It’s no great secret that I’m a huge fan of Zanden’s four-box CD transport and DAC. It is the best balanced, most accomplished, most engaging and most musically satisfying player I’ve ever spent time with. It is also pretty much the most expensive, teetering on the brink of £38K! Even so, the amount of time spent debating (along with an extremely enthusiastic Mrs. Ed.) the practicality of committing the necessary funds to make it a permanent addition to the household should give you some idea of just how deep an impression this machine made. In the end we decided that it was a (financial) step too far and we needed a purpose built listening room rather more – but a key consideration in that choice was the knowledge of a one-box player just over the horizon. If only we’d known quite how far away that horizon was… Well, three years down the road and a couple of false starts later, the Model 2500S CD Player is finally upon us. The question is, was it worth the wait?
Now, if the world was a simple place I could simple write the word, yes, add the specs and that would be that, job done. Indeed, in one sense, things really are that simple because there’s no doubting that this is a very special player indeed. The problem is that it’s also very different – at least different to the four-box anyway. If it was simply a case of 90% of the performance for 50% of the price then everything would be in its place and the world would be a happy place too. Unfortunately (but somewhat reassuringly), what makes the four-box machine so special just can’t be replicated at a lower price level and within the constraints of a single chassis. Where the tonality, resolution and coherence of the four-box player makes it unfailingly and effortlessly natural in its musical delivery, allowing it to make more sense of the signal, more of the time, it soon became apparent that the 2500 needed to adopt a more studied approach – combined with a little sonic sleight of hand. There really is such a thing as “too much information”, not in terms of detail itself – more in terms of what the player can or can’t do with it – and just how obvious that becomes. The other thing that’s changed is the appearance of the product; always exquisitely presented and produced, the new single-chassis design sets new standards even for Zanden. This is without doubt one of the most elegant and attractive products I’ve ever dealt with. And for once my approval seems to be in step with the general public. Every single person who has seen this player has spontaneously commented on its appealing looks, a combination of beautiful execution and timeless simplicity.
Actually, referring to the 2500S as a one-box machine is slightly misleading, as the chassis actually comes in two parts; the frosted acrylic top box encloses a chromed steel case which drops around 15mm below the Perspex shroud. It even has feet on its underside and can be used in this form. But you also get a heavy, aluminium plate frame in the Company’s trademark champagne finish, which lifts the player clear of the supporting surface thanks to its four cylindrical feet with their soft rubber interfaces. Be warned; these feet are so sticky that they’ll easy lift a loose shelf along with the player, grabbing it just long enough to drop it (edge first of course) on to your unprotected feet. When moving the 2500S, free it from the supporting surface first!
The minimalist chassis offers just six countersunk controls and the familiar biscuit tin lid for the customized and top-loaded Philips CDM PRO2 transport. This sits in the superbly finished well, machined from a block of 25mm thick aluminium, the disc held in place by the lid’s integral clamp. The DAC is Philips’ legendary TDA1541A S1 Crown chip-set, fed with an I2S feed from the transport and employed in Zanden’s standard mode, devoid of filtering. The analogue output stage employs a single 6922 tube and provides both balanced and single-ended RCA outputs. There’s also an S/PDIF digital output from a BNC socket (an RCA adaptor is included). Don’t be fooled by its slightly ethereal appearance, the 2500S uses the same multi material sandwich approach to mechanical isolation and dissipation as the other Zanden products and at 13kg this is definitely no lightweight. The paucity of controls is made up for by the provision of a slim-line remote that adds direct track access, skip and repeat modes and somewhat bizarrely, a shuffle facility. Don’t get excited by the display, disc, up or down buttons – they don’t do anything.
So much for the obvious mechanical and constructional similarities between this and Zanden’s flagship player; how about the slightly less obvious differences in the way they handle music? The first thing that will strike you about the sound of the Model 2500S is its composed, relaxed quality, so reminiscent of the utterly unforced delivery I associate with the Audio Research Ref 3 line-stage. And just like the ARC, that unflustered, unhurried control is based on the complete confidence of the player – and the resulting confidence it instills in the listener. The calm confidence with which the music is delivered in turn allows you to relax, safe in the knowledge that the player and system aren’t constantly teetering on the brink. It’s all down to the 2500S’s sense of musical flow, its ability to encompass both the dynamic and rhythmic demands of the signal. The result is a fluid, almost sinuous presentation that invites the listener in and holds you there, enthralled.