Sometimes reviews of expensive, advancing-the-art gear lead us to think that’s where all the interesting developments take place. While I can appreciate the ultra-high-priced spread, I can’t afford it; I think it’s more interesting when a manufacturer offers a component with tons of capabilities at a bargain price. And that’s just what we have here: a 100Wpc integrated amplifier with an built-in DAC, priced at $899.
The Yamaha A-S801 may be inexpensive but its feature set is amazingly rich. Its internal DAC uses an ESS Technology 32-bit ES9010K2M chip to play PCM files up to 384kHz/32-bit and DSD files up to DSD128. That range encompasses most of the computer-audio files available today. Status lights on the front panel indicate the sampling rate and DSD speed of a digital file being played. There are three digital inputs: asynchronous USB 2.0 on a USB Type B connector, coaxial on an RCA connector, and optical on a TosLink connector, which together will accommodate most digital sources. And you can add aptX Bluetooth connectivity by plugging Yamaha’s $49.95 YBA-11 Bluetooth wireless adapter into the digital coaxial input jack. That lets devices such as smartphones and tablets (except iOS devices that don’t support aptX) connect wirelessly—a shrewd design feature, since many music lovers have large collections of music files on their portable devices. But wait! There’s also a USB Type A jack, the type you find on computers. What’s that for? It powers the YBA-11. A separate cord is provided, with a USB Type A connector on one end and a small coaxial connector like you see on many power supply cords on the other. So you don’t need a separate power supply for the YBA-11—clever.
In addition to the digital inputs, the A-S801 has five analog line inputs (labeled Line 1, 2, 3, CD, and Tuner), and even a moving-magnet phono input. And it has a single line-level output jack for connecting a subwoofer. Lots of folks today have 2.1 speaker setups (two satellite speakers and a subwoofer), and the A-S801 supports that arrangement—smart again. But wait, there’s even more! The Line 2 and 3 inputs have both record and playback jacks, so you can connect a tape deck. There’s a blast from the past—when a respectable audio system had open-reel and cassette tape machines.
The parade of features continues with bass, treble, and loudness controls. Loudness controls used to be common, but like tone controls, have since become scarce. (If you’re wondering, a loudness control boosts the bass and treble as the volume level decreases.) There’s even a balance control! There are also two settings you can use for maximum signal purity: Pure Direct, which bypasses unused audio inputs and turns off power to those inputs; and CD Direct Amp, which switches directly to the CD player, bypassing all other inputs and turning off the power supply to unused inputs. Both of those settings bypass the tone, balance, and loudness controls. There is also a two-position speaker switch that lets you select two sets of speakers, or turn the speakers off entirely so you can use the headphone jack. You can also activate both sets of speaker terminals simultaneously if you want to bi-amp your speakers. And there’s a full-featured remote, too, which also controls all six of the CD players Yamaha makes. Did I mention that the A-S801 is feature-rich?
Styling is traditional Yamaha, which I’ve always admired. That means it comes in a full-sized case (17.125" x 6" x 15.25") with lots of controls on the front panel. Both black and silver faceplates are available; the silver review unit looked quite stylish, and all its labels were readable. The amplifier carries a two-year parts-and-labor warranty, reasonable for an $899 product.
Yamaha emphasizes that it uses premium parts in constructing the A-S801, though no specific examples are cited. The chassis is double-layered to suppress vibrations. Lots of manufacturers are turning to Class D output sections to achieve high power output at low cost, but I was pleased to find the A-S801 uses a Class AB output circuit. Input impedance for all analog inputs, including the mm phono input, is 47k ohms, which should pose no problems with most sources. The single, summed subwoofer output on an RCA jack has an output impedance of 1.2k ohms and a built-in high-frequency cutoff at 90Hz. The relatively high output impedance for the subwoofer jack could cause problems with some subwoofers; it’s higher than ideal for my JL Audio Fathom f110 subwoofer, for example. An impedance selector switch on the back panel lets you choose the output impedance of your speakers: low for 4-ohm speakers, high for others. The amplifier should be turned off before changing the position of the impedance selector switch. An auto power standby switch, if turned on, automatically puts the amplifier in standby mode if it’s not operated for 8 hours. A two-prong IEC jack is provided for the power cord connection. There are no standard line-out jacks, so you can’t use an additional power amplifier for bi-amplifying, or use separate left- and right-channel subwoofers. Those omissions seemed well-chosen for an amplifier at this price point.
Since headphones have become such an important part of the connected listener’s experience, it was important to provide a headphone jack. The headphone amp is rated at 54 milliwatts into 16 ohms, and 400mW into 300 ohms.
A well-illustrated owner’s manual is provided with sections in English, French, and Spanish. Each section is 19 pages long. The manual is also available on Yamaha’s website. It has an exhaustively thorough list of specifications.