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ZANDEN 1200 SIGNATURE Phonostage

On the 3rd of March 2020, PT sent me a recording of a classical piece being played 10 minutes after the installation of the Thales Extreme Exquisite cartridge.  I was very much impressed by the sudden improvement in resolution.  Before I could even speed type my comments, PT wrote “But the most exciting for you is another matter. I will unveil it in a few days.”   PT being PT, left me with the Thales EE singing in my head and my subconscious asking what will be more exciting than this?  I kept my cool and spent the next few days speculating.


“The first phono with 8 curves taken into account of the cutting machine”


As an owner of the 1200mkIII and my previous conversation with Yamada-san, this came as a surprise.  I was told in 2018 that technology from the Jinpu will flow downstream to an upgraded 1200mkIV.  Secretively, I have always loved what the Jinpu has done for the Divin Lab and the room at the AE Shows.  But what Yamada-san has done this time is extraordinary.  


Zanden owners are well aware of the 5 curve settings available on the lastest phonostages.  Love it or hate it, it allows phono equalization selection based on the record label.  This would be applicable to earlier records before the standardization to RIAA equalization.  


There are so many variables that influence the reproduction of music through LPs.  The ultimate goal is to be able to match the vinyl cutting machine (equalization, cutter heads, stability of the disc cutting lathes, turntable and motor stability, velocity constants, amplification etc) to that of our turntable, cartridge and phonostage.  Highly technical, I do not want to fall into the Dunning-Kruger effect as this is far beyond my technical know-how.  The more similar the vinyl cutting machine is to our setup, the closer we shall be to what was intended by the audio engineers.


Over time, only two cutter heads survived.  These were the Neumann and Westrex.  Continental divides meant that different recording houses, used different cutting heads which ultimately added another variable to the preexisting phono-equalization curves.    


So, this gave birth to the Zanden 1200 Signature stereo phonostage.  Five phono-equalization curves culminated into 8.  They are not new curves.  The Zanden 1200mkIII were all set in accordance to the Neumann cutting head which has a higher frequency, 4th time constant.  The Signature on the other hand allows the option for a lower frequency, 4th time constant on the EMI, Columbia and Decca equalization curves.  This can be seen on the curve dials as t/c (off = high frequency, (Neumann), on = low frequency, (Westrex)). This was appealing to me as my quest for LPs have skewed towards Japanese LPs over the pass 5 years.  There was just something right about how they sounded through my turntable, cartridge and 1200mkIII.  The truth prevailed and that was because most Japanese LPs were cut using the Neumann cutting head.  Having the option to match the Westrex cutting head used in America, UK and Europe, opened my horizons.  Could this be the missing link for all my non Japanese pressed LPs?  


 “You will take action, immediately”


PT has a way with words and I am sucker when it comes to Yamada-san’s phonostage.  When the Jinpu was born, my heart sank as the divide between highend and uber became apparent.  Secretively, I wanted one but even in never neverland, this wish was unattainable.  Til the 1200 Signature came…


“Yamada san says this concludes everything he knows about phono amplification for his entire life.”  Fully balanced, fixed impedence LCR equalization circuit.  Push pull tube circuit with 6 amplification tube as opposed to 5 in the mkIII.  The Signature uses higher quality transformers.  The power transformer was replaced from the R-core to the Finemet-core to further remove/lower the noise levels (similar to the Jinpu).


SO, bridging the divide between LP cutting machine and my playback gear at home, improving the electrical circuitry similar to that of the Jinpu and fully balanced?!!!  I was afraid to say it, but PT was right, “you will take action, immediately.”


Fast forward COVID19


Covid 19 affected everyone but spirits were high in the forum.  Work continued…. And eventually the music played.

Zanden 1200S (subtle differences with the 1200MkIII - t/c light and Signature)

Without a doubt, a Zanden...

Time Constant t/c light for EMI, Columbia and Decca only. (Off - high frequency Neumann, On - low frequency Westrex)

The back includes the option of balance and single ended connections via a switch.

New vents to air the 6 new 6922 tubes.

6x 6922 valves

Power supply (left Zanden 1200mkIII, right Zanden 1200Signature).  Note the addition of a grounding terminal.

So similar yet so different!

Smaller vents in the Zanden 1200 mkIII.

Larger air vents in the Zanden 1200 Signature

Zanden 1200mkIII rear panel

Zanden 1200 Signature rear panel

Updated EQ reference book.

To be continued...


Let the music play!


  • KFM,

    I am a big fan of your writing. You always set the stage and orientation well.  I am eagerly awaiting part 2. 
  • KFM

    I echo every single point of your comment on 1200S. I attended a demo a few weeks ago. It was such a thorough walk thru by PT.  Of course Jinpu is still the champion of Yamada’s phono creation. The 1200S is just too interesting and too good to be true. 
  • Part 2

    Living with the Zanden 1200mkIII has been an amazing experience.  The conditioning of this product has led my wife and I to be able to go into audio venues and miss the magic that it produces for the front end.  We know where the it stands in the market but secretively deep down, there were still a few boxes that haven’t been ticked.  Neither could I type a description of what those boxes were.  It was that analytical half of me that needed to be fed.  So, life continued with the musical path of pleasure.


    With the birth of the Zanden 1200 Signature comes, new metallurgy in the power supply, full balanced, push pull, the standard 5 EQs with an addition of 3 Westrex (low frequency, 4th time constant for Decca, EMI and Columbia).  All the rest have been set at high frequency, 4th time constant.  This will take some time to get use to and understanding what it brings. 


