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ZMA REVIEW (Read 219 times)
Steve Deckert
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If the 1st watt
sucks why continue?

Posts: 4595
ZMA REVIEW
05/26/20 at 18:49:36
 

Quote:
Steve,  My review:

Many years ago when such things still existed, I went to a stereo store in downtown Portland. The helpful salesman wanted to demo his finest system. I canít recall the speakers but I remember clearly that the amplification was Mark Levinson. When the music started I was startled by the crisp rendition of detail. Every note felt as if it had been cut from a continuum with a scalpel and presented individually under a harsh interrogation light. In short, the system was the embodiment of what HI-FI enthusiasts love to brag about. But I found myself repulsed. Why would anyone pay so much to obtain something so untrue to music? A more modern comparison might be to over sharpened digital photos. At a quick glance they are impressively crisp and eye catching. But a momentís contemplation reveals a fundamental wrongness of the images. They are unnatural, over cooked, and untrue to reality.

Obviously thereís a healthy market for searing treble and chest thumping bass. Plenty of audio companies have built their reputations on that. Then there are other audio companies that actually care about reproducing music as it is meant to be heard. I put the Decware company firmly in that category. Having received my custom configured Mystery amp just a month ago Iím ready now to discuss what Iím hearing. Steve Deckert made it clear that I should give it two hundred hours of break-in time before coming to any firm conclusions. Frankly, I thought it sounded great from when I first plugged it in even without half an hour of warm up. But I have now given it the break-in and am ready to discuss it in depth.

We often hear of tube amplifiers described as throwing a coating of syrupy harmonic sweetness over the music. Supposedly this is due to high harmonic distortion which shaves off any dissonant spikes and makes everything soft and tranquilizing, the audio equivalent of vaseline on a lens. Deckert does not try to hide his distortion numbers. He actually has a video showing him adjusting an amp and giving a close up of a screen shot of the harmonic distortion graph. Indeed it is much higher than we see for most solid state amps. Yet, as Steve points out, the highest distortion peak is still some 48 db below the fundamental. Yet there are SS amps that yield distortion 100 db below. So how does this work out in listening? Iíll tell you.

After a couple of weeks of burn in, I decided to put on a vinyl recording of Mozartís Magic Flute opera. It is one that I have not listened to in decades. It did not sound very good. When it came to the ďQueen of the NightĒ aria which famously has the highest musical note ever written for soprano, the sound was shrill and harsh. ďMy goodness,Ē I thought. ďIs there something wrong with my brand new amp? Has it gone the way of Mark Levinson? Tube amps are not supposed to sound like this.Ē Then it struck me, ďMaybe itís the recording.Ē I checked and the cover of the box set proudly announced that it was an ďall digitalĒ recording. The date was 1980. Whoa! Thatís early digital, back before they had worked the kinks out of digital production. So I put on an alternate version of the Magic Flute, an all analog recording from 1965. What a difference! The soprano was now sweetly musical, not at all harsh or strident. My point is that the Mystery amp did not throw any sort of audio syrup over a truly bad recording. It sounded just as bad as it was. On the other hand, the good recording sounded wonderful. So as far as Iím concerned any fears about harmonic veiling are unfounded. Graphs most certainly do not tell us everything about sound.

The best word I can use to describe the Mystery ampís reproduction of music is naturalness. I donít sense exaggeration or dulling anywhere on the musical spectrum. It is a naturalness that does not draw attention to itself as a spectacular electronic component. Rather attention goes to the music it is reproducing. Having just replaced a fairly inexpensive Parasound amp which was temporarily in my system, the Decware amp eliminated a harsh, shoutiness of the treble which had been my main objection. But it did not do this at the expense of dulling the treble or veiling anything else. In addition, the soundstage is broad. Iím hearing things going on at the edges of the sound stage that I had not noticed before.

To those of you are bowled over by spectacularly low distortion measurements, I remind you of the Halcro company from a few years back whose amps had the lowest distortion figures ever measured by Stereophile which raved over them. Where is Halcro now? They went out of business a few years ago and have only recently been revived by another owner. Apparently they were not the godsend to audio that the figures promised. They didnít sound as good as they measured. After the initial flurry of interest, audiophiles stopped buying them. Will the new company fix whatever was wrong before? Maybe, but my guess is that if they do, the distortion figures will also rise.

I propose that the Decware Mystery amp sounds way better than its distortion figures might indicate. The proof is in the listening. Cymbals, high trumpet notes, soprano voice, come through with startling power. Thatís how such things are in real life. Thatís how they are with the Mystery amp in my system. Thereís no softening at all. As for the bass, that also comes through loud and clear whenever there is any in the music. Nothing is missing. Nothing is diminished. Nothing is exaggerated. This is my final amplifier purchase.  

-Laszlo

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lazb
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Posts: 239
Re: ZMA REVIEW
Reply #1 - 05/26/20 at 18:58:41
 
YEP!
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HockessinKid
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Posts: 437
Re: ZMA REVIEW
Reply #2 - 05/26/20 at 22:16:25
 
YEP+. Even better with the 25th Anniversary modifications. It's my honey.

HK
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Nottingham Interspace TT w/ Dynavector 20x2LO cart + Modwright PH 9.0 phono pre > ZROCK2-25th OR Modwright modified Cambridge CNX V2 > CSP3-25th preamp > ZMA-25th amp > PI Audio Group UberBUSS PC > Omega SAHO XRS or Caintuck Audio Lii 15 speakers > various cables.
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