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ZSTAGE availability & technical question (Read 12001 times)
meraklya
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ZSTAGE availability & technical question
04/22/12 at 16:25:46
 
Hello,

Is ZSTAGE (and ZDAC) subject to the same 12+ week fulfillment time as the "full" amplifiers?

I ordered a ZSTAGE a week ago; I don't mind waiting 3 months for the "real thing" but if it's going to take that long I am probably going to get a "generic" tube stage for the time being and sell it afterwards.

Now, the technical question:


Would it be accurate to say that, if the volume control of the ZSTAGE is not turned past 50%, that the ZSTAGE is effectively no different than the ZBOX?

The reason I am asking,  after ordering the ZSTAGE I came across a Q/A where Steve said that ZBOX is recommended in most cases.

I plan to use a tube staqe in between the RCA outputs of my Asus Xonar Essence card and line inputs of my Harman Kardon HK990.

I have no need for added dynamics, as the HK990 has lots and lots; I just need to add a bit of warmth and mellowness to the tone depending on the source material and the mood (most of the time the source would be Squeezebox Touch into the digital input of the HK990).

So if the ZSTAGE is the more versatile of the two units, and will intoduce "warmth", then I will just happily & patiently wait for it to arrive.

If the ZBOX is what I should have ordered, I would appreciate if my order could be altered accordingly.

I also have sent an email to Sarah regarding the above, but if answered here, maybe this will be helpful to someone else.

Thanks in advance,

Sean
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Lon
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #1 - 04/22/12 at 17:00:14
 
This is a job for "Superwill"! will has the ZStage and really understands its use. I hope he'll weigh in here.

I have had the ZBox in two systems. It will add that "warmth" you wish with the right tube and if you don't need added dynamics, it may be all you need. I have had problems with the ZBox and hum going into my 25 wpc Torii amps, very little hum issues when going into the lower wattage amps I've owned from Decware. . . .(And I confess it's really not a necessary component for any of the larger Decware amps. It's best applied to solid state amps and the smaller Decware amps when used with average to good sources. Mine I had Steve add an additional input to, and its best use was as a basic "preamp" for a system built around a pair of Decware SE34 Monoblocks.)
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« Last Edit: 04/22/12 at 17:34:38 by Lon »  

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meraklya
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #2 - 04/23/12 at 00:28:36
 
Thank you for your input Lon!
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will
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #3 - 04/27/12 at 04:54:45
 
Though I have not heard the Zbox, I would say they are two different things. The gain stage of the Zstage is useful for more than just gain. When riding the volume with your amp, it adds or subtracts weight, density, dynamics, brightness/darkness and so on. I found this particularly helpful for adjusting various recording qualities to my system and tastes. I guess, for me, that this gain adjustability is equally, if not more important than the tube alone. But if you need the tube interface only, the Zbox may just be the ticket.

My experience is similar to Lon's. The tube choice matters, but you have plenty to choose from, and rolling one tube for refining the sound to taste is pretty fun.

At the same time, I have been using a Tranquility DAC for a while and it is not compatible with the Zstage as-is, presumably because of the DAC's greater than 2 volt output. I get distortion.

Steve said he can mod my Zstage to handle the higher voltage and for my other wish...to have two inputs like Lon has on his Zbox. But I am using the Zstage as an often necessary gain for my DVD player, and I am quite happy with the Tranquility sound, so I am waiting for a good time to send it back where I won't miss it. I do want to hear how it acts with my Tranquility, but can't say if it would benefit it or not. It has a very refined sound and the Zstage may or may not get in the way, but since recordings are so variable, I suspect I will like it with the Tranquility. I like the Zstage quite a lot with my ZDAC and Oppo.

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« Last Edit: 04/27/12 at 04:59:26 by will »  

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Fireblade
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #4 - 04/27/12 at 13:31:40
 
Will,

I've also been considering adding a ZStage to my setup, for the same advantages you point out.  Yet, in my case, the USB/DAC has a 2.25 V max output, which is also slightly higher than average.  So far, I thought the ZStage was able to reduce this highish output voltage from my USB/DAC, simply by adjusting its output gain at a lower point than the middle on its dial (i.e., reducing the DAC's output voltage proportionately).  

This would allow the ideal scenario to 'ride the gain' between it and the Mini Torii's volume settings.  Am I missing something here?  Why would the ZStage distort in this scenario?  Having from 0 to 5 volts range on the ZStage, I understood I could either increase the original DAC's voltage signal or reduce it, at will, so as to ride the gain with the complementary Mini Torii's volume settings.

The fact that the ZStage has such a wide range of gain adjustment seems to favor this approach:  Increasing dynamics through a bent-up gain potential on the ZStage side while reducing the M-T's volume settings, or reducing music boominess by reducing the source gain relative to a higher M-T volume setting.

Of course, this is my own interpretation of the ZStage functionality, based exclusively on Decware's ZStage literature.  Your post seems to conclude that high output DACS may not benefit from the ZStage given possible distortion issues.

