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REVIEW: Decware Zen Triode Preamp Preamplifier (Tube)

I purchased this preamp direct from the manufacturer (i.e. Steve Deckert) during the summer of 1999 and returned it in early December for several reasons which will be described later. Decware is a small audiophile-based manufacturer whose products are designed around triodes.

Description: The Zen Triode preamp is a minimalist dual-mono design utilizing two tubes and point to point wiring. In a rather novel concept, toggle switches are employed for switching between capacitors and high/low bias adjustments for shaping various sound configurations. Dual outputs provide a means for simultaneous running of a separate amp for subwoofer, surround processor, etc., if desired. Oddly, all functions except dual volume pots are accessed from the rear panel. The Zen Tride Preamp uses a separate black box power supply connected by a long turquoise blue umbilical (removeable). Dual inputs and outputs are top quality.

When I ordered the Zen Triode Pre I knew I'd have a long wait due to the nature of it's hand-built construction [Note: patience is a prerequisite in dealing with this manufacturer, as you shall see.]. My unit shipped some 12 weeks after I placed my order (i.e. two weeks longer than typical apparently, based on the manufacturer's claims), but the separate power supply arrived with broken on/off toggle switch making the preamp unfunctional. To Steve's credit, he overnighted me a replacement.

My initial impressions were good: the Zen Triode Preamp imparted a warm detailed signature to music. The switchable caps (i.e. a rel-cap, and an orange drop) allowed tappering of sound based on the music and the gear used to play it. The dual volume pots weren't overly difficult to balance, but the rear panel adjustments and having to shut everything down every time I wanted to switch capicitors/bias for different music was a bit of a nuissance. However, the biggest problem with this preamp in my system was an audible hum (i.e. audible in that it could be heard across my listening room). [Note: Unfortunately, this unit had to be replaced and then the replacement replaced over the course of two months due to either hum or frequency responce anomalies which the manufacturer had to troubleshoot. Steve was kind enough to extend the 30 day trial period accordingly and very prompt to provide a refund when things didn't work out.]

My decision to send this preamp back for a refund was not an easy one. Most of the time the Decware preamp sounded great in spite of the always present low level hum (i.e. usually only noticeable during quiet musical passages and between tracks). However, after one of my monoblock power amps blew fuses on two separate occasions (i.e. without damage resulting) I decided that the preamp was not well suited to my system.

Steve Deckert has been quick to point out in our e-mail and phone exchanges that his preamp is still in the developemental stage and that he fine tunes units based on his customer's feedback. This is something any potential buyer needs to be aware of: the Zen Triode Preamp is a preproduction model and it's very uniqueness does have a downside. While it has the potential for producing wonderfully warm rich detailed sound with a wide and deep soundstage it suffers from unit to unit anomalies. These anomalies are extremely frustrating and require a great deal of patience on the part of the customer. Therefore, IMHO, the Zen Preamp is a tweaker's dream, but may very well be a music lover's nightmare.

One personal observation: Mr. Deckert seems to be a rather happy-go-lucky manufacturer who's very courteous and supportive when discussing problems with his customers. From the conversations I've had with him I'm left with the impression that he sincerely cares about his customer's satisfaction and is quite disappointed when his products don't live up to expectations.

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Topic - REVIEW: Decware Zen Triode Preamp Preamplifier (Tube) Review by Audiophilander at Audio Asylum - Audiophilander 12:12:55 12/27/99 (48)

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