Yamaha A-S1200 Integrated Amplifier Review
Mark Gusew listens to an old school all-analogue integrated from this respected Japanese manufacturer…
A-S1200 Integrated Amplifier
AUD $3,499 RRP
Thanks to its illustrious hi-fi history, the Yamaha brand needs no introduction. It has been responsible for some significant audio milestones along the way, from the B1 V-FET power amplifier of the early nineteen seventies to the NS-1000M loudspeaker from the latter part of that decade. Some audiophiles may not realise that the company also makes a vast range of musical instruments, pro audio mixing consoles and concert hall processors. Hopefully, all this collective wisdom will have distilled down to the handsome new A-S1200 integrated amplifier you see here.
At $3,499 in Australia, it's the third from top model in the A-S series amplifier range in the company's Premium Hi-Fi category. According to Yamaha Japan, the amplifier uses technologies and engineering experience seen in the flagship C-5000 preamplifier and M-5000 power amp. One of the key changes from the older A-S1100 is the use of a huge low impedance 625VA toroidal transformer over an EI transformer. This, according to the manufacturer, helps to better convey the music's emotion.
The A-S1200 is an old school Class AB analogue integrated amplifier, with no digital inputs, streaming or signal processing onboard. Five unbalanced RCA line inputs are fitted, with one of them bypassing the volume control so it can be used as a power amplifier – plus an MM/MC phono input. Rated power output is 90W RMS per channel into 8 ohms and 150W into 4. This makes it pretty gutsy and able to drive most loudspeakers to high levels. Two sets of lovely looking brass multi-way loudspeaker binding posts adorn the rear panel, which are switchable and allow for bi-wiring a single pair of loudspeakers. A headphone jack is located on the front.
Yamaha is proud of its patented Floating and Balanced power amplifier technology, where the same polarity of MOSFET output device is used on both the plus and minus sides of the amplifier. Rather than using typical N channel and P channel devices supplying current for the push-pull action on a loudspeaker, Yamaha only uses N channel devices and describes it as a pull-pull action to “eliminate sound quality variations due to difference in polarity”. This symmetrical arrangement is the so-called balanced part of the technology and does not refer to the inputs, which are all single-ended. The floating aspect refers to the entire power amplifier circuit from the ground, which disconnects it from potential ground noise.
The front panel has the iconic, classic Yamaha look – one that's hardly changed since the nineteen seventies yet still looks fresh today. It is dominated by two centrally mounted power meters that have switchable operation between VU and power; you can also set the backlight brightness level. Another Yamaha styling cue is the distinctive look of the bass, treble and balance controls, which are a rectangular shape rather the usual round knob. The front panel mute button drops the volume by approximately 20dB – a handy feature that underlines how nice this amplifier is to use.
High gloss piano black side panels are fixed to the chassis and look great alongside the faultless brushed aluminium fascia finish. The remote control is also high quality with a top cover plate of brushed aluminium; its easy-to-use buttons can control a Yamaha CD player. This amplifier weighs 22kg and feels extremely solid and well put together for the money. It comes with an extended manufacturer's warranty of four years plus one year upon online registration, for a total of five years. There's also a twelve-month replacement period, so if there are any issues within the first year, the unit will be swapped out for a new one.
This is a good, clean sounding integrated with a strong bass that should suit those with smaller loudspeakers and/or a hankering for a large, powerful and impactful sound. Driving my reference JBL HDI-3800 floor-standing loudspeakers with a Bluesound Node 2i streamer, Oppo 203 CD player and a Chord Qutest DAC, it made a very nice noise with a fairly balanced and tonally civilised nature. For example, the ethereal synthesiser sounds in Thea by Goldfrapp were reproduced with their texture intact, and the vocal work was pleasingly smooth and even.
Yet, I did feel that the bass was a little too prominent with my large JBLs in my particular listening room. It was the same story listening through Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Concert Grands, so I used the bass tone control to drop the low frequencies down a couple of dB and was happier with the overall balance. Other listeners may like that extra fullness and appreciate the weight. Yamaha told me that the A-S1200 was voiced more with smaller loudspeakers in mind, and sure enough, when I connected a pair of Focal Electra Be stand-mounters, things finally hit the spot. The fullness proved useful with the lower bass output of the smaller speaker.
The midrange is fairly neutral; whilst you wouldn't call it particularly forward, it's certainly not recessed. Listening to Goldfrapp's Stranger, guitars and strings were well balanced with pleasant spacing. Indeed the mix drew me right in, making me lean forward to try to immerse myself in the music further; I found this more-ish quality very satisfying. Treble was always polite, never glazed, sharp or harsh. Midband was clear and well defined, with lots going on. Bass was taut and tuneful, never sounding disconnected from the rest of the frequency range.
The A-S1200 was able to extract plenty of detail from any given track and tell you all about what was going on in the song. It's quite matter of fact in this respect and won't gloss over any failings in the recording of production. Some rivals have a more romantic, benevolent sound. Therefore I Am by Billie Eilish sounded highly transparent, erupting out of my loudspeakers with a noiseless background and clean vocals. The percussion and synth work in the track were used to good effect to fatten up the sound, and the Yamaha signposted this well.
It's fair to say that the A-S1200 isn't the most frenetic of music makers. It's a case of steady as she goes, as it lets powerful, beat-driven music get on with rocking your room. Yet more subtle, gentle programme material didn't quite have the drive and intimacy that I would have liked, sounding a touch too laid back. For example, whereas Foo Fighters' Making a Fire was punchy and dynamic with good transient speed, Radiohead's Creep did actually creep along rather more than I'd hoped. The big Yamaha is decent enough in terms of musicality then, but I wouldn't put it at the top table.
With all that power on tap and no small amount of muscle, the A-S1200 relays a goodly amount of spatial information left to right. It sets up a large and enjoyable stereo soundstage when fed with decent programme material but is slightly let down by its handling of depth perspective – as I found when listening to Paper Tiger by Beck. Things sounded a tad two-dimensional compared to my reference Cambridge Audio Edge A integrated amplifier, although in fairness, the latter is considerably more expensive. Still, it does better than entry-level amplifiers and will create a pleasing sound field in any normal-sized listening room.
It didn't surprise me to find that switching to vinyl LP helped matters. With my Yamaha MusicCast VINYL 500 turntable (tracking its standard Audio-technica MM cartridge), things broadened and deepened quite noticeably. The soundstage extended well beyond the loudspeakers and drew me in deep. Music for Lovers by Harry James and his Orchestra had a lovely spacious feel, with a natural tonality to the instruments and low surface noise – telling me that the company has fitted a decent phono stage, unlike some rivals.
Yamaha's A-S1200 is a beautifully built and finished, very well engineered integrated amplifier with the fine old fashioned virtues of power, grip, smoothness and space. All of this comes at a keen price, making it hard to resist. As if that wasn't enough, many – myself included – love its looks. The distinctive fascia treatment allied to the twin backlit meters really works to my eyes and makes it visually interesting as well as a tactile delight to operate. Some rivals may squeak ahead of it in terms of outright sonic performance, but I can't think of any that offer such a good all-round package right now. Catch it if you can.
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.