Could you please elaborate on this further?  Your real-life experience with the concept is invaluable to me.  Thanks!
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meraklya
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #5 - 04/27/12 at 16:04:35
 
I also have the option to use the ZSTAGE with the power amplifier inputs of the HK990, therefore using it as a straight tube preamplifier.

In theory, it sounds very promising - S.E.T tube preamplifier into a decent solid state power amplifier; but in practice..? Remains to be seen & heard...!
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Fireblade
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #6 - 04/27/12 at 17:17:24
 
As I understand it, you have two choices: ZBox or ZStage.  The difference is the latter will allow some 'riding the gain' potential along with the tube flavoring.  The ZBox (used as a passive preamplifier) will provide only the flavoring.
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will
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #7 - 04/27/12 at 18:19:45
 
Fireblade,

Not knowing electronics, I will try to answer your questions as best I can.

I did not do extensive testing with the higher output Tranquility. And my favorite tubes in the Zstage (with the ZDAC) are a particular few NOS 12AT7 variants as opposed to the stock 12AU7. If I recall correctly the higher output 12AT7 was more prone to distortion with the Tranquility. In my system, the ZDAC and Oppo do not distort at all with this tube.

Since it has been a long time, I just hooked the Tranquility through the Zstage with a 50's, D getter, Siemens 12AT7 (nice transparent and solid tube!). I had not checked it since I got an updated output stage in the Tranquility, and HMMMM....less, but still discernible distortion with hot source material. Presumably the output is less of a push for the Zstage.

I think your thoughts on the Zstage function in riding the gains are correct. But the Zstage is an independent stage between source and amp with its own electronic input, gain, and output parts. So I would speculate that at some point, a too high input voltage going into the Zstage effects some Zstage part(s) electronically, overloading something within the Zstage signal chain, and in turn, shows up in the Zstage gain. Perhaps resolution is as simple a putting in a slightly higher value resistor in the tube stage??? Whatever it is, my experience with my very early Zstage (Serial #002) indicates a threshold over which one might experience distortion. And for effective gain riding, though I tended to hang out in the middle ranges with my gain, I don't think you would want limitations as to Zstage gain adjustment.

If you want real answers though, since your DAC has a higher output voltage, if you get to wanting to order one, I would call Steve and ask him. He knows, and if necessary, could very likely build the Zstage so that it definitively accommodates your input voltage.

So I would not "conclude that high output DACS may not benefit from the ZStage given possible distortion issues." I would say that higher output DACs might benefit greatly from the Zstage as a tool, and perhaps the Zstage parts have changed a bit since mine, but if not, just be aware that my personal experience indicates that THIS Zstage, in THIS system, needs a little modification to accommodate my current source.
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« Last Edit: 04/27/12 at 18:21:30 by will »  

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will
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #8 - 04/27/12 at 19:54:23
 
meraklya, "I also have the option to use the ZSTAGE with the power amplifier inputs of the HK990, therefore using it as a straight tube preamplifier.

In theory, it sounds very promising - S.E.T tube preamplifier into a decent solid state power amplifier; but in practice..? Remains to be seen & heard...!"

True enough. Depending on how picky you are (I am very picky!), my guess is that it may take a little time to sort out your favorite tube and cables, but I would be surprised if the Zstage as-is did not improve your sound based on what you are wishing for, and with the added benefit of gain riding and bias adjustment to optimize for source and various recording qualities.
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« Last Edit: 04/27/12 at 19:55:14 by will »  

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Fireblade
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #9 - 04/27/12 at 20:41:45
 
Fair enough, Will.  Thanks for your explanation. I think I'll do just that once the gear is broken-in.
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meraklya
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #10 - 04/27/12 at 22:34:25
 
Will and Fireblade,

Thank you for your comments.

Will, I am also very picky when it comes to music reproduction.
Not neccessarily in the "audiophile" sense; but reproduced music is either engaging or it isn't so it's worth tweaking one's system until music sounds enjoyable most of the time.

I am hoping that the addition of ZSTAGE will infuse some "warmth" when needed, depending on what I'm listening to. I don't really need it to do much else, hovewer I seem to be changing equipment quite a bit so with future setups in mind, the more versatile it is the better.
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will
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #11 - 04/28/12 at 02:02:05
 
meraklya,

I agree. For me engaging is an ultimate determinant, but when I look really closely, as my system develops, there are so many things that contribute to this seemingly esoteric quality.

The Zstage is definitely capable of bringing about yet another elusive quality...authentic warmth. Seems to me warmth has many, many shades. I guess I would call it comforting body and depth enlivened with the sparkle of unobstructed, but smooth and real sounding detail throughout the spectrum.

Seems to me that all of the Zstage's attributes and tools could be used to fine-tune your source toward the end of engaging warmth. From Steve's parts synergy and their tendency toward subtle warmth; to the many tube choices (both type and individual characters within the types); to the gain with its impact on weight and body; to the bias switch and how it works with the tube to accentuate (or not) "warmth."

