Review: Vanatoo Transparent Zero (Part One)
I’ve got to start this review with a big time thumbs up for this little speaker system. We’ve reviewed a lot of wireless music systems, and we’ve looked at plenty more that weren’t good enough to be featured on the site, but the Vanatoo Transparent Zero is really special.
With most products, even the really great ones, there are plenty of things that we wish they’d done differently. Some sound good, but don’t really do very much; others have all sorts of great features, but are complicated to use. Others are easy to use, but seem to be missing a bunch of options we’d like to have.
The Vanatoo Transparent Zero has these useful features in abundance and it’s simple to use because most of the configuration features you won’t use very often are hidden and out of the way.
The designers also thought of a lot of little details that often get missed or overlooked on other products. And, yes, these speakers also just plain sound very good. We think it’s a really great combination.
Vanatoo T0 Unboxing and Demo [Video]
Vanatoo: The Company
As a company, some may say that Vanatoo really isn’t that interesting. The company doesn’t have a history going back to the dawn of civilization, we’ve never heard of the founders before, and their speakers don’t have award winning Kvadrat grille cloth designed with organic textiles.
To quote the company website: “Vanatoo is a lifelong dream for two engineers with a love for audio and technology.”
Vanatoo is simply two experienced audio engineers who design great sounding speakers, with a wealth of truly useful features, have them built from good quality materials, without cutting any important corners, and sell them for a reasonable price.
If you’re curious, the company is based in Washington, in the USA, the designers like beer, and the Transparent Zeros are manufactured in China.
To anyone seeking one of the best available nearfield desktop stereo speaker systems read on and see how two audio engineers created a brilliant sounding small footprint desktop / tabletop stereo system.
All Vanatoo speaker products carry a 3 year limited non-transferrable warranty from the date of purchase. The warranty is automatic; there is no requirement for you to register your product."
Vanatoo T0 (Transparent Zero) Desktop Speaker Review
Packed with Technology
Since this is a rather detailed review, we’ve decided to offer a short summary here at the beginning.
- The Vanatoo Transparent Zeros are designed to be used as both wireless speakers and computer speakers. They work with Bluetooth sources like smart phones, and they have both digital and analog inputs for connecting to your stereo system or your computer. They do not have any built-in streaming apps or multi-room features.
- They are about 5” x 10” x 8”, which puts them on the small side for conventional speakers, and slightly on the large side for computer speakers.
- The Transparent Zeros have a slightly odd shape; a trapezoid. They have built-in stands, which can be installed in different positions, or removed entirely. They have active drivers mounted on one side, a passive radiator on another, and their input connections on a third side. As a result, the Transparent Zeros can be used in a variety of different positions. (And none of the standard options offers a flat top where you can stack stuff.)
- The T0's have an actual subwoofer output you can use to connect an external powered subwoofer. The subwoofer output includes a built-in configurable active crossover, which is automatically engaged when the Transparent Zero detects a subwoofer connected.
- They have an excellent combination of flexibility and simplicity. Their basic features are simple and straightforward to operate. They also have a good selection of flexible configuration and adjustment options – but most of those are buried where you won’t have to deal with them unless you want to.
To sum it all up: The Transparent Zeros sound quality is very full and rich and defo high-end, they can be mounted or placed in a variety of different positions. They’re simple to operate, but they still include a huge variety of deeper configuration options that will make even the most dedicated gadget fan happy.
Some General Info
The Vanatoo Transparent Zero is sold as a pair; with identical speaker components in the left and right units. All of the electronic components are housed in the active unit (the right speaker), which is connected to the passive unit via the included RJ50 cable.
Power is provided to the active unit via the included AC adapter. The inputs are located on the rear of the active unit.
The active speaker drivers (woofer and tweeter) are located on the front of each unit; the passive radiator is located on one end of the cabinet - which can be either the top or the bottom, depending on how they’re positioned, and where the stand is installed.
All of the inputs, and some of the controls, are located on the rear of the active unit; while the rear of the passive unit houses a single connector for connecting the two speakers together using the provided RJ50 cable.
A single knob, nominally the Volume Control, is located on the side of the active unit where the passive radiator is mounted.
The Speaker Components and Electronics
Each speaker unit on the Vanatoo Transparent Zero features a 4” woofer, with an aluminum cone, and a 1” underhung voice coil, a 4” long throw passive radiator, and a 1” soft dome tweeter.
The passive radiator is used to tune the cabinet, and enhance output at low frequencies, much as a bass reflex port, but is able to contribute more output without causing unwanted port noise.)
The Vanatoo Transparent Zero is a true bi-amplified speaker. Each of the four active drivers is powered by its own 48 watt high efficiency Class D amplifier.
Crossover and equalization features are provided by a DSP (digital signal processor) which operates at a 48 kHz sample rate with 24 bits of resolution.
