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All good things come to an end - farewell from Mr Zanden

I was very moved by Marvel brother's posting of his impression of my system, it was his first audition of my horns. From someone of his stature in the audio community  (he has possessed most of the high-end products in the market and has heard numerous systems)  to give compliments to another person's system is not easy, it requires humility and a true sense of awareness/enlightenment. I was also humbled by Romanovym's comments "This is by far the closest experience to listening orchestral works at Cultural Centre".

I very seldom invite people home to listen to my Zanden/Cessaro Beta system as I feel uncomfortable of having strangers in my home (if it is not hi-fi, would you invite a stranger home to share your wine, food or watching your favourite movies !). I continue to tweak the sound exactly to my own taste based on my listening experiences from the many live concerts I have been to over the years. To me, it is very important to hear the various pieces of your favourite music performed live, this will enable you to have a much better understanding of the recorded music (positioning of the players and instruments i.e strings, cellos, horns, double bass and tympani etc), afterwards, you "try" to reproduce the sound (this means everything - from tonality, dynamics and soundstage) of your system as close as possible to  what you have just heard .

Marvel's listening impression is a confluence of other respected listeners. After receiving positive feedback, I know I am moving in the right direction but there is simply nothing to feel proud or to boost about. I would like to reiterate I do not like to write/describe the sound of my system in any hi-fi forum because sound, like the taste of food, is so abstract as well as subjective. Furthermore, because of the size and relatively small listening area, those who have not physically experienced the actual sound, will in my word, feel highly skeptical how on earth it can sound good at all. The case in point was an unwarranted and sarcastic comment by the editor of an international hi-fi portal several years ago who expressed severe reservation on the sound of my listening room without having been there. Notwithstanding my reaction, his comments about my old system in my previous residence was fair when he said "it's so easy to forget that an audio system'sonly responsibility is to pleasure its owner. This one fulfills its owner's needs to the 'T'. He is to be congratulated for having arrived already where most of us are still striving and struggling".

I do not normally listen to other people's systems (they seldom invite me) except AE's evolving system, from Tidal to several latest designed Cessaro's single-paired horns. My hi-fi mentors have always been Franck Tchang of Acoustic System International and Yamada-san of Zanden, Herr Ralph Krebs has provided assistance on cross-over adjustment (the gold-coloured super-tweeter cover was produced on my special request from previous standard silver material). Franck, every time after visiting my home, says my system sounds the best (large and small) among all the systems he has heard globally (he has not heard current AE's statement system driven by Choku, I hasten to add ).

In the past, whenever Yamada-san came to my home, he would point out one or two anomalies and fixed them (Chris will attest to this because he does it to everyone's system). However, in his previous 2 visits, he just simply sat down and listened to my system for hours. When I said to him in his last visit I will part with my present system, he said to me in a philosophical manner that I have reached the summit of hi-fi MT. Everest and I should be satisfied.

Well, you may be perplexed by what on earth is going on here. The truth of the matter is I have decided to sell my entire system and before that, I want to share my listening pleasure with those who are genuine music lovers and more importantly, are very interested in building their future system around Zanden products and Cessaro horns. If you meet these 2 prerequisites, I would like to invite you (please "do not" bring your friends for validation but come on your own) to come to audition what a Cessaro horn system driven by a full suite of Zanden gears (those solid state users should stay on their camp) sounds like as it is my belief (very subjective indeed)  "only the best tube design can produce the best hi-fi sound", period. Those who want to understand more about my impression of Zanden's designer and his products together with my hi-fi/musical taste should read my previous article in 長空 by Yamada Kazutoshi of Zanden Audio.