I guess I am observing that, as a whole, the Zstage offers many meaningful adjustments toward refining "warmth" to personal tastes. And this does not even consider power and IC cables!

I hope it brings a good synergy to your system, and I will look forward to your thoughts once you get used to it.
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« Last Edit: 04/28/12 at 02:03:06 by will »  

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Fireblade
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #12 - 04/28/12 at 21:10:46
 
Will,

Ever since I learned about the ZStage concept on the site, I was taken by the potential benefits it could add to my Mini-Torii / DM945's setup choice.  As you know better than me, the Mini-Torii is a beam tetrode-based amp, combining characteristics from SET's and class A push-pull amps.  

As in any tradeoff, it does not carry the power of a PP, nor the 'to die for' midrange liquidity a good SET brings to the listening experience, although in both counts it competes very highly, given, respectively, its small size and its beamer base.

The ZStage has originally appealed to me from the evident point of view of the gain riding dynamics involved.  Nevertheless, in spite of the Mini Torii being a tube amp, I would expect the ZStage to also help get the combined sound resolution closer to the midrange and highs of a good SET.

I bring this up because your description (which is very enlightening, thanks) really seems to endorse this expectation.  I may be wrong, but that single tube on the ZStage is a natural triode, and could ideally enhance the DAC's source signal with the Triode warmth typical of a SET, as it is channeled to the Mini Torii.  If in fact synergies are in place, this combination ought to take the combined results one step closer to compensating for the design tradeoff mentioned earlier.

Why all the fuzz about the ZStage this early in the game (my setup is close to getting here now, with all the fine-tunning, familiarizing and breaking-in pending)?  It simply triggers my motivation as I find it a very clever concept with a tremendous benefit potential.

Aside from the hyper gain issues already discussed, which would eventually be presented to Steve when the time comes, my only other concern is the theoretically possible sound degradation stemming from the addition of a new component to the signal path, additional cables, etc.  Here the purist approach is at stake.  

Since I've come to respect your evident acquired listening skills, critical sensitivity and hands-on experience (shared by other very knowledgeable forum participants, no doubt), could you forward your views on these concerns, before I go ahead with this upgrade?  I apologize for imposing, but I've found discussing this particular topic highly motivating.   Smiley  Thanks so much for your participation.
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« Last Edit: 04/28/12 at 21:11:42 by Fireblade »  

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will
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #13 - 04/29/12 at 02:20:39
 
Fireblade,

First, I think Steve's and forum member's observations are very informative and worth considering carefully. But with these very good amps, all designed with the thread of Steve's interpretation of exploiting the benefits of tubes toward real sound...though each will have characteristic qualities, they will all be great amps with excellent tube sound.

So though the differences in the amps are real, I suspect you may very well find your amp to have plenty of SET qualities in the midst of its individual traits. And with the amazing array of tube choices it allows, after breakin, I may be wrong, but I doubt your decision for a Zstage will come of a strong need for SET qualities, even though it might help flesh that out further.

As to the Zstage getting in the way, I think this is a hard one to answer. I think it was designed by a purist with transparency and musicality in mind. And with appropriate cables and tube, in my very revealing system, it fits that bill for me, but I definately hear it. As to whether it "is in the way" or is a sweet addition in a given system must depend on tastes, power, gear, tubes, cables and their synergy.

Liking what the Zstage does, if there is a potential issue, I think this might depend a whole lot on your source, especially along with using an excellent tube amp and gathering tube benefits there. I suspect that an extremely lucid, warm, and subtly detailed source could possibly get a bit smoothed out by the Zstage's "signature" and the extra hit of 2nd order harmonics. Maybe. But then the question becomes whether the benefits of gain tuning, bias adjustment at the pre level, Zstage tube rolling, and cable tuning balance things to the positive.

For me personally, with the ZDAC and the Oppo, once I got the Zstage tuned to taste, there was no question of benefit in the balance. My Tranquility, with its very good micro detail and micro dynamics may or may not be the same. But I have been listening today to the Tranquility through the Zstage with an RCA cleartop 12AU7 (no notable distortion with that tube) and like it. I need more time to get the sound deeper in me, but first impressions are "different" but great... excellent texture and detail, solid bass, fast and tight dynamics, very saturated sound stage, liquid and musical...it sounds really good to me! Not as relaxed as without, but ...my system/room/tastes...I like it today.

Knowing my tendencies to tune to taste, once I get the Zstage modded, I will mess around with tubes, cables and feet and likely keep in after the Tranquility, but not having gone there, I can't say for sure.
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« Last Edit: 04/29/12 at 02:30:35 by will »  

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Fireblade
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #14 - 04/29/12 at 04:44:17
 
Will,

I couldn't have asked for a better answer.  Your points are well taken and I can definitely sense your conviction coming through, as someone who has considered these issues for some time, and has done significant, meaningful trial-and-error to satisfy his own high personal standards.  Congrats!

