2013 March/April | Omen Dirty Weekend Review by Tom Gibbs [excerpts]
"Realistically, I thought my list of wants was pretty extreme at the $1000 price point; I'd probably have been happy to get decent speakers that imaged well and had decent dynamic performance. I'd heard via the internet that the Omens were basically one-note "party" speakers—yes, they'd play loudly, but not with the kind of refinement I was looking for, and that the sound would harden and become more congested if pushed too hard with too many watts. To my happiness and ultimate surprise, I got it all—these speakers are overbuilt (to say the least), are beautiful to look at and play with power and finesse. And never at any loudness level does the soundfield collapse or do they show any signs of strain. Building a carefully matched system is definitely a concern here, but this is a whole lotta speaker for just under a thousand bucks! Yes, these speakers will light up any party, but ohhhh—they're so much more. Having just come from the recent AXPONA high-end show in Chicago, I saw a number of reference and mega-buck systems on display, but carefully matched to the right amplifier and with good sources, these beauties would not be embarrassed alongside any of them. Very highly recommended!"
"The kick drum is just short of gut-wrenching in impact, but rather than a one-note representation, is not only deep but very dimensionally layered in the tonal palette. You feel the drum, but you can close your eyes and see it as well. The same is true with the acoustic bass line—it's so impressively well-recorded and reproduced, it sounds like something from a jazz album rather than eighties rock. If you haven't heard this album, get a copy—those guys went from riding the crest of the New Wave to playing some of the most challenging but accessibly tuneful music to be heard in that decade. While the music spans a pretty broad range stylistically, some of the songs just demand to be played back loudly, and their presentation doesn't disappoint at all via the Omens."
I'd seen various pronouncements online regarding the rather "limited" repertory these speakers were capable of, and don't even think about trying to play anything remotely resembling chamber music or stringed instruments. Obviously those guys didn't spend a significant amount of time with these versatile speakers, or perhaps they were trying to power them with poorly-matched amplifiers—I thought my love affair with the Emotiva XPA-2 was in full bloom after two years, but it truly only began when the Zu Omens showed up! I've thrown a ton of truly demanding classical and chamber music at these speakers, and to this point, they've responded with nothing less than beauty and muscular grace."
"When I first started looking around at loudspeakers, I had a handful of criteria that any contenders definitely needed to conform to, most of all, price—the absolute limit was no more than a thousand bucks. And within that rather strict price point, I was truly hoping for the following: 1) Absolutely built like a tank; 2) a well-conceived crossover design; 3) capable of at least 100+ dB acoustic output with total clarity and no signs of mechanical or acoustical strain; and, if possible, 4) seriously good looks. Of course, I consulted the archives of PFO right out-of-the-gate, and came across glowing, off-the-charts reviews from both Danny Kaey and Dean Seislove for speakers from a manufacturer I was totally unfamiliar with: Zu Audio, based in Ogden, Utah. Those reviews were for much higher-end loudspeakers than I was able to budget for, but a quick trip to Zu's website (www.zuaudio.com) showed a wide range of models, and one in particular—the Omen—that at $1500 was much closer to my target price point."
"A closer inspection revealed a really tempting offer from Zu Audio; they call it the "Dirty Weekend," and it's totally designed for the prospective buyer where this might be their "first time at the rodeo" so to speak. It allows you to buy a pair of Zu Omens with drivers that have been traded in and repurposed; apparently, Zu does a great deal of upgrade work on many of their models, and then offer driver improvements to customers for a relatively bargain price, while buying back their old drivers. Those drivers are then fully cleaned, tested and inspected and mounted in brand-new Omen cabinets; Zu's full-range drivers all share common architecture, and the drivers that arrive in your "dirty weekend" Omens may have come from a comparatively more expensive speaker. A concept that really appeals to me on a number of levels, not the least being price...."
"While I love jazz, classical, folk and all forms of acoustic music, I also love the power of rock music. I've had this ongoing love affair with Rage Against The Machine of late, and while lead singer Zach de la Rocha's vocal screamings might not be everyone's cup of tea, they suit my temperament just fine, both musically and politically. And despite the fact that this music is both loud and brash, at least the drums are still acoustic in nature; the opening track of their sophomore album, Evil Empire, "People of the Sun," (another uncompressed FLAC ripped from the CD) unleashes a flurry of drumbeats that will absolutely shake your home's foundation when played back at reference levels. The rest of the album follows suit, but this is a record that demands to be played LOUD, and the Omens don't disappoint in their ability to present this demanding music with unrestricted dynamics at any volume level."
"I could go on and on here, almost ad nauseam. I've spent so much time playing and just flat out digging the music, it's been really hard to get focused on writing the review. Do the Omens offer the last word in bass extension and treble clarity? Probably not, but the things that they do well, they do really, really well. They absolutely nail voices and the uber-critical midrange, even with digital sources of questionable origin. They can totally rock hard with the best of them, but also have no problems reproducing the intricacies of massed strings or orchestral music. I have a handful of recordings that I call "train wrecks" that contain passages that—for whatever reason—are particularly difficult to reproduce, including selections from artists as diverse as Rickie Lee Jones and John Coltrane; at this point, I haven't been able to find one track that the Omens haven't just sailed through, and effortlessly."
Zu Audio Factory Floor To Sydney by John Darko [excerpts]
Ogden, Utah. October 2012. Hi-fi isn't just about boxes and wires – it's about people. Meet Christian Drecksel: paint shop guru and tour guide of Zu Audio's factory floor. I'm here to talk Union, a new loudspeaker that's pitched sonically closer to Zu's A-game Soul Superfly than their entry-level Omen.
I get a sense that error-tolerance amongst team Zu is super low. The factory itself has a feeling of long hours spent in the pursuit of high standards – everyone seems dedicated to a team outcome. Music is nearly always playing downstairs and rarely does five minutes pass without my hearing someone, somewhere laugh hard.
Sydney, Australia. March 2013. Last time I visited Sydney Audio Club was to check out the NAD 390DD amplifier. This time I'm here to hear the Zu Union strut their stuff. We're a long way from Australian distributor Magenta Audio in South Australia so Sydney agent Cameron Pope (of Krispy Kables) is on hand to field questions. Pope is a solid fit for the unpretentious Zu Audio vibe. He's an affable and easy-going chap free of the (sadly too common) inflated hi-fi retailer ego.
2013 March/April | Definition Mk.IV Review by Danny Kaey [excerpts]
"... Well, years have passed, amplifiers have come and gone, setups have changed, I got divorced, rooms have moved, but the one thing that was always elemental, nay, fundamental, throughout the years was that pair of Zu Audio Definition Mk II's. What most fascinated me about the Zu sound was its immediacy, tone, life-like quality of being able to bring alive music, performers and instruments alike. All in a package about the size of a square foot." [A real testiment to the sincerity that is the 'Zu sound'.]
"Over the years, rumors and even more rumors, used to come up now and then that Zu was working on an all new Definition; that Zu was working on time travel; that Zu had discovered Warp drive technology. All joking aside, I usually sort of laughed those off, much as I do all the Apple rumors of this and that. You get my point. Things did take on a turn for the legitimate, when, after one summer night's phone call to Sean, he did finally spill the beans (as I slipped him a twenty. Ha! JJ): 'Yes, I can confirm that we will be showing off the latest version of the Definition, somewhat skipping version 3 (not really, alas, more on that later), and going straight to 4. You will be most impressed as we have redesigned the entire speaker from the ground-up.'"
"Articulation, definition, resolution, and speed are also items you'd be hard pressed not to notice when playing back your favorites tunes over a pair of dialed in Defs. The Def IV's also seemingly disappear even more so than the old pair, which goes something like this: on select, hauntingly well recorded music tracks, say for example Trentemøller's "Nightwalker" off The Last Resort, the new Def's are now completely integrated into your room; closing your eyes, an electronic feast of melodies is painted across the entire dimensional space that sits before you."
"Alas, don't be fooled by the sheer monstrosity that can be the Def IV. No, revel in its inner tone as it reveals layers upon layers of music at more sane volumes. Saturday mornings at times I enjoy a cup of Joe whilst James Taylor fiddles around with his guitar. The boldness and life-like sense of Taylor setting up in front of you is quite a revelation. Same with Elvis. Ever heard Dream With Dean? Dean Martin's mile high accomplishment is quite the crooner's manifesto. A dead quiet pressing of mine spins the most awesome music—tone, timber, resolution, the sense of one voice is, simply put, quite nice. The Def's hallmark has always been the dual 10" wide band: twice the output, twice the resolving power, minus a few tradeoffs by virtue of the design (I doubt you'll ever notice). Having heard the latest Druid V a few months ago, I am still somewhat beholden to the dual 10" setup the Def has. Yes, the new Druid has definitely grown up—the old model's restrictions are now long gone; there's space, air, and plenty of upper band extension." –Danny Keay
2013 February | Druid Mk.V Comprehensive Review by Srajan of 6moons.
(This is a large comprehesive review and worth the read.)
"Zu's extra torque unleashes where the Lowther types lose their lunch: in the power zone between 100 - 250Hz. Play any music with driving beats—inspired by the BBC's hilarious Death in Paradise, I cued up some Caribbean Zouk, Sakésho and solo Mario Canonge—whose entire gestalt revolves around this solar plexus of upper bass. Here the Druid V kicks hard where other widebanders go soft and polite. Fiery drum rolls, furious fistfuls of syncopated left-handed piano chicanery, cracking rim shots, tipsy steel drums, counter-punching snarling bass... it's those lower-chakra elements of virile charge and exuberant physicality which the Druid V caters to with special readiness."
