James Pick Of The Week 10/19/2017

Artist: St. Vincent

Album: Masseduction

Label: Loma Vista Recordings

If Masseduction is any indication, the success St. Vincent's Annie Clark had with her self-titled breakthrough album -- which included a Grammy for Best Alternative Album, playing with Nirvana at their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a long-running, electrifying tour -- almost led to a breakdown. Fortunately, for an artist as keenly observant as Clark, personal chaos counts as professional field research, and on her fifth album she weaponizes the trappings of her acclaim. Working with an in-demand producer (BleachersJack Antonoff, who has also shaped sounds for Lorde and Taylor Swift) and all-star collaborators including Kamasi WashingtonJenny Lewis, and Mike Elizondo, on Masseduction she creates a pop version of St. Vincent that's bigger and shinier -- but definitely not simpler. In its own way, it's just as complex as her previous album, and as its sound gets more lurid and massive, its songs get more revealing and anxious. "Hang on Me," which begins the album by comparing a relationship to a plane crash, is the first of many songs to go down in flames. On the title track, Clark sounds increasingly unhinged as she repeats the album's mission statement -- "I can't turn off what turns me on" -- over gleaming synths, outlandish guitars, and barely human harmonies. Here and on the deceptively sleek "Sugarboy," where she describes herself as "a casualty hanging from the balcony," she crafts potent cocktails of desire and destruction. Clark also transcends the familiarity of Masseduction's tropes just as skillfully as she subverts pop music's conventions. The perky irony of "Pills"' ode to pharmaceuticals could be clichéd if its speedy verses weren't followed by a narcotized coda featuring Washington's woozily beautiful saxophone. Similarly, Clark finds new wrinkles on sexuality and boundaries on the Prince-ly "Savior" and injects new life into the tale of a partner's OD on "Young Lover," hitting wailing high notes that are equally fantastical and desperate. These cracking veneers allow more glimpses of real feeling than ever before in St. Vincent's music, most strikingly on "Happy Birthday, Johnny," a throwback to Marry Me's piano pop that finds a longtime friend calling Clark a sellout, and "New York," a farewell to a changing town and changing relationships. Even the glossy satire of "Los Ageless" is punctuated by whispered confessions ("I try to write you a love song but it comes out a lament") and limpid steel guitar that melts the rigidity of its beats, a motif that runs through the album. By the time Masseduction closes with the one-two punch of "Slow Disco"'s bittersweet knowledge that it's time to leave "the bay of mistakes" and the glowering self-destruction of "Smoking Section," Masseduction delivers sketches of chaos with stunning clarity. It's the work of an always savvy artist at her wittiest and saddest.      -AllMusic Review by Heather Phares

Posted on October 19, 2017 .

RMAF 2017 Zu Review

Great show, the best yet, our best—funny what just a day or two prep can do when you have great people to draw from, not to mention having a few hundred shows under our belt.

The Denver hi-fi show, RMAF (Rocky Mountain Audio Fest) has always been a great show, this year was the best yet, at least for us. We teamed up with Peachtree again for this show, a matchup that really exemplifies what is possible from a regular guy budget when you have great engineering in both product and production. We were in the same big room, Pikes Peak, a large conference room in the back corner of the mezzanine—a perfect spot for Zu and our spectrum of music and life-like playback levels and the legendary Saturday night party, which is also pretty close to club-level play. Yes, the show organizer and hotel have grown accustomed and give us a pass, at least until the sun comes up, during show hours we mind our pints and quarts. And speaking of Irish antics, one more mention, our neighbors, VAC and distributor On A Higher Note, both tolerate us, even with welcome—I think. Thanks Kevin Hayes and Philip O’Hanlon. Both companies have grown to understand and maybe even enjoy the color we bring to the Pikes Peak slack waters, we certainly enjoy their natural and unpretentious savoir-faire.