The issue about comparable SET fidelity has come out several times in my quest, and invariably conclusions point to a Mini Torii design achieving both extreme design objectives without tradeoff!  Having been technically trained in analysis, I find this counter-intuitive, but given the qualified and plural testimonies gathered here, these conclusions are probably very true. This is why I'm so excited about the Mini-Torii in particular and Decware in general.

I found your take on the nature of the source as a key player in this issue, and how 2nd order harmonics (the nice distortion on single-ended tubes) may 'color' an otherwise highly detailed and lucid low-level analog signal, and whether this may or may not be to anyone's taste, is a very enlightening and interesting point, BTW.

The above challenges the possible conflict between the level of D/A source information/detail, and pure musicality.  In the end, do we prefer every detail (anlytical readings), or realistic timbre, tone, pacing, for instance.  Again, tradeoffs may succumb to clever tweaking with these wonderfull tools we're given the opportunity to play with.

Thanks for making my understanding on these issues so much better.  Now I think I need to get familiar with the standard setup first, with the renewed conviction to get back to my upgrading plan, in time.   Smiley
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« Last Edit: 04/29/12 at 04:44:59 by Fireblade »  

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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #15 - 04/29/12 at 04:57:10
 
Fireblade wrote on 04/29/12 at 04:44:17:
Now I think I need to get familiar with the standard setup first, with the renewed conviction to get back to my upgrading plan, in time.   Smiley


I think that's the crux of the matter right there. . . . Getting familiar with the amplifier itself in its solitary and newborn state. It's quite possible that you won't need to add a ZStage at all. I've my CSP2 installed in the system for over a week now and I can play with three gain stages: the gain of the CSP2, the gain of the PerfectWave Duo, and the gain of the Torii Mk iii. I find that with or without the CSP2 the Torii sounds best to me with the volume all the way up (all gain) and that with the CSP2 in the system the sound is considerably different. Mostly for the better, at times, with solo instrumentation for example, I prefer the sound as I had it before by a hair. But I wanted to add my new SACD player and the SACD player sounds wonderful with the CSP2, it truly brings out a wonderful character to the sound, and the SACD player has a fixed output, no adjusting of gain.

If I weren't running the SACD player, I wouldn't have the CSP2 in the system. But I will note that I don't feel that the CSP2 gets in the way at all. This has been my experience with the ZBox as well. As long as excellent interconnects and power cables are used, these items don't seem to tarnish the "purity of the signal path." I used to think that simplicity and almost nihilism in the signal path was the way that made sense, but at least with Decware preamps and buffer amps this needn't be a strict policy.

Anyway, this is my experience with my amp and my system and my room and material and my ears. I'm eager to hear your impressions. Won't be too long!
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #16 - 04/29/12 at 05:49:25
 
Quote:
Now I think I need to get familiar with the standard setup first, with the renewed conviction to get back to my upgrading plan, in time.[


Quote:
The above challenges the possible conflict between the level of D/A source information/detail, and pure musicality.


Fireblade,

Breaking in your new gear, and getting to know your system well makes good sense to me.

As to the potential conflict between information/detail and pure musicality, my feeling is this: to technically reproduce music with engaging musicality, it must convey all the necessary detail and information throughout the spectrum as naturally as possible. Over or under detail are not natural sounding, but really, if something sounds over detailed, does this not indicate that something is missing or added in the information..that something is out of balance. When I listen to a solo instrument or voice in a good room, the vast complexity of minute details can be overwhelming if attention is given to them....but it is exactly these details that make up all the things we like to hear...timbre, weight, pacing, textures, harmonics, musicallity.

This points to mine (and I expect many others) initial interest in tubes, the concept that the way we hear natural music can perhaps be best created with tubes, in part because tubes can present even order harmonics well (sorry I said 2nd order in my previous post, but meant even).

Clearly our minds and their huge capacity for minute perception can sense the truth in sound, but this does not mean that our analytical attempts to accurately convey music is that developed. It is interesting to me that old technology tubes, when well implemented, are so close to this truth.
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« Last Edit: 04/29/12 at 05:52:51 by will »  

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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #17 - 04/29/12 at 20:56:32
 
Lon,

Good points.  I shouldn't question Decware's ability to produce a non-invasive, transparent component, aimed at precisely enhancing the existing signal going to the amp. Absolutely agreed.

It is also possible, as you say, I may end up not needing the ZStage, after all.  For example, I think I still could improve my source side a bit, with a higher relative improvement potential.  I need to choose the best path when I become familiar with the gear.

In the end, though, the ZStage is a very appealing concept.  Whether it will work in my particular case is something I may be willing to gamble, in time.

Will,

You're absolutely right.  What I meant was precisely the excessive detailing in the signal that in our brains translate to an unnatural, clinical sound, as you put it.  Voicing the device for musicality is an art form I guess, and sometimes designers get carried away or maybe try to compensate their voicing limitations with extra specs.  

Too much of a good thing is not always better. Enough specs are required to arrive to that apparent threshold of a minimum required level of detail to make the product credible to our ears 'once it is voiced properly.'  Voicing the circuit to convert that detailed-enough processed signal into credible music is not an easy task, I suppose.  The market should be rewarding the voicing skill rather than the spec overkill, IMO.  Also, the higher the level of detail specd, the harder to voice it properly, I suppose.

