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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; Bel Canto Design PRe2; AudioZone PRE-T1 silver & copper [on review]; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic [on loan]
Amp: Decware Zen Taboo; 2 x AudioSector Patek SE; Canary Audio CA-308 [on review]; Fi WE421A [on review]
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Mk1.5 with new external bass attenuator (retro-fitted)
Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S digital cable; Stealth Audio Indra; Zu Cable Varial [on review]; Cerious Technologies interconnect [on review]; Zu Cable Ibis; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; Z-Cable Reference Cyclone power cords on both powerline conditioner
Stands: Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath DAC and preamp; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell and IsoClean wall sockets
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan and significant 'active' cubic air volume of essentially the entire (small) house
Review component retail: $2,650 without 45s; $2,750 with vintage (used but test like new) 45s; $2,950 with NOS RCA 45s; $3,000 with EML solid-plate 45s

If direct-heated single-ended triode amps are as basic and old as mono, how come they still manage to sound significantly different even when using the same old core circuit and the same old output tube for the same low output power? It's like Sushi and miso soup. Every Japanese bar uses the same raw ingredients. Yet a premium eatery will make the same basic dishes taste different altogether. Sushi chefs will tell you how that's in the selection of the fish at the daily market; how you cut it. They'll tell you that women are rare in this profession because of their higher body temperatures. Even though the fish is handled very rapidly, its taste is still affected by the relative warmth of the hands working it. The secret is in the selection of ingredients and how they're treated. That's where the senpai master and senior man outwits and outperforms the junior kohai novice to whom it all still looks the same. Patience, grasshopper.

Among other things, Yamamoto Sound Craft of Japan is a high-end machine shop. They produce in-house whatever custom parts their audio division requires to go Kai-Zen - build big dreams in tiny steps. Wooden head shells. Cartridge parts. Precision meters. Teflon tube sockets with gold or silver-plated phosphor bronze (copper/zinc alloy) contacts. Wooden horns. Wooden tube sockets. Resin-impreganted Japanese Cherry wood panels that are hydraulically compressed, then vacuum-formed and phenol-injected to obtain Bakelite-type qualities and become hard enough to be precision CNC milled. Vintage-style tube shields. Solder lugs using the same Complite wood composite bases as the cover panels. C-core output, power and choke transformers. Ebony footers using NOS Japanese stock. Hermetically encapsulated coupling capacitors in Ebony cylinders to prevent long-term leakage. Custom speaker terminals. You get the picture. Off the shelf and over the counter are two phrases Shigeki Yamamoto does not understand.

Good enough is only for gaijins and gringos. Just kidding. However, getting mileage out of Eastern-style sensei mysticism is not what Yamamoto is about. In fact, were it not for Brian Bowdle at Venus HiFi -- who convinced Yamamoto-San of both his seriousness as an importer and a market in America -- most US listeners to this day would still be ignorant of Yamamoto's existence. A few choice tube amplifiers around the 300B, 45, 2A3, the tennis-ball 205D, the door-knob 316A and the highly sought-after 4-volt AD1 bottles; preamps, step-up transformers, cartridges, head shells; an Altec-Lansing inspired speaker; component footers and equipment stands make up the handcrafted catalogue of this firm. As the low-power SET amplifier offering parlays, Yamamoto-San's aural credo revolves around high-efficiency speakers. After all, that's what his 1 to 8-watt amps cater to exclusively. This combination is something Japanese audiomaniacs have been hip to a lot longer than us Yanks. But times are a'changing. Forerunners like Art Dudley and Sam Tellig in the American audiophile press have helped prepare that ground for years. SoundStage! Editor Marc Mickelson has similarly upheld the faith with Lamm. Constantine Soo of DaGogo is a big Audio Note fan. And some of us moonies are unrepentant tube duffers - yours truly by for years owning Audiopax and now Decware; Jules Coleman with Shindo; Michael Lavorgna with Fi; John Potis with Art Audio; Ken Micallef with BAT; Marja & Henk with Audio Note; and Jeff Day with Wavelength, Almarro and Fi and 6moons' first Yamamoto review.

When Brian Bowdle rang me in the summer to inquire about reporting on Yamamoto's new A-08S 45-type amplifier, I didn't need any prompting. Though I had never yet seen a Yammy in the flesh -- much less heard one for myself -- the documentation on accredited engineer and German importer Jac van de Walle's JACMusic site plus the Japanese home site was tantalizing all by itself. Never mind our own Jeff's review. Naturally, 2 watts of flea power requires the right speaker. At 101dB, with a nearly resistive 6-ohm load that doesn't exceed 12 ohms and active bass below 40Hz, my Zu Definitions were tailor-made for this assignment. "Do me," I told Brian as my old massage clients used to tell me. Brian promised to pass on the good word to Japan. "Expect a unit sometimes in October."

