Why such strong LOVE/HATE opinions about Zu?
We don’t play games, we don’t kiss-up, we do what we like, and we are finding success and building a great company. Because we have no intention of doing it like its been done for the past forty years, Zu simply rubs the majority of invested hi-fi guys the wrong way. We see playback differently, and thank god we do.
We've also been very successful where so many others have failed. Zu threatens the established channels of commerce and anytime you threaten someone's livelihood, you're going to get strong push back.
Add to the above mankind’s competitive nature (all of us want a shootout; a winner and a loser) and that kind of stuff gets attention. We love the game, it's nothing we’re hiding. We love bangin' bars, swappin' paint, and roostin' the shit out of buddies on the race track -- and we don't mind getting roosted either. We love the competition -- dirt, street, water or otherwise. But here in the domain of playback and music, it's not that kinda competition, is it?
Tests, measures, and experts have been the holder of truth since the '70s. Even though Zu's founder grew up during that era, the main tenets of his company are closer in belief and methodology to the original pioneers of playback -- placing the ear and the individual's sensation of tone as the final arbiter of sound quality.
Because of this, we have a difficult time discussing methodologies, tests, and measures with leaders such as John Atkinson (who we respect, no dis here). Conveying where Zu places value relative to the scientific understanding of music reproduction and the quality assurance systems for consistency is difficult. How can Zu get along with a competitor if neither of us is racing on the same course?
Zu doesn't claim to have the best sound, but we do think we have a clear and distinctive voice and we think the products we make are likely the best for a majority of music fans. Still, there is no absolute sound in playback and there is no owner of fidelity.
Zu’s position on playback is not conventional and not in our heads. Friendly discussions about tone and the art of playback come up all the time. Let’s all stop talking about the best way and be more like a tape op.
Generally, when an artist or musician is recorded, tracked, mixed, and mastered, the whole process is done with a new creation in mind -- not a reproduction. This process has little to do with the real event -- unless you're a recordist after natural soundscapes such as the interplay of a forest’s ecosystem late at night or the tolling of the prayer bell in some remote, Tibetan monastery. Even in those cases, the mind’s ear is on the recreation of the capture as a new event that compels in a different, yet related way.
The point is, playback of music is an art. Yes, there are musicians that are so technically skilled it's ridiculous, but most of the time it's the sloppy rock and roller or untrained artist that expresses something new and emotionally compelling (i.e. Elvis, the Beatles, Gram Parsons, John Lydon, The Clash, The Books.) What matters is how a product performs within a system to move the invested individual emotionally, ultimately connecting a familiar, desired, and anticipated response.
All of the great classic works on the physics of sound and sensation of hearing, put emotion and our response to tone as transcendent of tests, measures, and logic. Musical scales, reasons, and relationships are definable -- with understanding we expand our ability to create and explore this sensation. They are means to expand the journey, to increase our ability to overcome exposure, and broaden our collective ability to create and grow. Looking at history we see a clear link between the explosion of musical expression and our understanding of the physics and creative application of it (i.e. Ohm, Helmholtz, Jeans, Rayleigh, Lamb, Olson.) All place our sensation of tone as transcending understanding -- our individual 'ear' as the final arbiter.