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Best approach to riding the gain transparently (Read 5636 times)
Dominick
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Best approach to riding the gain transparently
10/23/18 at 19:57:24
 
After reading about the 25th anniversary mod for the CSP3,  I have been on the fence on which is the best way to increase the gain transparently.  We currently have the ZTPRE, ZSTAGE, CSP3, and the Ultra at our disposal in the Decware line up for increased gain, in addition to the ZBIT.  

From a purist approach, what do you feel would be the best way to increase the gain while having the maximum amount of voltage at your disposal?  

While the ZTPRE puts out more gain than the CSP3, I am wondering how closely it will compare with the 25th anniversary mod to the CSP3, while being dead quiet and hum free.

I am currently in the market for Decware amp, and I have narrowed it down to either ZMA or the 25th Zen.  I almost feel that this ZMA probably does not need a preamp, but the 25th anniversary is an amp would highly benefit from one while  running my ERR speakers .

I currently run the Decware ERR speakers fed by a ZSTAGE, and will be buying a DAC with balanced XLR outputesnto feed a ZBIT in the near future.  

While I realize that there are a lot of other factors that will come into play such as cabling, clean power, the DAC’s voltage outputs, etc, etc;  I am just looking for some input on the best approach.

In terms of price, The 25th anniversary CSP3 is close to the ZTPRE, just a different approach on how STEVE designed the two pieces.

Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
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will
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #1 - 10/23/18 at 21:07:16
 
Hey Dom,

Maybe I have missed something, but with lowish power amps, I am not sure what is up with the idea that a pre increases volume, except when it compensates for a low voltage source. I have a Zstage to a Blue Torii in my second system, and ZBIT to CSP3 to a Torii MKIV in my main setup.

I do use DACs that have 2v+ output, and I have not tried the SE84 amps. With Toriis, SE34, and a Taboo I tried, when raising the pre volume knob, the voltage goes up before the amp, increasing the proportion of sonic qualities and influence the CSP3, Zstage, or Zbit convey. But when the amp is near clipping volume, raising the pre pot requires lowering the pot on the amp to avoid clipping. In other words, when the amp is being pushed to its limits, it does not really seem to matter if it is the amp gain pushing it to that point, or the pre...the clipping point seems to stay close to the same volume output.

Now for gain riding, for adjusting the balance of the specific sound qualities of a pre with those of an amp, I really like a good pre.

As to purest...don't know on that. I go more for the sound of the specific piece. In theory, you are pretty good with a Zstage in terms of transparency, but I hear it. A ZBIT, a few less parts, but I hear it also. And the other pres.... more parts....But then what about the specific parts used and the core design. The CSP3 25th mod version, Steve added parts compared to the stock CSP3, but finds the sound more transparent and revealing. This has been my experience too with my modifications. Many parts are definitely more transparent than others, some more musical, and some both. But how they work together is at least as important as the parts quality in terms of musicality and a sense of transparency. This notably complicates how to look at the purest theory for me.

The OTL lucidity potential of the CSP3 is a real fav of mine, and I do like to push it into higher voltages to pull that lucid zone more fully. The ZBIT is great too, but voltage is limited to the DAC balanced output if I understand it correctly, though typically balanced out is higher than RCAs out. You know the Zstage sound with its voltage increase range...I have not heard the others, so can't comment on them. Personally, if I had to narrow down to one I have used, it would probably be my modded CSP3...but I love the combo of the ZBIT with it.
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Lon
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #2 - 10/23/18 at 22:39:16
 
I agree with Will's general statement. "Perceived" volume can go up with a pre and a lower voltage output source--there's potentially more heft and body to the sound which can come across as "more power." Interestingly the 25th Anniversary SE84 mods produce these same qualities of the sound and do bring a sense of far greater power to the amp than there actually is.

I use BOTH a ZTPRE and a CSP3-25 in my system, as well as a ZROCK2. (I went from struggling to do without a preamp to using multiple!) If I had to do without one of the two preamps it would be the ZTPRE I keep, though I would then have to use one of my Taboo amps as a substitute for the headphone output of the CSP3-25. The ZTPRE just seems to get out of the way even more than the CSP3-25 does, it is very transparent and clear and open, and yet you do have plenty of gain to play around with into the amp. Especially if you have balanced sources (I'm using three) the ZTPRE is a great choice for flexibility and clarity and gain-riding.

Though the CSP3-25 that I have does add a bit of 25th Anniversary magic to the sound of the already 25th Anniversary mono blocks I have. But in my case it's icing on a cake that may even be too sweet with that icing, I already have the mods in place. If you go with one of the amps that does not have the Anniversary mods, the CSP3-25 may be a nice dollop of the magic.