So, the show. David Solomon of Peachtree Audio was running the demo a good bit of the time, great sounding and still real stuff, combined with just a touch of dog and pony—me, Gerrit, Harvey and Ian swapping in every now and then to keep the music grounded, and Nicolo, the good Italian he is, was making sure the coffee was up to Zu standards.

Here’s the back story on our room’s theme. In 2001 the first Zu Druid was dropped on the planet and much of the marketing art was poached, with style of course, from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. With the latest version of Druid [Mk.VI] being such a leap forward we were compelled to bring the future that was 2001 back (posters from the show and sister shirt for sale on the website).

Two main systems were in play the bulk of the time, the new Druid Mk.VI ($10,000/pr), driven by the Peachtree Nova 300 ($2,500), cabled with Zu Event ($3,000) of course. Supporting the very bottom octave we were also running a pair of our Undertone subwoofers ($2,500 each) filtered at 28Hz low-pass, 3rd order, and basically in play with the Druid’s to even out the bass response of the room, and give you the needed sub-bass energy and life that doom soup, black metal, big orchestra and big pipes require. We also had the Soul Supreme setup on the Monolith wall and would give those play an hour or two each day.

While the Druid rig was amazing in sound and looks, the Omen rig was the one bringing show goers to reality—a thousand bucks per pair, driven by the little twelve-hundred dollar Peachtree, embarrassing the sound most all the other exhibitors were making—save for VAC and On A Higher Note of course, and so people were saying, we are pretty much married to our room. And if you are wondering, nope, no subs, filters, EQs or any other tricks were ever running in the Omen rig, that big, deep, energetic, warm and rich sound was all Omen.

Show-goer and exhibitor reception was amazing, I think it helps that Zu has finally built a solid rep for playing real, maximally divers music at these things, and yes, we also play music you bring, especially if it’s a nice bit of wax—Jim of Record Collector News, you are always welcome to bring your own, hell, I would give you your own show! Yeah, it’s been a long time coming, since 2001, mixing great music and fully avoiding soulless sound effects and state-of-the-art recordings of shit music and expressionless musicians. A big thanks to those that get what we have been doing at these hi-fi shows all these years.

The show rig:

Rupert Neve Designs 5060 desk top summing mixer. This is an all analog EQ-less mixer that is both fun to run and sounds sweet and pure. How else are you gong to run 4x vertical Serato decks and 4x Ones & Twos!

Technics SL-1200 Mk.II turntables (Ones & Twos). 

Shure M44-7 pickups. (For $100 each, yeah, they sound amazing and have excellent shove).

Rega P6 turntable with Zu Audio Zu/DL-103 pickups (standard grade).

Luxman PD-444 vintage direct drive.

K&K Audio phono-stages.

Serato rig.

Out in the Zu foyer space we again hand printed “Stolen from Zu Audio” tees and passed out treats. This might have been our last year for the hand stamped shirts, but don’t worry, we have plans for something fun for 2018. We were also serving up espresso and pour-over coffee. Coffee was Caffe Ibis from Logan Utah, their Highlander Grogg. Complimenting the coffee were biscotti, made by The Lavender Kitchen, a sister company of Lavender Vinyl, also Ogden born.

The Saturday night party was excellent, but very light on dancing (we’ll get that fixed for 2018, guaranteed), but it was fun. Ian laid down a healthy mix of endure-dance tunes, Gerrit stuck to his perfectly timed dub and electronica, and then around 11pm Harvey After Dark gave us a sick mix of doom soup. Dance sound was the best yet, connecting Druid, Soul Supreme and Omen together with the Undertone subs—George was particularly impressed. And speaking of, a big thanks to George Volinsky for his contribution to the Saturday night party—blender of the best and sneakiest margaritas on the planet. Also thanks to his close friend Sarah (Revolution in the Kitchen) for spending all day cooking up a storm of her locally sourced vegan inspired fare. Photos: instagram (@photographean)

As always those who had their ears on took away the sound and music we were serving up—not to soon be forgotten. A big thank you and welcome to all that attended.

—Sean

Gerrit Koer
Harvey Day
Ian Casey
Nicolo Castioni

Posted on October 17, 2017 .

