The YA201 amplifier is a 100Wpc solid-state integrated design whose sonic strengths parallel those of the YC201, but with two important differences. First, at its best, it offers substantially more transparency and resolution; second, it delivers crisper response at upper and lower frequency extremes. I say “at its best,” because the YA201 could sound almost like two different amplifiers, depending on playback volume. At low-to-moderate levels, it sounded pleasing, but overly polite, with tone colors that seemed somewhat washed out. But with the volume turned up, the amplifier’s character changed dramatically for the better. With added volume tone colors became richer and more vibrant, and instrumental and vocal timbres were infused with life.
One recording that crystallized this impression was Philip Hii’s classical guitar rendition of the Chopin Nocturnes [DSG]. At low levels, both Hii’s guitar and the acoustics of the recording venue sounded flat and a bit like high-end “elevator music.” But with the volume turned up, the improvement in focus and resolution.
As for tonal characteristics, down low, the YA201 sounded hearty and warm yet clear, though without the last word in low-frequency transient response or “traction” (that is, the ability to control woofers firmly and precisely). Several class D amplifiers I’ve evaluated lately offer better bass performance than the YA201 does, though I think this amp could hold its own against like-priced integrated amplifiers and separates (e.g., the NAD C 162/C 272 pair). Highs were delicate, sweet, and pleasantly extended, though the YA201 did not provide the razorsharp treble transient response and transparency that some listeners crave and that certain higher-priced amplifiers deliver. Even so, the YA201’s treble characteristics make it somewhat forgiving of overly bright associated components, while still preserving a healthy measure of clarity.
As with the YC201, the broad center of the midrange is where the YA201 shines, delineating layers of musical subtleties in ways that make many midpriced components sound simplistic. What makes the YBA’s midrange special is an extraordinary expressiveness. For example, it reveals how the notes of Paul Winter’s saxophone on Icarus [Epic, LP] begin with a rise in pressure at the mouthpiece, followed by initial bursts of sound as the reed starts to vibrate, and finally bloom as the air column inside the sax begins to resonate. Granted, many good integrated amplifiers catch these distinctions to some degree, but not with this kind of assuredness on inner details. This midrange sophistication and richness make the YA201 an awful lot of amplifier for the money.
One minor glitch: My review sample came with faulty control logic, making it respond to remote control buttons meant for use with the YC201 CD player. YBA will probably have this problem straightened out by the time you read this.
Summing up, YBA Design’s YC201 is a lovely CD player to look at and one blessed with seductive midrange sound. The only thing holding it from class leadership is stiff competition from new mid-priced entries. The YA201 integrated amp, on the other hand, is a class leader because it offers the same midrange magic as the YC201, plus greater transparency and better response at the frequency extremes. Most importantly, these components convey real musical joie de vivre.