A U D I O... P A P E R


APRIL 2001
by Steve Deckert

ZEN

Definition:

In our implementation - Zen may be defined as an intuitive looking into the nature of things in contradistinction to the analytical or logical understanding of it.

We have used the name Zen Triode and the term Zen Designed since 1996. It is not intended to be a religious statement in any way. But, I feel it is important that you know I have a decent understanding of Christianity and Zen Buddhism, not to mention dozens of other concepts dealing with the one vs. the many. That is to say that when I named our first product the "Zen" triode amplifier it was a sincere and not intended as a buzzword, or an attempt to add credibility or pizzazz to an otherwise unknown product or company.

The magic experience of the original Zen Triode design was the Zen design process itself. Very different from the scientific approach. No calculators or scopes were used. The design evolved through a series of choices that presented themselves as options solved through intuition. The difficult part was keeping my radio dial tuned to the right channel. Many times I'd get lost in my own ideas and start wasting time. Then when I was ready to listen, new ideas would present themselves. Being a fairly new experience (Zen Design) I paid great attention to the "signs" that would confirm or deny that I was on the correct path.

This experience provokes some insane experiments and forces you to spend a lot of time in the "gray" areas of performance curves and specifications in general. There is a great amount of trust involved, or faith perhaps, that if seen to it's end is very rewarding. The success of the SE84C Zen Triode amp is pretty much testament to that.

Those engineers who are friends of mine and do not understand this enjoyable design technique give me tons of grief because they do not fully understand my methods, and have deaf ears upon being offered an explanation.

During a Zen design it is suicide to use a scope because of the basic weakness of man to believe his material eyes over his mind's eye. Seeing the scope and looking at square waves, distortion components, and power characteristics creates a simply overwhelming urge to "correct" the circuit to comply with what your eyes think they should be seeing. This severs the link between designer and his source of ideas, impulse and instincts. It ultimately waists a lot of time, unless of course you want the quick and easy way out, and are willing to create a product that is just like every other bloody boring product on the market, and no better.

Since the popularity of our amplifiers it's starting to seem as though Zen is becoming a popular "buzzword" as of late in the high end audio industry. New manufactures are squeezing the word "Zen" into their company names, and older more established manufactures are creating products now that use the word "Zen". I hate to see this happen, especially knowing that none of these company's actually know what Zen is, much less employee similar design techniques.

To my knowledge Nelson Pass was the first one in the high end audio industry to use the name "Zen" in association with one of his products. During the years I was self absorbed in the design process I took time for little else, and lost track of what's what and ultimately became somewhat embarrassed when I discovered he also had named an amplifier the "Zen amp" and had done so long before I did. He and I talked about it and felt it would be prudent to rename our products to avoid confusion. He from that point on called his the "Pass Zen" and I called ours the "Zen Triode".

Even though in talking to Mr. Pass I learned he did not employee the same Zen design technique, it was obvious how well the term Zen described his ultra simple amplifier, a less is more very simplistic approach to amplification in favor of purity vs. power. At least that's the way I see it, and I'm sure he would agree. He has to get the credit for originally coming up with the association and using it to name a product. I'm completely certain I stand alone in the use of my specific technique ( best described as an intuitive looking into the nature of things in contradistinction to the analytical or logical understanding of them). God knows I have some engineers (usually the ones right out of college) totally bent out of shape from time to time, and no one has ever come to my defense to help me explain to them how their minds have been programmed with specific and absolute boundaries from which to think inside.

One of the most precious gifts that come from being self taught is the absence of boundaries and ideals. Although the process is at least 100 times harder and takes about that much longer, the depth of understand it brings is something I wouldn't trade for all the degrees in the world.

While Zen and metaphysics are linked, I want to clearly state that no metaphysical things are claimed to be responsible for the sound of our fine amplifiers. While each one is hand built by people who sincerely love the amp and a certain amount of karma can be associated with that, we do not make any claims to have signed them with magic pens. The amps sound good because they are good, and because they are a product of passion. They don't need the name "Zen" to add credibility or notoriety.

 

Zen - now becoming an overdone buzzword - sad.

 

 

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