Stereophile's JA Talks Shop with SMC of Zu

Decades long respect for John and was happy to sit down with him and talk a bit about loudspeakers. This coffee talk sans-coffee went on for much longer than JA or I realized—I quite enjoyed the time with him. Thanks Stereophile.

John Atkinson (Editor, Stereophile) discusses "unconventional" speaker design with Zu Audio's owner, founder, and chief engineer Sean Casey. Filmed at the Los Angeles Audio Show, June 2017.

Posted on October 17, 2017 .

Free Lunch Friday Winner!

This weeks Free Lunch Friday winner is Mark Chaney from Wisconsin, U.S. of A!

Mark is running a scout 1 with a dynavector 10x5 into a jolida jd9 preamp into a declare zen torli feeding a pair of Zu Omens.

Posted on August 22, 2014 .

T.H.E. Show Newport Beach 2014

Special thanks to all our fans and new customers for coming out to T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach a few weeks ago. We had a great time playing good music and stamping up some shirts.

Here is a list of our setup at the show:
- Soul Supreme Loudspeakers
- Zu Modern Console No.1
- Turntable: Luxman 444 w/Rega 700 Tone arm and ZuDL 103
- Amps: Melody M845 mono blocks, K&K Maxxed-Out phono pre

We also had the Allnic L5000 pre, First Watt J2 amp and First Watt SIT 1 mono blocks, Rupert Neve Design 5059 pre

 


Posted on June 13, 2014 .

Free Lunch Fridays

That's right, every Friday we will pick through our vast collection of images sent in by Zu owners and select a winner for our eternal contest "Free Lunch Friday!" Each winner will receive a plethora of Zu goodies and snacks including t-shirts, stickers, records, cables, and part of Harvey's left overs. You can submit your Zu set up images via our facebook page or send them directly to us at chuck@zuaudio.com. Thanks for playing. 

Posted on September 2, 2013 .

Zu Selects XMission & Squarespace

Zu and XMission are two peas in a pod. Two Utah based companies going against the grain in the industries that they do business in while keeping a real, positive and personal attitude.  Do yourself a favor and check out XMission; tell your friends, like them on Facebook, or sign up. 

Squarespace is another company worth acknowledging that Zu recently switched to for webhosting. Squarespace is a New York based firm with a team that is concentrated on taking care of their customers and

Posted on August 23, 2013 and filed under Views.

California Audio Show / SF

Last week we were at the California Audio Show (San Francisco, the airport not really the city). A great show hosted by Dagogo. Fun show, busy room, made some new friends, introduced a lot of new music and some gear. We showed for the first time our new Druid Mk.V speaker and the Submission subwoofer. We also introduced the Soul Supreme which

Posted on August 17, 2013 and filed under Music.

Afrika Rotten & Bill

My brother Dallas has inspired me in many ways and I don’t use the word inspired without heavy consideration, in fact this may be the second or third time I’ve used it. Musically he is way more accomplished and astute, he’s after all the real DJ I just pretend to be one at hi-fi shows.

Growing up I was really into Public Image Ltd, as well as all the punk and early metal that came before and after First Edition. And yes, I really did

Posted on August 17, 2013 and filed under Music.

Zu Audio + Xact Audio, RMAF 2012

"You know the slinky hi-hat, the funky wah, the groovy bass line; the slow-building horns, the deep voice, the suggestive lyrics: Who’s the black private dick / That’s a sex machine to all the chicks? / (Shaft!) / Daaaamn right… There was a party going on in the Xact Audio room. It seems there’s always a party going on when Zu Audio loudspeakers are involved. The system:

 

Posted on October 23, 2012 and filed under Events.

Introducing Soul Superfly Mk.I-B

The most important element of a loudspeaker is the driver—the round part that vibrates and turns electric power into sound. And when a loudspeaker is build around a full-range driver like ours it makes the driver all that much more critical. Soul Superfly Mk.I-B has one very big difference over it’s predecessor, it features the Dominance developed nanotech high-output driver. There are no other changes but the difference is pretty huge—more resolution of bass, mids and treble, more resolution of tone and texture, and better dynamic handling of complex music.

