Michael H. Schelb's
Date of "Visit":
03 March 2002

08 December 2002

the system

the electronics

ZEN amp

another view of ZEN



e-mail to:
Michael H Schelb

I've been an audio enthusiast since about 1968. I grew up in Bad Vilbel, Germany, which is located near Frankfurt am Main in Hessen. The first system I owned was a Loewe Opta mono vacuum tube receiver with a built-in turntable, which was enclosed in a beautiful wood cabinet. This system was given to me by my grandmother when I was about eight years old.

In 1975 I immigrated to the United States and settled in South Florida. While still attending high school I began to work and purchased my first system - a Sharp Optonica integrated amplifier, a Thorens turntable with a Sure cartridge and JBL speakers.

Since then I've bought and sold numerous systems until I settled down into a minimalist approach to audio (I enjoy home theater as well, but keep my HT system in a separate room).

My current listening room is about 25 ft X 15 ft. This apartment living room yields good depth reproduction even without room treatment. I like to use minimal length cables and interconnects, so the amplifier and source are arranged in close proximity to the speakers, several feet away from the back wall, further degrading potential WAF. If there is any doubt among the readers let me say that I am unattached, which allows me to place audio equipment wherever I want without secondary harmonic distortions, which would otherwise be female in nature.

Synergy between SET and MOSFET

My system is a bit unusual. First, I am not using an active preamp or a passive line-stage. Attenuation takes place on the amp level. Further, the system uses a single source. I chose CD over turntable since I have more CDs and tend to be a bit impatient when it comes to switching media. Finally, I've created (quite by accident) a synergy between SET and MOSFET. My little amp can in fact play Heavy Metal and House music at above moderate levels because the Klipsch RP3 speakers employ 440-watt amps to drive the 10" woofer at levels down to 27 Hz. However, since I have not added base traps the amps are run flat, which still yields a pleasant amount of bass.

Everything ZEN

The ZEN amp is the heart of my system and I am enthusiastic about this SET. Similar amps like the CAD-2A3 by Cary Audio and Wavelength's Gemini are more cost prohibitive in terms of initial investment and maintenance. The ZEN will deplete only a small percentage of your bank account compared to the price of most SETs and it uses a cost-effective pair of Svetlana SV83 output tubes, which are fast and sound quite good. The amp further uses a single Svetlana, 6N1P, dual-triode tube in the driver circuit (I have replaced this with a more precise Sovtek 6922 - an overall improvement in sound quality). Together with the Philips 5Y3GT rectifier retubing the amp is downright cheap (a 5Y3GT should last many years anyway). The ZEN is visually not appealing as far as mass marketing is concerned. However, it is hand-built to order using quality parts and fine workmanship. Personally I actually like the "Flash Gordon" look of the little amp.

Music Preferences

I prefer CDs for convenience, but I am picky when it comes to music labels. I enjoy most music, but I prefer single instrument acoustic music (50%). This can be jazz, blues or pop. I also enjoy European and Latin pop (12.5%). I like some classical music, but prefer interpretations on guitar, violin or cello (12.5%). Last, but not least I enjoy most well-recorded indie, rock, metal and industrial music (25%).

Evaluation CDs

1. Earl Klugh - Solo Guitar (Warner Brothers)

2. Leo Kottke - One Guitar, No Vocals (Private Music)

3. Cowboy Junkies - Trinity Session (RCA)

4. Hellbound on my Trail - Songs by Robert Johnson (Telarc)

5. Rusted Root - When I Woke (Polygram Records)

6. Kid Rock - Devil Without A Cause (Atlantic)

7. Staccato - Audio Test CD (Staccato, Germany)

System's Components

CD Transport:

AMC CD8b CD Player (used as transport)

D/A Converter:

MSB Link III 24/96

Power amp:

Zen Triode Amplifier Model SE84C by Decware


Klipsch Reference RP3 speakers (95 db @ 1watt/meter)

Speaker cables:

MIT Terminator 3


MIT Terminator 2

Power Conditioners:

Vans Evers Model 12 Analog Line Conditioner (for amplifier)
Vans Evers Model 80 Line Conditioner (for remaining equipment)


Lovan Classic 4 audio rack

Michael's comments about his System:

AA: "Mike, how would you describe your system's sound?"

MS: "Natural, soft, open and detailed."

AA: "Do you think there is room for improvement?"

MS: "Certainly, little tweaks here and there will balance the system a bit more.

AA: "Have you got plans for upgrading?"

MS: "Maybe - I really miss the Reference 3a monitors I once owned. I might buy another pair down the road, as well as some Acoustic Lens room treatment.

General Information

Name: Michael H Schelb

Age: 42

Status: Single

Residence: Boca Raton, Florida, USA

the new system

Octal 6 preamp

Nottingham Analogue Interspace turntable

the top view of the racks


"Re-Visit" Notes (08 December 2002)

I have finally decided to expand the simple Zen system and create an analog front-end. This step required some planning with regard to system comparability, since the Zen produces only about 1.8 watts. In addition I acquired a pair of Reference 3A monitors, as mentioned in the initial "visit".

The entire system was moved to a dedicated room (16 x 12 x 8 ). The additional pieces added are as follows:

1. Mapletree Audio Design Octal 6 Preamplifier

2. Nottingham Analogue Interspace turntable

3. Nottingham Analogue Interspace tonearm

4. Dynavector 20-XH MC Cartridge

5. Monolithic PS-1 MM/MC Phono

6. Reference 3A MM Generation II (rewired with Transparent wire, upgraded Edison Price OFC posts)


The system now is very "laid back" with a huge sound stage. The handmade MAD preamp adds body to the Zen and much needed gain. The R3As are a big improvement over the Klipsch in terms of detail, soundstage and image. The Nottingham Interspace / Dynavector combo retrieves significant information from the record grooves. The table is capable of very good transient silence. Overall the additions have had a positive impact.

The only weak point for me is the Monolithic phono stage. Even though it is a very good budget component with great flexibility I believe it holds back the Nottingham turntable. An anticipated upgrade for 2003 will thus be the phono stage. I am currently looking at the Hagerman Technology Trumpet and the Art Audio Vinyl One. Both are excellent phono stages which would compliment the current setup.