"Clearly the V proved very responsive to what drove it. Just as clearly actual bottles weren't required to arrive at valve-type colorization. Where certain ceramic drivers punch hands on edge where transients dominate over follow-up, the V goes full-fisted knuckles."
"In short, all the talk of nano treatments and hi-tech enclosure laminations wasn't techno babble. The improvements from the Essence days are real. Even a casual A/B confirms it. With the Druid V, return of a classic doesn't quite capture it. I'll leave it to you then to pen a better byline..." —Srajan Ebaen
Zu Definition Mk.IV Gets Great Press At Capital Audio Fest
"I swung by the Zu Audio room with my usual expectations. Make that "trepidations". I've said it before that, while I love what they do, I never have any idea what's going with these speakers – because I have never, never, recognized a single bloody thing they've ever played at any audio show ever. EVER. I've heard... things... in the Zu Audio show rooms that can be loosely described as reggae, pop or perhaps even metal, but honestly, I gave up trying to keep track, and now I just go with it. I'm old, I guess, and that's okay. Of course, given that head ZuKeeper Sean Casey is actually my age, this display of, ah, music diversity, is still somewhat embarrassing, but I console myself with the knowledge that it must be his son Ian, whom I met at Newport, who's keeping Sean's record collection fresh and interesting. Yeah. Well, that's what I tell myself, so bite me.
Here at the Capital Audiofest, Sean brought the big Zu Definition Mk IV. This thing is a marvel – 101dB/W/m sensitivity, 8 Ohms, and clean extension all the way to 14 Hz, courtesy of its built-in subwoofers. To me, the new drivers have kicked up the sound quality a notch or ten, and on this new Definition, there is an effortless, powerful feeling that no amount of wordsmithing on my part is going to make you believe. As always, there's the spread of LPs across the floor – stuff I've never heard of before – but... but... BUT! On the Zu-modified Technics SL1200 spun... RUSH. I nearly fell over. Sean was playing Moving Pictures. I know! The universe promptly warped and I fell headlong through a hole in time and space."
Zu Definition Mk.IV Gets Top Honors at Prague Hi-Fi Show
Wrapping up the hi-fi show in Prague (High End Praha) HiFi Voice gives Zu Audio top honors:
"Inter Audio - 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
It's German, so bablefish it. In a nut shell, more killer praise for Omen Def
"...the classic hifi industry with their obsolete customer structure for young consumers, which were socialized in music with data reduction and miniature loudspeakers. How does one win a public..., but when a component experience—and Eventkultur experiences? A loudspeaker for this target group would have to be halfway affordable, possess a high fun factor and it would have to look cool. If it also puts out a musical performance which reminds the older generation of the great sounds of tube based systems... put it all together and the short discription becomes OMENS DEF—all RIGHT loudspeakers."
The 8th Annual Positive Feedback Online's Writers' Choice Awards for 2011 - The Best of the Best!
"It was about time!" I told myself when I first heard the news from Sean Casey regarding the forthcoming release of their updated classic gem, the Zu Definition Mk.IV. Long having been a proponent of the Zu sound, especially in form of my classic Definition Mk2's, I had almost given up hope on Zu tooling up for a true successor. Sure, over the years Zu hasn't kept quiet at all. Soul Superfly's, Essence' and not to forget the Omen Definition have all been released over the past few years, each exceptional values in their various target segments. But, I wanted more; and now, finally, I heard the Definition Mk4's at this year's Rocky Mountain Audiofest, and, boy, color me impressed. For roughly the same price as the old model, the Zu crew has managed to completely rewrite the book on this speakers it seems. All new drivers and cabinet design make for an incredibly compelling upgrade that is at once more open, dynamic and transparent than the already not too shabby old model. Consider this the shortest penned preview of its kind, I have been promised a pair by Christmas. No doubt, this speaker will turn heads and ears. Folks, save up, this is one killer speaker." —Danny Kaey
2011 October | RMAF Show Report by Paul Bolin
"On Friday night I bumped into a fellow member of the Minnesota Audio Society (and newly minted audio dealer) after hours and we trooped manfully off in search of food, music or both. Someone told us that these things were to be found in abundance in the Zu Audio room, along with loud, noisy rock'n'roll. That was enough for us, so off to Zu we headed. There we found the Zu Crew: a bunch of friendly, young, highly iconoclastic chaps -- all in all, the sort of guys you'd expect to see on a snowboard or mountain bike rather than at an audio show, cold suds, pizza, and Queens of the Stone Age or Them Crooked Vultures blasting out of the speakers notwithstanding. A splendid time was had by all for an hour or two, and I made a note to visit Zu the next day, and I was glad I did. I'd heard Zu's floorstanding speakers in the past, and they always seemed a bit bass-shy to me. That criticism cannot be leveled against Zu's thunder-producing new Definition Mk. IV speakers ($12,500/pair). The Definitions contain a very potent subwoofer that fires downward into the speaker's massive aluminum plinth, a pair of Zu's proprietary nano-tech full-range drivers and a "Radian 850-based dynamic tweeter." The speaker is wired internally with Zu's own Event cabling. The subwoofer appears to be driven by some sort of class-D amplification; it is described only as built around the "Hypex UcD 400 module," but whatever it is it can rock the house with authority. The subs are also adjustable for low-pass level and phase, and they have in-built parametric equalization. The Definitions are built like tanks and highly sensitive at 101dB/1 watt. They were driven effortlessly to rock-concert levels by a pair of 20Wpc Black Audio Shadow tube monoblocks ($14,000/pair). I am going to make a definite point of looking up Zu again in Las Vegas." —Paul Bolin
2011 October | RMAF Show Report by Scott Faller
"This was one of the more fun rooms to walk into. Sure the music was way too loud. There wasn't much of a display as they blacked out the room but what you did get was (the first time I walked in) was a live DJ mixing real time from the Mac based system they were using. The second time I walked in (pictured above) they were just playing cool music. Stuff you'd never hear in the other rooms." —Scott Faller
2011 October | RMAF Show Report by Socrates7
"Zu Definition. This speaker is almost iconic and a huge upgrade from their world-class Druid debut. And with all those subwoofers hanging off the back, I (for one) was utterly and immediately enthralled by notion of the sheer output that the massive speakers could effortlessly crank out. High sensitivity and depth-charge like bottom-end? Oh, yeah, I was all over this. I just could never scrape the dough together ….
So, here we are, almost 4 years later. The Definition has had a few updates in the past few years (from Mk 1 to 1.5, Pro, 1.9, and Mk II), and now, we have the latest update. Well, make that two.
Enter the Definition Mk III and the Definition MkIV. Yep, they've released an update and revisioned that update — all at once. Now, this isn't as odd as it sounds — the MkIII is actually an upgrade rather than an update, while the MkIV is actually an entirely new speaker. You have an older Definition, you have some choices:
Stay as you are (free!)
Send in your old Definition for transformation into Mk.III ($3.5k)
Buy a new Definition MkIII ($7k U.S. only)
Trade in your old Definition for the new Definition Mk.IV
Just buy a new set of Definition Mk.IV speakers ($15.6k)
What's new? Well, with the MkIII, you get new full-range nanotech impregnated drivers (from the top-of-the-line Dominance, I believe), a new cable wiring harness using their latest "Event" cabling, a new subwoofer amplifier, and some internal cabinet mods to increase structural rigidity and reduce noise.
For the MkIV, we get a whole new Definition. Building on the MkIII — with the new widebanders (from Dominance) and Event wiring harness, we get a new Radian 850 based tweeter and a completely redesigned cabinet. But that's not the big news. The big news is the subwoofers. Gone are the rear-firing subs and in is a new down-firing 12″ sub driven by a Hypex UcD 400 amplifier, with a host of user-friendly adjustments. Bottom-end bandwidth has increased to 10Hz-20kHz, but it still carries a 101dB efficiency at a nominal 8ohm impedance.
The sound in this room was, in a word, evil. Every time I came through, or wandered by, or climbed the neighboring staircase (gotta get that exercise somehow, and anyway, it's not like anyone was able to ever catch the elevator without a 10 minute wait), I got a full dose of dark, throbbing, sinister, skull throttling. Alarming. Unsettling. I have no idea WTF Sean was playing in this room, but whatever it was, it sure wasn't Diana Krall, Eva Cassidey, or any other audiophile BS. This was real music — and none of it was even a tiny bit familiar. Which was completely awesome.
Kronzilla SXI 50wpc, Class-A, zero-feedback, integrated amplifier. Biggest. Tubes. Ever. I cracked wise as I was leaving, something about "compensating", but no one laughed. [Sigh]. These are the jokes, folks ….
Spatial Computer was also showing with the Zu team, and had apparently brought their brand new bass-management package called "Black Hole Electronic Bass Trap". For $975, the hardware works to eliminate bass nodes. More info here. I never actually saw the little bugger, but I'm guessing that's part of the point.
Also new is Version 2 of the $3k Spatial HD solution. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see or hear any computer audio in the room on either of my visits through. Both times, I found Sean Casey playing DJ to his $4500 modded Technics turntable (more details can be found on the Vinyl Anachronist, here). Not sure if they're still modding these out, but it was pretty trick in the room.
