Today’s live sound amps have more feature variations than ever before with many firms producing units specifically designed for subs, mids, highs, monitors and even some that have hybrid topologies. Many of these new amps have a slew of extra functions that can enhance performance. Enter the new Carver ZR1600 ($1,189), the company’s ante in the lightweight amp with heavyweight punch and features contest.
Product PointsApplications: Live sound, installation, studio, broadcast
Key Features: Two-channel; modified Class D; soft start; input/output/processor modules
Contact: Carver Professional at 503-978-3344, Web Site.
The ZR1600 is an amp that is intended to sound like a Class A with the efficiency of a Class D amplifier. Traditionally, Class D amps have employed “brick wall” filtering of the output waveform to smooth and integrate output pulses into an amplified version of the input waveform. However, the spread-spectrum, Tripath amplifier is said to greatly reduce the intermodulation distortion typically seen in Class D designs by dramatically increasing the switching frequency with an average speed of 700 kHz. According to Carver’s David Garlett, this design yields an amp that trumps all its competitors in terms of efficiency and sound quality.
The amp consumes two rack spaces, is 17.25 inches deep and weighs in at 30 pounds. Front panel controls and features include a power switch (with off, on and standby), a standby LED, volume controls (defeatable), high-pass filters (40 Hz or 80 Hz) with LED indicators, clip limiters with LEDs, and a seven-tiered LED signal ladder. The rear panel is home to a sequence connector (to facilitate staggered startup with multiple amps), a fuse, speaker outputs (binding post and Speakon) and an input module. The ZR1600 and the ZR1000 have a number of input modules to choose from. The standard module has dual Neutrik Combo connectors, Euro connectors as well as mono and ground lift switches. There is also a four-input dual zone paging module with auto-ducking/mute (great for bars and restaurants), a DSP module with EQs, delay and limiting via computer control, and a four-input mixer module with phantom power.
The ZR1600 puts out a healthy 600 watts per channel into 4 ohms (20 Hz – 20 kHz, +0.5 dB, -3 dB less than 0.5 percent THD) and is dubbed stable for strenuous 2 ohm operation. THD+N is rated at 0.06 percent (-10 dB to rated power, 4 ohms, 1 kHz) and S/N specs are very respectable too. The amp is purported to be 81 percent efficient at full power and around 70 percent efficient at 1/3 power – a valuable feature when working in venues with limited power. According to Garlett, the ZR can still run even when AC voltage sags 10 percent.
I used the ZR in a variety of live sound scenarios. Whether it was driving four 8 ohm monitor wedges, two 4 ohm subs, or two 4 ohm mid/high boxes it sounded great with lots of punch and dynamics. The amp responds very well to low frequency transients and generates a clean, coherent high end. The ZR had more umph and better clarity than the popular lightweight amp that had resided in my monitor amp rack prior to this evaluation. While I enjoyed the improved performance, that extra eight pounds does make a difference. I also would have preferred a higher-powered amp to drive some larger sub-woofers but the ZR fared very well with a pair of dual 15-inch cabinets.
Later, I loaned the ZR to fellow engineer Steve Milner. He employed the amp at an indoor music festival and used it to power a pair of mid/high boxes. While it took him a while to find the well-hidden switches for the HPF and the limiter (I forgot to give him the manual), he was very pleased with the ZR’s sound and power output.
The ZR1600, with its great sound, light weight, and inventive input modules, may well be the next “big hit” in amplifier land. It has features that will appeal to touring companies, installers and even studios. In fact, there are some very kind words being written about the ZR in audiophile chat rooms (where anything not Class A is usually sneered at). At $1,189, it is an incredibly good deal.