Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio Electronics Lab, click this link.
Though now perhaps best known for their motorcycles and other vehicles produced by their Yamaha Motor Co. Ltd. division, the Yamaha Corporation has a long, rich musical history—the logo of even the Yamaha Motor Co. is still a trio of crossed tuning forks. Founded as Nippon Gakki in the late 19th century, the Yamaha Corporation began as a maker of pianos, and has since become the world’s biggest manufacturer of pianos and other musical instruments. Yamaha has made audio equipment since the 1920s, and what many would consider high-fidelity audio components since the 1950s.
Today, Yamaha Corporation continues to make hi-fi components that range in price from a few hundred dollars to their 5000-series models, which include the C-5000 preamplifier and M-5000 power amplifier, each priced at $9995.95 (all prices USD), and both positively reviewed by Edgar Kramer for SoundStage! Australia. The subject of this review, the A-S3200 ($7499.95), is Yamaha’s top model of integrated amplifier. Though not part of the flagship 5000 line, it shares many features with those impressive models.
It may look like it, but it’s not your dad’s Yamaha
The first thing I noticed about the A-S3200 was that it bears more than a passing resemblance to Yamaha’s classic integrated amplifiers of the 1970s and ’80s. The robust build quality of those amps of the past is retained, as well as their wooden side panels, this time painted high-gloss piano black rather than a clear stain. The A-S3200’s single large display window contains two big, illuminated analog level (dB) meters that also contribute to its attractively retro look. The surprisingly solid, 6mm-thick top panel is milled from a solid piece of aluminum, and it and the 7mm-thick aluminum faceplate contribute to the case’s overall rigidity. That case is available in silver or black, but the side panels are always black. I don’t often make a big deal about the appearance of audio gear, but for me, the A-S3200 is a perfect balance of gorgeous classic looks and exceptional build quality. I would love to have this amp sitting permanently in my equipment rack.
The class-AB A-S3200 features fully balanced circuitry and a short signal path that Yamaha describes as “Meticulously designed from the ground up.” What Yamaha calls Floating and Balanced circuit design places output components with the same polarity on the plus and minus sides of the output stage. This results in what Yamaha describes as symmetrical pull-pull operation, to create a high ratio of signal to noise. The short signal path uses heavy-gauge internal wiring, including PC-Triple C wire, made using an intensive forging process for more continuous grain structure and first used in their 5000 models. To minimize impedance, there’s also extensive use of brass screws and connectors instead of soldered points. A large toroidal transformer specified at 623VA, and Toshin and Shinyei PPS capacitors, are used at critical points in the circuit. For the A-S3200 Yamaha specifies power outputs of 100Wpc into 8 ohms or 150Wpc into 4 ohms, with total harmonic distortion (THD) of 0.07%, 20Hz-20kHz; a damping factor of ≥250 at 1kHz into 8 ohms; signal/noise ratios of 90dB (phono MC), 96dB (phono MM), 110dB (CD, etc.), and 114dB (balanced); and frequency responses of 5Hz-100kHz, +0/-3dB, and 20Hz-20kHz, +0/-0.3dB.
Yamaha’s Rigid Streamlined Construction consists of a double structure to damp resonances, built on an internal chassis of copper-plated metal. Yamaha’s Mechanical Ground Concept, introduced in the 5000 series, is also used to further maximize rigidity and reduce vibrations by placing the transformer and capacitors on a separate subchassis. The heavy-duty brass feet, also originally designed for the 5000 models, can be used with spikes or scratch-resistant bases. These are bolted and welded directly to the underside of the main chassis, to further reduce vibration.
Except for the big Volume knob at right, all controls are in a single row below the level meters in a well-balanced array that adds to the amp’s overall fresh look. The switches and knobs are made of machined aluminum, and each has a reassuringly positive feel. Although I didn’t use them extensively, the effects of the Bass and Treble tone controls were subtle, and might be useful if you want to slightly tweak your system’s sound. When set to their flat positions, the Bass and Treble controls are entirely removed from the circuit path. There are additional controls for Power, Balance, Input (8), Meter (Off, Peak, VU, Dimmer), Phono MM/MC, Audio/Mute, Speakers (Off/A/B/A+B), and setting the Trim level for the headphone output (-6, 0, +6, or +12dB).