Base plate on the Def MkIV. Big and aluminum! But look at that connector. Is that an XLR hanging there next to the power cord? (speaker interface, Zu B3 via speakON Zu convention)
Simon Matanle, Zu's Marketing/International Sales dude chatting it up with writer Danny Kaey." — Socrates7
2011 October | RMAF Show Report by Steve Guttenberg
"The Zu Audio Definition Mk. IV speakers kicked butt! They had the power to physically connect the listener with the music. These speakers don't just play loud, they let you feel the music's power in a way that few high-end speakers ever do. They just sounded better and better the louder I played them. The new Zu Definition Mk. IV is superdynamic, a real party speaker." —Steve Guttenberg
2011 October | RMAF Show Report by Scott Faller
"This was one of the more fun rooms to walk into. Sure the music was way too loud. There wasn't much of a display as they blacked out the room but what you did get was (the first time I walked in) was a live DJ mixing real time from the Mac based system they were using. The second time I walked in (pictured above) they were just playing cool music. Stuff you'd never hear in the other rooms." —Scott Faller
2011 October | RMAF Show Report
"Leave it up to Zu Audio to throw a healthy curve ball directly at the traditional computer audio setup (not that there is one, but you'll see what I mean). Sean Casey, the ever-exuberant host and spinner and server of music I actually want to run out and buy as opposed to run away from, was playing music files from his Mac Pro and a modified Technics SL-1200 turntable both connected to a Rane MP4 which was connected to the new Kronzilla SXI single-ended 50W integrated amp driving the new Zu Definition Mk IV. Sean could seamlessly spin from Mac Pro to LP and back again. "This is how your kids might do it." Sean said. And I said something I've been saying a lot lately, "Our kids interface with technology like there's no interface.
The new Zu Definition Mk IVs ($12,500/pair) sounded huge and pumped so much musical energy into the room the good vibrations carried all the way into the couch I was sitting on. A musical massage and a nice reminder that this is all about music which all about having fun." —Michael Lavorgna
2011 October | RMAF Show Report
"Zu Audio played its Definition Mk.IV to an enthusiastic audience. This $12,500-per-pair (U.S. domestic) speaker uses Zu's new "nano-sanctified" full-range drivers and a Radian 850 tweeter. A 12" downward-firing woofer handles the bass." —Doug Schneider
2011 October | RMAF Show Report
"Something strange and awesome was going on in the Zu Audio room. The lights were low, an evil but alluring sound was filling the room, and the company's Sean Casey was crouched down in a corner, surrounded by vinyl.
The turntable was a modified Technics SL-1200 with a Rega tonearm and Zu DL-103 phono cartridge running through a Bob's Devices step-up transformer. The record was Edward Ka-Spel's O Darkness! O Darkness!. A mighty Kronzilla amplifier was driving Zu's new Definition Mk.IV loudspeakers.
Soon Casey mixed in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. This room was less about typical hi-fi, more about sharing great music and having a good time. I half expected Natalie and Nicole to walk in and start a dance party. Casey would have welcomed it, I'm sure." —Stephen Mejias
2011 October | Toronto Show Report
Zu Represented by Worldwide Wholesales // www.zuaudio.ca
2011 October | Toronto Show Report
"I know that Zu is a manufacturer of loudspeakers, but what does "Omen Def" mean. I have no idea, but a pair of these speakers was producing a lively sound at TAVES. At $3400/pair, the price seemed eminently reasonable. They were playing vinyl, courtesy of a KLM 15 turntable and Denon 103 Grade 2 (yes, it's still being made) cartridge." —Robert Deutsch
Zu Represented by Worldwide Wholesales // www.zuaudio.ca
2011 October | Toronto Show Report
"A few runner-ups came close although involving very different technologies. First, Samuel Furon of Ocellia now living in Quebec [and Zu] paired up to present Zu Audio's latest with Ocellia electronics. The result was truly excellent but this Zu Essence owner may have been biased. The demonstration was purely vinyl relying on a new-to-me Rossner & Sohn KLM 15 turntable and an Ocellia Quaero phono preamplifier with Ocellia phono cable. The real surprise was the use of the champion of cheap MC pickups, a Denon DLl03 the motor of which had simply been transferred to a wooden body. The combination was superb, dynamic, rich and detailed. I suspect the Quaero all-silver phono preamp had a lot to do with it." —Frederic Beudot
2011 August 22 | By John Darko
© John Darko, all rights reserved
"It's fine being a journeyman and all, but every once in a while you gotta take stock of where - and who - you are. If you find yourself wanting excitement over refinement, the Zu Omen wanna talk to you."
"Are you a car owner who buffs his pride and joy more than you drive the damn thing? You will find such types in the audiophile brotherhood. OCD readily bleeds into our pursuit of happiness: the tweaking, the polishing, the juicing. Conversely, there are guys who just wanna assemble a system, plonk it down and the boogie into the wee hours. Maybe you're somewhere in the middle? A polisher and a dancer.
Utah's Zu Audio have experienced some colourful times of late: a rogue CEO that drove them deep into the red. You just wouldn't read about it. Getting behind the underdog, especially when he's on the ropes, is an attractive proposition.
"Released deep into the second half of 2010, the Omen (AU$2300) is Zu's entry-level floor stander. A ten inch, paper-coned wideband driver - sourced from Eminence and modified in-house with heavy doping and an aluminium phase plug (that covers 30Hz - 12KHz), augmented by a super-tweeter that elevates us to 25KHz; I've often heard them described as a 1.5-way. Zu machine their own (super) tweeters and build the cabinets on-site. At 98db the Omen present low-hanging fruit for shorter reaching, single-ended amplifiers. The 12 Ohm nominal impedance might raise some eyebrows. Want to see full impedance curves? Go here.
Be forewarned: the Omen require -- nay, demand -- an extensive run-in period, well beyond any 30-day home trial. Forum chatter reflected my experiences - up to 400 hours…and an agonising, send-them-back-at-once run in period. Zu provide comprehensive setup instructions for best in-room results; don't fall for the marketing spiel that these are loudspeakers that can be plonked down anywhere, particularly if your room isn't large. It's also worth spending time with the measuring tape to ensure their equidistance from side walls. Small, incremental positional changes matter with the Omen. I achieved best results by bringing the Omen much further into the room than is my norm and listening at near(er) field.
The Omen arrive with short bolts screwed into the base (for hard floors). Spikes are also included for those with carpeted floors. I switched between both types - and even some 8" hardware store-bought bolts - when attempting to tame room-loaded bass prior to acceding to the need for greater run-in time. Lowering the rear spikes for a slight upwards tilt resulted in a broader spray (dispersion) of upper frequency action - think lawn sprinkler set to finer mist. If you find the sound too forward, upwards tilt ain't recommended. Porting is found on the base of each speaker via four slits and Zu advise a minimum of a 6mm gap between speaker and floor.
In the Omen, you can hear Zu make with actions - rather than words - as direct riposte to their frustrations with the scene: that hi-fi has lost its way, has disappeared up its own arse at the hands of show-n-shine audiophiles. Those anti-marketing marketing words are common theme with younger manufacturing blood, but that's not to say there isn't truth in their message:
'The new hi-fi scene is all about sound, tone, lifestyle. Vacuum tubes more popular than at any time since the golden age of playback, and it's no longer tubes vs. solid state, that died with the old guard. It's all about the sound. High efficiency once again back as a primary design goal for more than just a handful of hobbyists. It's the small and new brands that are pushing the refinement envelope and making really cool stuff and selling it for honest prices. Music lovers everywhere... the guard has changed.'
Spirit before accuracy. Fun before refinement. An agenda of demarkation: Us and Them. After all, we're only ordinary men.
Listening sessions. After dissolving the Egyptians, Robyn Hitchcock's mid-90s 'comeback' solo effort (Moss Elixir) pressed heavily on acoustic guitar strum and electric guitar jangle, supplemented by light percussion for subtle rhythmic motion. Via the Zu floor stander, on one hand Hitchcock's numerous guitar layers are anchored via bass mass but, on the other, the ambient frequencies of the super-tweeter lend weightlessness to Deni Bonet's seagull violin. Up in a down world.
The Omen know how to disappear. They are the full Houdini. Music exists in the netherworld between each speaker ensuring not a single trace of boxiness. Moreover, their expressive dynamics ensure they are engaging at low volumes. You don't have to crank them……but it's devilish fun when you do. The immediacy and physicality of the Omen sound is arresting. Monster macro shifts and subtle micro-dynamic inflections - that's the Omen in one sentence. Fans of large orchestral pieces will undoubtedly enjoy the larger gear handling (the right hand giveth) but also will likely need to hang in there during the coarser handling of solo violin (the left hand taketh away). The Omen's treble isn't pebble-smooth (like that of the WLM Stella, for example) and string-driven things are rendered with more beach sand than rock pool pebble. In the context of the RRP, this is a non-issue.
Excitement and engagement ride ahead of refinement and sophistication in the descriptive motorcade. The soundstage is thrust a full half metre in front of the speaker plane. This takes some acclimatisation - it makes the eyes in one's ears BULGE. Floor-standers for the ham-fisted, ball-grabbing new wave of The Ramones eponymous debut or the aluminium-bass-rumble of Surgeon's Breaking The Frame - loudspeakers for those that have excitement and hedonism at the very top of their priority list - never do the Omen lack control or self-discipline.
Despite a forward-projected soundstage, these are not forward sounding loudspeakers in the vein of the mighty midget 47Labs Lens (which draw tension through peaky upper-mids). Confident, the Omen don't shout out for attention, but they are tough to ignore. They really know how to work a room.
