The Yamaha CD-S700 is a good, no-frills CD player, without any of the SACD gubbins found in its bigger brothers.
It's not without concessions to hi-fi sensibilities – it has a Pure Direct button that disables the digital output and front panel display – and even features a USB port for connecting up an MP3 player or a PC.
Beneath the minimalist exterior, it features a 24-bit/192kHz Burr Brown DAC run in differential mode, plus a triple-wired power transformer feeding separate power supplies for the transport, digital and analogue stages.
It also features the Silent Loader transport mechanism found in its bigger brothers. The silent treatment from the disc transport is remarkably silent. As in, put your ear to the player and nothing happens. In fact, if you turn the display off and leave a disc spinning, you could spend days 'running in' the player without noticing it.
Moving over to the Yamaha A-S700 amp, this 90- watt model includes both MM phono and CD inputs, as well as two extra line inputs and two recording line inputs/outputs.
The CD input is picked out for special treatment; the other inputs can bypass tone and loudness controls via the Pure Direct button, but CD has an additional CD Direct option that bypasses the input selector too.
Once again there are features found in the bigger models, like the ToP-ART (Total Purity Audio Reproduction Technology) symmetrical layout of the complete amplifier circuit, which Yamaha suggests gives a more pure sound.
Confusingly, Yamaha reuses the 'ART' acronym within the ToP-ART package to describe its 'Anti-Resonance and Tough' chassis base.
If the CD player is minimalist in its approach, the same does not apply to the A-S700, at least by British hi-fi standards.
It includes a tape-monitor, two sets of speaker terminals tone and loudness controls and the aforementioned Pure Direct and CD Direct buttons. However, this does not come at the expense of lots of blinking lights and a garish styling exercise; in black or silver, the amp has a classic appeal and those flat tone/loudness controls hark back to Yamaha products of the 1970s and 1980s.
Loudness and tone controls got a (somewhat justified) bad press in the past, but Yamaha has made the contour of the controls adjust with volume, to prevent that 'all-bass, all-treble, nothing in between' problem that beset tone shaping in the past.
Just right hi-fi
Both products in the 700 series treat any piece of music with equal respect, serving up a dark and dignified representation of what was put on the disc. The closer you get to the Pure Direct performance (on both products), the nearer you get to a supremely detailed, sophisticated musical replay chain.
In other words, you get a distinctly 'right' sound. It's a Goldilocks sound; not too exaggerated, not too dull… just right. And you can apply the same Goldilocks attributes to almost any part of the performance. Stereo? Not too big, not too small… just right. Detail? Not too much, or too little. Vocal articulation? Rhythmic properties? Porridge temperature? You get the message.
This freedom from grace or favour toward a specific musical type is the inverse of the initially impressive school of hi-fi.
It rewards a lengthy listen and does wonders for those whose tastes have matured beyond the plebeian. Although, if you do just happen to spend your entire musical life listening to X-Factor runners up through the USB port of the CD-S700, the A-S700 has a small bonus for you; those tone controls seem designed specifically to tame the hardness and trebly thin sound of MP3. These are some of the best in the business and only tone-shaping in the digital domain can do better.
Between them, the Yamaha 700 duo pass the Layla test; this overplayed track is the last one on an otherwise excellent, if monotonous album.
If the system exaggerates the treble and if it over-exaggerates the rhythm, you'll stop tapping along after about eight or nine tracks.
The limits of the price become apparent only when really punishing the amplifier. Play large-scale orchestral madness (Mahler's Eighth, for example) through relatively demanding speakers and the amplifier tends to smooth things over too much.
That said, few similarly priced competitors will do a better job with that particular musical onslaught.
What's the bad side, then? Well, it's fair to say that there are more dynamic sounding products out there (especially amplifiers), and this helps produce a sound that's less exciting than some.
On the other hand, most of these more dynamic products make a more exciting sound at the expense of some other aspect of the musical presentation, usually the coherence of the sound. Many will look to the Yamaha 700 series as the more level-headed sound.
Coupled to the right speakers, the Yamaha CD-S700 and A-S700 may not be the Dynamic Duo, but do represent a call for honest reproduction of music that few others can provide at the price. If you are fed up with overly warm, overly bright or overly 'exciting' products, this is the remarkably grown up choice.