DATE: May 21, 1999 Review by Ole Thofte

Hi steve,

I've had your Zen SE84B for more than a month now and want to give you some feedback.

I have known about this amp almost from the first appearance on the Intenet and have been interested in trying it out. I'm glad you have now made the overseas type suited the European Voltages!

It's been a good experience, also for my wife who likes that zen is small and cute, and that I play it with my Proac Tablettes instead of my large experimental conespeakers.

The Proacs have an eff. of 89dB which is a bit low but it works OK in my small room (17 m2). However the sound of the Proac go very well with Zen, much better than the not bad sound I get from my son's KEF Coda7 (eff.92dB). So I prefer sweetness for loudness any day. I can almost live with the limitations of the few watts except for one thing: very percussionistic music like solo piano makes the amp clip when I play it at the right volume and have the pot turned all the way up. This is a shame since the zen's dynamics are so good: playing Keith Jarrett or Horowitz is a thrill because the piano sounds so natural and explosive as it should but for the clipping at loud passages. Conclusion: more efficient loudspeakers would be nice but it's hard to match the Proacs which are a good compromise between price, excellent sound, size, efficiency ....

The sound: It was clear to me from the first listening that this amp has most of the qualities I have been looking for over the years and often tried to obtain by changing loudspeakers. (I like planar and ribbon speakers because of their natural openness and airyness... a quality that most traditional dynamic speakers lack. At the same time I like the explosiveness and precise soundstage of good dynamic speakers. Ribbons are sometimes capable of delivering the fresh "crispyness" of a violin, a percussionist, the timbre of a new guitar string, but at the same time something is often missing in the "body" of the sound: a timid or slurred upper bass or midregister. These are qualities , for me at least, that make the sound of a wooden stick on the cymbals sound like the real thing. This I know because our son blessed us for years with his excersizes on a little-drum with sounds I have never heard from a hifi-system.)

Another thing: My other amp is a 100 watt transistor of good quality. Playing the Proacs I was always annoyed with a slight boominess from the bass when playing small jazz ensembles. With the zen this boominess is gone, but the body, temperament and fullness of the bass is still there!

Now I'm wondering what better connections, cd-player etc will do to the sound...?

Summing up: the Zen amp joined with the Proacs are very satisfactory and gives a natural sound and feeling of "being there". The sound is fresh, crisp, natural and sweet with no aggressive tendencies. The top is detailed without being analytical, the bottom is natural with no booming. Maybe the last octave is withdrawn, but that's probably the the speakers. It's all very well suited to the kind of music I mostly hear: small ensembles, jazz ore classical. Large symphonic music might be another matter because of the relatively low eff. of the Proacs.

Best wishes, Ole Thofte, Copenhagen, Denmark




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