Each month bears witness to products aplenty shuffling through our office’s door, many of which are receivers. This precipitates auditions, which ultimately begets reviews. As one would imagine, the question is often posed as to what makes a good receiver. A fairly logical question, though the answer is not always met with immediate agreeance… because having every feature in the world is not always conducive to a receiver being good.
The sad reality for all technical devices worldwide is that the more functionality you have on-board the more memory it consumes, and you may’ve gleaned that the physical chassis dimensions of your standard double-DIN receiver aren’t growing anytime soon.
This means that the chipsets for all that ‘stuff’ must fit within these physical confines, and this is where the technological powerhouses that lack street smarts start to extricate themselves. Making a deck with a feature list MacGyver would be proud of is one thing. However, getting it to perform with speed faster than that of a wet weekend is another thing altogether.
A question of balance
My point is it takes a savvy designer to produce an award winning deck capable of offering all the functionality you need, omitting that which you don’t and all with a reaction speed acceptable in this day and age. Believe me when I say many manufacturers struggle considerably with this delicate balancing act; either packing too much in and adversely affecting operational speed, or leaving too much out and making the deck inherently impotent. This is where Swiss manufacturer Zenec is exemplary. Despite it boasting a tender young age just shy of a decade, it’s nowadays widely considered as one of the best contemporary receiver designers. The new Z-N626 ($1499, or $1749 with the Hema Maps option, see below) is the latest exhibit of this technical prowess.
With development commencing three years prior, the team behind the Z-N626 has done a wonderful job, packing in an abundance of features while at the same time possessing the wisdom to exclude redundant functionality in order that it may operate with haste. It’s an impressive ground-up fourth generation design, featuring a completely new and innovative operating system.
As a platform it epitomises significant technological developments pertaining to both hardware and software. Information importation can be undertaken via various means, starting with a robust disc mechanism able to handle all standard formats of plastic media ranging from CD and VCD through to DVD, with both PAL and NTSC supported. Software-wise all the standard file types are supported including MP3, WMA, AVI, Xvid and FLAC, most of which will likely be imported via two version 2.0 USB ports, one located on the rear and one on the front. If you find you require more you can also plumb in a USB hub. File structure supported is the standard FAT32 protocol, and the unit includes a database-driven search function meaning digital media can be stored and recalled via a multitude of monikers, from tracks and albums through to artist.
The deck includes Gracenote functionality thereby allowing you to recall songs similar to the one you’re listening to in addition to sorting them into similar genres based on their mood, which you can then recall later; dependent on yours. There’s also a Smartlink HDMI/Miracast connection if you want to plumb in an external DVB-T tuner. Zenec has incorporated a powerful new tuner chipset which not only includes AM and FM but also DAB. In what can only be described as intelligent design, stations from any of these bands can be saved within the 18 pre-set positions. The days of segregated bands are finally behind us. You can opt for the tuner to update dynamically whereby it’ll actively prioritise the station list by signal strength as you drive between capital cities. Intrinsically, it features a selection of audio visual inputs ranging from composite through to analogue 3.5mm jack and to top it off there’s both steering wheel control input and a rear camera input that includes adjustable grid lines and audio support.
On-board Bluetooth comes equipped with the latest FC6000TS Parrot board. The software allows for synchronisation with up to three phones collectively, and it can actually interface with two at once. Whether you’re streaming information or requesting it handle your rotund telephonic requirements, the Z-N626 has you covered. It allows for each phone to present up to one thousand contacts with five numbers per contact, and the software includes digital processing for noise masking, whether you choose to converse via its internal microphone or plumb in an external one.
With your information input, you’ll now want to process it. Not surprisingly Zenec doesn’t just settle for simple treble, bass and loudness, although those can be accessed via simply pressing and holding the home button. No; for those demanding a more in-depth sound manipulation suite, Zenec provides. Starting with a 24-Bit/192kHz digital-to-analogue convertor, from here ancillary manipulators include crossovers for all channels, starting with a high-pass for the satellite channels settable at third octave steps of 63Hz/80Hz/100Hz/125Hz with a second order slope. The subwoofer channel has the ability to be low-passed at the same frequencies however is switchable between second or fourth order slopes and with a phase of either 0- or 180-degrees. Furthermore, there’s also time alignment thus allowing for front, rear and subwoofer to be independently delayed out up to 8.9ms or 305cm, depending on which unit you prefer. Lastly there’s a parametric 11-band equaliser, vastly advanced over previous offerings in that you can not only change the frequency centres but now also alter the logarithm widths too, with a boost of +2dB down to an attenuation of -14dB. If you’re not up with all this technical jargon, Zenec also provides numerous pre-set curves, you just select the shape of your car and the Z-N626 adjusts the sound to suit.
