Yamaha’s A-S3200 Integrated Amplifier

Watching the delicate power level meters bounce to the rhythm of Led Zeppelin from across the room, Yamaha’s A-S3200 serves up an experience that is as visually engaging as it is sonically engaging.

Maybe it’s just being of a certain generation, but backlit power meters are fun. Whether you were there in the beginning, when Yamaha receivers were very popular, or getting on the bus for the first time, the level of design execution this amplifier offers is luxurious in every way.

If you have six to ten thousand dollars to spend on a premium integrated amplifier, there are some fantastic choices – both solid state and with vacuum tubes. For argument’s sake, let’s assume you aren’t interested in being bothered with replacing tubes and would like to stick with solid-state for now. Still plenty of choices. Yamaha’s A-S3200 is at the top of their range, and with an MSRP of $7,500 offers power, performance, functionality and style.

Flexible like Gumby

In the tradition of Japanese integrateds from the 80s, the A-S3200 offers a wide range of function, while still offering a level of sonic performance that will make even the fussiest audiophiles happy. With a pair of balanced XLR inputs, four RCA line-level inputs and a switchable MM/MC phono input, you’ll never be at a loss, even if you have a couple of tape decks.

As the A-S3200 features balanced circuitry throughout, close comparison reveals a slight performance edge to using the balanced inputs if you can. It’s not night and day, slap you in the face different, but back and forth comparisons between the two, the balanced inputs communicate more spatial information and delicacy.

If your choice of music is primarily rock, pop, or anything heavily produced, it might just pass you by. Attempting to keep it real for everyone, a long string of VanHalen, and Billie Eilish tunes were played, with no real difference discernible. Both the dCS Vivaldi and Luxman D-03x players were used with a set of 2-meter Cardas Clear Reflection cables – XLR and RCA, in the effort to keep it as apples to apples as possible.

However, switching the faire to some light classical, with an old copy of the Netherland Wind Ensemble’s performance of Beethoven Wind Music, Octet Op.103, reveals slightly more air and delicacy around these instruments when utilizing the balanced inputs. Likewise, for Michael Hedges guitar classic, Aerial Boundaries. With this record, leading and trailing transient edges have more attack. It won’t drive you to madness through the RCAs, but it is enough of a difference, that you won’t be able to un-hear it if you have the opportunity. Ah, the life of an audiophile.

Mega functionality

In a nod to the golden years of audio (i.e. the late 60s to early 80s), the A-S3200 has plenty of inputs as mentioned earlier, a front panel headphone jack, and incredible flexibility. The headphone amplifier features a trim control with -6, 0, +6, and +12db output, making transitioning from phones to speakers more comfortable. We did not spend a ton of time listening through phones, but a random sampling of available phones produced more than acceptable sound. A nice touch for the occasional, but not obsessed headphone user.

Two sets of speakers are able to be accessed via the front panel, which is incredibly handy, and tone controls. That word. Vintage amplifiers often had fairly intrusive tone controls, but the A-S3200’s controls only affect extreme treble and low bass, making them very good at making up for deficiencies in recordings, or a slight adjustment in room response. Those coolio meters mentioned at the beginning of the review can be set to respond more like traditional, weighted VU meters, or peak indicators. Normal, dimmed, and off allow you to adjust the lighting to your taste and mood too. Some purists will want them off, but why?

MM and MC

Handily, cartridge gain for MM or MC cartridges can be adjusted from the front panel. MM loading is the standard 47k, but MC is only 50 ohms. This will make cartridges needing loading between 200 and 1000 ohms sound slightly dull and lifeless, so if you don’t have a cartridge in this range, plan accordingly on your purchase for the best vinyl performance.

Rega’s Apheta performs brilliantly loaded to 50 ohms, and the Denon DL-103r also turns in a great performance between 50 and 100 ohms, the Yamaha proves a fantastic match. The Kiseki Purple Heart, also available for a test run, (and normally loaded at 400 ohms) loses enough sparkle that it is not recommended with the Yamaha’s built-in MC section, but there are plenty of cartridges that work well around 100-ohms, so there are still plenty of choices.