What Inputs and other Connectivity?
The Vanatoo Transparent Zero accepts Bluetooth and aptX from your favorite smartphone or other audio player, and includes both analog and digital audio inputs.
Also included is a USB input for accepting digital audio directly from your computer. The Transparent Zero does NOT support WiFi connectivity or any sort of multi-room connection.
Fine Tune Everything! We Love the Array of Controls
The controls ON the Transparent Zero consist of a single knob, a cryptic little slide switch on the rear panel named “V-T-B”, and a button that’s used to pair the Transparent Zero with your Bluetooth source.
The knob can be used to control Volume, or Bass, or Treble – what it controls is set by that switch. (When you set the knob to a different function using the switch, the DSP remembers the other settings.
So, for example, if you set the knob to T – for Treble, and use it to turn the Treble up a bit, the setting you choose for Treble will remain in effect when you set the switch back to V – so the knob again controls the Volume. It sounds a little confusing, but it actually makes great sense once you get used to it.
There is no power switch. The Vanatoo Transparent Zero is intended to be left powered On; it goes to sleep when not used for a while, and doesn’t draw much power even when awake but not playing anything.
Accessing many of the less often used configuration settings from the Transparent Zero itself involves a really cryptic combination of setting the knob in a particular spot, setting the switch to a particular setting, unplugging the unit, then plugging it back in while holding down the pairing button. Your favorite master spy would be proud.
Have no fear! The options that require those odd gyrations are the ones you’ll almost never use, so it’s just as well you can’t get to them accidentally, and the Transparent Zero has a quite friendly little remote control that covers most of the more often used options.
Even though the remote control is small, it has plenty of buttons to do the job. (We find those remotes that expect you to control lots of stuff using just two or three buttons and some sort of arrow keys can be a bit confusing – especially in the dark.)
Vanatoo have created a full Transparent Zero Owners Guide to download to help you understand the system.
Cool Features (and just plain Cool Stuff)
Super cool design some might say is trivial -The Vanatoo Transparent Zeros have so many cool design and operating features that, rather than separate the cool things you can program them to do.
The cool things that are just designed right in, we’re simply going to list them all right here.
- Sleep Mode – The Transparent Zeros use about 6.5 watts when they’re On with nothing playing. You can set them to drop into a very low power Standby mode after about 20 minutes of silence; if you do there will be a very short delay when the music starts, but they’ll only consume about ½ watt in Standby mode.
- Remote Enable Key – When you use the Remote Control, you have to press the Enable Button first, which then makes the other buttons active for fifteen seconds. This keeps you from accidentally pressing other buttons by mistake (or if your cat happens to walk on the remote). This can be configured to lock out all or just some of the buttons.
- Stereo/Mono Setting – Yes, the Transparent Zero can be configured to operate either way. The Mono mode mixes both input channels together, then plays the summed channel from both speakers. It can be used to play a source in monaural from both speakers, or if you want to take just the active speaker on a short trip… like out to your workshop.
- Active Speaker Position – By default, the active speaker is the right channel, and the passive one is the left channel. This option lets you swap them. Since the input connections all go to the active unit, it’s quite handy to be able to decide which side you want the wires to be on.
- Auto Input Switching – The Transparent Zero is smart enough to detect which input is active by sensing when it hears music playing, and switch to that input automatically. You can also select the input manually; and you can override the automatic settings if you like. Thoughtfully, you can configure the Transparent Zero to operate manually, but to reset itself to automatic when it wakes up after being asleep.
- DSP Settings – You can choose between two different crossover options to configure the Transparent Zero to be a better match to your room.
- Automatic Subwoofer Output – The Vanatoo Transparent Zero provides an output for an external powered subwoofer. And, not only does the subwoofer output on the Transparent Zero include a real active crossover, but it actually senses when a subwoofer is attached. (This is handy because it simplifies initial setup, but it also means that, if you use the Transparent Zero in different locations, it will simply use the subwoofer when one is attached, and switch to the proper mode when there’s no sub, without your having to continually enable and disable the sub.)
- Limiters and Protection – The Transparent Zero has limiters that make it very difficult for you to get them to overload by turning them up too high. However, since limiters can compromise audio quality under some conditions, you can disable the limiters if you like. The Vanatoo Transparent Zero also has protection circuitry that will prevent any damage even if you do get them to overload (which they warn might happen if you play very loud music with the Limiters disabled.)
- USB Input – The USB input on the Transparent Zero is the best way to connect them to a computer. When you use that input, the Transparent Zeros replaces the sound card in your computer, and becomes simply another USB audio device, which any program on your computer can use. This is a direct digital connection which bypasses many of the limitations of the headphone or line level outputs. Many smartphones and tablets can also connect directly to this input with the proper adapter and software.