Personally I haven't heard the ZMA, but was under the spell of the Toriis for a number of years, and suddenly being exposed to the Zen SET amps I became addicted to the special sound these have. If your speakers can handle the low power, I would invite you to try the Zen amps. The 25th Anniversary SE84UFO3s that I have truly amaze me every day. I'm so glad I put in that order!
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busterfree
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #3 - 10/24/18 at 02:42:34
 
Quote:
Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.


If I had ERRs and was looking for an amp. I would start with ZMA over the SE84UFO25. I would then get the DAC and ZBIT (assuming your budget can handle all that).

I would try to live with that for a while to see how everything played out.

This is just my $0.02. I have not heard the ERR or ZMA. I’m a two watt amp fan myself and an apartment dweller.

Smiley
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Dominick
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #4 - 10/24/18 at 14:48:34
 
Will, Lon, and Busterfree...thank you all for you input and your detailed statements.  Sine I don’t have a Decware amp yet, my only reference was at Decfest.  We started off with a lot of listening from the 25th Zen before moving over to the ZMA.  Both were fed by the ZTPRE.

There was definitely a “perceived” volume increase with the Zen when playing around with the ZBIT.  I guess with running more efficient  speakers, like with the DNA2, The Zen doesnt run out of steam before clipping, as quick as it would with less efficient speakers like my ERR speakers.  

Both amps were impressive, but it seems like that at the same volume listening level,  maybe somewhere in the low to mid 80 dB range,  the Zen amp sounded just a bit more musical to me.  I also do realize that I was in a fully treated room and the soundstage was perfect.  My new listening space will not be as perfect as Steve’s, so I have be mindful of that In making decisions on what Decware gear I buy.

Next year I will be renovating my house and adding a music/home theater room.  With the dimensions of the space, the need for the added headroom in that space would be well deserved running the ZMA.  If it was just a listening room for myself, the 25th Zen would be fine, but as a home theater room, with having company, the ZMA would be the better fit.  

I had originally bought my ZSTAGE several years ago to help with the low-voltage input being fed from my CD player, and streaming playlists through my iPhone. The added gain worked wonders.

There is a part of me that wants to give the 25th Zen a try, but I do realize that it may not work to my liking in the new space for home theater.  BUT.....if I run it mono and pick up a second Zen  amp down the line, then I think the sound would be magical due to the SET topography.
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Lon
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #5 - 10/24/18 at 15:29:38
 
Seems like a good plan. And in fact if you don't need multiple sources you may want to consider using your ZSTAGE with a ZBIT and a ZROCK2. I haven't connected up my ERRs in 3 years, but when I was using them what they really needed (I was using a Torii Mk II) was a ZROCK2, which hadn't been "invented" yet! I think that if your room isn't too large a SE84UFO25 and a ZROCK2, ZSTAGE and ZBIT there would be great sound from the ERRs.
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will
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #6 - 10/24/18 at 17:49:52
 
Yes, biggish rooms seem a lot about the speaker/amp combination with low power. And trying to relate your memories of the feeling of power from the 25th Zen compared to the modded ZMA, for a room that is not yet made....seems to get a little tricky!?


I am not sure just how to calculate my room as it has a lot of changes in spaces, walls, ceilings, and partially open segues into other spaces. I guess functionally it may be 450-500 sq ft with 8.5 ceilings on average. With HR-1s (92.5 dB), a Rachel (either with Zstage or CSP3) just did not have enough power for the listening levels we like with a lot for movies, but also many CDs lost headroom or tended to clip.

I can run my Torii MKIV near clipping at times, though this seems contributed to by the higher voltage output I seem to be preferring just now from the ZBIT and CSP3 together, and this is getting better with modification fine-tuning. Also modifications increasing clarity, spaciousness, articulation, and density have made the Torii/CSP3 feel/act more powerful, though can't say how this might compare to the 25th Anniversary Zen. In this particular setup the Torii IV has enough power, but not much excess for quieter DVDs or CDs played at room filling listening levels we tend to like with serious listening.

Having tried a number of Decware amps (though not a 25th Zen) with my HR-1s and MG944s (94dB), I found I don't like the edge of running out of headroom. So to go lower power in this room, with my sources, I would need more efficient speakers, which has been quite tempting at times. If my HR-1s were not sounding so great, making some open baffles would be more seductive, but the HR-1s as set up are amazing...So is the ZBIT/CSP3/Torii...sounding quite nimble, lucid, powerful and gorgeous to me. So I stick with what I have.

