After many hours
of listening to oodles of albums, tapes, and CD's, I've come to the
conclusion that the Zen amp is a winner. (And, interestingly
enough, that the Caver 1.0t is a fine amp in its own right).
My musical listening
tastes are quite varied and ecclectic. In any one listening session
I may listen to Zydeco music, reggae, operatic arias, folk music, punk,
and avant-garde classical music.
The Zen amp has
a smooth and lively sound with the sweetness of tubes (wonderful midrange
with lovely vocals) without the tubby bass and attenuated highs that
I associate with the Dynaco ST70, the tube amp of which I am most
familiar (having lived with one for three or four years).
facet of the Zen amp is its bias switch (to facilitate system matching
or "let's dick with the current"). At one setting, it smooths out the
soundstage--nice for them crooners and smooth jazzers. At the other
setting, guitars take on a gutsy, blusey edge, the music becomes more
aggressive, the little Zen imitates a guitar amp, sans the shortcomings
of a guitar amp for reproducing full range music. The soundstage is
wide, musical imaging is more three dimensional than the Carver 1.0t,
grain is less. The Zen amp is not perfect, but it is damn fine. It is,
in short, a winner. In an ideal world, I'd have two to use as monoblocks.
But, alas, I live in a world constrained by economic limits.
Sigh... If you have
efficient speakers (ideally, 90 or higher), you might want to give the
Zen amp a go. You do have 30 days to evaluate the amp--I took this option
very seriously and would have returned it had I not liked it. One feature
about the Zen amp that I particularily like is the gain control. It
allows me to go direct to any one of my line sources--CD, tuner, reel-to-reel,
cassette deck--without having to go through my Carver C4000 preamp;
however, I prefer the ultimate convenience of a preamp and am considering
a tube preamp to replace the Carver. Surprisingly enough, the Zen seems
to transcend the classic tube sound/classic solid state virtues and
combines a bit of each. It is a marvellous little gem of an amp. So
the music keeps on playing and my stereo kit continues on its evolution.
Allan M. Hunchuk