Tubes create significantly more even order distortion than odd order ones.  This is supposed to explain our tendency to accept tubed sound more than SS sound, as the latter minimizes the absolute amount of distortion but is unfortunately relatively much higher in odd order distortion, for which we have very little tolerance.

The fact we call it 'THD' probably obbeys to an arbitrary technical measurement standard, that maybe does not reflect the qualitative differences involved.  Our ears can tell the difference naturally, and we have not maybe found the formula to capture how this translates to meaningful distortion specs.

Anyway, maybe I just wanted to justify the ZStage also on grounds of its predominantly even-order harmonic distortion patterns (triode warmth), in addition to the 'gain riding' benefit.  But in your case, the Tranquility is voiced with plenty of detail and musicality, as I can derive from your impressions.  Assuming it does not have a tube output stage, the question is whether this is good enough (absolutely minimum jitter included) by itself, so as not to improve (rather worsen) with the additional amount of even-order harmonics contributed by the ZStage.

I'm sure once the gain issue is resolved, you'll be able to answer this using your highly sensitive ears.  :)
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« Last Edit: 04/29/12 at 21:08:22 by Fireblade »  

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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #18 - 04/29/12 at 22:42:58
 
I'm not actually sure what all makes a signature in technical terms, but it is pretty clear that even order harmonics can be our friends if we are tube lovers. And it does effect the sound experience. Then there are the other parts...Even in this minimalist design, it still uses parts. And as we know, different wires, wire insulation, and wire twists effect sound...not to mention caps, resistors, transformers, jacks, and so on. For me the question becomes not "is is totally transparent," but more, "do I like the Zstage voicing and what it does for me?" In regard to its effect on a source, this is what I meant to refer to... I think the combination of the parts, tube, and functions make the "voice" or signature of the Zstage.

With my gear, I really don't know if I can overdo even order harmonics. I do know though that the signature of the Zstage exists by my ears. So I was imaging that it may be possible to have a source so complete, that putting in the Zstage could take away depending on tastes. I was imagining this less because of how well the Zstage does what it does, and more because the sound of the source could potentially be so good to one's taste, that adding a tube stage might not be chosen. Theoretical imaginings in my attempt to answer your questions as accurately as I can......
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« Last Edit: 04/29/12 at 22:48:25 by will »  

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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #19 - 04/30/12 at 04:26:38
 
Well put and an interesting imaging challenge. Yet, I think there's another aspect to the ZStage we have not considered in trying to solve our dilemma:

Signature impact aside, this stage is supposed to amplify and put into context portions of the imbedded information map in the source signal which tend to be unnoticed or marginally evident. So, the better the source (i.e., richer data mapping), the more ...

[b']Flush out the detail ... improve imaging' [/b](from the ZStage literature).

Granted, overdoing even order harmonics is a possible negative outcome, but it may well be worth it if the process can incidentally further exploit the inner treasures of a good source. There could be some level of detail imbedded in the Tranquility signal that may have been ignored even by your trained ears, simply because voicing a sourcing device like the Tranquility is not so simple, and it may bring even more stuff than it is able to present tangibly (distribution tails).

In other words, this additional dimension of the ZStage impact on the signal is potentially more important to your Tranquility than, say, to my HRT MSII+, simply because of the theoretically richer amount of detail imbedded by design.

Of course, I'm taking the cited quote remarks on the ZStage literature verbatim.  Now, let's imagine the possible outcomes ...
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« Last Edit: 04/30/12 at 04:29:14 by Fireblade »  

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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #20 - 04/30/12 at 17:12:41
 
Quite a discussion!

I'd like to thank everyone again for their comments.

So far, the following question has been answered for me:

Will ZSTAGE act as a regular tube buffer and add "tube warmth / pleasant distortion" to the music? The answer seems to be "yes".

As far as availability, I just figure I'll have the ZSTAGE sometime before the winter holiday season. Until then, I guess I will become really familiar with the YUCKIN CD-3 tube buffer so I'll have something to compare the ZSTAGE with.
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #21 - 04/30/12 at 19:13:35
 
meraklya,

I hope you get the Zsage before the holiday season! I look forward to your impressions of the newer Yakin buffer and your eventual comparison to the Zstage. Not having a Zbox, I can't directly answer your question about the similarity to the Zstage, but I hope this discussion has illustrated that the bias and gain of the Zstage do contribute to fine tuning your sound, including warmth, but also a whole lot of other aspects of the sound as well. If you feel like you need better clarity though, you could call Steve Deckart. He can describe quite articulately the differences for you.


Fireblade,

As I said, I personally am not sure I can overdue even order harmonics. Maybe, but I have not experienced it yet with my setup. This and other tube attributes that can smooth, richen, define, and give spaciousness...these are all things I like.

