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Yamaha A-S801 Integrated Amplifier Review

by November 01, 2015
  • Product Name: A-S801 Two-Channel Integrated Amplifier
  • Manufacturer: Yamaha
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStarhalf-star
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: November 01, 2015 19:00
  • MSRP: $ 999
  • Buy Now
  • 100 W x 2-ch (20 Hz - 20 kHz at .019% THD+N, 8 ohms)
  • USB DAC function supports native DSD resolutions (2.8 MHz / 5.6 MHz) and PCM (384 kHz / 32-bit)
  • Digital signal indicator shows DSD and PCM playback formats and sampling frequencies
  • High efficiency ESS Technology 32-bit DAC (ES9010K2M)
  • Digital audio inputs for TV or Blu-ray Disc™ player
  • CD Direct Amplification and Pure Direct
  • High-strength chassis with double-bottom design for excellent dampening of vibrations
  • ToP-ART (Total Purity Audio Reproduction Technology) and high quality parts
  • I/O (input to output) direct symmetrical design
  • ART (Anti-Resonance and Tough) Base
  • Custom made power transformer / 12,000 µF block capacitors / extruded aluminum heat sinks
  • Gold-plated speaker terminals and RCA terminals
  • Continuously Variable Loudness Control
  • Dimensions: 17-1/8" x 6" x 15-1/4"
  • Weight: 26.7lbs

Pros

  • Excellent fidelity in ALL modes of operation
  • Honestly rated amp section
  • USB DAC function

Cons

  • No preamp outputs
  • Non-defeatable LPF on sub out

Yamaha A-S801 Introduction

The A-S801 is a throwback to vintage audio updated to the 21st century.

I've always had a special place in my audiophile heart for integrated amplifiers.  Perhaps it's because of a good experience I had in my high school days moving from a run of the mill Dolby ProLogic receiver to a serious two-channel integrated  amplifier to focus more on sound  quality than bells and whistles.  When Yamaha announced their new series of affordable integrated amplifiers, I knew I had to check one out.  I decided on the 100 watt/ch A-S801 not just because of its reasonable price (MSRP: $999), but also the fact it's the only integrated amp they make with a built in audiophile USB DAC.  Vintage updated to 21st century standards for streaming high-resolution audio - what a revelation! 

 Yamaha A-S801 Integrated Amplifier YouTube Video Review

First Impressions & Build Quality

From the moment I unboxed the Yamaha A-S801 integrated amp, I realized I was dealing with a serious product that would earn many points with audiophiles.  From its sturdy construction and thick brushed aluminum faceplate, anti-resonance double body chassis design, to its simplistic, yet elegant front panel knobs reminiscent of Yamaha integrated amps from a few decades ago, to its gold-plated speaker terminals and RCA connections, this baby means business.  I was excited to get this amp on my bench and into the listening lab to see if it performed up to my expectations.  I have to tell you I was more excited to review this two-channel integrated amp over a typical mediocre Dolby Atmos receiver cramming nine channels of amplification into a chassis the same size as this A-S801 with a smaller power supply and less weight, yet somehow "more" powerfully rated amplifier section.  

The Yamaha A-S801 is an honestly rated 100 watt/ch amplifier.

You're probably wondering what makes this integrated amp stand out compared to a typical AV receiver.  Well for one, the A-S801 gives up some bells and whistles and instead puts more meat into the pot, if you will.  No it doesn't have DSP modes to make your speakers sound like they are in a German Cathedral.  You can't bounce sound up at the ceiling to create an "immersive effect."  But, the A-S801 can drive a 4-ohm load with more ease and finesse than most comparably priced multi-channel AV receivers.  This is thanks to lots of heat dissipation provided by dual heatsinks (one for each channel), 4 output devices per channel to source more current, a large E-Core transformer to supply the necessary power and 2x12,000uF capacitor bank for reserves.  If you look at how Yamaha specs the power of this amplifier, it's done at 8 ohms, full bandwidth, both channels driven and at a very low distortion level of .019%.  Alas, we are looking at a real 100wpc amp the way amplifiers used to be spec'ed before the AV receiver power inflation wars at the local box stores took over to impress the uninitiated. 

