Zanden vs. Nagra

LL21

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Dec 26, 2010
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Niroda,

I haven't compared the respective Pre's, but it is a thought that had occurred. I do have the Zanden DAC (their latest version currently available) and I can say it hit the Nagra Tube DAC (then called the HD DAC when tested with MPS and VFSs) out of the park. And I'm not even partnering the Zanden with it's proper cousin, the 2000P CD player.

I didn't buy the Nagra (and I love the brand) because at the time and for nearly 3X what my (then) existing Nagra DAC cost new at point of replacement (I had it for years, btw) it was barely an audible advance and I'm typically someone who once smitten has to buy it whatever the cost and howevere small the improvement. The Tube DAC has all the usual Nagra qualities and sonically was transparent, detailed with a palpably large sound stage; but it was about par with my existing Nagra DAC from years before. The Zanden was at least as transparent offered a wider, deeper sound stage, a more filigreed presentlation of notes, attack and decay all wrapped up in very holographic image (something my Nagra VPS excel at too). I understand that this character is endemic to the whole Zanden range, and it would make sense that such is the case.

Now, this was all strictly red book CDs so, perhaps with higher rez content it may have better outshone my original Nagra DAC but from my experience of HiRez, I still doubt it would be anywhere close to the Zanden 5000S. Here's the thing, when Nagra downgared the HD DAC to Tube DAC status and launched the impressive (but I have not heard) HD DAC (and Pre line) along with improved mechanical isolation, that didn't surprise. The Nagre Tube DAC just didn't seem like the best they could achieve. Nagra is faced with escalating costs just like everyone and additionally, a hugely appreciating currency and these have to be a factor in their ability to position product pricing. For me, the Tube DAC was more a lightly rodded version of the one that went before. Like changing to a new model of motor car. There are of course improvements with the passage of time, but the price is perhaps similar to that before subject to inflation and the changes reflect a gradual advancement. Get in to areplacement model at 3x the price and that changes expectations.

Here's another angle though, you can get service and excellent service from Nagra. It's a substantive business with years of fine heritage and teams of skilled and passionate engineers. Zanden is run by Yamada-san. No doubt a skilled engineer with a passion for music and art. But as I understand it, he is one artisanal guy who might want to retire at some point. For this reason, my investment is limited to the 5000S that owes me very little in the way of cash.

A.
Congrats! A big fan of the Zanden. I bought an older 5000 first, paired it with a $50 Daewoo DVD player as transport...then Oppo...then after years of searching for computer audio music server...i ended up trading the 5000 in for a latest spec 4-box Zanden set and have never looked back.

A tremendous digital landmark for me...I have spent years honing it to my tastes with isolation and NOS tubes. What tubes are you using? After trying HRS and Stillpoints with HRS Nimbus, i ended up with the dedicated SRA isolation platforms for both transport and DAC...both each sitting ON TOP of and HRS M3X shelf.
 

Anchorman

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May 12, 2020
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It is a great brand and carefully designed and engineered. Currently there's a replacement to the digital line up awaited, but not sure if Zanden will follow the industry with ever more colourful pricing. If it's a precedent, the series II 3000 Pre, though more expensive than the outgoing model, isn't outrageously so.

Tubes all Mullard (for the PS) and was a good move. I don't recollect what's in the DAC except it IS a 7308 (might be a Phillips or Amperex) rather than the factory 6922.

And yes, back in the late 2000s I spent much energy experimenting with computer files, compressed, uncompressed, WAV, FLAC, whatever, SSD. Damping... it makes an audible difference even if the checksum is the same...but then my dealer lent me the Nagra CDC. It never went back and the computer went to recycling. Might be different now, of course and CDs are increasingly limited so...
 

LL21

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Dec 26, 2010
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It is a great brand and carefully designed and engineered. Currently there's a replacement to the digital line up awaited, but not sure if Zanden will follow the industry with ever more colourful pricing. If it's a precedent, the series II 3000 Pre, though more expensive than the outgoing model, isn't outrageously so.

Tubes all Mullard (for the PS) and was a good move. I don't recollect what's in the DAC except it IS a 7308 (might be a Phillips or Amperex) rather than the factory 6922.

And yes, back in the late 2000s I spent much energy experimenting with computer files, compressed, uncompressed, WAV, FLAC, whatever, SSD. Damping... it makes an audible difference even if the checksum is the same...but then my dealer lent me the Nagra CDC. It never went back and the computer went to recycling. Might be different now, of course and CDs are increasingly limited so...

