YAMAHA NP-S303: So much for so little

Submitted on: 05 Jan 23

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I remember when at some point during 2010, I received the Yamaha NP-S2000 media player for testing. I was so excited and expected wonders from it – the 2000 model was the first media player of the new generation that accompanied the A-S2000 amplifier and the CD player CD-S2000. It remains in my memory that it took dozens of screws to remove to get to the interior of the device and take a picture of it. The build quality was fantastic, the device was full of electronics, but the display had only one line, which I found elegant but impractical.

But there was the application. I must admit that, at that time, I encountered only one worse than Yamaha’s. The response of the NP-S2000 was dismal to the point of being unusable. The sound of the device was good, as far as I remember, but the overall impression was, to put it mildly, unsatisfactory.

Many years later, I bought the cheapest full-width model – the NP-S303. Similar in external design, this device has nothing to do with the monstrous, yet unfinished NP-S2000.

So, let’s start from the beginning.

The Yamaha NP-S303 is a classic streamer that appeared on the market in 2017 and remained in production only until 2018, but it seems to have been available in stores for a bit longer. Its price ranged around 380 EUR, plus or minus. In the local used market, it’s now worth around 200 EUR.



The device is housed in a thin metal box, as is often the case with budget HiFi components nowadays, although both the front panel and the top cover are fastened very correctly, with a bunch of screws.

The front panel is, surprisingly, metal, but there’s a trick here too: when you look at it from above, you would think it’s 5 millimeters thick, but just a few millimeters below, it’s thinned to about 1 mm, which is all just a trick to make Yamaha look more serious than it actually is.

The buttons are all plastic, but the ergonomics are great, a true example of modern industrial design: the main multifunction button is actually an encoder with a push function, so you can turn it left, right (for selection), and press it to confirm when you find what you need. Next to it is a small “Return” button, its function is logical, and it also has a function for wireless connection. Next to it is another button for selecting the current source, and that’s all.

The Type A USB port is all the way to the left, and I would have liked to see one at the back as well.

The screen is decent, two lines, dot matrix, can be adjusted to 5 levels of brightness, all in all, nothing flashy but you’ll have some information at least. I think the same one is used in some Yamaha receivers because it has segments that are not active in the case of the streamer (e.g., whether the first or second pair of speakers is selected).

On the back are very decent gold-plated RCA connectors for analog outputs, as well as coaxial and optical digital connectors. The power cable connector is a popular “figure-eight,” but at least it’s detachable.



Empty, in one word, but this is not such a rare phenomenon in the world of SMD audio devices.

You can see the switch-mode power supply and the front side consisting of one larger and a couple of smaller printed circuit boards. The mentioned power supply is probably OEM, it goes into some other Yamaha CD/network players (CD-N670, for example). It provides output voltages of +9.5 V (two branches) and even +34 V. Everything further goes to the main audio board where there are a larger number of voltage regulators – I don’t have the schematic so I couldn’t analyze it in more detail.

In the audio section, a quality Burr Brown (TI) DSD1795 DAC is used, with voltage regulators very close to the analog section, so I think they are separately positioned because of it. The output circuit is NE5532, which opens up the possibility of improvement, while the capacitors are quite fine: Nichicon PTE and Elna.

Thanks to this implementation, the NP-S303 can reproduce HiRes formats, for example, FLAC up to 24/192 and native DSD up to 5.6 MHz, which is great.

The network module originates from Yamaha, labeled NW-01, and represents a universal solution for a plethora of devices.

All in all, there’s no esoterica here, but everything is done correctly – a true Yamaha in the commercial class.


Sound, comparisons, playing:

At the beginning, I must mention a very important thing: many media players boast various characteristics, but they don’t even have the basics “ironed out.” Many times I’ve encountered devices of this type that are unstable on the WiFi network. I won’t go into the technical details of the WiFi network itself, which is a special “beast” compared to the classic wired one, but making a stable device that will work in the 2.4 GHz range is not that simple. The worst thing is when you’re streaming music from a shared source or using Internet radio and then, in the middle of a song – silence, the device struggles to recover data flow and often fails, sometimes turning off/on is the only solution, and that’s very annoying.

Yamaha has completely succeeded in this and I can say that I was pleasantly surprised throughout the test in terms of stability. This is highly recommended.

If there’s one characteristic that almost all Yamaha devices I’ve heard possess, it’s the clarity and detail of the sound. The NP-S303 is no exception: it sounds better than you would expect, considering the category and price it had. The upper extreme is clean, unexpectedly detailed in the micro-details area, and seems a bit too bright when you listen at first, but it’s not – the detail here is not sacrificed and it’s great. This “bright approach” can probably be fixed with a slight redesign of the output audio section to achieve a slightly softer sound, but even like this, it didn’t bother me.

What’s interesting, and I didn’t expect, is the spaciousness you wouldn’t expect from such a device: decent timing and detail make their mark, and you get a really nice, fine spaciousness in width.

