When it comes to amplifiers, my preference has been mostly solid state. I think that most agressive, fast-paced, full of beats music that the younger generation listen to demands solid state precision. But the Zana is supposed to be one of the tube amps that is not of the mellow and thick kind. I had expected that the Zana would have solid state like technicalities, with a vacuum tube tone to it. Well, I was partly right, and partly wrong.
The first question my friend asked after I received the Zana was “is the amp fast?”. He was asking if the amp have the pace and the dynamics to keep up with his music. I told him that the Zana belongs to the fast tube amps group, but it’s not nearly as fast as solid states like the Burson, Beta22, or the Grace. Another friend who’s really into bass asked me how the bass performance is. I told him the truth: “the bass is okay, average”. When you dissect the Zana that way, you will wonder how the Zana can get away with the $2,200 pricetag, because the $289 Matrix M-Stage amp does “bass” alone better than the Zana. The Zana is not about scoring marks on bass or treble. It is about a whole, coherent, high end sound. Solid states may be superior on the technicalities, but few of them can match the overall sound of the Zana. The Zana is not about producing a “perfect” sound, but it is simply the best sounding amplifier I’ve heard.
The Zana is not about precision in the sound. If you want precision, you need to get a solid state. The Zana is not so strong with agressive music as well, and again a solid state would be better for those. The Zana sounds very natural, and if people asked me what I’d consider natural sounding, then the Zana would be #1 on the list. This is a bit different than neutral, as neutral often sounds flat and uninvolving. What I mean by natural is how the Zana lets the music flow and how it press all the right buttons to your aural senses.
As a short comparison, compared to the 4-ch Beta22, the Beta has has more mid and bottom end weight than the Zana. The Zana has a better soundstage image and depth and a more smooth yet clear sounding midrange. The 4-ch Beta22 has better technicalities, and more weight on the individual instruments. Both amplifiers can make music sound very real, but the Zana has a more romantic touch to it.
The Zana achieves its natural sound presentation through a relaxed high frequency yet with good extension. The upper mid is a just a tad forward, but not too much. The midrange is very smooth, but not too dull or muffled, and there is great midrange clarity. The entire frequency range of the Zana shows how clarity doesn’t have to sound sterile or analytical. The Zana is the perfect example of clarity, yet organic sounding. Low level detail is excellent, and likewise the instrument separation is amazing. The Zana is a slight midrange oriented amplifier, but if I can draw an imaginary frequency response graph, the curve would be an inverted “u”, yet with a very wide and low peak.