I played many other types of music through the Eros 300s. At no time was I let down or disappointed. Whatever I threw at them, from Shostakovich string quartets to Ella Fitzgerald to The White Stripes to Metallica, the 300s provided a wonderful listening experience. They exhibited the best quality of sonically superior equipment: They encouraged me to play LPs and CDs I had not heard in quite some time. For example, I pulled out the LP Brazilian Soul with Laurindo Almeida and Charlie Byrd on guitars [Concord]. I figured that any record with a “Picante” catalog number should be right at home with the Zestos—was it ever! The dueling guitars were fast, fully fleshed out in tone and overtone, against a background so quiet that Almeida and Byrd sounded convincingly present in the room. Especially satisfying was the cut “For Jeff,” a tune written by Byrd that showcases both guitarists’ terrific talents. Very spicy!
Switching to CD, I wanted to hear a few recordings of Yuja Wang, a young pianist whose playing is simply electrifying. I was fortunate to hear her play live twice last year and am looking forward to her upcoming recital at the historic Granada Theater in Santa Barbara. (For anyone planning to travel to hear this concert, the trip would not be complete without at least one night at the fantastic Belmond El Encanto hotel—as close as we will get to the South of France in Southern California.) Yuja has a special relationship with the city as the University of California Santa Barbara has sponsored her since she was a teenager. It’s amazing to watch and hear this diminutive lady—usually clad in a runway dress and stilettos—take on the most difficult material in the piano repertoire and simply pulverize the Steinway. I am not attempting to compare her with other great pianists of the present or past—to me, such comparisons are interesting but not that meaningful. She is one of the world’s great musical talents right now, which is sufficient reason to seek out her live performances as well as her recordings.
To get an idea of Yuja’s musicianship, I highly recommend the CD of her live performances of Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 and Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela [Deutsche Grammophon]. The sound quality of this recording is very good, if not quite reference quality. Wang’s playing is lyrical and sweet in the slower passages (although some critics, unfairly in my opinion, accuse her of losing some magic when her speed is below supersonic). She handles the most complex passages with an ease and fluidity that is simply stunning. Listening to both performances through the Zesto 300s was very gratifying, as they captured the full sweep, warmth, and majesty of the orchestra, while at the same time allowing Yuja’s piano to take center stage with unfettered speed and dynamic range. The enjoyment level in my listening room was very nearly what it had been at the live event, which is all we can ask our sound systems to do. Truth is, after a while I just forgot about the electronics and simply enjoyed the performance and the music.
The Zestos were as enticing with voice as with instruments. Eva Cassidy does not have a classically beautiful or powerful voice, but there is a raw honesty to her singing that is very engaging. I put on her Time After Time LP [Blix Street] mainly to see if the Zestos captured the shy yet heartfelt feeling of many of her songs. They did. I had only intended to listen to her rendition of the Bill Withers song “Ain’t No Sunshine,” but ended up playing both sides of the album. The great transparency and three-dimensional body of the 300s truly made it seem as if she, and her guitar, were in the room.
To sum up, the Zesto Eros 300s proved to be amiable listening partners. They were completely reliable and silent in operation. They look good too, though this is not a necessity. Through several months of living with the 300s, listening to music was always a pleasure and each session lasted longer than planned. My notes reflect my overriding perceptions that the 300s are extremely transparent, lush, warm in the way that live music is, and more powerful than their rating would suggest. Their only downsides, in my view, were heat output (par for the course with higher-powered tube amplifiers) and a slightly reduced soundstage compared with much higher power (and generally more expensive) amplifiers. Some may feel that the often cooler presentation of solid-state amplification is more accurate, but not to my ear. Moreover, I have not heard any other amplifiers in this power and price range reproduce the sense of orchestral space and three-dimensionality that are second nature to the Zestos.
Where this sonic mix will end up on a given user’s personal score card will vary, but it is undeniable that the Zesto Eros 300s offer an intriguing and inviting alternative to the army of solid-state amps out there. I can envision many music lovers being thrilled with these amps—indeed, even feeling that they have “arrived” musically. My review pair has been sold and must be returned to Zesto tomorrow. I will miss them.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Mono tube amplifier
Class of operation: Class A
Power output: 150 watts continuous
Total harmonic distortion: 0.8% at 1W into 8 ohms
Input impedance: 100k ohms (single-ended); 12k ohms (balanced)
Tube complement: Matched sextet of six KT88s, two gold pin ECC82s (12AU7)
Output taps: 8 ohms, 4 ohms
Dimensions: 17" x 10" x 20"
Weight: 59 lbs.
3138 Calle Estepa
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
Magneplanar 20.7 loudspeakers, Kuzma Stabi M turntable with Kuzma 4Point tonearm, Lyra Etna and Koetsu Rosewood Platinum Signature cartridges, EMM Labs CD playback system, Aesthetix Eclipse Io phonostage with two power supplies, Aesthetix Eclipse Callisto linestage with two power supplies, Audio Research REF 10 Line Stage, Audio Research REF 10 Phono Stage, VTL 750 amplifiers, Purist Audio Design, Transparent, and AudioQuest cabling, Sain Line Systems power cables, Stillpoints Ultra 6 isolation feet