Though I don't do much tube exploration while modding, this conversation reminds me how much I liked the Torii because of lots of adjustability with tubes and settings. In more obvious ways, with all its tubes and settings, you really can make a Torii sound like several different amps. And more subtle refinements can give pretty countless variations....So I got to thinking....The ZMA has a nice variety of tubes for tuning. If you found you feel more comfortable with the power of the modded ZMA, and found it only a little less musical than the 25th Zen, seems likely one could close that gap to tastes with tuning choices...tubes, vibration control, cables......

As you heard at Decfest, each...the Zstage, CSP3, ZTPRE, and ZBIT, depending on settings, adjust space, clarity, weight, and density in varied ways sound-wise...variations on these themes. And though there is a core signature for each, the more that can be changed, the more flexibility in tuning choices. So I think of these in terms of the sound first; then sound adjustability with tubes, settings, etc; and options for input and output needs. Sounds like your Zstage is well used now, and it sounds like you liked the ZBIT. I have not heard the ZROCK2 so can't comment there, but the Zstage and ZBIT I like, especially with the right tube in the Zstage...Seems like these could be a good start with a new amp and DAC....lots of new things....then see what might be a best next step after all that is in place and settled.


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Archie
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #7 - 10/24/18 at 18:13:26
 
I have a huge, voluminous room (about 18X31) with very high vaulted ceilings and I run a ZMA into HR1s.  While I can play it loud, I often would like more volume.  I too am intrigued by the 25th Zen but I know I'd never have nearly enough volume to fill my room with one.  A lot can depend on the recording levels but even with the loudest recordings I'd come up short with only 2 Watts.
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Dominick
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #8 - 10/25/18 at 13:03:17
 
Lon.... I can remember back years ago reading all of your  posts when you had your ERR’s hooked up to the ToriI MKIV,  and you really enjoyed this sound  and combination.   I personally love the sound of the radial speakers, so I think going forward I would probably pick up the HR-1 down the line.    With that being said, I feel that the 25th anniversary’s  Zen may just run out of steam in stereo mode, but in mono would be fine.  

I was talking to lonely Ravyn last night and he brought up a good point indicating that if the home theater will not be used all of the time, that I may be better served running my home theater off of my older Yamaha AV receiver, and just use the 25th for musical enjoyment and listening.   That is definitely an option.

Will... I completely agree and do love what the ZBIT offers  when connected to a higher voltage output DAC with XLR’s.  There’s one thing that I try not to do, and that is to spend valuable money twice.

So that sacrifice is buying the ZMA  knowing that I will have the head room available, as opposed to saving money upfront and going with the 25th anniversary Zen; realizing it may not be exactly what I would expect it to do.  The trade off is sacrificing a bit of musicality for the extra power; but with some tube rolling, that gap may get closer to the point where I would be happy  :)
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Lon
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #9 - 10/25/18 at 13:28:16
 
One correction: it was the Torii Mk III, not IV, that I was using with the ERRs. The HR-1s are the better speaker (and should be) -- offering most of the radial qualities of the ERR and a much fuller sound when the material needs it.

Yes, the power dilemma. As much as I love the HR-1s, if I did not have enough volume in may conventional room rather than going back to a Torii or getting a ZMA I would move to DNA2 and keep the 25th Anniversary mono blocks. The mods make these amplifiers so much more alive and spacious and dimensional, I couldn't go back. And this is especially evident with video content. Surround sound with two speakers in many ways. And after months of SET cohesiveness and naturalness I don't want to go back to push pull.

In my case I have an unconventional room and need the radial dispersion which magically makes two channels in one half of a large space  image and balance properly. It is magical. Johnny Slate had his speakers over to see how they would interact with the Monoblocks. When he was off axis he could not tell if the speaker furthest away was playing. Not so with the HR-1. I need the HR-1 or ERR and luckily don't really need more efficient speakers, though I bet they would sound amazing.
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Archie
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #10 - 10/25/18 at 16:00:05
 
Quote:
With that being said, I feel that the 25th anniversary’s  Zen may just run out of steam in stereo mode, but in mono would be fine.  


I can't compare the Anniversary ZMA to the Anniversary Zen but on it's own the A-ZMA is a better amp than the stock ZMA.  I don't know if the A-Zen in mono would even approach the A-ZMA for loudness and the cost starts to get equivalent.

