Anyone who has been to a few big HiFi audio shows knows that the music tends to cater to a specific taste. That taste is undoubtably catered to the primary target demographic – people who can afford really expensive speakers. Personally, I do not fault high-end audio makers for demoing well-produced jazz music through their systems, after all, they need to move merchandise in order to survive just like every other company. It does seem at times however, that production quality overshadows quality songwriting. I prefer a balance of both. No one at the show does a better job of this than Sean Casey and the Zu Audio room. He will spin anything on the Technics SL-1200 turntable equipped with a Zu DL-103 cartridge, but if the choice is left up to him, you can expect that the music will be unique and fun – or maybe the man is just a musical mind-reader covering as a loudspeaker artist.
Over the course of the weekend I got to hear samples from one of Zu’s flagship speakers the Definition Mark 4 ($12,000) and a yet-to-be-named new entry that will rest right above the highly reviewed, budget-friendly Zu Omen ($1,500/pair). For the purposes of this entry, I will focus this review on the new
speaker “X” Union , however I will say that the Zu flagship did not disappoint.
Edit: Sean let me know that the prototype I heard will be called “Union”
The new Zu is a coaxial speaker with a supertweeter mounted in the back of the main driver, similar to the CEntrace audiophile desktop system’s speakers. I think this design has a bit of an edge over the Omen. The tweeter for the Omen rests just below the phase-plug-equipped 10″ full range driver. Bringing that treble source up just a few more inches will help bring the directional frequencies closer to ear level. The color and wood-design featured on these pair will not be standard issue for regular production models, however Zu has been known to offer custom colors for an additional fee. Sean let me know that the new unit would be offered factory-direct from the Zu site for $1,600 a pair. Following Zu tradition, the new unit will be a high efficiency and easy to drive from any amp. Sean did say that the new Zu tends to be a bit more finicky with amplifier pairing than it’s older brother and recommended a solid tube amp to complement the speaker. The original Omen is quiet versatile, and can pull its own weight across the gamut from a great tube amp to a home theater receiver (the Omen product line features center channel and bookshelf variations).
I will not mince words my friends, I was blown away by the sound of these new entries. The clarity was breathtaking, the treble sparkled. Overall tonality was balanced and bass was well-defined. Jack White’s band The Dead Weather was unusually three-dimensional, you could easily pick out each instrument from the heavy wall of sound that the track presented. The new Zu portrayed deep musicality that was very easy to listen to. This outstanding performance was no doubt aided by the Audion Black Shadow monoblock amplifiers ($12,000), but also the room size. The speakers felt unusually appropriate for the size of the hotel room. Standing about 15 feet away at the opposite side of the room, the speakers filled the area with sound perfectly, I didn’t feel like I was sitting to close or being overwhelmed by the space. I think more than a few speakers were a bit too big for the area they were given at this show and it was nice to hear something that felt like a perfect fit. Given the price, I would highly recommend these or the Omens to someone who has an apartment or smaller listening room.
The Zu room has a reputation for being fun, and the products that the company creates reflect that. If you are in the market for a $1k+ speaker and have a tube amp to push it, you need to audition this new speaker when it becomes available. If you looking to get the most value for your dollars, Zu’s entry-level products are always worth checking out as they often manage to outperform speakers of higher cost.