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長空 by Yamada Kazutoshi of Zanden Audio

edited June 2014
山田和利先生和我相識於微時。那個時候Zanden這個品牌並不有名,而且AE還不存在。他所追求的現場音樂感更不是主流市場所需要的,所以只有十分少數的追隨者。十多年來,他不斷改進線路,但不改器材外觀,亦沒有特顯零件的可貴性等,總言之就是不太懂市場推廣的學問,所以一直未能在一缐高端音響界享負盛名。

我心有不甘,因為Yamada是一個極級高手。於是於三年前向他訴出了我認為他的品牌太低調的論述。他回答我他有好多創意,但資金有限。於是我提議資助他發展,我想他開發一個曠世鉅作的功放。於是我便命名此項目為"長空", 喻意開懷的胸襟,無限的可能,與及遠大的志向。

2013年是山田先生的60歲生晨,本想在第一屆AE Super Show展示"長空"的實力。可惜首次用FINEMET此物料做output transformer遇上了技術困難,令到上一年只能作silent display. 精神上帶來的壓力,令他消瘦了許多,作為朋友的我並沒有責怪他。雖然研究長空的費用超資了許多,但Yamada沒有問AE再拿出丁點分文.

由意念萌芽到今天足足三年了。安裝後一開聲的片刻有無限感觸,眼角突然濕起來。我感受到"長空"祇是關乎理想的實現, 這就是他的價值所在。我感謝Yamada創造了長空讓大家聽證音樂歷史的每一分秒。
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Comments

  • 在機緣巧合下,竟有幸成為「長空」剛抵港後的第一位聽眾。一直以來,聽到PT不斷碎碎的唸著「長空」如何籌備多年,大師級的嘔心瀝血之作,從內外設計至命名如何令他費煞思量。在長空播放著完"十三弦"黑膠碟后,PT很緊張的問"如何?",但作為初哥的我不懂以技術層面表達,它的完美只有冷冷一句"很好。" 在這一刻,我心中有万分思緒,只能沉淀著感情,慢慢地以文字組織「長空」如何劃破長空,留在天空中的一度痕跡成為永恆。

    「長空」在處理音樂的節奏快慢對比非常出色,高中頻段快如閃電,既亮麗但質感強烈;中音的動感尤如万馬奔騰,色彩基理盡顯真善美,低音的沈重有可歌可泣的感覺,但速度卻能收放自如。音樂節奏一但突然慢下來的時候,卻又能將音符停留在時空之間。聽著「長空」好像感到永恆一刻...........因它可將演奏時間封存起來,這種感覺甚為奇妙。

    實在佷期待AE 7月12日的第二屆Super Hi End Show, Zanden「長空」与 Cessaro 「卡門」將結合日本的細緻無瑕与德國的嚴寂孤高。它們將會是「以柔制剛」的完美表現嗎? 小女子很想知道。
  • edited June 2014
    I am posting the following article on behalf of Mr. Zanden.
    __________________

    Choku means the sky’s the limit – a “tribute” to Yamada-san’s true masterpiece by Mr Zanden

    I learnt from JLam the long-awaited delivery of the Choku will finally end very soon as these super amp will arrive on Wed. PT WhatsApp me soon after he turned on the pair and said how good they sound, I immediately asked to come to have a listen over the weekend. After I finished with the preliminary listening on Saturday, PT later asked me to write my initial impression.

    To be honest, I feel nervous and tense about writing my impression of the Choku because I find it really a tough assignment to do as it can easily be misinterpreted by many as some kind of marketing material and at the same time, my writing will contain bias and perhaps exaggerated truth. Well, what the heck, I finally promised PT I will do it as in my opinion, nobody in this audio world is more qualified to review the Choku than yours truly as I am the only person in this world who uses a full suite of Zanden gear for a great length of time. I have decided to pay a tribute to Yamada-san by writing this review.

    Firstly, whether you know me or not, I call myself not Mr Zanden but “Music Tuner” as I tune my hi-fi system almost everyday and every time I visit AE, I tune the system to make it sound 'better', PT can attest to this claim. I don't have the Goebel or Dalby power cords, I don't have the latest digital playback equipment but to my ears, my present system sounds as musical as AE’s system. I can hear whether AE's system has the correct tonality after listening to track 2 of my Aaron Neville’s Warm Your Heart’ CD/LP for 5 seconds and after 30 seconds,I can detect whether the bass is normal. When I play track 5, I can detect if the speakers are positioned perfectly (to most ears) and I have another CD where I can detect whether one speaker is 2-3 mm in front or behind the other speaker........

