SOUND TRAV­ELS

ZA is truly into the ul­tra high-end and most as­suredly loves ev­ery minute of it. He has some amaz­ing gear and the sounds it pro­duces are equally amaz­ing. Here he is in­ter­viewed by Tom Wa­ters of the Syd­ney Au­dio Club…

Australian HIFI - - CONTENTS -

Tom Wa­ters of the Syd­ney Au­dio Club in­ter­views an au­dio­phile whose do­main is def­i­nitely at the high-end of the high end!

Tom Wa­ters: Do you have a first mem­ory, a first un­for­get­table mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence that left an im­pres­sion?

ZA: When I was about four or five years old my fa­ther and I would lis­ten to bands and mu­si­cians on his record player on week­ends. We of­ten went to Kent Street in Syd­ney and bought vinyl al­bums at an in­ter­na­tional record store. Back home we lis­tened to the great bands of the time: Glenn Miller, etc. the Rock and Roll scene: Buddy Holly and his con­tem­po­raries as well as Frank Si­na­tra and his con­tem­po­raries both male and fe­male as well as Euro­pean singers and bands. They were fab­u­lous times. I en­joyed the per­for­mances enor­mously.

TW: And did that start you on the hi-fi jour­ney or did some­thing else start you on the au­dio equip­ment quest?

ZA: No it was much later. I en­joyed mu­sic and per­for­mances no mat­ter what I lis­tened to: Elvis, The Bea­tles, San­tana, Jo­bim, Pink Floyd and so on. Clas­si­cal did not en­gage me that much. When I was at Univer­sity I was ex­posed to di­rect cut al­bums such as Lin­coln May­orga and His Dis­tin­guished Col­leagues. This was on re­ally fancy equip­ment at the time. The sound was as­tound­ing. This was the break­through mo­ment. Sud­denly de­tail, res­o­lu­tion, dy­nam­ics and the sense of be­ing there or rather the in­volve­ment and the feel­ing that was evoked was over­whelm­ing. I was hooked. Not with the equip­ment but with the per­for­mances. The im­me­di­acy with di­rect cuts was cap­ti­vat­ing. I then be­gan the quest to ob­tain the best pos­si­ble mu­sic or mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. Equip­ment was in­ci­den­tal… al­though it may not seem so.

All equip­ment pro­duces sig­nal degra­da­tion. The less degra­da­tion in the sig­nal path the more au­then­tic it is to the record­ing source—be it ana­logue or dig­i­tal. There is no such thing as a com­po­nent which el­e­vates a sys­tem be­yond what the recorded source has pro­duced. A great com­po­nent or ca­ble de­grades the sig­nal less. TW: Where do you think your sys­tem is go­ing, or has it ar­rived? ZA: I have three sys­tems. The first is in the very large and open liv­ing area where

mu­sic is for any­one. The sec­ond is in my mu­sic room. A sanc­tum. Very pri­vate. I lis­ten in the nearfield. Ev­ery­thing in that room is just right. The Tech­ni­cal Brain Pre and Power am­pli­fi­ca­tion and Zen­sati Silen­zio ca­bling in that room pro­duces ren­di­tions of the per­for­mances that are un­par­al­leled. I am lit­er­ally amidst the mu­si­cians and artists.

The third room is the one with ul­tra-high end com­po­nents: Wadax in­clud­ing the At­lantis se­ries, Trin­ity in­clud­ing the Golden Ref­er­ence se­ries, Robert Koda, JMF Univer­sal Trans­port, Vert­ere Ab­so­lute Ref­er­ence Turntable, Ton­earm and Stage 1 vi­bra­tion re­duc­tion sys­tem and of course the won­der­ful Tech­ni­cal Brain am­pli­fi­ca­tion. Ca­bling is from Trin­ity, Black Cat Indigo Se­ries, Vert­ere Pulse HB and Zen­sati. The room needs a lit­tle tweak­ing. It is a very large open area with only three ef­fec­tive walls, one of them all glass. The Trin­nov Amethyst which will arrive in a week or two will op­ti­mise this.

