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Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters. (Read 1635 times)
Dom
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Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters.
04/21/13 at 23:41:22
 
Hey everyone,  

I need a bit of help and advice.  I am looking to build a system from scratch, and here are my thougts....

-  My primary music source will be a Mac all in one PC (OSX Lion) as my primary music source, in conjunciton with an el cheapo Panasonic Blu ray (for now), in addition to an IPOD.  

-  I currently have a Yamaha RXV1400 (125 WPC, 1V input sensitivity) SS amp, that I will continue to use for the time being.  (  I was supposed to buy Riverranches Mini, but I had car issues, and had to hold off. ) My speakers are currently inefficient Polk Audio Towers.  

Items I need to buy in the future....

-  efficient bookshelf speakers
-  decent quality DAC
-  ZBOX or ZSTAGE

For the time being I am looking to enhance the fidelity of my music, and was looking at the ZSTAGE or ZBOX.  I have done a ton of forum readings regarding the aforementioned, and am leaning towards the ZBOX.   Is this the right choice?  

***I have already decided that I whiile I could afford a Mini Torii or Rachel, I would rather hold off until I can pull the trigger on the Zen Torii ( whenever that happens, I am ok with).

With that being said, I need to carefully select a DAC and Speakers for future purchase.  I know that the whole voltage input sensitivity issue would dictate whether the ZBOX or ZSAGE would fit my future application., as well as keeping me happy now with my first Decware purchase of the ZBOX or ZSTAGE.

In terms of a DAC (future Xmas present) I am leaning towards the Schitt Gungnir DAC and/or maybe the Wyred for Sound D2.  Big price difference so I am not sure which one I will go with.  

In terms of speakers, I may go with the Decware's DM945's or a price point comparitive Klipsch's speakers.  

For now, I am going to buy a ZSTAGE or ZBOX to use with my current system to soften my music. The question is "which component will work for now, that will eventually pair nicely with the Zen Torii when that day comes"??  

Any input and/or thoughts would be greatly appreciated.  One more thing to point out.....the wired run from my PC to my amp will be approxiatley 50 ft. in lengh (which is wny I think that the ZBOX may be the better fit over the ZSTAGE.  

Sorry for not being specific and structured with this email, but I work graveyard hours, and am exhausted with a lack of sleep.  

Thanks in advance,

Dominick

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will
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Re: Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters.
Reply #1 - 04/26/13 at 02:33:38
 
Quote:
...the wired run from my PC to my amp will be approxiatley 50 ft. in lengh (which is wny I think that the ZBOX may be the better fit over the ZSTAGE.  


Not having any experience with this much distance between PC and DAC, and not being able to imagine how this can be done well, this sounds like a big complication to me. Out of my technical range. But a used Mac Mini as a dedicated music server used right at the DAC and amp would definitely be nice and clean, tried, true, and relatively inexpensive.

The file quality you use, and how it all hooks together is really important once you get into transparent computer audio...stuff your suggested gear is very capable of. So good uncompressed files cleanly passed from a clean computer that is set up really well, and cables and DAC are real issues to consider. Noise of any kind will considerably hamper your musical experience be it from cabling, rough power, vibration etc.

Personally, I would go for the Zstage or CSAP2+ over the Zbox as the gain control is a really good tool for tuning the weight, body and dynamics of your sound. You can benefit with this as a primary setting, finding that just right gain balance to give you your favorite overall sound, or you can do it on the fly riding the gains of the amp and Zstage/CSP....more or less on the Zstage to tune to individual album recording quality. I have talked more about this gain riding elsewhere on the forum.

The CSP2 is notably more than the Zstage, but considering the features, I believe it is a good bang for the buck compared to the Zstage. The potential advantage of the Zstage as I see it conceptually is that it is a very simple signal path, so potentially more transparent/clean as a mini-pre and needs only one tube to roll....on the other hand, the CSP is very popular and reportedly can sound very transparent or quite warm, has more input/outputs, is a headphone amp, more tubes to fine tune the sound with, more gain.....sort of makes the Zstage a bit expensive to me. I really love my Zstage though, especially with the new caps!