    Now you may get annoyed by what I have said above, what relevance does it have to do with the Choku ? Please bear with me for a wee bit longer. If you think my hearing ability is more sensitive than the average hi fi enthusiast, you ain't seen nothing yet. Yamada-san goes 10 times more, when he first visited my home, within 15 seconds after I played my beloved system (Avalon Sentinels driven by massive French valve amps), he quickly pointed out my right speaker had phase problem, after this was rectified, he said the sound was slow in comparison to real music and it did not have the correct tonality. When he visited me after I had upgraded to the Cessaro Beta some 3 years ago, he said I had connected one side of the speaker cables to the super tweeter in the wrong direction. Yamada posses a pair of super ears which can detect any musical anomalies almost instantly. He taught me how to listen to correct polarity. Last year, when I played Les Miserables’ I dreamed a dream PT once raved about, he said the vocal had the correct polarity but the accompanied music was in inverse phase.

    My encounter with Yamada over the years led me to believe this man is really an extraordinary person with tremendous knowledge of live music and hi-fi reproduction. His technical genius could be heard through his products. I stand by my hi-fi bias Zanden products have the closest tonality of live music, this to me represents the soul of music, without the correct tonality, I can't enjoy a hi-fi system (sorry Marvel, however, your latest choice of re-joining the Cessaro camp is the road to redemption). In addition to producing the right tonality, Zanden has what I call a majestic sound, this needs qualification which I will elaborate later.

    Saturday at 3:15pm, I walked in to AE showroom and PT was spinning his favorite LP, Shanghai Bigpiece was about to depart and raved about the Choku before leaving. Now it was my turn to audition these super amps, immediate impression was not shock and awe as there were some imperfections in the overall sound which I was deadly certain did not come from these amps. Sure, initial impression was the sound had the best details, spatial separation, timing and coherence I have ever heard but tonality was not perfectly correct as compared to the real thing. The overall midrange was slightly lean and the bass was a little slow and not perfectly coherent. After telling PT my initial mixed impressions, he substituted the power cords with another brand, lo and behold, the midrange was fuller and the bass improved drastically. After playing a few more LPs to let the these cords settle as they were brand new, the vital midrange still sounded a tad lean to my liking, PT again placed 3 wooden plucks under the Wadax Ultimate phono, the midrange now sounded more lifelike and the harmonics improved. Finally, we gave the left speaker a teeny-weeny bit of toe-in to create a more solid image plus a richer (organic) sound, we were then satisfied.

    With the initial minor anomalies in sound described above eradicated, we played the many LPs I had brought with me to test the full limits of the Lizst. The LP which impressed me the most was Mozart violin concerto no. 4 performed by Heifetz (RCA label with the legendary Kenneth Wilkinson as the recording engineer), it blew me away. It sounded as if the master was playing in the room with his Dolphin Stradivarius ! Boy, I am not kidding, when the orchestra began, it sounded very very lifelike, the strings could easily sound hard in many systems but they had the right sound texture with highs extended in the right proportion. When the master performed, details which were not detected in the past appeared before my ears. You could literally hear every stroke of his bow, how lightly he sometimes touched the strings but to my shock and awe, both PT & I could follow the tempo of his playing, no matter how fast or slow he played, we could hear these nuances with ease, this experience of tempo (not speed or attack or micro or macro dynamics) was something I had never encountered in hi-fi reproduction unless you sit real close say within the first 4-5 rows from the performing artist in a live event. Listening to the Choku was literally an ear opening experience. Later, we played the final part of Telarc’s Carmina Burana to test the thundering effect of the tympani, speed and attack were there together will the layout of the massive orchestra and the chorus nicely reproduced. How about some country rock for the “too young to die and too old to rock” folk like me, I took out Eagle’s Hell Freezes Over, the live atmosphere on Hotel California was nicely captured. The percussion was rock solid and pitch of the guitars was perfect with the right attack and sound texture. Don Henley’s voice had a natural & coarse tone, I have heard this track for countless number of times but this time, it brought me back to the live event.

    Yamada-san is one the most talented hi-fi designers I have come across but at the same time, he is the most humble person I have experienced. When PT asked him a long time ago whether he could make a world class amp which breaks all limits in audio world, he said he can because he always has this design concept in mind but the only limiting factor was the funding of this lengthy project. In my mind, Yamada-san, because of his humble being, never blows his own trumpet and perhaps this is why Zanden products have always been, in my view, overlooked in the top end circle.

    Instead of walking the walk, Yamada-san is now talking the talk with his latest masterpiece. Even to the most discriminate eye, the Choku may well be the most extraordinary looking amplifier one has ever set there eyes on because of its ‘majestic’ appearance. As soon as you look at these large amps, you know on the spot, they kick butt. Unlike some of the so-called trophy transistor amps from CH with a minimalist appearance using very ordinary components and conventional circuitry or some over-rated valve amps from the Land of the Rising Sun which continue to incorporate traditional wiring design (I was once owner of these products many moons ago), Choku instantly trounces these products in every aspect with its state-of-the-art circuitry, the costs of the components are the highest I have seen (the FINEMET material used in the output transformer for instance) and last but not the least, the look of the amp will instantly give the most-demanding audiophiles aspiring to owning the best a real ‘hard on’.

