M. Hunchuk an Audio Enthusiast from USA writes:
fourtieth birthday, my wife gave me a Zen Model SE-84a amp designed
and manufactored/hand built by Steve Deckert of Decware in Peoria, Illinois.
a small, elegant, valve amplifier that kicks out 5 glorious watts a
channel in class A. The build quality is fantastic and the Zen amp looks
divine. My Zen came with the optional cage to prevent my dog, friends,
relatives, and myself from licking the tubes. As the Zen lives on top
of my rack, I have decided to not use the cage, except for when I transport
the Zen to other locales, some exotic, some not. The Zen is small enough
to fit into a backpack and is perfect to take 'round to stereo dealers
to audition speakers and the like. By the way, I'm proud to mention
that I have not succombed to my desire to lick my glowing fire bottles.
Enough bragging about my will power and inner resolve and back to the
amp has a complement of 4 valves--a Philips 5Y3GT, a Svetlana 6N1P,
and two Svetlana SV-83s. One can cheerfully substitute a 12AU7 or a
12AT7 or a 12AX7 for the Svetlana 6N1P. As well, if one doesn't mind
losing a little more than 1/2 of the amp's power, one can substitute
EL-84s for the SV-83s. I tried that and was a bit relieved that the
Zen still performed well in my stereo kit. Why do you ask? Because the
Svetlana SV-83s are made by only one company and the only audio application
in which these tubes are used happens to be in the Zen. I was a tad
bit nervous when I discovered the uniqueness of the SV-83s; however,
should they vanish from the face of the earth, I can happily get by
with EL-84s. Remind me to buy a few more pairs of SV-83s just in case
they go the way of the dodo. Note: the SV-83s are pentode tubes run
in triode mode. Hence, the Zen amp is a pseudo-triode and not a true
SET according to some purists. My take on this is that if I like the
sound, I don't care whether it is SET, pentode, pseudo-triode, solid
state, push-pull, or whatever. As far as I'm concerned the Zen is a
way, the original Zen, Model SE-84, was able to be run in triode or
pentode mode. The current models, a and b, have a switch to change the
bias. In the forward position, it expands the dynamics and gives the
sound more bite. In the backward position, the sound is more mellow,
but much more three dimensional with a more impressive soundstage and
better microdynamics. Do not switch the bias when the amp is running.
The resounding snap is hell on ears and potentially damaging to speakers.
The sound of the Zen is spectacular, especially given its reasonable
price (I got mine for my birthday ;-}. Unless you get one as a gift,
it'll cost you about $550 for the latest manifestation, the Model SE-84b.
I believe that the b model has an improved power supply. I've considered
the upgrade, but have decided to wait until the f or g model.
EDITOR: He'll be waiting a long time
as no aditional revisions are planned.
with the Zen for a month is a daunting prospect--I'd have to slum it
with solid state!! Somewhere in the basement lives a long-in-the-tooth
JVC receiver. Shudder.
the Zen sound? It is a fast amp with a lively sound sort of in between
solid state and valve amplification. What I am trying to convey is that
the Zen does not suffer from the euponic bloat of valve amps like the
venerable Dynaco ST70 or the valve amps made today by AMC. Yes, the
Zen has the liquid desireable midrange that has made valve amplication
so desirable for many hi-fi enthusiasts, but it does not have the attenuated
highs of some valve gear and it does not sound slow. Microdynamics and
sound staging are to die for. Bass? It's present, but I'd recommend
a powered subwoofer. I use a AMC Ace-Bass B1-20 (200 watts, 8 inch downward
firing driver, 3 knobs to twiddle for tailoring the sound) which goes
down to 30 hz with authority. The B1-20 is a fast, musical subwoofer,
not one that is one notey (I mean one in which all bass sounds the same--i.e.,
try to listen to a Bose passive subwoofer as found in wretched Acoustimas
excells with a 3 dimensional soundstage with fast transients and lifelike
vocals and a superb overall musical presentation. The Zen conveys a
realistic musical presence and soundscape. With the Zen, I have rediscovered
my music collection--a vast smattering of opera, folk, rock, jazz, pop,
world beat, and avant-garde classical music. For those interested, my
stereo kit is comprised of a hodge-podge of various classic components.
With the Zen as the engine or heart of my system, I run it into a Carver
C4000 preamp (the brains of the system). Components include, a Revox
A77 reel-to-reel taperecorder, a Luxman K-15 cassette deck, Rotel RT
950BX tuner, Thorens TD 145 MkII turntable with high output MC cartridge
by Ortofon, and a Philips LHH1000 CD transport and separate DAC (a rebadged
Marantz CD 12 LE). Speaker wire is Barracuda by Custom House Cable (perhaps
the best wire for the price--around 10 bucks a foot, termination extra).
Interconnects are entry level Vampire Wire.
the AMC B1-20 powered subwoofer, my main speakers are a pair of the
budget audiophile AR M1s. Imaging as good as the much more expensive
Harbeth PL-3s, fine midrange, highs a bit fatiguing and tizzy on poorly
recorded material, bass acceptable for a bookshelf speaker. Soundstage
is perfect for chamber opera, small jazz band, a solitary singer playing
a dulcimer or guitar. For full blown operatic or orchestral works, the
speakers offer an acceptable, mind you, shrunken soundstage. Given the
low power output of the Zen, efficient speakers are desirable. The AR
M1's have an efficiency rating of 88 db. They are okay in my stereo
setup and do their job well; however, I think that my world would be
a better place if I switched to Lowthers or a honking big pair of Klipschorns.
Someday this might happen. Overall, I am pleased with the performance
of the Zen amp, Model SE-84a. There are better amps out there, but you'd
have to pay a lot more. In the sub-1000 dollar class, the Zen amp is
hard to beat. This is a highly musical amp and its sound is simply satisfying.
Go to www.decware.com to check it out. Hats off to Steve Deckert and
his Zen amp!
Rating: ***** 5 Stars!