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Zanden Chukoh 宙光 - " Sound unheard of "

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.



  • Now, here is my impression after the first auditioning. First thing you notice when you hear Chukoh & Choku is the tonality of sound is the closest to the live sound you are associated with, piano, violin, guitar and male/female vocal recordings all reproduced with incredible REALISM. On the macro side, the majestic sound stage really opened up with palpable image and fuller sound (mid and upper mid in particular). This makes other pre- and power amps sound less open, mid-range thinner and slightly more anemic in dynamics. I hasten to add other listeners who were there also shared the same feeling.

    After recovering from this pleasant shock, you are further shocked by the micro dynamics on the recordings, I have never heard such incredible micro dynamic details, the Japanese recording of a Japanese instrument I heard on Friday was shock and awe. The strings of the instrument went from a low level sound to a huge dynamic level with utmost linearity (kudos to the mastering engineer who captured this superb performance) . Macro dynamic is reproduced with control, speed , tremendous attack and authority. The Chukoh is like the central commanding unit of a hi-fi system, let's call it super hi-fi system as I can't imagine any bona fide owners will use medium-sized or small speakers. The Carmen horn speakers have electronic crossover in its cabinet and it is connected to the Chokuh, this master amp literally sends all the 'correct' signals to the Choku and subwoofers, the end result of this is the reproduction of the most coherent and dynamic sound I have ever heard. However, the flip side of this is when the listeners go back home and hear their own systems, they may initially (next few days) loose interest to play CDs or LPs because the sonic difference is far too huge, this makes home listening much less enjoyable.

    After regaining my composure, I tried to put my listening experience in the right context. The organic sound I just heard was just like the real thing, each instrument has its own tonality and a physical contour. Another thing I noticed was the transparency, this brings you much closer to the performer/singer, perhaps the richness of sound make it so palpable. Last but not the least, the speed and attack of music are something I have never heard of except when listening to live performance (like the tympani in the concert hall which come at lightening speed right through your body). Because the sound is so linear and stress free, in other words, due to the absence of compression, you can play music very loudly without hearing hardness in sound.

    After conveying my listening impression with Yamada-san later on, he told me 'one' of the reasons for the Chukoh to deliver this level of ultra performance is due to the use of discrete attenuator (volume control). The big knob has 49 incremental steps to control the sound volume in a very precise manner and he had to solder each step by hand with over 100 special resistors (each with the correct direction) in total. The cost of this volume control alone is over US $ 10,000 (I reckon this includes material and/or labour cost). In addition, if I understood him correctly (as I am a layman on technical design & circuitry), the sound amplification begins with the attenuator, then through other signal paths (this was not his idea but an old one). Because of these 2 approaches, the sound is detailed and fast plus the impressive sonic characteristics I mentioned above.

    I was fortunate enough to be among one of the very few audiophiles who got the chance to audition the Chukoh/Choku combo first hand , I am sure each of us may have different expression of their listening impression. Mine, in plain English is 'sound unheard of'. I have never heard any system that can reproduce the many recordings we played to sound so life-like, especially live recordings of Teresa Teng, Eagles and some I did not know etc.....

    Although Zanden's latest super pre-amp Chukoh and the legendary Choku power amp will be owned by the very privileged few, Yamada-san informed me he has already incorporated the special circuitry design and FINEMET transformer in the model 9600 power amp and other components will also have these goodies very soon in 2016.

    In closing, suppose if you were to ask me I can only own either the Chukoh or Chuko but not both, without hesitation, I will tell you I would crave for the former because it really touches my heart the most in all my audio life. But I can't afford it. For me, as X'mas is almost round the corner, I hope I can become a child again and make a very special wish for Father Christmas to give me Chukoh as present - I will simply place an empty hi-fi stand next to my bed and sleep, and when I wake up on the 25th, the 2-boxed mater piece will be there.

    Merry X'mas to all you audiophile buddies out there and may all you dreams (or at least partially) come true !!!

    Happy listening.......