This phono stage is no afterthought, with all discrete components in the gain and EQ stages, and it turns in a level of sonic performance that we’d expect out of an outboard phono stage in the $1,000 – $1,500 level.  Best of all – you won’t need another set of cables. With this level of performance, this is a phono stage that a beginning music lover can be happy with, starting with a budget table/cartridge combination, yet have enough performance to keep you happy, should you upgrade your table, and start looking at $400 – $1,500 cartridges. The overall sound is neutral, dynamic and quiet.

The argument is often made that an integrated amplifier should contain a built in DAC, and while this is certainly the choice that some manufacturers make, phono stage technology does not become obsolete in the way digital technology does. Which brings up the DAC or DAC/streamer argument. This will probably be the big question you will have to answer before plunking down your credit card – would you rather have a very good phono section on board, and upgrade your DAC as times change, or potentially have an outdated onboard DAC 5 years from now? As Dr. Seuss says, “you’ve got brains in your head and shoes on your feet.”

Plenty of power

Yamaha claims the A-S3200 produces 100 watts per channel into 8 ohms, and 150 watts into 4 ohms. This has incensed some of the internet know it alls, claiming it can’t possibly be robust enough, blah, blah. However, those of our colleagues that take measurements, found this amplifier to produce between 170 and 180 watts into 4 ohms. Unable to bring myself to pry the gorgeous casework apart, as you can see from the supplied photo, there is a massive power supply under the cover of this amplifier. And it’s nicely built too – with an incredibly thick copper sub chassis to help with vibration and noise control.

As we are working on a speaker issue, more than the usual compliment of speakers are in the studio to audition with the A-S3200. With 100 watts or so per channel at our disposal, there are no issues driving a range of speakers from Dynaudio, Gershwin Acoustics, Acora, Penaudio, Sonus faber, Focal and Totem. We even tortured it a bit with the old Acoustat ESL’s – if anything will trip an amplifier up, it’s these. While Magneplanars are typically inefficient and power hungry, the old ESLs present a highly capacitive and complex load. Again, there was always enough range at our disposal to play music as loud as we wanted to without issue.

All of the speakers on hand were sensitive enough that we could not drive any of them to clipping in the 12 x 18-foot room used for nearly all of our test listening. This amplifier paints a large sonic landscape providing substantial bass drive and control. With the Focal Stella Utopia Ems still here, we could confirm that the Yamaha not only goes deep, but does a splendid job at controlling those big woofers when required.

The overall sonic character of the A-S3200 is ever so slightly on the warm side of neutral. Where the Class A offerings from Accuphase, Luxman, and Pass integrated amplifiers have a decidedly more saturated sound, the A-S3200, being Class AB, the Yamaha is a bit more neutral tonally. This isn’t a terrible thing.

Final notes

Yamaha’s A-S3200 is a flawless performer. This product is even more stunning in person than our photos or the ones from Yamaha suggest. This is a quality product in every way: great sound, rock-solid build, fantastic execution. The level of sonic quality on tap with this and a few other excellent choices in this price range is staggering compared to 5 or 6 years ago, when most audiophiles would have turned their noses up at the suggestion of a single box doing everything. All but the most obsessed can live happily ever after with the Yamaha A-S3200.

There is one thing to take serious note of, should you buy an A-S3200 for yourself. The idea of component break in is somewhat contentious, and anything dreadful out of the box doesn’t transform into wonderful 1000 hours down the road. These aren’t butterflies. However, the A-3200 is slightly dry and stiff sounding out of the box. Not a deal killer, but after about 200 hours of continuous play, it opens up tremendously. Further than I’ve experienced with other solid-state amplifiers, which makes me wonder if my test unit was up on a shelf in a warehouse for some time before it made its way here. So, my only suggestion is that when you take delivery on your A-S3200, give it a couple of weeks play time before you judge it completely.

This amplifier is towards the top of its range if you have no plans for analog, yet at $7,500 if you have analog ambitions that are somewhere in the neighborhood of a $750 – $4,000 table/arm/cartridge combination, the A-S3200 is an excellent value.



Digital Source Luxman D-03x Disc Player, Naim 555/PS555 streamer, dCS Vivaldi ONE

Analog Source Technics GAE-1200 table/Denon 103r cart, Rega Apheta 2 cart

Cable Cardas Clear Reflection (speaker and interconnect)

Speakers JBL L-100 Classic, Eggleston Emma 2, Focal Stella Utopia EM, Focal Kanta no.1, Sonus faber Stradivari, Harbeth C7-ES3

Focal updates their Clear heaphone lineup with the Clear Mg

Focal has just announced their new Clear Mg headphone, replacing the former “Clear” phones as their open back reference. Keeping with Focal’s already smashing sense of style, the new Clear Mg utilizes a primarily Chestnut color palette, featuring subtle integration with the materials used: leather, aluminum and premium microfiber. A handy, form fitting case is also included.

