Decware Zen Amplifiers

Decware Zen Amplifiers 

USER REVIEWS

Showing 1-10 of 49  
[Mar 29, 2009]
ski2xblack
Audio Enthusiast

This is a review of the SE84C+.

This amps only limitation is absolute output. Within it's limits, it is a solid dose of bona fide audiophile hard drugs. Utterly transparent, lightning fast, able to reveal dynamic shading to such a high degree that a tremendous sense of depth and pinpoint localization of individual instruments is achieved. Very 'live' sounding. Paired with appropriate speakers, this little amp can make magic.

These amps have exceedingly modest output; only those with efficient speakers need apply. I'm using two of these in monoblock configuration driving 92db efficient speakers to satisfying levels. Using just one, I would recommend pairing this amp with speakers having efficiency ratings of 96 or higher.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
[Dec 22, 2003]
Brad Baker
AudioPhile

Strength:

soundstage, imaging, clarity, realism, low noise. Inexpensive replacement tube costs. Do not impart an overly "warm" sound like some tube amps. Solid state fans may like this.

Weakness:

may not play loud enough for some tastes, room, speakers. Do not sound "warm" like some 300B/2A3 amps and some people enjoy - which some may find too "clinical/sterile" or solid-state sounding.

This is a quick review of a pair of SE84CSM (monoblocks) - identicle to the stereo SE84CS (Zen Select) with some slight differences due to the monoblock configuration. Ultimately I returned them after a 30 day evaluation because they did not have quite enough power for my speakers in my large room with vaulted cieling. Note: My Loth-X Ambience speakers are rated at 97db, but I don't think that is accurate. I think they are more in the 94-95db range. Sound: I'm not going to elaborate with all the normal audiophile drivel. I will simply state the following. When I listened near-field, ie, very close to the the speakers (4-6ft) these amps sound the most like a good set of headphones than anything else I have ever heard. That is regarding tone, impact, speed, and microdynamics. Of course the soundstage and imaging was better, with a realistic/live sound, big, and 3 dimentional. They sound slightly better than the Decware SV83M monoblocks (which use 3 SV83 tubes in parallel-single-ended configuration). But the SV83M's are MUCH more powerful. If you have a small room, very efficient speakers, normally listen near-field, or don't have a desire to play music LOUD, you can't do much better than the SE84CSM monoblocks or the stereo SE84CS NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU SPEND! I do enjoy moderately loud (jazz/rock,tc.) music from time to time. When/If I get more efficient speakers (TRUE 97db or more), I will most likely getting these amps again and keeping them. 5 stars for value and sound when sitting close. 4 stars overall only because it's not absolutely perfect for my room and speakers.

Similar Products Used:

push-pull 300B monos, Decware SV83M monos, VTL 80 watt tube monos, Hafler, NAD 2200, B&K ST140

OVERALL
RATING
4
VALUE
RATING
5
[Feb 22, 2003]
Joe Schlabotnick
Audio Enthusiast

When you've heard about Decware and you buy ANY AMPLIFIER REGARDLESS OF PRICE without hearing the Zen first, your making a terrible mistake! I will concede that hearing is believing... not that I thought all hype was overly enthusiastic bull scat, but sensational hype wears down after a while if the ears never hear. Man I almost bought something else a few weeks ago and it was fate that the company couldn't take care of me at the time because they were off to a trade show. The entry level SE 84C is far more musical than I could have ever imagined. Sure it couldn't play loud on my speakers, but I don't care. It exposed the music unlike anything I've ever heard before. All the volume in the world may as just as well be noise if ain't coming from a Zen -save live music! And yes I have personally owned some big name products including Audio Research, Mark Levinson, and Pass Labs etc. And I've heard many others including some statement products priced into the stratosphere. But at the end of the day, you don't have to divorce your wife, mortgage the house and sell your soul to own a most astonishing amplifier. Steve Deckert is not merely a genius, he is every bit as much a great philanthropist in making the Zen so affordable. If it had been me who had created the Zen, I would have made it cosmetically equally stunning and priced it so that if I sold only two a year, I could live a very nice life style.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
[Jan 13, 2003]
johnft
Audio Enthusiast

