Real life review: Universal player Yamaha BD-S681

After starting my hi-fi quest with an AV receiver Pioneer SX-S30DAB I quickly became dissatisfied with our old Samsung BD-E6100 – especially as a CD player. With a previous microsystem everything worked, it was super easy to play CD and the controls were intuitive. Samsung blu-ray player could play CDs but it was way too noisy and it also produced short sharp cracks (jitter?) so I obviously needed a more serious player, either dedicated CD player or a universal player.

Before we even start, I have to reveal that I don’t own this device anymore, I returned it after two weeks and I hope I don’t say something wrong, but I can’t check it anymore personally.

Introducing Yamaha BD-S681

I decided for the latter and Yamaha BD-S681 was an interesting choice – it supported tons of disc formats, including Super Audio CD. I’ve got a single SACD, it’s actually a hybrid disk (with CD layer) – Dark Side Of the Moon by Pink Floyd. Finally I can at least try to hear the difference in quality! Not all player makers support SACD, it’s a dormant format after all (if I don’t want to say dying), but having the support is definitely nice.

Also, this Yamaha is reasonably priced for about 330 Euros. I chose the titan finish, I thought it would match my silver Pioneer better, but it didn’t as it was darker. Never mind. It’s a typical hi-fi full width component, so it stacked nicely on the AV receiver. It was of similar height too, so more on the slim side – at least from the hi-fi component standpoint. It’s nowhere near the consumer disc player thinness, of course.

It has all the basic important buttons on the front panel – which I always like and it’s handy when I can’t find the remote the very second. The remote then has tons of buttons. It’s very difficult to use – especially in a dark environment.

Let’s play SACD

This, of course, was the first thing on my mind. I put the disc in and immediately was not totally satisfied. Based on one review I expected faster operation, but this Yamaha was rather sluggish for my taste. I like when the player turns on when I press eject, I like when the tray closes when I press play, I like when I can skip to n-th song before it even starts playing. I don’t remember anymore what Yamaha could do, but not many of these, really. Definitely not skipping before it read the disc. Also, when I press stand by, I expect the tray to close immediately, but Yamaha took many seconds before it closed the tray and said BYE.

During SACD playback the seeking worked strange as it made the playback faster and slower, kinda like with video playback – but it doesn’t go well with music. I expect snappy FF/RW functions of old CD or tape players.

This was a huge disappointment, but I said to myself: “Well, I don’t seek that often anyway, I can live with this.” I always treated electronics like pets, so to say. They are not perfect, but you have to (or want) live with them. Luckily, seeking with CDs worked fine.

With SACD I also had another issue. You could switch between CD/SACD layers – but only with the disc out. You literally had to eject the disc to do it. Now with all the slowness of the device itself you bet I didn’t try to do any A/B (CD/SACD) listening comparison. It was impossible. It’s probably misleading anyway, I guess the mix is not exactly the same on both layers, but I was just curious.

Normal usage

Now with videos, it was OK, I actually liked the feature of forwards +30s and backwards -10s, it even makes sense as I often go forward faster and when I miss something I want to go back a bit.

What I didn’t like were the subtitles. They were ugly as old original DVD subtitles, edgy, low resolution, terrible. I don’t know how they would handle localization (e.g. Slovak subtitles) as I didn’t see any encoding options.

When it comes to the menu, I don’t care how it looks that much. Yamaha suits people like me – it really does look rather ugly. What didn’t suit me at all was the function. Basic settings were probably fine, as I don’t remember much, but I didn’t like controls when something was playing (e.g. from USB stick), you got into some screen and then wanted to go back and couldn’t do it intuitively. I found some strange button sequences on the remote to do it in the end – it was probably designed like that, but it was not natural at all. Browsing the USB stick you never knew when it started playing something, browsing and putting it on was not clearly separated. The controls were neither for a geek nor my mum, don’t really know who it was made for.

The end is nigh

So I used it for a couple of days, it was OK, except it didn’t bring any joy. Firmware was up to date, everything worked as intended – which was the problem, as the usability was questionable – and I was getting conciliated with the fact I’ll keep this universal player. As it really played many types of discs, many formats – and for a good price. By the way, it was not a 4K player, but this didn’t bother me, although it may be important for some.

But then one day it made it all very easy for me as I pressed the standby button to turn it off and it got to its “BYE” message and got stuck there. I waited for many minutes, doing other things in the meantime – but even my lax approach didn’t help. It got completely unresponsive and that was the moment when it lost the small rest of my trust. I unplugged it, checked the invoice whether I’m still allowed to return it no-questions-asked – it was the last day – boxed it up and returned it the very same hour.

Gone

Now, I don’t think it was that terrible, but I simply expect much more from a device I want to use for regular CD playback. I expected much faster action – and I actually am willing to wait for a device, but only so long.

For the price it was a very attractive feature set, now without it I had a dilemma. Should I buy some solid simple CD player and separate bluray player? Should I buy a universal player for around 1000 Euros like Cambridge Audio CXUHD? During the search I discovered that most of the products from this segment are actually discontinued – CXUHD, Pioneer’s universal player, OPPO company stopped making universal players recently – everybody now makes network streamers instead! So I had more questions than answers.

In the meantime my old Samsung blu-ray player was overheating even on standby and was unusable as a CD player as I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Suddenly, there was a big gap left after Yamaha BD-S681. But after all, that titan – it simply wasn’t the matching color anyway.

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