Zen SE84C Review

Reviewed by: Martinez,  an Audio Enthusiast from Indy, IN

Nov.  2002

Product Model Year:

I have wanted to purchase an SET amp for some time now, given all the reams of purple prose that has been generated extolling their virtues. My suspicion has always been that a good number of FET amp owners are first time tube purchasers; converts are always the most zealous proselytizers. Another problem that Iíve had is that the SET is an old design, dating back to the Ď30s and Ď40s. The Williamson Ultralinear circuit ( 1947), for example, was considered a major improvement in the old SET designs. Of course, in those days, speaker design was considerably less advanced also, so itís doubtful whether an unequivocal evaluation could be made about SET designs.

Despite my misgivings, I went ahead and purchased a Decware Zen amp, because of its reasonable price and well-conceived ergonomics. I purchased the Z-kit incarnation of the Decware. Here are my impressions:

The Kit: I would not advise a novice builder to attempt the kit, despite itís SET design. My kit came with two additional 1k ohm resistors and missing one 2.7k ohm resistor. The kit that arrives is the C Rev version and the pictures on the net are for the B Rev. There are quite a few differences. The schematics are excellent and provide the ultimate guide.

It took me two nights, about eight hours, to finish the kit. I would suggest adding more insulation to some of the leads of the resistors and capacitors to avoid cross contacts. At any rate, I think the assembly charges ($100) is very reasonable.

System env:

VanAlstine OmegaStar pre-amp
Transcendent GG pre-amp
XLO Reference interconnects cables
Better Cables Silver Serpents interconnects
DH Labs T-14 Speaker cables
Cambridge Audio CD
DIY (Seas and Peerles) Speaker (91 db @ watt @ 1 M)

The Sound: I did listening tests with two different pre-amps in my 10 x 10 listening room. With the Transcendent pre, the results were very disappointing. I felt that sound was too warm, almost glowing. The bass was non-existent.

I added a Titan subwoofer and a Marchand external crossover with a 200 Hz crossover point to the system. Because of its limited output, I had to adjust a lot of the crossover and subís settings. The resulting system had a sound that I can only describe as, ĎSarah Brightman perched on Paul Robesonís shoulders.í

Finally, I switched out the sub and the pre and installed the VanAlstine. Now, I had a sound I really liked. As many people have stated the SPL that this little unit achieves is really impressive. This combination has tremendous detail and a little bloom.

Overall, my impression is that the amp imparts an audio footprint that is pleasing to the ear, but does not retain the full fidelity of the music. I would characterize someone who would enjoy such a sound as 'bassophobe', since so much of the information in this region is lost.

+delicate, euphonic sound
+sounds good ciwth Glen Miller records
+good build quality
+excellent ergonomics

-old SET design should be retired
-need particular setup to really enjoy. 91+ db speakers and fast pre-amp
-should use with Oris horns or Klipsch speakers
-non-existen bass; bassophobes love it

Similar Products Used:
Monarchy SM-70, Eico HF-81. Both of these afford more bass and bang for the buck



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