Sound & Performance
When playing with all the inputs, Bluetooth is understandably worse (flat and fuzzy) than the others but perfect for just having background music. The optical input sounded very spacious and quiet relative to the others – at the expense of some warmth. Interestingly, the Chromecast Audio optical output sounded much better than the Oppo UDP-203 via Roon. The Oppo had this really nasty midrange grain and thinness.
USB seems to strike the perfect balance of body and clarity. The analog input sounded pretty good straight from my phone – and even better with an external DAC. I’ve stuck with the USB input in “shelf mode” for the remainder of this review.
Given the size and context of being a full-featured active speaker, my expectations weren’t the highest for sound quality. After hooking it up to my MSI GS40 (noisy) gaming laptop and playing some Spotify Sessions and Tidal music through it – I was immediately impressed.
I listened to everything from Mozart to Coltrane – and Taylor Swift to Rage Against the Machine. The character of these speakers was very easy to decipher.
The first thing I noticed is how well it images. Not just laterally but there’s precision in layering out depth as well. It’s also not a piecewise sound but rather a cohesive assembly of sound objects. It projects plenty of dimension, weight, and shape into the listening room. The sound also extends wide and comes from far behind the speakers. They were kind of – invisible.
I surely didn’t expect to be fully enveloped by music from such a small speaker. A very pleasant surprise.
It was also easy to appreciate the Transparent Zero’s tonal balance. Voices and instruments have wonderful color and life to them. Cymbals and bells are still able to shine and shimmer while percussions were coated more heavily. It’s sweeter than neutral and fills in a perfect amount of warmth – especially in the mids. Treble response was also very smooth. No grain, no edge – and no fatigue. Nothing is exaggerated or hyper-extended. This contrast gives the music more tangibility and texture.
As far as resolution and transparency, the Transparent Zero provides ample amounts of it – and without robbing the soul of the music. At this point, I must tip my hat to the designers as this is a very challenging task.
It just has the right amount of salt and pepper. This results in a lifelike clarity, smoother articulation, and a better sense of “speed.” The Transparent Zero never loses its grip on the tonal grooves. It never sounds messy or convoluted. In fact, dynamic strides are made with aplomb and with zero hints of distortion.
Apparently, plenty of Tender, Love, and Care (TLC) went into this speaker.
At this point, the Transparent Zero sounds like the perfect speaker. To be honest, for a small desktop setup – it might as well be.
It doesn’t have laser-precise outlining or shaping of the performers or instruments. It also sounds more insightful than dense. As a personal preference, I also prefer a slightly warmer and richer sound.
But the thing is, a better DAC (e.g., Chord Electronics Hugo) may actually help with that. The Transparent Zero is more than capable and will scale accordingly. I could get all those qualities – and still get superb sound – and keep the footprint small.
From a musical enjoyment perspective, it was difficult to find any major faults with this speaker. It’s also one of the most genre-independent speakers I’ve heard. It doesn’t try to throw things off balance with embellishments.
Lesson learned: Never judge a speaker by its size – or its form. In this case – an active speaker.
It was very difficult to find sonic flaws with the Vanatoo Transparent Zero. I spent most of my time enjoying music with the occasional nod of approval.
I eventually hooked up a Chord Electronics Qutest DAC and Google Chromecast to a portable battery pack and ran the 2-channel system with a single power cord to the wall. I can’t deny it, it sounded, and felt, amazing. The Transparent Zero was able to leverage the world-class DAC with finesse.
Further gains were had by connecting an optical cable from an LG OLED TV to the Transparent Zero. Going back to the internal speaker was no longer an option. The allure of getting much better sound with just one power cord is too good to pass up. Having the option to connect a subwoofer was just icing on the cake.
All while doing this, I realize how easy it was to transport this speaker around to different rooms.
The beauty of the Transparent Zero lies in its realistic tone (and the option to dial it in). Because of that, I’ve actually heard plenty of full-fledged discrete setups that didn’t sound as natural. You could definitely pay more for worse sound.
Sometimes it isn’t about what it’s missing – it’s about what it isn’t. In the case of the Vanatoo Transparent Zero, it has all the elements of what makes listening to music so enjoyable.
Plenty of thoughtfulness in engineering and art went into this speaker. At $359 a pair, it’s worth every penny – and more. If you’re looking for a compact, high-performance desktop speaker, it’s a no-brainer.
Not to mention a 30-day trial and 3-year warranty. The Vanatoo Transparent Zero simply ROCKS.
Check out Vanatoo’s line of products here.
Purchasing: Vanatoo Transparent Zero ($359)