The super-tweeter isn't super-aggro - it does more with soundstage projection than inner detail resolution. Such hesitance means the last soupçon of kick-drum plumpitude and edge definition is fluffed. Balls!? Think furry tennis instead of smooth squash. That "squash ball" kick drum sound is the preserve of Audio-gd amplification flowing into Usher S-520 standmounts. The Ushers' common-or-garden 'hifi' two-way signature is crisper/tighter with electronic beats and more incisive with percussive mayhem than the Omen. Zu counter with a slightly more relaxed presentation, formulated from a combination of richer tone and spacial cues; an altogether more organic personality. The aforementioned Hitchcock guitar pluck is over-etched via Audio-gd/Usher and far more affable by way of Leben/Zu. (An addendum: overall detail resolution increased as run-in progressed).
Zu's high efficiency field means a possible ploughing from all manner of amps, particularly the sylph-like delicacy of a (budget) singled-ended. I leashed the Miniwatt N3 to the mainsail and found proceedings to be lean, clean and illuminated/separated and - above all else - fast. Three and half meagre watts per side puts a dampener on low-down mass. With Miniwatt, the Omen are more do-able in smaller rooms. However, Zu don't reach Hoyt Bedford levels of flexibility - room dimensions will be of a more pressing issue with Zu than Hoyt. For smaller listening spaces, the Miniwatt (or similarly low-powered ilk) is all that's required for harbour-restricted jaunts aboard the Spirit of The Omen. Want the open seas? You'll need a bigger room and a bigger-sounding amplifier.
The Leben/Omen combo snakes through lusher/thicker/greener grass. Leben-lead sessions highlighted more obvious 'fatness' throughout the frequency range; the richness ante had been emphatically upped. Obvious? Sure it is -- but sharper guitar lines (by way of Omen) thrive on the tenderness and affection (and harmonics!) afforded by the more luxurious/expensive EL84. With Omen fuelled by an Audio-gd pre-power war machine, detail carves its name deeper into the bark - subtlety is less ambiguous and stage players overact their lines. There's the rub: Omen magic is defined by its ambiguity. Like Naim, they shoot for musical spirit before working their way down the audiophile checklist.
More complex music? In the face of the raucous ending to Baby Bird's "I Was Never", the Omen's resolve with such complexity refuses to buckle. Stephen Jones' vocal howl doesn't bleed into the surrounding guitar thrash - the voice can be heard from within the hurricane.
More direct comparisons with the Type 2 Hoyt Bedford. They're both American, both crossover-less and both of similar box dimensions. Louis Chochos' floor standing widebander offers no super-tweeter augmentation. His sound is one that invites the listener closer, rather than the lapel-seizing Omen. The HB's are come-hither seductresses that draw you ever closer…until you're swallowed by midrange jaws (only to regain consciousness inside the belly of the song). Cochos' sound is also drier.
The Zu Omen don't play this way - theirs is a more (overwhelming) musical drenching, the listener dumped by wave after wave and then drowned in sound. The experience redolent of being at the mercy of a puppet master, one is forced to move (willingly or not) to the groove. With a full and commanding bass presence anchoring song to floor, the Omen mainline the physicality of music. As cornball as it sounds, they make you wanna move. When considering bass mining and (especially) treble chair lift, the Zu offers more of both. The Hoyts are more dynamically restrained and thus work better in tighter spaces/corners and less forgiving rooms. The Omen serve up more leading-edge detail.
Re-contextualising this tete a tete by way of Radiohead albums: the Zus represent the rock-guitar nervosa of OK Computer, the HB are more closely aligned with the chin-stroke of Kid A. Neither is the better album, they're just different. The Zu's joker-in-the-pack is its sheer physicality with music. Hoyt Bedford turn the cerebral card first.
Time for a second opinion. Whilst undertaking this review a friend spent a entire day auditioning the Omen. He wrote (to me) about his experience. His words nail it far better than my own.
'The Zu Omen speakers occupy an interesting environ in the audio journey. They are conduits to emotional involvement that I have not previously encountered and give you a personal introduction to the artist themselves, where many speakers are happy to give a forensic analysis of the music while not occupying your personal space.'
'The Omens are some way from being the most detailed or etched revelator of recorded detail and yet they sing to your face and drag you into the fabric of the track, out of your seat and onto the floor at the edge of the stage. They personally introduce you to the artist who is living, breathing, working and engaging you with their joy, sadness, anger, pride,love, hate and opinion intact. This is music so close, it is almost an exchange of inner secrets from the artist to you.'
'The Zu Omens may not be the solution for everybody. An over riding desire for hyper detail will see you looking elsewhere and a fear of emotional involvement will have one seeking diminished lushness and a more platonic partnership, but if you really want the lifeblood of music and an invitation to know the soul of the artist, you will find it here. Hearing and owning the Omens is a relationship, not a business partnership and that is something on the backroads of the audio journey that revives a jaded spirit and touts the new horizon just down the road.'
Yup - nailed it."
2011 | By Steve Lefkowicz
"Zu Audio certainly likes to remind show goers that music and audio is supposed to be fun. They were showing Soul Superfly speakers ($3000) in a custom finish, in a DJ type system with dual Technics tables (though modified with Rega RB700 arms and Zu DL103 cartridges). The speakers were powered by a small Audion 12 watt EL-34 amplifier. With Zu's Sean Casey spinning only vinyl as a source, their choice of music was probably the best in the whole show, though some may not agree. The sound was lively, fun and rocked out! A welcome respite from the moribund sound in so many other rooms."
The system in the background of that photo has a special story behind it, to be documented in PFO in a separate article, but the system, Zu Audio Soul Superfly Speakers, Bel Canto C5i DAC/integrated amp, Nordost Purple Flare cabling, XLO/Ultra Power AC Power Strip, Wadia 171t, Oppo BDP-85SE universal player, and Pure Music Software, was all donated to the school where Dave and Carol teaches. You see it here sitting on the school issue AV cart that they keep it on. Not at all surprising, it sounded really nice in the room, and had probably the best collection of music of any room in the hotel. It also shows the way to get kids to appreciate music and good sound in an environment that makes sense to them." —Steve Lefkowicz
I was glad to see Sean Casey of Zu Audio. What impressed me about this room was not only the Great Soul Superfly's the Zu modded Technics with Zu D103 cart, the Audion 300B amp it was the music he was playing. In the matter of minutes that we were in the Zu room he played, The Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Silver Jews, Ray Lamontange, and Steve Earl, on vinyl. Not only that, Sean inserted small stories about the music in between songs. It was very refreshing to hear great music being played at an audio show. Talk about a personal DJ. Thanks a million Sean for steering around 'audiophile' music." —Francisco Duran
2011 | LA Show Report
Do you see that picture of Zu Audio's Sean Casey? See him smiling? I took a whole bunch of pictures in the Zu room and I'll be damned if Sean isn't smiling in every one. Part of the reason he's smiling, I'm guessing, is because he's enjoying himself and the music he's spinning on those tricked out Technics turntables (Rega RB700 tonearms "with nuts" and Zu Denon 301 cartridges). In the brief time I was there we heard Beck, The Silver Jews, and Steve Earle on the Zu Soul Superfly loudspeakers ($3000/pair), with the Audion Silver Knight integrated amp and a Rane pre/mixer. You can't see it in the picture but I was smiling too.
One other way to get more people interested in this wonderful hobby of ours is to have fun listening to great music and to show it." —Michael Lavorgna
2011 | Preview by Srajan Ebaen
With the release of the $40.000/pr Dominance, Zu rewrites its market share ambitions to include unconditional reference products. Zu's UK importer Simon Matanle put it this way: "With super-high efficiency and power handling, it's capable of making a very loud statement of its abilities. But to this listener it's not what Dominance does loudly that's most impressive. It's what it does softly after hours when the lambs are in bed. I'm thinking two in the morning, everyone asleep (except me), half a bottle of burgundy, an open fire and some 'Dead Can Dance' to play amongst the candle flames. In such surroundings Dominance proves yet again that the heart and soul of the music lies in the deepest frequencies..."
On concept, I asked Zu boss Sean Casey to get specific: "The heart of the Dominance is our nanotech-impregnated wideband driver array contoured for perfect time and phase. That is pinioned by twin massively motored 3" ring radiator tweeters. Subterranean bass energy is controlled and achieved with an incredibly efficient 15" sub-subwoofer complex. The enclosure hull is a super structure which encases three discrete cylindrical ZuRG cartridges with rear slots, then decked by a billet-machined solid aluminum baffle and base." —Srajan Ebaen
LA Show Report 2011 by Jeff Dorgay
"For those that attended T.H.E. Show's Newport Beach event at the Orange County Hilton this past weekend, you know they are off to a great start. With attendance reaching over 5000, this was highly impressive for the first year. It's important to give credit where credit is due and the Los Angeles Audio Society did a great job (albeit somewhat pushy nearer opening day) of promoting the event as did Richard Beers, the show's producer – with ads in most of the major hifi magazines well in advance.
The show featured an excellent mix of gear from all price ranges and the majority of the rooms had good sound. A few brought speakers that were somewhat large for their rooms, but that is often the norm, wherever a hifi show is held, so no penalty points here. As an attempt to reach out to associated luxury pursuits, there were wine and cigar vendors as well as a car show out back. Unfortunately, the car show was relatively uneventful (this is Southern California) and for most of the show, the excitement was in the parking lot, with numerous Ferraris, Porsches and a few Lamborghinis to peruse on your way in.
If you are looking for room by room, rack by rack coverage, I suggest blasting over to Stereophile's website. Michael Lavorgna worked around the clock to provide what I feel is some of the best show coverage I've read in years; insightful and to the point, yet giving you ample feel for the vibe. I know if I hadn't attended, this report would have made me want to make the pilgrimage next year.
