DATE: April,1999

Hi Steve,

I'm into week three with ZEN amplifier number 151 and learning more each day. I am shifting my HIFI perspective from the complex to the simple, Zen'ing so to speak. My previous listening system was Hafler solid state, highly modified with Musical Concepts upgrades. I thought it sounded good and indeed it did, but never having listened to tube systems I did not have a lot to compare it to.

I can't remember how I found the Decware website, but it was well over a year ago. I was intrigued by the low-key sales approach, the philosophy and the growing list of positive reviews. I kept popping back to see how things were developing but wasn't ready to commit until this year, when I replaced my LS3/5A's with a set Coincident Triumph Signatures from Israel Blume of Toronto.

Now I had something that might be useable with a low powered amp. They were 90db efficient with a benign impedance curve. The literature said they could be driven with 7 watts, ideally suited to single ended tube amplification. The Zen review in Planet HI-FI helped too. So I took the plunge and ordered.

My listening configuration is sparse and Zen-like. An Alchemist Nexus CD player connects directly to the amplifier through a set of D Lin Audio Silver Bullet 4.00. Audioquest Type 4, cable attaches amp to speakers. No tuners, tape decks or pre-amps. The Nexus is a detailed and delicate player, with a sound reminiscent of my old Linn LP12. The Silver Bullets are superb and equally detailed solid silver interconnects.

The Zen did not jump up and grab me, it subtly seduced. After years of listening to solid state I had to re-attune my ears to this new sound. At first I missed the strident dynamics of the Hafler and felt the Zen to sedate. But as it warmed up and my ears adjusted, I began to experience the micro-dynamics I had read about. New detail started to appear from old recordings. Fresh textures started to show themselves. Voices lost their harsh sibilance taking on a clean solidity, the intake of breath could be heard between phrases. Complex instrumental pieces remained coherent and individual threads of instruments could be followed.

I turned the volume up and re-evaluated my initial thoughts about sedate. There was power and authority in the music now. One of my worries had been how the Zen would handle bass lines with such low power. No problem, not only did it appear to extend further than my 100 watt solid state, it had detail and texture that was lacking in the Hafler. Steve is right the number of watts mean nothing, it's the quality of what you have that makes the difference.

The adjustable bias proved interesting. Back position was dynamic and aggressive, nice for similarly inclined recordings. Forward, was softer and more intimate; a narrower soundstage but more apparent depth and detail. A nice option to have for tailoring the sound to suit a mood or specific performer.

This amp represents my desire to return to a simpler form of musical enjoyment. I've been through the insane tweaking phases. I've poured over magazine articles, searching for clues and directions to the ultimate musical truth. I'm tired of all that now. The Zen is a simple, elegant, instrument which beautifully portrays the colors and nuances of the music I like. There are better amplifiers out there no doubt but they are beyond my reach. This one is accessible, enjoyable and will keep me happy for a long time to come.

Graham J Miles

Copyright Graham Miles April 1999

 

 

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