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

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. (

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