Model No:  ZH1 - Zen Head portable headphone amp

First Impressions: April 2009    

Just want to say what a marvelous amp the Zen Head is. I've had several high end portable amps and this IMO is by some distance is the pick of the bunch. I've got around  130 hours play on the Zen at the moment and it is indistinguishable sonically from the amp straight out of the box. The soundstage with the crossfeed simply has to be heard to be believed. I have it running my ipod classic through a pair of Sennheiser HD650s with cardas upgrade and the Zen powers these juice-hungry monsters effortlessly.

The sonics are so spatial, every instrument seeming to be in the right place, that the sound never becomes fatiguing. The bass is punchy and true while the mids and highs have what I would imagine are a tube-like richness. Whatever music I play, from rock to jazz, classical and dance, the Zen delivers each with the same reassuring authority. Steve reckons the amp keeps improving for up to 400 hours. Well, I'm trying to figure out just how the sound can get any better than it is now. Truly astonishing. Maybe, I'll admit, it may not be the best amp for everyone but to these ears, and for anyone who likes their music presented with a real sense of air in it and on a big canvas, it's simply unbeatable.  


Impressions: May 2009     

Up to 300 hours now play on the Zen now and it has gone up several notches, this time more subtle and refined than the first seismic leaps from straight out of the box. The bass is tighter, more defined, the mids and the highs just seem to get lusher without losing any detail. ( Played a Leftfield track yesterday and had to look behind me because I thought someone was there).

It really seems that the Zen is pushing my HD650s to show their full potential. What is most palpable though is the ever deepening soundstage. It's got deeper but not in an unnatural way. It's becoming a more layered landscape that the music lives in, in much the same way as you would hear music from high end speakers in a home hifi. The sonics have so much room to breathe and therefore shine. There is no compression in the overall sound - that in your head sledgehammer onslaught - and this I guess is why the amp is so non-fatiguing. I've used it with my Koss Porta Pros as well and it's even given them a palpable soundstage that makes them sound like a pair of headphones ten times their price.  



Finally up to 400 hours and the improvements are there but now more subtle and refined. The sound is more dynamic and open and totally natural. It's always true and never lets you down. It may not be as clinical as some other amps on the market but it's better for that. You really ARE hearing the music as it was supposed to be and can therefore interact with it. I suppose the nearest analogy I could make is that we all like our new cars but I know that if it was a toss up between driving an anaesthetised modern Ford and getting behind the wheel of a 1970 Mustang, it would be the latter every time.

I've also started using a mini to mini headphone socket cable instead of the lineout with the amp and I have to say (at the risk of incurring the wrath of some audiophiles) that I find the sound deeper and truer.

It's been a long three years, but my personal search for an audio holy grail has finally ended. Along the way I've tried top of the range Alessandro and Grado cans and put them through the likes of the total air head, XM4,  Meier move and P-51 Mustang but I've finally settled on cardas-upgraded Sennheiser HD650 headphones and the ZH1 amp - a match truly made in heaven!

I've bought a lot of stuff in the past on the back of reviews, rankings and forum opinions but when it ultimately comes down to it you have to trust your instincts. And I think Steve Deckert's honesty in wanting to make something musically true and without any of the gizmos and 'extraneous' crap hit a chord with me. I'm glad I took that leap of faith because I've been blessed with what I consider to be the best portable amp around today. Thank you to Steve and all the team.

Mike Brennen


Rig set-up: Sennheiser HD650s; Cardas sennheiser replacement headphone cable; Qables performance lineout cable; ipod classic                                                  




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