Not all electrostatics make you pay for supreme clarity, naturalness, effortlessness, and neutrality
Certainly, electrostatic speakers are not the usual thing, and their reputation for being quirky has been well earned (not by JansZen speakers, though). On the other hand, lots of things that might seem universally true about them ain't necessarily so. Here's a list:
Electrostatics need special amplifiers. Full range electrostatic speakers generally do present an amplifier with such a low impedance and highly reactive load that not all amplifiers will work with them. There are a couple of examples made here in the USA. One even makes its own special amplifier for its speakers. The low impedances are the result of driving a large electrostatic speaker's inevitably large capacitance over a wide range of frequencies, and the capacitance itself can cause some amplifiers to oscillate.
Hybrid electrostatics like ours, on the other hand, with a cone woofer handling the bass and lower midrange, has a low capacitance, and is thus easy to drive. Our zA1.1 is a 6 Ohm speaker, and our zA2.1 is a 4 Ohm speaker, and neither one's impedance drops below 3.5 Ohms at any frequency.
JansZen speakers do not need special amplifiers.
Electrostatics need big amplifiers. This one is true to some extent, but also true for any speakers with sensitivity in the mid-80 dB range. Ours are, however, especially good at making natural sound at low volumes, and if one has a 25W/ch amplifier, one will still get up to 100 dB peak levels from a pair of zA2.1's in a medium sized room.
Our zA1.1 and zA2.1 have 85 dB and 87 dB sensitivity, respectively, and can handle 120W continuous power. If one wants to get the absolute maximum available sound level from them, a 120W/ch amplifier will reach the maximum steady state volume, and a 240W/ch amplifier will reproduce brief transients by taking advantage of the speakers' headroom capability.
We're somewhat busted on this one, depending on what you consider a big amplifier.
Electrostatics sound better with tube amplifiers. This is a matter of personal taste/opinion. Our speakers work well with any type of amplifier. Since they use cone woofers, the bass is naturally tighter with a solid state amplifier, but not everyone likes that. Whatever sonic signature or lack thereof an amplifier might have, it will be well represented with our speakers.
You can use any type of amplifier with JansZen speakers.
Electrostatics are unreliable. True for some others, but not ours. There are quite a few weaknesses in other designs that lead to reliability issues after a few years:
- Inadequate protection against the formation of unintended high voltage pathways. This can lead to clicking, popping, hissing, or squeaking sounds. Soot and dust from the air can collect due to the constant presence of static electricity. Our design prevents dust collection as much as possible, and prevents whatever debris is inevitably attracted from coming into contact with any of the high voltage parts.
- Inadequate or nonexistent protection against arcing. When the stator electrodes are not insulated, or are insufficiently insulated, sparks can jump through the membrane that vibrates to make the sound, eventually causing it to tear and stop working. Our electrodes can withstand extreme voltages without allowing a spark. The stator wires will glow blue and make tons of ozone, but arcing will not occur, even when amplifiers that are much more powerful than recommended are used.
- Loss or alteration of membrane tension. To work properly, the membrane that vibrates to make the sound must have the right tightness. There are several ways that it can change, such as being stretched too much when the speaker expands from high temperatures during transport, but then not recovering completely, or losing of adhesion at its edges, or a phenomenon called "creep," where a polymer gradually relaxes over time. There is a particular problem with one design, where to start out working properly, all the tension has to be applied in the vertical direction, and none in the horizontal. Over time, tension can accumulate in the horizontal direction, however, either from stress relief from high temperatures, or creep that transfers some of the tension from the vertical to the horizontal, and the result is that the membrane gradually saddles back toward the rear stator and eventually collapses onto it.
- Failed bias supplies. Electrostatic speakers require an electrostatic charge on the membranes that vibrate to make sound. Because our electrostatics are not handling low frequencies, they do not need very high bias voltages, so our bias supply can have a minimal number of components -- no power transformer, no oscillator, no active circuitry -- which makes it inherently reliable.
- Failed signal step-up transformers. Electrostatic speakers need high voltages to vibrate the membrane. Again, because our electrostatics are not handling low frequencies, they do not need very high drive voltages, and this means that the signal transformers endure far less stress.
- Loss of membrane coating. Electrostatic speakers require a microscopically thin conductive or semi-conductive coating on the membrane to distribute the bias charge. There have been designs that inherently allow or cause the coating to gradually disappear. Our coating is not only stable, but is protected by an additional membrane that is laid over it, which is unique to our knowledge.
Janszen speakers are reliable, and carry a rather long, 5 year warranty.
Electrostatics make weird noises on their own. True for some, no doubt, but not ours -- see above about unintended high voltage pathways.
JansZen speakers are as quiet as any.
Electrostatics don't make enough bass. To get good bass from a purely electrostatic speaker requires a lot of surface area, meaning the speaker has to be very big. There are two reasons for this:
One is that to make a lot of sound at low frequencies, you've got to be moving a lot of air, but the membrane that vibrates to make the sound cannot move much, so the speaker needs a lot of area to make up for that.
The other reason is that at low frequencies, an electrostatic must be operated as a dipole, open at the back, because it doesn't generate the force needed to pressurize the air in an enclosure. (Note: Cone speakers waste most of their energy and force accelerating their massive cones, coils, coil formers, and suspensions, so pressurizing air in an enclosure is hardly any extra effort for them. Electrostatics have practically no mass of their own, and operate with inherent delicacy, using most of their energy moving air to create sound waves.)
In a dipole, since low frequencies are omnidirectional, much of the low frequency sound goes out the front and in the back, and vice versa, canceling out much of the low frequency sound.
