We spoke to Kazutoshi Yamada – President of Zanden Audio Systems – during a recent brief tour of Europe.
Unlike many manufacturers and designers in the audio business, Yamada-san didn’t take the usual route of learning at the feet of the master. He didn’t spend years as an apprentice engineer or junior designer in a large R&D team. Instead, he took the more hardcore enthusiast approach of going it alone with a dream… and an innovative circuit design that he developed while at university.
AS: Yamada-San, when did you start Zanden?
KY:About 25 years ago, I settled on the Zanden name. My family name Yamada uses a Chinese pictogram that can also be read as ‘Zanden’; ‘Zan’ meaning ‘mountain’ and ‘Den’ meaning ‘rice field.’ However, I didn’t realise the name existed (and means ‘sand’ in English) in the Netherlands until a few years later, when people kept asking me “Is Zanden Dutch?”
AS: How did you get into audio electronics?
KY:While studying at the university (my major was in electronics), I invented a circuit for use in a phono stage and after graduating I started my own private office. This was a valve circuit; I am 66 years old, I am a part of the valve generation, and I started designing valve amplifiers more than 40 years ago.
Ten years after starting my own office, I invented some tube circuits that were patented in Japan. These form the base circuits of Zanden products and I still use them today. This special circuit went into the original Model 9500 mono amplifier, and later the Model 9600. As well as into the Model 8120 power amplifier from the Modern range… everything! Also, I don’t like to use traditional valve circuits, so with designs like the line and phono stages I use a circuit that is unique and I don’t think any other manufacturers adopt my circuit.
AS: And what is so unique about that circuit?
KY:Most other valve amplifiers only use a combination of resistors and capacitors, and that’s all in the basic circuit. My circuit includes more regulation through a current regulated diode. I use this device and it is very popular in the industry!
AS: And you invented that?
KY:Maybe! I prefer to use the fixed-bias circuit because the sound is very stable. While many tube electronics manufacturers also use a traditional fixed-bias circuit, my circuit is very simple and unique. I use a battery that performs the biasing of the circuit. We have batteries used on PCBs that work for more than 10 years with minimal voltage loss. The combination of a current regulated diode and fixed-bias works very well together for lower noise floor.
AS: Although you have an electronics degree, you did not work for other audio brands before starting Zanden. What are your audio qualifications?
KY:I have over 30 years of experience as a live music coordinator, which means I have attended more than 500 concerts. This is my basic experience for music and means I can compare live and recorded easily as result. I studied electronics to find the difference between live and recorded and how we close the gap. This is what interested me in LP reproduction: when I play back Decca, EMI, and Columbia mono LPs, the tonal balances are totally different. I thought it must be due to different EQ cards. I started research in mono LP as a result, and then made two mono equalisers and did the same for stereo playback!
AS: What were Zanden’s first products?
KY:The first product we made was the Model 9400 power amplifier and the Model 1000 preamplifier, which still form the basis of the Model 9600 MkII and Model 3000 MkII today.
AS: What prompted the changes to these models?
KY:Well, I had a very special product made for Hong Kong – cost no object – which meant I could build the ideal product, using every part I ever dreamed of. When I received such an offer, I decided to make the product, and I thought I can use the technology from that for the next “normal” Zanden products. And that’s precisely what happened.
AS: Are there bigger power amplifiers on the way?
KY:My interest is in high-power amplifiers and almost seven or eight years ago I found some very good valves from Russia – the KT120 – and I was eager to build a push-pull design, and of course, I am still interested in direct-filament tubes (845, 211, 300B) because I think the tonality is better. I sometimes receive requests from distributors to make bigger products (such as for the Hong Kong market), so this was the reason I develop new designs.
Now I am considering building push-pull designs, because they are theoretically better than single-ended designs. However, many tube lovers still prefer single-ended amplifiers. This was the reason I invented the new generation of amplifiers. I have put these ideas into the special models for Hong Kong, but actually starting with the Chuko line stage and Jinpu phono stage. In the future, I would like to develop the next generation of Zanden products based on those designs. I do hope to design and deliver the top models into the Classic selection, above the existing models.