The human voice is quite good (for this category): no problems with sibilants, details pop up that make you wonder how Yamaha can even reproduce them, and they are very nicely integrated into the picture. Even the tone decay, i.e., decay, is much better than expected. As for the position on the warm/cold scale, Yamaha is somewhere in the middle – neutral, slightly brighter.

The bass is defined, quite precise but harder, I’ve seen this for decades with Yamaha in lower (and sometimes higher) categories, and it bothered me – not that it’s bad, it’s just hard and requires matching with the rest of the system, so with an amplifier that has a soft bass, where one like this will fit.

What particularly interested me was the comparison with my SilverCrest media player. The small box sold by Lidl is, in my opinion, a marvel in itself: Internet radio and popular services, DLNA support for surrounding servers,

music playback from phones, 5 and 2.4 GHz networks, USB port, optical output, good Cirrus Logic DAC, quick startup, and quick response to commands, stable operation. And all for a few tens of euros, is it possible to find better? It only does not support HiRes formats, so it is limited to 48 KHz.

Yamaha, in terms of options, has a screen and remote control (which also covers their amplifiers), has Bluetooth, but I don’t see that MusicCast is any better than the Undok application I used with SilverCrest. MusicCast is equally stable, it’s prettier, it’s better if you have more audio systems around the house, but realistically, it doesn’t make much of a difference.

Yamaha has an external WiFi antenna, while SilverCrest doesn’t, it’s hidden (which probably affects the strength of the received signal, but at 6 meters from the router, it wasn’t an important factor for me). Both devices have a simple web interface, only Yamaha’s is better-looking.

And the sound? There are significant differences, not to say there aren’t: Yamaha has better spaciousness, cleaner sound, and more details than SilverCrest, which, on the other hand, is softer (in my experience, a perfect example of the sound of a Cirrus Logic DAC of that type), detailed enough and not tiring, so very pleasant to listen to. Yamaha is better, I would say, looking at the sound technically, but it doesn’t provide any greater enjoyment if you don’t carefully match it with the rest of the system that can keep up with its detail and address the bass anomaly. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but that’s how I would do it.

The question arises whether Yamaha, with a price slightly below 400 EUR in the local market, is better than the SilverCrest player that cost around 60-70 EUR in Germany, now maybe 100. So, is it? Well, I’d say it is, but not four times better, not even twice as good, not even 50%. SilverCrest, simply, remains my favorite in the “poor man’s” class.

To check my claim about matching Yamaha, I used the Astin Trew amplifier that I happened to have at hand. Although far more expensive and in a higher category than Yamaha, I found this amplifier, I would say, very favorably priced, and it has just the slightly accentuated soft bass I needed for Yamaha.

Switching to the Astin Trew/Yamaha combination brought a lot of improvements in terms of the entire range, softening the sharper nature of the NP-S303. The bass was better but still lacked power and punch; Astin Trew simply revealed that the power of Yamaha’s low tones has a certain limit that it won’t be able to exceed, while only the amplifier could do much better. This is not strange – after all, these are devices with several categories of difference between them, and it’s normal that the one that is much more expensive and noticeably better reveals the flaws of the cheaper one. As a conclusion, I could say that there was a significant improvement, but I still heard Yamaha’s bass flaw, while the rest ranged from completely correct (mid-tones) to excellent (upper extreme). Also, the NP-S303 shone on acoustic music, while it was average on vocal or rock.

But I was personally interested in how Yamaha works as a transport, so I connected it to a small, excellent converter that I quite appreciate – the SMSL Sanskrit 10th Mk2 (what a complicated name…) with just a basic 5V power supply. I used the simplest optical cable for the connection. Don’t forget – I forgot to take pictures of both devices :).

The result of the sound quality and synergy of these two little ones was great: emotions began to rush out of the music, the bass gained weight and strength, the high tones remained preserved but the three-dimensionality increased, and the human voice inspired the space with a naturalness it didn’t have before. The SMSL DAC has a variable output filter with 6 settings, so you can further play with fine-tuning the sound, the differences are gentle but noticeable.

The difference was such that I couldn’t believe how good everything sounded: all the quality characteristics of Yamaha remained, and the bad ones were drastically improved – the combination of Yamaha/SMSL was of such quality that I could listen to it for a long time and not wish to replace it with anything better. So, the NP-S303 as a transport shines, regardless of the quality DAC built into it, the external SMSL provided phenomenal results. This is typical proof that the quality of the DAC circuit itself does not play the most important role, as much as the design of the environment.


What to say in the end? Yamaha is a finely made, quality machine in the cheapest category. It won’t disappoint with the sound, and in some areas, it will really shine. The possibility of upgrading with a cheap but good external DAC leaves a lot of room for improvement where for a little money, you can get a lot.

That’s why I’ll include the NP-S303 in the “Poor Man’s HiFi” category because it rightfully belongs there, even when used together with the aforementioned SMSL DAC.


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