Hi everyone. I do not post reviews often, and when I do it is a challenge to come up with things that have not been covered in reviews published elsewhere.
I have published only a few reviews in all the years that I have been a member here on the ‘Gon. My first review was about the Verity Audio Parsifal, then many years later I followed with the Anthem 225 integrated review my review of a Yamaha A S-2000 integrated / CD S-1000 duo, my first-ever owner experience of Yamaha gear. I have owned a truckload of amps in my 30+ years in this hobby, some quite high-end, and some value products.
This is about the Yamaha A S-3000 integrated amplifier.
What first initiated my interest in this Yamaha A S-3000 integrated was actually a ‘’lukewarm’’ What HiFi? review, with words like ‘’unexciting’’ to describe the sound. Otherwise it was politically correct I suppose. It was the very first review I came across about this amp.
At the beginning of that review, I felt that What HiFi? had lost some credibility with me from the start with a somewhat negative introduction of Yamaha as a company. WHF?... "The company, of course, makes a massive range of products - including a selection of motorbikes and the odd grand piano…we’d be surprised if too many people connected Yamaha with high-end hi-fi; it’s not that it doesn’t have pedigree in this area, it’s just that its concentration has always been elsewhere”
Wow. Yamaha makes the ODD GRAND PIANO? They have a reputation for making many of the very best pianos in the world, (as well as virtually most instruments in a symphonic orchestra) played by some of the world’s best artists. They have a HUGE line of pianos that are stellar at each price point. And I personally played on one for years. As far as the audio pedigree is concerned, Yamaha was there before most of today’s ’’boutique’’ brands. And Yamaha’s audio division is LARGER than many of those boutique manufacturers that have come and gone. And of course Yamaha’s financial, R&D and distribution resources and network are pretty significant. For me, back in the ‘70’s, aside from dreaming about (and not being to afford) McIntosh gear as a student, Yamaha was pretty much up there, along with Luxman and Quad in my own definition of “high-end’’. This was true for many of my friends also. I am not associated with Yamaha even remotely, but I found this What HiFi? review introduction pretty negative if not downright cheap. So whatever they came up with as far as the amp’s appreciation following this introduction, I had to take it as UK-centric and biased for the home team.
So, after reading the WHF? review, I came to the following conclusion: THIS amplifier must be doing something RIGHT, and might be somewhat of a potential threat somewhere under the What HiFi? protective umbrella. And not just the Yamaha S3000, as it is much pricier than most small brick integrateds the UK press often rave about, but including the trickled-down less expensive Yamaha integrateds such as the S-2100 model and others. This was only my perception and I could be totally wrong on this, but still, my curiosity was sparked.
This got me started on a small journey to discover what this Yamaha A S-3000 was about, meaning reading most of what is out there as far as reviews, forum comments, and also visiting a dealer for an audition. I also have a business acquaintance that owns this machine, having just replaced his McIntosh MA-7900 with the Yamaha. I spent two evenings at his home as he graciously let me go through the motions of auditioning the 3000 with my own music on several sources, high-rez downloads, cd’s, and LP’s with through the built-in Yamaha phono stage (versus a nice EAR 834 tube-based unit plugged in to one of the Yam inputs). Long story short, I ended up purchasing this gentle giant of an amp.