The “Mg” in the name represents the new diaphragm, which is made from Magnesium, and the shape, which is an M-shaped dome. Focal claims the new dome driver to have increased rigidity and damping with lower mass than the original. The result is even more natural, effortless sound than before. Plenty of other new touches abound:

• A new, M-shaped, honeycomb grille, more closely following the curve of the driver.

• Perforated microfiber ear pads for maximum comfort, and enhanced sonic transparency.

• Improved frequency extension at both ends of the audible spectrum.

Focal is holding the line on price, at $1,490 and we look forward to sampling this premium headphone very soon. For more information, please visit the Focal website here:


The dCS Bartok: Take Two…

Editor’s Note: A short introduction is in order for readers who haven’t always followed our narrative.

Bob Gendron has been a contributor to TONE for almost 12 years and was also the magazine’s editor in chief for a considerable period. His knowledge of and enthusiasm for music is boundless  — beyond that of anyone I know. Even though he’s never professed to be an audiophile, he’s always had a great system in his home to get closer to the musical experience.

We’ve had countless discussions about analog vs. digital, and whether digital truly delivers enough of the emotional component to be on par with analog source material. As someone who has embraced a high-end, high-quality, and high-dollar digital front end for more than a decade now, I am convinced it is, and when Bob was considering his next upgrade, I suggested the dCS Bartok. Having lived with one for nearly a year, and spent countless hours comparing it to my dCS Vivaldi One, I knew this was the solution.

Unfortunately, the current COVID crisis has made it much more difficult to audition gear in person. So, after a number of “are you sure I’m going to like it that much?” conversations, Bob took a leap of faith and purchased a Bartok. It didn’t take long for the experience to sink in. What follows is the account of a die-hard analog disciple. Again, this is NOT about one format vs. the other, it’s about getting to the point where you engage the music and get past the gear.

Mission accomplished. And now, on to Mr. Gendron…

dCS Bartok DAC

By Bob Gendron

“This machine kills vinyl addictions.”

The dCS Bartok DAC doesn’t come with that declaration. But the U.K.-devised, -engineered, and -built device certainly could. Variation on the Woody Guthrie guitar slogan aside, the 36.8-pound box supports the claim with utmost conviction and wondrous ease. A natural match with TIDAL and other high-resolution streaming services, the MQA-certified and Roon-tested Bartok flips long-held beliefs about digital like a pancake.

Let’s face it: Age-old debates surrounding analog versus digital will never abate. And that’s okay. A major benefit to owning a Bartok is that it doesn’t force you to choose sides or give up one medium for the other. Rather, it levels the playing field while providing options a great majority of DACs only dream about in their marketing hyperbole. Digital music rendered with levels of body, tonality, depth, presence, dynamics, detail, and liveliness on par with those furnished by a five-figure analog front end — coupled with SACD-like refinement, clarity, smoothness, extension, and ultra-low noise — without the harshness, sterility, brightness, and soullessness often associated with digital? Believe it. Or, embrace your inner skeptic. That’s fine, too, because once you hear Bartok in person, you will be even more elated.

There’s one hitch. Price. It lingers as the only potential drawback attached to this spectacular piece. Selling for $14,500 without the optional built-in headphone amplifier (which adds $2,750 to the ask), Bartok remains off limits to a large segment of the populace. Yet it’s important to put everything in context. Bartok exists in an industry in which five-figure power cables are touted by “experts” as being worth every penny and six-figure speakers are championed on the covers of magazines — the very same whose highfalutin editors seldom write a check to pay for what they praise and who still get to keep that exorbitantly costly gear in their personal systems under the justification of “needing to hear the cutting-edge.”

