Published On: January 11, 2009

Bow Technologies ZZ-Eight CD Player Reviewed

Published On: January 11, 2009

Bow Technologies ZZ-Eight CD Player Reviewed

An engineering marvel, the Bow Technologies ZZ-Eight CD player has RCA and BNC S/PDIF digital inputs so it can also serve as a DAC. With a Phillips CDM12 pro drive mechanism, the ZZ-Eight is designed to deliver "magical" sound quality without a trace of listener fatigue.

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It could have grown out of the ZZ-One integrated amp, a Siamese twin just itching to use its amplifying sibling as a plinth. Whether or not it should be 'stacked' is doubtful, given the ventilating properties of the ZZ-One's end pieces and designer Bo Christensen's obsessive attitude toward component positioning. Measuring 430x96x340mm (WHD), the ZZ-Eight sports the same gloss-black 'floating' front panel, the same curved, solid metal end sections, the same delicate gold accents. It's so luscious a design that a reviewer with an aesthete's tendencies might find it hard not to succumb to the looks alone.

It's an engineering marvel, too, the size belying a weight of 16kg. It seems as if carved from solid, in stark contrast to so many components which are - literally - boxes full of air, hot or otherwise. Everything about it is dense and condensed, in opposition to the still-lingering 1980s high-end philosophy of 'bigger is better'. And it's so 'right', from the blacked-out, minimalist display to the array of only six switches. The minor controls are relegated to the remote, so the 'Eight itself is clean and simple, but never crossing the line between minimalism and masochism.

Additional Resources

When you switch on the AC rocker mounted on the back, the front panel shows only the word 'standby' in red. Rear-positioning of the on/off switch is deliberate because encourages the user to leave the Bow in 'standby' mode when not in use; the player suffers the same kind of warm-up requirements as a power amplifier. Best to treat it like a VCR, which is always in standby mode between active periods.

Engage play and large red digits tell you track number and one of the time modes. You can scroll through time elapsed or remaining, while stopping the CD provides a read-out of total disc time. Other legends appear as required, such as 'HDCD' and 'pause'. What's so nice about this bold display is that it's legible at a far greater distance than small, pale blue numbers. And if you're of the all-displays-are-bad school, you can, from the listening seat via remote, dim the display or turn it off entirely. And you can hear the difference.

On top, the transport controls plus standby are arranged in opposing groups of three. These toggles stand proud and are easy to use, 'intermittent' types which require a gentle flick before springing back in position. The end result is that they're always vertical for perfect visual symmetry, and in a sloped position only during the instant that switching takes place. In the centre of the upper surface is the opening for the CD, this top loader using a beautifully machined, lightweight puck which looks like a wheel off a Ferrari. Cleverly, Bow provides a 'dummy' CD, with graphics on the 'label' side and leather on the underside, to put in place when the 'Eight is not in use; this keeps dust out of the CD aperture, most important as the puck is a spoked rather than a closed-surface disc, and the 'Eight lacks the sliding lid of most top-loaders.

Naturally, the back contains hardware worthy of a £3999.95 player, gold-plated and confidence inspiring, and it's here that you find another of designer Bo Christensen's personal preferences taking precedence over marketing concerns. So convinced is the design team that coaxial betters optical that the digital outputs consist of only RCA and BNC coaxial; optical isn't offered. Audiophile bias notwithstanding, this is a rather self-abnegating way of proving a point, however admirable such purism may be. Practice might show that some users actually want TOSlink or AT&T outputs. I respect Bow for sticking to its guns, but I also reckon that such hubris could cost a few lost sales. Me? I'm a coax man, too, so I mention this only as an observer.

At the heart of the 'Eight is the die-cast Philips CDM12 Pro drive mechanism - actually a CD-ROM mechanism - bolted to a large brass inner structure. This direct coupling was chosen over springy isolation because listening showed it to be superior. The company attributes more stable imaging and deeper bass to this arrangement. The spiking, intended for surfaces where the user already has 'a solid grounding path', should also enhance imaging and bass quality.

Read more about the ZZ-Eight on Page 2.

