Yamaha A-S3200 Integrated Amplifier Review
David Price samples a big bruiser of an amplifier, from an illustrious Japanese company famous for its musical instruments…
A-S3200 Integrated Amplifier
AUD $9,999 RRP (4-Year Warranty + 1 additional year with online registration)
In 1887, Torakusu Yamaha repaired a broken reed organ – oblivious to the fact that the company he would form ten years later would go on to become huge in his home country of Japan, and beyond. Nippon Gakki Co. Ltd., along with its motor vehicle and musical instrument divisions, would put the Yamaha brand on the global map. A purveyor of everything from state-of-the-art sports motorcycles and jet-skis, to concert grand pianos and studio monitor loudspeakers, there's no denying its impact.
Lest we forget, Yamaha has been responsible for some absolute classic masterpieces in the sphere of audio. The hi-fi division was set up in 1954, and by the early seventies was innovating more than almost all its contemporaries. The B-1 V-FET power amplifier of 1974 was a technological marvel, and the 1977 CT-7000 tuner is widely thought to be the best sounding FM radio money can buy. Yamaha's NS-1000M loudspeakers were ground-breaking when launched in 1978 and arguably peerless even now; I still use a pair as my reference. Yamaha's struggle to get that reed organ in tune set off a chain of events that changed history, and to this day, the company uses three tuning forks as its logo.
The new A-S3200 is the company's latest 'super integrated' amp. It's the top of a new range that also includes the A-S1200 and A-S2200. A quintessentially Japanese product, it follows the design conventions of that country's high-end market. Audiophiles in “the land of the rising sun” like big, chunky, powerful integrated amplifiers a lot – not least because their smaller homes tend to have less space for the clutter of a pre/power. Also, given the diversity of the music they listen to – many Japanese musos are into historic recordings and/or obscure formats – they often want tone controls.
The A-S3200 sports a large pair of analogue power meters, a de rigeur retro touch that reminds us of late nineteen seventies monster amps. Despite their switchable ballistics, they're not particularly useful, other than as a visual sign that this is expensive and powerful. Although made in Malaysia, this amplifier has the look of a classic Japanese battleship product, as we used to say back in the day. As befitting such a thing, it has a myriad of inputs – including four pairs of RCA line ins, two pairs of balanced XLR and one MM/MC phono input, plus a direct in. You might have noticed something missing – there's neither a built-in DAC nor any streaming functionality. This underlines the point this is a seriously retro design – pure old school.
What's not so old fashioned is its power output; Yamaha claims a feisty 120W per channel into 8 ohms and 200W into 4, for this Class AB design. Back in the nineteen seventies, this sort of flare-flapping power was rare, but not anymore. It uses MOSFET power modules to deliver the juice, with discrete transistors (rather than op-amps) in the phono stage; the latter is neatly laid out in a separate circuit board using good quality components. The main circuit is fully balanced, and there's a large 623VA, low flux leakage toroidal transformer. Careful mechanical grounding is evident, with thick internal wiring being used; PC-OCC cables are employed for the loudspeaker feeds from the power amplifier section. Specially selected components including four large 22,000uF/63V block capacitors are fitted, complete with brass screws.
The A-S3200 has a luxury look and feel befitting a high-end design. The standard of finish is high, and the switchgear has a satisfyingly smooth feel with nice, old-style centre detents on the tone controls. The brushed aluminium fascia is as swish as you can get at this price, finishing off this chunky (24.7kg) and large (435x180x464mm) product a treat. It's available in a choice of black or silver fascias, with polished piano black sides. I tried it with a range of speakers – from my classic Yamaha NS-1000Ms to the new B&W 705 Signatures, via Quad ESL-989 electrostatics – and in all cases found that it likes a good half an hour or so to warm through. This done, you're in for a treat.