I can now comfortably recommend the Jupiter beeswax caps in the Zstage...very transparent, but also nicely organic. I think Steve should just use them as a first choice as he does now on a lot of the gear, and he may well be.

Sound like  a nice system you are working toward. Good luck with it.

Will
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« Last Edit: 04/26/13 at 02:36:55 by will »  

Mac mini, Tranquility DAC, CSP3, TORII MkIV, Morrow SP-7, HR-1s...VHaudio DIY, Grover, MAC ICs...PSAudio P5 and Shunyata Defender, PI Audio and DIY power cables, HerbiesAudioLab isocups and tube dampers...
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Dom
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Still like that old
time Rock and Roll!!

Posts: 95
Re: Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters.
Reply #2 - 04/26/13 at 22:02:48
 
Will,

Thanks for your input and replying back.  I remember reading (possibly in the owners manual) that the ZBOX is better for longer runs.

Also...my end goal is buying a Torii MK3 in the future. I could swear I read somewhere that with the power of the Torii, the need for a separate gain is not necessary, due to its headroom over the Mini Torii and the Rachel.  

For the time being, I have to stick with my 130WPC , SS Yamaha, which comes to full power at 1v.  Correct me if I am wrong, but adding a gain stage (ZStage) to my current amp would basically render it getting too loud too fast.  Thus I thought that the ZBOX would be the better fit for now, giving me a warmer and rounded sound with my current setup.  

I notice you have the Torii MK3 and a ZStage....how much of a factor would you say that the ZStage plays in your current setup?

Please understand that I am still new to the Decware community, and trying to learn as much as possible from seasoned audiophiles like yourself.  

Any further input would be greatly appreciated.

Dominick
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beowulf
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Re: Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters.
Reply #3 - 04/26/13 at 23:33:23
 
Quote:
Dom,
I notice you have the Torii MK3 and a ZStage....how much of a factor would you say that the ZStage plays in your current setup?


+1 ... Will, how do you use the ZSTAGE in your current setup?
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« Last Edit: 04/26/13 at 23:33:43 by beowulf »  
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will
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Re: Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters.
Reply #4 - 04/27/13 at 01:07:45
 
Dom,

Audio stuff is a weird language needing to bridge technical stuff while attempting to express in language impressions of sound qualities. But finally I think it can get pretty simple once the basics are understood more.

We are talking about a couple ways of looking at gain here. One relates to volume output and how that influences the overall sound, and one relates to source output in terms of voltage output and how that influences the overall sound.

A tube stage between the source and the amp without gain effects the overall sound by interjecting the influences from its signal path. This is what the Zbox is about. Its design, materials and tube choice influence the sound based on the signature Steve liked best for introducing "tube magic," and our choice of tube and cables refines this signature to our tastes.  A big part of this as I hear it is due to an increase of even order harmonics, smoothing, sweetening and evening the playing field between how we hear music naturally and how we hear it from gear.

Then, if we add clean gain to the same Zbox, we can increase volume if needed, but the really interesting part to me is this....With gain, we can adjust the sound by introducing more or less of the stage signature into the balance, but as importantly, based upon the recording deficiencies, by adjusting the output voltage of the source up or down, this can have relatively powerful effects in terms of refinement of dynamics, weight, body, clarity, and so on. Push the voltage up and the same basic signature has more weight and push....reduce it, and it will lean, flatten, and clarify.

This is a different consideration altogether than volume, and we can do this by "riding the gains" between the gain stage and the amp to increase or decrease the influence of the Stage while retaining the same basic volume.

With my Zstage and Tranquility DAC, using the gain values of 12AU7 tubes in the Zstage, my base Zstage "volume" knob is usually set at about 1-2 o'clock for my favorite overall sound. This interjects beauty of the tube being used and just the right amount of voltage gain to sound right to me with the Torii volume being my primary volume adjustor. With the the Zstage left at this basic setting, this would be more like the Zbox if we were able to electronically adjust its output voltage to our taste.

Riding the gain is a matter of using the the gain knobs on the Zstage and the Torii to adjust the sound quality without notably changing the volume. If we want more Zstage sound influence, turn the Torii down while riding the Zstage up leaving the volume roughly the same, or visa versa.