Exporting your information can be accomplished via a myriad of methods, starting with 3-volts front, rear, subwoofer and centre pre-outs, the latter being employed when the system is set to output 5.1 surround sound. Staying with the low voltage outputs, there’re also numerous composite audio visual outputs and the deck has a special multi-zone function to cater specifically for rear passenger entertainment. If you opt to use the internal 4-channel MOSFET amplifier it’s quite potent, outputting 23 watts continuous or just over 50 per channel maximum with an exceptional total harmonic distortion figure.
Argue though you may as to its other abilities, it’s hard to refute the supremacy of the navigation suite Zenec incorporates. It features the latest iGO Primo NextGen Australian & New Zealand mapping software and this includes an extensive point of interest database featuring over 750000 items. Also included in this software is a subsidiary POI database from Camps Australia Wide that provides a list of over 3900 low-cost or free camp sites. Other primary navigation abilities include two- and three-dimensional high-resolution maps, tunnel mode, text-to-speech ability and a feature called enhanced junction view that displays a lifelike image of the upcoming intersection literally showing you where to go.
What sets the Z-N626 apart from many of its peers however, is that you can option in Hema 4x4 topographic off-road mapping. Now if your idea of going off-road is mounting a gutter then this probably won’t appeal to you. However, if you’re one who likes to really get away from it all, then Hema mapping is a godsend, offering superbly detailed touring maps for literally hundreds of thousands of kilometres of both iconic and lesser-known outback roads and tracks. Including the Hema maps option is $250 extra, putting the unit's price up to $1749. Just to sweeten the deal the unit comes with a year’s worth of complimentary map updates.
Visually-speaking Zenec has never been exceedingly audacious, nonetheless, the Z-N626 does look most professional. Sporting a matt black face that encapsulates a 6.2-inch thin film transistor display with a resolution of 800 x 480 which, combined with the super bright LED backlighting and the software antialiasing, provides a superbly sharp and detailed image. The control buttons and commander knob adorn the left hand side and feature white key illumination, while the disc slot and analogue jack are at the top. Altogether these provide for an appearance that’s actually difficult to distinguish from a factory one. Zenec includes plenty of paraphernalia ranging from looms, IR remotes, interconnects, multiple instruction booklets, external microphone, USB extension cable and face surround. Installation proved to be a cinch, and I strongly recommend you spend considerable time setting the processor up. As aforesaid, the Z-N626 features quite a powerful DSP; you’d be remiss not to make full use of its considerable potential.
Progressing further into my auditioning odyssey revealed the Z-N626 to be quite a user friendly unit. It offers various little shortcuts for quicker navigation and you can customise which icons appear on the front page, actually binning the ones you don’t use. Sound-wise I began with the internal amplifier, giving it a fairly serious workout which still resulted in a fairly quiet unit, without hiss until the higher volumes are reached, thanks to the 106dB signal-to-noise ratio. Naturally the lower voltage pre-outs are far quieter, with the unit’s output remaining devoid of external noise; period.
As a matter of fact, the output as a whole is breathtakingly clean, and as I drove around I began to appreciate just how meticulous the aural output of the Z-N626 actually is. Its sound quality is such that it reveals those little idiosyncratic details you seldom hear nowadays, with the tiniest little nuances being reproduced with stunning clarity. Visually the deck is splendid, providing a crystal clear image and this segues nicely into the navigation suite. Despite its enormousness it’s not difficult to master, and you’ll soon have it happily telling you where to go.
Truth be told, I was a little taken aback by the Z-N626. Not because Zenec has developed a super impressive new receiver, but because it’s never produced a bad one. And looking at the $1499 price tag I was somewhat unprepared for how competently the unit performed as an overall package. From its in-depth navigation suite, through to its absolutely superb sound quality, it’s just an extraordinary combination.
Zenec Z-N626 multimedia head unit
Price with Hema Maps option: $1749
Type: Double DIN 6.2-inch screen with navigation and Bluetooth built-in
Power Handling: 4 x 23 watts continuous, 4 x 50 watts maximum
Features: iGO Primo NextGen on-road and Hema off-road navigation, handles DVD, VCD, CD, MP3, WMA, AAC and FLAC playback ability, multiple inputs and outputs, basic DSP, camera, DAB and DTV ready
Product page: Zenec Australia