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Decware CSP2 Zen Triode Preamplifier Quick Review

By Andrew Robinson

There are those brands in high end audio that are seemingly fused with our collective psyches and then there are those a bit on the fringe, out there in the wild, wild west of audiophilia where, like Fight Club, the only rule is...well you don't talk about Fight Club.

Decware is one such brand, however unlike other uber-esoteric manufacturers, Decware and its founder and chief designer, Steve Deckert, do talk about their products and encourage others to as well. What started off as one man's obsession to build a better mousetrap, or in Steve's case better audio components, has grown into a full-fledged brand with numerous product offerings and a very loyal following. I should know, I'm one of Steve's biggest fans and a proud owner of several Decware products including the CSP2 reviewed here.

The CSP2 is sold exclusively online through Decware's own site and retails for an affordable $795 and comes with a lifetime warranty to the original owner as well as a 30-day money back guarantee. The CSP2 isn't your traditional looking preamp, though despite its kit like appearance it's still rather striking and elegant in its simplicity, no doubt aided by the solid walnut base and powder coat gloss finish top plate. All Decware products feature point to point wiring and are manufactured and assembled right here in the good ol' US of A.

The CSP2 is a single ended triode design that utilizes your choice of 6N1P, 6DJ8, 6N2P or 6922 input tubes and either 5Y3GT, 5AR4, 5U4, or 274B tubes for rectification. The CSP2 is a self-biasing design virtually eliminating the need for normal tube maintenance as well as extending tube life and facilitating experimentation or tube rolling. Beyond its tube design, the CSP2 features two inputs with adjustable gain for each channel and an OTL headphone output, that's right the CSP2 is also a headphone amp/preamp. The CSP2 has a both stereo and mono outputs as well as a detachable power cord and a substantial pair of gold plated binding posts.

The CSP2 does not have a remote control so source selection is done via a small switch near the rear of the unit and volume is controlled via the front mounted Alps pot.

Decware claims many, if not all of their products, are pretty much silent in terms of noise floor. While not a grand exaggeration I can't call the CSP2 silent though I've yet to encounter a product that truly was. Among the best, most costing 10 times what the CSP2 does, it is silent in comparison and a remarkable feat considering this is a tube preamp. Sonically, the CSP2 isn't your traditional tube fair; it is very quick, very composed and doesn't possess a great deal of artificial tube warmth or bloat. In many ways it possesses many of the qualities of a quality solid-state preamp with just the right amount of that tube magic and musicality audiophiles gush over. In terms of soundstage performance and dynamics I challenge you to find a better stereo preamp this side of $2-3K.

High Points

• Despite what some of the bigger manufacturers will tell you, Decware and their CSP2 prove it is possible to make a quality product out of American made parts right here in the USA. Take that China.
• While its looks may not be everyone's cup of tea, there is no getting around the CSP2's sonic performance, which is on par and even better than many other preamps at twice if not three times the price.
• The CSP2 with its auto biasing design and affordable price is a great way to get into tubes without many of the typical tube related drawbacks.

Low Points
• The CSP2's lack of inputs is sure to be an issue for some as many modern audiophile systems have at least three source components.
• The layout of the CSP2 makes cable management a bit tricky. Also, its size and shape isn't conducive to hidden installations, i.e. rack mounting. The CSP2 is a preamp you'll pretty much have to be proud to own and be willing to show off to all your friends. I do.
• The CSP2's purity both physically and sonically is most endearing though it's also what has kept it from being more well known and more of a leap of faith to potential customers. Having been one such customer myself, the CSP2's quirks are easy to live with and are completely forgivable once the music starts.

For a little under $800 retail and sold direct via the web the CSP2 by Decware is a hell-of-a-thing, providing world class performance in a compact and rather unassuming package. The CSP2 does have its faults, it's a bit low on inputs and its design/layout makes it more of an acquired taste visually, however sonically it's a true giant killer.

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I've been intrigued w/ Decware for many years. The design and engineering may be sound, but if he would just add a little more style to his unorthodox design I'd be more tempted to take the plunge. I'd like to hear one of his preamps though.
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