I've got to admit that, going into this review, I was really curious whether the A-S2100 integrated amplifier's rated power output of 90 watts per channel (eight ohms, 20 Hz to 20 kHz) would be adequate to reproduce realistic bass dynamics from bass-heavy music selections, but I'll get into that more in a bit. After allowing a couple of weeks for break-in, I was ready to get down to business.
I suspect that many prospective buyers of this integrated amp probably have a turntable, so I decided to start things off by listening to some vinyl. I wanted to see whether the included phono amp was indeed a quality stage or just a cheap accessory for marketing purposes. I'll be the first to admit that, until recently, I was exclusively a digital guy, having moved on from vinyl a number of years ago. But with the recent renewed interest in vinyl by music enthusiasts (both young and not so young), I recently picked up a new Rega turntable as a review tool. Well, I can tell you that, while listening to the track "Surfer Girl" on the recent re-mastering of the Beach Boys' album of the same name (Analogue Productions), I was taken aback by just how good the Beach Boys sounded with the Yamaha amp. All of the dynamics, rhythm, and pace available on this recording came through, compliments of the Yamaha's phono stage. By the time the third track "Surfer Moon" was playing, I was mentally transported to the beach while enjoying the ultra-smooth texture of the vocal. Although I hadn't intended to, I listened to the whole album and several more. Maybe I need to give this vinyl thing another chance. No matter the LP I listened to, the Yamaha's phono stage turned out to be a great match with the Rega RP3 table. I suspect it would be great with other tables of similar quality, too. My past experience tells me that the Yamaha's phono stage would match or even beat quality standalone stages in the $300 to $500 price range, and having a built-in stage saves you the additional cost and complexity of another set of cables.
Okay, so far so good. Now it was time to move from analog to digital music. I decided to first check out the headphone output. I plugged in my Sennheiser HD 650 headphones and sat back to listen to several tunes I know quite well. I set the headphone amp trim control to closely match the headphone volume level with that of the speakers. When I played the track "I've Got You Under My Skin" on the stereo SACD When I Look In Your Eyes by Diana Krall (Verve Music Group), the Yamaha integrated amp presented the timbre of Diana's voice just as I remember it from her live concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The low noise floor that the Yamaha provided enabled all of the nuances of this laidback number to be clearly resolved. From the leading and trailing edges of the vibraphone's notes to Diana's breathing to the soft rap of the bongos in the background, the Yamaha made the lush presentation of this track so lifelike and realistic. The instruments along with Diana's breathy voice occupied their own distinct spaces within the soundstage.
Likewise, I called out the low noise floor in my notes while playing the track "Moonlight in Vermont" on the audiophile CD Ella and Louis by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong (First Impression Music). The Yamaha's headphone amp was a sweet match for my Sennheisers.
To test the ability of the Yamaha to deliver realistic bass dynamics from more demanding music, I switched from headphones to speakers. I turned up the volume on the composition "Fanfare for the Common Man" on the CD Copland 100 (Reference Recordings) performed by the Minnesota Orchestra and conducted by Eiji Oue. The tympani were portrayed with the proper bass weight and impact to communicate the power and grandeur of this composition. The brass instruments were presented in an expansive soundstage that similarly portrayed the size of the orchestra. The large-capacity power supply of the Yamaha amp really showed its mettle. I was left with goose bumps when the recording ended.
With the volume already up, I decided to switch things up and stream something a bit more current using Tidal. First up was the track "Earned It" from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack (Republic Records) and performed by Canadian alternative R&B artist Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd. The Yamaha ably portrayed all of the impact of the bass notes that provide the foundation for this powerful track and kept it moving forward without ever showing the slightest hint of strain.
Keeping within this genre, another memorable tune was "The Worst" by Los Angeles singer/songwriter Jhené Aiko from her EP Sail Out (Def Jam Recordings). This sultry, laidback number begins with a simple piano intro accompanied by a drum kit. For amps that lack sufficient headroom, the piano and bass drum can be challenging instruments to reproduce in a lifelike manner, but that wasn't a problem for the Yamaha. The buildup and decay of notes on the piano were palpable, and this amp had the chops to deliver bass notes from the drum kit with balance and fullness, but without any of the bass muddiness that can be present with lesser amps. The same held true even as I listened to a variety of even more bass-heavy tunes. Well done, Yamaha!
While no product is perfect, I only have a couple of minor quips with the Yamaha A-S2100 integrated amp. First, when using the remote control, the Yamaha is set up to be able to make large volume changes quickly. In order to provide this capability, the remote makes fairly large individual volume step changes with each press of the volume button. This can make it difficult to set the volume to the optimal level using the remote.
Second, there is no visual display of the volume level on the front panel. While this feature is not often found on integrated amps, it could be a concern with the A-S2100 because the amp saves the volume setting from the previous listening session. The user could be surprised by an unexpectedly high volume when starting to play music the next time the unit is powered up. Learning to lower the volume before putting the amp in standby at the end of each listening session will avoid any such surprises.
Comparison and Competition
Potential buyers of the Yamaha A-S2100 have several other notable stereo integrated amplifier options to choose from, including the Parasound Halo 2.1, the Marantz PM11S3, the Bryston B135, the NAD C 390DD, and the Hegel H160. Pricewise, the Yamaha falls in the middle of this group of integrated amps. Each of these models incorporates a slightly different feature set. Some of these models have a phono stage and/or DAC built in, while others offer one or both features as optional add-ons. Of this group of integrated amps, I've had the chance to listen to music through both the Marantz and the Hegel models, but I have not had the chance to do a side-by-side comparison. In my opinion, the Yamaha is a very worthy competitor to these models. The integrated amp that's ultimately best for you will depend on both your individual sound preferences and the feature set that meets your needs.
The Yamaha A-S2100 is a serious integrated amplifier with a retro look for serious music enthusiasts. Yamaha delivers on its promise of "Natural Sound" with its full floating and balanced circuit design incorporated into the A-S2100. The A-S2100 is a great match for two-channel enthusiasts who like to spin silver discs and also have a penchant for vinyl or headphone listening, but who don't require a built-in DAC. If that describes you, I strongly suggest you check out the Yamaha A-S2100 integrated amplifier. You'll be glad you did!
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