Quote:
The trade off is sacrificing a bit of musicality for the extra power;


This may not be true.  I can't get a clear idea of what Steve thinks between the two -- maybe a slight edge to the A-Zen but if so, not much?
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Lonely Raven
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #11 - 10/25/18 at 16:32:49
 
I spent some quality time with both the 25th Zen and 25th modded ZMA - I'm glad to hear the ZMA is closer to the sound of the 25th Zen, but with horsepower! The 25th Anniversary amp however, is still more engaging, closer to the music if that makes sense. All the mods and single ended nature of the Zen just simply draws you in, somewhat like the venerable OTL (but that amp is still in a whole nother league).  I feel that the ZMA, being push-pull will never be as close to the music as the Zen. The ZMA does the consistency and horsepower, and now with more micro-detail...but I just don't think it's possible for it to get as "close to the music" as the little Zen is.
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #12 - 10/25/18 at 18:27:18
 
Lonely Raven wrote on 10/25/18 at 16:32:49:
The 25th Anniversary amp however, is still more engaging, closer to the music if that makes sense. I feel that the ZMA, being push-pull will never be as close to the music as the Zen. The ZMA does the consistency and horsepower, and now with more micro-detail...but I just don't think it's possible for it to get as "close to the music" as the little Zen is.

Amen. That echoes what I said above, that my experience with the push-pull (for a long time!) leads me to the same conclusion: I'm closer to he music with the single-ended amps, and never closer than with the 25th Anniversary Monoblocks. I have no intention of going back to push-pull.
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Dominick
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #13 - 10/26/18 at 11:40:36
 
Lon...with you running the 25th monoblocks and the HR-1 being fed by the ZTPRE and the ZBIT, do you feel the you are able to enjoy your music beyond normal listening levels?    

My ERR’s and your HR-1’s are similar in efficiency ( though I do realize they are far apart in sound).  My current listening space  is a room with 14 ft vaulted ceilings, with an open floor plan that dumps into a kitchen.  

Small request....Would you be able to take a measured dB reading of your listening level in your room before you start to clip?  I remember at Decfest listening in the 84-86 range, and was very pleased.  But I think that I took that reading when the ZMA was connected.

I’m just trying to get a better sense of the headroom that I will require to enjoy music if I have company over.  My future build room will be more square and treated, so if I can be happy now, it will be euphoric later.

While the ZMA is a no brainer in terms of headroom, I am trying to stay within the SET topology if possible.   If a 25th Zen in stereo or mono is cutting it close, the maybe a Rachel in stereo mono would be ideal.  

Does anyone know if Steve plans on doing a 25th mod for the Rachel?  

Thanks,
Dominick
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Lon
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #14 - 10/26/18 at 12:53:41
 
I don't have a way to measure listening levels in my home. No device, no smart phone with an app. I CAN listen to music at louder levels than I'd like though it depends on the mastering (compression, "loudness war" items far less so)--but that was true even with my Torii Mk III, a lot of music these days is hard for me to enjoy at loud volumes, certainly not louder than my usual listening levels. I'm an old fart and when I have company over I don't think we're playing music as loud as younger folk do. That said I had a younger Decware user over here last month, Johnny Slate, and we listened with both my speakers and his and were able to get quite loud without distortion, I don't think either of us would want it louder, certainly couldn't converse comfortably if we had.

Where I run out of steam is with video content, DVR or more often DVD and Blu-ray because these are mixed with huge amounts of low frequency energy and that spawns distortion earlier than musical content does.

I'm not too sure that the ERR and the HR-1 are that similar in efficiency. It may depend when yours were built. I think the HR-1 that I have are 1 to 1.5 db more efficient than the ERR I have, and that amount of efficiency/inefficiency is very noticeable with volume before distortion.

I think it's a valid concern to worry about headroom with the Zen amps and the ERR. When I last used a Zean amp and the ERR it was a C amp and in this very same room, before I moved here, when it was my wife, then girlfriend's home, and I replaced her Sony amp and speakers with the C and ERR. This is a big room (about 30 x 25 and a half wall goes into a kitchen and there are three rooms that come off the rear and two have no doors--don't ask) and the stereo is located in one half of it; the radial sound allows that to happen. We could listen at normal levels. Party levels couldn't happen. In a smaller room they could. So really I think room size is a big factor. I think a 12 x 15 or so no problem, larger, increasing problem.
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Dominick
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #15 - 10/26/18 at 14:22:12
 
Lon...  I truly appreciate your input.    If you’re saying that you can listen to music at normal listening levels in your room, than I trust your ears, even with someone younger.  

I completely understand that with video content there would definitely be a need for the added headroom and a Zen amp would probably not cut it.  

My ERR speakers were built right before the ERRx were released.    I had a nice conversation with Ziggi at Decfest and he feels that my speakers may be 1dB more efficient than what was originally posted , maybe right in line with the first generation release ERRx.   If that’s the case, than I would be looking at like 93 dB.  

