STILL CONFUSED ABOUT WATTS?  

The 'Dear Tom' letter should help...

Dear Tom,

Now, once again, on to the issue of watts. (You remind me of a dog thatís biting my ankle and wonít let go.)

Even though Iíve covered this on our site, this is a good opportunity to explain Ė and hopefully you will better understand.

First of all, we are not engaged in "truth bending marketing to engender significance to those who do not know the difference", as you put it. If we were, I donít think you would have ever questioned it.

  1. When the SE84 was first released it was both a pentode and a triode amplifier, adjustable by the switch on the front. It used EL84 tubes and produced 5.7 watts RMS into 6 ohms in pentode mode, and 1.8 watts RMS into 6 ohms in triode mode. After 75 units, no one was using the amp in pentode mode because triode mode had more body and weight. We listed it as such.

  2. With revision A, we abandoned the pentode/triode option, and optimized the amp for triode only. At the same time we went with the more powerful SV83 output tube to replace the EL84ís. We DROPPED the RMS tag and listed the power as around 5 watts. The reasons for this were; 74 out of 75 zen owners with the original amp felt that the 1.8 watts RMS in triode mode had more power than the 5.7 watts RMS in pentode. With the unique way our Zen drives difficult speaker loads this wasnít a big surprise to us, and reiterates the point that watts and distortion specs at this level are relatively meaningless if not deceptive in their own right.

  3. Your desperately need to fit this into a neat little category is the cause of all this friction. We designed this amp to be different from the average SET by having it put out more power into lower impedanceís so that it would stand a chance at driving regular speakers. Remember this product was targeted to sincere but broke audiophiles who otherwise couldnít afford to discover the magic of SET amps. We of course knew that if it only drove "easy to drive" high-efficiency speakers which are always large and expensive that no one would keep the amp.

  4. We also knew that the average customer using it with their 90dB bookshelf speakers were going to clip the amp. For that reason the way the amp clips was as important to us as how the amp sounded. Certainly if it sounds ugly when it starts to clip it would again intimidate the customer into returning it, even if during normal listening levels it never happens. We opted for less RMS power and more dynamic peak power with graceful clipping characteristics to ensure that customers who are used to 30~100 watts successfully make the adjustment to high resolution low power amps like the Zen, without panicking in the process.

  5. This is why we chose to phrase it "around 5 watts" because as you would expect, people who read a RMS figure of 1.8 watts would automatically assume it wouldnít be enough power based on the common assumption that all SET amps and watts are the same. If the amp was built to favor an easy to drive load like so many SET amps out there, they would be right.

  6. So is it a more meaningful a number to "those who donít know the difference" - as you put it, to state the RMS power without taking into account the clipping characteristics and headroom and the fact that the amp will happily drive loads down to Ĺ ohm, unlike any other SET I know of, or to phrase it "around 5 watts" For guys just like yourself who get caught in the middle of the interpretation, we were MOST careful not to include the letters RMS after our "around 5 watts" rating.

  7. I think Doc understands this better than you do, and when he modified a Zen and measured the RMS power I donít believe he was trying to make an issue out of it. I think it was simply for his own reference that he measured it, just as I would and have his amps. I know when I measure RMS of an amp it gives me a ball park reference of what to expect, but otherwise can be misleading. Several times I have heard tube amps with 7 or 8 watts of RMS power puke when asked to drive a difficult load where the Zenís with barely 2 watts RMS into the same load would do it with ease. In other words, the lower RMS power Zen would get significantly louder before you heard it clip.

The term" around 5 watts" is 3 words and more accurately represents what this amp can do. This explanation is 927 words so far and if used along with the RMS figures would have gone unread by most. Again, some of our market does not understand why those "best buy" receivers are not really 200 watts by your and my definition of a watt. Half of our market has never owned a tube amp and would never consider a 1.8 watt RMS amplifier without understanding the many reasons why it might work for them. We offer a 30 day money back guarantee to these customers who take the chance and try one. They receive unparalled support and personal attention to detail that often goes well beyond the sale. I donít see how this type of marketing is in any way less than honorable, truthful, or meaningful.

Since the big stink about this last year, which I find myself wondering if you might have been largely responsible for (being a self-appointed protector of the truth), we have sold enough amps and gotten enough press to actually change the stereotype impressions of SET amplifiers. By this time it was far less likely that a first time customer would be scared off by the RMS figures because the positive reviews from people just like them were overwhelming.

RMS watts are a poor indicator of how an amplifier will perform. RMS watts are not equal units by which to make a comparison unless they are used for reference within a specific family of circuits. RMS watts are very valuable to me when prototyping and comparing one Zen amp to another. However once we change to a different circuit they become a mystery until the real "meaningful* process of listening to them is completed. Certainly no two different amplifiers with identical RMS watts will perform the same. You will hear one clip before the other.

So in summary I really donít think your campaign that we "embellished the facts" is in any way on target. I understand your concern in a world where you can go to Best Buy and purchase 200 watt receivers that have less than 30 usable watts, but I think this is very different. And I think your burden of having to "balance the effect of poorly represented facts" is self-inflicted.

Steve Deckert

P.S. Since you enjoy publicly addressing your concerns about the marketing and actual performance of our products, I think it would be more productive for all if in the future you actually purchased one and listened to it.

 

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