Generally speaking, more gain on the Zstage will increase the weight, body, and dynamics which in turn, gives a sense of less upper mids and highs, the fuller sound offsetting the balance toward a richer, bigger, more driving sound. So this interjects more of the sound influence of the Zstage signature between source and amp, but also, by increasing the output voltage, we generally get more density, dynamics, body and push.

So for me, in the current system/room, 1:30 or so on the Zstage knob gives a really good sound balance for most recordings, and a good starting point for those I would like to adjust. This base setting is variable depending on the tube choice too, as the tube signature itself has similar variations within the 12AU7 family...some more or less dynamic, some warmer and more dense, some leaner and more clarified and everywhere in between.

Whatever the base adjustment though, if I pick and album that sounds a little heavy in the low mids and bass, muddling the sound a bit by overwhelming the upper mids and highs, I can ride down the Zstage knob, reducing the output voltage and the quantity of influence from the Zstage signal path (including the tube), while increasing that of the Torii. This will lean and open the sound by reducing weight and body a bit, in turn giving more sense of open clarity to the recording. Or if the recording is too lean/clear sounding, lacking weight and body, I can ride up the Zstage and down the Torii, increasing the punch, push, richness etc of the recording. This would be the same with the CSP2+, but perhaps more so since it has more gain and potentially more sound influence with its three tube types that can be rolled to taste.

For my current setup and tastes, with the Torii and music, I never need the Zstage for volume gain...not even close. But I do use it occasionally for volume where a DVD is very quiet.

This introduces another system balance variable. Speaker efficiency. If your system/room presents DVDs in a borderline volume on rare occasions like my balance does, the speaker efficiency plays a big roll in volume. My speakers are roughly 93dB efficient. All things tested and measured equally, if I had speakers that were 96dB efficient, I probably would not need the Zstage for volume gain ever, but I would still want it for adjusting the sound quality. If I had speakers that were 90 dB in this same setting, and with the same output of my DVD player I would want the Zstage for volume on a lot more DVDs (since they tend to be mixed quieter than music) but not likely for music.

As to the long cable run, within limits, it is generally acknowledged that less is better as the signal is less influenced by the materials and design of the cable the shorter it is, while also having less opportunity to pick up and interject electromagnetic noise on the way. I would guess the thing you are referring to is that that gain of the Zstage could amplify the noise if it were there.


Edit: Beowulf, hope this answers your question too.



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« Last Edit: 04/27/13 at 01:17:05 by will »  

Mac mini, Tranquility DAC, CSP3, TORII MkIV, Morrow SP-7, HR-1s...VHaudio DIY, Grover, MAC ICs...PSAudio P5 and Shunyata Defender, PI Audio and DIY power cables, HerbiesAudioLab isocups and tube dampers...
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Dom
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Still like that old
time Rock and Roll!!

Posts: 95
Re: Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters.
Reply #5 - 04/27/13 at 07:14:47
 
Thank you Will....that was as detailed as it comes.

The good news is that you helped me clarify a few things that was a legitimate concern.  

The bad news is that I now have to call Decware and have them change my order from a ZBOX to ZSTAGE.  Knowing that my current amp will eventually be replaced with the Torii MK3, that ZSTAGE will be better served in the long term.  

Since the order was just placed yesterday, I am sure that there won't be a problem.  

I can't thank you guys enough for your help.  

Dominick
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will
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Re: Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters.
Reply #6 - 04/27/13 at 16:38:33
 
Dominick,

With the long wait list, your order change should not be an issue at all.

Remember that the stock Zstage has only one input. I had mine modded for two because I like using with my DAC and my DVD player. Also, I would recommend asking Steve if he is building the Zstage with the Jupiter caps. Hard to say for sure as it is memory based, but compared to the original Auricaps in mine (serial #02) I think these make the Zstage a more refined stage. After having the Jupiters for a little while, Steve's comments on the caps fit what I am hearing.... they are transparent, neutral, revealing, organic......the organic part being important...there is a subtle, but compelling sweetness and texture that is not saccharin to me...nice and real sounding without edge.
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« Last Edit: 04/27/13 at 17:07:36 by will »  

Mac mini, Tranquility DAC, CSP3, TORII MkIV, Morrow SP-7, HR-1s...VHaudio DIY, Grover, MAC ICs...PSAudio P5 and Shunyata Defender, PI Audio and DIY power cables, HerbiesAudioLab isocups and tube dampers...
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Dom
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Still like that old
time Rock and Roll!!

