Bow Technologies ZZ-Eight CD player

"Something's coming, I don't know what it is, but it is gonna be great!"—Tony, West Side Story

While the Sharks and the Jets rumble in the consumer electronics playground, knife-fighting for supremacy in the next software go-round, in 1998 we're still living in the 16-bit/44.1kHz audio world, and will be doing so for the foreseeable future. Maybe your idea of audio bliss is listening to the equivalent of computing with a Commodore 64, but it's not mine.

Will the future bring us Sony's and Philips' "Super Audio" CD? Could be! Or the Working Group 4's (aka Toshiba, Matsushita, Pioneer, JVC, Hitachi, Thomson, et al) 24-bit/96kHz DVD-Audio? Who knows?

As we head into the next century, whatever it is we're gonna get may be just out of reach as of mid-1998, but it's still down a very long block. Yes, the "miracle" is due, but don't hold your breath. And, like Leonard Bernstein, this West Side Story metaphor is rapidly decomposing, so I'll bury it.

We're in for a protracted fight over the next digital format. Add the multichannel issue, resistance by a skeptical record industry, and an already overstuffed retail business not eager for yet another new floor-space filler, and you can see why we won't have a new, readily available high-resolution digital format anytime soon.

For those of us who've never embraced CD enthusiastically, the past 15 years have been a period of extreme frustration tinged with a great deal of anger and topped with a dollop of disgust. Of necessity we've bought CD players, transports, and D/A converters, and tinkered with green paint, digital cables, jitter-reduction boxes, resolution enhancers, AT&T glass, AES/EBU connectors, and so on—but in the end, when we sit down to listen to and emotionally connect with music, it's on vinyl, at least as far as I am concerned.

Looking back, those who posted their charts of flat frequency response, ultrawide channel separation, and low noise and distortion in order to "prove" the perfection of digital audio, look pretty foolish today. The only thing they proved was that digital solved most of analog's most vexing problems. Digital's problems weren't measurable at that time, therefore they didn't exist! How convenient. When anyone pointed out that something they heard on a CD didn't sound quite right, it was analog's fault. Remember? Either the "purity" of CD was revealing the analog source's faults, or the listener wasn't yet used to the "perfection."

The real heroes of the pioneering digital era were the guys and gals who figured out what was really worth measuring in the digital domain that was causing the audible problems, so they could be fixed. The villains were those who maintained—and, incredibly, continue to maintain—that there were and are no problems.

While all of the past decade's innovations and discoveries in the digital domain have led to some genuine and sometimes startling sonic improvements, at the end of the day we're still left holding a 16-bit/44.1kHz bag. No wonder sales of expensive outboard DACs and transports have just about ground to a halt. To drag out another old show lyric, "They've gone about as far as they can go."

The one-box solution
What better way to usher out the 16-bit/44.1kHz era than to simplify life with a single box incorporating everything that's been learned over the past decade and a half? That's what Bow Technologies' Bo Christensen (along with many other manufacturers of late) figured when he set out to design the stylish $6900 ZZ-Eight. While the company makes a far more expensive separate transport (ZZ-Two) and processor (ZZ-Three) combo, the ZZ-Eight incorporates many of the innovations found in those two boxes, including (and especially) the I2S data buss between the modified Philips CDM 12Pro CD-ROM drive and the processor section, which utilizes the Pacific Microsonics PMD 100 HDCD filter.

There are two big cost-saving differences between the ZZ-Eight's inboard processor and the outboard ZZ-Three. First is the ZZ-Eight's use of two stacked K-grade Burr-Brown PCM 1702 20-bit/8x-oversampling D/A converters per channel instead of the ZZ-Three's four. Second is the ZZ-Eight's current/voltage conversion, which uses two Analog Devices 744 op-amp chips instead of the ZZ-Three's discrete, single-ended, class-A zero-feedback design, featuring big, expensive Jensen paper/oil decoupling caps and four power supplies per channel. You can't have it all for $6900, but, as I found during my time with the ZZ-Eight, you can still have plenty!

Let's get physical
The top-loading, low-slung ZZ-Eight is one of the most aesthetically pleasing players you'll encounter, and it's built like a bomb shelter. Its guts are housed in a 35-lb hunk of sculpted, satin-polished, anodized black aluminum you'll want to run your hands over often. The chassis rests on four feet fitted with medium-hard rubber donuts designed to decouple the unit from the outside world.

