3 ZenWave Audio IC's Reviewed: D3, DSR and the new updated D4

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I have been a ZenWave cable fan since auditioning the D3 in March 2014 during one of Dave's Cable tours. I have used the ZenWave D3 as a reference since May 2017. The original D3 uses Neotech UPOCC Silver / Gold Alloy and Furutech FP-101(G) with a special filament-spring type center pin. The D3 has a detailed, forward, lit up presentation, exciting but not too bright, it is a good all around cable especially if your system has been sounding a little laid back lately.

Recently I organized a Hapa cable tour with our Tucson Audiophile group and Dave sent me the new ZenWave DSR interconnect so we could compare it to the Hapa cables since the DSR is in the same price range. A couple of weeks ago I received the new updated ZenWave D4 so I dived back into another cable evaluation.

My system is the same as for the Hapa cable review:

Electronics are all Van Alstine with the Fet Valve Hybrid DAC, Fet Valve CFR preamp, and Vision SET 400 amp

Music (flac files) are streamed from my office computer to a custom low powered fanless music server I built using a Paul Pang Audiophile Grade USB card. The USB card and SSD are powered by two separate linear regulated power supplies. Software is Windows 10 and JRiver Media Center. The excellent JMaxwell Data Only USB cable goes to a Kingrex UC384 32bit/384Khz asynchronous USB/SPDIF converter with it’s own linear regulated power supply.

Speaker cables are a double run of Kimber 4VS with the mysterious, magical EVS Ground Enhancers.

Speakers are custom mesquite Salk HT2-TL with a 1-3/4" thick solid mesquite front baffle for a very focused sound and vanishingly low cabinet resonance. Low end is handled by a REL Gibraltar G2 sub with the digital crossover readout set at 33 Hz.

In addition to the music used for the Hapa review I added a few more albums to the mix:
Ani DiFranco - Revolutionary Love
John Hurlbut & Jorma Kaukonen - The River Flows
Jorma Kaukonen - Quah
Otis Taylor - Hey Joe Opus Red Meat
David Crosby - If I Could Only Remember My Name
Jeff Tweedy - Love is the King

All of ZenWave's cables are excellent, at this level of perfection changing cables are like expensive tone controls. No stereo is perfect, the proper cable selection can snap the sound into focus and balance the presentation, with the right combination you will realize what all the fuss is about. Your stereo becomes a time machine, not only recreating past performances but also transporting you into the venue.

The ZenWave DSR is in some ways a departure from the ZenWave sound. Instead of Gold/Silver conductors it uses a UPOCC silver ribbon cable with 17g conductors with super low capacitance. The cable's tone is warmer and rounder than either the D3 or D4. The bass and treble appear to be the same across all three cables I auditioned but the DSR has more density, definitely an analog feel to the sound. I like it a lot.

"Sluice" on The Future Sound of London's album "Cascade" (2020) is dark and ominous with deep bass, the DSR conveys the threatening tone perfectly, the trickling water at the end is clear and wet.

Jorma Kaukonen is keeping time on the floor on "Genesis", the first song on "Quah". The foot taps are deep and clear and attest to the DSR's ability to play deep subterranean bass.

David Crosby's 1971 debut solo album "If I Could Only Remember My Name" sounds wonderful on vinyl, the highs are mixed a little hot so the album sparkles. The CD is too bright but the DSR cable brings out a nice warmth, keeps the highs in check and makes the album listenable.

The updated ZenWave D4 has evolved into a wonderful step up from the D3. The original D4 (2014) was too bright and detailed in my system. The current D4 is now completely neutral with more meat on it's bones. If you like the D3 you will love the D4. The cable is not as analog sounding as the DSR, it won't warm up an already lean system but if your stereo is balanced the D4 will let you hear everything while moving you up a couple of rows.

If the DSR cable were slippers, the D4 cables would be dancing shoes.

The Salk HT2-TL speakers are closer to a studio monitor sound. In my stereo the DSR is a better all around cable, I can relax into the music. If you always want to be upfront at a concert, your music is well recorded and need to hear everything then the D4 is your ticket. The D3 will get you to 80% of the D4 but that last 20% is where the magic happens.

« Last Edit: 12 Mar 2021, 09:21 pm by WGH »


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Hi Wayne, thanks so much for posting your review!  :thumb:

I would say the D4 and DSR are more similar than different and I've noticed some interesting differences between the two. They are similar as the ultimate goal of the two cables is the same: A silver cable with realistic timbre and proper tone that does not contribute to listening fatigue. Nothing can beat the resolution of silver, but often there are tradeoffs in terms of tone and harshness. Lower purity silver can introduce harshness, so UPOCC silver solves that issue, but pure UPOCC silver can also sound dry or thin, without enough body. Timbre often doesn't sound as rich and filled-out as it does in real life. The D4 addresses these issues by adding some gold, which gives it a nice tube-like warmth. The D4 adds just enough gold to achieve this without being obviously warm, it could possibly be mistaken for a pure silver cable. My D5 adds more gold and is more noticeably warm. DSR addresses the issue by using ribbon shaped conductors of heavy gauge, it's a 17g cable, which could easily be used as speaker cable! So even though it's pure silver it has some warmth and body to it other pure silver cables lack.

One other difference that has been consistent: In many systems the DSR will produce larger image sizes. These systems tend to have SS amplification and highly accurate dynamic speakers, and are capable of producing very high resolution images with lots of separation. However, a common complaint is the images can get too small, and I've also heard the term "spotlit" presentation. If you have a system that has these qualities often the D4 will produce smaller images with more separation while the DSR ribbon cables will produce larger, somewhat more diffuse images. However, the DSR images are smaller than foil cables, which often produce larger-than-life images that run into one-another, so I feel like the DSR presents a very good balance of image size vs "air"in this type of system.

Both are top-end cables, and I in the end decided to offer THREE top-end cables to suit different systems and preferences... DSR and D4, plus I have the D5 for an even warmer option! I also consider the D3 my best value, I agree with Wayne you get 80% of the performance for a much lower price. If you're not clear on which is best for you I offer demos. Feel free to contact me via PM or at dave at zenwaveaudio dotcom and check out my website, zenwaveaudio.com. It's new so there are some rough spots, but it's up to date vs the old site! :)

I'd also like to mention the RCA plugs I use, they are WBT 0152 Ag. These plugs go for $104 EACH, plus I add real carbon fiber dampers to the locking barrels. I have a mitre-saw with a pricey diamond blade and a reaming tool to to custom make the carbon fiber dampers, and I use a special crystal-clear adhesive with viscoelastic properties to attach it to the plug. This takes a lot of time, effort and money. IMO, the plugs are far better than non-locking alternatives because non-locking plugs are friction-fit which will wear the parts much faster, once the plating is worn the base metal will corrode. The WBT plugs have a hard platinum plating with pure silver base material and a locking barrel so when you insert and remove them there is no friction fit. These plugs sound much better than what most cable companies use and can last a lifetime.