    Mr Z

  • Mr Zanden,

    Another passionate article! A great read! My friends in China also listened last Sat. They all told me the experiences of "Sound unheard of". And your feelings matched them. Converge of opinions in short.

    Where the hack can I buy the Teresa 1977 live recordings?
  • Mr Zanden,

    Phew! What a passionate post of yours truly! I got to experience later myself. Shouldn't we also need to give credit to the source component of such sacred listening experiences?

    TJ's Vetere reference analog system, Madake cartridge, and Javier's Wadax phono?
  • And don't forget Dalby celestial ground wire and Tripoint emperor ground and AC there
  • There are 2 X Dalby Celestial ground in that system. One is connected to the CHUKOH and another one is connected to the Wadax
  • Mr Zanden, your writing is soul touching! I enjoy reading it and wish your dream comes true....
  • I am new to this forum. I agree with Jeff the Tripoint ground and AC is very important to a system. I have a Troy (not the Signature) can't listen to my system without Troy and Thor SE grounding cable.
  • Finally, 宙光landed in my system last night together with the 2017 dalby titanium lignum feet.  Pt recommended me to put them under the power supply because the main unit of Chukoh is highly isolated from vibration.d
  • Sorry to all dalby hard core fans, I took the privilege of getting this first set from pt.

    My Chukoh is a special version without the majestic painting which I specially requested Yamada San to do it for me.

  • My heartfelt thanks to Yamada San to help getting a pair of first version WE300B tubes which I will use it later after i am sufficiently educated with the stock tube which Yamada San has selected to use.

  • Marvel bro,

    I respect everyone's preference on Aesthetic. But I really have to say the "special" finish of yours deprives the "character" of Zanden's super electronic series.  The absence of the finesse of the Japanese lacquer art resembles the Chukoh to "Denon/Marantz" outfit. 

    Are you getting the Chouku without the Japanese art?  Please don't.  It destroys the authenticity of the art form. 

    Other than that, this super line stage needs no further introduction?  How does it blend well with your whatever power amplifier now?

  • Voy,

    For some reasons, the painting really does not resonate with me the first time I saw the real Chukoh in AE showroom 2 years ago when Yamada san came to HK to officially launch this super preamp.  As you said, it is a matter of personal preference and frankly my old time school days were filled with music produced from Technics, Denon, Yamaha....may be this has sublimated to my mind for a long time.

    I am using Lars type 2 power amp, my Lars Monica preamp has earlier been sent back for Ver2 upgrade thus allowing the window for Chukoh to take up the orchestral role in my system.  To me, the relationship between Monica and Type 2 can be best described like the partnership and bonding between the Home Conductor and the rest of the whole team in a world class orchestra.  They have been interacting with each other relentlessly by countless numbers of phenomenal performances.  Their skills are well supplemented and compensated with each other rendering faultlessly a complete and tonally rich musical scene!

    Chukoh comes as a guest conductor (with stay very long!!) with an experience rivaling the best conductor in the world, sharing its own experience and interpretation on what each and every piece of music should be delivered.  It is a challenge as well as an opportunity for both the conductor and the rest of the orchestra on how to intermingle with each other thru one performance after the other!  Over the weekend, I really felt my system has delivered a new height of performance, Lars Type 2 serves well with Chukoh forming a bigger unification of 300B tube family!  My time in listening to my system is ironically like attending a concert with only a few hours of enjoyment, I need to attend more these house concerts before I can report more. 

    Yamada san, once again, my salute to you.  You deliver such a world class conductor to me!!

  • Marvel,

    Are you getting Chouku?

    On the aesthetic part, I agree with VR.  
  • On the 300B, I recommend you to try Elrog 300B or Takatsuki 300B.  I am not a fan of vintage 300B over-hyped by many.  The high band width circuitry of Chukoh should match modern design especially the Elrog.  Just my 2 cents. Japanese taka 300b is clean and transparent the Japanese way. Elrog has more extension on both end and more attack in the bass area.  
  • Marvel is getting a pair of Eric by Engstrom made in white especially for him.  That is the latest intelligence I gathered. 
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