Yamaha NP-S2000: high-end streaming client shows benefits of purist audiophile approach
This new Yamaha offers less than rivals – but what it does, it does superbly, says Andrew Everard
As noted in these pages of late, the audio world is taking to music streaming in a big way. Just about every manufacturer either offers, or is planning, devices able to store music or simply stream it from offboard storage devices. The falling cost of storage makes it possible to stash away huge libraries at very high quality, whether using lossless compression, stored at “full-fat” CD resolution or, increasingly, as higher-resolution files.
Music can be stored on the home computer for playback or, to give more capacity, on either external or network-attached storage (NAS) hard drives, this having the double advantage that the main computer doesn’t need to be kept on at all times and files can be accessed from anywhere on the home network.
The devices to play this content can also access a huge number of internet radio streams: while much internet radio is of a low audio quality, there’s more than a few higher bit-rate offerings, especially in the classical music field, able to give current UK Digital Audio Broadcasting stations a run for their money in quality terms. The Yamaha NP-S2000 network player we have here is the latest arrival in this fast-growing market, and it’s a low-slung unit. It’s just under 7cm tall complete with its clever adjustable feet (combining spikes for isolation and magnetic covers if you don’t want to use the spikes), but it’s neither small nor light.
It’s a conventional 43.5cm wide, but also 44cm deep, and considering it’s basically a “no moving parts” receiver, it’s pretty solid at around 12kg. The finish matches the other components in the Yamaha 2000 series – the CD-S2000 CD player and A-S2000 amplifier – with high-quality metal casework in a choice of silver or black, with very “old school” wooden inserts to either side of the enclosure.
Actually, that “old school” is perhaps a little unfair: especially in silver, the S2000 series manages to look contemporary while harking back to heavyweight Japanese components of the past.
On paper, this is a very simple device: it has no onboard transport or storage, so basically will access content over a network from a computer or NAS drive via its Ethernet port, and play it out into an amplifier. Twonky Media Server software is provided, in the form of a download link and a three-device licence code. With this installed on your network-connected computer or NAS drive, the Yamaha will be able to “see” and play the music stored on the device.
The NP-S2000 also has that internet radio built-in, although there’s no provision for terrestrial radio and minimal controls. There’s also a slim but very legible white-on-black single-line display, and the remote handset adds the ability to store up to 20 music folders or internet stations as presets.
Oh, and there’s also a dedicated iPod/iPhone/iPad control app available as a free download from Apple’s iTunes store, which makes the NP-S2000 much more pleasurable to use, as it places menus, track details and so on in the palm of your hand.
As an alternative, you can also control the system using a web browser interface on any computer on the same network. A piece of software is available for download to find the player on your network and, when connected, you get a browser version of the iPhone interface to drive the unit.
So where’s all the money gone in the £1429 Yamaha? It’s all under the lid in the audio engineering: as well as conventional RCA phono audio outputs, plus optical and electrical S/PDIF digital outs, the NP-S2000 also provides balanced outputs on XLRs.
The developers make great play of the benefits of not having a disc drive (or indeed a hard disk) on board when it comes to signal-to-noise ratio, and explain that they have gone to great lengths to minimise jitter, so “the sound stage is clear and stable, revealing every breath and nuance of the musicians”.
The unit uses separate Burr-Brown digital-to-analogue converters for each channel, feeding independent filtering and fully balanced transmission through all stages of the audio circuitry. Two power supplies, one each for digital and analogue, are used, with separate left and right channel windings for better separation, and a high-precision clock is used to keep that jitter at bay. And yes, the NP-S2000 supports gapless playback, meaning no spaces when playing extended classical works made up from multiple files.
I found set-up and operation very simple, my laptop, NAS drives and Naim UnitiServe ripper/server already having the requisite server software in place: the Yamaha found the music stores instantly and was ready to play. The iPod interface is slick and logical, and music was running within no more than 10 minutes of opening the box.
The Yamaha sounds magical when used via balanced connections, and would make a perfect partner for the high-end A-S2000 integrated amplifier in this respect, but I was even more delighted with how it sounds when running via its conventional RCA phono outputs. For the majority of my testing it took the place of my Naim UnitiQute, its analogue output running into a Naim Supernait amplifier and thence on to PMC OB1 speakers, and the ability of this slimline box with a wide range of music was never in doubt.
Anyone still sniffy about the idea of music stored on computer hardware, perhaps as a result of being scared by an MP3 player at an early age, could do a lot worse than have a listen to the way the NP-S2000 handles anything from the scale of a Vaughan Williams symphony to the most delicate of solo piano: the speed, impact and scale allay any fears about “music by numbers”. It’ll play files of up to 96kHz/24-bit in WAV, WMA, MP3, AAC and FLAC formats, will handle iTunes libraries via the Twonky Media Server software (though transcoding will be needed for Apple Lossless files), and sounds amazing enough for this reviewer to have got quite lost in his extensive computer-stored library, and also to have given the Naim amp and PMC speakers a very serious workout with some very high-volume playback when the house was empty and the neighbours out.
There’s nothing edgy or digital about the sound here, just a wonderfully organic presentation (provided the music files are up to it), and a power to the sound that’s breathtaking with both big orchestral works and intimate smaller-scale recordings.
Slim and unassuming it may look – at least head-on and until you have to lift it – but the Yamaha is a veritable powerhouse and instantly puts the company up into the first division when it comes to devices designed to play back streamed content.
As I said, I am sure the NP-S2000 will find favour with those already lucky enough to own the matching amplifier, and perhaps even the CD player, but I think it deserves, and will get, much wider attention than that.
Type Network music player
Formats played WAV, WMA, MP3, FLAC, AAC
Sample rates 8-96kHz
Word depths 16-bit, 24-bit
Internet radio platform vTuner
Presets 20, for favourite stations/music folders
Ouputs Stereo analogue on RCA phonos/XLRs, optical/electrical digital
Accessories supplied Remote handset, Twonky Media Server licence code
Dimensions (WxHxD) 43.5x7x44cm
Made by Yamaha, Hamamatsu, Japan
Distributed by Yamaha Music Europe GmbH (UK), Sherbourne Drive, Tilbrook, Milton Keynes MK7 8BL
Tel 0844 811 1116