Audioph iles love overachieving products, and two of the most impressive ones I’ve encountered in the past year are the $1650 YBA Design YA201 integrated amplifier and the $995 Rega Apollo CD player. Both of these mid-priced products sound as if they cost more than they do. YBA Design is a value-oriented subbrand descended from YBA—one of the most prestigious high-end audio manufacturers in France (the firm takes its name from the initials of its founder, Yves-Bernard André). YBA Design products are designed in France, but built in Asia to hold manufacturing costs down. Words can’t do justice to the YA201’s breathtaking appearance, but what’s even more impressive is its sound.
YBA products are famous for their three-dimensionality and vibrant midrange detail, and the 100Wpc YA201 is no exception. Through the YA201, musicians seem to appear onstage with almost sculptural solidity, and at times the amplifier even gives the illusion that the music is illuminated from within—making subtle inner contours and details easier to hear and appreciate. This, in a nutshell, is the sonic magic that makes the YA201 sound more expensive than it is.
To hear what I mean, try a high-quality recording of complex orchestral material, such as David Chesky’s “Concerto for Violin
and Orchestra” from Area 31 [Chesky]. The piece opens with a complicated rhythmic theme carried by tympani, hand claps, and a celesta, then unfolds into an angular yet sweet-sounding solo violin passage. Seemingly without effort the YA201 highlighted the earthy punch of the tympani, the sharp “pop” of the hand claps, and the mysterious ring of the celesta, and then shifted gears to nail the incisive sound of the violin. At the same time, the amp captured the reverberant interior of the recording space so believably that I almost felt as though I could get up and walk out onto the stage.
At low volume levels, the YA201 can sound overly soft and subdued, but as volume is turned up, tone colors become richer and more vibrant, so that instruments and voices are infused with life. More than many mid-priced components, the YA201 performs well at both frequency extremes, though its highs are softened just enough to be slightly forgiving (a smart compromise given that some affordable speakers and source components exhibit excess brightness). All in all, the attractive YA201 is a leader in its price class. Complementing the YA201 is the terrific Apollo CD player from the British firm Rega, whose reputation in the digital audio world was established back in the mid-1990s with the release of the breakthrough Planet CD player.
The original Rega Planet was very affordable, and it offered sonic nuances aplenty, plus the kind of natural, analoglike warmth that eludes many digital players to this day. Today, the $995 Rega Apollo follows in the Planet’s footsteps, and establishes a new performance benchmark for mid-priced players in the process.
To cut to the chase, let me say that the Apollo exhibits more resolving power than any other mid-priced player I’ve heard. Larry Coryell, Badi Assad, and John Abercrombie’s Three Guitars [Chesky] makes an ideal illustration, because it relies upon small, inner details to showcase differences between the playing styles of the three master guitarists, and to highlight voicing differences between their instruments.
Through other CD players this recording can sound lovely, even magical, but the Rega delivers magic and something more. It makes even subliminal details snap into place, as if removing a low-level obstruction of some kind from the signal path.
The player’s minor drawbacks are a slight tendency to overemphasize sibilance, and good but not great soundstage depth, relative to top-tier products. Against like-priced competition, however, the Apollo rules, sounding less like a good mid-priced unit, and more like a fledgling top-tier player.
While other mid-priced players edge toward sonic excellence through incremental improvements, the Apollo steps forward with giant, confident strides, taking you closer to the sound of live music than any reasonably priced player ever has. Match the Apollo with the YA201, and you’ll have the core of an audio system that can thrill you for years to come. TPV