Parasound is a California company that is well known by audiophiles and consumers of high-end audio gear. One of their lines, Zcustom, is a set of half-rack components for situations where space is limited. The piece that caught my eye is the Zbreeze.
As the name implies, the Zbreeze provides cooling by way of three fans. It works by drawing hot air up and away from heat-producing gear. Hot air is pushed out in two directions: through openings in its top cover, thus cooling the component below it; and through openings in its rear panel, which contributes to general air circulation inside your rack. The unit has three speeds which are selected via 12 Volt DC trigger, 120 VAC, or manually using a front-panel button. At top speed, the Zbreeze can move more than 90 cubic feet of air per minute.
First, I tried the Zbreeze in my mastering rack. I joined two units, spanning a 19" rack width. This brought six fans to bear to the situation. Speaking of fans, these are no ordinary off-the-shelf computer store propellers. They are larger and feature ball bearing construction for long life. At the low setting, the fans are quiet-very quiet. Measurements confirm levels below 33 dBA SPL. However, in a mastering environment like mine, that was still a touch more than I was willing to accept, due to the proximity most mastering engineers sit to their gear. As soon as you move a few feet away, a Zbreeze set on low simply fades into the background. For example, noise-wise, the units were imperceptible when used on power amps. My amps are in an open rack and have the standard aluminum cooling fins. But just one Zbreeze unit cooled my Mark Levinson appreciably.
Moving to the tracking side, I found the units to be almost sonically invisible at low and noticeable at medium. In tracking, we have closed racks. Some tube pieces (ahem, Massive Passive) can get very hot. Having something like the Zbreeze will cool hot tube and Class A gear, and probably extend the life of your equipment in the process. We fed the Zbreeze a separate line of power so the unit could stay on at its low setting even after the other gear was powered down, allowing the fans to run at a lower setting, longer. There is actually a switch on the back so you can select instant off or 10 minute delayed off. The delay (when used with a 12 V trigger power on) allows components to be fully cooled down even after the main rack is turned off.
Parasound warns that the Zbreeze is not intended to serve as a dedicated exhaust system for an entire rack, nor should it be used in place of general rack or forced air circulation. That has to be the lawyers talking, because in my opinion, a pair of these babies do wonders for an otherwise passive cooling situation. If you have closed racks or really hot power amps, you might want to try one or two Zbreezes for yourself. As for me, I want to hear one of their Zamp compact power amps with our NS-10Ms.
($199.95 MSRP; www.parasound.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.