Reviewed by: Aaron, Audio Enthusiast from the United States

Price Paid: $1995 from Decware

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 sound.

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 system is:

A classic Carver TL-3100 CD player

-> Nordost Blue Heaven
->ZTPRE ->Blue Heaven
->SV83S -> Audioquest Type 4
-> Cabasse 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 conditioner.

I have also heard the amps in my friends system with a Sony DVP-S7700 and the Merlin VSM-SEs.

The sensitivity of my Pacific 600 spkrs is 94, while the Merlin VSM-SEs 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 cant make any comparisons there.

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 substantial.

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.

Id 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 its 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 shaking.

Im currently listening to Coltrane on my turntable (Soultrane) and I can honestly say Ive 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 SV83Ms 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 perfect.

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 wasnt sure what to expect from Steves description, but already I see the power he has given me by adding those options.

To be more clear hes 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-SEs: 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 Pacifics, 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 600s. 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 wanted.

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 cant go wrong with this setup. Itll play all the music you want, how you want it, sound good with most anything out there, and look darn good in the process.

Ill post again once things have settled in a little bit more. Happy listening.





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