The high point of this show for me was the diversity of music being played. For a change it wasn't all female vocal dreck. As always, the guys in the Zu Audio room were doing a killer job, spinning plenty of records with a pair of their latest modded SL-1200′s featuring Rega tonearms, and of course, Zus Denon cartridges. Played through an Audion 300B amplifier and a pair of their Soul Superfly speakers, these guys really had it going on. And in the picture you see above, they were joined by no less than Bes Nievera from Music Direct, playing DJ. Always nice to see both sides of the industry playing well together!" —Jeff Dorgay
LA Show Report 2011 by Josh Ray
"Danny Kaey on the 1s and 2s in the Zu Audio room. Soul Superfly speakers in a custom finish -- beg the Zu guys and they'll set you up with your own personalized hotrods. There's lots to say about the great sound from Zu, but, more importantly, a full DJ setup on hotel furniture?? Guys know how to throw a party. And mark your calendars for RMAF in Denver where Zu will be doing some serious turntablism. Can't wait." —Josh Ray
April 2011 | Zu Audio Essence Loudspeaker
The Power of One by Neil Gader ©TAS
"...Not the product of cookie-cutter, been there done that design and manufacturing, it's refreshingly plane spoken, almost severe—a monolith with no poetic aspirations. It's not trying to resemble a rocket ship or a totem pole or an aircraft carrier. Its unapologetically blocky dimension seek n softening from a well placed curve or gentle radius. It's just a big square slab of retro loudspeaker, nearly fifty inches tall, that in any normal sized room will not be ignored. Yet, in my listening room, the speaker, bedecked in a soft, matte, avocado finish that made me crave guacamole every time I looked at it, somehow worked. It received nothing but nostalgic "oohs" and "aahs" from all who sat in my listening room, as if they recognized a kindred spirit from another time.
Appearances aside, the Essence is a high sensitivity, hybrid-driver floorstander. Its key feature, central to Zu's philosophy, is a large 10.3" full-range cone driver that covers from roughly 30Hz to 10kHz, reproducing all but the upper harmonics from the frequency spectrum. In one form or another this Zu design and built driver graces and grounds each model in the line. It uses pulp paper cone, which in turn is augmented by a 4" whizzer cone driven by the same, single voice coil as the 10". The top octave is handled by a transformer coupled, foil-ribbon tweeter via a Bessel based, second order high-pass filter—the only electrical crossover component in the speaker. So, except fro the top octave, the Essence is essentially a crossover free single driver system. The enclosure is a rigid combination of MDF and Baltic birch ply. Cardas' patented cinch type binding posts are a nice touch on the back panel. Zu Audio is a factory direct company and its aggressive warranty and 60-day return policy demonstrate its determination to satisfy all customers.
Internal bass loading is a Zu Audio's own design. Named ZuRG, for its co-designer Ron Griewe RG, It uses a tall, high-density foam like pyramidal construction within the enclosure that widens from the top to bottom and terminates above a slotted vent in the base of the plinth. This damps standing waves and controls progressively lower frequencies, reducing vent noise and overhung artifacts that bloat or slow bass response. For Zu it's a more effective solution than the conventional fiber fill or constrained layer approach.
A relative rarity in the high end, Zu's whizzer cone is a lightweight concentrically positioned around a large, alloy phase plug, and driven by the main driver's voice coil. It resembles something like a circular horn, and it operates purely acoustically. With proper implementation it aids dispersion and extends the top end and reduces the tendency for a large cone to beam. By virtue of its comparatively lightness it also promotes quickness and transient agility. In principle it's an inexpensive and expedient way to generate high frequencies without resorting to a second transducer and its attendant crossover circuitry.
The Essence's 97 dB sensitivity and 12 ohm nominal impedance means that about the only amp—tube or transistor—that can't drive the Essence is a broken one. That's not to say it doesn't appreciate a good, clean signal. Whether it was the PrimaLuna Prologue Premium integrated on the tube side or the ARC DSi200 on the solid-state one, quality amplification invariably stiffened the Zu's spine in the bass and added transparency and liquidity in the treble.
The Essence offers a fairly wide listening window, but small frequency shifts suggested that window was a little more hight dependent than expected. To achieve the most even balance I felt I had to sit up a bit straighter than I normally would. So if slumping into the couch is your preferred listening posture, you might want to rethink this habit. (Or adjust the feet, tilting the face a bit forward, I like to slump. —Zu)
The calling card for the Zu Audio product is the big full-ranger. It's Zu's gold standard—a hard charging extrovert of a driver from which all aspects f sonic performance follow. It produces a warm voluminous soundstage, a realistically scaled acoustic with near life-sized instrumental and vocal images. There's a rewarding sense of dynamic thrust and impact as well—elements built on solid if slightly uneven mid and upper bass response. With no crossover components, save for the high-pass on the supertweeter, and no multiple drivers splitting the critical midrange, the Essence achieves an alchemy of coherence and image resolution that called to mind the point source ideal. Images are well defined and locked in with assurance.
Zu will tell you that all its speakers are built around the human voice and, indeed, there's a strong element of intimacy and energy in the way it produces vocals, from the deepest baritone to the loftiest soprano. The midrange is responsive yet has a warmth factor that fuses nicely with the extension and suppleness of its bass. There's and open, unobstructed wholeness to its midrange, a sense of effortlessness at any reasonable volume in a normal sized room. Likewise the treble is well lit and airy; however, even with an assist from the ribbon supertweeter, don't expect the "infinity and beyond" personality of an electrostat or premium dome. I also noted that the very high crossover point for the ribbon tweeter creates a smooth transition that effectively removes a common coloration that occurs when transducers of different materials, radiation patterns, or general design bump up against one another. Historically, ribbons and cone drivers don't sing with a single consistent voice for this reason. For the Essence, the ribbon is outside the fundamental range of the orchestra and is only asked to blend in the purely harmonic range. And this it does well and unobtrusively.
Bass response is nicely extended in pitch and impressive in its lack of dynamic compression. The Essence plummets forcefully into the low 30Hz region, but rolls off quickly below that. Its sense of pace in these nether regions is somewhat easygoing, in not a bit woolen at times. An example would be the bass viols during the Korngold Concerto for Violin and Orchestra [Anne Sophie Mutter, DG] —rich with resonance and immediacy off the bow, yet somewhat thickened and defocused as they descent in pitch. Whether this is due to a cabinet resonance or the loading design is difficult to say. It's an issue that won't get everyone's attention, but I prefer more control.
In Tonal accuracy the Essence can get unruly at times. As vividly detailed as vocals can be, timbres lack consistency top-to-bottom and low-level cues will often recede and assume a softer focus. Thus, as I listened to Norah Jones' "The Nearness of You" [Come Away With Me, Bluenote], a couple of things came to mind. Her voice was slightly hooded and laid-back on the sung notes but over detailed during the breathy decays. This midrange recession underscores a glint of brightness int eh sibilance range, which adds emphasis to high-hat and other metallic percussion cues. Further, a strong male voice like Frank Sinatra seemed lifted slightly in pitch, shortchanging the weightier contributions of chest and diaphragm. Conveying a similar impression, piano harmonics were reproduced with greater intensity and ring and marginally less weight on fundamental.
For me, minimalist crossover designs have a sense of speed and attach that makes them stand apart from typical two and three way designs. In the Essence's case, transient information was ricochet immediate, with no trailing artifacts. Solo piano, in particular, exhibited terrific micro-transient speed. Beyond this attention to transient information, there was a delicacy of detail to acoustic guitar, mandolin, and banjo that communicated a greater sense of the human component—the finer graduations of volume and timing that make listening to the neo Bluegrass music of Nickel Creek such a distinct pleasure. To be fair, there was also a hint of added sparkle in the upper octaves of the these instruments, but that was easily forgotten after a few moments. Dynamically, the Essence is an unalloyed party animal. It gently prods percussions cues forward and snare drum thwacks land like grenades. Similarly the ping off of the drumheads sounded as if they skin were retensioned for crisper impact.
The Essence is a great lesson in the power of one. And much credit is owned the Zu keepers for pursuing the one driver solution and delivering it with such value and mind-bending economy. For me, the Essence never failed to forge a strongly musical connection. But it also provoked me to consider the old conundrum about just what constitutes musicality and realism in a loudspeaker. Tonality hardliners will squabble that it misses the bull's-eye in a couple of significant areas. Conversely, many will applaud Zu Audio's more holistic approach. One thin we do know, however, is that there's no such thing as a one-speaker fits all design. The Zu Audio Essence really needs to be experience to appreciate its unique magic. In the world of cookie-cutter audio, there's really nothing else like it out there. —Neil Gader, TAS
© 2011 Thad Aerts, all rights reserved // reprinted by Zu with permission
"The wait is over. This day has been coming for a long, long time. I have wanted to spend time with, hear, cuddle with and listen to music at my leisure in my own home via Zu loudspeakers for years. Years, I tell you! Thousands, literally, thousands of days have passed since my craving was initially sparked – and the day has come.
My initial intrigue with Zu stemmed from their apparent desire and willingness to think outside the conventional box and do things their own way. I remember the first time I saw their speakers – they were a pair of Druid speakers. I thought, " Hmmmm…..those look odd." This was at a time when the vogue design parameters and aesthetics for audiophile floorstanding speakers had them with narrow front baffles with cabinets that were three to four times deeper than the front baffle's width. The Druid are tall with unusually shallow cabinets that are wider than they are deep. That, in combination with the fact that Zu's speakers have unusually high sensitivity that are intentionally designed to be driven by (but not limited to) SET's. Lastly, Zu speakers seem to exist in every color of the rainbow, and some that aren't in, on or around the rainbow.