Great feedback...I am actually the same NOS Mullards for the Power Supply and Amperex US PQ White Label. From Brent Jessee.

It would be great if the new digital would be an upgrade like the 3000MkII. However, the currently announced one is related to Audio Exotics special AE-only releases done in partnership with Zanden...all of which have been six-figures...the amp being 250K or so.

That said, AFTER the 100K+ preamp came out with AE...then the 3000MkII came out and I have heard it is phenomenal. So perhaps AFTER the AE version comes out, there might be an updated 5000Signature? I would certainly be up for that!
 

SuperDave

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May 12, 2017
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I started off with the HD Amps on my former Robert Koda K10 Preamp. It was a sweet combo. I will say they HA amps exert a same kind of grip you mention above.

I've never had the chance to hear Zanden equipment, it looks amazing on the AE website. As mentioned above, Nagra customer service IME has been flawless and jfrech is correct about grip. To me, they are effortless.

Dave
 

nirodha

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I promised to get back on my comparison between the Nagra Jazz and the Zanden 3000 mk.2. A friend and I spent half a day at the exellent Listening Matters high-end store in The Haque. The owner, Ben van Leliveld, is a beacon of knowledge and made us feel truly welcome. So.... in short: the Zanden beat the Jazz in an unmistakable way: larger soundstage, more depth and more drive. The Nagra didn't / doesn't fail as a component but it just isn't that sophisticated. I also asked Ben about Zanden's future: what if the guru, Yamada-san, decides to quit? Apparently, Zanden is now a collective. Yamada's son is part of the company, thoroughly trained by his father and surrounded by a team op top engineers. This is reassuring. Should I compare the Jazz with the new Classic pre? Probaby. Will I? No, I won't. Apart from the Zanden magic, I also consider their products the most beautiful components in the high-end scene. Should this matter? Probably not. Does it matter? Yeah... it does haha. So one thing to do, start saving to buy this (ulitmate and final?) preamp as soon as financially possible.
 
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jfrech

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That does not surprise me. I would compare the Classic Pre...but you are likely going to get a different vs better. I suspect the Zanden possess more beauty no matter what it's compared do. The Nagra Classic more truth. Thanks for posting your comparison ! I've always wondered about trying a Zanden phono stage...
 
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nirodha

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That does not surprise me. I would compare the Classic Pre...but you are likely going to get a different vs better. I suspect the Zanden possess more beauty no matter what it's compared do. The Nagra Classic more truth. Thanks for posting your comparison ! I've always wondered about trying a Zanden phono stage...
I think both beauty and truth are subjective. But we are comparing two brands residing on the same summit :)
 

Anchorman

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Sounds like you're smitten niroda... I'm not sure a 10 year old tactical product release like the Jazz was in a fair contest with the latest flagship of Zanden, but as jfrech alludes, they will have differing characters and are probably consistent in that regard; buy with your heart perhaps...? Zanden definitely has an inner beauty, the bloom and dimensionality their products provide is perhaps, part of that sophistication. Of course sophistication comes in many guises, and I am certain a Classic/MPS and to a greater extent the HD series, would exhibit their own interpretation of sophistication. For me, whilst I remain with a foot in two camps (owning Zanden and Nagra) I have still to work out which direction to go, or perhaps there's nothing wrong in mixing it up... When you get round to your purchase, enjoy!
 
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LL21

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I also concur. There is something about Zanden that has exceptional technical performance...but FAR more importantly has an incredibly finely tuned sense of how to bring that technical performance into that oft-illusive zone of nuanced music making. I have to imagine it is because (like many talented designers), he has a very very clear sense of what technical elements he feels are important (including the mix of them) to create that sense of live music making.
 
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caesar

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Amp wise, I think CAT would outperform both Zanden and Nagra, fairly easily. Especially on hard-to-drive, popular box speakers like wilson and magico.

If one has a speaker with an easier load, AND one looks the higher lines of CAT, Zanden, and Nagra, things should get more interesting. But how many in the world would actually be lucky enough to hear that comparison?

For phono stages, is the " selectable RIAA curve" feature of the Zandens a gimmick or the real deal?
 

andromedaaudio

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I ve owned the zanden 7000 300B for a couple of years .
It was able to drive both my previous mdf designs properly .
Only quible i have with zanden is that it sounds silky smooth.
Whether thats actually more real sounding then the CAT i m not 100 % sure .
 