Now what is my definition of how to achieve best (subjective indeed) sound or what should a very good system is supposed to sound. Well, if you go to a classical concert, you will enjoy and be emotionally touched by musical performance of an orchestra and the solo performer. You will be captivated by the music. In domestic hi-fi reproduction, our life-long endeavour is to re-create the "live event" or the "recording" in the studio. To achieve this goal, your home system must posses the following qualities in order to "cheat" your brain that you are hearing the real thing and these are :


  • 1) Micro and macro dynamics :

    These are present in live and recorded music. Franck of ASI taught me to appreciate and tune my system to the replaying sound of a guitar because any good recording of this instrument would capture the speed and pitch of the strings. Almost most audiophile's mega speaker systems sound slow and the bass note of the guitar may sound like a bass guitar. If your system can reproduce above dynamic contrasts well, then it will sound "lively", the listener will enjoy listening instead of falling asleep in the middle of a piece of ...... your favourite track (how rude).

    2) Tonality :

    This is perhaps the most controversial and abstract subject but to my ears, absolutely vital. Those who are familiar with live music or play any musical instrument will understand my explanation. Can you hear the tonality of say a Stradivarius and Guarneri violin. Can you hear the difference between a Steinway concert piano and a Boesendorfer (latter was used by Keith Jarret's in his legendary 1975 Kohn concert - can you discern the tonality improved in from track 2 onwards after initial playing). Even different Steinway sounds a little different (I played 2 piano pieces from a Harmonia Mundi recording in Marvel's last visit and we could discern the subtle difference).

    After above explanation, tonality is the "colour" (be extremely careful of not mixing up with colouration inherent in hi-fi component or speakers) of music, like the vital seasoning in food. A system which captures the right tonality of the instrument will capture your attention, make listening a whole lot easier as you do not need to pay extra attention to check what's in the recording. In the end, the sound is what I called "majestic".

    I would like to quote Marvel's impression in his previous write up " We listened to a wide variety of music and all were played back flawlessly with stress free dynamics and tuneful colors. Different types of musical instruments have their own rhythms and dynamic headrooms."

    3) Harmonics :

    After capturing the dynamics and correct tonality in recorded music, you want to hear the 'natural' decay of each instrument and even the human voice. The triangle is the easiest instrument to reproduce decays but ironically, most speakers, especially conventional types are unable to do so, but horn especially Cessaro speakers do a great job in this department. In other instrument, back to the guitar, many systems can not reproduce the harmonic decay of the strings, guitar stings very often sound steely, harsh and truncated but can sound very captivating if reproduce correctly. Stings of violin can sound very impressive with their tonal signature, with proper harmonic decay, you can perceive continuous sound. Last but not least, piano is also difficult to reproduce in your system, irrespective of the many different key/note your fingers play, you can hear the different note overlapping because of the decaying sound of the previous key.

    4) Natural (fatigue-free) sound

    The abovementioned qualities can only be achieved by the use of a compatible system and correct room acoustics, I am sadly to report 90% of the home system I have come across do not posses such qualities. Frank said my system is the best he has heard lead me to believe I have achieved the 4 important qualities outlined above. Of course, it can sound better but I believe the present system has reached its limits and without a change, it will remain as it is.

    I would like to quote Marvel's impression again - " I know readers of this report would find me crazy or exaggerated, the pair of speaker with 1 meter wide mid bass horn really disappeared even when I listened with eyes opened. One won’t feel there is a point source coming out from the where the drivers are physically located. The soundstage is continuous and filled up without any gaps. One has to listen to believe".

    Once your system posses the above qualities, you have reached or are very near hi-fi nirvana. The reason why I am inviting fellow Cessaro/Zanden users/admirers to come to my home is to share my hi-fi experience. I am not seeking their endorsement if my system is the best they have heard (I honestly do not care in the slightest) , I also don’t have time for 'doubting Thomas' (except VoyR as he is a very nice person deep inside, so I was told). I hope they can hear the 4 main characteristics I mentioned above, if they can, then the system should sound good , period.

    I have tentatively penciled in Nov 07 (Sat.) as the date of the audition, I will confirm in next posting the times of the 3 sessions (75-90 minutes each) plus the CDs and LPs I would be playing. There is really no time to play your own favourite CDs/LPs, the purpose of showing the intended medium for demo is to allow you to hear some of them b4 your visit. Honestly speaking, many CDs & LPs do not sound good even in my system, I just want to demonstrate the medium which can test the limits of any system.

