Article as it appears in the latest I-audio Annual 2001.

 

The Zenn range of audio electronics stands out not only for the sound quality but also for its unique aesthetics. Blue lit acrylic and rockstone finish make it impossible not to recognize a Zenn component, even from across the room. It has a regular line of preamps, poweramps, integrateds but the products that stand out are the 300B line preamp, 300B CD player and a unusual speaker stands design. Using a 300B power triode in a line level application is not a common occurrence. The same mould breaking approach towards design is also seen in the Zenn Infinite Mass speaker stands. This design challenged conventional thinking about speaker stands. In fact if you are looking at it for the first time, you would probably not realized that it is a speaker stand. 

The man behind the creative output of Zenn Audio Components is 44 year old Gabriel Tan. He has been in the business full time for only six years but was a part-timer for about four years seen 1990 providing hifi repair service and modifications. This was to augment the measly income as a school teacher then. He had just completed a degree program in Physical Education at the University of Kansas from 1985 to 1988. On coming back , he was not immediately placed on the graduate pay scale and the income was not enough to support a new wife and a new son, Zenn, after which his company is named. Hence the moonlighting, which eventually became what it is today, when he quit teaching in 1994.

It would be interesting to know that being the unconventional person he is, he chose to specialise in studying ballet and modern dance with specific applications in Physical Education. He put on ballet dancing shoes for the first time in his life at the age of 29 which is a very late age to pick up such a discipline. But fortunately his strong background in athletics and martial arts (he holds a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do) was able to see him through 3 years of intensive dance training and being good enough to be a member of the University Dance Troupe in his final year.

Though his background seems on the surface to be unrelated to what he is doing today, that is audio electronics design, it has a significant influence on his creative energy. Being free of mindsets is the most important criteria for original thinking and designs. This can be seen in his product designs. Being the only Asian in a class of mostly ballerinas and sticking out like a sore thumb for two years took courage and tenacity.
That's how long he took before he starts to move and merge with the class. The experience and training in dance open up his mind and the decades of martial training is responsible for the Eastern philosophy in his designs. The word Zen in his company's name is definitely not a mere decoration.

One of the fundamental principle he use in his design is "Form follows Function" This is a basic principle in Dance theory. What something looks like is an expression of how that thing is used. Most audio designers would just chose a typical rectangular box to put their amplifiers parts in and then decorate the faceplate to try to make it stands out. A Zenn component does not have a faceplate and its unique attractive, aesthetics reflects its function. Besides its unusual outward appearance, the internals uses a unique circuitry which he term the "Tai Chi Loop". Quite an appropriate term as this circuitry is a feedback loop operating on ultra-high frequencies that are supposed to be outside the audio range of the human ear. Yet in practice , it was found that it had an effect on the audio range. This circuitry and the various attention to details in the construction of a Zenn component are too numerous to lay out here. For more information on Zenn Audio Components the reader can visit a very interesting website set up by the designer. The address is www.zenn.com.sg.