TW: What’s your favourite piece of equip­ment at the mo­ment, some­thing that you wouldn’t sell?

ZA: There are many com­po­nents I would not sell. My Tech­ni­cal Brain Pre and Power am­pli­fi­ca­tion, Wadax At­lantis DAC, Trin­ity Golden Ref­er­ence Pream­pli­fier, Vert­ere RG1 Turntable RG1 Ton­earm and the Stage 1 VR sys­tem and its stands, Van Den Hul tor­sion field de­vices, Zen­sati Silen­zio ca­bles and David Ast­ley’s be­spoke line bal­ancers.

TW: What do you see as your next hi-fi pur­chase or up­grade?

ZA: There are four items: The Trin­nov Amethyst, a Vert­ere RG1 Ab­so­lute Ref­er­ence Mo­tor Drive, a Wadax At­lantis Trans­port and a phono equaliser—ei­ther a Trin­ity Golden Ref­er­ence Phono, a Robert Koda MC-One, or the newly re­leased Tech­ni­cal Brain Phono Equaliser)

TW: What is the most mem­o­rable pair of speak­ers (or sys­tem as a whole) you’ve ever heard?

ZA: The Sten­heim Grand Alu­mine Ref­er­ence Speak­ers. Nat­u­ral, re­laxed, de­tailed and won­der­ful gen­er­ally…with the Silen­zio ca­bles and power cords.

TW: Is there any com­po­nent you’ve owned and sold you now re­gret sell­ing? ZA: No! TW: Do you use the same mu­sic for com­par­ing com­po­nents as you do for lis­ten­ing plea­sure?

ZA: Ab­so­lutely. This is fun­da­men­tal. There is no point test­ing with spe­cial tracks when you only lis­ten for plea­sure at home. There is enough va­ri­ety in ev­ery­day mu­sic tracks to test any pa­ram­e­ter of any sys­tem.

TW: Can you tell me what genre of mu­sic do you lis­ten to mostly and the names of some of your favourite artists?

ZA: Male and fe­male vo­cal­ists, mod­ern in­stru­men­tal mu­sic, jazz, rock, very lit­tle clas­si­cal or opera, any­thing with out­stand­ing per­for­mances.

TW: What would be your ‘desert island’ mu­sic al­bums if you could only choose, say, three works?

ZA: Arvo Part’s Alina: It is ex­quis­ite in its sim­plic­ity. Jo­ce­lyn Smith Live in Ber­lin, and Lin­coln May­orga and Dis­tin­guished Col­leagues Vol­ume 3 (for sen­ti­men­tal rea­sons and for the out­stand­ing dy­nam­ics.

TW: How would you de­scribe the sound you’re get­ting from your cur­rent sys­tem?

ZA: Highly re­solv­ing, im­me­di­ate, dy­namic, in­volv­ing with won­der­ful sus­tain and yet re­lax­ing be­cause it is all there. You are there in­side the per­for­mance. I of­ten find it more en­joy­able than many live per­for­mances.

TW: In what way does mu­sic af­fect your life, your emo­tions and the way you feel?

ZA: Mu­sic is an ab­so­lute ne­ces­sity for me. I vir­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence with­drawal symp­toms with­out it. Lis­ten­ing is so very emo­tional and en­tic­ing. It re­bal­ances me.

TW: Where do you see the high-end au­dio in­dus­try go­ing in the fu­ture?