The Power, Input, and Mute controls have small orange LEDs to indicate their statuses, but the Volume knob has only a small notch, making it difficult to visually determine the volume setting from a distance. Pressing Mute lowers the volume by about 20dB; press it again to restore the original volume level. The speakers are automatically muted when a pair of headphones is plugged into the 0.25ʺ jack on the front panel. The slim, attractive remote-control handset has a brushed-aluminum finish that matches that of the A-S3200 itself. It duplicates most of the front-panel controls, including volume, fits easily in the hand, is easy to use, and will also operate Yamaha CD players.
The A-S3200’s rear panel is impressively populated with many high-quality connectors. Most prominent are the four pairs of gold-plated, solid-brass terminals for the A and B speakers, two pairs each at far left and right. These are shaped and spaced to be easily tightened by hand. Each of two pairs of balanced (XLR) inputs has two switches, one for inverting the phase, the other for engaging or bypassing the 6dB of input attenuation. Three pairs of single-ended inputs (RCA) are labeled Tuner, CD, and Line 1. The Line 2 ins/outs (RCA) comprise a tape loop. There are also a preamplifier output and a power-amplifier direct input (RCA), respectively labeled Pre Out and Main In.
The phono section has a single set of inputs (RCA) and a ground post; moving-coil or moving-magnet operation are selectable via the Phono switch on the front panel. This section has a discretely configured MC head amp and a specified RIAA equalization deviation of ±0.5dB, and input sensitivities of 150µV RMS/50 ohms (MC) and 3.5mV RMS/47k ohms (MM).
Centered low on the rear panel is a two-pronged IEC power inlet, and to the left of it are Remote In/Out and Trigger In jacks, and a Micro-USB port for servicing. At the top of the rear panel is a tiny On/Off slider switch for Auto Power Standby; when this is activated, the A-S3200 puts itself in Standby mode after eight hours without receiving a signal.
The overall fit and finish are extremely good, if not quite up to the standard of ultra-luxury audio gear. The cleanly laid out rear panel, thick aluminum top and faceplates, machined aluminum controls, gorgeous level meters, and glossy side panels set the A-S3200 apart from most other similarly priced integrateds. At 17⅛ʺW x 7⅛ʺH x 18¼ʺD, its proportions make it pleasing to the eye, and hefting its 54.5 pounds was reassuring—I could feel the rigidity of the construction.
Where’s the beef?
Because the A-S3200 is an all-analog integrated amplifier, I used it with an Oppo UDP-205 4K Ultra HD universal BD player, which also doubled as a DAC when I used it with my Intel NUC computer running Windows 10, Roon, Qobuz, and foobar2000. A Pro-Ject Audio Systems X1 turntable with bundled Ortofon Pick it S2 cartridge comprised the record player. Speakers were MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9s and PSB Alpha T20s, and headphones included PSB M4U 1s and Sennheiser HD 580s.
All were connected with Clarus Aqua power cords, balanced interconnects, and speaker cables; Pro-Ject’s Connect it E phono cable; and an AudioQuest Carbon USB link. Power conditioning and surge suppression were provided by various Blue Circle Audio and Zero Surge products.
I did my initial listening with the A-S3200 installed in my second system, with the PSB Alpha T20s. Yamaha had suggested that the A-S3200 would benefit from 100 hours or more of burn in, so I let it burn in for a few weeks before doing any serious listening, including leaving it on for a few extended periods of time when I was out of the room. By the time I installed it in my main system, I figured the A-S3200 had had at least 50 hours of play.
