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.
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.