Audiophiles and serious music lovers often turn to integrated amplifiers as a halfway point between a stereo receiver and full-blown separate components. The beauty of separates is top class performance, but at a steeper price. A receiver offers everything in one component, but purists claim lower overall performance at the expense of more features. Integrated amplifiers are the meeting point between the two, geared toward better audio performance but typically at a price much lower than a separate amp and preamp. I tested the Yamaha A-S500 to find out how it stacks up as a modestly priced integrated amplifier.
The A-S500 is the newest and most affordable Yamaha amp. The clean, uncluttered appearance of the A-S500 and the other models is a throwback to Yamaha's first stereo amps and receivers introduced in the US in the 1970s. Its sleek, black front panel and machined knobs are impressive. The A-S500 is analog only with no digital connections. It has 85 watts x 2, measured from 20 Hz – 20 kHz with 8-ohm speakers, more than enough for speakers with sensitivity specs of roughly 92 dB or greater. It has a power bandwidth from 10 Hz – 50 kHz and a damping factor greater than 240. Specs don't tell the whole story, but serve as guidepost for evaluating audio performance. The A-S500 features a subwoofer output, an iPod Dock input with separate power supply in the amp, a REC OUT selector for recording and listening to different sources simultaneously, and a PURE DIRECT function that extends frequency response from 10 Hz – 100 kHz and provides the most direct audio signal path. The remote control also operates other Yamaha components, such as the companion T-S500 Stereo Tuner or a CD/DVD player. Other key features include dual speaker outputs for two pair of speakers (or bi-wiring a single pair), phono input (moving magnet cartridge only), and a Power Management function that switches the A-S500 to standby mode after 8 hours of non-operation. One very cool feature is the MUTING control, which mutes the sound gradually then slowly returns the sound to the previous level when MUTING is disengaged. It's much less jarring than a simple MUTE on-off control.
I tested the A-S500 with a pair of Axiom Audio bookshelf speakers (96 dB sensitivity) and a pair of Atlantic AS-1 tower speakers (89 dB sensitivity), a broad range of speaker sensitivity specs. The amp never seemed to strain with either speaker (although I wouldn't hesitate to give the Atlantic speakers more power). Listening levels are a matter of personal taste, but unless you’re powering four speakers (Speakers A + B) at very high levels, the Yamaha amp is robust and should not be an issue with most speakers. If more power is needed, check out the other Yamaha integrated amplifiers. Overall the Yamaha had a very balanced and neutral sound quality. The Continuously Variable Loudness Control, found on most Yamaha stereo components, is very effective when trying to achieve the right tonal balance. Read more about this cool feature in my review of the Yamaha R-S500 Stereo Receiver. The A-S500 integrates easily with an optional iPod dock, such as the Yamaha YDS-12 Universal iPod/iPhone dock. The remote control supplied with the amp controls the menu and many playback functions of a docked iPod or iPhone, although there is no video output. The iPod charges while docked. The receiver is also compatible with the Yamaha YDS-10 and YDS-11 docking stations. Just as car shoppers open and close a car door to get a feel for quality, audio buyers turn the knobs and controls to get a feel for a component. In this area, the Yamaha fares nicely with controls that have a good tactile feel.
Feeding audiophile tastes can be a challenge but with the A-S500, it doesn't require a limitless budget. The A-S500 may not rise to the level of separate components, but it offers performance and features geared toward music lovers and is a step up from stereo receivers in a similar class. When combined with a pair of moderately priced speakers and a source (phono, CD or DVD) it can easily serve the needs and wants of a serious music listener without breaking the bank. Check out the entire line of Yamaha Integrated Amplifiers, including the A-S700
, the A-S1000
, and the A-S2000
- Power: 85 watts RMS x 2, 20 Hz - 20 kHz, 0.019% THD
- Power Bandwidth: 10 Hz - 50 kHz
- Frequency Response: 10 Hz - 100 kHz (CD in, Pure Direct engaged)
- Inputs: Phono (MM), Tuner, CD (analog), Line 1, Line 2, Dock
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 17 1/8" x 6" x 15 ¼"
- Weight: 22.7 lbs.
- Price: $449.95
- Contact: www.yamaha.com