With my Torii and Zstage/ZDAC (my main setup for a long time), or with my modded Oppo, or Rega Apollo, I have not discerned this to be an issue for me. Nor have I found the Zstage to improve one source more than another. Each source starts differently, and the Zstage works with that particular complexity. It has improved all the sources I have used it with, but I like ZDAC over the others without the Zstage, and I like it better comparing all three with the Zstage also.

"Signature impact aside", once in use, I can say I have found the Zstage "unnoticed or marginally evident" in the sense of problems with the sound. I have found improvements evident.

I suspect it is mostly the tube and caps that causes the Zstage to "Flush out the detail ... improve imaging" with the the bias and gain adjusting this base sound, and the rest being as transparent/musical a signal path as possible. Since the tube is so powerful in the equation, the individual tube makes a mark.

I can't say at this point if the effect on the Tranquility will be more important but I doubt it. I really do love the nuance of the Tranquility, the nuance being made up of very subtle and compelling micro and macro detail, micro dynamics, pleasing balance, and so on. Being a NOS DAC, no doubt subtle harmonics play a roll in this nuance, and whether I find the Zstage to improve the sound remains to be seen, but considering all I love about the Zstage sound and functions, I would be surprised if I did not like it once I dial it in to my tastes and system. Until I can experiment though, I am just not in a position to say.

I wonder Fireblade...you have given a lot of thought and research to the Zstage, liking the concept quite a lot from the onset, and it seems to me that it is possible that you have made your decision conceptually. I suspect that after you get your Decware experience under your skin, the answers will be clearer!

Wink
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« Last Edit: 04/30/12 at 19:16:19 by will »  

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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #22 - 04/30/12 at 20:59:26
 
meraklya,

Sorry for taking up your thread (I bet you didn't realize you were opening a 'can of worms' with it  :) ) I hope you enjoy your ZStage.  I'll probably follow suit!  Keep us posted.

Will,

To me, the ZStage makes conceptually all the sense in the world (and Steve is very good at writing those appealing descriptions!).  I just wanted to learn if it was applicable to my particular setting and whether it would be advisable to try it.  I cannot return these things, so I need to make sure I nail it the first time around, you know.

Thanks so much for your excellent contributions.  I'll let you know if I decide to get it, and eventually how it goes.  In the meantime, I have enough information as I wait to experience the Decware magic, first hand.  As you said, it may be a no-brainer after that.
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #23 - 05/23/12 at 18:27:14
 
Hi Will,

"hope you get the Zsage before the holiday season! I look forward to your impressions of the newer Yakin buffer and your eventual comparison to the Zstage."

I've used the Yaqin CD-3 buffer for a while now. I started with the stock tubes, and then purchased a factory matched pair of Psvane Black Bottle from Grant Fidelity. With the latter tubes, I feel that the overall sound improvement is tremendous, to the point that I lost the desire to experiment with gear. All I want to do now is listen to music and re-discover familiar albums, it's that good.

So when the ZSTAGE arrives at some point in the future, it will be compared against an "all-chinese" part... Curious to see if the sound can be bettered by an "all-american" product, and by how much.
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #24 - 05/24/12 at 13:18:18
 
I have no doubt. It may be that the two units sound different. My money is on the ZSTAGE whipping the Yaquin.
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #25 - 05/24/12 at 13:55:38
 
That's where my money is too. Might not even be close. Wink
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #26 - 05/24/12 at 14:31:29
 
Thanks for your impressions of the Yaqin CD-3 meraklya.

It will be interesting when you get a chance to compare. They would appear to be potentially quite different, the Yaqin having two tubes of a different type, and a lot of caps and circuitry...might make for a more influential signature than the Zstage. And since the sound is so good now for your needs and tastes, seems pretty good. But with no gain and bias, not nearly as flexible.

I look forward to further impressions, especially after burning the Zstage.
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« Last Edit: 05/24/12 at 14:32:32 by will »  

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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #27 - 05/24/12 at 22:12:06
 
Hi all,

Yes, I realize they're two very different units.

The comparsion will of course be strictly subjective, based on which unit sounds better to my ears, everything else being equal.

Right now, the music flows smoothly, and instruments / voices hang in the air like ripe fruits. The rhythm and timing draw me in every time.

I don't want to think about what's inside the Yaqin buffer. I am sure it will be a snake nest adorned with second rate wires and capacitors.
But the transparency, the detail... they must have done, or copied, something right when designing this unit.

Looking forward to giving the ZSTAGE a try, which theoretically should be much better due to its simplicity and high quality parts.
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #28 - 05/24/12 at 22:33:14
 
Relative to subjectivity and base system needs, depends what we call theoretically better doesn't it. I had 2 Jolida CD players for a little while (both defective so I bailed) and your description reminds me a little of what I remember from them. Sweet, rich, and cozy, with good sense of detail and time...elaborated sound that felt really quite realistic and felt good! I really missed them when I went to an Apollo.

I think of Decware as more purist in electronic theory, but also purist with real music in good rooms as reference. This is something I personally prefer in the end, but sometimes I wonder why. That cozy sound done really well is pretty seductive.

