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Amplifiers

If you thought the days were over of big, luxurious amplifiers from major Japanese brands, think again: Yamaha’s flagship A-S3200 weighs a hefty 25kg, delivers 100W per channel – and that’s a conservative figure – and comes from the company responsible for inventing the term ‘hi-fi’, the better part of 70 years ago. And from its gloss side-panels to those big illuminated meters on the front, it looks big, purposeful and – well, just like all the cartoons will tell you hi-fi should.

The looks may hark back decades, but then so does the specification here: this is an all-analogue design, so you’ll need some external equipment to connect your computer or stream via Bluetooth, but to make up for that it has a high-quality phono stage for a turntable, seven line inputs for external sources – on a mix of balanced and unbalanced sockets, for maximum compatibility – and both tone controls and switching for two sets of speakers. Even the controls have a retro feel to them, with little flip-switches and dials, plus those slender adjustments for the subtle tone controls, which are just the things for a little tuning to suit your speakers or personal taste, while the speaker terminals are machined from brass, and solid enough to get them good and tight.

That said, it’s not all a blast from the past: the slimline remote control handset is finished in metal, brushed to match the amplifier, while inside the A-S3200 is all the heavy engineering, starting with a separate copper sub-chassis in the centre carrying the massive power transformer and capacitors – always a good sign when it comes to the ability to deliver serious drive and dynamics – while the power amplifier sections are to the left and right, with large heat-sinks to keep things stable when the amplifier is working hard.

This amplifier exudes class: those big meters, which are very accurate in their indication of power output, and not just there for show, can be set to hold at peak level or give a continuous read-out for the full ‘studio’ effect, and can be dimmed or turned off, while even the muting control has a nice touch: rather than just cutting the sound dead, it fades it down, then back up when you unmute. Yes, very stylish – and if you want to turn on the menace, you can also buy the A-S3200 in black, as well as silver.

Sound quality

For decades, Yamaha hi-fi products have had the legend Natural Sound emblazoned on them; it’s missing here, but it’s still exactly what you get. As well as comfortably exceeding its rated power output, and just keeping on driving as speaker loads get more demanding, the A-S3200 combines an entirely neutral sweetness when you ask it to cruise through gentle music with the ability to push really hard when the music demands, thumping out the music with superb dynamic slam, speed and the ability to maintain all the detail while doing so.

This is one of those big integrated amplifiers within which are lurking a top-notch preamp and seriously gutsy power amps, combining this with serious grip and control of your speakers, enabling it to kick up a high-definition storm when required while still keeping plenty in reserve to ensure the dynamics of the music aren’t crushed. Play smooth trio jazz or a small chamber ensemble, and the sheer levels of detail are entrancing; change to a full orchestra, some growly R&B or even a sport of gloriously over-the-top prog, and that combination of ruthless power and absolute control will have you cranking the levels while still delighted at how clean and crisp it all sounds: there’s no hardening up of the sound even when the amplifier is working hard (but not sounding like it’s sweating it one little bit!).

Although you can tweak things a bit with the tone controls if you really want the sound to go all soft and lush, or to turn the bass up a bit – though honestly there’s no need to! – the Yamaha sounds best when left to its own sonic devices, allowing that rich yet refined, forceful but fast presentation to flow through and grab the attention whatever you play. Don’t be fooled by just how easy this amplifier is to enjoy: it’s giving you the full picture, and the ease with which a quick listen turns into an all-evening-and-is-that-the-time session demonstrating just how well it does its job. Another Yamaha claim to fame is that it makes all the instruments required to kit out a symphony orchestra – plus drums, guitars and of course pianos – and it shows in the vivid way this amp conveys the character of musicians in action.

Living with the A-S3200

Well yes, it’s a big old lump, at 25kg and a full 18cm tall, making it like an AV receiver in size, but the Yamaha earns its keep with a massive sound tempered with excellent detail and real finesse. Partner it with a big pair of floorstanding speakers, which it’ll drive with ease, and settle back for the full concert-hall experience. Or crank it up and you’ll find this oh-so-refined-looking amplifier can be a real hooligan when you want it to.

Conclusion

A classic sound to match the classic looks – that’s what you get with this flagship Yamaha amplifier, which has effortless power, endless detail and a sound that’ll keep you listening to album after album. Yes, there are more knobs and switches than you’ll find on many more minimalist designs, but everything’s there for a purpose, enabling the listener to set it up exactly as desired, and the performance on offer here is remarkable.

Listening notes

Bernstein America

Taken from the soundtrack of Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story, this track brings together Bernstein’s score, music advisor John Williams and wonderful orchestral conducting by Gustavo Dudamel – and it’s fast, dramatic and hugely dynamic, just like the rest of the soundtrack album. Thrilling stuff

Emerson, Lake & Palmer Toccata

The progmeisters in their pomp from the Brain Salad Surgery album, and the punch and drive of the big, bold Yamaha comes into its own with Carl Palmer’s drums thundering and Keith Emerson’s synths growling electrically and going off like fireworks. Mad, bad and totally addictive!

Tears For Fears My Demons

Back with a bang after almost 20 years, TFF’s widescreen songwriting and recording is on fine form on The Tipping Point, and this is just one of many strong tracks on the set, with its thumping synths, lush arrangements and catchy hooks, delivered in suitably cinematic style by the Yamaha

What the press say

WhatHi-Fi?’s reviewers said the big A-S3200 amplifier ‘isn’t quite what we expected’, explaining that while it ‘isn’t a fashion icon’, it is a‘beautifully built product’. Youtuber Andrew Robinson explained to his viewers that it looks like a ‘grown up 1200 or 2200’, adding it’s ‘hifi art’,while L&B Tech Reviews says that it has an ‘outstanding’ and ‘super detailed’ turntable input. Hi-Fi News concluded that‘ this is a fast, dynamic and mighty exciting amp that carries its sonic armoury with total ease. Add in the sheer quality of the whole enterprise, and it's a bit of a star.’

Why you should buy it

This is a big, well-equipped, powerful and superb-sounding amplifier, capable of driving a huge range of speakers exceptionally well. Yes, it’s big and rather retro-looking, but you can't argue with the way it’s built, or the performance it delivers.


Video review

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