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Soul Superfly Mk.I-B can be identified by two main features:

  • the revision Mk.I-B nameplate on the back of the speaker
  • and the engraved model number in the full-range driver

And yes, owners of older Soul Superfly loudspeakers can update them to full Mark One Bee status with a simple full-range driver swap out. (email for details)

Soul Superfly is our single-minded response to the needs of users of amplifiers that benefit from high-impedance 16 ohm speakers. That list of amps includes most vintage amps, and any modern amp that is, or can be optimized for a 16 ohm loudspeaker—single-ended triode (SET) vacuum tube amps, output-transformerless (OTL) vacuum tube amps, some solid-state like some of the First Watt models, and even many of the mid-fi Japanese receivers. Our design target from the outset was focused on extracting every last bit of tone and texture of such amps while getting even better power and definition out of the system. So why a 16 ohm loudspeaker in todays market? Because there are still hundreds of amp models being made today that will sound their best on a speaker that presents an easy-going 16 ohm load.

Posted on June 21, 2012 and filed under Reviews.

The Art Of Flight

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The Art of Flight

is one of the most beautifully produced films and is remarkably sincere and inspiring. And the soundtrack and dialog at least keep up with the beauty, elegance and serenity this film presents.

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Yes, this is a snowboarding film, and yes, winter is over in the northern hemisphere, and perhaps there is only one of you heading down to Chile or New Zealand. Regardless, take a few hours in this season of transition to reflect on your dreams, relationships, your course, and at the very least watch this film—its more than spectacular, and more than just the sequel to That’s It That’s All.

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But know, if you enjoy this film you will want to quit your job, sell your stuff, and burn your savings on the promise of that next wave, that next epic powder day, that next inspired concert....

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Music has always accompanied extremes of life and living, and the the closer we feel our mortality the better we know ourselves and the more clearly we think—provided there is some wisdom and self preservation helping hold it all together. This movie is a celebration of the moment, of living, of nature, and of relationships and pushing our dreams closer—together.

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Posted on April 24, 2012 and filed under Inspirational.

Omen Review

Zu Audio Omen Loudspeaker

By Aaron Marshall

For the complete review go to Audio Ideas Guide

Zu Audio is a different kind of speaker company.  You’ll know this already if you’ve ever seen them exhibit at shows (more DJ booth/house party than hi-fi demo), had a read of their (extremely frank and detailed) website, or even just had a careful look at one of their speakers.  Their corporate slogan is “a revolution in American hi-fi” and their goal is nothing less than bringing “back the stereo as the most important and rewarding furnishing in the home.”
The attitude is more than a little refreshing.  Here is a company that flies proudly in the face of the snobby, “by appointment only”, ‘it costs more than major surgery so it must sound fantastic’ perceived value school of hi-fi marketing.  No lofty, mythical mumbo jumbo here.  Zu is frank and direct in their philosophy: “For people who love listening to their hi-fi, scrutinizing every aspect of the recording and forensically dissecting the performance, there’s a raft of speakers out there for those lost souls. For people who are still in love with the music, who just want to be at that gig, who really don’t care about ‘audiophile’ recordings and all the attendant crap—for all those enlightened souls, there’s Zu.”
The products of this philosophy have done well for Zu over the past decade or so, speakers like the original Druid and the Definition garnering some great reviews and a fervent, almost evangelical following, particularly among the high efficiency/low power tube amp crowd.  With the Omen Standard, however, Zu wanted to broaden its customer base, designing a speaker that while still true to the brand was not only more affordable but happy to be driven by pretty much any amplifier, tube or solid state...
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...The good news continues in the mids, where true to intent, tone, texture and immediacy are indeed the dominant themes.  The Omens are no wallflowers.  This is an upfront, very direct, very present, very involving speaker.  It wants your full attention, and chances are, it will get it.  They really shone on the latest (gorgeous) Fleet Foxes record (Helplessness Blues) with gobs of subtle midrange color, detail and nuance.  Voices were decadently rich, well centered in space and completely free of the speaker boxes. These speakers “throw” images and voices into the room in a way that I’ve never heard before. Ali Farka Toure’s “Rouky”, an intimate little African blues track, is downright spooky when well reproduced and I’ve never heard it as gripping as through the Omens.  With these speakers the music is happening right in front of you.  The sound is in your face, and very intimate. And, not surprisingly since it’s all coming form the same driver as the bass, the speed, control, freedom from overhang and immediacy carry forward through the mids and lower treble.

