And my goodness, the thing certainly does have resolution, if that’s your end-all and be-all. In connection with evaluating the Harbeths I hauled out a recording I hadn’t listened to in years, The Sheffield Drum Record direct-to-disc LP. Even after all these decades, this is still a reference-caliber achievement, one of the late great Doug Sax’s technical tours de force when it comes to sonic realism in the timbral and (very nearly) the dynamic senses. Two different drummers perform on two different drum sets with different miking, and so they should sound—immediately and obviously so over any system with pretensions to high fidelity. I played both sides a few times and wrote down my impressions, then checked the liner notes where the differences are described, and was pleased, though hardly surprised to find that what I wrote tallied almost exactly with the notes’ descriptions. And you could really hear the room, could almost sense its size.
Tiny details sometimes lost with other components—like Martha Argerich’s fingernails clicking on the keys in Gaspard de la nuit or Glenn Gould’s humming on many of his recordings—are always clearly in evidence, though by no means exaggerated. And if you care to concentrate on things like pages turning, chairs squeaking, musicians breathing, the A-S3000 will certainly allow you to do so. As for soundstaging, well, inasmuch as its frequency response is dead neutral, the Yamaha imposes no characteristics like “forward,” “distant,” “wide,” “narrow,” etc., on the presentation, at least none that seem to recur from recording to recording. In other words, what’s in the recording is pretty much what you get.
Several of the integrated amplifiers and preamps I’ve been asked to review these past few years have come with built-in phonostages, and this new Yamaha is no exception. If the $7k asking price sounds a bit steep for an integrated amplifier that offers only 100 watts per channel into 8 ohms (albeit exceptionally high-quality watts), the phonostage may help offset the sticker shock. By any standards, this is an outstanding phonostage: extremely low in perceived noise and distortion, very high in transparency and dynamic range, tonally neutral (like the linestage), and notably natural sounding. “Natural sound” is one of Yamaha’s blurb phrases; in the case of this phonostage, I think it’s neither mere advertising puffery nor by any means accidental. This is because Yamaha has done something unusual in choosing a very low value for the load a moving-coil pickup will see (the moving-magnet input is the standard 47k ohm). According to the published specifications the mc section has a fixed 50-ohm load with no provision for selecting alternatives. So relatively low a fixed impedance is rare in my experience of phono preamps; it is usually set at 100 ohms or higher for mc. I personally applaud Yamaha’s decision here because moving-coil pickups almost always sound better—as in flatter in frequency response and thus more neutral—when loaded down. And in this case it provided an almost exact match to my reference Ortofon Windfeld with its internal impedance of 4 ohms, yielding recognizably outstanding results. How it would perform with other mc’s with higher internal impedances I cannot say. More than likely what you’d hear is a presentation that is less crisp way up top, perhaps even a little rolled-off, and maybe a slight loss of hair-trigger attack on transients. But none of this occurred with the Ortofon.
Before I conclude, let me address the tone controls, which have ideal characteristics. The treble turnover frequency is 3.5kHz, the bass 350Hz, both with a range of ±9dB. If these turnovers strike you as too low or too high respectively, bear in mind that the slope is very gradual and maximal boost or cut is available only at the frequency extremes. I can’t imagine a situation in which you’d ever boost or cut to the max. When a recording strikes you as too bright—you’ll notice it right away on violins—a judicious turn to, say, the 11- or 10-o’clock position is all that’s necessary to restore a welcome impression of greater tonal truthfulness. Move it further to the left and the response starts sloping in the presence region above 1kHz (I never find it necessary to boost the treble), which is very helpful when recordings are extremely closely miked. As for the bass control, again, the effects are gradual. With the Harbeths I rarely had to employ it at all at normal listening levels except for recordings that are notoriously shy in the bass, e.g., many of the Szell’s Cleveland recordings, to which a judicious boost helps restore a much-needed warmth, heft, and apparent extension (I say “apparent” extension because a tone control or equalizer can never truly extend the frequency response of a speaker system, merely raise or lower its level, which can produce the psychoacoustic effect of extension). Inasmuch as both controls have similar characteristics you can use them in conjunction as a highly effective tilt control pivoted at a thousand cycles. It’s a pity there’s no loudness circuit, as I’d love to have one designed as usably as these tone controls. However, the bass control can provide loudness compensation at low volume levels—arguably more effectively because it gives you more control over the amount (most loudness circuits are fixed in their boost).
