Meet Your Maker: Kazutoshi Yamada, Zanden Audio Systems

Tubed power amplifiers,
Tubed preamplifiers,
Zanden Audio Systems Model 3000mk2,
Zanden Audio Systems Model 9600Mk2
Meet Your Maker: Kazutoshi Yamada,  Zanden Audio Systems

AS: What do you think audio companies get wrong?

KY:With my products the most important thing in building the amplifier is the direction. My amplifiers use PCBs; many tube designers still prefer point-to-point wiring, but it becomes impossible to fully control the physical directionality of the wire in that kind of a circuit. In my opinion, very few manufacturers take time to judge the right directionality of components such as resistors. We judge them because if the components are even slightly different, the bokeh of the sound changes subtly (Editor’s note: bokeh is a Japanese term used in art to describe the character of out-of-focus background images).

AS: You also made a range of digital audio electronics. Why did you stop?

KY:I concentrated on the 16-bit audio, because I think it sounds more musical than bitstream. However, it is almost impossible to find those 16-bit DAC chipsets anymore and I am still interested in the multibit conversion. While they are very good, I wouldn’t be happy replacing multibit with an AK or ESS converter. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be launching any more digital products!

AS: If you don’t like bitstream DACs how will you launch new digital audio?

KY:I am interested in building a discrete R2R DAC. Right now, we are resourcing parts for this, such as resistors, logic ICs, and so on. The most difficult part in building such a DAC is finding very precise resistors, 0.0005% tolerance for example. However, I have found a source, but it’s not going to be cheap. Nevertheless, it is very important for us to make and design both a USB and a Network converter.

AS: What about DSD and MQA? How can you make them work with a R2R DAC.

KY:DSD will be… difficult! Multibit technology does not lend itself to DSD’s high-frequency bitstream. It’s not impossible, but it is difficult. Zanden is a very small company, I am not sure I can obtain an MQA license until the next generation of digital products are on the market. After they have been released, however, it should not be difficult for me to release MQA onto that digital platform.

AS: How is the digital platform influencing other parts of Zanden Audio Systems?

KY:Quite a lot! My factory was in central Osaka, but this is a crowded, very noisy area, and there is a lot of radio frequency noise. It was hard for me to find a space quiet enough to develop and test our products. If I was to try to develop such a high-resolution DAC, we needed a lower noise floor than central Osaka area could provide. For this reason, we moved the factory to Southern Osaka in May! It is very small, but I can make excellent grounding there and that is vital for good measurements and listening during the DAC development. 

AS: What do you listen to at home?

KY:My turntable is a Kuzma XL DC, with a ZYX 4D cartridge, and I use a pair of Magico Q1 loudspeakers. I am not sure if this is a secret or not, but Alon Wolf of Magico offered a trade (the Q1 for a 1200 phono stage, which he uses in the studio). Sometimes I also use a pair of Wilson Sasha; I have a very good dealer near my factory. Also, I have a vintage pair of Hartley Concertmaster VI loudspeakers. When I visited Hong Kong to present the special model of a very large single-ended monoblock amplifier, my distributor had Hartley Reference Monitors. I was very shocked after hearing them! Such a wonderful sound! So, I returned to Japan and searched in second hand shops until I eventually picked up a very good vintage pair for myself.  

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