After starting The HI-FI Reader, I contacted the fine folks at Zu and was further intrigued by what I found, i.e. – not stuffy, fat, over-educated white guys who were their own biggest fans that honestly believe they possessed the audiophile Holy Grail. Quite the opposite really. What I found was the closest thing to a punk rock audiophile outfit. Sign me up!
Based on all of these observations, it's obvious that the folks at Zu have an independent spirit and are bent on doing things their own way. Bravo! I applaud that, well….anywhere – but especially in audio where status quo is what everyone has for breakfast. At the same time, you can walk around touting whatever mantra you want but it doesn't mean much if you don't have the guns to back it up. The status quo cereal I'm interested in is good sound.
A few review possibilities fell through the cracks. Recently, it seems that the company has gone through a sort of transformation and they have come out with a number of new products. Within this transformation, Sean Casey (Zu founder) promised a review pair of one of their new speakers – Soul. As the day creeped closer, Sean contacted me and notified me that the pair he was sending out were going to be the Soul "Superfly" edition, which is apparently the star athlete sibling to the already stellar tether ball champion, Soul. More on that later…..
So, the fateful day arrived. The delivery man wheeled some large, brown, cardboard boxes to my front doorstep and we were off and running! I got the things to my basement, with the assistance of my twelve-year-old daughter. For being average sized floorstanding speakers – the things are heavy, which I guess is a good thing. I unpacked the Souls and removed the plastic, Frisbee-sized disc that protects the 10" full-range driver during transport. The folks at Zu go the extra mile in their packing. I can't see how the speakers could get damaged, short of extreme mishandling, during shipping. Sure, the speakers are shipped in cardboard, whereas boutique-y, snooty-tooty audiophile stuff comes in wooden crates – which I think is typically dumb. Shipping already costs enough and I usually think wooden crates are total overkill that are only used to increase the "perceived value." Blah!
The Soul is a two-way speaker that incorporates the 10" Zu260FRD/G4 HO full-range driver with Zu's Definition tweeter. I asked Sean if they built all their own drivers to which he said, "Woofer is ours; Eminence builds the magnetic parts, charges the magnet and forms the voicecoil, we do the diamagnetics at the machine shop here, finish the cone, do final assembly, QC and match. Tweeter driver is built in Poland [Eminence now casting elements in their China plant and motor and assembly in Kentucky], lens is ours designed and built by us."
That full-range driver is run wide open and a high-pass first order network serves as the tweeter's crossover. Further features include interior cabinet treatment utilizing motorcycle exhaust technology to tame cabinet resonance. The speakers come with both carpet-piercing spikes as well as stainless steel, ball-end footers for hard surfaces. The ball-ended ones were the footers I used. That said, the Souls are ported at the bottom of the cabinet so you need to have them raised off the floor in order to perform as intended. Not having them raised a bit off the floor effectively turns them into a sealed box speaker…and we don't want that. Their efficiency is 101db and the impedance is 16ohm. You can choose from 5 different colors with the stock, no-extra-charge option being walnut. Other options will tack on anywhere from $500-$1,500. My review pair came in "Cosmic Latte," which may not have been my first choice, but at the same time are very classy, yet original. Actually, I prefer natural wood finishes even though it's been done to death. Seeing the stock walnut on the Zu website looks awesome.
I hooked the Souls up first via my tried and true AMC 2100 100w SS amp. I know this isn't exactly the type of amp that the Souls were intended to be driven by, but it is the amp that I was using with the Backtrack Records Audio BR 33's so….it was there. I can't remember the first thing I played, but I remember my first impressions. I was wowed by the undeniable texture. I was disappointed by the thin bass and the somewhat shouty presentation. Sean told me that all their speakers are shipped with about 160 hours of music already pumped through them. Usually, I would think that this was sufficient break-in time though after my experience with the BR 33's and their extremely long break-in requirements, I told myself that they could possibly need more time. So, I let 'em play for another 100 more hours before putting on my critical hat.
During this time, I experimented with placement of the Superfly's and ultimately decided they sounded best in the same approximate area as other speakers in my room do, albeit a bit closer to the front wall than usual. Their final placement had the front of the woofer approximately 33" from the front wall. The woofer centers were 80" apart and the distance from the woofer centers to the listening position was 9'.
I put the speakers through the ringer in terms of amps I drove them with, as well as speaker cables I found that both were critical to their performance. I would almost argue that the Souls were more critical than most speakers regarding what amp and what wire was connected to them. After realizing that, though not horrific, the AMC 2100 probably wasn't the best match for the Soul's. I tried the next most obvious amp at my disposal – the Royal Devices Sara 300B 8w SET. This was a definite step in the right direction as the texture became even more prevalent and the power matching seemed more appropriate. Remember, this is a 101db speaker. My only apprehension was the Sara only has 8ohm taps and the Soul is a 16ohm speaker. I thought I needed to hear the speaker matched 'perfectly.' A buddy of mine has a completely original (including the box it came in!) Dynaco ST-70. Those have 16ohm taps. The Zu website even recommends them as the "best bang for the buck" option to mate with the Souls. I owned an ST-70 for years so I'm well versed in the sonic character of these amps. I'm also very familiar with the shaky mechanical nature of the vintage amps. So, my buddy lent me the Dynaco – packed in its original box and all. I took it home, installed the cables to the 16ohm taps and fired 'er up. The Dynaco and the Soul are a very good match and the best configuration I have ever heard the ST-70. It seemed that the typical characteristics of the amp (rolled off highs/flabby bass) were not nearly as prevalent – and the midrange was better than ever. I was getting kissed clean by Sam Beam when, in typical ST-70 fashion, I started to hear a growing hum from the left channel. I glanced down at the amp and the front, left EL34 was glowing way, way too bright. Damn! Just when we were getting somewhere! I quickly shut the amp down and cursed my luck. I stood in front of the amp, staring down on it, and asked it, "……why?" It didn't answer. It just quietly creaked and popped as the tubes cooled back down. What a moody, old bitch.
So, I put a call out to my fellow, local tube brothers for a 16ohm tube amp. My buddy Doug came through with an offer to borrow his 1954 Fisher 20A's. The things have been updated with Audio Note Caps and some other things that I can't remember at the moment. In the meantime, it was brought to my attention by some of my other tube brothers that ohm matching between amps and speakers isn't hugely critical as long as the amp is the one that has the lower spec. So, in my case, having 8ohm amps with the 16ohm Souls wasn't really a big deal – minus the fact that it cuts the output power to the speakers in half. I still wanted to hear a 'perfect' match and Zu recommends a 16ohm amp for "best power transfer."
And I'm glad I did because it's impossible for me to pinpoint exactly why I heard what I heard from the Fisher/Zu combo. Perhaps it had absolutely nothing to do with the 16ohm matching. Whatever the case, the amps sounded pretty damn good driving the Souls. The Zu's are very sensitive speakers but my room is pretty big as well. To my ears, I enjoyed the extra oomph the Fishers brought to the equation. The bass was more palpable- transcending the aural, and becoming physically present. The sonic picture presented had more authority as well. I spent far more time listening to the Fishers driving the Zu's compared to the measly 20 minutes spent with the Dynaco ST-70, but the overall sonic signatures of the two was more alike than different. i.e. classic tube sound. The Soul's definitely seemed to take all the positive attributes from these old amps while minimizing the negative aspects. As I said about the ST-70 above, with either of the amps, the bass was far better and more defined than I would have anticipated and the highs were sweet without sounding soft. I'm not pontificating that this is the Holy Grail. I've heard better bass out of solid state amps for sure. The BR 33's I reviewed last issue did bass better. I'm just pointing out that from my experience, the Soul's seemed to mate incredibly favorably with vintage tube amps. That's it.
Ironically, Doug, my fellow audio brother and owner of the Fisher's is also the relatively new owner of his own pair of Soul Superfly's. Perfect! I can hear the exact same speaker in a different system in a different room – and I don't even have to schlep the things to someone else's house! So, the day I picked up the amps, I scheduled a little extra time to listen to his system. Doug has his Soul's being driven by a Dan Kapellar single-ended amp. Doug tried the Fisher's on his Souls and commented on the large sound they had in comparison to the DK amp – but ultimately preferred the DK amp for all the reasons folks who prefer SET's do. After returning Doug's Fisher's back to him, I hooked up the Sara 300B again for a listen and have to admit I was disappointed in what I heard, missing the undeniable magic that the old Fishers and new Zu's made. It was quite literally a damn near perfect match. I have a feeling that if my listening space were smaller, I may appreciate the single-ended amp better. The Fishers had the perfect amount of power, for my listening space, to drive the Zu's though. Furthermore, and perhaps because of this fact, the Zu/Fisher combo played everything well. All the usual things that you would expect me to say sounded better than usual. Classic jazz, female vocals, blah, blah, blah. On the other hand – things like experimental electronic music (Oval, Alva Noto) sounded amazing. The extreme low frequencies that this music often utilizes came through in spades and totally balanced. Not a quality I would have expected from amps made in 1954. More than the bass though, the Zu's textural qualities absolutely shined making this completely synthetically created music seem almost organic. Beyond electronic music, I have been going through a bit of a Metallica phase lately – but only through …And Justice for All. Their music pretty much ceased to matter after that – but that's a different article. The record I have sort of been fixated on has been Master of Puppets. I own the first generation crappy CD version that's, well, crappy. I really want to hear the remastered stuff available on vinyl – and suppose I will at some point. For the time being though – I have the crappy CD. Regardless, and again – to my complete surprise – this stuff sounded absolutely amazing. The Zu/Fisher combo could play LOUD without sounding strained, stressed or harsh. Listening to Master of Puppets at high spl's had a presentation that was huge and engaging. When Zu says that these speakers can rock, they aren't kidding. I went back and tried playing this same record with the 300B and it just wasn't happening on the same level. I had the Fisher's on loan from Doug for 3 weeks – which was 2 weeks longer than I said I would have them. I really, really, really didn't want to give the things back – and once they were gone, I really missed the sonic happiness they brought me and the Zu's.
