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Dqvid BerningZOTLPreAmplifierqnd 2H230Power Amplifier

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iven that the ideal amp ifier behavesI ke a p ece of wire with gan, the best you can

that anybody notices. So Davd Berning stads with a disadvantage,which he then compounds by making his products look neat to the pont of blandness,and which weigh barely more than the packagingthey weresh pped n. The ZOTL and Zl'23o pre/power combination,reviewed by CT n lssue 80, is pretty self-effacing.The maker's narne is subty and elegantlymlled into the top panel, where t is likelyto be obscured by your rack, the power amp boasts JUSIan o1,ojl swrtc- a.lo 'non [o' LED and rfe pre amp uses doorknob-shapedcontrolswhich make the facia more interesting,but are not a particuady strong aesthetic statement. t, too has a monitorLED, whch sn't the same colouras the power amps. Actualy, that's one genuinecriticismI have of ths combination.The LEDon the pre amp stans off red and goes to green once it's warmed !p and ready for use, the power amp also requiresa similar warmup time, but its monitorLED staysresolutelyred throughout, f you wait for it to go green,you'll be there for quitea whie...

The warmup is because this is, essentally,a valve amplifier. But t's an interestlngmix of old and rew rech.a si'np,stc analogybei'g swltched-mode somethinglikea valve-modulated power supply.No output transformers(hencethe 'OTL in ZOTL)whjchhelps create the zero hysteresjsdesign (the '7N' in ZH23O)leadingto the clean, fast, crisp de ivery wh ch seems to be paft of the David Berning signature. Interestingly, the amps will become significanty more relaxedafter about 20 minutesof use - and that meansputtinga musicsignalthroughthem, not merelyleavingthem switchedon. Asidefrom the modest power output - ihe 7H23O ls a 3o-Watt per channel stereo chassis- it's difficultto powint to any particularlyvalve-likecharacterstics n the sound. Ths is a valveamp for peoplewho thinktheydon't likevalveamps. And that 3o-Watt output is m sleading,too. Replacng my regular90Watt Accuphase,I neverfound the Bernlngamp want ng, despitemy habit of drivingthe Accuphasequitehard,quitea ot of the time.lf the Berningcllps, as it surey must, it does so n a very benignway.Thereis none of the obv ous stressyou hearwhen an amplifieris under pressure,none of the raggedness, edginess,not evenany good o d fashoned distortion.Theremay be, perhaps, a s ight hardenjngof tonality,a hint of th ckeningto te)dures,4 reductionin >

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ZOIL prc and the greatest compljrnent I can pay t is to say thai it contnuesthe good work of the pre amp. [.,4usic simply floods from the comb nation, almost ike it can't he p tself. The Tord Gustavsen Tro prodlce Scandinavianjazz of extraordlnarysubtlety

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> that signatureBerninglmpidity,but you're only likelyto get this on fu I throttle orchestralor chora clmaxes, or denselytexturedrock turned up to eleven you'reunlkey to noticeit overmuch. when,frankly, Thispellucidqualtyis inherentto boththe pre amp and the poweramp, but is most noticeablein the pre, perhaps because so very very few pre amps actuallyachieveanythingapproachingthe subtletyand delicacyof the Berningdesign.The self-effacingnatureextendsbeyondthe mereaesthetics, to the way the amp performs;it simpy recedesfrom view and lets the music speak for itself. Don't mlstakethis for meekness,the amp is far from shy, lleing more than capableof grabbing,and holding,your attention.Take,for exampe, SteveReich'sS/XPlaros, a work of endlesssubtlely,or never-ending tedium,dependingon your point of view This is a piecein whichthe dynamics bareiyvary thereis no melodyto speakof, just an ever-changing and complex interplaybeh/'/eenthe six pianos,chantingphraseswhich morph subtly nto new phrases,almost without the listenerbeing aware.Throughthe Berning amps, but padicularlythanksto the pre arnp,the structureand shape of th s most amorphousof pieces is revealed.Now it's a fascinatingand hypnotc journey,which eaves you breathlessat its precipitousending, rather than watng for it to be over; it becornescapable of transportingihe istenerto anotherolace entirelv. And it was the same story with pretty much any type of music I played. Regardlessof the son of programrnematerial,the Bernng combinaton s part cu arlyadept at showingyou the musicanship,the way a sk lledperformer introduceslayersof nuanceto a pedon.fancewhich bring t to life;an nflection here, a touch of emphasisthere, al adding up to rathermore than the sum of the pads. The 2H230 power amp js, obviously,an idea cornpanionfor the

and delicacy.The opening I,ack At Home, from theirth rd album,'BeingThere'begins wth a simplepianoso o. Few ndeedarethe CD playerswhich fully capturethe sense of st llnessin these opening phrases,the dCS Puccinidoes it ratherwell but, unfortunately, most amplifersJai to take that and convey The Berning muchmorethanan impression. gave me that stillness combinaton not only and etheriality,but showed me a med tative qualtyto the stillness wh ch wasn'tapparent ttsrougtrother sysrems.-Fis isr'r simply anges dancingon the tip of a stylus,ether, it's a real and meaningfulevocation of the muscal expenence. Robedo Fonseca s a current favourte of mine,his planoplaylnghas a percussve, nsstent dynamismwhich find hard to resist.But he is also rnore than capable of prodJCilg mLSic oi e (qLisitelvricsr. Lo QueMe Hace Vivir,from 'Akokan'startswith a gentleand liquidphraseof such prettlness and delicacy,then explodesinto a rollicking, headlongdash. To havethe one, without the other,would be to missa greatdea. Nothing I've used before,or slnce,the Bernng ZOTL and 2H230 has reachedthe levelsof lns ght achieved by this unassumingpair. lt's not just about filigreedetail, or speed, nor s it merelyabout texture or tonal accuracy, the Berning combination s simply so nimble, t sn't fazed by whatever you ask of it. lt's about a product which, to a degree I haven't previouslyexperenced, acts simpy as a conduitfor the music.

