The Back Story
Doug is a pastor, so I think he is more predisposed to interesting background stories than I am. And thus, while going over our finds, likes, and dislikes at CES 2011, Doug mentioned there was a homeless guy here showing off his speakers. Homeless on a top floor of the Venetian, seriously? That sounds compelling. But what do the speakers sound like? Before telling me his impressions about their sound, Doug gave me the back ground story on Kevin. Kevin Nelson is homeless. He makes his way around the San Diego area keeping his gear at a friend’s home. He has been working on speaker designs since getting out of high school year ago, and the current speakers, being shown at CES, are the culmination of about 20 years of dreaming and tweaking. I can see why this grabbed Doug’s attention, but I was waiting for the catch. I don’t think Doug would waste my time if the speakers sounded awful, even though his taste are fairly different than mine, he does have a well trained ear. So, how do they sound, I kept asking. But the story kept getting richer. I think being a pastor teaches one to be a good story teller, because Doug dropped the bomb when he said that each speaker played both channels and they had a huge planar like sound. And they only cost $890. Hook, line, sinker, I was hooked. I had to hear this. So by day four, after finally finding the room in the chaos that is the upper floors of the Venetian Hotel during CES, I sat there with my wife for a couple minutes stunned. Were both speakers really playing both left and right channel, how was this possible, why wasn’t it a big mess of sounds? I quickly made plans to demo these speakers at my place.
The Zealth loudspeaker can be set up in three ways. One can run both channels from a single speaker, or run solely the left and right channels in the standard way, or run both channels out of each speaker. If you run the speakers in their most complex mode, each playing both channels, you want the tweeter on outer sides. You wire it up so the standard left/right channels are coming out of the lower baffle and the switched channels on the upper baffle. It is best to have them about 10 feet apart with a slight toe in. I also believe the higher your ceiling the better these will sound. Less reflection off the ceiling.
The lower baffle houses a 8” poly paper ribbed woofer and a 5” poly sealed back mid. The upper baffle has a 6.5” poly paper ribbed woofer with a 1” silk tweeter. There are four crossovers in each speaker all at different values to keep phaze alignment.
Set Up and Associated Equipment
In my smaller room I was only able to set the speakers about 7 feet apart and I have a 7 and a half foot ceiling. Right off the bat that restricted my ability to fully test these speakers. I can’t raise my ceiling and the needed abortion material on the ceiling was a no go. So I did something a little slick.
I used the Electrocompaniet PI-2 100W amplifier to drive the speaker for the first week. What I got was light, open, and well detailed sound. The imaging was having issues though. My room was in the way, and I didn’t have a way to deal with it. So instead of using a single amplifier I used two. I used the Electrocompaniet PC-1 CD Player that has both XLR and RCA outs, I ran the RCA into the PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium to control the upper baffle’s driver and tweeter volume level, and the XLR into the Electrocompaniet PI-1 amplifier to control the lower baffle . I’d find the point where both amplifiers were at the same level in volume, than turn the PrimaLuna down just a nudge. Now, I know what you thinking. I’m kind of cheating right. Well, yes and now. First off, I know that most likely not just anyone will have $5000 worth of amplifiers on had to drive a $890 speaker. And yes, I both understand and except this criticism of this write up. But that doesn’t mean this is pointless – there is something to be gained from my experience. What I want you to take away from this is the possibility of these speakers and if you have the ability to review these in an environment different than mine, I want you to call Kevin and work out getting a pair for review. I think these speakers are worth your time, ear, and if you are in the sub $1000 speaker market, have a 10 foot ceiling, and you want an engulfing sound that is fun and detailed, you need to try these.
So how did they sound with my amplifier tweaks, surprisingly damn good. What they excelled at was staging and openness. I have to completely agree with Doug, they do possess a planar like quality. On Kind of Blue by Miles Davis the saxophones that are panned into the left and right channels lacked any since of beaming like they do off so many sub $1000 speakers. The drums panned on the right didn’t sound like they were coming out of box. The accompanying piano was life sized and saxophone, and Mile’s trumpet in the middle sounded spatially like a planar would portray. They had life, depth, and a real wall of sound quality. The bottom end, though not as deep as one might like for a speaker with a 8” woofer, no port on these babies, was clean, tight and didn’t have any booming shelf. The sound was cohesive but not in a way that you’d understand if you’ve never heard a planar. The level of detail was completely on pair with competitors in a sub $1000 speaker but the midrange had a vast openness to it. The Zealth’s are like facing a wall of sound and being consumed by it. Complete escapism.
I had to give the speaker back before I had a chance to try them in standard mode or just as a single speaker. But if anyone has had a chance to run them in either of these fashions please use the comment box below to let us know your thoughts.
Overall I’m stunned at the marvel of these speakers and their price point. Sure at this price point there are a lot of gives and takes. But these speakers do an amazing job at casing a three dimensional stage, a balanced sound, a fair amount of detail and flesh to the music, and overall a good time listening to them. Please contact Kevin if you are interested in hearing these speakers or owning a pair yourself.