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Decware's all-American amps wow audiophiles

Can you find happiness with one of Decware's ultra-low-power tube amplifiers? It's "green," high-efficiency hi-fi at its best.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read
The Decware Zen Triode amplifier Decware

Decware makes low power amplifiers and high-end speakers in the United States. Their entry-level Zen Triode amplifier ($775) pumps out 2 watts per channel, and if you need more get the 6 watt Zen Taboo ($995), or the mighty 26-watt Zen Torii ($2,495). The Zen Triode was the company's very first model and has charmed tough to please high-end critics on a regular basis.

Trust me on this; you'd be amazed how good a few watts can sound, and when they're matched with the right speakers, micro power amps can definitely play loud enough to annoy your neighbors. You're skeptical? I don't blame you, but Decware amps are sold with a 30-day money-back guarantee, and the company wouldn't have lasted 15 years if it didn't have lots of satisfied customers. Business is so brisk there's usually a 30-day waiting list for new customers.

Owner Steve Deckert and his crew of nine build all of the amps in East Peoria, Ill., where he uses expensive American-made parts (resistors, capacitors, switches, etc.) in his designs. Deckert steers clear of printed circuit boards because he thinks hand-soldered "point-to-point" silver-plated copper wired amps sound better. That dedication to sound quality dramatically increases the amount of time it takes to build an amplifier. Depending on the model, he figures it takes between 7 and 11 hours to build just one amp; Deckert could cut the labor down to under 2 hours with printed circuit boards. Very, very few high-end manufacturers build amps like Deckert does, even with amps that sell for many times Decware's prices.

Build quality claims are one thing, but Decware's tube amps are all backed with a lifetime warranty, and again, I don't know of another manufacturer of tube or solid-state amps that offers lifetime warranties (the tubes are not covered). So sure, you may be playing different digital formats 10 or 20 years from now, but if you're still listening to speakers, you can expect to use a Decware amp to drive them. Steve Deckert is always on hand to talk with his customers to help them select the right amp for their needs.

The Taboo amp with solid-wood base. Decware

Deckert also designs the Decware speakers, which are built by Bob Ziegler in North Carolina. The speakers are designed to sing with just a few watts, but you don't have to stick with Decware speakers, and Klipsch makes lots of speakers that'll click with low power designs. Decware's speaker prices are very reasonable, but if they're out of range, or you just want to have fun, build your own speakers from Decware design plans. Some of these things, like the Model HWK15 House Wrecker 15-inch subwoofer, look really interesting. Deckert sells the plans for $20 and estimates the sub would cost around $150 to build (plus the cost of a solid-state amplifier to drive the sub).

A hand-made Decware speaker Decware

The bulk of the company's direct sales are in the U.S., but they are also sold factory-direct in 54 countries. Decware is just now starting to work with a couple of brick-and-mortar dealers, EarHead Audio in Winchester, Va., and Audio Boutique in Vancouver.

I will soon do a review of a Decware amp, but I'd love to hear from any Decware owners in the Comments section right now.