Zanden Audio Systems Model 120 Phono Stage

Equipment report
Zanden Audio Systems Model 120
Zanden Audio Systems Model 120 Phono Stage

There are certain brands that exist somewhere in the hi‑fi firmament, visible to all but attainable by very, very few. These objects of desire, so often at the centre of vociferous debate, are (seemingly inevitably) loved by some and loathed by others. But most such arguments are ultimately both spurious and pointless, as the protagonists lack both the funds and the hands‑on experience to reach conclusions that matter. It’s a little like motorsport enthusiasts discussing whether they’d rather have Nico Rosberg or Daniel Ricciardo in their Formula 1 team. Unless one of those motorsport fans is a billionaire wanting to be a millionaire, it’s idle dreaming.

One of the first names on the Audio Unobtainables dream team sheet would be Zanden. With products that regularly feature on audiophile’s “what if” wish lists – and with prices to match – the brand qualifies on all counts. The company’s most revered product is probably the Model 1200 Mk III phono‑stage, a two‑box unit that offers two inputs, switchable gain and five different replay EQ options – at a price that’s five‑pence short of £24K! Then there’s the (slightly) more affordable Model 1300: same facilities, single‑box, and a mere £13.5K – not exactly pocket money. Which brings us to the Model 120, a product that looks every inch a Zanden. It’s a Zanden thanks to that slim, square footprint, chromed chassis, and external power supply. Also, the four controls equally spaced across the frosted acrylic front‑panel and, perhaps more than anything else, those five different replay EQs make it unmistakably a Zanden product; one of a rare breed of products hailing from the gifted pen of Yamada‑san. Yet the Model 120 tips the financial scales at a “mere” £7,495; not exactly chicken feed, but positively cheap by Zanden standards.