    That's enough writing for the time being. If you are wee bit inspired by what I have shared, please check out the sound of your system in a more serious manner and see if you can hear whether the abovementioned 4 important characteristics are present in your own system or not. Audiophiles are very stringent when judging fellow audiophiles' systems but are extremely charitable or forgiving on the shortcomings of their own !

    Happy listening....

    Mr Z

  • Mr Zanden,

    What is your next destination?
  • Mr Zanden,
    I would love to visit if possible.
  • Home audition of my system this coming Staurday

    Time waits for no man and flies quickly....

    The date of my hi-fi home audition day that I had set in previous posting is this coming Saturday and as the number of registered visitors is manageable, I will start at 2:00pm. Those who are very interested in 'upgrading' their components to Cessaro/Zanden products are welcome to come over, please contact PT for details.

    Perhaps I want to reiterate the primary intention of my contributions in this forum over the years is to foster 'real' progress in hi-fi playback in a domestic environment and I am always willing to share on the many different ways one can achieve sound improvement without having to make an upgrade of your components. In my experience, many audiophiles' homes I had visited were reproducing less than 50% of their systems' capabilities.

    After acquiring your dreamed system/component(s), then your main task has only just begun ! The next major endeavour is to position your speakers in the optimal position (pun intended), after that, you check for any sound anomalies in your room caused by room acoustics. The latter is a make or break phenomenon, have you come across in numerous occasions a hi-fi system you are listening to has either too much bass or the bass is too lean and dynamic is anemic. More often than not, this has to do with room acoustics. Without going too much into why this is so, a boomy system is much easier to fix than a lean/harsh system. In a nutshell, a boomy system often means it has too much energy, so there are many ways of letting this excess energy out. By contrast, it is much much more difficult to add energy or beef up the bass department of a system sounding lean and anemic. One can take the analogy of the ways and means of lowering the weight of a 250 lb person back to 150 lb are much easier and take less time than doing the opposite.

    Oh, I almost forgot to mention the wide selection of CDs I will be demonstrating on Sat. When Marvel, Marcus and Romanovym visted me last time, they commented my Zanden CD combo sounded very analogue, because I listen to CDs more than LPs, that's why.

    The first cd I will spin is Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the common man to welcome the guests, I hope this will give 'shock and awe' to the innocent listeners. The sound is loud and will test one's system and the room to the fullest because of the energy of trumpets, horns, tympani and the gong, sound energy literally extends everywhere. The main criteria is it must sound very loud but 'without' a trace of harshness and you (your body) are totally yielded to the majestic sound and shocking dynamic of the percussion, period.

    Next, I will play something soft so that your hearing senses return to normal. I will play a violin sonata and then violin concerto where the performer used 2 different Stradivarius violins in these 2 recordings. After that, female vocal will be on audition. Recently, I have started to play one of my old favourite singers, Amanda McBroom (almost all audio buffs have Sheffied Lab recordings in their collection, right). I will play my favourite track called 'The rose'. You could hear a very slight sibilance in the very beginning but then her emotions get into you and finally you are totally moved when she sang in the end :

    Just remember in the winter
    Far beneath the bitter snows
    Life's the seed, that with the sun's love
    In the spring becomes the rose

    I may play her famous 'Amanda' song on Sheffied Lab (all of its recordings were in 'reverse' polarity and if you're playing LPs, set the curve to EMI). I will then play many different types of music to satisfy most audiophile's varied taste and hope they find it a real experience in the end because every time after listening to my system, it is both shock and awe but wonderful experience to me........

    Mr Z

  • Below is a selection of CDs I will be spinning.....
  • According to Mr. Doug Sax of Sheffield Lab, their LP's should be played back with the Teldec/DIN curve. I can confirm that Sheffield Lab LPs sound much better when played back with the Teldec curve, but have not yet tried EMI...
  • Marcus,

    You are right on the money about switching the phono EQ curve to Teldec for Sheffied Lab recordings as Zanden's EQ guide also recommends this setting too.

    I am very pleased someone is reading my posting here and as a result, it has raised general awareness of improving our hi-fi playback without additional expense !