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A LETTER FROMTORONTO: FOSTER BYRICHARD l'm not big on chongingequipmenlin my systemvery oilen. 1'mprettycorefulthotthe component lpurchase will be good for me for quite o while. Tokefor exomple omps. I hod them for my Monley Neo-Clossic300BSE/PP eighl yeors ond wos, quite fronkly,very hoppy with whql venue isquite smollondthese I wos heoring.My listening with my FocqlDioblospeokers. omps mqied nicely lhod reoo, 'r lhese poges,g owir g 'eviewsby CTond RG for the Dovid BerningQuodrotureZ mono or'rplfie.s.Theseore wqy oJ'of my or;ceronge...bu' wouldn't ii be nice? At the lasitwo CESshowsI'd been highlyimpressedwiih whot I'd heord from ihe Q Z's. I thought theirsoundwos greot ond the omplifiersqlso seemed bulleiproof,os ihey were being drivenvery hord. I found myselfwonderingif the more recently releosedZH-230, could be os good, but listening opportunitles for this 30- woit stereo omplifier hod proved impossible. lt wos in Februory2010thoi I finolly 9ot in iouch with the Dovjd Berningconioct in Conqdq ond qskedii I could heor the ZH-230in my sysiem. And so it wos orronged.Now I c eorly undersioodthoi ihe QZ qnd the ZH230ore very differenlbeqslsbui, becouse lwos so impressedwiih the QZ,I hqd hoped there would be some significonlfomilyresemblonce. When ihe freshlyshipped, ice-cold ZH-230orrived 1firstlet il occlimoiize to room temperqture ond ihen plugged it in 10give ii o go. I'd done some lisieningwith my residentqmplifiereorlierin the evening ond hod o good senseof how my syslemwos sounding.Even though I KNOWthot equipmentneedsbreok-intime,I wqs reolly not prepored for whqt I heqrd-or rother whot I didn't heor I wos ioken obock by the lqck of signolure (reod:soundof the component).I remembersoyinglo myselfit, "li soundsos if nothingisthere." I spent the nexi 250 hoursrunning the Berning in wilh vorioussources.Ai the end of thisperiodthe quoliliesof the omplifierbegon io shinethrough. TheZH-230comes filled with Chinesetubes ond I decided to do some tube rolling.I inserledtwo pqirs of 12Au7'sos bolh driverond input lubes.Amongst olher improvementsI could immediqlelyheor o genile worming to the bolonce of the sound,which wqs definitelyio my liking.Thischonge wos subtle,but jusl whot lhe doctor ordered. lwos now experiencingo much more exponsive soundstoge,with greoterwidth, heightond depth. My On ony musiclployed-ond speokersbecome invisible. I ployed o lot, the 2H230justreproducedwhot wos on

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the record or disc. Everyrecording I listened to took on both o greqter presenceqnd the distinctchqrocier of the differentrecordingvenues.Now, I wos used to some of this,bui the Berningjustgove me more. No doubi lhe lower noisefloorond greoier ombient informqiionwos o mqjor benefiil Needlesslo soy,I bought the Berningond moved the Monley'sto q friend. The immediocy ond speed of the sound is onolher quqlity I om siillgetting used to. When you pioy CDs,like tqnsof Swing' 'TheBestOf DireStroits' ond in porticulor'Su there is q conirol over tronsientsl've never experienced. Theyore lightningfosiond ihe qmplifierhondlesthe speed of ihem beoulifully,wilhout ony overhong. Listeninglo the Blu-specCD of lhe Dove Brubeck quorle't's"TimeOul" with specjol emphosjson trqck 3, 'TokeFive',you con see the musicionsploced in proper perspecliveand with on entirelynew ond exciiing clarily. Poying ihe SACDfrom Chonnel Clossics'exceptionol releqseof Vivoldi'sLo Strqvogonzowith RochelPodger ond the Arie Dei Suonotori,wos o jow dropping experience.Thisis musicwith slunningdynomicsond on omplifier,must be in lolol conlrol in order to rnoximize the sonic benefil of whot hos tt'eenrecorded. Voco occurocy isvery imporiont to rne, but when I listened to Mobile Fidelily'soulstondingversionof FronkSinotro's Nice 'n Eosyolbum I wos ot o lossfor words.Fronkwos qbsoluielyin my rooml Another fovorite test disc of mjne Listening to Skyline'on Biu-spec. isBobDylqn's'Noshville the flrstcut, Girlfrom the NorthCountry,the inilectionsof Dylon'sunmistokqblevocols,mixed with the lote, greo't JohnnyCosh,gove thiswonderfulsongnew meqning. Youmoy ihinkl'm exqggerotingsomewhot,but ihis omplifierhqs totollychorged my bqtteriesond lis'lening io both conlemporqrymusicond 'old' fqvorileshos now become so much more musicollyrewqrding. Thjsis lhe bestomplifjerI've ever heord up ciose, ond for me il does everythingrightl * :


David Berning ZOTL Pre-Amplifier and ZH230 Power Amplifier