Strength:

excellent soundstage, involving and alive

Weakness:

low power creates problems of speaker matching

I bought a Creek 4330 R (original model) and a Decware Zen 84C that had been upgraded at the factory to a Select—both at about the same time. Both were used, purchased through audiogon, both dated from about the same year, both were in good condition, and they were both in a similar price range, so I feel they make a good comparison, though it is important to disclose that I am comparing the original Creek (not the Mk2) and that both are used. As it happens, the upgraded Zen was being auctioned by the maker (presumably a trade-in), so I got the lifetime warranty with it. (Btw, the upgraded Zen doesn’t have all the features of a new Zen Select, such as front input jacks, so I guess I’d have to call it a hybrid-Select, but I think the sound would be the same.) I listen mostly to classical music. Advantages: The Creek is undoubtedly a good amp and I am very happy with it for my second system. But there is absolutely no question in my mind that the Decware is a lot better. The Creek has some non-musical advantages, such as a remote control with mute and volume control (though for what little it does control, it is a very pricey addition). It is a very reliable solid-state amp, with a good sound, and (ihmo) well worth the money. The Creek seems quite a solid unit, but the Zen, while minimalist, is extremely solid and gives confidence that it probably will really last the next 50 years. The most striking advantage of the Decware is its soundstage. It really is possible to hear where the different instruments (even just voice and piano) stand in relation to each other. This in turn adds both detail and depth, allows you to hear how the components of a piece of music come together, and makes the entire listening experience more “alive”—more vital and exciting. Even solo piano, I find, sounds better on the Decware: I find I can hear the whole instrument, with its decays and resonance, better. As for voice, this is another of the Zen’s special strengths: it conveys voice as though the singer were really in the room with you. Disadvantages: By comparison, the sound of the Creek is relatively garbled. Because the Zen separates instruments so well, the Creek sounds (by comparison) as though it were conveying a wall of sound—it doesn’t have the same degree of depth and separation. The Creek does sound beautiful, but the Decware has a vitality, a sense of presence, and an “aliveness” that the Creek lacks. There are some disadvantages to the Zen, however. First, it is a tube amp, and the tubes do have to be replaced. I personally hate having to fiddle with the music hardware (I’m basically interested in the music), but the tubes are easy to find on the web, they’re cheap, and replacing them is as simple as pulling out the old ones and pushing in the new ones—done in a few seconds. So I find I don’t mind this disadvantage at all. (For people interested in such things, the tubes offer the opportunity of changing the sound some by replacing with different tubes.) More serious is the low power of the Zen: this amp will not drive many speakers adequately; it requires speakers with high efficiency. (There is a list of recommended speakers on the Decware website.) I’m currently using some Klipsch speakers (kg 4.5), which are not optimal. Maybe the best compliment I can give the Zen is to say that I like it so much I’ve decided to shell out the money for some new speakers that will be optimally matched to it, even though they mightn’t be a good match for other amplifiers: basically, I’ve decided the Zen is good enough that I’m now happy to design my system around it. I’ve pretty much decided to buy a pair of Parker 95 speakers ($650), which were designed specifically for the Zen by a different company (which is also small and web-based—there’s a link to this and other speaker companies on Decware’s site, which you can find through google or another search engine). In sum, the Creek is a really good mainstream product for the money, but the Zen is a truly superb “indie” amp, which brings you to a whole higher order of music reproduction, if you’re willing to step out of the commercial mainstream. Buying from Decware is a bit of a leap in the dark (it’s a web-sales company), but the company’s customer-support is terrific: it’s easy to speak to the owner-designer (Steve Deckert), who is a great guy and always gives extremely honest advice—even to the point of steering you toward products (such as the Parker speakers) that compete with his own.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
[Nov 15, 2002]
selmerdave
Audio Enthusiast

Strength:

Clarity, warmth, spaciousness of the sound, detail, presence. Great bass, treble and highs - musical and warm.