At the Silver Bullet tonight
After the Yamaha A-S3200 amp had burned in those 50 hours, I connected it to my reference system, including my MartinLogan speakers and reference source components. I was immediately struck by how musical and easy to listen to it was. I don’t know whether it was Yamaha’s suggestion that the A-S3200 needs at least 100 hours of burn-in to sound its best, or if I just grew to admire its sound more over time, but its sound did seem to improve over the next two weeks. It became a bit more coherent, and the slight glare that I at first sometimes heard on the leading edges of percussion and high piano notes, and a slight sibilance with voices, disappeared, leaving only a supersmooth, superquiet, totally balanced sound. Also, even after burn-in, when first turned on and used while still cold, the A-S3200 sounded a little soft and indistinct. It needed a good half-hour of warm-up to perform to its full potential—and it did get quite warm during spirited listening sessions. More than any other component I’ve recently had in my system, the A-S3200 needed an extended period of initial break-in and warming up before each listening session, to sound its best.
But given enough break-in and warm-up, the A-S3200 rewarded me with some of the most natural and satisfying sound my system has ever produced. As this integrated is entirely analog, I began by spinning an LP of Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence (Polydor). The sound was glorious, with excellent bass extension, extended highs, and a soundstage that was deep and finely delineated. I’d never heard my Pro-Ject X1 turntable sound so good. Del Rey’s melancholy voice languished lazily between my speakers, effortlessly drifting back and forth as she sang her impeccably crafted lyrics, the haunting sounds of steely acoustic guitars drifting off into a remarkably quiet background. This album’s title track is one of my favorites for its beautiful, stark recording of voice and piano, but through the Yamaha, “Old Money” sounded even more melancholy and enveloping, in a spine-tingling sort of way. I’d never heard this level of detail and musicality from the Pro-Ject X1 before, even through my Anthem STR preamplifier ($3999) with its highly configurable phono stage, DSP room correction, and bass management. It even made a 7ʺ single of Doug & the Slugs’ “Too Bad” (45rpm single, Ritdong), from 1980—a mediocre pressing at best—sound pretty decent.
Holly Cole’s voice in “Jersey Girl,” from her album of Tom Waits covers, Temptation (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Blue Note/Qobuz), had a velvet-smooth quality that melded perfectly with David Piltch’s rich, robust, well-defined double bass. She sounded farther back on the soundstage than I’m accustomed to hearing with this track, and the overall depth and width of the soundstage were fantastic. The opening notes of the Canadian Brass in “Briar and the Rose” seemed as if they could go on forever as the Yamaha held them suspended in space and time. With this track, the A-S3200 was able to immaculately convey Cole’s more urgent, breathy singing, in harmony with the horns. The result was an extremely emotional experience.
The cover of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” on the Holly Cole Trio’s Don’t Smoke in Bed (SACD/CD, Blue Note/Analogue Productions) further demonstrated the A-S3200’s ability to perfectly reproduce her most subtle vocal inflections, as well as minute shifts in the pitches of Piltch’s double-bass notes. These were accompanied by Aaron Davis’s full-bodied acoustic piano slightly to the right, but it was the bass that I could most vividly picture at center rear, directly in front of me. Its deliciously rich, woody sound placed it believably in a darkened studio as Piltch kept perfect time in the final verse, when Cole’s voice rises in a soaring climax. The A-S3200 was a very special-sounding integrated.
The incredible dynamics of a full orchestra posed no problem for the A-S3200, as I discovered when I played a recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No.9, with Herbert Von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Singverein, soprano Anna Tomowa-Sintow, mezzo Agnes Baltsa, tenor Peter Schreier, and bass-baritone José van Dam (16/44.1 FLAC, Deutsche Grammophon/Qobuz). I could play this recording at realistic levels without a hint of strain from the amp. Even at those high levels, the voices of soloists and choristers remained emotive and composed—and in very quiet passages, the various sections of the orchestra were still easily discernible. The drumroll that begins at 10:58 of the final, choral movement sounded well back in the hall, the singers placed more forward and the rest of the orchestra just behind them, creating a strikingly realistic portrayal of this musical event.
Like the many reference-quality integrated amplifiers I’ve had in my system in the last couple of years, the Yamaha A-S3200 had many strengths and few weaknesses, and was easily the equal of even the best of those models. Musical Fidelity’s colossal M8xi ($6499), with its built-in, high-quality DAC, was still on hand for direct comparison, but even with its far greater specified output of 550Wpc into 8 ohms, it didn’t sound that different from the Yamaha.