A-S801-top-view.jpg 

Yamaha A-S801 Inside View with Top Panel Removed

The fact that the A-S801 has a solid amp section isn't the end of the story.  Yamaha included a digital section employing  an ESS Technology 32-bit ES9010K2M Sabre DAC capable of supporting native DSD resolutions (2.8 MHz / 5.6 MHz) and PCM (384 kHz / 32-bit) via a USB-B as well as coax and toslink digital inputs.  Yamaha took it one step further by employing its own clocking scheme to reduce jitter.  Analog purists will be happy to hear that the A-S801 includes a MM phono section for vinyl playback. 

In Use

Setting up the A-S801 is an exercise in simplicity I often cringe these days at the prospect of being drowned by the complexity of AV receivers.  There is something to the ‘less is more’ approach in this case.  Give me a meaty amp, great DAC and two high quality speakers (a sub is a bonus) and I can easily reach sonic nirvana much more easily and quickly than with all but the really good multi-channel playback systems.  After connecting the speakers and my sub, I then made the USB connection between the A-S801 and my desktop PC.  Installing the Yamaha Steinberg USB driver was a piece of cake.

driver.jpg JRiver

Yamaha Steinberg USB Driver (left pic); JRiver Screenshot (right pic)

Configuring the JRiver media center and getting it to properly playback my HD audio files on my HDD was an exercise in patience and perseverance worthy of its own article.

A-S801-back-view.jpg 

Yamaha A-S801 Backpanel View

The A-S801 has a detachable two-prong power cord that is convenient for installation purposes and for audiophiles that pray to their cables and want to use esoteric alternatives as expensive tone controls.   You see that impedance selector switch on the backpanel?  Don't touch it!  Leave it at its factory default ‘high’ setting regardless of the speakers you connect, or else you will be starving your speakers of power just to validate a UL heat dissipation test that is required to list 4-ohm capability on the silkscreen.  

Do NOT change the impedance switch from it's default setting.

The A-S801 utilizes high quality gold-plated RCA line level connections and 5-way speaker binding posts.  You can connect two pairs of speakers to the A-S801 and they are wired in parallel to avoid the sonic degradation that happens when you connect two pairs of speakers in series. Just be warned if you do connect two pairs of speakers and use them at the same time to make sure they are 8-ohm nominal impedance, since the amplifier will see the parallel equivalent load of 4 ohms in this scenario. 

The subwoofer output does NOT have independent volume control and has a fixed 2nd order Low Pass Filter (LPF) response just shy of 100Hz.  In my setup, I dialed the internal crossover of my sub down to about 60Hz and was able to achieve a great blend with my speakers, which were running full range.  As long as you select a crossover frequency about 20Hz away from the built-in Yamaha one, you won't run into the deleterious effects of uneven frequency response near the crossover point that can happen in the pass band when cascading two filters at the same crossover frequency.

The A-S801 sports USB-B, optical and coax digital inputs.  I tested both with excellent results and was able to play back high-resolution 192kHz/24 bit audio on both without truncation.

There are no preamp outputs on this unit. So if later you want to repurpose the A-S801 as a preamp only and add more powerful external amplification, you're out of luck. 

 A-S801-front.jpg

Yamaha A-S801 Frontpanel View

The front panel of the A-S801 isn't lit up like a Christmas tree like today's modern AV receiver. Instead it's simplistic but functional.  You've got an amber LED for power, input selection and DAC sampling rate.  Oddly there is no LED indicator on the volume control, which is an unfortunate omission.  It's difficult to see the indent on the volume control since it's the same color as the actual physical knob.  Putting an LED here would have served better functionally and aesthetically in my opinion.

Yamaha A-S801 RemoteThe A-S801 comes with a remote control (RAS15) so couch potatoes don't have to get up any time they want to change volume or source selection.  The remote is pretty ordinary with a bunch of small clustered buttons unreadable in all but well light rooms since there is no backlighting and they used dark text on a shiny gray surface.  Still, it gets the job done and it keeps you planted in the money seat to enjoy your music.