    Even after my last encounter with Choku several days ago, I feel excited once again when writing about my experience and the very special attributes of this super amp. What can I say, Yamada-san knows sky is the limit in current audio world, only by pushing the audio envelope way beyond the latest limits will one be able to reach for the sky. The end of the pudding is in the eating, Choku reproduces extraordinary sound when compared to existing peer products. The Choku is truly the manifestation of Yamada’s genius and aspiration.

    If you find it hard to believe to what I have said, you owe it to yourself for an appointment with AE to check it out and see if the system can bring you hi-fi ecstasy. I am confident those who think they already owned the best transistor amps and/or best valve designs will experience what I predict a rude awakening after the audition.

    Last but not least, the Choku power amps, although to my ears, are the best I have the pleasure of auditioning, is sadly not for me or the 99% audio folks out there as I can't bloody afford them. However, I really envy those who appreciate its qualities and can take them home (please make sure you do them justice by having the compatible equipment and room acoustics) . In closing, I want to borrow the lyrics to sum up my love for the Choku, "if you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with" ! My Model Wilsons continue to give me immeasurable joy and satisfaction everyday, come listen if you have the slightest doubt (only if you intend to join the Zanden or Cessaro club).

    Yamada-san, thanks again for making the Model Wilson and now Zanden’s statement amplifier, Choku, you have reached the sky !


    Mr Z
  • 「巨匠」与 「長空」能否駕御 「卡門」嗎?將音樂家的演奏時刻封存起來的美妙令我徹夜追隨,可是本小姐十分喜歡這種感覺。
  • Mr. Zanden, it is a very good read as always. There is passion in your writing. It seems the limit of Cessaro Lizst has been tested. We all fucking looking forward for the arrival of "Carmen", which I believe is another exclusive built for the AE Super show.
  • Carmen sounds interesting. Any more details about the specifications? Is it a better model than the Lizst or below?
  • Some of the very wealthy audio nuts in Beijing would like to audition the Zanden super amplifier. I may bring them to the super show on 7/12 pending tickets confirmation. The writeup of Mr.Zanden is always convincing. I never have any doubts on any hint of advertisement because he rarely posts here. The fact that he has been using Zanden for almost a decade (?) suggests he understand the thorough development of the brand very much. Ok, there maybe some bias, but tell me who don't have any bias?

    I trust Yamada has already given his spirit and life for it.
  • 長空是絶世之作。
  • 直師父,

    可否再深入一些你對長空的理解?
  • 一生無侮
  • Audio Exotics

    Before today, when I browsed through the AE forum, I thought these ppl are either swindlers or a group of maniacs who are over obsessed with some never-heard-of gears and claiming whatever they put their hands on to be the summit of hiend.

    Today, I had the privilege to pay a visit to AE showroom with above question in mind, hoping to come to a conclusion: whether these guys are “swindlers” or “maniacs”? I have to confess there was no other alternatives in my wildest imagination back then.

    The system consists of:
    Source: Da Vinci Turntable + Durand Tonearm + ? cartridge.
    Phono: Wadax Pre 1
    Pre amp: Robert Koda Takumi K15
    Power amp: Zanden Choku
    Speaker: Cessaro Liszt I
    Cabling: All Geobel

    Before I get to the impression, let me describe my preference of sound just to give you a better understanding on whatever crap I’m gonna write below.

    Transparency - the first and maybe the one I value the most is transparency. The more transparent the sound, the more I feel connected, physically AND emotionally, to the music as well as to the musicians;

    Density - Live music is extremely dense. I’ve been to quite some world class jazz bars, music halls and this is the conclusion after having experienced all these live events. If the sound is not dense enough, there’s no body in the music; if there’s no body, there’s no soul; as simple as that. And although I’m an absolute newbie in the world of vinyl, I fell in love with it the first time I heard it because, the density of vinyl is much much higher than that of digital.

    Speed - Live music is extremely fast, especially so for me who’s a jazz lover. Classical might have higher tolerance level as one need to factor in the ambience of the particular music hall where the music is recorded. But for live jazz music, the sound is always straight to the ears hence the speed of a system is utterly important to reproduce such recording.

    Tonal balance: Live music doesn’t have this issue as real instrument will never “lack of bass” or “not extended enough on the highs”, unless one sits in the back row of a poorly designed music hall. But this is very important for a speaker system, because without proper tonal balance, no matter how good the speakers are, they would sound like…speakers

    PT was kind enough to go to the showroom early in the morning to warm up the gears, such that it didn’t take long before I sat down in the “emperor” seat and started listening to some music.

    “Here we go”, I said to myself.