We take care of the problem by using cone woofers, and we do it in ways that different from the others.
JansZen speakers produce full, deep bass.
Electrostatics mated to cone woofers have a noticeable discontinuity. At one time, woofers were not good enough to reproduce sound as well as an electrostatic, so there was a reason to bother making huge electrostatic speakers. Although electrostatic speakers still outshine all other types for clarity, low distortion, and effortlessness, woofers have come a long way -- most are pretty good these days, and some are just excellent.
As long as the mating is implemented in a way that allows a seamless transition to the electrostatic portion of a speaker system, there's no reason to bother making a full range electrostatic speaker anymore. This seamlessness, however, is a trick that other companies don't seem interested in applying, perhaps because boomy bass is a popular thing, even if it doesn't match up with an electrostatic's speed.
In addition to taking good care of the cone/electrostatic transition, we also have ways of getting more than the usual amount of bass from a compact, sealed enclosure. Set up properly, our zA1.1 and zA2.1 speakers will be down only 3 dB at 30 Hz in many rooms.
There is seamless continuity between the cone woofers and the electrostatic elements in JansZen speakers.
Electrostatics are not loud enough to sound dynamic. A pair of zA2.1 can produce 108 dB peaks. If this is not loud enough for you, then for you, this one might be true. Most people, however, find our speakers surprisingly dynamic. This is at least partly because our speakers sound just as clear, full, and revealing at low volumes as when played loudly, and do not need to be blasted to "come alive".
JansZen speakers are "dynamic."
Electrostatics are unsuitable for popular music. This one has to do with the one about not being loud enough and the other one about not having enough bass.
Simply put, JansZen speakers can rock. With external subs, or in the case of the zA2.1A-HP, without them, they can even give you a trance club experience.
Electrostatics are hard to set up. Unlike ours, most electrostatic speakers are dipoles, with just as much sound coming out the back as the front. Unless the speakers are about 1/3 of the way out into the room, this causes interference effects as the reflected sound interacts with the direct sound. In any case, it also creates other challenging setup issues. For some, the sense of envelopment from sound bouncing all over the place is worth the added coloration and lack of imaging, but this is not how we see things.
Our speakers are monopoles, i.e., the sound comes only from the front. Their set up is pretty much like with any other speakers. In fact, because the tweeters are planar, their directivity reduces wall, floor, and ceiling splash, which lets them go near side walls without creating excessive brightness. It also makes their imaging spectacular.
JansZen speakers are are about the same to set up as any other speakers.
Electrostatics are "beamy." This refers to the need to sit in the very tight sweet spot that some planars produce. The larger the speaker area, the tighter the beam, and the less latitude one has for listening position. The general solution is to use a small transducer, but that reduces loudness.
In our case, we make the area that produces the treble narrower than the area that produces the midrange. We can do this without losing loudness, because an electrostatic speaker gets louder at higher frequencies. The sound from the treble and midrange areas overlaps and combines to provide about a 20° width at 10 kHz, and then drops off quickly farther to the left or right.
This is called controlled dispersion, and creates a fairly wide sweet area, while restricting wall splash. It also means we do not have to add an intrusive electrical network to compensate for the increased loudness at higher frequencies. As with any stereo setup, there is one place where the imaging is centered and most convincing, but the tonal quality is maintained over an area that's wide enough for two or three people.
JansZen speakers let you relax in your seat, and you can listen with others, if you want, just like other speakers.
Electrostatics sound like headphones. This is an interesting one, and is related to the reputation for being beamy. Extremely beamy electrostatics or other planars can sound like headphones, even to the point of sounding to some extent like the sound is in one's head.
Our speakers, on the other hand, have the immediacy of headphones, but the sound is very convincingly three dimensional, out and away from you, with height, width, and depth, floating in the air. As is one of the usual goals in high end audio, the speakers themselves become very difficult to locate.
JansZen speakers offer the advantages of headphones without the drawbacks.
Planar magnetic (magnetostatic) speakers are electrostatic. It's easy to mistake a planar magnetic for an electrostatic. Examples of magnetostatic planars are the AMT, the isodynamic or quasi-ribbon tweeter, the ribbon tweeter, or the full ranger, such as from Magnepan or Apogee. Both types do vibrate planar membranes to make sound, but the operating principles are entirely different.
A planar magnetic has metallic foil bonded to its relatively heavy plastic membrane to conduct the current that generates its dynamic magnetic field. This works against a static magnetic field from magnets in the speaker frame, and thus vibrates the membrane. A true ribbon has just the foil without the plastic membrane. In both cases, the metal foil is relatively heavy, and presents a mechanical load that significantly influences its motion, much like a cone speaker, although not as severely. Its prime attribute is its planar nature, which lets it operate as a true piston, unlike a cone speaker, and thus produce relatively uncolored sound.
An electrostatic speaker applies a static charge to a very much lighter membrane than those found in magnetostatic planars. The stationary electrodes produce a dynamic electrical field that works on that static charge, thereby vibrating the membrane.
An electrostatic membrane therefore starts out very light, and does not have any mass added to it, at least, not enough to create a mechanical load. Its load is almost purely acoustical, i.e., the air itself. This lightness makes it far better able to respond to transients and also avoid continuing to vibrate after a transient has ended.
The differences between planar magnetic and electrostatic speakers are important, and while planar magnetics can produce excellent sound, electrostatics can do it even better.
In short, JansZen electrostatic hybrids are as friendly and trouble-free as any other kind of speaker, and are even easier to deal with in some ways. They'll give you the very clearest sound possible, with no worries about how it's being done.