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Modifying the CDM12 Pro to accept the stabiliser involved changing
the standard centring device; the replacement is made from an
anti-static material. Bow feels that the 'Eight's stabiliser improves
rotation stability, resulting in audible gains. Indeed, the company
studied the way the puck touches the CD, the exact positioning of the
magnet, the weight, all of which produce effects of their own.

Underneath, too, extra care has been exercised. The rubber rings used
in the feet are something like the tenth type that the designers tried.
This preferred soft rubber offers good isolation properties and helps
to kill unwanted vibration. Here, Bow does give a choice, as you can use
the player on its four rubbery feet, or remove the back two and fit a
centrally-positioned spike. Bow isn't dictating a solution so much as
addressing different types of tables, stands and environments. I tried a
few and can confirm that this is a vital part of the fine-tuning
procedure.

Additional Resources

The above describes what might become the ZZ-Two transport. The DAC
section which makes the 'Eight a standalone player consists of four
Burr-Brown 1702 converters of the 'K' selection type - the best B-Bs
available. Bow stacks them on top of each other to guarantee the
shortest possible path and to provide perfect temperature stability; ICs
are stacked for the same reasons. The quartet of 1702s offers 20-bit,
x8 resolution, the stacking enabling the chips to yield even greater
low-level resolution and wider dynamics. The unit also features HDCD
processing, but I'm reserving comment until I have more than just a
bunch of audiophile albums and the odd commercial CD by which to judge
it.

Bow has opted for special low-noise, 'soft recovery' diodes and 45000
mF filtering in the DACs' power supply, the latter chosen after
determining that the extra filtering delivered audibly superior
performance over the minimally specified 16000 mF. Two 2mm-thick PCBs
with 70 micron copper layers contain the carefully selected components,
including non-magnetic Roederstein carbon film resistors in certain
positions, chosen because "they sound better".

Given the almost anal approach Christensen has to fine-tuning, I
undertook an equally haemorrhoidal listening programme, trying a flimsy
table, a solid floor, and a dedicated equipment rack of the lunatic
persuasion for support duties. Interconnects included Audio Conseil
silver cables (from Italy), XLO green'n'purple, and some black and red
beauties from WireWorld. Although I tried the 'Eight as a transport on
its own, the lack of a digital input meant that I couldn't assess the
DAC section on its own. Suffice to say, if the ZZ-Two sounds as good,
it'll justify a price tag of 3000.

Auditioned through Sutherland 2000 pre/power amps into Wilson
WATT/Puppy System V.1 or the GRAAF WFB-TWO pre-amp/GRAAF 5050 into Quad
ESLs, the ZZ-Eight demonstrated with shocking immediacy just how much of
a clean-up can be applied to CD. Admittedly, my preferred CD players do
their best to 'analogue-ify' a digital signal and I shy away from
warts'n'all portrayal, but the 'Eight managed to provide the latter
without encouraging the onset of listener fatigue. Think of certain tube
amps which bridge two eras, audio sleight-of-hand not to be
underestimated.

Yeah, it's magical, alright. With Keb' Mo's eponymous debut CD, its
twang'n'jangle content taunting a system into sibilant overload, the Bow
extracts crystal-clear bottleneck which never acquires an unwanted buzz
or crackle. Layered behind a textured voice, this is a sonic
tightrope-walking act that elicits more than admiration: it leaves you
breathless. Why? Because the sound stays uncluttered and convincing.

There's enough three-dimensionality here to keep a mini-monitor
fetishist glued to his seat. Detail? You could probably guess which beer
bottle provided the slide on your favourite blues album. Speed? The
notes will fly by before you knew they were coming. But they're just
specifics. What's so refreshing about the 'Eight is that it presents a
'whole' that's quite unlike that of the competition.

It's a signature you'll identify the minute you hear the 'Eight, a
curious but pleasing mix of analogue warmth and sheen with digital
precision and control. The bass energy of this player is something to
behold, a boon for headbangers and marching band fans alike, while the
midband complements even an electrostatic. It can rock or it can swoon.
It can handle the most delicate of female voices and acoustic strings,
or it can deal with the unpleasantness of Sonic Youth. Frankly, it's one
of the most completely satisfying pieces of hardware I've enjoyed this
year.

And looks had nuthin' to do with it.

Additional Resources

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