Marcus

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+1 Not just sophistication but also an immense enjoyment factor. The Zanden 1200 Mk 3 phono stage is a benchmark for me for conveying the soul of the music.
Wait till you hear the 1200 Signature...:)
 
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Marcus

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Amp wise, I think CAT would outperform both Zanden and Nagra, fairly easily. Especially on hard-to-drive, popular box speakers like wilson and magico.

If one has a speaker with an easier load, AND one looks the higher lines of CAT, Zanden, and Nagra, things should get more interesting. But how many in the world would actually be lucky enough to hear that comparison?
Yamada san is working on a high power push-pull power amp for some time now. I’m sure it will be something very special.
 

caesar

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Yamada san is working on a high power push-pull power amp for some time now. I’m sure it will be something very special.

Would love to hear that! I am sure it's very special. And very expensive - for good reasons!
 
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marty

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For phono stages, is the " selectable RIAA curve" feature of the Zandens a gimmick or the real deal?

I would have dismissed it as non-essential until I heard the benefits myself. The most impressive applications are the early Decca/London late 50's - -60's -early 70's golden age) that make many of these recordings even more sonically attractive than previously realized. Early Columbia's also benefit significantly. I don't really have any Teldecs to speak of so I can't comment on those. Once companies adhered more faithfully to RIAA, the differences between labels for "proper" RIAA EQ diminish as expected. But for some, the change in fullness and weight are impressive using the label specified curve selected with the Zanden control. In general, the bass EQ is typically the most altered (although the top end is often modified a bit as well). The resultant sound is actually quite predictable if you look at the EQ curves (which are published by Zanden and others). Are they "tone controls"? Of course! But although the RIAA curve was standardized in 1954, they were applied in a highly individualized manner by various companies early on for their own reasons. Thus reproducing LP playback with "standard" RIAA curves often leaves something on the table compared to using the correct curve for a specific label that is included in the selectable Zanden compensation control. Two specific examples are Stravinsky's Petruska by Ansermet/Orchestra de la Suisse Romaine on Decca (SXL 2011) recorded in 1957. Using the Decca curve takes this recording from good to damn impressive. Similarly, using the Zanden Decca curve on Dvorak's New World Symphony (first published as Symphony #5- don't ask me why- it doesn't seem that hard to count to 9 correctly) by Kubelik/Vienna on London (CS 6020) recorded in 1956, benefits this LP tremendously. In summary, it's a very nice feature to have. If your library has a heavy dose of some of these labels from the golden age, this feature can often enhance your listening enjoyment.
 
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caesar

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I would have dismissed it as non-essential until I heard the benefits myself. The most impressive applications are the early Decca/London late 50's - -60's -early 70's golden age) that make many of these recordings even more sonically attractive than previously realized. Early Columbia's also benefit significantly. I don't really have any Teldecs to speak of so I can't comment on those. Once companies adhered more faithfully to RIAA, the differences between labels for "proper" RIAA EQ diminish as expected. But for some, the change in fullness and weight are impressive using the label specified curve selected with the Zanden control. In general, the bass EQ is typically the most altered (although the top end is often modified a bit as well). The resultant sound is actually quite predictable if you look at the EQ curves (which are published by Zanden and others). Are they "tone controls"? Of course! But although the RIAA curve was standardized in 1954, they were applied in a highly individualized manner by various companies early on for their own reasons. Thus reproducing LP playback with "standard" RIAA curves often leaves something on the table compared to using the correct curve for a specific label that is included in the selectable Zanden compensation control. Two specific examples are Stravinsky's Petruska by Ansermet/Orchestra de la Suisse Romaine on Decca (SXL 2011) recorded in 1957. Using the Decca curve takes this recording from good to damn impressive. Similarly, using the Zanden Decca curve on Dvorak's New World Symphony (first published as Symphony #5- don't ask me why- it doesn't seem that hard to count to 9 correctly) by Kubelik/Vienna on London (CS 6020) recorded in 1956, benefits this LP tremendously. In summary, it's a very nice feature to have. If your library has a heavy dose of some of these labels from the golden age, this feature can often enhance your listening enjoyment.

Hi Marty,
This is a great reply - thank you for taking the time to write it up. And Zanden is a GREAT product.