    The first thing I noticed is the sound seems to be a bit on the aggressive side, hmm…you see? told you…After a few minutes, I realised “aggressive” might not be an appropriate word, instead, it is more of the sound of the system is so different from what I have experienced before, that’s why the feeling. However, after getting used to the presentation of the system, I find it extremely transparent, extremely dense, extremely fast… and extremely neutral. Actually, after a while, I don’t even care about transparency, bass, extension etc etc, all I care about is the music… "wow, this recoding sounds great, what is it?" I asked PT after the first piece of music (he must be wondering: is this guy fking kidding me, coming all the way up here just to look for some good pieces of records?)

    Transparency and density conflicts with each other most of the time. I’ve been mainly listening to headphones in the last 10 years because…I’m a poor guy…well, maybe more that. Besides the fact that I mostly listen to music after 11pm when I’m back home and after my wife falls a sleep, I find headphones, especially electrostatic headphones are second to none when it comes to transparency and low distortion. I’ve never heard a single pair of speakers more transparent or more accurate than my STAX SR009s. And you know what, you don’t have to rebuild your house to achieve that, all you need to do is to put on the headphones, that’s it. However, due to the extremely thin diaphragm, the 009s do compromise in density, and weight. It can be easily exceeded in this respect by speakers. From the Cessaro Liszt I, however, world class transparency and density do coexist. And together with the speed, what is achieved is an extremely harmonic sound. Yes, “harmonic”, that’s the right word kept popping into my mind during the session.

    Choku

    Think I need to write up something dedicated to this pair of monsters— what a masterpiece! I’m essentially a tube guy, however I have to admit punchy bass and lightning speed are probably not the strong suites of tubes. However Choku is extremely fast, extremely punchy while retaining the sweetness and lushness of tubes.

    Special thanks to PT who gave me the opportunity to destroy my old belief of hiend audio, it truly is an eye opening experience. The sound I heard today in AE showroom, is the best and closest to live performance ever, period.



    Michael
  • 你們學下自己去鑑聽可以嗎? 要評價一件器材,不是ABAB如比試䤼那麼簡單。我花了二個小時不停調教Wadax input/output gain, subwoofer volume, slope 和 crossover freq, 才開始認真的聽。我還特別選擇了幾隻聽了三十年以上的黑膠作準,最後還要再微調喇叭位。

    我今年60歲,經以上的調整後,AE的水平是我從來未感受過的真實性。長空冇改錯名,有無限的可能性,因為有無限的速度和控制力。
  • There was technical problem in my last attempt of sharing my thought after listening to Chokun.
    Well, being with AE for so many years. I have no doubt about the limit and benchmark everytime they push. The expectation was high given Chokun was announced one year ago and the extremely positive comment shared by PT before. However, after 45 min quick audition, in addition to the usual wow effect. I left AE showroom with questions why they are named as Chokun and what has been going through Yamada San's mind through the journey.
    I would love to listen to his sharing when he is in Hong Kong. In addition, i m looking forward to listen to a setup with Trinity digital source as in the show.
  • An experience indeed.....
  • Are you guys lining up to audition the Chouku? I ask because it is not my turn yet and PT is extremely tied up all the time nowadays. I hope to have them a serious listen before the show. If that lives up to the expectation, I may consider giving up FM acoustics and Wilson Alex altogether and opt for the Cessaro horn pathway. After living with conventional speakers for 2 decades, I believe horn is the likely way to go.
  • I had a chance to visit the AE showroom to listen to choku today. I really had high expectations because I owned a few of Yamada-san's creations before, and because last year when I saw the choku in silent display I already fell in love with its lacquer and its visual presentation.

    I was in kyushu a few weeks ago and had a chance to visit some of the historic ceramic workshops. This is something very rich in Japanese tradition and you see the craftsmen' attention to every detail. One may marvel at there prices (a simply serving plate can be 5-figure) but you can actually understand why it is worth so much (I did not buy :)). They are masterpieces.

    In many ways this is how I see the choku. In terms of music you have all the traditional strengths of Zanden products -- great tonality, warmth but with resolution, and "music with soul" for lack of a better phrase. But it drives the cessaro also with great strength, almost making you feel like you are listening to a solid state. Bass is with full of blossoming power

    What impresses in particularly is the speed and the immediacy of the music. We listened to the Dvorak concerto and the intro of the cello soloist was breath-taking. No, it did not turn Hoelscher into Rostropovich, but it makes you feel the full power of the music. You feel you are closer to the music but not forced into it.

    I asked about the price and it is naturally very very expensive. But as I said in the beginning maybe we should see this is a Japanese masterpiece, not just a Japanese "audio" masterpiece . Choku reaches the highest standards in audio functionality, for sure. But when I look at the product holistically I feel we could be shortshrifting Yamada-san if we see this as another expensive audio product.
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