There are some electronic components that immediately announce themselves with a distinctive sound, while others just do their job with a minimum of fuss and bother, preferring to remain in the background as it were. This new Yamaha is obviously one of the latter, which I intend as very high praise indeed. Its operation was flawless throughout the review period and it was fully up to the most demanding source material I threw at it, never betraying any evidence of stress, strain, or effortfulness. If someone asked me to recommend a high-quality preamp and amplifier in a single box free from quirks and idiosyncrasies both sonic and functional, one that is reliable, trouble-free, and does just precisely what it’s designed to do—which is transfer the source with as little alteration as possible to the speakers—the A-S3000 would be very high on any short list.
If this is a harbinger of things to come, there can be no question that Yamaha has come back home—in triumph.
Specs & Pricing
Power output: 100Wpc into 8 ohms, 150Wpc into 4 ohms (20Hz–20kHz) minimum continuous, 0.07% THD; 130Wpc into 8 ohms, 210Wpc into 4 ohms (1kHz, 10% THD)
Frequency response: 5Hz–100kHz (+0/–3dB)
Phono inputs: mm and mc
Line-level inputs: 2 balanced, 5 RCA, main amp in RCA
Outputs: 1 record-out RCA, 1 preamp out RCA
Dimensions: 17 1/8" x 7 1/8" x 18 1/4"
Weight: 54.2 lbs.
YAMAHA CORPORATION OF AMERICA
6600 Orangethorpe Ave.
Buena Park, CA 90620
Inside, Outside, and Behind the Box
I haven’t discussed the thinking and engineering behind the A-S3000 because it would amount to little more than quoting or paraphrasing Yamaha’s own literature. The talking points are these: First, quite a lot of expense, effort, and ingenuity has been lavished upon the amp’s physical construction to address issues of damping and isolation from externally induced vibration, including a “highly rigid double structure construction” using lots of copper and featuring an internally isolated inner frame, including placing and positioning of internal parts, components, and power supply (toroidal) “to minimize the length of the signal paths and achieve low impedance.” The amplifier employs MOSFETs in the output stages and floats the entire circuit from ground, which Yamaha claims “removes any negative impact of minute voltage fluctuations or ground noise.”
The A-S3000 is balanced throughout, and in several places uses screw connections instead of solder for lower impedance and reduced signal loss. The four feet are individually adjustable for level and have removable magnetic inserts that access built-in spikes for even greater rigidity. It’s impossible to say for certain how much any of this and/or other design features are responsible for the final sound quality, but perceived noise and distortion are exceptionally low, and clarity, transparency, and stability exceptionally high. The phonostage accepts both mc and mm pickups. Line-level inputs are two balanced and two single-ended, plus CD and tuner. Two sets of speaker terminals are available and there is a built-in headphone amplifier accessible via the front panel. The amp and preamp sections can be operated independently.
The remote handset duplicates all the basic front-panel functions such as volume, mute, source selection, and on/off, but channel balance and tone controls are available only via the front panel. There is no tone-control bypass switch, but when centered the controls are completely out of the system as evidenced by the split-second mute; then they are moved into or out of the high-noon position.
There are a few novel touches that I haven’t seen on other units. For one, next to each pair of XLR jacks is an attenuation switch for gross-level mismatches between balanced and single-ended sources, in addition to a polarity switch. For another, the headphone jack has a trim knob that allows the volume control to operate over a greater physical range from loud to soft. The only thing I really missed is a stereo/mono switch. I suspect the meters are mostly for show, but they do allow for choice between VU and peak, and they are really, really pretty to look at (they can also be switched completely off).
Everything about the unit worked exactly as claimed with no glitches or hitches; there was never a switching transient, and the classic aesthetics are truly beautiful to behold, especially in the silver alternative (the black is too severe for my tastes). To top it all off, in addition to the two-year parts and labor warranty, Yamaha will replace the unit should there be any sort of failure during the first year of ownership. Talk about buying with confidence!