Which isn’t to suggest Bartok is a “bargain” or [insert your favorite audiophile-press cliche here]. Rather, it indicates price has become an end-all-be-all in audio, sponsoring a “keeping up with the Joneses” race that more often than not has nothing to do with performance improvements and everything to do with boasting about how much something costs — and/or, in the case of folks with walls of glowing power amplifiers and the like, how it looks. Call the practice what you want. By any name, it functions as a barricade to entry that both preserves the pleasures of superior music playback for a very select few and fuels denigrating discourse in which less-expensive gear gets treated with thinly veiled condescension in reviews and showrooms. “Oh, you can’t afford X? Well, Y is fine, I guess.”

Bartok flips a large, fat middle finger at that trend. How many of today’s components change someone’s listening habits overnight? How many save valuable time and let you hear what you want in seconds — no washing or delicate handling required? How many help provide immediate access to vast libraries and present said content in a fidelity that transforms what you sense? How many stave off obsolescence via over-the-air firmware updates that enhance operation and sonics? How many DACs feature field-programmable architecture? For that matter, how many tout their own streaming app? (And how many manufacturers take proprietary technology developed for flagship products and put it in their lower-cost offerings?)

The collective answer to all of the aforementioned questions amounts to a number you can count on one hand. Bartok is in that class. TONEAudio Editor Jeff Dorgay authoritatively covered the unit’s flexibility, connectivity, and features in his original review here; ditto its build and construction. He also correctly made the observation that it functions as a long-term investment — another Bartok trait that rails against high-end audio’s obsession with constant replacement.

As much a digital audio product can, Bartok comes on as the equivalent of a ‘60s McIntosh tube amplifier or ‘80s JBL horn speaker — classics to which people keep returning because they are that good, that reliable, that fun. Another incentive: Its seamless interfacing ability with Roon, particularly now that the platform’s 1.8 software makes streaming on Bartok an easier and smarter experience. It also should go without saying (again) that using a Bartok doesn’t mean you’ll stop spinning records. Instead, it serves as an equalizer: Granting added access, increasing options, bestowing convenience, and bringing sought-after analog qualities to digital while spotlighting albums that sound better digitally than they do on a turntable (and vice versa).

For all but the wealthiest, $15k constitutes a hefty sum. So, a bit of gentle advice. If you’re looking at a certain tier of DACs — even models selling for half as much — pause. Then, dig a bit deeper and take the plunge on a Bartok. Or, save up and bide your time. If you opt to do the latter, Tom Petty might be proven right — the waiting is the hardest part — but the payoff will reward your patience tenfold. As for the dreaded upgrade itch that inevitably circles around shortly after you make an audio purchase and encourages you to get the proverbial newest, latest, and greatest? It’ll never graze your skin.



Amplification Luxman L-590AXII

Analog Dr. Feickert Woodpecker with Jelco tonearm and Ortofon Cadenza Bronze cartridge

Digital Oppo BDP-105

Cabling Shunyata Delta interconnects and power cables

Speakers Klipsch Cornwall III

REVIEW: The Technics EAH-AZ70 Wireless Earbuds

Ever since Apple got serious about wireless headphones, with their Apple Buds, everyone else making headphones has stepped up the game. Much like in the world of racing, where the saying goes that competition improves the breed, nothing could be truer in the world of personal listening.

Technics brings their new EAH-AZ70s to the table with a bevy of features and performance to match. At $249 these immediately go to the head of the class, especially when considering that Apples iBud Pro is still $249. Even this Apple fanboy must come clean. The Technics buds not only sound better, but bring a much more elegant execution. No doubt, this is the result of parent company Panasonic’s depth of manufacturing expertise.


Like everything Technics makes, the packaging on the AZ70s is exquisite. Those of you who save every bit of packaging take note, the box flaps are a tight fit, and if you don’t open them with extreme care, you will tear the box to pieces. I only mention this because most of the headphone enthusiasts I’ve encountered have been very OCD about this kind of thing!

Setup via the Technics Audio Control App couldn’t be easier. Once you install, the buds go in the charging cradle (and Technics thoughtfully sends them 50% charged, so you can at least give them a test drive) and are quickly paired via Bluetooth to whatever device you are using. When done using your AZ70s, just plop them back in the black charging cradle and let them charge again. Technics claims 4 hours for a full charge, so this can easily be an end of day ritual.