In addition, Bow Tech supplies a single metal cone that screws into the rear center of the chassis' underside and couples with a massive brass internal subchassis that houses the transport mechanism. Buyers are asked to experiment with the cone in place of the two rear feet to hear which setup sounds better.

An easily legible, mercifully large acrylic LED display protrudes from the chassis front. Six brass-colored push switches adorn the unit's top plate, to the front and on either side of the disc receptacle. The chassis rear houses a master On/Off rocker switch, IEC AC jack, Teflon-insulated RCA analog output jacks, and—should you wish to use the ZZ-Eight as a transport—both RCA and preferred, true 75 ohm BNC digital outputs. (A $5500 transport-only version is available.)

The spoked, self-centering magnetic disc stabilizer is easy to use, but you have to be careful not to scratch the chassis when you drop the stabilizer into place. Playback is rapid and straightforward once the disc is in place and you've switched the machine from Standby to On via the remote control or the top-mounted switch.

COMPANY INFO
Bow Technologies
Durob Audio BV
PO Box 109
5250 AC Vlijmen, The Netherlands
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
tonykaz's picture

"I'd buy it and be done with it, it's that good"

I expect and even demand honesty from reviewers. Reviewers at Stereophile have ( or should have ) a fiduciary responsibility to readership, shouldn't they?

It seems blatantly obvious that you have a disdain for all things 16/44, so why make an obviously dishonest attribution ?

I have you as a person whose nervous system is intentionally tuned to all things 33.3. I also had that synapse tuning arrangement, back in the day. I lately changed my synapse tuning to 16/44 ( it's like changing from Vodka to Scotch from the Islays, it's no big deal that rewards with vastly improved utility ) .

I would enjoy your observations if I felt a consistent honesty.

Tony in Venice

Ortofan's picture

... an analog disc fanboy?

Cut the poor fellow some slack.
At the time of the review, it's been 10 years since CDs started outselling LPs and it will be another decade before the vinyl revival begins in earnest.

If you want to complain, then note that MF is comparing playback from a $7K CD player with that from a turntable/tonearm/cartridge/phono stage setup with a combined cost of $15-20K. Is that in any way equitable?

Likewise, where are the comparisons with some other CD players in the same price range? A comparison with a $300 DVD player seems rather pointless.

JHL's picture

...need less projecting and moralizing and more letting go and perspective. I tend to think that the kindly reviewer, column given here for free, isn't an elected or ordained official of vast and ponderous truths.

He's a *reviewer* and this is, for now anyway, a free market.

This is entertainment, not dialysis. -N. Pass.

tonykaz's picture

a

JHL's picture

...what that means, but if you were a dealer, your first obligation by your own rules and usual customer expectation, was to assess and report on these same wares. Maybe some helplessness overtook the stocking, auditioning dealership that it could neither advise or counter in the face of a magazine brought in off the street.

Which leaves intact the question of badgering an ancient column for the writer's purported want of professionalism or acuity, if that's what you're alluding.

Jim Austin's picture

It almost seems like you want a slap-down. Well, I hope this will suffice.

This reviewer's statement probably mis-led but it makes sense if the review is actually a Presenting & Promotion. ( Jim Austin will give me a slap-down for accusing this )

I can't quite parse what you've written here, so I'm not sure if it's offensive or not. Maybe I should just point out that this review was published in 1998, and the company that made the product is long gone. I find it a little strange to get all personal and indignant about something written 22 years ago. But never mind.

Otherwise, I'll just say that while no one writes for Stereophile who isn't willing to call it like he [edit: or she] hears it, Michael Fremer is probably the most outspoken and plainspoken of all of us--and has been for as long as I can remember.

Times are tough--I know I could use a vacation. You?

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

MatthewT's picture

Thanks very much.

tonykaz's picture

Thanks for writing.

I have many things in common with 33.3 and Mr.MF.

Reviewers have been ( since the days of Stereo Review & the English Mags of the 1980s ) closing with positive comments, despite not seeming to like or appreciate the reviewed devices. It almost seems a mandatory inclusion.

