Accessorize! Zanden Audio's TPM-1 and ZVA-1

by Marc Mickelson | October 9, 2017

anden: a name that stirs desire to listen to music. I’ve written about Zanden amps and preamps many times in the past, both as part of my own system and within many exemplary systems assembled for CES and other shows; and the company’s digital separates, the mighty Model 5000S DAC and Model 2000P transport, have made a very strong case for being considered the best way to play CDs ever devised. Kazutoshi Yamada, the head of Zanden Audio and designer of each of the company’s products, has a keen ear for musical nuance. His electronics aren’t about bombast and ostentation -- massive bass power and soaring dynamics, for instance, although they aren’t deficient in these ways either. They are about beauty of tone, the presence of images, the essential touches that bring performers to life in the listening room. They are very easy to enjoy, to become lost in. When so many other products are about producing mere sound, Zanden products are squarely about the re-creation of music.

This enthusiasm isn't limited to electronics any longer. Mr. Yamada (I always call him Mr. Yamada) has devised a pair of accessories: one purely for analog playback, a particular area of emphasis for him; and the other for use all around an audio system, even with some speakers. Both are straightforward in form but make use of an interesting and effective material that stamps out vibration, which has proven to be so deleterious to the musical outcome of audio products. But more than this, these new Zanden products uphold the brand’s music-centric approach. They fit right in with all of the amps, preamps and other electronics that have come to define the brand.

At the 2012 CES, Zanden introduced a turntable mat. I took one of the pre-production mats home with me and found that while it was certainly sonically effective, its inherent tackiness caused records to actually stick to it, making it ungainly to use. Mr. Yamada solved that issue, and the mat, called the TPM-1 ($300), is now available. Closely related to it, through the use of the same material, is the ZVA-1 ($50 each), which resembles a two-piece drink coaster. It is actually a self-contained vibration sink. You use it in sets under each component, where it drains off and extinguishes vibration and resonance from the component's chassis.

Both the TPM-1 and TVA-1 use a new-to-audio viscoelastic material called Hanenite. The name connotes stone, but Hanenite is actually soft and pliable. It can be processed into a rubber or gel, and Zanden uses both in tandem, because they provide slightly different damping and isolation benefits over the frequency spectrum. Naigai Rubber in Japan developed Hanenite, and a quick Internet search reveals that one industrial use for the material is high-performance shock absorbers. This make sense once you feel it. As either a rubber or gel, Hanenite has the pliability of a soft polymer, but it's more dense and heavy. If rubber, marshmallow and tar could somehow be mixed, the product would be something close to Hanenite. I've written about the uniqueness of the material that Silent Running Audio uses for the shelves of its racks; just running your hand over it reveals that it doesn't feel like anything common or stock. The same is true of these Zanden products. When you hold them, they seem almost otherworldly.

The Silent Running connection is also apt in the goals Zanden has for the ZVA-1. It is not a coupling device, but it does provide some isolation. Like Silent Running racks, the ZVA-1 is about draining and killing unwanted energy. Of course, this is taken to the nth degree with a Silent Running rack, but, with a basic rack or support, a set of ZVA-1s are meant to provide the same sonic benefits. They are also a way of retrofitting the draining of unwanted vibration for racks that lack this feature.

Installation of the TPM-1 is simplicity itself -- just put it on your turntable in place of your existing mat, which, depending on thickness (the TPM-1 is 3/16"), may require some VTA readjustment. The ZVA-1 demands some forethought. While a component’s own feet are the points at which it engages whatever is underneath, they aren’t always the best spots from which energy can be drained from electronics. Oftentimes placing a footer underneath a component’s transformer will effect obvious sonic benefits. Consequently, I used the ZVA-1s both directly underneath a component's four feet and with Ayre myrtle-wood blocks in place of the stock feet and generally in sets of three. To increase the benefit, Zanden also makes stainless-steel discs, named ZVA-D ($15 each), for use with the ZVA-1. These prevent the points of contact from sinking into the ZVA-1, distributing the load of the component more evenly and increasing the ZVA-1's effectiveness.

Because the goal of the ZVA-1 is the same as that of my Silent Running rack, I used the Zanden products on top of either IKEA bamboo cutting boards lying on the carpeted floor of my listening room, or on a Sanus rack that I use primarily in my office. I used them with a range of products, some that were heavy, like a CEC TL 1 CD transport, and some that were not, like a Genesis Digital Lens. Their effectiveness was unquestionable -- shocking even, in the way image outlines became more crisp and overall focus improved. And that was with them underneath only parts of the system; I didn't have enough to try them under everything, most of which rests on Silent Running products anyway. These things really work. If you own an inexpensive rudimentary equipment rack, sets of Zanden ZVA-1s can upgrade it instantly for less than $200 per component.

Here's better news: the TPM-1 is even more effective. I've used a number of platter mats on my TW-Acustic Raven AC turntable, a mass-loaded, belt-drive design made of different materials in strategic locations to combat both acoustic and physical noise. The best of the mats has been the Boston Audio MAT2, which is a slab of machined graphite that is very close in its properties to the record itself. Many TW-Acustic owners use no mat at all, given that the Raven AC's platter includes an integral machined-copper slab on top.

The Zanden TPM-1 shifted the Raven AC's full, robust sonic signature toward that of the leaner honesty of the Grand Prix Monaco 1.5 that I heard a couple of years ago. What this signaled to me was that the Raven AC's stock signature was actually a byproduct of some vibrational energy it couldn't fully dissipate; the TPM-1 is very good at not only damping any self-generated noise from the stylus plowing through the groove but also blocking whatever is traveling up through the spindle and platter from the bearing. I was hearing more of each record, what was actually in the groove. The weight and power of the Raven AC were still apparent, but they were less overt, more tendencies than full-blown personality traits.

Zanden products haven't been known for their budget prices, but with the ZVA-1 and TPM-1 the company has brought the brand into a new market segment. Both are end-of-the-road accessories whose sonic efficacy must be heard to be believed. But beyond that, just like Zanden electronics, they are products that stir the desire to hear music.

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