Review: Yamaha A-S500 Hi-Fi Integrated Amplifier

The front side of a Yamaha A-S500 integrated amplifier
The Yamaha A-S500 integrated amplifier can give the performance you want without breaking the bank. Yamaha

Audiophiles and serious music lovers often turn to integrated amplifiers as a halfway point between using just a stereo receiver versus a full array of separate components. A receiver by itself can offer most everything in one single component, but purists claim lower overall performance at the expense of the additional features. The beauty of hand-picking separate components is that you can create a system capable of delivering mind-blowing audio performances.

But the drawback? Expect to pay some budget-busting prices.

Integrated amplifiers are the happy middle point between single and multiple components. Such amplifiers are geared towards better audio performance, but typically at a price far more affordable than a separate amp and preamp. One such example is the Yamaha A-S500. I gave it a serious run to find out how it stacks up as a modestly-priced integrated amplifier.

Features

The A-S500 is one of Yamaha's more affordable, value amplifiers. The clean, uncluttered appearance of the A-S500 is a throwback to the first stereo amps and receivers Yamaha introduced in the US during the 1970s. Its sleek, black front panel and machined knobs are both impressive and classy.

If you're expecting to connect up to digital sources, you'll be out of luck as the Yamaha A-S500 is an analog-only amplifier. But it does pack 85 watts for a speaker pair, measured from 20 Hz to 20 kHz with 8-ohm speakers, which is more than enough for speakers with sensitivity specs of roughly 92 dB or greater.

The Yamaha A-S500 has a power bandwidth ranging from 10 Hz to 50 kHz and a damping factor greater than 240. The A-S500 amplifier also 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 to 100 kHz while providing the most direct audio signal path.

 Just remember that specs don't tell the whole story, serving merely as guidepost for evaluating audio performance. 

Other key features include: dual speaker outputs for two pair of speakers (or bi-wiring a single pair), phono input (moving magnet cartridge turntables only), and a Power Management function that switches the A-S500 to standby mode after eight hours of non-operation. One of my favorite features is the Muting Control, which mutes the sound gradually before slowly returning the sound to the previous level once disengaged. It's much less jarring than a simple MUTE on-off control. The included remote control also operates other Yamaha components, such as the companion T-S500 stereo tuner or a CD/DVD player. 

Performance

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), which is considered a broad range for speaker sensitivity specs. The Yamaha A-S500 integrated amplifier never seems to strain with either speaker – although I wouldn't hesitate to give the Atlantic speakers a little more power. Listening levels are a matter of personal taste, so unless you’re powering four speakers (Speakers A + B) at very high levels, the Yamaha A-S500 amplifier is robust enough to not have any kind of issue.

If more power is needed for particular speakers and/or personal preference, you might want to check out the Yamaha A-S1100 analog stereo integrated amplifier.

Overall the Yamaha A-S500 has a very balanced and neutral sound quality to it. The Continuously Variable Loudness Control, found on most Yamaha stereo components, is quite effective when trying to achieve the right tonal balance. The A-S500 integrates easily with an optional iPod dock, such as the Yamaha YDS-12 (also YDS-10 and YDS-11) Universal iPod/iPhone dock. The remote control supplied with the Yamaha A-S500 is able to control the menu and many playback functions of a docked iPod or iPhone (although there is no video output).

Just as car shoppers open and close a car door to get a sense of quality, audio buyers like to turn knobs and push buttons for components. In this area, the Yamaha A-S500 fares nicely with controls that deliver a smooth, tactile feel.

Conclusion

Feeding audiophile tastes can be a challenge. But with the Yamaha A-S500 integrated amplifier, it doesn't require a limitless funds. This unit can easily become a cornerstone of a sweet stereo system that sticks to a tight budget. While the A-S500 may not rise to the Hi-Fi level of separate components, it offers performance and features that 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), the Yamaha A-S500 can easily serve the needs and wants of a serious music listener without breaking the bank.