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Zanden 1200 Mark 3 phono-stage - Asian Premier Full Report

There are 79 recording labels researched by Yamada-san highlighted on these 4-page summary table, which is by no means exhaustive, I will give him 10 more labels to listen to in the near future.
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Comments

  • This is a brief summary table of the painstaking research Yamada-san had gone through (I heard the proto-type last X’mas at Zanden dealer’s showroom in Kyoto) before launching this masterpiece.
  • Every reader should know by now I am a perfectionist and Yamada-san taught me even fuse should be listened to (just like cables) for the right direction. The black mark indicates this end of the ceramic fuse should go into the fuse slot first.
  • The 5 EQ curves, other phono amp only offer the standard R.I.A.A. but Yamada-san (a perfectionist and design expert) finally came up with the final solution of replaying old LPs with the correct curve of the original recordings.
  • Zanden 1200 Mark 3 – Yamada-san’s latest materpiece

    PT was right in saying this model was heavier than the Mark 2 model. The sub-chassis was different and new designs in the circuitry – resulting in better retrieval of tonal colours and dynamics in the recording. Hearing is believing or disbelieving (in my case).
  • The hum problem was solved by using a different pair of interconnects – see ‘Nipper’ the dog in the middle, this is a recording made in the early 60’s.
  • My Kuzma, Thales and Shilabe combo. To make this T/T sounding more musical and with dead quiet background, I replaced the stock heavy clamp with ASI wooden clamp, the light DIN power cords connected in the right direction, 4 ground wires (3 silver and one copper) connected to the 2 motors and Thales arm and wire connection in the power supply checked and re-wired. The heavy metal construction affects the sound and use of sugar cubes/diffuser restores harmonic details. The abovementioned necessary and vastly effectively mods were done with the help of Yamada-san, Franck Tchang, Mater Wei and yours truly. All in all, this is now a very musical turntable (DV still rein supreme in this area) with a solid composure when playing symphonies and musically rewarding when playing chamber music.
  • For the record, I have to declare I am neither a vinyl junkie nor vintage LP collector, I just happen to have many records since I started buying them in the early 70’s.

    Contrary to popular belief, I’m no expert in arm/cartridge set up and don’t pay much attention on the technical aspects of phono amps, my experience tells me MC cartridges are more musical than MM cartridges and although transistor phono amps are quieter than tube phonos (this is merely a fast-and-hard ruled but does not always holds true), they are not as musically rewarding from my past encounter, I have also tried MC/MM transformers, from the humming Ortofon (partnered with my first MC cartridge SL 15 to Supex) to Kondo etc etc. One thing for sure, many LPs in my collection did not sound good, some sounded much worse than CDs and over the years, many learned vinyl collectors advised me to buy and listen to Philips recordings as they produced the most consistent recording. This was my belief as despite market talk of recordings made by the legendary Wilkie - Kenneth Wilkinson were always top notched, my reaction after playing many of his recordings was not unanimous.

    Only until recently, I guess 3-4 years ago when I came across the Zanden’s phono-stage amp model 1200 (mark one), I discovered because back in the golden era of vinyls, major recording companies did not adopt a standardized equalization curve in their recordings and they had their own ‘flavoured’ curves, namely, R.I.A.A., DECCA, EMI, COLUMBIA and TELDEC (Telefunken Decca – this curve was used by the famed Deutsche Gramophon or DGG for short), I noticed, except Philips recordings, most if not all other LP labels mentioned above recorded before 1972-77 sounded strange (not good), the sound was sometimes harsh, thin and lack the weight in the bass, if you compare the CDs which contain old recordings, more than half of these CDs sounded better than the LPs !!!

    I was rather disillusioned with playing LPs and spent most of my time listening to CDs. However, after the arrival of Zanden phono amp which immediately displaced my famed silver wired transformer, my interest in playing LPs made by DECCA and COLUMBIA grew back. Nothing is perfect in this world, I still have many EMI and DGG recordings (especially the former) in my possession and they (old recordings) still did not sound good or normal to my ears.

    Last Saturday, the arrival of Zanden 1200 Mark 3 finally dispelled my last bit of doubts of playing vinyls. Although I spent literally the whole day listening to my seldom-played LPs through my Kuzma, Thales and Shilabe vinyl system, I could not really hear clearly what was recorded on the records. The Shilabe (the new cartridge I have switched to very recently), due to its exceptionally low output of 0.23mV as opposed to the usual 0.4-0.5mV output from most MC cartridges, forced me to turn up the volume of my pre-amp and I could not get rid of the hum noise (trust me, I did not experience this problem when using the EMT gold cartridge but the Shilabe is a much better match to my taste). On Sunday, first thing I did was to remove the Flow interconnect (excellent interconnects but are very susceptible in picking severe hum noise esp. the balance version between my pre and power amps) from the Thales and replaced it by another make, after some fiddling, I got rid of 90% of the hum which had bothered me all these days. I sat down and started to listen to my collections, I could then hear much more in terms of tonality, details and low frequency info (yes, LPs have ‘better’ low frequencies than CDs). A record I have had for many years is the EMI recording of Saint-Saen Organ Symphony performed by City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Louis Fremaux, the low frequency of the organ went down to below 30 HZ. I was thrilled with excitement to hear this record properly for the 1st time (I heard it play live performed by HKPO 2 months ago). The excitement continued when I dug out my FIRST classical purchase made in 1972 or 1973, a 1968 EMI recording of Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony, I only listen to the side 4 recording of “ The Warsps “. It was dynamic with a very lively sound (the recording was made at the famed Kingsway Hall). Tears came out from my eyes (probably due to nostalgic stimulus) as after owning this record for some 36 years, I could now hear its true glorious sound. Finally, knowing that I have many DGG & TELDEC recordings, I tried to dig out from my store room (I recently moved to a new place and discovered I have 17-18 boxes of LPs. Some DGG recordings were very good but some were not. Without going into too much detail about DGG recordings, the Karajan’s Beethoven 9 Symphonies box set recorded in 1962 was very well recorded (PT was right).

