Linear Tube Audio Z40 Integrated Amplifier Review

December 23, 2020 § Leave a comment

I played the Cars as loudly as I could bear but could hear no compression from my 87.5dB-sensitive KEFs. More impressive, this self-professed solid-state guy who’s a sucker for immaculate-sounding, high-power amps found the Z40 as generally enjoyable as my reference Hegel H590 integrated ($11,000). The only performance parameter in which the Z40 came up short against the solid-state Hegel was in bottom-end power and control. While David Robinson’s drumming had none of the softness or bloom that it might through a traditional tube amp, I think that most of the solid-state integrateds I’ve reviewed in recent years — most of them far more expensive than the Z40 — edge out the Z40 in terms of outright slam.

But a recording from 1978 — even in a high-resolution remastering such as this one of the Cars’ “Just What I Needed” — isn’t the sternest test of a tube amp’s linearity and transparency. So I opted for a torture test: “Brothers in Arms,” from the stupendous score for Mad Max: Fury Road, composed and performed by Dutch DJ Thomas Holkenborg, aka Junkie XL (16/44.1 FLAC, WaterTower Music/Qobuz). This track is an entropic melding of wailing strings, thunderous drums, and distorted electric guitars, all coalescing into rock-operatic madness that makes a lot more sense if you’ve seen George Miller’s visionary film. The Z40 more than held its own up to reasonably high volumes with this demanding cut, allowing me to make out all the cacophony laid out before me. Every aspect of the performance was highly resolved — and, even better, I could hear no bowing of the LTA’s frequency response at either end of the audioband.

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