Enthusiast from the United States
Price Paid: $1995 from
Product Model Year:
I received my pair of SV83M’ last week (#'s 009 and 010), and want to write up
my initial impressions, as I know some people out there want to know how they
In a word, for those in a hurry: WOW! Warmth with clarity,
high-frequency detail and all the low-end slam I could ask for. Very very nice.
They rock, they have soul, they dance all night, and still have enough
energy to go to the opera. And I still distinctly have the feeling that they are
just getting warmed up.
OK, now for the real review.
I have used
the SV83M + ZTPRE in two systems – with excellent results in both. My home
A classic Carver TL-3100 CD player
-> Nordost Blue Heaven
->ZTPRE ->Blue Heaven
->SV83S -> Audioquest Type 4
Pacific 600 Speakers.
For analogue, I have a Project Perspective table with a
Quicksilver Audio Phono Stage in the same setup. I use a Monster Cable power
I have also heard the amps in my friends system with a Sony
DVP-S7700 and the Merlin VSM-SE’s.
The sensitivity of my Pacific 600
spkrs is 94, while the Merlin VSM-SE’s are 90.
I will not pretend to
evaluate the SV83M’ separate from the ZTPRE, as I have only used them together.
Also, I have never heard the original Zen, so I can’t make any comparisons
From the get-go, these amps are impressive. The fit and finish is
exactly what I would want – they are beautifully made, with the crinkle black
finish offsetting the chrome plate – without being over-the-top in terms of
styling i.e there are no Gold accents which would only serve to justify
exorbitant prices which some charge. They are very heavy, solid and
The ZTPRE is a master of clean understatement – clean,
simple and unassuming in looks, and a joy to use. The rear switches for setup
and input selection are actually quite easy to use – I can easily reach behind
and flip them with a satisfying click. Likewise the dual-mono volume controls:
the Goldpoint stepped attenuators have a very satisfying feel, and I have
already grown to like the control I gain with the separate volume controls.
I’d like to highlight the amps by talking about the differences
in the two systems I have heard them in. In my system, the detail and clarity in
the upper and mids is simply stunning. Most albums in my collection have
revealed many new layers of detail, way beyond what I have heard in auditioning
other amps. But the detail is present alongside musicality galore. And the bass
goes as deep as the recording. With 94 dD efficiency, I can play music as loud
as I want – and it’s crystal clear, even across the house in the kitchen. The
SV83M / Pacific 600 combination sounds clean, musical, and most of all
effortless. The music comes through at any volume, but I find myself listening
at consistently higher volumes than before with ZERO listener fatigue. Even the
distortion of Smashing Pumpkins is refreshingly clean but so earthy and tangible
it makes the volume knobs creep up and up until it the windows are
I’m currently listening to Coltrane on my turntable (Soultrane)
and I can honestly say I’ve never heard him sound this good, nor, for that
matter, have I ever felt like I was in the room with him. His tenor sax was
bright and clear, full and lush, without being harsh or overbearing to the rest
of the band.
On my CD player or with vinyl, orchestral music is
phenomenal. There is enough power in this setup to finesse Beethoven until you
grin from ear-to-ear, and if I want more from my system I think about my speaker
cables or power supply, as they might be letting me down a little bit, but the
amps are clean through and through.
As a test of the ZTPRE sound, I did
an experiment by connecting my Phono amp outs directly to the SV83M’s inputs. No
volume control, but one fewer component and cable.
The result – a very nice
clean sound, loud and clear – but with a little less separation between
channels. Put the ZTPRE back in the loop – all I noticed was that the soundstage
expanded, I had volume control, and it otherwise was the same. That, to me, is
When I brought my amps to a friends to hear in his system, I
immediately realized the genius of all those little switches on the back of the
ZTPRE – without clouding or masking the sound, I have the ability to tweak the
sound to bring out the best in each recording, or with each change in equipment.
As there is nothing else in the world like it, I wasn’t sure what to expect from
Steve’s description, but already I see the power he has given me by adding those
To be more clear – he’s given me the flexibility of having 9
separate pre-amps into one little box. I never have to worry if my preamp is
going to sound good – it does sound great regardless.
To all of you out
there who have the ability to listen to the Merlin VSM-SE’s: do yourself a favor
and listen to them with these amps. Wow – there is something spooky and magical
going on here. A little less detail than with my Pacific’s, not quite as full,
but my they draw you into a new realm nonetheless. With classic rock and folk,
this combination is unbeatable. At loud volumes the deep bass of Massive Attack
broke up, but put a chill down my spine along the way. The bass has a tight,
clean, addictive punch not present with my Pacific 600’s. The sound was lush,
and most of all intimate. In a 6 hour listening marathon, the volume knobs were
often almost at halfway, and with one exception the sound was a loud as we ever
So, in two systems two deliciously different and wonderful sounds
emerged – clean, full and effortless, or tight, punchy and staggeringly
intimate. Given the differences in room, speakers, cables, source I think that
this comparison spans a wide spectrum of conditions, and my conclusion is that
you can’t go wrong with this setup. It’ll play all the music you want, how you
want it, sound good with most anything out there, and look darn good in the
I’ll post again once things have settled in a little bit more.