Zen  SE84C Review

Reviewed by: davehs67, Audio Enthusiast from audioreview.com

Price Paid: $1117 at Decware

Product Model Year:

I wasn't sure how to start this, so I'll begin with a description of the Preamp: My model is the ZP2 version wich includes inputs for both MM & MC and a toggle switch to select between the two. The unit uses three 12ax7's; one for each channel and a third that is not in the signal path, but is connected to the other two in series via their plates (for a better understanding of this circuit, go to https://www.decware.com/paper26.htm). There is also a variable input impedance selector that adjusts from 3.5 ohms to 50,000 ohms in 20 steps. This is one of the key elements of this preamp that makes it amazing. You don't have to adjust it according to the cartridge's spec. necesarily, you can use it to exploit certain attributes or minimize others however you choose - on the fly -! Basically, put on your cart of choice, throw on some wax, and hit the dial until you get it to where it sounds just right. The units themselves are matte black with gold RCA's connectors and the power supply is a dual mono configuration that connects to the preamp using a high quality XLR cable.

The phono preamp I was using before the Zen was a pro-ject phono box. This unit is great for the money, but can't hold a candle next to the Decware unit. The differences between the two are understandably vast. The easiest way I can describe the Zen is that it makes the music float BIG TIME and it creates an awesome 3D image. I don't now if this is due to the speed of the preamp or it's dead on phasing or what, but when I'm listening I'll experience moments where the music seems to be inside my head, as if there is no distance between me and my speakers. The other quality this amp has is it's way of fooling you into thinking it's laid back. It's delivery is so gentle and yet dynamic at the same time; it'll freek you out when you first hear your vinyl on it for the fist time. Here's an example: I have a decent copy of Whitesnake's 'Slide It In' that has Cozy Powell on drums. Normally you hear his set with the correct panning (the mixing on the album is great, especially since Kramer contributed honors) which sounds 'normal' with the pro-ject, but with the Zen, it went from a flat pan to allowing Cozy's dynamics to determine how far out in the room you hear his drumset. This was especially true for the ride cymbol & high hat (mind you that these qualities never overide what the other musicians are doing). Using this same album as a reference, I can also hear more of the outboard effects added or subtracted to Coverdale's voice and the guitar fills that are used here & there lower in the mix. You should hear Nazareth's 'Malice In Wonderland' using this unit too. Analog at it's best!

For a hardcore test, I decided to listen to my 'Crackers' 3lp bootleg. Most Floyd fans are familiar with this boot of the complete '72 Hollywood Bowl show and the copy I have is in pretty good shape. I put on side 5 'Saucerful Of Secrets' and was able to discern what was being said around the taper, especially the guy with the British accent off to the right. Also, when Gilmore does his last slide delay effect on his guitar before the drums kick in, the stereo panning is killer. The Zen also allowed the recording a more 'live' sound with the extra detail coming through.

I don't find the preamp to cater to one particular style of music, anything sounds great with the Zen. My Glen Gould, Pagannini, Dave Brubeck, Lou Rahls, and Julian Lennon vinyl all sound great with the Zen.

Ok, now for the downside: anyone who is impatient on burn in time with gear will be frustrated with the way this thing sounds out of the box. The recomended 100 hrs is no joke. I was concerned with the way it sounded closed in & flat at first, but knew it was going to take time before it bloomed. And that's exactly what this thing did! I've been using it for a month now and it is totally liquid & clear at this point. I have absolutely no regrets with the purchase and feel it was definitely worth the wait (for how long it took to get it and break in). Steve's company builds the units to order (they are point to point handbuilt - no circuit boards) and it took mine about 4 weeks to get; so for a two month wait, I've got a phono preamp that sounds like the one I've always conceptualized for the last 2 years and didn't have to sell my house to get - a most worthwhile tradeoff in my book.

For refernce point, here's the equipment I'm using :

Teres 245 turntable (Wengi wood base, standard acrylic platter, signature motor upgrade) with a Clearaudio Unify tonearm and a Dynavector 10x4 Gold low output cartridge.

Zen ZP2 Phono Preamp using bettercable's Silver Serpents with Bulletplug connectors and a Stratus 3 power cord used with the power supply.

Jolida 302B in triode mode using Valveart El34's & the new longplate 12ax7's from Sovtek, Seimens goldpinned 12au7's.

Manepan MMG's with MIT terminator 2 speaker cable.

Tice Solo A/V conditioners.

Super liquid & Clear, gentle & dynamic all in one. Flexible, & easy to use.

Long breakin period, but worth the wait.

Similar Products Used:
Pro-ject PhonoboxReviewed by: Aaron ,
 Audio Enthusiast from San Francisco





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