But also, I reference the Zstage with a Decware tube amp, a NOS DAC, and very good neutral speakers. So harmonic richness is a part of my reference.

Thanks for keeping us informed and i look forward to more!
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #29 - 05/25/12 at 12:41:43
 
Will,

I apologize for the intrusion, guys, but I'm curious: How do you compare the Apollo with your Mac Mini streaming?  Which is better, the latter with the Tranquility or the Apollo by itself (great reviews on that CD player)?  

Also, in the context of this thread, which of those two alternative front ends you think would be better enhanced by the ZStage (I know you cannot use the Tranquility with the ZStage yet, but any clues)?  Thanks.
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« Last Edit: 05/25/12 at 12:47:36 by Fireblade »  

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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #30 - 05/25/12 at 14:26:56
 
Yesterday I pulled the plug on my STAGE, for I will be out of the office for several days. When I return I will show up with a good 12AT7 to see how that works
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #31 - 05/25/12 at 16:04:28
 
Fireblade,

To me there is no comparison between the Tranquility/Mini (with the cables I have and the way I have them set up) and the Rega. The Apollo sounded good, but I never really understood the rave reviews about it. It is possible that it is just the relativity of comparators.

To me the Tranquility/Mini is very very good in terms of real sound....with great nuance from the subtle micro detail and micro dynamics necessary for that sense of real.

As to the Ztage with them....my experience is pretty limited. The Rega to me was better sounding, a bit more delicately fleshed out across the range and more spacious than my modded Oppo. And teh ZDAC a notable step better at real presentation than the Rega. The Zstage helped them all by my ear enhancing all the good stuff that was there, and adding more realness, spaciousness and depth to the sound, but worked with their individual sounds, so I liked the Rega more than the Oppo with the Zstage, and the ZDAC better than the Rega.

And the benefits of gain riding and flexibility with useful bias and easy tube rolling is awesome with anything you put in front.

Rivieraranch,

I tired a number of 12AT7s and as usual, with this transparent stuff, they all sound different. My favs, preferring smooth and lucid transparency over big time warmth, are a 50s Seimens with a square getter, and some early 60's Brinmars I bought as a batch cheap.

I will be interested in to your impressions after having used several 12AU7s.
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« Last Edit: 05/25/12 at 16:11:31 by will »  

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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #32 - 05/25/12 at 18:02:32
 
Will,

Thanks for the description.  This confirms both the computer front-end and the ZStage synergy potential for my setup.  I'll wait until break-in is over, roll a couple of output tubes and probably go for the ZStage.

I'm not in a hurry, as my current gear sounds great, improving all the time, and I don't yet know its limits.  Also, I need to consider whether my current USB/DAC should be upgraded first.  It's hard to decide which step should come first without the advantage of auditioning these alternatives  :)
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #33 - 08/09/12 at 19:07:12
 
So I should have my ZSTAGE pretty soon... it took less than 4 months from ordering to fulfillment, rather impressive!

I've ordered a Dayton Audio dta-100a Class T amplifier because it was mentioned in a different ZSTAGE thread... has anyone here heard this particular combo?
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #34 - 08/09/12 at 19:53:10
 
"Rather impressive!" Is that meant sarcastically? Smiley It sure is a long wait. I'm two and a half months into an order myself.

Congrats! and welcome.
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #35 - 08/09/12 at 20:17:33
 
No, I meant it... 3 1/2+ months waiting time IS impressive in some screwy way! If they wanted to, I am sure they could find ways to speed up the production. However, I doubt that each individual product would get as much personal attention and quality control during assembly (the claim is that they are built by highly skilled/paid artisans who love their job)
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #36 - 08/09/12 at 20:27:55
 
:) Well, I'm of two minds, it's a long time to wait and sometimes very difficult to do so. But agree that this is the best way to build and a great product as a result.

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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #37 - 08/10/12 at 02:21:52
 
My 'STAGE shares center stage with my SE84C+ in my office setup. They both sit atop my Marantz 5 disc player. The STAGE allows me to ride the gain with the amp to get just the right sound.

I have had mine for a few months now. I bought it used. I recall there were two of them that went up for sale within a very short time window. There are opportunities out there, if you don't want to wait.
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #38 - 08/14/12 at 17:29:09
 
Well, the baby is here, in case anyone wants to congratulate me on my new arrival... not sure if I'll be passing cigars around just yet!

You know the warm and fuzzy feeling when you hold in your hands a fine product with your name engraved on it...

Sure enough, when I unwrapped the Decware package, my name was there, hand written on the serial number label on the bottom of the ZDAC........ misspelled. But still!

Nothing quite like re-tracing all of the wires late in the afternoon, to find out why my left and right channels are now reversed... and finding out that everything is connected as it should be and that it might have something to do with my much awaited new toy...
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #39 - 08/14/12 at 17:32:49
 
Great news! I look forward to your impressions!
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #40 - 08/14/12 at 17:35:21
 
Congrats!
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #41 - 08/14/12 at 17:38:33
 
And thanks for the reminder of that feeling of a precious, and anticipated arrival. Hope it fulfills your wishes fully!
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #42 - 08/14/12 at 19:23:51
 
Thank you all!

