After exactly 5 months from the day I ordered a ZDT from Craig (and at one point almost giving up on the order), the wooden crate arrived at my door. There was almost a week delay by FedEx (they lost the original paperwork), but Craig worked hard to make sure they got everything a second time and stayed on top of the shipping till I received it.
My ZDT is #15 (handwritten using a bronze metallic marker on the back) and unlike previous versions, it is all black. I don't know if other amps from this run got the same treatment, but I had asked for the classic silver top, then changed my mind and got my metal in the black tank just in time.
I feel like this is my first headamp even though technically it is the third amp I have owned. I joined Head-fi last fall with one objective--to build a modest system around my beloved HP-2s. After many hours of reading, and a false start (the Slee Solo despite being a wonderful amp was not quite the right choice), and with the help of many kind Head-fiers, I was able to narrow my choices down to the ZDT. During initial phone conversations with Craig, we decided the ZDT with partial silver transformers would be a better choice for me over the Zana Deux. Craig did say the Balancing Act would be the ultimate, but it was beyond my budget and the ability to hook the ZDT to speakers was very appealing to me.
Craig, as already mentioned by many others, is knowledgeable, patient, and always took the time to respond to my emails.
Well, here are the pics:
Large Detailed Versions of These Photos Here:
Of course during the long 5 months wait, I distracted myself by acquiring a CD player, DAC, some power cables, interconnects, and tubes. Here is my headphone setup:
Listening impressions? I'm afraid I am too much of a newbie to know how to do that...and I never got through the glossary of sound. The first CD I always test with is 1) Viktoria Mullova's renditions of Bach's sonatas and partitas for solo violin, followed by 2) some solo piano which these days happen to be Maria Joao Pires' Mozart sonatas, then 3) I put on a piano concerto and cross my fingers. I have never been a fan of orchestral music as I find it too big, busy, and complex. The sound always seems like a massive boomy mush--but as a piano fan, I can't avoid piano concertos, so I sit through the wall of sound just to catch the soloist in the middle of it all.
1) Viktoria Mullova, as I hoped, is quick, light, deft, yet firm and full. There is no shrill glare in the high notes--just a clear sweet expressiveness.
2) When I first got my DAC, I thought "my god THAT's what a real piano sounds like", and now with the ZDT, Pires sounds even better and more lifelike. Although I was always able tell what instrument is playing, I never realized how far from the real thing something can sound till I heard it sound much more like the real thing.
3) Okay, here's the real test--I have always kept that glimmer of hope that with the right setup, an orchestra can actually be pleasant to listen to. I put on the Argerich/Chailly Rachmaninov 3. Whoa!--I can actually hear her clearly and separate from the orchestra! But wait...something still isn't quite right...
It wasn't until I put on some music with more complex layers that I finally admit something wasn't quite right. I was hoping for a little more eureka than a faint improvement from the Slee. And what's with then um...graininess between notes that I finally caught in the mushy orchestral piece? Okay, this is my first tube amp and I wasn't exactly planning any tube rolling on my first listening session, but the not-so-subtle graininess between notes compelled me to turn off the amp, let it cool down, put on white cotton gloves and proceed to swap out the stock Electro Harmonix 12ax7. I carefully popped in the Sylvania JHS 5751 tube I got from Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio (who kindly accommodated my request for a "photogenic one"). WOW--finally--eureka!!! The difference was astounding to my ears. This tube, this amp,--the music is so clear, lively and expressive. Suddenly there was a extra sparkle to everything and I just wanted listen to music all day. Now I understand when people say it's like discovering your music library all over again.
A few other notes:
• When I emailed to thank Craig, he confirmed that "for the few that upgraded to silver transformers those amps are simply amazing". So, if you are planning to plunk down $2500 anyways, what's another $200? Get the upgrade and never look back.
• I don't know what "the tube sound" and "tubiness" sounds like and I probably never will. With this amp there is no sound that makes me think I am hearing it. All I can say is that it is like solid state without the edge. I wouldn't call it warm at all--it is just fresh and alive, and definitely not cold and boring.
• The amp only has 40 hours of factory burn-in, so imagine over time...
• I eventually tried my Raytheon 5751 Windmill Getter, and found it warmer(?), darker (?), smoother(?--less crisp), resulting in my getting an impression it was more “hazy” —although I am sure I am not using those words correctly. Don't get me wrong--the sound is pleasant and has it's own addictiveness--maybe it's what people refer to as "liquid"? Ah, I better go read the glossary of sound.
• And the ZDT turned out WAY better looking than I imagined from the few photos I had seen of it before I bought it.
Thanks for reading to the end.
Edited by champ - 6/2/10 at 11:12pm