The headline here is “tidy”, but don't get me wrong – there's nothing bad about that. Some big integrated amplifiers want to dominate the proceedings, imposing their own unique sonic signature on the music. The A-S3200 doesn't do this; indeed for something so visually imposing, its sound is almost the opposite. Across all its inputs, the Yamaha has a clean, ordered and precise presentation that doesn't immediately come up and smash you around the head. Instead, it's strangely self-effacing with just some minor character traits…
For example, cue up a classic piece of power pop such as Marillion's Kayleigh, and this amplifier sets up a vast and vivid recorded acoustic. The lead vocals dominate, yet aren't to the fore; actually, the lead keyboards carry the melody, tied into the tightly syncopated eighties drum sound. I also loved the crystal-clear hi-hat cymbal sound and the delicacy of their decay. Everything was neatly positioned, exactly in its place and clearly separated from everything else. There's no amorphous blob of sound; rather, the A-S3200 carries each strand of the mix cleanly and independently.
Kayleigh is a punchy and crisp recording, and often flatters mediocre equipment – but The Jam's In The Crowd by comparison, feels like it was recorded in a shed on a cheap cassette deck. Yet serious amplification can scythe through the recording's grit and grime, and still deliver a musically satisfying sound. The A-S3200 did just this; there was no sense of this being a 'hi-fi' event, but still through the grunge came some brilliant musicianship. Legend has it that this band was the tightest of all post-punk outfits, and it showed via the Yamaha. It delivered great grip here, being able to precisely render the envelope of a hard-struck snare drum for example, or the modulation of the bass guitar. Then it slotted all these notes together into a musically cohesive whole that made for a great listen. So despite telling the listener how bad the recording was/is, it revealed the beauty of the song and the virtuosity of the musicianship.
Tonally it has a super-clean sound that's almost sterile in its lack of grit or grime. This will lead some to criticise it for being tonally 'thin', and there's something in this, although it needs to be caveated. For example, cue up 4hero's Give In and this rich, warm and well upholstered modern soul recording still sounds pretty much as it should. There's a slightly shiny upper midband in absolute terms – which adds a little extra sparkle to percussive effects like triangles – but you'd never call it harsh. Indeed the midband has a glassy clarity; you can hear right through to the mixing desk, or so it seems. Vocals have an enticing directness and a realistic timbre. Even the icy voice of Kate Bush on Army Dreamers didn't hurt, even though my ultra revealing NS-1000M loudspeakers. So we're not talking hard and forward, yet there's never a sense that the amplifier sprinkles some magic dust on things to warm things up and make them cosy.
The A-S3200's magic – such as it is – comes in the bass. Whereas some rival amplifiers don't quite have the barrel-chestedness required to push out vast tracts of low frequencies, the Yamaha does. That means that even with the aforementioned thin and gritty sounding Jam track, I was impressed by the way the bass drum and guitar lines were handled. There's no sense of excess bloom or boom, it's just that when a bass guitar note is strongly struck, there's a clear sense that there's more than enough power to punch it out, regardless of the loudspeaker load. I moved to the punchy techno of Leftfield's Not Forgotten, and the Yamaha was a treat. It thwacked out vast tracts of low frequencies in an uncompressed and carefree way, like it was a PA system. Suddenly it felt like it was 1993 and I was at a rave again…
The key traits of this amp then are its big, broad soundstage, allied to a glass-clear midband and a muscular, sinewy bass. The latter is courtesy of its chunky power amp section, which in turn gives effortless handling of dynamics as well as the subtle accents inside any piece of music. If this is your cup of green tea, then you'll love it, yet those wanting a more charismatic performer – one that romanticises things enough to make Metallica sound like Barry White – this is not for you.
Frankly, I'd have been surprised if the new Yamaha A-S3200 had sounded like a Sugden IA-4 solid-state Class A design, or a Prima Luna EVO 400 valve integrated. Nor is it as charismatic and coloured as a Naim SuperNait 3. Instead, you get a crisp, clean, sinewy sound that's more matter-of-fact than any of the above. Factor in its lovely build and finish, then maybe deduct a few points for the silly power meters, and this new Yamaha comes very close to the top of the super-integrated class – depending on your priorities and tastes, of course. It's an excellent design that you shouldn't overlook.
For more information or to find your nearest retailer, visit Yamaha.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.