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The Zen Head

Battery operated headphone amplifer

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Model ZH-1

Introduction

There are tons of little portable headphone amps available in today's marketplace for a fraction of the Zen Head's price. I make no apologies. I wanted a true audiophile headphone amp that would do two things... 

A) Something I could plug a real set of headphones (or earbuds) into and B) Something that would sound similar to a Decware tube amp.

I'm a tube guy, spoiled by the openness, ease and dynamics of our tube gear. I wanted a headphone amp that got real close to this sound so I started with Burr Brown Op amps known for these attributes. From there I applied the same design principles and pain staking voicing that I do on everything we make. The end result more than earns it's reference to Zen in the name.  It's a headphone amp done right and for people who think they don't care for headphones, well the vast majority of headphone amps be it portable or not, portray music in an unnatural way sounding either artificially wide or inside your head, either of which is fatiguing.

This one gets it right and not by any magic but largely from the absence of all the extraneous crap that has been left out of it.  If you're into bells and whistles, want to use it as a flashlight or alarm clock, built-in DAC or just want something cheap, look elsewhere.

The Zen Head has a perfect center of gravity both in your hand and inside your head. It was designed for serious audiophiles or anyone who wants to reach for a higher fidelity in this format.

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"Wow, for those accustomed to ear buds being directly driven by compact music devices, the quality of sound coming from the Zen will be a total revelation.  There is absolutely no glare or strained quality to the sound, bass is extremely detailed and powerful, and the "image" in your head is just right, not exaggerated or out of proportion.  Most importantly, the treble quality was really sweet and almost tube-like in presentation, which is not surprising if you consider the  whole aim of this product."       - Tone Audio,    Jeff Dorgay

OVERVIEW

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The Zen Head was voiced to be musical and non-fatiguing with an openness typically only found in the sound stage between your speakers or of course a live performance. You can listen to them literally all day with zero fatigue.  Layers of detail are here, as well as some impressive dynamics and range, but nothing is overdone or artificially featured that shouldn't be. Voiced with Burr Brown's best Op Amps and internal parts it tries rather successfully to sound like tubes - dynamic and open.

It is 9 Volt DC battery operated with around 50 hours play time from a single battery.  It drives headphones between 10 ohms and 600 ohms with authority.  It also drives line level applications up to 100K ohms making it very at home as a line level preamp.  Internal set up switches have also been provided for Hi-Z and Lo-Z output, Hi and Lo gain, Hi and Lo dynamics, and Cross-feed On or Off. 

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The case and face plate are machined aluminum and all internal parts are premium grade making this bomb proof little buddy likely to outlast you!  it comes with our lifetime warranty

HEADpHONE IMPEDANCE

 

It has a built in range from 10 to 600 ohms so it will drive most headphones without issue and you don't have to worry about what impedance they are or what impedance to set the headphone amp to for best results. 

CROSS FEED

 

Cross-feed is well thought out and works so transparently to preserve imaging and keep the sound out of the center of your head or from getting too wide that it needs no adjustment, ever. So once again you don't have to worry about what cross-feed setting to use from recording to recording and source to source.  Cross-feed is also defeatable so if you don't like cross-feed, or use a portable source that has cross-feed options in the digital domain (like the iPod Touch for example), you can use that instead. 

BATTERY POWER

 

It uses a single 9 volt battery that can be removed and installed without taking the unit apart and without tools! Battery life is 50 plus hours and unpolluted with a charging circuit allowing you to use often better sounding high current alkaline batteries.  There are also no voltage level circuits to pollute the sound, just a simple green LED that glows when the unit is on.  A dim LED or premature distortion at high volume means it's time to change the battery. 

The on/off switch is a mil spec toggle clearly marked ON / OFF. 

QUALITY

 

When you get one of these in your hands - before you even listen to it, the quality is immediately apparent. The entire chassis is machined aluminum, even the thick aluminum face plate is powder coated and engraved.  It has a perfect center of gravity with no rattles.  Even the battery compartment was designed with felt lining to snugly hold the battery in place. Internally only the best precision resistors are used on a top grade circuit board. Polypropylene film caps are used and selected OPA2132 Burr Brown amps. 

The volume control is a high quality feature in this unit with a smooth analog / infinite adjustment like any fine piece of audiophile equipment.  Easy and intuitive. 

Besides the fact that overbuilding and resonance control in a personal headphone amp help it sound good, it also makes it pretty bullet proof.  Nothing gets hot, nothing is going to burn out, it has perfect RF shielding and yes you can run over it with the car and expect zero damage.  In other words; it's designed to last a lifetime, and it will. 

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Read the review in Tone Audio magazine

FEATURES

 

  • High quality 3.5mm stereo input & output jacks. 

  • DPDT Gold heavy duty power switch to insure a perfect connection to the 9 VDC 

  • Expensive high quality miniature toggles (red) for setup instead of inferior sounding dip switches. 

  • Carefully selected precision resistors for each part of the circuit demonstrate that voicing was taken seriously. 

  • High grade electrolytic (light blue) with rated voltages well over twice what was needed. 

  • Audiophile grade polypropylene film caps are used for both coupling caps in the signal path and power supply bypass caps. 

  • Select grade Burr Brown OPA2132 Op amps. 

  • High quality stereo carbon volume pot with excellent feel.  Adjustable range can be achieved with the input impedance switch. 

  • Setup switches (miniature red toggles) include Cross-feed, Gain, and input impedance allowing you to switch on the fly while you listen for the best combination.  Lame portable sources like the iPod Touch will require the lower 10K input impedance to have any real gain and preserve dynamics, while sources with a bit more drive will prefer the higher input impedance of 32K to keep things from getting too aggressive and or too loud. 

  • Double sided fully shielded circuit board with face plate attached is easily removed from the chassis by removing the two front screws and sliding the unit out. 

  • Hand stuffed and hand Silver soldered throughout. 

  • Alkaline Battery life is 50 hours.  Compatible with all 9 volt battery types. 

  • No surface mount components whatsoever, all resistors and board traces are over-sized to prevent the dreaded dry solid state signature so commonly seen in these things. 

  • No sockets used on Op amps - no chance to degrade the sound over time and because no other Op amps will work as well in this circuit.

SUPPORT

Since we don't have dealer's and we sell our amplifiers directly to the customer, our customers have a direct line to us.  As a result, Decware support is legendary for over 20 years.

Support is not only a phone call or email away at any time, but when you purchase this amplifier you join a huge family of customers who also own one and enjoy supporting each other on the:

 

OPERATION MANUAL

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Manual is in a .pdf format

MODEL TABOO MK4

HEADPHONE / SPEAKER AMPLIFIER

Made by hand in the USA and sold wholesale to the public with a 
L i f e t i m e   W a r r a n t y  !

No product

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Amps are hand-built to order.  There are presently lots of orders on our real time build sheet.   A 10% non-refundable deposit secures your place on the list with today's date and time stamp.  Balance is due when it's ready to ship. You will be sent a final invoice with the total price including actual shipping costs by our office during your wait.   

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What does Point-to-point wiring in a Taboo look like vs. mass produced solid state?

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Listen to one and find out how good your headphones can actually sound.

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