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 stand-up 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, well-built 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.
Price: $3,499 US