A last set of quick tests were devoted to matching a variety of headphones.
The main assortment I chose was the Sennheiser 585, HiFiMan 400 and Audio Technica ATH-W1000 Sovereigns. Listening results showed a preference for the Sennheiser and Audio Technica, with the HiFiMan being a little diffuse in soundstaging. The 585 played it huge and lush with a warm balance. The Audio Technica was the surprise winner, matching the 585's headstage but delivering superior focus with astonishing transparency. The quality of the discrete headphone stage proved quite high, offering generous detail and a tonal balance voiced a touch warm, a good parallel with the main outputs. Overall performance of course, will be source dependent especially in the digital domain since unlike the A-S801 integrated, digital decoding is not internal.

The phono stage went untested due to the long ago departure of my turntable and related software and hardware. It is doubtful that Yamaha would skimp on the quality of this portion but I cannot offer any performance information on the subject. Hardware may be the messenger but music is the ultimate message so I tried to find selections which covered the gamut of styles and genres. For every FIM, Reference Recording, Dorian and Telarc, I tried to explore fresh material to prevent listening from becoming a mausoleum of pedantic selections. Here's a sampling with perhaps some fun material to seek out. In honour of the just released remake of the original Kurasawa-inspired classic Western, here are two very different versions of the signature piece which highlight incredibly divergent styles in achieving a reproduction of a live symphony presentation: Cut 3 from Elmer Bernstein's "The Magnificent 7" from Round Up with Erich Kunzel/Cincinnati Pops Orchestra [Telarc CD-80141] and cut 1 "The Magnificent 7: Elmer Bernstein" from FIM Super Sounds II Stanley Black conducting the London Festival Orchestra [FIMXP24 067]. The Telarc is a minimalist microphone job which achieves natural perspective with wide dynamic range. It challenges the ability of your system to go the full distance without losing information. Add to these virtues a crackerjack polished interpretation of the original material and you have a wonderful cut on an album dedicated to a wide chronological spectrum of music devoted to the Western. It has all the traditional trappings of Telarc's finest qualities.

The FIM version is a skillful and apparently painfully difficult remastering of a Decca Phase 4 recording employing 48 microphones. The result is a complex engineering effort to rebuild and duplicate the natural space and placement of instruments within the framework of a 2-channel setup. Unlike a minimalist microphone setup, the instrumental perspective is very much close up with a very different balance of frequency and detail versus acoustic environment. This recording is a classic example of multi-microphone technique where texture reigns over absolutes of purist perspective. Like the Telarc alternative, strong performances and an energetic interpretation make it worthy of inclusion in FIM's Super Sound collection - and yours.

"Up We Go" and "Meteorites" from Tidal's Midnight Machines: Lights [Last Gang Records], songstress Lights swaps her Juno award winning mantle of ambitious pop tunes for an unabashed cloak of acoustic glory. The album highlights the depth and range of her songwriting talent with intimate interpretations of her pop hits that demonstrate maturity of subject matter and emotional intensity. This recording goes sonically au naturel, no auto tune on the vocals, backed by real acoustic instrumental support and adorned with a decent sense of soundstage. What is captured is close to what you'd hear in a one-to-one live setting with some tasteful production embellishments. If you're tired of retread female breakup songs, you might want to aim higher and look into the Lights.

"Earned it: The Weekend"from Tidal's streaming soundtrack of Fifty Shades of Grey [Universal/Island Records] is, unlike the rather tame movie adaptation, strong material to insure popularity. This cut did well in the awards category and is a surprisingly well produced effort noteworthy for unusually wide dynamic range, a wide and deep soundstage, instrumental perspective, texture, acoustical complexity and layering. It shows more compelling seductive qualities than the movie. "Amore e Musica" from Tidal's Amore Musica: Russell Watson [Decca/Universal] is one of those pleasant experiences that comes from exploring an artist's catalog via a streaming service. While listening to the controversial theme song from the Enterprise soundtrack, the question arose, "What else has Russell Watson done?" Those who only know him from this particular piece should will be in for a shock. Watson is an accomplished classical tenor and this particular album is tastefully done crossover where classical and modern are given the full, rich superstar production treatment as backed by orchestra and background vocals. "Estrella: Pone-Heifetz" and "He Loves She Loves: George Gershwin" from Bonjour: Soo Bae [AME Ministry www.soobae.com] is a lovely CD with the benefits of minimal manipulation, a sprinkling of live concert material and a wide repertoire of energetically performed chamber music to keep the whole interesting and entertaining. Soo Bae shows the incredible range of voice available on the cello backed by piano, mandolin, guitar and bass. From dark and sensual to playful and lively, there are healthy doses of natural texture, dynamic range and acoustics to appeal to the audiophile and the music lover's senses. With music afoot, test tones and pink noise running alongside Pink Floyd, how did the Yamaha A-S2100 fare? Let's look microscopic first and follow with holistic comparisons.

Dynamics and resolution. The integrated offered a huge level of microdynamic information which translated as relevant detail, enhancing instrument texture, defining spatial boundaries and localizing instruments. Where the previously reviewed Yamaha A-S801 amplifier emphasized whiplash dynamic gymnastics, the A-S2100 applied its power and mass with a slightly more refined dynamic hand, prioritizing that information towards a context of instrumental character. Dynamic structure roughly mirrored what one could expect from a well-designed tube amplifier of comparable wattage in similar circumstances of efficiency. In the process, it also emulated another interesting tube trick when it pushed towards the ends of its comfortable limits to bring up low-level information through a subtle compression of dynamic range. Tube aficionados will appreciate this technological sleight of hand, since it creates the illusion of even higher levels of detail and instrument texture without serious penalty. Pushed past those points, the detail began to lose context, becoming coarser and flattening perspective. The good point is that the amplifier allowed generous warning and gentle handling up to that level.

Frequency response and noise. A primary design goal in the A-S2100 was the creation of a warm sonic signature weighted more towards the bass to be more representative of an acoustical presentation. To this end the integrated makes good use of its Mosfet architecture by sliding into a meatier response and capturing some tube traits. The bass could plumb the nether regions with immense power and scale, putting a believable grand piano in the room with full size and weight; or capture the massive wall of a synthesizer with complex texture. The upper bass reflected the same style and depending on the hardware combination, the entire range could be swung from mildly warm to full-on KT88 tubular in spectacular fashion, albeit with somewhat greater control than actual valves Compared to my regular Bel Canto EVO 200.4/Tortuga combination, the Yamaha pushed a bit more energy into the mid 40Hz range, putting a bit more meat on the platter. It drove the infamous Apogee bass panel with authority, conjuring flashbacks of my old Tympani 1D days and swung the 6½" mid/woofer of the Clearwave Revelation BE like a muscular floorstander. This wasn't "float like butterfly, sting like bee" bass. This was old school, powerful big bass. Mr. Kumazawa can consider this portion of his design objective very much achieved.

The midrange through upper mids had a luminous quality that made instruments and vocalists immediately palpable. This was easily attained regardless of cable, source or speaker combination and quite addictive. Think tube references and you will get a good idea of how seductive the Yamaha could sing in this range. High frequencies reflected the signatures of the interconnect cables at the front of the chain but in all cases the upper mids plus were handled with high refinement. This range traded a little bit of old tube euphonics as it ascended for a little more modernity, assuming the traditional Yamaha stance of high detail without aggressive overbite. As a result, accompanying resolution levels and the character on top felt dialed matter of fact to pronounced and airy depending on ancillaries. Noise was a total non-issue. The A-S2100 was absolutely dead quiet, exhibiting no hum, buzz or background hiss, equalling the best products I've ever had in house.