UPS delivered the box on a Friday morning, but I just unpacked late that same evening around 10 pm.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS - BUILD QUALITY, ATTENTION TO DETAILS:
I guess I had not noticed how much of a ‘’presence’’ and personality this chunk of retro-modernism had when I saw it for the first time. The unit I had seen and heard at my business acquaintance’s place was black. Mine is in that sumptuous silver attire. Once the amp unpacked, I did something I had never done before with any newly acquired component. And it was a reaction on the spur of the moment. Instead of immediately install the amp in my audio rack, I just…went over it with my eyes and hands for the better part of 45 minutes. I was so impressed. I guess for the first time in my 30+ years of this audiophile craziness, I found out what the term ‘’eye candy’’meant, at least for me. The whole thing exudes luxury, and maybe more importantly fanatical attention to detail. The knobs scream ‘’CNC machined to perfection from solid blocks’’. The VU meters are in this Swarovski-like cut window that gently come forward out of the faceplate at an angle. The soft LED illumination is intriguing: In another review, it was mentioned that it ‘’projected’’ light instead of backlighting like a McIntosh. I agree to a point. Standing in front of the amp in almost darkness with just the meters ‘’on’’ (they can be turned off) there was sufficient light so that the controls located directly below could be seen and usable. You could not read the print of course, but you do end up remembering the function of most buttons and dials. That hidden LED light bar is located at the VU meter’s top. From my listening position, 10-15 feet away, the illuminated meters were not unlike the glow of a nice set of 572 tubes (Cary monoblocks I once owned). I remember saying to myself ‘’that’s funny, looks like a modern-day definition of tube glow!’’ Now the 572 tubes do shed some light, and in my memory, more light than an EL34 or KT88 tube, but still, the Yam made for a lovely light show. Not ‘’white LED like’’ but a warmish tint of white, again, like tubes. While on the topic of light, I do turn the meters off sometimes to listen in total darkness. And this is where another part of attention to detail (and I might ad design sensibility) comes into play. There is NO annoying and aggressive retina-piercing bright blue LED light. I cannot count the times that I have had components where I had to hide those blue lights with some electrical tape. Those who have stared directly at those for even a few seconds know what I mean. The Yamaha LED indicator lights are a faint and amber yellow. The off/standby pilot light is actually so faint that you do not know it is on during daylight. Nice touch. And it keeps darkness dark when I want to.
The rest of the design / build quality is quite impressive, and I would say to a much higher level to a previous Yamaha integrated that passed through our home, including the A S-2000, a very well-executed integrated in it’s own right. The A S-3000 is indeed a beautiful machine, and probably way overbuilt too. For example, the control and input selection dials are tapered, with that satin texture on the parameter for a nice tactile experience. The sharpness of the tone control angles, the rocker switches, the whole operation of it is very satisfying. The high-gloss piano finish on the edge is magnificent, (just like the “odd” Yamaha piano ;)
The faceplate and top for the unit are not overly thick, but are just right to suggest something special. And there are no screws to be seen.
TONE CONTROLS ?
I used to be what you might call a "purist" but no more. Those tone controls are great! Maybe it is because I am old enough to remember that familiar place where I started with this audio stuff years ago. I feel like adding: “when audio was nothing but fun’’.
During all those years in this hobby, and starting with my first “audiophile” product, the diminutive Naim Nait original model in 1984, I have owned a truckload of gear, as I said in my introduction. Many pre/amp combos, and many integrated amps. Prior to this Yamaha A S-3000, the only 2 other amps I have owned that had tone controls were a Yamaha A S-2000 and a McIntosh MA-6400. All the others were of the more “audiophile’’ no-tone-controls type (Cary, Electrocompaniet, Audiomat, Musical Fidelity, Naim Supernait, Bel Canto REF 1000, McCormack 225, Simaudio…OK I’ll stop it here for now!)
The Yamaha tone controls deserve mentioning how efficient and subtle they are about tailoring the sound. Very refined and easy on the ears. A lot of my music collection (mostly cd’s and some vinyl) is less than stellar on sonics. Now, with a slight adjustment to the right or left, and the music becomes at least tolerable, and even pleasant to listen to.
I cannot overstate how great those tone controls are. 80% of the time, I keep them out of the signal path, but for the rest of my music, it is just very welcomed. Same goes with Spotify streaming, and especially FM listening. When the sound gets ‘’thinned out’’, Mr. Bass control comes to the rescue. And at low volume, I feel like I have a sophisticated loudness control.
I will try not to get into soundstage description, the“air” around the instruments and whatever. The Yamaha does all of those superbly – but it won’t reveal much in the end. There are too many variables, starting with the room itself. But I could admit to having a room that is far from perfect. Irregular in shape, pretty large at 25 X 17 feet, with furniture, drapes and hardwood NOT strategically place for music!
The low frequency performance of the Yamaha A S-3000 is exceptional. This amp digs in deep, and you do hear everything with great resolution. You would think that such low-end performance would murk-up the sound, but no, everything is there mids and highs.
The midrange on the Yamaha is lovely, and I feel that, contrary to the review in the Feb. 2017 edition of Stereophile (the A S-3000 made the cover page), I do think that the sound, particularly the midrange, is incredibly close to the sound of a fine tube amp. And I have owned many tube units to feel at ease with my comment.
There are a certain up fronting of voices, within images larger than life maybe. Voices are probably a bit warmer yet still very neutral, if this makes sense, with absolutely no hint of dryness. It completely fills the room.
