While the aforementioned purity, clarity, and general beauty of the zA1.1s’ sound are their most obvious features, the possibility of matching them exactly to your room in radiation pattern is really important. This is something that cannot be done by after-market DSP correction, as it were. DSP and eq in general have an important place in audio (far more so than people have fully realized, in my opinion). But they have limits. One cannot adjust radiation pattern with an external device. And it makes a difference. One can dial in the JansZens in a way that no other speaker really allows (except the other JansZen models). And anyone who tells you that the ideal pattern is the same for all rooms is kidding you, or perhaps himself. This fine-tuning is a lot more crucial to what you actually hear than most of the electrical tweaks people think matter so much—more crucial by orders of magnitude than changing power cords, say. This really has a significant effect and when adjusted just right, it gives superb effect.
An additional aspect of this JansZen model being fairly small is that while it nominally goes quite low for a small speaker, an (optimistic, I think) 30Hz in-room being mentioned in the literature, these are not bass powerhouses. This is not a speaker to show off your collection of Romantic pipe organ recordings. The bass is very clean and resolved—and a little deeper than one might expect because there is a second bass driver on the back side that extends things further. But still, compared to many large speakers, the JansZens present a smaller picture tonally. There is not much output substantially below 50Hz, though there is also in my room a pleasing absence of the suck-out from the “usual floor dip” of floorstanders (between 100 and 300Hz). The JansZens sound warm and full but not weighty. If one wants the full physical weight (or even close to it) of an orchestra or a pipe organ, then one really needs to add a subwoofer. It does help to place the speakers in reasonable proximity to back and or sidewalls—and the directional behavior means one can get close to the sides without causing trouble.
For people who wonder about how things work and why things can be better today than in times gone by, it is worth noting that one of the essential design elements is the possibility of running the (forward-firing) bass/mid driver with a first-order crossover. While the nominal crossover point is 500Hz, the first-order part means that the bass/mid driver needs to run cleanly up quite far in frequency—which it definitely does. To have made this speaker decades ago would not really have been possible. Electrostatic tweeters were superb devices long ago. Designer David Janszen’s father, Arthur Janszen, introduced electrostatic tweeters to the world in the 1950s and superb they were, though the present versions are, I think, superior in dynamic range and dispersion character. Electrostatics have intrinsically low distortion, and the originals were excellent themselves. It was, however, not an easy matter to find drivers for lower down that would integrate gracefully with them.
In fact, it was not really possible. I recall various speakers over the decades that tried with greater or lesser success—this was a popular do-it-yourself idea. But almost always the electrostatic tweeters were in a sense too good for the dynamic drivers available for lower down. With the present JansZen line, this issue has at last been resolved. Integration is effectively complete, with no sense of change of character at the transition. The idea of an electrostatic goes back to the days of Rice and Kellogg in the 1920s. But the full realization of the possibilities had to wait a long time. It was worth waiting for.
Back to the Music
The JansZens are truly a high-end speaker in the sense that there are things they can do that are completely outside the scope of “mid-fi” speakers, the bass-plus-mid-plus-dome-in-a-box floorstanders that are all over the place at various prices, including very high prices. To listen to the ethereal beauty of the violin and harp passage at the end of the Flying Dutchman Overture in the recording referred to earlier is to hear a sound that is outside the world of speakers of that type—even the many expensive ones of that type which are anything but mid-fi in price. This is so not only in the purity of the sound, but also in the erasing of the room around you. At the same time, one does have to accept that the JansZens are going to sound quite different from wide-pattern floorstanders with dynamic drivers. This is by the intention of the designer, but it is in any case true. Familiar recordings may not sound—and indeed probably will not sound—exactly as you expect if you have been listening to them on wide-pattern speakers.
I have emphasized their differences from ordinary speakers, just so that people understand what goes on here. But it is also important to understand that what goes on may well strike you, as indeed in many respects it strikes me, not only as unique but also as uniquely good.
The great English mathematician G.H. Hardy was famous in his circle for his wit in describing public figures, and one of his code phrases was “Old Brandy,” for a person who was a rarified connoisseur in some direction or another (after a person they all knew who was unwilling to drink any alcoholic beverage except very old cognac). More than most speakers, the JansZen zA1.1s are Old Brandy. If you see them in someone’s house, you can be sure that that person is a true connoisseur, not just of audio as a whole, but of a certain kind of audio, of the pursuit of that almost mystical experience that one can have on occasion of leaving one’s listening room and moving into a world of ethereal beauty of sound, without giving up warmth and fullness.
The JansZens have a refinement and focus all their own, based on the purity of the electrostatic tweeter and the narrowed radiation pattern in the top end. For those with the appetite for this, there is nothing else quite like the JansZen zA1.1s. If your budget encompasses this price point, these are speakers you really should hear before you buy anything else. Old brandy may be the only drink for you.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Two-way stand-mounted box speaker with electrostatic mid/tweeter and dynamic forward-firing bass driver and second back-firing bass driver operated at frequencies below 60Hz
Crossover: First-order, 500Hz
Impedance: Nominal 8 ohm
Recommended amplifier power: 120–400W
Frequency response: 30Hz–40kHz (in-room)
Dimensions: 8" x 17" x 12"
Weight: 35 lbs.
Price: $4495 ($395 for AirLayer option)
JANSZEN ELECTROSTATIC SPEAKERS
480 Trade Road
Columbus, OH 43204