    Monday night, I listened to LPs I normally used as reference in order to confirm my listening impression of the Zanden 1200 Mk 3, the sound lacked the last-minute detail I could recall. I am very familiar with Belafonte’s Live at Carnegie (PT & Marvel have heard this LP in my place and were both shocked/impressed – correct me if I am wrong gentlemen) but some inner details were not easily audible. Could it be the Shilabe which lacked the details that other users were commenting in this forum (the previous hum problem precluded me to notice this plus I was playing other LPs I have not played for over 10 years). I checked the alignment of the cartridge and with its odd rounded side body, this exercise proved to be very very tricky. After an hour of fine adjustments (resulting in back pain) with the alignment and mounting tightness (if slightly tight, the Shilabe would lack the natural tonality and air), I was able to restore the details I was hearing in the past icluding the air, spacial details of the hall etc (I play this LP/CD with inverse polarity). I then proceeded to play DECCA and ARGO labels, I was in ecstasy.

    My initial impression of the latest Zanden is as follows : this is BEST phono amp I have ever listened to (this includes the many pre-pre amps I have owned, the MANY world class phonos I have listened to at home trials and other audiophiles’ home). Honestly, I can’t describe the sound of the Zanden as I cannot detect any sonic signature as opposed to some I had used before. It has enabled me to hear the “ true “ tonal colours of different recordings and the finer details hidden in the recordings. Good recordings sound very real and bad recordings are still bad (like some DGG recordings – sorry Marvel bro). I seldom play the whole side of classical records in the past because it is too time consuming but with the latest Zanden, I simply sit comfortably on my sofa and listen to the full side of the LP (those with good recordings of course) and the problem with this is, I don’t have enough time. I had spent whole of last Sat. and Sunday (over 12 hours a day – my wife & daughter went on their holidays without me) playing my old collections and I was thrilled after hearing one after the other (I chose the ones which I knew had very good recordings).

    Obviously it is debatable or damn controversial to say Zanden 1200 Mark 3 is the best phono amp in the world, one can’t deny the fact, the 5 built-in equalization curves (extensively researched by Yamada-san) makes playing old and well recorded LPs fun (exciting, impressive, educational, fact finding etc). If you have MANY old DECCA, EMI, DG, COLUMBIA recordings in your treasured possession and you don’t play them through the latest Zanden, you are NOT hearing the proper recordings (Dave Brubeck’s Take FIVE – without the Columbia curve, the cymbals lack the body, decays and dynamics for instance). I will spend the next few days hearing my reference LPs and those I have put away before I make a concluding statement of this yet-another Yamada-san’s masterpiece. I am not afraid to turn into a vinyl junkie from now on because vinyl rules okay !
  • That is quite a review! The torture now is to wait! I hate waiting! Damn it!

    The curve selection session is crucial. The list of what label corresponding to what curve indicates the time/effort invested in producing a great masterpiece. I am truly impressed.
  • Zanden先生, 我一定會買呢部機. 讀完你的review令我熱血沸騰.
  • I guess I don't need to try to waste time. PT, check email.
  • Mr.Zanden, had you played any old Beatles recording with this phono? I wonder what should be the correct curve for Beatles LP made in the 60s.
  • Hi Raymond,

    I have put many of my Beatles away in the store room and can only find these 45 RPM. I believe Beatles' early releases were under Parlophone label (see the British pound sign), this is a brand name of EMI (which stands for Electrical & Musical Industries Ltd.).

    Also, as you can see some are under Capital labels and according to the EQ curve shown earlier, we use EMI curve. Therefore, in a nutshell, we listen to the Beatles, be it mono or stereo using EMI curve as the group split up b4 the global recording industries adopted the R.I.A.A. curve. Hope this helps, pls be patient for the 1200 Mark 3, it is worth the wait.

    Mr Z
  • Mr.Zanden, had you tried spinning mono records with the Zanden MK3? I wonder how would it sound like?
  • Mr.Zanden,

    I am painfully waiting for the delivery of this masterpiece phono stage. Do you have more to share after more time spent on it?

    Puyi
  • Mr.Zanden,

    I agree "every" word of your description on the Zanden phono mark 3. It is a masterpiece, period. The curve selection is just amazing. I am rediscovering much more musical details LP after LP.

    I have the Zanden phono mark 3 and Wavac LCR X2 side by side now. Frankly, the Zanden phono mark 3 represents another class even though I am hard core wavac fans.

    WChow
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