The M8xi did have an edge with dynamics. The percussive slaps of Nils Lofgren’s acoustic guitar in “Keith Don’t Go,” from his Acoustic Live (16/44.1 FLAC, Vision/Qobuz), were slightly less explosive through the Yamaha. The soundstage was wide and impressive, as was the steely sound of Lofgren’s guitar as it emerged from a “black” background through both amps—but it had a touch more slam through the Musical Fidelity. The images and positions of Dougie Bowne’s brushes on the head of his snare drum in “I Want You,” from Holly Cole’s Temptation, were in sharper relief through the MF, but the snares themselves sounded a touch more metallic and not as smooth as through the Yamaha. Cole’s voice also was a tad less sibilant through the Yamaha, while retaining all its husky charm and expressiveness. In short, the Yamaha produced very quiet backgrounds and natural, alluring sound; the Musical Fidelity was slightly more adept at highlighting microdetail and dynamics.
Although the A-S3200 has no digital inputs, it does have a superb phono section and an equally impressive headphone amplifier—both of which the MF lacks. In fact, the Yamaha’s was the best headphone amp I’ve heard that’s built into a larger component. Voices were as clear and refined as they were through my MartinLogan ESL 9 speakers, with excellent separation from the instruments, even in such dense mixes as “Desert Rose,” from Sting’s My Songs (Deluxe) (24/44.1 FLAC, Interscope/Qobuz). I was also able to use the A-S3200’s Bass tone control to provide a subtle boost to the low-end output of my Sennheiser HD 580 headphones. With my PSB M4U 1 headphones, I set the Trim level to -6dB and left the tone controls flat, which sounded more to my liking. The Yamaha’s headphone amp sounded both more refined and more dynamic than my Oppo UDP-205, which contains my reference built-in headphone amp.
Natural sound by Nippon Gakki
There’s much to be said for simple elegance, whether in a graceful haiku or Yamaha’s exquisite A-S3200. With the latter, you simply connect your turntable and CD player, or any source with analog outputs, connect your speakers, sit back, and enjoy impeccably musical sound. There’s no app to install, no digital inputs to configure, no calibration to be done. To sound its best it needs quite a bit of burn-in, as well as time to warm up each time it’s turned on—but as I sat there watching the needles of its beautiful level meters dancing along in time to the sublimely reproduced music, I knew it was worth the wait. The A-S3200 isn’t cheap, but considering the quality of its construction, the uniqueness of its handsome, classic visual design, and the quality of its sound, it’s a stunning integrated amplifier that I’d be proud to own and prominently display in my audio system.
. . . Roger Kanno
Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio Electronics Lab, click this link.
- Speakers: MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9, PSB Alpha T20
- Headphones: PSB M4U 1, Sennheiser HD 580
- Integrated amplifiers: Hegel Music Systems H120, Musical Fidelity M8xi
- Digital sources: Intel NUC computer running Windows 10, Roon, Qobuz, and foobar2000; AudioQuest JitterBug jitter reducer; Oppo Digital UDP-205 4K Ultra HD and BDP-105 universal BD players
- Turntable: Pro-Ject Audio Systems X1 with Ortofon Pick it S2 cartridge
- USB link: AudioQuest Carbon
- Speaker cables: Clarus Aqua Mark II
- Interconnects: Clarus Aqua Mark II
- Power cords: Clarus Aqua, Essential Sound Products MusicCord-Pro ES
- Power conditioners: Blue Circle Audio PLC Thingee FX-2 with X0e low-frequency filter module, Zero Surge 1MOD15WI
Yamaha A-S3200 Integrated Amplifier
Price: $7499.95 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor, USA; four years parts and labor, Canada.
Yamaha Corporation of Japan
Yamaha Corporation of America
6600 Orangethorpe Avenue
Buena Park, CA 90620
Yamaha Canada Music Ltd.
135 Milner Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M1S 3R1