For the complete review go to Audio Ideas Guide

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Posted on April 17, 2012 and filed under Reviews.

Zu Definition Mk.IV Top Five At High End Praha Show

Wrapping up the hi-fi show in Prague (High End Praha) HiFi Voice gives Zu Audio top honors:

"InterAudio - Audiomat/Zu Audio: High-End in the form of pure, beautiful components, innovative design, and perfect sound. Whether it's more speakers or tubes... it works great. When I mention the perfect sound [at the show], I mean it!" 

—HiFi Voice.com

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Posted on March 21, 2012 and filed under Reviews, Events.

Made Here Made Well

Zu makes it into Made Here Made Well's 10 Holiday Gift Ideas Made in the USA
...Americans spend an average of $831 on gifts during the holidays, according to American Express. If we only directed an additional $3.33 towards American made products, Moody’s estimates we’d be able to create 10,000 new jobs in this country. It sounds simple enough but even I know that finding gifts for the person who has everything is a challenge in itself, let alone a gift that’s made in America. Which is why I’m proud to present the best of all worlds: Gifts that are made here, made well and made to potentially inject some much-needed life into the American economy with every purchase.
And coming in at #4 on their list is Zu Audio
For the Audiophile: We don’t make electronics here anymore, but we do manufacture some amazing high-end speakers. If the audiophile on your list has been truly nice this year, a pair of Zu Audio speakers would do the trick. Go to their website and picture a pair of Omen Bookshelf speakers sitting in a den somewhere in your house. HiFi looks and sounds as awesome as it ever did – supplied from Ogden, Utah across America to your eardrums. The first letter in audio is Z. 
Also on their list: Martin Guitars, Ebbets Field Flannels, Red Wing Shoes, Bowery Lane Bicycles, Channel Craft's Toys, Milwaukee's corded power tools, Cut Brooklyn's Chef Knives, Faribault Woolen Mill Company, and The Original Slinky.
Posted on November 25, 2011 and filed under Press.

Zu / Devialet / Penna @ Budapest

Ferenc demos the Zu + Devialet rig in Budapest

Yes, that's a pair of Omen Def being fed by a Devialet D—Premier integrate wireless do-it-all. The two Devialet D—Premiers you see in the photo were being showing using a wifi interface, a prerelease demonstration. A big thanks to Penna and Ferenc for once again doing a standout presentation in Budapest.

Peter Denko demonstrates Zu Omen Definition and monobloc Devialet D—Premier with wifi interface.

Peter Denko demonstrates Zu Omen Definition and monobloc Devialet D—Premier with wifi interface.

Check out Penna's show photos here:

http://pennamedia.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/nagy-siker-volt-a-penna-bemutatoja-a-hetvegi-hazimozi-es-hifi-kiallitason

Ferenc and I have worked together for many years, since 1996, and I'm here to tell you there are few in this world as versed in all the audio arts of Ferenc Koscso, so it came as no surprise to see that Ferenc and Penna Media not only embraced Devialet but are exploring every aspect of this exciting new companies tech. Here's what he had to say on the show, sound and system configuration:

