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12/04/22 at 01:09:18 




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ZMA First Impressions (Read 535 times)
Steve Deckert
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If the 1st watt
sucks why continue?

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ZMA First Impressions
09/22/22 at 16:40:46
 


Quote:
Hi Steve,

I got my Zen Mystery Amp in January.  I have an eclectic mix of speakers and amps but no speakers that were the right match for the ZMA.  My MBLs were way too hungry; I built a pair of Linkwitz LX521 (very special speakers) which need 5 dedicated channels a side so not a ZMA match; I built a pair of wonderful open baffles with the Cube F10 Neo full ranger and a 15” woofer in a slot loaded open baffle (lovely speaker, killer midrange), the ZMA was good but still not really enough power; I have Raal SR1a headphones which need a solid 100 watts -those sounded great with the ZMA but ran out of steam; then I got Maggie 3.7i’s which are among my all time favorite speakers but need gobs of tight gripping solid state watts -no shot for the ZMA; finally I found the perfect match….

I had the great pleasure of visiting Oswald Mills Audio (OMA) studio in Brooklyn and hearing all the wonderful artisanal gear -much in the similar craftsman audio style of Decware.  I absolutely loved it, but it’s stratospheric priced.  A couple of weeks ago I found a used pair of OMA Minis, just the model I wanted, and bought them on the spot.  I first tried them with my conrad-johnson ART300s, KT150 based 300 watt monsters.  Very, very good, but I wanted to try my other amps.  Next were my Audionet MAX amps, terrific solid state powerhouses.  Perfect match for the Maggie’s.    However, the revealing horns of the OMAs gave it a solid state patina, sounded good but definitely SS.    
Wednesday night I switched out the MAXes for the lovely Zen Mystery Amp.  It’s such a rare and treasured moment when you put two fine components together and on first listen you just know it’s a perfect match -music heaven.  Interestingly, the 95db OMAs played better at high volumes with the 40 watt ZMA than with the 300 watt ART300.  The cj’s are phenomenal amps, but the ZMA is a perfect match with these odd and incredible OMA Minis.  It is Zen!

Bravo Steve.  I’m a serious audiophile and this amp is something special.  

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tempest62
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Re: ZMA First Impressions
Reply #1 - 09/22/22 at 22:26:36
 
Quite a nice review from a very appreciative customer on a masterful amp.

The ZMA and the Torii were the only two on my list after buying and then selling my 1st Decware amp. It was very close between the two.

Brad

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Carlsbad
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Re: ZMA First Impressions
Reply #2 - 11/04/22 at 12:20:13
 
My review:

I've had my ZMA for about 6 months now.  I bought it to replace an SE34I.5 (Rachel).  I was very happy with Rachel but a friend suggested the ZMA will outperform. I'm a believer in less is more.  Touch the signal as little as possible.  Keep the amplifier simple.  Of course Rachel does that.  But the ZMA does it too and the upgraded power supply just makes it sing.

Before Rachel I had an Ayon Spark Delta--a 6c33c amp that retails at close to twice what the ZMA does.  But is is way too complicated.  I was hoping to recreate the 6c33c sound that my buddy has with his highly modded Almaro, but the Ayon lost most of the tube magic as it overprocessed the signal.

Before that I dipped my toes into the tube world with a Sophia Baby amp. Sophia is a great company and I'd like to hear some of their better amps. I was impressed with the Baby, used on ebay for $500, and weighing 14 lbs.  It drove my 140 lb speakers much better than the behemoth solid state amps I had used before.  But I found Decware.

My system is built around a pair of Tekton Encore speakers.  Tekton is an underappreciated gem of a speaker.  The company is run by a mad scientist (somewhat like Decware).  But the leader at Tekton has made a few enemies along the way with his claims that his speakers are better than the $20,000 or even $50,000 speakers that people are putting in high end systems.  Never mind that his claims may be true, it isn't going to make you any friends who are playing in that high end speaker playground.  So they get bashed a lot of forums by people that have never heard them.  They are all about the sound, no $5000 polished wood cabinet on top of a $2000 set of drivers.  Simple painted boxes designed around the sound, not around looks. Enough about Tekton, lets just say they are very efficient, have wonderful midrange, and are a great match for a tube amp, escpecially Decware.  

So after I got Rachel, and even moreso with the ZMA, I realized my digital system that I was feeding it with was not as good as I wanted.  With a truly fine, resolving amplifier, weaknesses in the rest of your system are revealed.  I upgraded my DAC twice, I went to a streamer.  I finally understood some of the subtlties of streaming and addressed them.  Now everything is sounding superb.

Almost as soon as I got the ZMA I started looking for tube upgrades. that is just my nature. But I was impressed right off the bat with the ZMA stock tubes.  I will say for the first hour I thought maybe I liked Rachel better.  But that was just what I was used to.  After a day or two of critical listening, I listed Rachel for sale, and sold her in an hour for what I paid for her.  That is how it is with Decware.  High demand for a quality product.  So it took me a while to research tubes and it was sounding really really good, so I wasn't in a hurry.  From the beginning I was very impressed by the midrange.  Vocals and Saxophone are right there in the room with me.  I find myself making excuses to stay in the sweet spot.  I'd be writing this review from my listening chair but I'm visiting my son this weekend and so I'm up an hour before him and dang, no quality sound system.  