Let the listening begin

My test began with my iPhone Max and Spotify. Even at 320kb/sec, the quality put into these phones is immediately evident. Upping the game to streaming 16/44 resolution via ROON is more than worth the effort. The initial crunchiness feared from these buds disappeared instantly. Even a well-designed pair of ear buds at this price point makes an excellent case for avoiding MP3 quality audio.

Tracking through a wide variety of tunes from classic rock to Christmas music, in this case, the “Rock and Roll Santa,” the overall smoothness of the AZ70s makes for comfortable listening, even when at desk duty for some time. The high register of these buds is particularly good, especially considering the price point. Cymbals and percussion instruments are reproduced with ease and clarity. Perhaps the best feature of the AZ70s is their noise cancelling function. When this technology was first introduced, the noise cancelling often took out a lot of music as well. The Technics buds are surgical in their precision, even when the noise cancelling effect is turned up fairly high.

Switching to some iPad use for TV and Movies is equally rewarding. Now that we’re all cocooning, those of you that cohabitate can each get a pair of AZ70’s and watch your own programming in piece, while still cuddling. COVID notwithstanding, two sets of AZ70s might be a helper in maintaining domestic bliss.

Watching the latest episode of Star Trek – Discovery, the AZ70s offer impressive dynamic range, and generate a large soundfield, making it easy to place characters walking on and off screen. Thanks to the equalizer built in to the Technics app, it’s easy to adjust your AZ70s to taste. A tiny bass boost at 100hz was all that was required to get some more weight out of the show’s audio. Going back through some old episodes of American Dad and Family Guy are a ton of fun, as these two animated gems offer a lot of sound effects bouncing all over the screen.

The final frontier

The last place the AZ70s prove to be awesome is paired to the desktop computer. Mixing a few bits for our upcoming podcast series is a breeze, and with everyone’s desk space at a premium, a real boost to productivity.

Any of you doing Zoom calls, or just phone via computer will be liberated from the weight of a cumbersome pair of over-ear phones, as well as increased clarity. The Technics app also provides a “clear voice” setting, which makes talking via computer or your phone much easier.


Much like the way DAC technology has become so much better, and budget DACs now rival units costing much more five years ago, wireless noise cancelling technology is quite good indeed. When airplane travel becomes part of my monthly ritual again, I will never be without a pair of these.

Technics has created a high performance, yet affordable pair of wireless ear buds with the AZ70s that will please everyone from music lovers, to movie fans, to computer users. As good as they sound, taking into consideration the high level of manufacturing execution, they can’t be beat for $249.

I haven’t heard anything that comes close to matching this combination of sound and build quality anywhere near $249.

Highly recommended.


REVIEW: The Sonus faber Sonetto V Speakers

Thomas Dolby’s “May the Cube be With You” turns out to be the track used to put about 100 hours on the Sonus faber Sonetto V speakers before serious listening begins.

The deep synth bass line in this track works wonders at breaking in woofer cones, and the spacy production vibe and multiple layers in this tune make it easy to hear the Sonettos change character over a weeks’ time of continuous play. Like nearly all high-performance speakers, they are a little closed in when first unpacked.

The Sonetto Vs need at least 100 hours to deliver everything they are capable of, and you will need to spend some time optimizing them in your room for the best result. This is not a speaker you can just drop in the room anywhere and expect great results. However, if you can take the time to properly place them, you will be rewarded with outstanding results. It’s like setting the desmodromic valve train on a Ducati – you need patience to get it right, but when it’s right, it’s really right.

I betcha didn’t know that

The three-way design of the Sonetto V uses a pair of 180mm (7-inch) woofers and a 150mm (5.9 inch) midrange coupled to a Sonus faber DAD soft dome tweeter. The woofers utilize an aluminum cone and the midrange a pulp fiber cone, that will be familiar to long time SF owners. The cabinet shape is also familiar, the rounded side, lute shape that has made Sonus faber famous. A pair of dual binding posts lurk around the back, in case you prefer bi-amplification, though with a sensitivity rating of 90db/1watt, you probably won’t need more than one amplifier to drive them.

However, we suggest and amplifier with a fair amount of drive to get the best result. A budget integrated or surround receiver will not provide the necessary control, and may leave you disappointed. If that’s your starting point, don’t shy away from a pair of Sonettos, but know there will be more performance at your disposal when you are able to upgrade. As we’ve been reviewing integrated amplifiers this issue, we tried the Sonetto V with everything from the 30 watt per channel PrimaLuna EVO100, all the way up to the $17k Thrax ENYO ampflifier – all with excellent result. The Sonettos even spent some time with our reference MC275 amplifier – an incredible match for these speakers.