Weakness:

Compatible speakers necessary, but that speaks for any system and with the compatible speakers this amp sounds as good as any SS/speaker combination I've heard.

I bought this amp as a no-lose (30-day trial) foray into the world of tubes. Previously an exclusively solid state listener, I am at this point very happy with my decision. As a single component change in my system, this was a dramatic change for the better. My system is a Fairchild turntable (s# 273!) and original Grado tonearm (walnut) and Grado Gold cartridge going into a Marantz 7t preamp and previoulsy Marantz 300 DC amp powering Klipsch Heresy speakers. The difference between the Zen and the Marantz was dramatic, and I'm not talking about the power. The most striking feature of it was the spaciousness of the sound, which seems to be the source of the incredible detail - I can hear in and around the instruments. By comparison the Marantz (which I liked very much) sounds blurred with all the sound jumbled together. Two weeks into the burn-in, the Zen is sounding very warm and natural. I never noticed it previously but after hearing the Zen the Marantz sounded rather harsh and unnatural. The sound also seems to travel differently from the Zen, I can really feel the sound physically, even at low volumes, the same way that live music sounds. The Marantz certainly allowed me to feel the sound pressure, but to me it sounded like I was behind a glass wall or something, which reminds me of the infinite clarity of CD sound at the sacrifice of presence which will always make vinyl more enjoyable for me. Now, obviously I'm in a different power category, but for my ears I can crank and be enveloped by the sound with the Zen and my Klipsch's no problem, and a much more pleasant, enjoyable and realistic sound at that. It of course lacks the dramatic dynamic peaks that are possible with major wattage, and while I could have probably impressed some people in that category with the marantz, I'm intersted in listening and for that the Zen does everything I would want. By comparison a friend has a typical high power solid state set up with a Bryston 4B powering some Dahlquist DQ-10s, which was previously my standard for high quality sound. Now I'll take my setup (at a fraction of the cost) any day and now happily every day. For the record the Marantz sold yesterday paying for the Zen and then some, and I'm all the happier.

Similar Products Used:

Marantz 300 DC, Bryston 4B

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
[Nov 07, 2002]
PMartinez
Audio Enthusiast

Strength:

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

Weakness:

-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

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 I’ve had is that the SET is an old design, dating back to the ‘30s and ‘40s. 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 it’s 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 it’s 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 sub’s settings. The resulting system had a sound that I can only describe as, ‘Sarah Brightman perched on Paul Robeson’s shoulders.’ 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.

Similar Products Used:

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

OVERALL
RATING
3
VALUE
RATING
2
[Oct 10, 2002]
Ivan Frimmel
Audio Enthusiast

Strength:

Most of the tube amps I looked at in the shops were at MIND BOGGLINGLY high prices. If you are looking to get into tube amps, the Zen is exactly what you want! As an upside it fits right into my 5.1 home theaters( as long as your amp has pre-amp outs ) with no problems or sonic incompatiblity.

Weakness:

This tube amp doesn't do LOUD. Don't try and have a showdown with the neighbours, there is enough headroom to seriously piss them off, but not enough to break any windows. If you planning to have lots of parties make sure you keep your transistor amp and install a switch to your speakers, or get a 2nd set.

