Zen SE84C Review

Reviewed by: Lucas , Audio Enthusiast, from Eagan,MN

Dec  2001

Product Model Year:

Wow!!! What a journey for an audio enthusiast's first venture into tube power. I was at a high end audio store in Minneapolis (Audio Perfection) listening to all kinds of speakers searching for a "perfect sound." Of course, what sounds perfect to my ears, may sound daunting to another.

I have a pair of Klipsch KG 5.5's. They are a large floor standing horn loaded speaker made by Klipsch of Hope, Arkansas. They are about six years old, sold for $1,000 new and I believe them to be one of best Klipsch ever made. What I like about these speakers beside their beautiful medium oak finish is their open, lively, and powerful sound. Hooked up to my ES Sony Reciever they provide loud in your face dynamics, while giving the sweet spot listener a run for their money. I use them as my fronts in a Klipsch Home Theatre surround sound system. I also use these speakers for two channel audio.

What I don't like about the Klipsch's is their harsh sounding highs and un-natural "blare." For movie viewing I could care less, the Klipsch's are wonderful. But for music, hours per day of listening, my ears were getting "sore" and sometimes I was turning up the reciever volume too much to acheive better clarity. Headache, hear I come!
Back to the high end store. Another customer asked what speakers I had at home and what I was "listening" for. When I told him of my dislikes with the Klipssh, he wrote down a website for me. He said this little, but amazing amp will absolutely take care of your problem; and so it did.

The Decware.com site has been updated since the last time I've visited. Decware is constantly coming up with new and better products. After talking with Steve Deckert on the phone several times, I was convinced this was it! I ordered my SE84C over the telephone from the lovely manager DeVon Pierson. When the package arrived, I was completely amazed by the weight and looks.

A heavy, but small amp. I personally like the shiny silver look, with the uncovered tubes on top. Once you put in the tubes and plug in the cord, hook up the speaker wires, and turn on the unit, poof, magic happens! The tubes began to glow and get hot, and after several minutes of warm up, you are ready for a truly new musical expierence. I connected the unit directly to the line output on my Sony ES cd player using a M-series Monster interconnect. This is the best way to use the ZEN; hooking up to the pre-amp out of my reciever provided very distasteful, results due to the poor pre-amp quality of my reciever. The ZEN has a (ground shunt?) pot on it, and can be used to control volume levels.

At 3.5W per channel, I was extremely skeptical, but providing my electronics background, I knew it was possible.
At first I didn't care for the sound. I thought it to be very lacking in punch and dynamics. Then as the tubes get warmer and you get some decent amount of playing time on them, the tubes work their magic and the sound becomes pure joy!
Sitting in the sweet spot of my Klipsch KG 5.5's for most of my listening, this is what I noted of the ZEN. Unreal and unbelievable imaging and clarity! I mean that in the postive way. I was astonished that the soundstage was deeper, wider (even beyond my speakers), and more realistic than I've ever heard in any speaker setup. The only thing that comes close that I've listen to, without side by side comparison, is the Revel F30's or Magnepans. The speed of this little baby is simply mind-blowing! I kept looking at my cd player to confirm that it wasn't playing any faster than normal. I could have sworn the amp was literally pulling out the music faster from my cd player. Hence, it was not. What I imagine was happening is that the short signal path and simple but elegant wiring of the ZEN was acheiving new hieghts in my listening expierence. It took me awhile to get used to this, but once I did, I did not want to listen to anything else. The ZEN smoothes out the rough/harsh sound of the horns and provides you with a warm open sound that is extremely pleasing.

I popped in one album and then another. At first I was extremely critical and a negative biased listener. Then after several hours of listening, I relaxed and enjoyed. I found I could not turn the unit off. Not even to go to bed. I'd rather stay up and listen than sleep! I dug out some Cd's I had not listened to in awhile and some of them I simple thought were bad recordings. Man, this amp can bring new life to those albums. I was up til four in the morn' reliving the joys of these recordings. The ZEN truly sings!
Bass isn't overbearing, nor very loud, but it is much more accurate than most amps. It also goes much lower on this amp. I could hear details of drums, timpani's and organs with style I had never heard before.

Unfortunately, I had to send the amp back because I couldn't find a way to properly and conveniently integrate it with my home theatre system. Some day I'd like to get one or two ZEN's (or possibly the new integrated) and hook them directly up to a high-end cd player. Then get another pair of high efficiency speakers to match the amps; audio nirvana will be within my reach!!
Keep up the good work Decware!!!

1) Imaging
2) Clarity
4) Quality
5) Cost

Must have efficient speakers! Will play at lower levels
on less efficient speakers

Similar Products Used:
None, First Tube Amp




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