Yamaha's contribution to the world of high fidelity has been distinctive, sometimes even distinguished, but also more than a touch patchy, with long barren spells punctuating the infrequent highlights.
The latter include true world beaters such as the CT1000 tuner and the beryllium tweeter equipped NS1000.
But ambitious mainstream high fidelity components have been noticeable by their absence; the new 2000 series components you see here being their first important new introductions for many years.
Yamaha means business
Now the deed has been done, it has, at least, been done properly. First impressions on decanting the two components are that Yamaha really means business. There are no short cuts here. They are unfeasibly heavy, superbly built and have the kind of fit and finish that usually eludes most Western producers, even the more exotic names.
The CD-S2000 is the disc player and is designed to play stereo CDs and SACDs, with outputs in single-edged and balanced form. In common with many other high-end SACD players, there is no provision for multichannel playback. The A-S2000 is a fairly powerful integrated amplifier, subjectively better endowed than the numbers suggest.
Yamaha's notes covering these two product make much of the fundamental technologies. Most amplifiers these days that are not digital use a fully complementary configuration, utilising matched pairs of NPN-PNP transistors.
The ASA21000 uses a different approach, which Yamaha describes as a balanced non-complementary 'pullable' rather than push-pull design that is fully balanced from the input (actually just after the input for the single ended inputs) to just before the speaker terminals.
This is to distinguish it from those amplifiers with balanced in/outputs, but where the internal architecture is single- ended. The configuration has all the usual benefits of balanced operation, in particular rejection of noise on the signal or earth lines imposed from external sources.
Accurate volume control
Yamaha also use a more sophisticated than usual power supply which has constant current and constant voltage characteristics, regardless of the draw placed by the audio circuits.
Also, because the amplifier is not push-pull, but push-only, crossover distortion is not an issue. Mains earthing is separate from the signal returns. Finally, the volume control, bass, treble and bypass switching are all mutually isolated.
Consequences of the design are that the volume control has virtually zero tracking error (even at very low volume levels) and the headphone amplifier is also fully isolated and not potted down from the main output.
The disc player uses most of the same ideas, adapted to the voltage and current requirements of a disc player. In this case, the analogue and digital circuits are completely separated.
The DAC stage uses separate high- precision converters for the +ve and -ve going side of the signal, which are input into isolated low pass filters and transmitted from there to the output in fully balanced form. The player also uses the Pure Direct circuit from Yamaha's home cinema components, which functions to to turn the display and the digital outputs off.
Other points include the use of a number of specialised components, some designed and manufactured specifically for the 2000 series.
The units are extremely heavy, largely due to massive power supplies and, as noted earlier, they have unusually fine standards of fit and finish. The retro-styling of the amplifier in particular is also a talking point.
Another really neat feature is the design of the feet, which are adjustable and have round flat, neodymium magnet-equipped bottom sections which can be removed, exposing spikes. The mechanism and loader are also rather special and feature a 'silent' loader.
On request, Yamaha supplied a pair of the Soavo 1 floorstanding speakers, along with the electronics (which we thought should make a good match) and sure enough they turned out to be right on the button - on price at least.
Other components used included Mordaunt-Short Performance 6 loudspeakers, a Denon DCD-SA1 CD/SACD player and PMA-A1 integrated amplifier and various cables, concentrating this time on the excellent Atlas Mavros balanced interconnects (the single-ended counterpart was also available for comparison) and matching bi-wire speaker cables.
Yamaha make explicit recommendations for running-in both items, with good reason as it turns out - thirty hours for the player and fifty hours for the amplifier - and these were duly observed.
We were curious about some aspects of the Yamaha's performance, first how single-ended might compare to balanced mode interconnections and how SACD compared to CD. This is a particular preoccupation of this writer, because the world of SACD seems to belong almost exclusively to classical music.
Other types of music often use recording techniques that detract from the feeling of naturalness, a quality that is under appreciated these days. We've a particular liking for SACD, but continually hear about the format's supposed inability to 'play tunes'.
This is unacceptable, although we do concede that the kind of music that SACD excels at, is often relatively short of the kind of musical architecture that requires qualities of this sort.
It's obvious that the new Yamaha combination is a very welcome and sophisticated addition to an area of the market that is short of real stars, but there are potential sticking points, the most obvious being the importance of using balanced interconnects, more important here than with most of Yamaha's competitors.
In fact, whilst the Yamaha player works well playing CDs, it is much better with SACD. We assessed the player using dual-layer hybrid discs (which, in principle, should sound very similar in the two formats) and also with alternative recordings of the same work.
In each case, the high-resolution recordings sound sharper, leaner, more controlled and are reproduced with greater presence. With one piece, Bruckner's 4th Symphony in admittedly completely different versions (Gunter Wand on SACD and Simon Rattle on CD; both with the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra), the difference was simply extraordinary, the SACD sounding much more alive as a performance and as a presence in the listening room. In this one case (among many), the high-resolution recording sounds palpably more dynamic with better, more propulsive timing. A definite no contest type situation.
Be this be as it may, the uber-balanced internal architecture make it predictable that balanced interconnects are not merely an option, but de rigueur and we were surprised to find the combination sharpened up its act considerably when used this way (using the same Atlas cable stock in both cases).
Using single-ended, the sound is just a little slacker and the silences between notes less inky black, though higher background noise levels (a known single-ended issue) are not immediately obvious. This, in itself, is not a surprise, balanced mode does yield reduced background noise and grain, but the differences often only make their presence felt subliminally.
The 2000 amplifier is in the same class as the SACD player. It's a very strong performer - muscular, with plenty of presence, yet velvety when called for and an excellent foil for the disc player.
It has the knack, (available to a small number of quality products) of being able to acquit itself with virtually any kind of music. Is it a classical music amp? Yes. So is it a rock music amp? Yes, it's that too.
Thinking through these two components, our overall reaction is that they are remarkably good value. Being the progeny of a powerful mainstream producer like Yamaha, the company's designers have been encouraged to pull out all the stops, without fleecing the buying public. We certainly rate the two as equal overall to some considerably more expensive components from other prestigious brands.
The feature count is just right, although we could have coped without the tone controls. The user interfaces are sleek and well organised, while build quality and the various retro-inspired features (rocker switches etc) are very impressive.