Very simply put WOW! YOU HAVE TO BUY ONE! I have listened to MANY different systems (all transistor based), and I have always found something missing, but I never knew what. Recently I replaced all my sound kit, with the idea that I was trying to avoid that dull lifeless sound. Sure as hell, that's exactly what I got. Very precise, very loud, and VERY lifeless. I thought maybe it was my nice and expensive AV amp being underpowered, listening to CDs instead of LPs, not having a 2nd sub, or perhaps because my room did not have a carpet and heavy curtains. Either way it seemed like an impossible( aka lots more money ) situation to solve. Don't get me wrong, it sounds GREAT when you pump Terminator 2 through it. But very dull when listening to anything in stereo. Almost as a distraction, instead, I thought I would get get my feet wet in tube amps, they have some sort of allure for me, maybe the glow, or maybe it's just the romance of it all, dunno. I have never had one, or heard one, so this was really just a dabble into the unknown. Personally the picture I had in my head was hum, heat, low volume, and sonic incompatiblity with the rest of my 5.1 home theater.i.e. I thought it would be a matter of getting to grips with the compromises in order to embrace something hopefully "warmer" (aka older and dated), more as a hobby than for real sonic ablity. Sometimes the world really surprises you. I ordered my SE84C-S kit from DecWare and about 2 weeks later it arrived. I spent about a week putting it together. The kit is definately for skilled people,(probably only about 5 hours of real work if you know what you are doing). I highly recommend spending the extra money and buying it assembled. It not hard, but it is worth having it done for you. Although the sense of satisfaction, knowing that you built it yourself, is fantastic once you turn it on and hear the results. When I plugged it in I immediately heard the difference. I now understand why tube people talk about transistorised sound as being thin and completly LIFELESS, its what I have been looking for all my life without really knowing it. I did not change ANYTHING else. It sounds like a matress has been removed from in front of my speakers. Everything sounds better, ESPECIALLY vocals and live/real accoustic instruments seem to come alive in your living room. Its like they are really there. I thi

Similar Products Used:

N/A since none offer any real comparison.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
[Sep 29, 2002]
Steve
AudioPhile

NOTE: Audioreview has created two new review spaces to accomodate the Zen Triode amplifiers model SE84C and SE84CS. PLEASE POST NEW REVIEWS THERE.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
[Jul 17, 2002]
Bob Z
Audio Enthusiast

Strength:

sound stage / tranparency / tonal balance with out coloration/ it just play the music / price

Weakness:

typical SET power / It should be bigger to sound this good

The Zen SE84C has turned my listening habbits around 180 degrees. I had an old MC60 Macintosh amp years ago. When all the SS amps were comming out with lots of power I switched to SS. I guess over the years the SS didn't do anything for me and I just stopped listening to music. I looked around listened to all I could. I even went to the VSAC show in Washington in '99. I thought the prices were outrageous. Then after lurking on the Decware forums for awhile I decided to give there amp a go. They give you a 30 day money back guarantee. What have I got to loose. When I got the amp all I could say is gee this is cute. But the sound I heard from it was amazing. It was just the music nothing else. Then I started hearing a soundstage that is second to anything I had ever heard. The imaging from this little guy is pinpoint acurite. But problem, it just didn't play as loud as I was used to listening to. Next step Decware Radial speakers. That got me closer to where I wanted to be. But still not enough, but I loved this little amp so much, for the price why not just buy another. I did and that is all I needed. But I find now, the amp has so much detail at any volume, that I'm listening at much lower levels than before. With SS amp I used to listen just passively, now I listen at least an hour every night seriously and passionately. This is the best sounding amp I have ever heard. A few freinds after hearing mine bought one as well and there glad they did. Don't let the price fool you this is a serious piece of audio eqpt. At the Decware forum under Steve Deckerts picture it says, "If the first watt sucks why continue". Now that just says it all!

Similar Products Used:

yamaha/sonic frontiers/integra/macintosh

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
[Apr 05, 2002]
kasboot
AudioPhile

Strength:

Detail, clarity, lack of harshness, eminently listenable, no ear fatigue, and incredibly musical where you lose yourself in the music.....(literally)

Weakness:

bass could be better, but it''s an SET

Unbelieveable clarity and transparency. Great bass for an SET amp. Not in the same league ,as far as the extreme low end is concerned, as some of the finer SS amps, but the clarity and detail in the midrange and high frequencies is amazing!. No edginess or brightness. Not colored like some tube amps. It will blow you away. I listen to Jazz, chamber music, and rock, and I have discovered a higher state of sound reproduction with these amps. The Classe and Moon amps I have auditioned do not even come close. I also have the mono blocks and they sound even better.

Similar Products Used:

Classe, Proceed, ADA, Bel Canto Evo ( very disappointing), conrad johnson

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
Showing 1-10 of 49  

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