I managed to pick up one of the retro styled Yamaha A-S1000 integrated amps at a good price off eBay. I first spotted these in the windows of Practical HiFi and Sevenoaks and was taken back by the build quality and looks for the price. Furthermore I wanted an amp with tone controls and an headphone output. Yes... you read right... 'Tone controls'. Even in my narrow music tastes of Berlin School, Electronic and Ambient etc there is a wide range of mixes in that some sound lean and others the opposite; so I thought tone controls could be useful. Also the Radio seems to vary widely especially between daytime and night-time shows. Most daytime shows on BBC Radio sound more compressed and lacklustre compared to later shows at night so another reason for trying tone controls out.
The trend in amplifier manufacturers has been to remove these along with the balance control and even the headphone output were-as if you look at most amps between the 70s-80s these features were common. I can understand the reason behind not having tone controls but to remove the headphone output seems more like a marketing ploy to get you to buy a separate headphone amplifier.
If this was going to be better than my home build F5 Class A / B1 Buffer / 12B4A Tube Pre combo I would have replaced all those boxes with this 1 box remote controlled amp like I tried to do before with the Korsun.
On first listening the immediate difference from my F5 amplifier was the sense of power from the A-S1000. Not surprising I guess as the Pass Labs F5 is a mere 25W class A compared to the Yamaha's 90W, although it sounds much more than 90W with a big bold sound. The Yamaha had a much wider sound stage than the F5. Bass was very weighty but it was not as tight as the F5. It could sound a little loose and thick on some material but on a lean recording this helped to flesh out the sound. The tone controls proved useful if a little distracting as I tended to fiddle a little too much between discs to get the best sound at first.
The A-S1000 showed signs of being highly musical and rhythmic esp on electronic music when the sequencers kicked in. However, it was lacking inner detail and mid range clarity compared to the B1 buffer and F5 combination. If I had not heard the F5 then I would be very happy with the Yamaha but the F5 betters it with faster and tighter bass control, a more transparent mid band and a sweeter top end, sacrificing on scale and width.
The Yamaha is laid back and easy listening in nature and would be a great match in a bright or edgy system that needs taming. The Yamaha strengths are its very big bold sound, warm laid back nature and rich lush texture. It never gets fatiguing but it can leave you wanting more if partnered with the wrong speakers and source. It works best on a cleaner neutral monitor type speaker with a faster sounding and more analytical source. I would not mix it with overly warm sounding speakers or source.
So for me the F5 stays for now. I can live with the F5 much smaller sound stage as its strengths are worth it compared to the A-S1000. I am now using this amp in my 2nd system as part of a Studio recoding DAW setup. It makes a very good headphone amplifier and considering you can equal for a lesser build pure headphone amplifier this is an alternative with a big proper powerful amp to boot. This is my main studio amplifier now with HD800 headphones for recording work and I have yet to find a dedicated headphone amplifier that betters it by a long way.
Tank like construction. Very heavy and super quality finish. The teak wood cheeks look retro but classy. If this was from a smaller cottage industry manufacture then it would cost much more. Great amp for the cost and 2nd prices are good value. The high number AS series are even better and look stunning.
The more I use this amp the more I like it. It is highly musical and never too in your face. Bass is rich and smooth which makes music sound weighty and lush esp if you up the bass control a little. I guess the amp is coloured compared to the F5 and others but not in a bad way. It really has a 'vintage' tone to match its vintage look.
Do not let the fact that this amp has tone and balance controls put you off, it does have a defeat mode when centred. There is a serious amount of snobbery in the HiFi industry in that anything with such controls cannot be considered serious equipment. Pro-audio users and musicians employ EQ units all the time, hardware and software based, at various stages in the recording, mix and playback process. The EQ is an essential piece of equipment but for some reason a no-no in HiFi, not even a simple tone circuit which can make the difference to enjoying a lean or bright recording and tweaking for room acoustics. Most HiFi guys spend countless box swapping exercises and messing with cables to 'tune' the sound and tonality which is just a longer and harder way to do the same thing sometimes. Do you want to listen to a pure signal and the HiFi or just enjoy all your music collection ?