ZA: I see a slow and steady de­cline in high-end au­dio. The pro­por­tion of peo­ple in­volved in high-end is di­min­ish­ing in re­la­tion to pop­u­la­tion growth (and I mean in pro­por­tion and not in num­bers). There is growth in head­phone use along with the as­so­ci­ated equip­ment as well as stream­ing, as this is mod­er­ately af­ford­able in terms of pric­ing. Al­though we have a tremen­dous choice of brands in Aus­tralia I think what is hurt­ing the in­dus­try is a huge dis­count men­tal­ity both by cus­tomers and some re­tail­ers/dis­trib­u­tors; the opin­ions on fo­rums from peo­ple who com­ment on equip­ment

Al­though we have a tremen­dous choice of brands in Aus­tralia I think what is hurt­ing the in­dus­try is a huge dis­count men­tal­ity both by cus­tomers and some re­tail­ers/dis­trib­u­tors

they have not heard; the re­liance on ‘known safe’ brands and the very lit­tle time given to au­di­tion and ex­plore brands from smaller tech­no­log­i­cally more ad­vanced de­signs and cir­cuitry from bril­liant de­sign­ers.

New de­signs and tech­nol­ogy im­ple­men­ta­tion are of­ten very ex­pen­sive be­cause of the small num­ber of prod­ucts that are pro­duced. They are usu­ally, how­ever, su­pe­rior per­form­ers. I see many one-off ex­pen­sive ‘known-brand’ prod­ucts sold by deal­ers or dis­trib­u­tors, of­ten hugely dis­counted, ei­ther in a home or in a show­room that are never to be seen any­where else. Many prod­ucts are fool­ishly bought on price alone. The wrong prod­uct bought at any dis­count is still a very ex­pen­sive prod­uct.

The high-end is go­ing to Asia and East­ern Europe. There is new­found wealth there and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of new prod­uct de­signs and new con­cepts. Cus­tomers are then re­warded by su­pe­rior per­for­mance. Prod­ucts are not dis­counted (or only to­ken discounts are given) con­se­quently the prod­uct is not de­val­ued since any prod­uct’s value is only what it costs to own it…not its re­tail price. In Aus­tralia, cus­tomers then wonder why the trade-in val­ues of th­ese dis­counted prod­ucts are so low.

TW: Where would you like the au­dio in­dus­try to go or to evolve to?

ZA: Vinyl is hav­ing a re­vival and this is won­der­ful. A better turntable, ton­earm and car­tridge will pro­duce better re­sults. What wor­ries me is what is hap­pen­ing to dig­i­tal. There is so much fid­dling around with up­sam­pling, up-con­vert­ing, DSD, PCM…

Hard­ware pa­ram­e­ters have a huge ef­fect on per­for­mance: ground­ing, clock­ing, ther­mal de­sign, me­chan­i­cal con­struc­tion, choice of com­put­ing el­e­ments, iso­la­tion, etc. and most im­por­tantly power sup­ply and the ana­logue out­put. Soft­ware pa­ram­e­ters are im­por­tant: the data path that mu­sic tracks fol­low play a key role. The aim is to de­liver an au­dio track which is un­touched (in its na­tive for­mat) and bit-ac­cu­rate, and to de­liver it as cleanly and sim­ply as pos­si­ble— that is, not up-sam­pled or up-con­verted or mod­i­fied.

I find it amaz­ing how much per­for­mance is pos­si­ble from a CD (44.1kHz/16-bit). A re­ally well-pro­duced prod­uct such as the Wadax At­lantis, JMF and CH Pre­ci­sion D1 trans­port, for ex­am­ple, ex­tracts more in­for­ma­tion from a CD than I have ever heard from any high-res file. It is pos­si­bly the re­sult of much less noise than in any stor­age de­vice/com­puter play­back. I feel we need to sim­plify dig­i­tal by ad­her­ing to the pa­ram­e­ters I men­tioned ear­lier and stop tam­per­ing for the sake of tam­per­ing. Most record­ings are now cap­tured dig­i­tally and then re­mas­tered for dig­i­tal or ana­logue pro­duc­tion. Mu­sic is to be en­joyed whether from an ana­logue or dig­i­tal source. In­ter­view by Tom Wa­ters, Pres­i­dent, Syd­ney Au­dio Club.

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