I feel like this has suddenly turned into a review of 1954 Fisher A20's. It hasn't. I'm simply illustrating the fact that was becoming more vividly apparent to me – the Zu's are rather sensitive regarding the amplification source that was driving them. Obviously, all loudspeakers are to a certain extent but with the Superfly's, it's really a deal breaker.
After the Fisher's were gone, I sat around for a day or two being a sad-sack – acting like my best friend had just moved away. I even took the Zu's out of my system for a few days because I figured no other amp I had on hand was going to compare to what the Fisher's brought to the table. After a few days, and perhaps out of total and complete desperation, I decided to hook the moody ST-70 back up. I owned one of the things for years and they did weird stuff all the time – but I would go on using it usually without incident. I fired the Dynaco back up, connected to the Zu's via its 16ohm taps and, voila – no problem. The sound was as I remembered it – really good. I went on to listen to a ton of stuff through the Dynaco/Zu combo and was stoked! It was a close second to the Fishers but the Fishers ultimately won. The Dynaco is completely original and stock. The Fishers, on the other hand, have updated caps and resistors which, if I had to guess, would contribute to what I heard. The Fishers were more revealing, the bass was more solid and tangible and they seemed, for whatever reason, to sound as if they provided more power than the ST-70. That said, the stock Dynaco still sounded really, really good. Zu is right in recommending the ST-70 as the best bang for the buck. If the Superfly's were mine, I would track down one of the many updated/rebuilt Dynaco's being offered on the Internet – ensuring though that it still had the 16ohm taps.
The Soul Superfly's projected a very vivid musical picture. They can swing and keep the tempo and flow with the best of them and the dynamics leave little to be criticized. They aren't up there with a large horn speaker but the Soul is the best box speaker I have heard in this regard. The Soul's imaged with the best of them and because of their somewhat forward presentation, images were very crisp and sharp though the speakers never sound harsh or bright – even at high volume. The Soul's ability to soundstage and image was very good. Some speakers can captivate you right off the bat and seduce the listener by projecting such a large and vast soundstage that (with a little suspension of disbelief) has you convinced you are looking through a window at a performance. Again, the Soul's imaging and soundstaging capabilities along with channel separation were top notch – though these aren't the qualities that are going to win over the listener. They are perhaps the fringe benefits to the package – and perhaps always should be with all speakers.
Perhaps the quality most likely to wow new listeners would be the Soul's textural presentation. They possess the undeniable ability to render the individual sonic characteristics of whatever instrument/voice/blip or bleep is being played without the sometimes hard or harsh element that accompanies it. If most texturally accomplished speakers sound like a really good CD player, the Soul is a great turntable playing your favorite pressing of your favorite record. They are that good. Closely mic'd instruments or voices? Watch out! Because they are so revealing, more so than any other speaker I have had in my system, the Soul's made the sonic personality of upstream components much more apparent. In terms of the frequency range, I found it to be very balanced with perhaps a tinge of a boost to the midrange. Considering their consideration for tube amps, I don't think this is going to come as a surprise to any listeners. The Soul Superfly's presence is another outstanding characteristic. Muddy, dark, withdrawn or even relaxed are not adjectives that would be used to describe the SS's.
Furthermore, the Soul's could flat out rock. Unlike the other handful of high-sensitivity tube amp friendly speakers that I have experienced, that always sound a bit fragile to me, the Soul's practically asked to be pushed. Listening to things like Mastadon at ridiculously high SPL's was a snap for the Soul's, and that was with 15 watts backing it up! The beauty was that as soon as I was done punishing the Soul's, as well as my ears, the speakers had no problem seamlessly downshifting to something lighter and effortlessly doing the new musical fare justice. The Soul's not a speaker that discriminates musically. My experience was that it portrayed all music accurately.
After going down the vintage tube amp road, I decided to revisit the solid state camp with the various amps I have on hand – and though not necessarily bad, there was absolutely no contest to what was heard via the Dynaco and especially, especially the Fisher's. It's no secret that Zu designs it's speakers to be tube-friendly – or almost tube exclusive. What sort of surprises me is the hands down winner with the Soul Superfly's were vintage tube amps – both of which were push/pull amps. The push/pull vs. single-ended debate, I'll maintain, most likely has something to do with the large size of my room necessitating more power than a SET can provide – even if the speakers in question are 101db.
That said, this was my major gripe of the Soul's – I wish they were 8ohm. They sounded wonderful hooked up to the 16ohm taps of both the ST-70 and A20's – but a lot of, if not most modern amps – tubed or otherwise, don't have 16ohm taps. Perhaps the speakers would sound completely different if they were 8ohm. I'm no designer – just a listener. It would be interesting to hear what 8ohm Soul Superfly's would sound like – simply because there would be so many more amp options to choose from – or at least modern amps.
I have read elsewhere that the low frequency characteristics of the Superfly leave something to be desired. My experience was that they could sound absolutely wonderful in this regard pending the proper amp driving them. If the amp was less than ideal, regardless of power, the bass performance was typically the first thing that was noticeably lacking. However, the Soul isn't the speaker that's going to put the subwoofer industry out of business.
A few odds and ends that I forgot to mention earlier about the Superfly's: the binding posts kick-ass. They are the coolest idea that I'm surprised no one has thought of before. The literature says they are from Cardas and they make hook-up a snap, albeit you won't be able to use speaker cables terminated with banana plugs. Basically, one plastic knob screws down a plastic rectangle that applies the pressure to the spades or bare cable to hold them in place around their respective binding posts. I've never been a big fan of typical speaker binding posts and have often wondered why something better had never been invented. Now it has – and unless you are (for some odd reason) a die-hard banana plug advocate, you'll be hard pressed to disagree that these binding posts are the best. Aside from the ease of hooking up speakers to them, they are easier than typical binding posts to achieve more than adequate tension on the cables to hold them in place. Also, because a piece of plastic is between the two binding posts, you never have to worry about your speaker cables coming loose and touching each other. Bravo to Cardas for coming up with these cleverly genius binding posts.
And speaking of speaker cable's, I did find that the Superfly's were more sensitive to what cable's were connected to them. My typical Transparent cables didn't sound the greatest for whatever reason. They sounded muddy and sluggish – and this quality remained consistent with all the amps I tried with them. I settled on using the Audience Au24 cables. They simply sounded more revealing, more musical – despite their incredibly minimal shielding design picking up periodic audible RF.
In retrospect, a lot of these qualities that I have pointed out (cable/amp matching) really have to do with the fact these speakers are really revealing making what is hooked up to them even more apparent. A moment that made this quality incredibly obvious to me was towards the end of the review period. I was listening to Middle Brother's self-titled album (which is really great and comes highly recommended from me). It is a new modern recording that sounds pretty good – though it tries to sound old. Anyway, after passively listening to it, I decided I was in the mood for some older Dinosaur Jr., so I pulled out the the seminal 1991 album Green Mind and plopped the shiny silver disc into my Sony PS1. Mind you, both examples were sourced from CD's. So, I pushed 'play' and the sonic qualities were undeniably different. So much so that within seconds of hearing J. Mascis' wailing guitar, I uttered the word, "Yuck." And I wasn't referring to the playing or songs directly, but rather the obviously horrible digital sound piercing my eardrums. The DJr CD is an original from 1991. I have since discovered that they have a remastered version which has just been added to my shortlist of CD's to buy. Wait, hold on a second……. Ok- I'm back. Just found a copy on the Internet and I bought it. The Zu's are really, really revealing speakers – for better or worse. Seeing as how they are 'audiophile' speakers, I assume the majority of folks that critically listen to them will find this a good thing. However, if you are the type of listener that wants your speakers to make all of your recordings sound good – or at least the same, look elsewhere. These speakers are not for you. Above, I noted that I would have preferred a bit more bass response from the Zu's. They could perform when I threw bass heavy material at them and did so effortlessly. But when listening to recordings that were a bit more bass shy, they could sound a bit thin. Again, in retrospect, I think this was the Zu's not adding information that wasn't there- or accentuating and boosting stuff that was there. You know the cheap, crappy bookshelf systems that make every recording you play on them sound like they have gobs and gobs of bass? The Zu's are the complete opposite of that. Good thing too.
I've given a lot of attention to the various amps that I used driving the Zu's and I'm about to give the topic a little more attention. The amps that I really preferred with the Soul's are not owned by me. I tried all the amps that I do own – already having briefly discussed the AMC 2100. I also tried out my Murano P200S Class D amps. I wasn't overly stoked on the match – especially after hearing what the speakers could do via the Fishers and the Dynaco. The sound was harsh in comparison via the Murano's. And, for an amplifier technology known for outstanding bass performance, I thought this quality fell short when matched with the Zu's. I also tried (and of the three, spent the most time with) my AMC CVT2030as tube/hybrid design which has an output of 30 watts into 8ohms. This was the amp of the one's I own that sounded the best with the Zu's. The Zu's had the most texture and musicality when mated with the 2030. The sound was thick and warm and very tubey. I was in a different league – a lower league – than the other tube amps I used, the Royal Devices Sara 300B included. However, the sound was still very pleasing and something I would be stoked to listen to for a long, long time. My buddy Erik also lent me his AES Superamp (tube/15w into 8 ohms) to try out with the Zu's – and though good, it wasn't necessarily a match made in Heaven. Again. This amp only has 8ohm taps – so………………draw your own conclusion.
