Yamaha knows music. This company encompasses every aspect of the musical process from education, instruments, and pro recording, to a staggering array of diversified consumer products. Their recently introduced flagship integrated A-S3000 challenged high-end territory, but as a near $8000 statement piece, it will be an object to be admired, but owned by only a lucky few. If such lofty heights are out of your reach, take heart, Yamaha has other notable offerings in their integrated lineup, and one that may itself constitute a statement piece in its own right. At a far more attractive price of $1099, the Yamaha A-S801 takes a different view of what an integrated should accomplish, and for many could be the amplifier of choice.
Versatility is the keyword with the A-S801. It is designed to embrace virtually any music playback format currently available on the market. It offers an MM phono stage for the vinyl aficionado, CD, tuner, three line stage inputs, 2 record outs, and even a subwoofer output to accommodate a 2.1 channel system. That constitutes excellent conventional support, but Yamaha has also given a very generous nod to the next generation of music. There is Bluetooth wireless capability (with an optional $69.95 adapter), and a cornucopia of digital connectivity to accommodate even the most advanced high resolution file based sources. RCA Coax, optical, and USB are all on tap to serve the new frontier, and the designers have incorporated some powerful high tech magic to take advantage of all that musical potential.
Beneath the A-S801’s understated exterior lies a leading edge 32-bit, 2-channel SABRE Premier Audio DAC from ESS Technology that handles optical and coax digital signal up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution as well as supporting native DSD and 32-bit/384kHz* via the USB input! (*Windows supported. Mac support is 24-bit.) This is an unprecedented level of digital processing power at this price point, and Yamaha has gone to great lengths to ensure that potential is realized.
The A-S801‘s construction prioritizes high structural integrity, employing a double bottom design with a 1 mm iron plate, a separate ART (Anti-Resonance and Tough) base for the power transformer and heat sinks in the power amp section, and a solid center bar to further dampen resonance and enhance rigidity. The parts complement is also carefully selected. The A-S801 boasts a custom made power transformer, custom made block capacitors, two direct signal path speaker relays, one point grounding system, and extruded aluminum heat sinks.
The amplifier path uses Yamaha’s self described ToP-ART (Total Purity Audio Reproduction Technology) and features an I/O (input to output) Direct Symmetrical Design, with left and right channels organized in a straight, symmetrical layout for highest signal purity. The signal path from input to output further reflects that direct and clean approach. The user has the option on CD input of employing a CD direct switch which bypasses the tone and balance controls or an even more minimalist mode called Pure Direct which bypasses the buffer amp, the tone, loudness and balance controls to get very close to the purist ideal of a straight wire with gain. The ability to engage and disengage these functions should satisfy both the casual listener as well as the most hardened audiophile.
When the A-S801 arrived for review, I took a precursory view of the unit to assess aspects of basic layout and functionality. The amplifier comes in a choice of brushed silver or black finish and includes a simple, slender, multifunction remote. All front panel control functions are intuitively laid out with small amber LED lights on the faceplate giving visual confirmation of settings. Welcome additions are the multiple PCM and DSD lights which show different resolution levels of the digital playback material. The CD Direct and Pure Direct square push button switches are easily identifiable and intelligently sized for real world fingers. The loudness control is an advanced design, utilizing an analog pot to relay to a digital volume control using Yamaha’s own proprietary DSP contour. The front panel also sports a speaker selector switch to choose multiple options from A and B to off position, which facilitates the use of the A-S801 as dedicated headphone DAC/Pre/Amp. The Pure Direct switch also services the headphone output leaving the potential for maximum signal purity.
If the front panel is about control, the rear panel is all about connectivity. Inputs and outputs are clearly marked and logically laid out and there is even a DC output jack to power Yamaha’s optional YMA-11 Bluetooth adaptor. Another nice touch is the inclusion of a traditional grounding terminal for the phono input. Yamaha has chosen middle ground for their speaker terminals, going with a shrouded gold plated variety which accommodates bare wire or banana connectors, but will not accept spades. Two pairs of terminals are provided, offering the possibility of double cable runs for bi-wiring. A high/low selector switch is located below to optimize the amplifier performance for speakers of different impedances, with limits clearly specified for the combinations available. Power input is via a female 2 pin IEC chassis mounted jack. The provided thick, two prong AC cable is detachable, leaving the option of upgrading to an aftermarket power cord. There are two unusual features included on the back panel. The first is a 90Hz low pass subwoofer output, intended for a powered sub, with a purist configuration, keeping the main speaker signals full range. The second is an audio power standby switch which offers the option to initiate a power down into standby mode in the event the unit is inadvertently left idle for 8 hours, a thoughtful touch for those occasional memory lapses.