    1200mkIII vs 1200Signature


    Better power supply, metallurgy, fully balanced and push pull.  I had the opportunity to reinstall my system after a 3 month hiatus when the 1200Signature arrive.  I listened to the 1200mkIII for 3 days.  It brought back that amazing feeling that I loved so much.  The unboxed 1200Signature had a lot to live up to.  After the 3 days, I gained enough courage to unbox the 1200S and install it into the system.  First, it felt heavier.  Second, there was a ground terminal on the power supply.  The back panel had a switch for balance or RCA connections. The front panel accommodated the time constant LED indicator.  The switches were lighter, easier and had a softer click.  This was me justifying my purchase.


    Listening to LPs using the same EQ settings of the mkIII, Neumann (high t/c) with the 5 EQ setting and normal or reverse phase in accordance to Yamada’s original EQ manual revealed marked improvement in transparency, detail throughout the frequency range and a significant drop in the noise floor.  There was more energy and body in the instruments.  Vocals were energised and refined.  This brought back my experiences of listening to R2R tapes.  And this is what posed the delay in my writing.  I left like I was describing R2R master tape copies being played.


    This require a bit of deconditioning from the mkIII and trying to understand what is being brought to the table by the 1200Signature.


    4th time constant on vs off (high frequency Neumann cutter vs low frequency Westrex cutter)


    This brought in yet another variable to the complex equation of our quest for the holy grail of music.  What’s a few Hz difference going to do to music representation?   Well, if we nitpick individual differences, it may be insignificant.  But the nuances brought in totality gives the overall music a completely different experience.  AND this will need getting used to.


    Individual instruments have more presence but with the matching time constant, the tonality of the individual instruments were calibrated to allow focus on the main performer at the time without losing dimensions of the background instruments.  The musician can be felt communicating with one another to produce a harmonious band/orchestra etc without needing to compete for centre-stage.


    Listening to music now require the understanding of the album being listened to.  When a live recording was performed in the outdoors, with a crowd of 10000 people, the correct time constant allowed the feeling of this recording venue to permeate into the listening pleasure.


    At first glance/listen, my bias to the Neumann curve over the pass years with the 1200mkIII was apparent because of the added energy it brought.  But when music was allowed to sing with the appropriate lower frequency, 4th time constant of the Westrex cutter, each instrument settled in, inter-communicated and seemed to have “more respect for one another”.


    The sonority of musical instruments as opposed to vocals have been brought into the picture.  Featured instruments stood out while back ground players were reflected with accurate timbre.  I compared by playing 3 LPs (DECCA (UK), Analogue Production (USA) and CBS/Sony (Japan)).  The correct EQ setting and phase were selected.  The 4th time constant was the variable tested.  Neumann or high frequency 4th time constant would be the standard on the 1200mkIII and for all Japanese pressings.  The addition of the Westrex or low frequency 4th time constant was tested on the Decca (UK) SXL and AP (USA) LPs.


    This needed to be listened to many times to understand was happening.  My first 2 passes of listening brought me back to the old normal of the 1200mkIII.  All the LPs sounded best with the Neumann high time constant.  As I started to applying the Westrex time constant to UK and US pressed LPs, I started to find many nuance boxes being filled.  There was greater synergy.  The music was harmonious!  The texture of the background music was palpable.


    This is definitely in context with the rest of the system and may or most probably be a symbiosis of all the equipment as a whole.  This was my experience and it has definitely brought my LP listening experience personally very satisfying.   One cannot make judgment on first pass.  This changes a lot.  It has not reconditioned my listening experience to accept the 1200Signature.  It provides the true understanding of the many variables that equates to what we call the true musical experience.


    KUDOS Yamada-san.  Thanks again PT.  This is going to be an amazing new normal for our family.




    Let the music play





  • KFM

    What an excellent writeup! I concur every single point of your observation. 
  • Thank you Sir!  Its an honour to get your seal of approval.
  • KFM,

    Great read of yours and that saves me 99% of what I was preparing to write...ha ha....lazy me in essence is the truth!

    I went thru the path of 1200Mk3 some years and it was an amazing experience for me in acquiring much more listening pleasure by having the capability of adjusting the modulating curves on the LPs that I have.  Surprising some years later, my well respected Yamada San has come back with a totally revamped 1200Signature equipped with a full balanced end to end design and a further capability on setting the 4th T/C (time constant) for Decca, EMI and Columbia LPs.  Like KFM, I am still undergoing the learning curve in flip flopping between the setting of High (Neumann) vs Low (Westrex) according to the 14-page list!  One consistent observation across all the LPs that I have listened under 1200S is that once the curve is set according to ‘spec’, the music always renders a fully contextual details from top to bottom, left to right leading to a more captivated engagement!  

    My heartfelt thanks to Yamada san who has taken into consideration of the 青龍 cartridge, Chukoh, Lars Eric and Firebird in terms of end to end sensitivity harmonisation in order to fit 1200S perfectly into the equation!  I connected briefly 1200S in my system in Central showroom running an entirely different suite of electronics, it was like Federer playing soccer instead of tennis!  Lesson learnt:  integration must be holistic and end to end without which all the components are not synergised to provide the maximum impact.


  • 呢部播西樂,鬼佬唱歌,非常之真。
  • I’m thinking about changing RCA inputs for the XLR on my 1200 Signature, same with the phono cable from the turntable and was wondering if anybody here has done such thing. Any theories about what these changes would bring? After all the design of this phono is fully balanced and XLR connections should be better in theory…
  • I have mine configured in XLR both input and output since the beginning. 
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