Sean, to be honest I really like this combination, and very difficult to imagine anything can be better for my taste :) Your taste can be different :)
Yes, it is somehow very suprising how well the Omen Definition working with the Devialet. I think it is your most compatible speaker yet, it works very well, with anything I have tried with it be it very cheap (Dayens Ampino, Parasound zAmp) or very expensive like Ear-Yoshino dual 100W tube monoblocks, but at least for me it sounds extremely honest and enjoyable with the Devialet even with bad recordings. It is really difficult to imagine that the Definition Mk IV could be much better, but I am sure it could be. :)
The wifi via Devialet is an App which grabs the audio as data and send it to the wifi receiver card in the Devialet as data. But it is not yet public. It works extremely well, we had a chance to test our own 192k master recordings through USB2 to AES to the Devialet and a 44k downconverted version of the same 192k version through wifi, and everybody preferred the wifi by a large margin. Even the two engineers who did the actual recording. 
Everybody was really satisfied with the Omen Def sound in this dual mono config.
Devialet info on the wifi here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rsn1ZZP7IFE
Anyway here is a link of the performance of Mr Sebestyen, our favorite violin player, with whom we made our first cd: http://youtu.be/XcKDZv-KZcA?hd=1
One of our friend has made panorama photo on the hifi show, just a minute after the show opened. http://miklos.ranky.hu/d-1-h5/d-1-h5-out.html
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Posted on November 7, 2011 and filed under Events, Reviews.

Musings on Sound

Good sound is art. You get good sound through using all of your tools—experience, research, musical sensibilities, gifts, knacks, tests, measures... the most important of all your brain and your ears, listening with your primal and your conscience. Once you have a formula for your art and design you can mass produce it, using science to make it repeatable, to ensure consistency, to ensure quality.

But as to engineering good sound.... Every single great book on the science of sound: Helmholtz, Rayleigh, Jeans, Olson, Kinsler... "the ear is the final arbiter of tone" and who am I to argue with the Greats, and those that do generally do nothing but reveal their ignorance. Science is the passion of the material, theory through moments of insight or accident, chased with its process and expressed through math. Art is the passion of sensation, realized through doing, the seat of your pants, and expressed in, and received through, a kind of humanized transcendence. The value ascribed by mankind to sound and music is, and has always been, subjective. And I for one hope it aways will be.

The nudge for the above? Steve Guttenberg's latest CNET post "Can sound quality be measured?". I love Steve's think about it writing style, and I enjoyed the article, and his reader's comments.

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13645_3-20113895-47/can-sound-quality-be-measured/?tag=cnetRiver

One of the greatest album covers ever used to express the relationship of the music and science, PInk Floyd

The Dark Side of the Moon

—even if just one of the layers—and the music is pretty amazing too... in my case life altering. But that's another story.

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Posted on October 2, 2011 and filed under Views.

Soul Superfly Review | Hi-Fi Reader

The Hi-Fi Reader #14 Zu’s Soul Superfly Loudspeaker

May 2011 

By Thad Aerts

Reprinted with permission. ©2011 Thad Aerts

The Soul Superfly is a success for Zu in every regard. At $3,000, they are an incredibly revealing speaker that ultimately may be hindrance. The folks who are going to jump all over the Superfly’s because of their low price will probably sell them short because they won’t necessarily have the level of refinement in their amps that Soul’s offer. Given that observation, I’ll reiterate, unless you have the funds to explore all the exotic, boutique-y tube amps out there, go with a solid vintage tube amp with 16ohm taps to pair with the Soul’s. The Zu website has a list of amps they also recommend and got favorable results from when designing the Soul’s. This would be worth exploring as well. They even have a receiver or two on the list. WTF?!?!?!  The Superfly’s won’t be for everyone – and that is true of all loudspeakers. However, they could play all types of music that I threw at them and did so with ease and at high SPL’s. No matter your musical preference, the Soul’s will satisfy. So, assuming you have an amp that compliments theSoul, the Zu Soul Superfly comes highly, highly recommended. It is a true high-end speaker at a fraction of the price typically attached to this level of performance. Get after it.

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Posted on May 19, 2011 and filed under Reviews.