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 the Soul, 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."
© 2011 Thad Aerts, all right reserved /// Reprinted by Zu with permission
Mark Elson - Senior Editor
At first glance, it's clear that Zu is not your average speaker company. Company literature is chock full of text, like "Omen Def defines state-of-the-art without all the pussyfootin' of hi-fi, just hook 'em up and let the music and party happen... Omen Def are without rival, if the price fits get 'em."
"Our objective for Omen Def is simple, create and build a loudspeaker that can go toe-to-toe with the best loudspeakers in the world, is happy with the vast majority of amps, looks spectacular, and at a price that most working music heads can afford (without having to sell their car)", says Chuck Williams, Vice President of Marketing and Sales.
January 22, 2011 | by Michael Mercer
The future isn't now, or ten minutes ago, it's always progressing – moving forward. In fact It's already over (not to get too Alan Watts on you on anything). The guys at Zu Audio truly understand this. Their marketing is strong, aimed at both social media as well as standard-issue audiophile print magazines (yes, they still exist, though their readerships are, most likely, less than this site at the moment). I wouldn't be surprised if the web pages of magazines like Stereophile and The Absolute Sound find more readers through their reports on the web these days. However, no matter how strong the mission statement, or the way it reaches an audience, there is another concept Zu Audio grasps more than most Hifi companies today: The true meaning of value and the currency (not to mention integrity) of offering a product that's hand-crafted in the States.
Despite today's domestic economy being in the throes of possibly the worst recession since the twenties, thanks partially to the exportation of our jobs, knowledge, and leading edge manufacturing, there are still a few hard core, dedicated audio companies designing and building loudspeakers here (as well as fine electronics). The list however is getting shorter and shorter. I just heard that Kilpsch (a company that's been building speakers here for over 30 years) was recently sold, so who knows how long their manufacturing facilities will remain here. Zu Audio has another edge as well (or, a curse as some may see it – not me however): They're a young company.
This seemingly has no adverse effect on their ability to make a damn good speaker and that's what counts. I challenge you to find a speaker at this price range, built in this country that offers more than the Omen Def for $3,100.00. That number may seem a bit expensive, but these are true full-range, floorstanding loudspeakers, not some slimmed down speaker tower that's part of a home-theater-in-a-box solution.
The cabinets are beautifully hand-crafted (the first thing my wife noticed and loved) and they offer dual ten-inch woofers with one tweeter, in what's commonly referred to as a D'appolito configuration (with the tweeter placed between the drivers in a vertical array). This arrangement is named after Joseph De'appolito (the supposed inventor of this specific loudspeaker design, however the original design called for two midrange drivers, not full range). These are the kinds of speakers you cranked during your teenage years listening to Kiss or Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. They are also equally capable of nuance, so jazz fans have no fear-they could please you as well. Bottom line is they bang, and they do so with the kind of sonic integrity you'd expect from a speaker more than twice their price (you have no idea how deep this rabbit hole goes).
They required a bit of break-in (as most high performance loudspeakers do). I'd say they really started to open up after two weeks of constant play. Again, this is not un-common, and it was a pleasure to hear them blossom. We're still hearing it today!
Voices are articulated with both detail and finesse, but with depth and realism. The Omen Defs conveyed the emotional impact of the music in a very engaging way, and that is one of the things I love most about great hifi, how it can transform your mood with the power, precision, and magic of music. Clock radios, no matter what type of plastic, internal contraptions they sport for bass control cannot deliver dynamics like this. Tori Amos's presence during Boys for Pele was dark and seductive. I ended up listening to the entire album (something I haven't done for years). The kick drum on "Glob" (Kenny Larkin mix) on Balance 017 (Mixed by Timo Mass) was tight and massive.
Set up properly, you can get them sounding like it's simply music in the room with you, not a pair of tall boxes with pretty drivers. They do, admittedly, look pretty cool with aluminum rings encircling the woofers and inverted aluminum dome tweeters. The Omen Defs are house party rockers. They handled everything from bumpin' house music to Cyndi Lauper, Ben Folds and Mogwai. Been searching for that big pair of Cerwin Vegas in your room that woke your parents up while you were in high school? Well, this is that speaker on performance enhancing drugs. Check them out as soon as you can. You can rock the party or simply provide smooth grooves for a dinner get-together. Zu Audio has helped to make stereo cool again.
January 18, 2011 | by Robert Archer
Driven by a renewed interest in vinyl, increasing digital download music sales and Blu-ray-based home theaters, the home audio category is experiencing a resurgence.
With the audio category more diversified than ever, it's now more important for consumers to find products that offer value, performance and versatility. One of the newer speaker companies to represent these traits is the direct-to-consumer company Zu Audio. The Ogden, Utah-based company's latest speaker product is the freestanding Omen Def, which offers home audio enthusiasts a competitively priced, highly efficient loudspeaker that can be driven by a variety of amplifier products.
September 14, 2010 | by Steve Guttenberg
Top-10 speakers for $1K, or a lot less
Zu Audio Omen ($999). Zu is one of my all time favorite American speaker manufacturers, but they've never made a speaker as affordable as the Omen, which will be released November 1 for $1,500. The speaker is finish ted in real maple veneer and manufactured in Ogden, Utah. Zu speakers are extremely dynamic, lively performers, and they produce razor-sharp imaging. Right, $1,500 is priced over my self-imposed limit for this top-10 list, but for just this week (ending September 17) the company is taking pre-introduction orders for the Omen for just $999.99, saving you $500! Zu is selling the Omen with a 90-day money-back guarantee.
January 14, 2010 Vegas | by John Atkinson
January, 2010 Vegas | by John Atkinson
For the dem, the subwoofer was powered by a Pass Labs XA30.5 but the main drive-units were driven by a 1.5Wpc Yamamoto SET amp. Yup, just 1.5W, but the Dominances still managed to fill the room with sound. Lows were tight and extended; imaging was tangible; jump factor was startling; but I couldn't get away from a touch of character in the mid-treble imparted by those whizzer cones." —John Atkinson
June 14, 2010 | by Steve Guttenberg
Zu Audio's Essence speaker breaks almost every high-end design rule and sounds
all the better for it! A great speaker should make you feel like you're there,
with the music. That's the idea, but it almost never happens, even with some
of the very best speakers money can buy.
They can sound great, but they rarely sound like the real thing.
Speaker design over the last decade or so has been devoted to producing ever greater accuracy, higher resolution, lower distortion and wider frequency response, but those qualities don't necessarily produce a sound that'll stir your soul.
I mention all that because Zu's designers don't obsess about making speakers that measure well. Striving for the flattest frequency response or widest possible dispersion aren't major priorities for Zu.
Their latest, the Essence, tracks music's soft-to-loud, to very loud dynamics like nobody's business. Those instantaneous volume shifts we associate with live sound are faithfully reproduced by the Essence.
November 9, 2009 | by Paul Messenger
This fascinating US loudspeaker breaks most of the usual rules
In a hi-fi world largely populated by loudspeakers that stick pretty close to the marketplace stereotype, it's always interesting and challenging to come across something that is very different and which quite deliberately flouts normal loudspeaker design conventions, such as these Zu Essence loudspeaker.
Founded in Utah around the beginning of the century, Zu Audio is a young company with a radical — one could even say iconoclastic — attitude to hi-fi sound reproduction.
2008 | by Srajan Ebaen
He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck either but a real duck
that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
Zu routinely gets flak for overstated sensitivities from the lame duck brigade. Those quackers never listen but argue endlessly: Impossible. Can't work. Cow dung. For a basic but practical test, I leashed up my 2wpc Yamamoto A-08S, switched the Esoteric C-03 preamp to zero gain and its display from 'step' to 'attenuation'. Instead of showing 0 to 99 where 99 screams, this shows attenuation in actual dB. Zero then means no cut or loudest and when configured for zero gain, unity gain or blunt source output. And fork a duckie, for my customary listening levels, the 45 triodes ran at about 17 to 20dB below unity gain (standard 2V source). Land mine alert. While this gets us no actual sensitivity figure in dB, we can securely pronounce Essence sensitivity adequate (or whatever else understated Britishers might call it).
October 19, 2009 | by Art Dudley
"From their beginnings in 2000, Zu has embodied the progressive attitude to which, in so many minds, the flea-watt amp movement seems linked. Yet at the same time this Ogden, Utah-based maker of cables, phono cartridges, and high-efficiency speakers has impressed many with the sheer professionalism of its efforts: In contrast to so many businesses that cater to the low-power-amp community, Zu appears to have decided long ago that they want to be a real company-and then they set about to make it happen.
The Zu Essence is not a hair-shirt product, in which regard alone it has surpassed at least half the high-efficiency loudspeakers in the domestic marketplace. Inasmuch as it's among the more affordable choices—exponentially, in some cases—it has surpassed many of the rest. The Essence is something of a milestone. With its very good bass extension, superb musicality, lack of egregious timbral colorations, and impressive spatial performance, the Zu Essence qualifies as the first loudspeaker I've heard that combines genuinely high efficiency with a level of audiophile performance for which no excuse needs to be made... I'm really impressed with the Essence—and, yes, I could happily live with it myself: It's that good." —Art Dudley