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Like the venerable Vandersteen Model 2ce Signature, the Zanden Audio Model 5000 is an extremely mature product. It's been refined over time and as numerous iterations. To expect any drastic improvements in the latest Signature incarnation would be rather unrealistic. It'd require a radical reworking/tabula rasa as Richard Vandersteen faced deliberately with his Model 5. When Yamada-San stood to update his Model 5000 DAC to accept the new master clock output from his best transport, he clearly considered what else he could possibly tweak in his already dialed-to-the-max converter. The end result is the physical separation of the power supply into an external box and further applications of a very expensive Japanese-issue paper that works similar to StillPoints' ERS cloth.

The real estate previously occupied by the 3-tube power supply is now bare which makes for a distinctly lighter chassis.

The lone 6922 double-triode remaining is surrounded by a cylinder of the same paper reinforced by yet another shielding application. Everything about this and other tweaks points at a systematic, nearly maniacal eradication of noise contamination. It suggests that the presumably so robust digital signal is far less robust and far more prone to corruption than commonly asserted.

Like the Signature DAC under review, the new replacement for the MkIV called LE [$11,970] accepts a true 7308 interchangeably but lacks the phase switch, I-squared-S input provision and outboard power supply. Teamed up with the standard transport [$17,970], that 'lesser' combination still weighs in at $29,940.

The greatest difference I expected from the Signature DAC over my resident MkIV (when driven from my Accustic Arts transport) was the contribution of the 7308 triode. Word on the street predicted an audible upgrade of significant gravitas. The compatibility of both the new Signature and LE version with this tube suggests that the designer himself agrees. Now I needed to determine whether I did, too.

Unlike the Ensemble and Accustic Arts transports which also rely on the Philips CDM12 mechanics, the Zanden transport does not require a separate magnetic puck to secure the disc on the spindle. Said puck is integral to the lid and prompts instant spinning and TOC protocol once the lid has been placed in the well.

More unusual even is the modem-type locking I²S interface which requires Yamada's own digital interconnect terminated accordingly. A BNC-fitted clock link is provided for users intent on leashing the Model 2000P to non-Zanden DACs via outboard reclockers by dCS, Esoteric and the like.

The Model 5000 LE does not sport an equivalent BNC clock input, hence the only way to secure Yamada-San's ultra low-jitter pathway is via the 2000P/5000Sig combo's I²S link. The transport's outputs are simultaneously active and can thus be hooked up in parallel, affording easy comparisons by simply switching the DAC's inputs.