Vacuum Tubes Are the (Not So) Secret Ingredient in the Decware Zen Mystery Amp

  • Jeff Dorgay

Despite all the fanfare over the recent resurgence of vinyl, veteran audiophiles have long stood by analog audio and the vacuum-tube-powered equipment that was popular in the 1950s and ’60s. Hidden in the suburbs of Chicago is an artisan company called Decware that produces vacuum-tube audio gear to a level of quality that a Swiss watchmaker would be proud of. Eschewing the current steampunk rage, Decware amplifiers possess a timeless, elegant simplicity and functionality. The company’s owner, Steve Deckert, does not believe in ornamentation for the sake of flamboyance.

The new Decware Zen Mystery Amplifier (ZMA)—priced at $5,695—is a single-chassis stereo amplifier producing 40 watts per channel. It employs the same circuitry as Decware’s top-of-the-line Zen Mono Amplifiers (sold in pairs, with one amp per stereo channel). Though the ZMA is a more compact version of the flagship monoblocks, it remains a highly potent amplifier capable of driving all but the most inefficient loudspeakers. Like many tube amplifiers, the ZMA requires some break-in—even a few hundred hours—before it sounds its best, though the sonic response is still very good right out of the box.

The ZMA uses a full vacuum-tube design, which means that tubes are employed in the power supply and as voltage regulators throughout the circuit, a technique long abandoned by other companies due to the care required during assembly. Popping the hood on the ZMA reveals top-notch components and hand-wired circuitry—all of which come with a lifetime warranty to the original owner (and a 90-day warranty for the tubes). All this attention to detail would be meaningless without the sound to back it up: The Decware ZMA is one of the finest, most natural-sounding amplifiers at any price. (decware.com)

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