That’s the way I like it

Just the thought of a Sonus faber speaker one person can lift alone is intriguing. Though you can also get the Sonetto V speakers in a wood finish, but the matte white with leather top surfaces are postitively stunning. Sonus faber is known around the world for the high-quality finish adorning their speakers, with a lacquered finish that will put the world’s finest automobiles to shame, but the matte white is very fashion forward. White speakers just disappear in the room visually, making it even easier for the speakers to disappear sonically.

Not only are the Sonetto Vs easy on your eyes and back, they are easy on your wallet. $4,995 buys you a pair of genuine Sonus faber speakers, hand made in Italy, by the same craftspeople that make the Aidas and all the other speakers in the homage collection.

Finally, the Sonetto Vs are part of an entire range. It consists of larger and smaller speakers, along with a wall mounted speaker and center channel that all share the same voicing, so expanding your Sonetto Vs to a full-blown theater setup in the future is as easy as calling your Sonus faber dealer and getting more stuff.

Shake your booty

When setting up the Sonetto, you need to optimize them in room for the best low frequency coupling. Setting up the speakers around the left speaker first to get the best combination of bass extension and mid bass to midrange coherency will take a little while. Nail that and move onto the right speaker. Once you get there, the fine tuning can begin, adjusting toe in and speaker rake angle until the speakers completely disappear in the room.

I used the tried, and battle worn Jennifer Warnes’ “Ballad of the Runaway Horse” to get this right. Everyone who’s ever worked for Sonus faber or their former importer Sumiko will all exhale and laugh right now, but for the rest of you, this is a great track to optimize speaker parameters, and you’ve probably got your own, but I’ve used this track so many times, it’s easy.

Properly set up in your room, the Sonetto Vs will deliver convincing bass response, and a mid/treble that is highly pleasing. Sonus faber speakers from the last 8 years or so definitely have a more modern sound than the early SF speakers, which had always been known for their delectable midrange. The Sonetto Vs do not betray their heritage, yet they have a more extended high end and along with solid LF response too.

A direct comparison to my Sonus faber Stradiveri’s (which are a little bit old school in the SF lineup) proves the Sonettos more forward, much like moving up about 10 rows in the auditorium. But both are lovely in their own way. However, this does prove that the Sonettos can work in a 24 x 16 foot room without a problem. That being said, most listening was done in a 13 x 18-foot room with excellent result. If your room is somewhere from 12 x 14 or larger, you’ll be just fine.

Get down tonight

Stuck in the late 80s and early 90s while breaking in the Sonetto Vs, a long playlist of Thomas Dolby, Level 42, and Paul Young tunes just feel right with these speakers, powered by the glow of the MC275.

A bonus for our apartment dwelling readers, the Sonetto Vs can definitely power the party, but they play great at low volume levels too. Not every speaker can get this critical job done, and even when playing at low levels, these speakers create a large, dimensional sound field that won’t have your neighbors pounding on the walls. What’s the point of having great speakers if you put your headphones on all the time, right?

To be fair to the Sonettos, I left the past behind, making my way back to the current day, musically speaking. Bottom line, there was nothing I threw at the Sonettos that I felt they couldn’t do justice too. Getting in a party mood with “Oppa is Just My Style,” the Sonettos prove they can play loud when the need arises. Even at eviction notice levels, these speakers did not distort, bottom the woofer cones, or exhibit soundstage collapse. Staying at party SPLs, the deep bass line in Girls Day’s “Look at Me” had a few people looking for the subwoofer. And just before you think I’ve gone way too KPop on you, the new AC/DC single “Shot in the Dark” was just released, so a final infusion of heavy guitars (at high volume, of course) ticks the last box. This is a great pair of speakers that can play whatever you enjoy without excuse.

I’m a pushover

Being a Sonus faber owner, I have to admit a bit of built-in bias towards the brand. You won’t mistake the Sonettos for a pair of something else – they have a sound of their own. Like famous painters, everyone has a style that they truly love. If you are looking for a pair of truly beautiful speakers that offer up a dynamic, tonally rich presentation, take the Sonetto Vs for a spin.