AUDIO FORUMS >> Decware Reviews >> The Z Amigos

Message started by Lon on 12/20/17 at 15:35:04

Title: The Z Amigos
Post by Lon on 12/20/17 at 15:35:04

(I have also added this review to the Decware Facebook page).

The last two years I have added to my system what I have started to call (to myself) “The Z Amigos”: the ZBIT, followed by the ZTPRE and then the ZROCK2.

The ZBIT is a product that houses a gain-attenuated transformer that converts a “balanced” signal to an adjustable single-ended signal. My first use for this component was to take the full voltage available from my PS Audio DirectStream DAC via the XLR connections and deliver it to the RCA input connections of my Torii Mk III amplifier. Instead of less than 3 volts coming from my RCA connections on the DAC I now have more than 5 volts coming into the amplifier through the ZBIT, and with the digital preamp in the DAC, the stepped attenuator in the ZBIT and the stepped attenuator in the amplifier I can “ride the gain” and find a great area of volume which gave me a rich sound. There was more than a hint of extra body to the sound, a meatiness that brought to mind the best of analogue sources, and livelier dynamics.

Then I was able to buy a ZTPRE. The ZTPRE is a fully balanced preamp of innovative design that I inserted between the DAC and the amplifier. I had enjoyed my previous preamplifier, the Decware CSP2+ which I used before I bought the ZBIT, but the ZTPRE was even more transparent and dynamic and improved the sound further. I found it hard to believe but there was an even more natural sound and a livelier presentation. I didn’t sense the preamp was really in the signal path in any detrimental way, there was just a bit more of the excellent qualities I had been enjoying . . . a nice and seductive addition, further joy in the listening. Tube-rolling in the ZTPRE was very interesting as well, each tube type and brand clearly showing their best characteristics. I tried four different tube sets and there was much to like in each. At the moment I am running six Sylvania ECC189 that were inexpensive but are clear and dynamic and add a realistic texture to the sound. With the ZTPRE I could also clearly hear the character of each interconnect and I ended up climbing the ladder of VooDoo Cable's line of balanced and single-ended cabling and am enjoying their clear and detailed nature.

Finally I succumbed to Steve’s description and owners' positive reviews of his ZROCK2 EQ component. I thought I held realistic expectations for this piece and they were immediately exceeded. My one quibble with my system before the ZROCK2 was a bit of leanness that I could not banish from certain recordings even with the excellent (out of the signal path) tone controls on my amplifier. The ZROCK2 took control of the tone in my system and eradicated that leanness and added a beguiling fullness and richness. All of these changes to the sound are alterable with a gain adjustment and two EQ choices. In most instances like the tried and tested Brylcream “a little dab will do you.” The ZROCK2 is transparent and will reward careful tube-rolling. I’ve settled on an interesting 12AU7 substitute, the 6085 tube, a very large tube that imparts a vivid and clear, lively sound to the system. I find that I can set the general volume with the gain adjustment of DAC, ZTPRE and Torii Mk III and then make subtle adjustments to the sound with the ZROCK2. The overall sound and presentation is the best sound I’ve ever had in my home, and I’m no longer at the complete mercy of recording and mastering engineers but can make effective changes to the playback that has both deepened the enjoyment I have with my system and allowed me to more fully enjoy some recordings that I couldn’t relax into previously.

Ironically at the start of this century I was a firm believer in the “Keep it Simple Stupid” method of music playback. I felt that as little as possible in the audio chain was the key to pure and delightful sound. Over the course of the last decade though I’ve found that pure isn’t always delightful. The “KISS” methodology is still preserved in my Decware components, which are designed to be as direct and simple as they can be. But I’ve added these “three Z Amigos” and instead of complicating and worsening the sound as I would have thought they would have done as a 20th Century man, they have added beneficial characteristics and adjustable improvements to my system and deepened both my enjoyment and my involvement with the system. I would invite any “audio seeker” to introduce themselves to the “three Z Amigos.”

Title: Re: The Z Amigos
Post by Acetone on 12/20/17 at 16:38:46

Well written Lon. Can't wait for my Zrock2 to arrive...should be here just before, or after Christmas!

Title: Re: The Z Amigos
Post by Lon on 12/20/17 at 16:49:19

Thanks Ace. I know you're going to love it. When it seasons in it is awesome!

Title: Re: The Z Amigos
Post by stone_of_tone on 12/20/17 at 17:46:10

Yes, nice review Lon. Don't need two out of the three. I look forward to my ZROCK2 though.

Ace, yours is packed and mine is still Testing?! Huh, shows you where I rate.

Title: Re: The Z Amigos
Post by Lon on 12/20/17 at 17:53:23

I wish you could hear the ZTPRE Larry. . . I wonder how your AR would fare against it. The ZTPRE is pretty darned amazing. I had given up on preamps and then this with the Type 2 beeswax caps changed my mind decisively.

Title: Re: The Z Amigos
Post by Les on 02/19/18 at 03:45:07

Excellent post and review Lon.  As you know I've been trying to decide on what to do with my upgrade-itis and you give me good reason to continue thinking of the Z Rock2.

Title: Re: The Z Amigos
Post by Lon on 02/19/18 at 10:37:36

Thanks Les. It's a great product!

Title: Re: The Z Amigos
Post by Lawson Kelley on 06/08/18 at 12:43:37

Now that you have all three of these if you could only buy one, which would it be? I am looking for something to put in front of my new Aries Mini and my yet to be ordered Decware amp. I used to have a Jolida JD-100 CD player that I loved back when I still had CD's, but now all my music is digital and was looking recreate the wonderful sound of the JD-100.


Title: Re: The Z Amigos
Post by Lon on 06/08/18 at 13:16:58

Hi Lawson,

Wow that's a difficult choice. I'd have to go with the ZROCK2, as it gives the tonal balance flexibility that really is important with my amps and speakers, and also provides gain which helps the amplifiers come to life.

You're going to want to put this in between the Mini and the amp, correct? I was going to say that if you had balanced outputs in the Mini the next stage after the ZROCK2 would be the ZBIT, but it looks as if it has single-ended RCA output, so really neither a ZTPRE or ZBIT makes sense. So in your shoes I'd get a ZROCK2 and consider in the future a CSP3 or CSP3-25 or one of the earlier CSP2 or CSP2+ preamplifiers. . . .

I don't know much about streaming and streamers, being a disc based listener, but I bet you are going to have a great system with the Mini and your amp . . . and the ZROCK2 may be the icing on the cake.

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