Yamaha AX-496 Amplifier

The AX-496 is the middle model of three Yamaha amps, sandwiched between the 60 watt AX-396 and the 100 watt AX-596. The AX-496 delivers a chunky 85 Watts/channel, and is equipped with such niceties as proper 4mm binding post speaker terminals, and remote control operation with a handset that can also operate a Yamaha cassette deck, CD player and tuner - a full system in fact. The Yamaha also boasts a 100kHz bandwidth 'for SACD compatibility". DVD-Audio is not mentioned explicitly, but probably only because it had not been launched when this amp was announced, at a time when SACD was already in full swing.

Other features are familiar from previous Yamahas, such as leaving only the main controls visible in normal use, with secondary features accessible behind a front panel flap. This is presumably to help please purists and gadget freaks alike, though hiding the minor features away doesn't take them out of circuit. The main visible controls include power, volume, an input select continuous rotary, and two switches - one to select the CD/DVD wide bandwidth input, and another to bypass much of the front end circuitry. The latter includes bass, treble and balance controls, switching for two pairs of speakers, a record output selector (independent of the input select/listen control), and a variable loudness control, a form of level-dependent tone control that is elsewhere an all-but-forgotten relic of a dim and distant past.


The panel test results indicated little wrong with this amp, other than a slightly ill-disciplined feel, and a lack of star quality: 'There's a good amplifier in there struggling to get out,' said one. In the Tracy Chapman, the Yamaha was felt to be 'slightly wooden and over-timed, which gave a flavour of its own, but when the vocals soared, the accompaniment was dragged up with it'. Others pointed to a lackluster performance with this track, however, and a loss of separation between the voice and guitar. Others highlighted good separation and a credible sense of musical flow. The Ravel piano recording was generally liked, though loss of articulation and muddling with complex passages was again highlighted.

A lack of truly defined independence between parts of recorded mixes was the main failing of this amplifier. This was noted on a number of occasions, and with a variety of material, but especially with chamber and unaccompanied solo vocal material of various types, where any lack of such qualities tends to take a very obvious toll. The problem appears to be a loss of real transparency, and it is tempting to point a finger at the superfluous tone and loudness controls (or even the speaker switching) as possible culprits, especially as bypassing tone controls almost always gives inferior results to 'straight line' circuits. There's no proof here, of course, but the Yamaha does present a slightly elastic, almost anamorphic or at least constrained view of the material being played. While this went almost unnoticed on the whole with highly produced, narrow dynamic range pop and rock, this was far from the case with well-recorded acoustic material.


This might be the amplifier for you, if you're looking for the maximum power output for the price. The Yamaha is certainly a powerful design, and the feature set is enhanced by the variable loudness control, if you like that kind of thing. But it wins no formal endorsement here for sound quality, which is strictly average at the price.

Yamaha AX-496 Amplifier photo