CD Direct Amp bypasses the tone and balance controls and gives you a direct path from the CD input to the power amp while pure direct essentially does the same thing for all inputs with the mutual goal of reducing noise and maximizing performance.  The variable loudness contour doesn't behave like one would normally expect.   Instead of boosting the low frequencies at a fixed amount, it actually turns down the mids so you can hear the bass and treble more distinctly at low listening levels.  It's volume control dependent so you always get the correct amount of loudness compensation for that particular volume setting.  I rarely used this feature since I had a powered subwoofer installed to extend the bass response of my system which helps to linearize the bass even at lower listening levels.

I didn't spin any vinyl or test the phono input but the specs look pretty good and I'm certain the A-S801 will do your record collection justice.  I did however conduct listening tests using the headphone input on various high quality headphones including my Oppo PM-1 over-ear headphones and RBH EP3 IEM's.  Overall the A-S801 has a very good headphone preamp so I recommend utilizing it if you've got some good cans.

The A-S801 performed flawlessly in all of my tests.  The only minor issue I found was that some of my high res audio sources from JRiver were played back in higher than 96kHz sampling rate which was NOT compatible with Skype or YouTube when I would simultaneously use those functions on my computer.  I had to manually go into the Yamaha Steinberg USB and select 96kHz since the A-S801 didn't automatically switch to a lower sampling rate on lower resolution sources.  The other workaround was to go into JRiver and downsample to 96kHz for all music with higher sampling rates.  This won't cause any audible degradation so I suggest doing this to avoid these operational hiccups I experienced.

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Recent Forum Posts:

trl posts on March 28, 2019 00:36
It has no dedicated headphones amplifier, just two simple 470 Ohms/1W resistors, a RC low-pass filter and couple of diodes reverted in parallel for DC-protection, nothing else.

A-S1xxx/2xxx/3xxx have dedicated headphones amplifiers inside, which is normal given the higher price.

P.S.: I am enjoying my A-S701 on speakers, but for headphones I'm using a dedicate amplifier.
<eargiant posts on March 27, 2019 19:48
JW001, post: 1307527, member: 87786
Thanks for the review! I don't quite agree with this statement, though: “Overall the A-S801 has a very good headphone preamp so I recommend utilizing it if you've got some good cans.”

I measured the output impedance of one channel of the headphone jack: it's a whopping 450 ohm. Although overall I like the amplifier, the headphone output sounds horrible on both 300 ohm Sennheiser HD600 and 23 ohm HD598. I certainly wouldn't recommend A-S801 for its headphone feature… It's implemented through a voltage divider from the main output. An afterthought, like with most AVRs.

It didn't sound special to me either.
JW001 posts on March 27, 2019 19:20
Thanks for the review! I don't quite agree with this statement, though: “Overall the A-S801 has a very good headphone preamp so I recommend utilizing it if you've got some good cans.”

I measured the output impedance of one channel of the headphone jack: it's a whopping 450 ohm. Although overall I like the amplifier, the headphone output sounds horrible on both 300 ohm Sennheiser HD600 and 23 ohm HD598. I certainly wouldn't recommend A-S801 for its headphone feature… It's implemented through a voltage divider from the main output. An afterthought, like with most AVRs.
PENG posts on October 21, 2018 15:45
trl, post: 1276271, member: 86375
They can probably do that, but only while powering-up, then relays will commute the correct voltage from the power transformer and after few seconds the output stage will get directly connected to speakers. So, we will all have 8 Ohms resistors on B-speakers and 4 Ohms speakers on A-speakers; while the amplifier will boot-up we'll switch to B-speakers for few seconds, later we'll switch to A-speakers, so mission accomplished.

The voltage and current signals are already reporting to the CPU, so continuous monitoring of the impedance is theoretically possible. I am not fond of the idea, just saying they can do it if they wish to.
trl posts on October 21, 2018 15:19
They can probably do that, but only while powering-up, then relays will commute the correct voltage from the power transformer and after few seconds the output stage will get directly connected to speakers. So, we will all have 8 Ohms resistors on B-speakers and 4 Ohms speakers on A-speakers; while the amplifier will boot-up we'll switch to B-speakers for few seconds, later we'll switch to A-speakers, so mission accomplished.
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