Posts: 95
Re: Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters.
Reply #7 - 04/27/13 at 19:08:00
 
Will,

After placing the original ZBOX order, I had emailed Steve asking him to add a second set of inputs on the device.  

Here is his reply.....

"I can get you a quote on the additional inputs in the next week or so.  I am working on a new switchbox I would like you to see first before you decide."

Soo.....apparently i will get a chance to view the new switchbox they have been working on....cool!!  

I am gonna call Decware on Tues and speak to them regarding the change in my order from the ZBOX to the ZSTAGE.  Either way I will look to add a second set of inputs on ZSTAGE unless I go for the new switchbox after its revealed.  

As far as adding the Jupiter caps....that sounds like a good addition....thanks.  While I know the burn in time is longer than stock....it will be interesting to hear how the device changes overtime.  

Thanks again for your advice.

Dominick
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will
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Re: Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters.
Reply #8 - 04/27/13 at 20:28:20
 
Dom,

The Jupiters are apparently not anywhere near so recalcitrant as V-Caps in burnin. A different cap altogether. Actually, by my ear, these burned in to a nice listening quality pretty fast and sounded good from the start, though a bit hard and cool.

The territory you are looking at now, with added inputs or a switch box, and IF the caps drive the cost up at all, could possibly complicate your decision...that is if the costs ended up near the CSP2+. This is where it went for me anyway, but my position is different...I had to send it back and have it modded, so all labor and parts were billed on top of the original cost. I probably could have sold it and ordered a CSP2+ with notably less overall expense than having the Zstage modded. This is part of why I hope Steve will just start using the Jupiter caps keeping the base cost more in line by comparison to the CSP2+, but I have no idea how this works, and I think Decware is all a very good value for the quality.

I opted for the mods over trading up to the CSP2 because I knew and liked the Zstage sound, and conceptually the transparency of the simple signal path would be a good thing. Also only one voltage starved tube to roll, but again, having three tubes to roll with the CSP could be really awesome for ultimate refinement. So the CSP2+ has a lot more features built in, but not having heard one, I can't say if my theory for keeping the Zstage comes out in the "listening wash" or not.

The other thing to consider, and this is not a huge deal if you use nice ICs, but with a switch box you would be introducing another pair of ICs...more cost and more wire that will effect the sound. On the other hand, a switch box would offer a lot of flexibility, and I feel quite sure Steve will build it as transparently as he can. Judging from the rest of the Decware design lineup, this will be transparent indeed.

Just more considerations.
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« Last Edit: 04/27/13 at 20:30:26 by will »  

Mac mini, Tranquility DAC, CSP3, TORII MkIV, Morrow SP-7, HR-1s...VHaudio DIY, Grover, MAC ICs...PSAudio P5 and Shunyata Defender, PI Audio and DIY power cables, HerbiesAudioLab isocups and tube dampers...
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beowulf
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Re: Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters.
Reply #9 - 04/27/13 at 22:04:28
 
Quote:
Edit: Beowulf, hope this answers your question too.


Wow Will, this is the best and most detailed post I have read about these components!  I have a full understanding of what, when, where, why and  how these are best implemented within the audio component chain. Cool
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Rivieraranch
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Re: Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters.
Reply #10 - 04/27/13 at 22:33:57
 
Hey Dom

Klipsch speakers are fine in many respects. I have had them before. The problem I experienced with them was that to get suitable bass out of them you had to crank up the volume to the point that the tweeter began hurting, if you know what I mean. That is why I would recommend a DECWARE speaker; either the DM945 or the MG944.
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will
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Re: Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters.
Reply #11 - 04/27/13 at 23:53:56
 
Since I have gone in pretty far.... and though this is probably not necessary, another point of clarification. The volume area I have been using on the Zstage lately is probably more-or-less between 12:00 and 3:00. For me, with this tube arrangement and synergy, going beyond that sounds less good, the point being that the "sweet" area is relatively narrow for me. But also, in part because the usable range for me is relatively narrow, the changes these adjustments make are expressed in audio speak...ie, notable, but not necessarily miraculous.

