This review, written by Malcolm Steward, first appeared in Hi-Fi Choice (UK) magazine in 2012.
You can tell that Yamaha means business with this £1429 network player the moment you lift it out of the box: its appearance is slim and sophisticated so its considerable weight comes as a real surprise. Then you spot little audiophile touches like the adjustable spiked feet and magnetic spike protectors. These and the balanced XLR connections on the rear panel suggest that someone truly wanted to make this a leading contender in the world of high-end network audio players, where it will be competing alongside the handsome likes of the recently reviewed Marantz NA7004, the Arcam Solo Neo, and digital streamers from Linn and Naim.
The NP-S2000 is a particularly fine-looking beast – despite those rather kitsch retro wood end cheeks – with its minimalist slim-line fascia perhaps disguising the complexity and capabilities that lie within the casework. Like the Marantz but unlike the Arcam, the Yamaha does not – despite its weight – provide an integral amplifier: there are just line-level connections to hook it up to a pre- or integrated amplifier, and a digital output for connection to a DAC. I used the latter, because while the analogue stages sounded fine, as they ought with an individual Burr Brown PCM-1792A DAC in each channel, I thought the digital connection through my regular Naim DAC sounded particularly enjoyable and refined.
The Yamaha will play ripped/downloaded music from a media server or PC on the network as well as from a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device that is DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compatible. This is why Yamaha thoughtfully provides a licensed copy of TwonkyMedia to be installed on your media server or NAS, from the software bundle on its download site. (To license the software you need the printed code from the literature included in the player packaging so be careful what you throw away when you unbox the player.) The software bundle also includes a network search utility and a link to the iPhone/iPod Touch app. The graphical interface of the latter is definitely the best way to control the player: in my opinion it is far superior to the remote control or using the fascia buttons and somewhat restrictive (especially if you have many thousands of tracks stored on your server) two-line display. You can also have a similar interface surface on a web browser on your PC or Mac provided it has access to the same network.
The NP-S2000 will handle all the usual music formats at rates up to 96kHz and bit depths of 16 and 24: WAV, FLAC, MP3, AAC, and WMA files are all supported but Yamaha wisely recommends using WAV and FLAC for optimum quality sound. (While WAV might be preferable to some it does have ‘issues’ with not supporting tags, so we stuck with FLAC files, which support Vorbis Comment style tags.) The Yamaha will handle all but the highest resolution files currently available. There really are not that many 24-bit/192 kHz files in circulation at the moment: 24-bit/96 kHz currently seems to be the most popular high resolution format.
When you have heard all the networked recordings you wish to hear, the player will also connect to internet radio and use the vTuner database. The Yamaha can also provide access to your iTunes library if you have TwonkyMedia installed alongside it.
Like the less expensive Marantz NA7004, the NP-S2000 offers balanced audio outputs. Many feel that such connections are redundant in a domestic audio environment but at least they offer a consistent balanced connection throughput to the Yamaha high-end A-S2000 or a similarly equipped amplifier for people who value it.
The seemingly bullet-proof build quality along with the stylish appearance inspires great pride of ownership and confidence in the NP-S2000. The interior is densely packed with dual transformers feeding discrete power supplies that power the analogue and digital circuitry independently, so minimising the transfer of noise between the two stages.
There is a toroidal transformer powering the analogue circuits and an IE core device supplying the digital components. The transformers occupy the middle third of the triptych-style internal layout so optimising the distribution of weight in the player.
The audio stages are symmetrical and balanced throughout. Together with the power supply arrangements and features such as an ultra-low-jitter clock, the Yamaha strives to deliver music against a notably silent background.
Keeping extraneous noise and interference away from the audio doubtless influenced Yamaha’s decision not to include any storage or optical devices in the NP-S2000 so you’ll not find any hard disks or CD/DVD drives here. Right now, though, I am listening to a raft of LPs I ripped to 24-bit/96kHz on my NAS, and in this instance a super-quiet background seems not quite as important as Yamaha imagines, not unless one is swayed more by the cosmetics of the presentation than by the music.
Loves Live Sound
The Yamaha is a highly capable player with a sound that can be delicate and room-filling at the same time. It really impresses with straight ahead, live-in-the-studio jazz recordings such as Art Pepper meets the Rhythm Section – a 24-bit/96kHz rip of the fantastic 1957 analogue session. It digs in deeply to reveal a wealth of instrumental detail, nuances and resonances that vividly bring the music to life. It positively revels in albums such as the Richard Thompson acoustic demo version of Dream Attic.
I found the NP-S2000 better suited to jazz and classical more than the more contemporary likes of Eminem and Dr Dre. It still plays these with gusto and enthusiasm but nonetheless sounds a little too polished and refined for some listeners’ tastes with music that benefits from a few rougher edges. Despite this ‘politeness’ it still articulates Eminem’s vocals exceedingly well and demonstrates remarkable bass weight and punch. In fact, that LF heft also helps the Yamaha to create convincingly expansive sound stages – with all types of music. However, it saves its most convincing portrayals for the likes of the Kirov Orchestra performing Stravinsky’s Firebird, where the player dexterously and convincingly balances conveying the delicacy of a triangle strike with the thunderous might of the percussion section and the blare of the massed horns in full flight.
Contrary to what I intimated earlier, the NP-S2000 manages splendidly replaying high resolution rips of well cared-for vinyl albums. Despite the occasional bit of surface noise, which passes virtually unnoticed, the player focuses the listener’s attention squarely on the music and the performances. Its low noise floor exploits the dynamic range available and brings out an abundance of appreciable detail. It keeps this all firmly in perspective and does not allow it to dominate or interrupt the ebb and flow of the performance. A collection of Graham Parker albums benefit particularly from their transfer to NAS by increasing the ease with which they can be auditioned yet losing none of their musical integrity or vitality. Parker sounds as fluent and angst-fuelled as ever and the presence and atmosphere of the venues in which he plays comes across with candour and vivacity. The album Live! Alone in America is a special case here: the Yamaha allows the full artistry of Parker and his recording crew to come across in a entirely convincing and persuasive manner.
Listening to a favourite internet radio station, Radio Paradise, the Yamaha makes the most of the relatively limited amount of data available and produces a dynamic, well-articulated, full-bodied presentation that delivers the smooth, rich, enjoyable listening experience that I have come to appreciate over the last year or two during which I have been regularly ‘tuning in’ to this Californian, DJ-free broadcaster. Its performance on Radio 4 live voices is thoroughly satisfactory and very pleasing.
The Yamaha NP-S2000 is a fine example of a network player from a ‘big name’ manufacturer. Its appearance is exemplary and its construction is superb. Its audio performance is fittingly premier league as well.
It performs well with all types of music but it truly excels with classical, jazz and acoustic recordings. Its recreation of recorded acoustic spaces complements live recordings fittingly.
As with so many similar products today, the best way to control it is through an app for those ubiquitous iGadgets: the iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, or through a web browser.
How it compares
The NP-S2000 seems expensive for what it is: over £1400 seems extravagant for a network player when half that amount will buy you the highly competitive Marantz NA7004, the same money would buy you an Arcam Solo Neo and about £500 more would buy a Naim Uniti. Both the Arcam and Naim have integral power amplifiers, which the Yamaha does not. My money has already been spent on the Uniti whose sound I find alluringly natural and musically involving but that does not diminish my respect for the Yamaha. I do not entirely agree with every aspect of the its design philosophy but one cannot argue about its aesthetics and performance: it looks fabulous and sounds first-rate. If your decor would benefit by its inclusion in your home buy it without a second thought. Just make sure you have an iThingy with which to drive it. I’m sure you do…