Chukoh 宙光 - " Sound unheard of "
Once again, PT had asked me to write my initial impression of Chukoh, Zanden's master pre-amp. I hesitated a bit initially as it is not easy to make another posting in the forum which does full justice to this extraordinary product because after learning more on how the design and manufacture of this 'second' mater piece of Yamada-san came about, I reckon I need imagination and technical understanding (and yours truly is total layman in the latter) to make a meaningful write up.
After a bit of consideration and soul searching, I have decided to try my best to convey my listening experience, I am also doing my best to share with fellow audiophiles, particularly those Zanden users or admirers my first hand impression, because I think they would understand what I am about to write is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Chukoh - 宙光 , in straight translation into English means 'light of the universe' (Choku - Zanden's super power amp, means 'sky is the limit'). The name I think was conceived by PT to give Yamada-san something "BIG" to aim for ( I would say in colloquial English - to give the designer a run for his money ). How can Yamada-san create another genuine master piece after having just done that earlier at his 60th birthday, this is really a tough act for any master designer to follow in my opinion. However, Yamada-san told me after receiving this challenging assignment , he simply think 'BIG' to begin with by imagining how the best pre-amp should look aesthetically. He then thought of a 'space-ship' like object that reach beyond the sky into the ends of universe. He had made over 20 very detailed sketches of the layout of the pre-amp and later the design of Chukoh's circuitry (because of that, he had suffered some minor problem to his eye sight and was unable to finish this super pre-amp in time for AE's hi-fi show back in July).
When I first saw the photo of Chukoh, I was instantly shocked by its 'space age' look as it bears absolutely no resemblance to the traditional Zanden's appearance (this is an understatement) . After hearing the amp at its Friday's debut at AE, I made a confession to Yamada-san that I thought I knew him well, I was totally wrong because the look & sound of Chukoh do not appear to come from someone with the conservative appearance & humble personality of its designer (remember the old English saying ' 'never judge a sausage by its skin') . Yamada-san now designs audio products with 'kick-ass' performance that shock the audio world ! Instead of writing my listening verdict in the end (I dare say, the impression of those listeners who were there with me shared the same conclusion too) , Chukoh, with its futuristic construction and surreal sonic performance, is light years ahead of every so-called top pre-amp in the market, period.
I have now come to the conclusion there is no place for classic vintage pre-amps in the realm of super pre-amps because the employment of latest material and components is really a prerequisite in order to achieve ultra performance (I will make more qualifications on this statement later). Starting with the chassis, apart from its look of a space ship, this master amp is really 3-boxed design, the control unit in the middle and a 'floating' chassis which houses the 300B tube on its left and right for vibration control. Correct me if I am wrong, I have never come across any so-called super tube pre-amp has this kind of vibration control. Wow, Yamada-san is really a man of many talents, he offers consultancy work on sound acoustic for concert halls, designer of room acoustic aids and also a mechanical engineer in vibration control design. Well, I have to confess I am a total layman on technical specification, however, I first came across a newly developed material called FINEMET was used in Zanden's Choku, the Chukoh also employs this material in its output and input transformers. One sonic trait of having FINEMET transformer is low noise and a more organic sound (better tonality, absence of hardness, speed and attack).
I don't know how Chukoh will perform without pairing it with its natural partner, Chouku but the 2 together create a magical synergy which reproduces the BEST or most REALISTIC sound I have ever heard, big time, it simply sounds like live music. To many audiophiles out there (put your hand up if you know what live classical music sounds like) , if you want me to write in the hi-fi language which you understand, the Chukoh has the most organic and dynamic sound (both micro & macro dynamics, the former is something I have never heard of and would never thought this is possible) plus the best sound stage I have come across, leaving other so called top pre-amps trailing miles (or years) behind.
The Chukoh & Choku combo really stirred up my instant love/happiness but also a fair bit of sadness. The former needs no elaboration here as I am confident (after what I had witnessed the immediate reaction of those listeners who were there with me) every listener would be more than impressed by them. I feel saddened by the fact because I may never be able to own them (perhaps this applies to 99.5% of the audiophiles out there), isn't painful for fellow audiophile who has fallen 'deeply' in love with a piece of hi-fi component they can not afford (when I was a university under-graduate, I borrowed money from friends to by buy my dreamed Linn/Naim Isobarik system). I am writing this post out of my pure passion of music. When you listen to this combo, you can hear everything which was recorded on the recording and make sure you have the right speakers to do them justice.