Yet I sense some type of guilt in reference to "tone controls". Can you please share why and where that comes from. (No, I am not a shrink! :) ) Just curious, though, as to me everything in the chain is sort of a tone control, including cables, tubes, and , heck, even room treatments.
 

marty

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Hi Marty,
This is a great reply - thank you for taking the time to write it up. And Zanden is a GREAT product.

Yet I sense some type of guilt in reference to "tone controls". Can you please share why and where that comes from. (No, I am not a shrink! :) ) Just curious, though, as to me everything in the chain is sort of a tone control, including cables, tubes, and , heck, even room treatments.

No disagreement with you whatsoever. You said it best: everything in the chain is sort of a tone control, including cables, tubes, and , heck, even room treatments. This has been said many ways by many different people. One popular variant is "everything matters". This is hobby in which we try to re-create a facsimile of a real musical event. It's an impossible task at the outset. So by saying all the decisions we make to assemble a system impart their sonic signature on that re-creation is not a judgement that is driven by guilt in any way. However, one of the most important properties of any system is frequency response and the RIAA curves used by various companies before the more unified acceptance of the industry RIAA curve had considerable deviations that were genuinely sonically significant.

Here are 3 examples of differing EQ curves used in comparison to the "standard" RIAA curve.

Screen Shot 2020-07-07 at 1.07.11 PM.png

It's not hard to see why playback tonality can vary depending on the EQ chosen for playback. That's the very definition of a tone control! By the way, there is a robust disagreement about this topic with Yamada-san (Zanden) and Fremer having had almost violent disagreements on this subject for years. I do think Roy Gregory captured it the way I see it. "The differences are far from subtle, with the correct EQ delivering not just a sense of tonal rightness, but a rhythmic poise and sense of performance and drama that’s unmistakable."
 
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caesar

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No disagreement with you whatsoever. You said it best: everything in the chain is sort of a tone control, including cables, tubes, and , heck, even room treatments. This has been said many ways by many different people. One popular variant is "everything matters". This is hobby in which we try to re-create a facsimile of a real musical event. It's an impossible task at the outset. So by saying all the decisions we make to assemble a system impart their sonic signature on that re-creation is not a judgement that is driven by guilt in any way. However, one of the most important properties of any system is frequency response and the RIAA curves used by various companies before the more unified acceptance of the industry RIAA curve had considerable deviations that were genuinely sonically significant.

Here are 3 examples of differing EQ curves used in comparison to the "standard" RIAA curve.

View attachment 66987

It's not hard to see why playback tonality can vary depending on the EQ chosen for playback. That's the very definition of a tone control! By the way, there is a robust disagreement about this topic with Yamada-san (Zanden) and Fremer having had almost violent disagreements on this subject for years. I do think Roy Gregory captured it the way I see it. "The differences are far from subtle, with the correct EQ delivering not just a sense of tonal rightness, but a rhythmic poise and sense of performance and drama that’s unmistakable."

Thank you so much! Brilliant explanation with the visuals! And when I heard the demo of one of the Zanden phono stages, subjectively it was a "broken" and "not broken" type of a difference.
 

MadFloyd

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No disagreement with you whatsoever. You said it best: everything in the chain is sort of a tone control, including cables, tubes, and , heck, even room treatments. This has been said many ways by many different people. One popular variant is "everything matters". This is hobby in which we try to re-create a facsimile of a real musical event. It's an impossible task at the outset. So by saying all the decisions we make to assemble a system impart their sonic signature on that re-creation is not a judgement that is driven by guilt in any way. However, one of the most important properties of any system is frequency response and the RIAA curves used by various companies before the more unified acceptance of the industry RIAA curve had considerable deviations that were genuinely sonically significant.

Here are 3 examples of differing EQ curves used in comparison to the "standard" RIAA curve.

View attachment 66987

It's not hard to see why playback tonality can vary depending on the EQ chosen for playback. That's the very definition of a tone control! By the way, there is a robust disagreement about this topic with Yamada-san (Zanden) and Fremer having had almost violent disagreements on this subject for years. I do think Roy Gregory captured it the way I see it. "The differences are far from subtle, with the correct EQ delivering not just a sense of tonal rightness, but a rhythmic poise and sense of performance and drama that’s unmistakable."

This is a fascinating topic for me. I spin a lot of original Deccas and my CH P1 phono stage has an optional Decca EQ curve that I can get. Sounds like it might be worth it. I'd love to see what the Decca curve looks like compared to these three.
 

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