It's probably too early to comment on the sound as it isn't broken in, plus it may have to go back to Decware for a service intervention.

But I did listen to it for several hours last night... Right out of the box, it sounded much like the Yaqin, but with a layer of grease washed off... more dimensional and cleaner, but sweeter (in a subtle way).

I did try both settings of the bias switch, but I was too tired to try and figure out the difference.... My guess would be that the TOP position is the more dynamic one...?
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clowkoy
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Posts: 52
Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #43 - 08/14/12 at 19:49:51
 
What service intervention do you mean?
My CSP2+'s headphone channels are also reversed. I just swapped the leads rather than sending back.
I'm sure you will be surely impressed when you see the inside of your Decware products.
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meraklya
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Posts: 29
Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #44 - 08/14/12 at 20:08:26
 
Unfortunately I have zero soldering skills plus "no user serviceable parts inside..." & "do not open..."
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Decware SE84ZS, Yamaha AS2000 as phonostage/pre, Rega RP6, Teac UD-501 DSD DAC, MacBook Pro/Audirvana Plus, Yamaha CD-S1000 for SACD, Focal 806v
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clowkoy
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Posts: 52
Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #45 - 08/14/12 at 20:16:32
 
Good news is Steve will pay shipping both ways. Plus the lifetime warranty.
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meraklya
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Posts: 29
Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #46 - 09/01/12 at 21:39:53
 
Great service! I'd like to thank Sarah, Steve and others. Shipping was covered both ways, tho I would have been more than willing to cover one direction. The ZSTAGE came back in perfect shape. It is currently paired with a Dayton audio Class T amplifier ($89). I am listening to some Tarrega guitar tunes right now and the sound is sick & paranormal...!
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Decware SE84ZS, Yamaha AS2000 as phonostage/pre, Rega RP6, Teac UD-501 DSD DAC, MacBook Pro/Audirvana Plus, Yamaha CD-S1000 for SACD, Focal 806v
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meraklya
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Posts: 29
Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #47 - 09/06/12 at 19:37:03
 
The ZSTAGE is back to its regular duty as a tube pre for Harman Kardon HK990. In the same function, The Yaqin is like a comfy wool blanket whereas the ZSTAGE is incredibly transparent and injects just the right amount of tube warmth. It is four times more expensive than the Yaqin but worth it.

By the way, anything past 1 on the dial will cause audible distortion.
Not a big deal as with this amplifier, I have no need to add gain.
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Decware SE84ZS, Yamaha AS2000 as phonostage/pre, Rega RP6, Teac UD-501 DSD DAC, MacBook Pro/Audirvana Plus, Yamaha CD-S1000 for SACD, Focal 806v
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Lon
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Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #48 - 09/06/12 at 19:43:14
 
What tube are you using in the ZStage? I don't think it should distort so early. A 12AU7 shouldn't do this. A 12AX7 might.
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Decware:ERR,HR-1,ZP3,CSP2+,Torii Mk III,PS Audio PWT+DS,PowerBases,PPP,AC-12 pcs, Denon DBP-A100, Denon DCD-A100,Rega RP3 +TTPSU,white belt+Exact2, VooDoo Cable:Evo,Ultra Linear, Iso-PodMapleshade:Double Heiix Plus.Samsonv2+v3 +4" platforms,Herbie's Iso-Cup
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meraklya
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Posts: 29
Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #49 - 09/06/12 at 20:12:20
 
It's the included tube (made in Czechoslovakia), I'll check which type it is when I get home... though I don't think it has anything to do with the tube, rather I am guessing it's the input sensitivity of HK's RCA inputs...? I was able to dial the gain all the way to the right with the Dayton Class T amplifier with no distortion.
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Decware SE84ZS, Yamaha AS2000 as phonostage/pre, Rega RP6, Teac UD-501 DSD DAC, MacBook Pro/Audirvana Plus, Yamaha CD-S1000 for SACD, Focal 806v
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Lon
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"Love without
guts is
worthless!"
Philip K. D*ck

Posts: 7356
Re: ZSTAGE availability & technical question
Reply #50 - 09/06/12 at 20:14:49
 
Hmmmm. . . yes it does sound as if it's the input sensitivity of the HK. Probably is a 12AU7 tube, that seems to be the supplied tube. Well, as long as you have enough gain. Glad you are enjoying the sound so much! Also glad that the ZStage is better than the Yaquin. Wink
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Decware:ERR,HR-1,ZP3,CSP2+,Torii Mk III,PS Audio PWT+DS,PowerBases,PPP,AC-12 pcs, Denon DBP-A100, Denon DCD-A100,Rega RP3 +TTPSU,white belt+Exact2, VooDoo Cable:Evo,Ultra Linear, Iso-PodMapleshade:Double Heiix Plus.Samsonv2+v3 +4" platforms,Herbie's Iso-Cup
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