The Yamaha A-S201 looks very attractive. It matches Yamaha’s other HiFi components and has a flat front face, which looks both modern, and classic. It comes in silver or black, and with a black remote control, which can also control a Yamaha CD player. From an aesthetic point of view, we wish the remote matched the amplifiers colour.
The amplifier feels solid and well built, on the front, it has a power button, headphone jack, speaker selection, bass / treble controls, input selection, pure direct mode, and volume dial. On the rear, it has inputs for phono (with ground), CD, Tuner, Line 1 / 2 (Line 2 is able to record). It also has two sets of speaker terminals, so you can either set up speakers in separate rooms (in these multi-room streaming days, does anyone still do that?), or bi-wire your speakers. I must admit that the speaker terminals are really annoying if you use banana plugs. It takes an age and much skill to remove the little plastic plugs on the ends of the terminals. At least you only do it once! The amplifier has an integrated power cable.
It should be mentioned that Yamaha claims 100w per channel and this amplifier certainly is plenty loud enough for virtually any scenario. More importantly, it’s also able to manage large volume swings in music, avoiding any distortion. One thing which you will notice if you have particularly sensitive speakers is that there’s a very subtle hiss whilst the amplifier is on, but not playing any music. It’s barely noticeable, but it is there. Being old school, I was taught not to worry much about electricity consumption, and keep the amplifier on / warm to improve performance, but Yamaha is decidedly more modern than me and you can set the amplifier to go into standby if it’s not used for long periods of time.
What about the music? Firstly, Yamaha tune all their musical components to give a more natural sound. That means they try not to colour the music, and let the artists decide how the music should sound. Although I’m a great fan of this approach, this might not suit everyone. The music sounds smooth and relaxing. It’s not in your face. It doesn’t mean that it can’t handle a bit of rock/ dance etc, but it may sound different to how some people expect. It’s not aggressive. The benefit is that you’ll find you can listen to music longer without tiring.
I keep having to go back to this being an entry level amplifier. It does sound pretty good. It does provide a decent stereo sound stage, doesn’t allow bass or treble to get out of control, and is certainly pleasing. Where it’s budget does show most is in the lack of separation of voices and instruments, and in detail. You hear more of a collective sound, rather than being able to place different instruments, and I found myself looking for little details in the music which you’d find on higher end systems.
When I think back more than 25 years to when I bought my first HiFi seperates system, it’s amazing how things have changed. Even at this level, you find features such as phone stages (for that Vinyl Revival) and being able to bi-wire speakers. Nor does it look or feel cheap. It would look perfectly happy next to components twice the price.
So. Would I buy one? Stereo amplifiers are very much a forgotten component these days, but the Yamaha A-S201 offers significantly better musical ability than entry level AV amplifiers. There’s a lot less things getting in the way of the sound, and so if you only want to listen to music, and aren’t looking for your music to be turned up to 11 in terms of excitement, than this becomes an extremely attractive affordable offering. It’s certainly better than what I could get 25 years ago!