Zen SE84C Review


Reviewed by: bill , Audio Enthusiast, from Lambertville NJ

Product Model Year:
2000

Summary:
Look, just call Steve Deckert and buy one. You'll be thrilled.

You're reading this so I'm assuming you know that you are considering a really flea-powered amp putting out something like 1.8 watts a side. This is according to "measurements" and when it comes to measurements the devil truly is in the details. I prefer to think of the Zen's power in terms of real fleas, which have enormous jumping power for their size -- if humans had proportional leg strength we'd all be able to dunk from half-court from a standing start.

I got the Zen and hooked it up to a pair of NHT Super Zeros. These things are, I would guess, about average efficiency, something like 86 dB maybe. We had some great times. But it was just one of those things, i.e. the sound of one hand clipping. It is a sad thing when you're listening to Billie Holiday and it's sounding oh so forties and oh so cool and she reaches back to throw you a high hard one and suddenly her voice shatters and you're back in Kansas and out of metaphors...

I tried my daughter's Radio Shack LX4s ( I think) with the Linaeum tweeter. This was a speaker I can honestly say I despised. On my daughter's Yamaha receiver it sounded like a one-note boom box with a hot high end and a sour midrange.

I was shocked when I hooked it up to the Zen. It was now really pleasant, with some rather nice midbass. And it would play some stuff I was expecting to have trouble with without strain. The new Steely Dan, for instance, sounded really good at a pretty loud level. And that Linaeum tweeter really shone. But still, there was clipping in unexpected places.

I want to emphasize that clipping or no clipping I was quite happy with the Zen. I can live with limitations. The basic sound I was getting made my heart sing.

I read on the Web that the Norh speakers might be a good match, so I ordered the 5.1s. BTW the Norh website is really interesting. It took a month to get these, and it's a good speaker, but not efficient enough for the Zen.

Undaunted...

I was thinking maybe a pair of used Klipsch Heresys or something so I was trolling Audiogon when I noticed an ad for something called The Horn, a single full-range driver mounted in a (you guessed!) horn enclosure. I took a look at the website (http://www.thehornshoppe.com).

I called Ed Schilling, the proprietor, and ordered a pair (with the Fostex drivers, a $175 upgrade). 700 bucks plus shipping, and I had my fingers crossed.

Got 'em a week or so later, plopped 'em in the corners as recommended, and this was da bomb!

Oh boy does this combo do it, ever. Now I was getting an idea what this little Zen was capable of. Suddenly there's a stage on which one, or some, or lots of musicians strut their stuff. Bass? It's beautiful -- melodic and lively. No it won't palpate your innards with a 16 cycle pedal point but so what? It will play a double bass that really sounds like a double bass and that's more than good enough for me.

I'm not verbally gifted enough to describe the Zen's sonic character, but I am reminded of something I saw on the 47 Labs website. The designer says something to the effect that most amps present a very detailed outline of the musical note, but what's in the middle of the note gets lost. Maybe I'm kidding myself, but I think I know what he means and I think the Zen gets that middle right, big time. I was listening to some classical guitar the other night and so help me, it sounded like the guitar itself was alive.

One more audiophile-type comment and I'll let you go. It concerns dynamics. Once I got the Horns I realized how unbelievably dynamic the Zen sounds. As in.... you're playing something soft and suddenly there's a loud sound that just jolts you. I have a 200 watt SS system that will play lease-breaking loud but somehow it just doesn't do this dynamic trick. I was really puzzled. How can the Zen do this with so little power? I asked Steve Deckert and he sounded as though he's heard this one a few times before. He feels it's due to the harmonic integrity of the amp. I feel that it's some kind of voodoo.

So get one. Heck, get two if you want. This thing is wonderful, and crazy cheap for what you get. Do yourself a favor: call Mr. Deckert and talk to him.

Strengths:
Read on...

Weaknesses:
You need efficient speakers.

 

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