With my system/room sound right now, no matter the tube sets, I nurse out just enough detail that it is all there, and perhaps just  touch over the top. Then I balance this with just enough weight, warmth and bass to comfortably warm/thicken the sound, softening detail....but without masking it or muddling the mids. Finally, I may or may not back off/soften the detail a touch depending on the tube set.

This taste balance probably weighs a little toward detail, and within it I think I can use gain riding to solve pretty much any low mid muddle I have on heavier recordings, but some bright/lean recordings, I just can't darken enough to "solve" them for my tastes without them becoming too pushed sounding overall.

This is all taste based, and variable depending on the many choices, the Zstage tube character having loads to do with it. But also, this is the average range I seek for the most listening pleasure (for me) over my recordings, and this does rule out some lean ones except for touching base with that music occasionally.

This is because a big part of my audio inspiration comes from being "caught" by the music...fully amazed and engrossed by the music. And it is worth it to me to sacrifice some badly recorded stuff in general to have the best I can get for the majority of what I listen to.
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« Last Edit: 04/27/13 at 23:56:18 by will »  

Mac mini, Tranquility DAC, CSP3, TORII MkIV, Morrow SP-7, HR-1s...VHaudio DIY, Grover, MAC ICs...PSAudio P5 and Shunyata Defender, PI Audio and DIY power cables, HerbiesAudioLab isocups and tube dampers...
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Dom
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Still like that old
time Rock and Roll!!

Posts: 95
Re: Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters.
Reply #12 - 04/28/13 at 05:33:04
 
Hi James,

Thanks for your input on the speakers.  In terms of Bass on the Klipsch's....I have a powerful Velodyne  sub (10" front, 12" down firing) that will be incorporated into my system.  So if the Klipsch's are bass starved a bit...I will not have to worry.  The problem will be tweaking it so I get good punch without it being too boomy.  

I do think that the Decware speakers will be more synergistic  by comparison...so I will see what happens when that time comes.  Unfortunately trying to audition the Decware's will be.a problem, but somethig tells me I don't have to worry  :).  

Will... I have to say that the detail in your reply is impressive!!  It will a great point of reference once I get the ZSTAGE.  I read the ZSTAGE review you did a while back, and quite honestly that is what helped me change my ZBOX order to the STAGE.  

In terms or replacing my SS Yamaha with the Torii MK3, that will not be for a while.  With the price tag that it holds, I will need to protect it...hence buying the PS audio P3 pr 5 power plant prior to the amp.  I will see what happens when that time comes.  

Let the journey begin!!
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will
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Re: Building a system....ZBOX or ZSTAGE for starters.
Reply #13 - 04/29/13 at 20:02:31
 
Good news. I hope you like whatever you get. I suspect it will be quite good between your SS and source. A logical first step!

Yes the whole power thing....I think it is well worth investigating, though I actually have taken out the protection part of mine, the audio Brickwall which actually sounds pretty transparent, but I can hear it, so have taken the route of conditioning without protection...the conditioning with my UberBuss. This is apparently not that uncommon for the hard core which my system/room has apparently become, but it is a bit unnerving not to have protection. Hoping not to be among the rare few who actually have a problem!!!

I have been tempted many times by various used or B-class PSAudio things, but am still resistant, some of my most trusted ear guys having opted for not messing with the power in that way. I am not recommending this in the least...just continuing the discussion, and the PowerPLant stuff, though costly, tends to be admired!

Alternately, there are supposed to be some pretty transparent protection units out there that are not as sophisticated, but much cheaper...like my Audio Brickwall and others. In the sophisticated context though, those 1000 powerplants Lon and Pale Ryder got are starting to look cheap.

Best of luck and have fun with the new journey!
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« Last Edit: 04/29/13 at 20:08:30 by will »  

Mac mini, Tranquility DAC, CSP3, TORII MkIV, Morrow SP-7, HR-1s...VHaudio DIY, Grover, MAC ICs...PSAudio P5 and Shunyata Defender, PI Audio and DIY power cables, HerbiesAudioLab isocups and tube dampers...
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