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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #16 - 10/26/18 at 14:26:45
 
Hey Dominic,   to add to what Lon was saying,   room size and boundaries near the speakers are going to be a big part of the equation.  Lon's big open room (which sounds somewhat similar to yours) eats up sound compared to a room with walls at somewhat standard spacing (like mine) where the speakers all see a more even or uniform boundary.
 I did feel like there was plenty of vol. for pleasant and what I would call critical listening in Lon's system.  I'm not sure (as he already alluded) that there was much more to give though,  but understandably, at the end of the day we are talking about  ~3watts into clipping and a set of speakers that are ~93db sensitive.   Still,  I was very impressed and in the end  it was/is enough for enjoyable listening.
 I will say that I think one of the key's to Lon's system is his use of the ZRock.  I listened to his speakers with & without it.   It was a necessity.  In his room (due to the uniqueness of the open space) it swallows bass in the sense that his room is not going to reinforce the bass at all and with those speakers,  without the ZRock,  I felt a lot was missing.   One the flip side,  when we plugged my Zu's up,  There was bass a plenty and the ZRock was not needed at all (at least to my ears,   Lon may have wanted the treble reduced a touch).   However,  as Lon also mentioned,  due to his room setup and speaker placement (with the lft. speaker next to a wall and the rt. speaker in the open) My Zu's were horribly off balance if you were not in the 'sweetspot.   The HR-1s did not exhibit this at all and the sweet spot was huge and wide and worked perfectly for his non-symmetrical layout.   By far the best setup for his layout,  and with the ZRock it all really worked extremely well.  More so than I would have though just by looking and not listening!
 So,  I guess a lot comes down to your preferred listening volume and if you ever like to 'turn it up'.  Unfortunately with your ERR's and the 25th,..  you just won't be able to 'turn it up'  however listening at reasonable and comfortable level will most likely be Divine!  If you want to cook in the kitchen and have music loud enough to be enjoyable while doing it,  you probably will need more power.  
  I would also seriously take a look at a ZRock,  especially if you are able to feed the amp the voltage necessary to drive it to clipping with gear you already have!  It really is pretty amazing how it will fill in the bass in an open floor plan like you and Lon have,  esp. with those speakers.
  I did end up purchasing a Z25th amp and the wait is killing me slowly,.  hopefully I'll survive till it gets here,  lol

Best to you all!
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #17 - 10/26/18 at 14:58:12
 
Thanks for weighing in Johnny! Was a lot of fun having you here.

Dominick, if your speakers are 93db then they have a little more than my HR-1 which are 92.5. And my Monoblocks put out a bit more (about a third) power than the single chassis Anniversary Zen, so the ERR with a single chassis may put out as much as my HR-1.

Johnny is absolutely right that the ZROCK2 makes the difference in my system. I probably both need considerably less treble in my listening than he, and more bass than he (I own nine bass instruments!) and the ZROCK2 made the Taboo Mk IV and these Monoblocks work in my space, putting out what the Torii Mk III had as far as tonal balance possibility. That's a feat!

And I have to say that I can listen to music all over the downstairs (and even via the stairwell upstairs!) so I listen while cooking, being in one of the other rooms, etc. I have a ceiling that slopes upwards to about 15' in the front part of the room, and a 9 foot ceiling in the rest of the room. I think the rooms may be similar enough that you could expect that too.

You won't be holding any dance parties with the combo perhaps, but you should be able to wow your friends with listening and get lost in the music yourself.

I'd run any of your plans by Steve, see if he is going to work on the Rachael (from a recent email it seems he plans to upgrade most models that he can), but I won't go back to the EL34 bigger bottles again myself after experiencing the magic with the smaller bottles in the Taboo and Zen. The match of speed and density and atmosphere that these amps create have seduced me. . . .
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Re:  Best approach to riding the gain transparently
Reply #18 - 10/26/18 at 22:59:08
 
Johnny.... thanks for your input.  Yes my room is a lot like Lon’s space with an open floor plan, 14’  vaulted ceilings.  My space spills out into the kitchen with a vaulted ceiling, and a long hallway down the other end.  The radial speakers were a must for my space.  

Right now my Err’s are being power by a Solid State Yamaha A/V receiver, so there is plenty of power.  I also have a  Velodyne powered sub (10” front firing & a 12” down firing) witj a variable crossover at my disposal.  I may just use this for home theater or when a party needs some kick.

Lon....I too was captivated by the sound of the 25th anniversary Zen amp.  It was truly magical to finally hear it in person. When the time comes to order my amp next year, I will definitely run everything by STEVE before pulling the trigger. In the upcoming months  a DAC and a ZBIT will be acquired to play around with.  

Again...thanks for your detailed posts.  They were truly helpful!

Dom
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