my current favourite test tracks, Roger Taylor’s ‘Say It’s Not True’ is stunning. Every nuance of the guitar is captured in glorious detail. The soft but deep bass drum, the subtle revert during the bridge, and the broad, expansive sound stage are all delivered to the speakers with aplomb.
The A-S3000 had no issue matching with any of the cartridges I had on hand. Everything from a Rega Elys2, to a low-end Audio-Technica AT92, to Rega’s Apheta was handled admirably. Characteristics remained virtually unchanged with each cartridge – allowing the characteristics of the cartridges themselves to shine.
Headphone performance is mightily impressive – the a-s3000s powerful, dynamic headphone stage delivers power with precision and jaw-dropping detail. I used the sensitivity switch on the front panel to compensate for my easy-to-drive, over-sensitive sennheisers – and the results were simply stunning.
In fact, i found the sound stage when using headphones to be far better than that offered by the speaker outputs. Spin Meatloaf’s ‘Life Is A Lemon (And I Want My Money Back)’, and the powerful drums, swooping guitar solos, and fantastic harmonies wash over you, keeping you on the edge of your seat. It was an enthralling performance that left me wanting more.
More I wanted – and More I got. From Bon Jovi to AC/DC – from Norah Jones to night ranger, from the Goo Goo Dolls to Greenday. This is by far the best headphone stage I’ve ever enjoyed on an integrated amp – in fact, it’s the best headphone stage I’ve ever heard.
Switch back to the speaker outputs and my original opinion holds true. The A-S3000 is at ease chilling out to Nirvana’s MTV unplugged, the belting chorus in ‘All Apologies’ has just the right amount of bite. but switch to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, and it struggles to maintains its enthusiasm. Spin Jake Bugg’s self-titled debut, and the gentle, acoustic melodies are beautifully rendered, positioned in a wide-open, seemingly limitless sound stage.
There’s no doubt this is an excellent amplifier, and one worthy of the Yamaha name. It’s built to be passed down through generations, and it offers many of the features often lacking in high end amps.
In terms of sound, it’s got plenty of warmth, great separation, and is very analytical. This is an amp for those who want to hear every nuance of the music. However, that smoothness means it lacks excitement, and ability to connect both with the music and the listener.
If you like it loud, like to rock out, and like an amp with a bit of ‘get up and go’, the A-S3000 probably isn’t for you. However, if you want an amp that can deliver with a wide range of musical genres, and favour a detailed, analytical sound with the warmth often associated with a tube-based amplifier, the A-S3000 is the amp you’ve been waiting for. Not to mention the awesome phono stage, and the headphone stage that is almost worth the price of the amp alone. If it suits your system and your music taste, and you have the budget, give one a listen – you won’t be disappointed.