    Up to now, I still notice numerous makers of phono amps (be they solid state or tube designed) only incorporate RIAA curve, to me, either they are partially deaf or totally ignorant on equalization.

    Sheffied Lab and in particular, its co-founder and chief recording engineer Dough Sax was the one the world's best engineers, he sadly passed away in April this year. I must have at least 50% of the LPs recorded by him, some of them have the best dynamics but in the late 70's, I and many fellow audiophiles simply played these LPs on solid state amps without polarity and EQ switches, this resulted in severe earache when I played Thelma Houston's I've got the music in me and Romeo and Juliet conducted by Erich Leindorf.

    I will play some Sheffied Lab's LPs recorded by Doug on Sat. as my sincere tribute to this legendary engineer (he also re-mastered many famous LPs on other labels too).
  • This is Zanden's recommended EQ settings for various record labels showing Sheffied Lab should be played with Teldec curve and polarity switched to reverse.
  • Mr Zanden,

    It is pitiful to see you are retreating from the leading edge. I always like reading yours but they are just too few.

    By the way, do you use electronic and rock music to test your system? In my memory, it seems this type of music is never in your evaluation criteria.

  • Hello Jeff

    As a music lover ( for exampe a foodie ), I do not listen to all types of music ( a foodie normally does not eat/favour all different types of good food and must have preference for certain cuisines).

    To answer your question, you are spot on that I do not listen to electronic music (last electronic music I played as a youngster were music by Rake Wakeman of Yes, the rock band in the 70's). I also do not listen to blues but rock music I do listen to, like Eagles, Dire Straits, Doobie Brothers. The Rolling Stones are hard to reproduce at home but pretty cool (try Honkie Tonk Women). Please test out Steve Ray Vaughan's 'Tin Pan Alley' at "FULL BLAST" (Raymond brother, do not try) and see if your fellow audio buddies are totally bowed over in the end or leave their seats half way through.

    I continue to make incremental sound improvement by tweaking the subwoofers and room acoustics. In my biased opinion, present sound is slightly better than the time when Marvel, Marcus n Romanovym visited me.

    I am also humbled after reading Kahw's posting today, he seemed to take my attitude on room acoustics very seriously as after sharing with him my limited knowledge on room acoustic treatments, he started to make inquiry (as opposed to enquiry) on this subject and procured some room acoustic accessories as I said to him normal audiophiles can not distinguish the difference between room colouration n component colouration.

    Room colouration is a natural phenomenon and can be treated/fixed but colouration caused by components i.e. amps n speakers, it can NOT be fixed. For instance, Wavav, Shindo amps have unique sound tonality, everything you play and amplified through them has the same colour/tonality. However, I 'd better not elaborate too much here especially on speakers as I am sure many users will be offended......... That's why I do NOT like writing in the forum and talk about my system until the very end.

    Like I said earlier, most audiophiles are only realising less than 50% of their system's capability.

    Btw, were you having a good time drinking nice wine when you posted your comments ?

    Raymond, sorry, I do not have an answer to your question and I reckon nobody cares what I do next as nobody really bothers what fellow audiophiles do.

    Last but not least, I am still hoping more "would-be" Cessaro/Zanden users (but not the doubting Thomas) have the opportunity of auditioning my beloved system this coming Sat. on Nov 21, please let PT know.

    Happy listening

    Mr Z
  • Dear Mister.Zanden

    If I may make a suggestion, your visitors should appreciate incredible direct-to-disc LP, Prokofiev : Romeo & Juliet, Erich Leinsdorf, Sheffield lab (Lab 8). IMO, this is one of the most natural and realistic recordings of an orchestra ever made. I'm sure you have it. You're in a privileged position to demonstrate the profound difference between (wrong) RIAA and (right) Teldec/DIN equalization...
  • Dear Cessaro/Zanden admirers,

    This is a gentle reminder tomorrow, that is Saturday, I will demonstrate how a system with a full suite of Zanden electronics, driving the Cessaro horns, can give listeners aural experience of how close one can get to a live performance.

    If you are interested to experience this experience, please let PT know.

    Mr Z
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