The subject of the upcoming review is available also with the Western Electric 205-D tube for 1.3 watts of max power using two Western Electric 717-A drivers and an 80 rectifier [left]. Shigeki Yamamoto uses that roaring mouse for his Altec 605A speakers.

The A-08 has been the most popular Yamamoto amplifier made. The latest "S" version improves over what Jeff Day reviewed, apparently in response to customer petitions for even lower noise since the amp's low output means it can only be used on ultra high-efficiency speakers. Needless to say, zero feedback amplifiers don't offer NFB to strategically address noise issues.

By DC-coupling the 45s and 717A drivers, noise levels for the revised amp are given as 0.3mV to 0.7mV. Tonal qualities of the A-08S are now felt to be superior even to the very best 300B amps. Further "S" changes include a switch from the 5U4G to the 80 rectifier which was developed in tandem with the original 45s way back when. To the designer, this presents a logical marriage of vintage origins. A high-capacity ultra-low impedance Schottky diode on the rectifier of the heater circuits was chosen after listening to numerous other diodes. This choice purportedly prevents insertion losses and improves sonics. An expensive cut-core high-B type transformer with Teflon-insulated paper regulates the power supply and output transformers as well as the filter inductors. To reduce costs -- this type of transformer is traditionally used only on statement products -- all transformers (resin-impregnated the whole lot of them) remain naked underneath the single longitudinal common cover rather than sport individual polished bells. For the slightly beefier new output transformers, a new 100 micron-thick core treatment and improved winding method are said to improve frequency extension over the earlier A-08 version.

Dale metal film resistors, polypropylene capacitors and Yamamoto's own Ebony-encased and hermetically impregnated capacitors have all been strategically chosen to optimize the amplifier's big tone. To allow monitoring of output tube condition, Shigeki-San has added an ampere meter that should read 35-45mA for each 45 (a three-pole toggle selects which tube is displayed). The Teflon tube sockets with chromium/copper input terminals and the pure copper speaker terminals are all proprietary and original Yamamoto issue of the very highest quality and as such also sold OEM. African Ebony appears for the legs and is attached directly to the Cherry top panel. A custom power cord with Matsushita plugs is included and each Yamamoto A-08S arrives outfitted with 2 x 717As and 1 x 80 rectifier (45s of choice can be included or provided by the owner). Max power output is 2 watts, frequency response is 18-30,000Hz and input impedance 200Kohm.

While there likely are far more of whom we've never yet heard in the West, the pantheon of Japanese tube designers, in no particular sequence, clearly must include Kondo-San of the original Audio Note; Ueda-San of Luxman; Matsumoto-San of Mactone; Miura-San of Airtight; Yamada-San of Zanden; Ishigami-San of SD Sound; Hyodo-San of Leben; Shindo-San of Shindo; mono maven "like-drives-like" Sakuma-San; Shishido-San of WAVAC; and Yamamoto-San of Yamamoto. As Jonathan Halpern of Tone Imports confided, obtaining the Shindo franchise for the US was a time-consuming process of long-distance negotiations. It was dominated by his eventual Japanese partners' need to feel comfortable with his personal integrity, audiophile sensibilities and long-term commitment to the line, the house philosophy, the product lineup and the signature sonics. American audiophiles must consider themselves likewise fortunate that Shigeki Yamamoto agreed to work with Brian of Venus HiFi. Otherwise, this would remain another esoteric Nipponese line which, like many others still, is simply not exported to the US. After all, a large part of the populace mistakes Japan for the exclusive purveyor of mass-produced consumer audio with zero pretensions at state-of-the-art audiophilia. Not!

Though Yogi Berra asks, "why fight popular perception?" At 2 watts, today's amplifier doesn't fight. At all. Its allure is visible only to a hardcore cadre within a niche within a niche. As such, this amp is about as anti-mainstream as it gets. That's exactly why it deserves coverage. Iridescent are the colors of the rainbow that is audio. Anyone interested in the bigger picture needs to remain informed about its fainter emanations on the far outer reaches. Those emanations -- tubular in this instance -- rely on just the right and rare conditions to shine brightly. How brightly remains for the formal review to report on in a few months. Seeing that Jeff Day's original A-08 review netted one of our Blue Moon awards, it isn't too cheeky to predict good things for the new & improved version. One other item that deserves a priori comments is pricing. Considering the intense custom nature of Yamamoto's manufacturing process; the high level of finish and cosmetics apparent already in the web-published photos above (and what Jeff documented on his own); considering importation, customs and distributor fees... well, I could think of more than one domestic competitor who charges way in excess for equivalent goods. Just as Jeff had already concluded for his review, the partnership between Yamamoto and Venus HiFi is blessed with common sense and a desire to keep their goods within reach. Doesn't that make you wonder whether WAVAC for example really has to be as expensive as it currently is priced for the US?