High frequency performance a directly in-line with the music selection. Nothing added, nothing subtracted. It is not a spectacular performance, nor is it attention-getting on a quick listen. But it does grow on you for sure. Sometimes, depending on the recording, the high frequencies seem less projected. But then again, maybe it was my previous amplifier that accentuated the highs and I had accustomed myself to it.
All I can say about the high frequencies is that they sound natural. But if I want a spotlight on them, I call Mr. Treble control to the rescue (rarely though). Just a slight rotation of the dial and you are locked-in to a bit more treble energy WITHOUT affecting voices and mids in the recording. And this is where I hear the most difference with the treble control, use it past 3 o’clock, and it will affect and ‘’thin-out’’ the vocals, but past 12 up to 2’oclock (and reverse to 10’oclock), only the top highest frequencies are affected. I have changed speaker and interconnects quite a few times over the years for such things in the past, wrongly most of the time.
So, I would qualify the overall sonic presentation as: Enveloping, huge and touching-you midrange grandeur, and powerful. And of course neutral, except for some vocals that sound a bit warmer, but then, it is probably the recording. Everything is definitely smooth for sure, always. For some weird reason, versus previous equipment owned, I hear more midrange information, like as if new sounds or instruments were introduced. This happens pretty often actually with the Yamaha.
My speakers are 89db sensitivity. For comparison, I once used an Anthem 225, and remember it being quite powerful with 225 watts on tap. (find my review of this amp). Well, the Yamaha A S-300 is a lot more authoritative in controlling the speakers and filling the room with music effortlessly. The Anthem played as loud if not louder, but you could feel the limit and distortion coming in. Not the Yamaha, it is just not working that hard and it stays crystal-clear across all frequencies. Now, they Anthem is an incredible value-king, but all watts are not creating equal, I found this out long ago. The Yamaha could easily pass for a 200 watt amp, if not more, no problem.
As a side note, I also owned once the Bel Canto REF-1000 mono amplifiers at 500 w per side. Honestly, those 500class ‘’D’’ watts sounded more like 80….
My turntable is a Marantz TT-15iS. I should write a review on this also as it exceptional for the price. This is actually an upgraded Clearaudio Emotion with a Marantz label. Pretty honest table, including a nice cartridge on a nice Satisfy tonearm.
Preamp prior to the Yam 3000 purchase was an EAR 834 tubed preamp. I am not a heavy vinyl user, but I do listen to LP’s once or twice a week. Both the EAR and the built-in phono inside the Yamaha sounded nice. I would say they both sounds different, with the edge given to the EAR – rich and full sounding. I may give a small advantage to the Yam for detail retrieval, but it does have a smaller soundstage width and depth. The Yamaha’s phono is very good – could be all you need, and it is all I need at least for now. But if you are a die-hard vinyl user, probably a few phono preamps will better it, but probably not many under $800-1k and maybe more.
This was a pleasant surprise for me. I had been accustomed to using the dedicated headphone output on my Oppo 105 for 3 years now. The Oppo is quite pure and enjoyable as the Oppo’s headphone is a direct link to the Sabre DAC… But the Yam’s output is just so much more full and powerful, and the trim button provides for micro adjustments in volume. I was limited to digital for headphone listening with the Oppo, now this extends to vinyl listening as well. And I am enjoying it.
VALUE PROPOSITION & CONCLUSION:
Most Yamaha A S-3000 reviews mention the steep price. I am most certain that most McIntosh integrateds, regardless of models past and present, will hold their value better than any Yamaha or Luxman amp. Unless this Yamaha A S-3000 becomes somewhat of a ‘’Classic’’. But who knows, I certainly don’t. So, if the ‘’investment’’ part of the equation is of crucial importance, you know what you need to do. Get a McIntosh! But on strictly musical terms, build quality, feature set, and I would most certainly add pride of ownership for those who appreciate obsessional attention to detail (just check those huge and solid brass speaker inputs at the back), I doubt very much that anyone would be disappointed making this overbuilt wonderful amplifier the heart of their system. And that retro-chic styling (matter of taste always) is icing on the cake.
It is a very special amplifier for sure, and fills the house with glorious music – but do sit in the sweet spot if you are the only ‘’audiophile’’ in the house ;)
Will be glad to provide further info for the asking,
Cheers all !