Some reviewers never use an apologagetic endorsement i.e. Jim Austin, J Gordon Holt, HR, Kal R., Steve G and of course the original JA1 ( true his entire life of reviewing ) . The closest JA1 ever came was to give the Adcom GFA555 a Class C recommendation after Anthony Cordesman looooooved it, after Holt sort of loved it and after reviewing the amp himself.

I feel that reviewers are "higher authorities" but they still need juried supervision in their choice of phrases. ( the measurement guy has been consistently brilliant )

Tony in Venice

ps. your new lady reviewer seems gifted

ps.2. Tyll was outstanding as are a few others that I should mention like our Canadian Stereophile Robert.

Michael Fremer's picture

I concur!

Michael Fremer's picture

For the same reason. Perhaps you didn't notice the date I wrote that review. I did not make a dishonest attribution. Not sure why you think that. It's funny because when the importer came to pick up the unit they made me an offer for purchase that had I accepted would have been dishonest. But I didn't take it because I am honest. Yes, I don't like 16/44 now though it's surely gotten better and I certainly didn't like it then but my likes and dislikes are not really the story. I do still prefer records. It's not even close for me but I did buy a dCS Vivaldi One and I do like playing my SACDs and streaming high resolution on Qobuz and Tidal. Reading this review for the first time in decades I rather enjoyed it and think it proves me prescient. You think otherwise. That's fine. Enjoy your 16/44. But please add the .1.

Anton's picture

I may be asked to turn in my audiophile card, but....

I like rocking to Radar Love in my VW.

I like listening to Louis and Ella and my now vintage Oppo UDP-205. (Insane tangential drift in this parenthetical, I just checked the model number to make sure I got it right and saw the secondary market prices, yow!)

I like CD, SACD, analog, cassette, reel to reel (even vintage commercial reels. Check out the old commercial release of Bridge Over Troubled Water and marvel!)

It's important, if we really do claim to be in it for the music, that we don't act as if we can only enjoy music "without pops and clicks," or if it is pure AAA analog...I get that an essential part of our recreation is identifying or creating differences between gear, but doesn't the joy hit you just as well when LCD Soundsytem starts singing about Daft Punk playing at his house during your commute? Or when Muse's "Madness" pops up on Sirius at the office?

If music only satisfies via a specific Hi Fi format on a 'qualifying' system, then we are really just gear fetishists.

End of rant.

rschryer's picture

...until you had to mention cassette.

Turn in your Audiophile card, sir. Right now! Do not make this any more difficult than it has to be.

tonykaz's picture

Can I have my Card Back?

I don't even remember getting it.

Did you scoop it up before they got around to mailing ?

Tony in Venice

ps. when are y'all gonna float down to my little "incubator for old people" in Venice?

I'll take you Kayak Fishing and let you enjoy the associations of all the other Canadians ( Montreal & Quebecers & Ontarios & Yellow Knife folks )

But, we replaced Hockey with shuffleboard and wacky-tobaccy

Tony in Venice

rschryer's picture

...for old people" in Venice?

When I get old. :-)

Ortofan's picture

... any of the pre-recorded cassette tapes from Telarc?

tonykaz's picture

It feels that we are now sailing into the uncharted waters of the 21st Century.

Audio Journalism, coming to my Mailbox, probably has less editorial content than the Audiophiliac YouTube operation of Steve G.

Format wise: I visited my nephew working on the Kevin Costner Montana TV series. I got to see part of the editing and sound gear. They maintain outstanding sound quality ( of course, digital ) . They are constantly improving their gear. Stereophile's Mr.Kal R would probably be staggered by what these Pro Audio folks work with on a daily basis and the performance results of their output.

Where are 'we' little, personal audio people, going to be in 5 years?

I was amazed at 2011 RMAF gear and digital's change to 24bit ( which I still haven't embraced now that my hearing is drooping at both ends of the audible range but corrected yet still dubious )

The iPhone designers have conquered.

Y'all Analog Planet people seem more Curators than Fortune Tellers but I hope that you will work to accurately forecast the next brief future reveals.

Bring us insights, pa-leeeeeeze.

Tony in Venice

ps. I keep forgetting that .1, old age is get'n me. ( I wonder if I can actually hear it ? )

canyelles's picture

Maybe your idea of audio bliss is listening to the equivalent of computing with an early analog computer, but it's not mine.

dial's picture

Bow doesn't exist anymore. Bo Christensen was also responsible for the Primare products.

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