I tried several tubes in the input and driver locations with no improvement until I bought adapters and went to the WE396--which has been a favorite tube of mine in the Sophia Baby.  I'll probably stick with those although I may try a pair of Amperex PQ which is a highly regarded and epensive tube.

In the power tube position, I thought surely there were upgrades available for the through them.  I tried Gold Lion KT66s.  Another flavor, not much change.  I tried TS 7027A, nice.   I liked them better.  I tried Mullard EL34, find them a bit bland. Then I tried Tungsol 7581A, I liked those a lot and listened to them for the last several months.  But all along the tube journey, I was upgrading my digital system, so sometimes it was hard to know what was sounding better, the new tubes or the new equipment.

So recently I finished my digitial upgrades and decided it was time to roll through my tube collection again.  The last tube I tried was the Tungsol KT66 that was supplied with the amp,  I considered this to be a "cost effective" tube that Decware could buy in quantities and supply with the amp, clearly a tube that any advanced listener would upgrade immediately so I didn't expect much from it.  I put it in and sat at my computer.  I use roon so I choose songs from my laptop while I'm also surfing, shopping, and researching on the internet.  Several times I found myself looking up while I listened.  The music (songs I was very familiar with) was jumping out at me in the room. The great midrange and wonderful highs that I had been immediately impressed with when I got the ZMA were now enhanced by the digital upgrades and Damn, it does sound fine.  The TS KT66s are now my favorite tubes.  In a way it makes sense since Steve did build the amp around this set of power tubes.  If I can't ever find a tube I like better than the TS KT66, I'll be a happy listener.  I haven't mentioned the bass. I love the midrange but I don't ignore the bass.  The TS KT66 gets it just right.  Not boomy, it is tight and strong.  Every song is properly complimented by the perfect amount of bass.

I'm going to try a few more tubes.  Moving into NOS area.  I'm going to try some 807s, some sylvania 5933s, and some 6L6GCs, probably GE on the latter.  I toyed with the idea of 350Bs but nobody seems to have tried them and they probably need more heater current than the ZMA is designed to provide.

In summary, the amp sounds great.  I'm a modder so I've already done some mods but I'm not going to discuss them since I don't want to give the impression that the amp needs work.  It is great out of the box.  I'll probably keep tweeking though.  And I'll keep swapping tubes in and out.  To me, it isn't a destination, it's a journey but the ZMA is a wonderful place along the way and my efforts to upgrade are moving elsewhere for a while.  

Decware enthusiasts can feel free to message me any questions they may have about my ZMA.  

Jerry Stephenson
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Decware ZMA w/ 25th mods, input selector switch
Chord Dave DAC with M-scaler
Innuos Zenith Mk3 streamer fed by EtherRegen
Tekton Encore Speakers
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CAJames
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Re: ZMA First Impressions
Reply #3 - 11/05/22 at 16:03:53
 
Quote:
Posted by: Carlsbad      Posted on: Yesterday at 12:20:13

...I realized my digital system that I was feeding it with was not as good as I wanted...


Firstly, very nice review. Even though I'm at the opposite end of the power spectrum from a ZMA I appreciate that Decware is a big enough tent for all of us.

And second, your comment about your front end really resonates with me. In my case my (pretty nice) digital was plenty good enough for my well regarded Pass amps and Totem speakers but once I got my UFOs and Omegas I realized I needed more. When I first discovered Decware I'll admit that my reaction to Steve's claim that his amps "will never be the weak link in your system" was a bit of "yeah, right." But now I'm a true believer.
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[FOOBAR2000 | Jay's CDT2 MRK3] -> Denafrips Terminator 2 + Gaia
Sumiko Pearwood -> Mapleknoll Athena -> Luxman SUT -> Maple-tree Phono 3E
Woo WA22 -> 2x SE84UFOs (anniversary mods, balanced-differential)
Omega SAM , Hifiman Arya, Senn HD-650
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Carlsbad
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Posts: 135
Re: ZMA First Impressions
Reply #4 - 11/05/22 at 23:03:20
 
CAJames,
I wish it was easier to ship amps.  I'd like to trade amps with you for a week.  I think I've posted that I bought both my Decware amps on the used market--not good with waitlists or even lines in the supermarket.  

I'll be honest, if the used am I had found had been an SE84UFO I would have bought it as well, and I'm pretty sure I would be just as happy with it.

My DAC serving as a preamp is currently as I am typing this attenuating -46dB and about the loudest I listen to it is is -37dB.  I really don't need the power.  Like Steve says, the first watt better not suck.

Jerry
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Decware ZMA w/ 25th mods, input selector switch
Chord Dave DAC with M-scaler
Innuos Zenith Mk3 streamer fed by EtherRegen
Tekton Encore Speakers
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