- The Support – Without the stand, the Transparent Zero will sit at an angle – with the front tilted upwards. In this configuration, the passive radiator needs to be on the top, and you can attach the stand on the top to act as a sort of handle. The handle can also be attached on the bottom; in which case it serves as a sort of stand, and the front of the Transparent Zero faces straight forward. This is also the required configuration if you want to put the passive radiator on the bottom. (Vanatoo includes the little Allen wrench you need to move the stand to a different position.)
- Isolation Pads – Small speakers have a habit of making your desk vibrate, and can sometimes even walk around on their own, especially if you put the passive radiator on the bottom. Vanatoo thoughtfully includes a set of rubber isolation pads you can put under them to prevent this.
- Magnetic Grilles – The Transparent Zeros ship with a set of attractive removable magnetically attached grilles.
- Mute – Yes, the Transparent Zero has the obligatory Mute button for muting the audio, like when the phone rings.
- Default Settings – This option resets all the configuration settings on the Transparent Zero to their original factory default settings. Many designers forget to include this option, and it really can be a nuisance to reset everything manually – especially if you don’t remember the original default settings.
- Power LED Brightness – Last, and certainly least, the Transparent Zeros allow you to adjust the brightness of the Power LED on the front of the active unit. (This may sound trivial, but many people find a front panel power LED to be annoying in a darkened room, so being able to dim it is actually quite a handy feature.)
- Pro Tip: If you’d like to DIM your components seek out Light Dims.
Vanatoo have provided a Transparent Zero Quickstart Guide to help make it easier to setup.
2 way bi-amplified active speaker.
Assisted passive radiator bass reﬂex system.
8th-Order DSP derived Butterworth high-pass at 58Hz.
8th-Order DSP derived Linkwitz-Riley crossover at 2,200Hz.
Bluetooth with aptX for wireless connection.
USB audio up to 48kHz at 16 bits.
Toslink optical up to 96kHz at 24 bits.
3.5 mm (1/8") analog input, ADC sampled at 48kHz at 24 bits.
Amplifier & DSP:
Direct Digital Class D.
4x48 watts per channel.
DSP resolution of 48kHz at 24 bits.
Thermal, short circuit, overcurrent protection.
56Hz – 20KHz ±3dB (Shelf Mode in room).
52Hz – 20kHz ±3dB (Flat Mode in room).
4th-Order Linkwitz-Riley at 125Hz (Shelf Mode).
4th-Order Linkwitz-Riley at 80Hz (Flat Mode).
120 VAC±10% at 60Hz or 220 VAC±10% at 50Hz.
Idle Power Consumption (sleep) < 0.5 watts.
Idle Power Consumption (awake but silent) < 6.5 watts.
7.5"H x 4.75"W x 7.75"D (w/o support).
7.5"H x 4.75"W x 9.75"D (with support).
Shipping Weight and Dimensions:
4.5lbs active / 4.0 lbs passive.
Shipping: 7.75"H x 13.5"W x 17.75"D and 14lbs.
You can download the official Vanatoo T0 data sheet for the manufcturers specs.
Z Review - Vanatoo T0 Sound Demo [Video]
What’s In The Box
The Vanatoo Transparent Zeros are sold as a set, with one active unit and one passive unit.
They also come with a complete set of accessories:
- AC power cord and power supply
- 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm analog cable
- 3.5 mm to RCA “Y” analog cable
- USB A to B type cable
- RJ50 Speaker interconnect cable
- Full function IR remote control
- Pair of magnetically attached grills
- Pair of vibration isolation pads
- 2.5 mm Allen wrench
We really couldn’t find much not to like about the Vanatoo Transparent Zeros. We would have been happier without the external power brick.
We were also just a tiny bit disappointed that the USB input is limited to 48k sample rate. However, those are all really minor quibbles that we’d be perfectly willing to live with.
Not Our Final Thoughts on Vanatoo
We specifically recommend them for use as computer speakers, or in a situation where your computer will be one of your more important audio sources.
And, while we absolutely don’t consider it to be a problem, note that you will have to be a little careful to position them where the stand is firmly on a flat surface, where the passive radiator isn’t obstructed, and where nothing is likely to fall onto the passive radiator if you position it on the top.
Look at the pictures to see exactly what we mean. (You really cannot set them hanging off the edge of your desk, or pile stuff on top of them, or jam stuff under them.)
We really liked the Vanatoo Transparent Zeros. It seems they have done a lot of research dealing with the passive radiator and all the low-end bits.
As our best bass tracks sound amazingly great, and the high end frequencies had little coloration, and great clarity.
We REALLY like these little beauties and and plan a part two of our review after the April 2018 Axpona Expo. We hope we can sit down and speak in depth soon with founders Gary Gesellchen and Rick Kernen, who are creating loudspeakers for those of us who have a passion for audio reproduction. These are definitely the best bluetooth speakers for entry-level audiophile sound on the desktop, no question about it!