No: ZH1 - Zen Head portable headphone amp
Impressions: April 2009
want to say what a marvelous amp the Zen Head is. I've
had several high end portable amps and this IMO is by
some distance is the pick of the bunch. I've got
around 130 hours play on the Zen at the moment
and it is indistinguishable sonically from the amp straight
out of the box. The soundstage with the crossfeed simply
has to be heard to be believed. I have it running my
ipod classic through a pair of Sennheiser HD650s with
cardas upgrade and the Zen powers these juice-hungry
sonics are so spatial, every instrument seeming to be
in the right place, that the sound never becomes fatiguing.
The bass is punchy and true while the mids and highs
have what I would imagine are a tube-like richness.
Whatever music I play, from rock to jazz, classical
and dance, the Zen delivers each with the same reassuring
authority. Steve reckons the amp keeps improving for
up to 400 hours. Well, I'm trying to figure out just
how the sound can get any better than it is now. Truly
astonishing. Maybe, I'll admit, it may not be the best
amp for everyone but to these ears, and for anyone who
likes their music presented with a real sense of air
in it and on a big canvas, it's simply unbeatable.
to 300 hours now play on the Zen now and it has gone
up several notches, this time more subtle and refined
than the first seismic leaps from straight out of the
box. The bass is tighter, more defined, the mids and
the highs just seem to get lusher without losing any
detail. ( Played a Leftfield track yesterday and had
to look behind me because I thought someone was there).
really seems that the Zen is pushing my HD650s to show
their full potential. What is most palpable though is
the ever deepening soundstage. It's got deeper but not
in an unnatural way. It's becoming a more layered landscape
that the music lives in, in much the same way as you
would hear music from high end speakers in a home hifi.
The sonics have so much room to breathe and therefore
shine. There is no compression in the overall sound
- that in your head sledgehammer onslaught - and this
I guess is why the amp is so non-fatiguing. I've used
it with my Koss Porta Pros as well and it's even given
them a palpable soundstage that makes them sound like
a pair of headphones ten times their price.
up to 400 hours and the improvements are there but now
more subtle and refined. The sound is more dynamic and
open and totally natural. It's always true and never
lets you down. It may not be as clinical as some other
amps on the market but it's better for that. You really
ARE hearing the music as it was supposed to be and can
therefore interact with it. I suppose the nearest analogy
I could make is that we all like our new cars but I
know that if it was a toss up between driving an anaesthetised
modern Ford and getting behind the wheel of a 1970 Mustang,
it would be the latter every time.
also started using a mini to mini headphone socket cable
instead of the lineout with the amp and I have to say
(at the risk of incurring the wrath of some audiophiles)
that I find the sound deeper and truer.
been a long three years, but my personal search for
an audio holy grail has finally ended. Along the way
I've tried top of the range Alessandro and Grado cans
and put them through the likes of the total air head,
XM4, Meier move and P-51 Mustang
but I've finally settled on cardas-upgraded Sennheiser
HD650 headphones and the ZH1 amp - a match truly made
bought a lot of stuff in the past on the back of reviews,
rankings and forum opinions but when it ultimately comes
down to it you have to trust your instincts. And I think
Steve Deckert's honesty in wanting to make something
musically true and without any of the gizmos and 'extraneous'
crap hit a chord with me. I'm glad I took that leap
of faith because I've been blessed with what I consider
to be the best portable amp around today. Thank you
to Steve and all the team.
Rig set-up: Sennheiser HD650s;
Cardas sennheiser replacement headphone cable; Qables
performance lineout cable; ipod classic