Newport 2012: Zu Audio

Here’s my new favorite line: “Music at an audio show sucks.”

This is such a canard — but you hear it all the time. From everywhere. Even people who should know better.

I am seriously confused.

I mean, seriously, are you impaired in some way that compels you to leave all your music behind when you travel to a show? Dude. Man up. Bring a disc. Or a memory stick. Or something! Totally spaced and just forgot to bring your own? Guess what! Each show has a marketplace where you can pick up new music, usually for a discount! Feeling like cheap bastard and don’t want to shell out for an album or thirty (me, I find it absurdly hard to stop at one — these rooms are like a giant can of audio Pringles)? Fine, no problem, if you wander into a room and don’t like the music, here’s a simple trick — ask them to change it.

This isn’t brain surgery. No one is killing babies or curing cancer. It’s music. You’re supposed to enjoy it. If you don’t like what you’re hearing, and your choice is to just sit there and take it, saving up your discomfort for a later whine-session, well, that’s all on you. Suffer through yet another room playing “Keith Don’t Go” if you must. Me, I’m heading to Zu.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Zu Audio showroom where I’ve recognized even a single LP being played. Not once. Not a single fucking time. Ever. Which is remarkable, really, since I am familiar with all music, everywhere, and all the cool kids look to me as their barometer for “what’s cool”.

Uh huh. R – i – i – i – i – i – ght.

Dude, I am so old! I mean, seriously, who plays The Flaming Lips And Stardeath And White Dwarfs With Henry Rollins And Peaches Doing Dark Side Of The Moon as a demo at an audio show? Well, guess what — Zu Audio does. Suck it, Nils Lofgren!

Anyway, the Zu Room is, and ever will be, a reference I can trot out for the next five hundred million times someone complains to me about sucky show-music, or just does so near me, or somewhere where I am forced to read it. I will now say, with devastating timing and icy malice, “So, you’ve managed to miss the Zu Audio room altogether, have you?” Maybe I can manage a sneer, too. That’d be perfect.

There was some nifty gear tucked away here, spread out before our eminently capable DJ, Ian Casey (Sean’s son).

The great-big $12,500 Zu Audio’s Definition 4 loudspeaker, freshly updated last year and here in a rich cobalt. This speaker has bone-crushing bass — I’m only telling you this because the speaker really ought to come with a warning label. Shocking oversight, there.

Ian was slinging discs on a Zu-modded Technics SL-1200 turntable with an Audio Mods arm, mounted with $439 Zu DL-103 phono cartridge.

Playback came courtesy of a $5k Melody Pure Black 101 preamplifier, wired through a $12k Audion Black Shadow monoblock 845-based 25wpc amplifiers. Zu cabling was used throughout.

But that wasn’t the story.

The story was the Union, a brand-new single driver wonder that Sean had on aural display just for me (not really), when I happened to be wandering through. Pricing for this model will be around $1,600-ish and Zu Audio’s Sean Casey says that “photos, sales info, spec’s, tests and measures, hit the site in about two weeks, and that’s when it starts shipping as well.”

More from Sean:

Union represents maximum dynamic expression and efficiency within a co-ax and within a very price sensitive / high value platform. Union also represents maximum resolution of detail and dynamic touch and texture, and unity of bandwidth and timing. Where Omen is more brunette with brown eyes–that model is easy to get along with, works in almost any room and with almost any recording–Union is a spicy redhead, and she can be ruthless and unforgiving, yet unbelievable expressive and passionate. To make the most of her you will need to place them in a good sounding room matched with great amps. If you are really into pop music recorded in the ’80s, when nearly everything was mixed and mastered hot because nearly everyone behind the consoles were blazing, Union is not your speaker.

For full-scale music with deep bass a subwoofer is recommended, and there’s no better match than the Zu Undertone subwoofer system, also hitting the site in about two weeks.

Undertone [$1,600] features the same top-shelf electronics as used on Definition Mk.IV, and the same world-class Eminence LAB-12 subwoofer driver. Undertone digs extremely deep, with not a hint of that “one-note” subwoofer sound. And Undertone is fast and agile and will even keep up with the likes of the Zu Union full-range loudspeaker system. Perfect for all music, from Taiko and D+B to massive pipe organ, Zu Undertone is quite possibly the highest value sub on the market today.

  • 100dB SPL @ 1 watt / 1m efficiency.
  • 100dB SPL @ 2.8V / 1m voltage sensitivity.
  • 8 ohm impedance.
  • 100 watt RMS power handling.
  • 14kHz acoustic crossover point.
  • Crossoverless design (no filters of any kind on the full-range driver portion, simple high-pass network on the tweeter covering the last bit of harmonic structure on top).
  • Extremely time-domain accurate, on and off axis as you would expect.
  • New Zu103CX/G1–8 co-axial driver featuring underhung coil, max shove motor, and nanotech paper-core cone.
  • Zu Griewe acoustic loading.
  • Timbre is neutral to cool depending on electronic, source, and room.
  • 11 x 11 x 36 inches.
  • 5-way binding post inputs.

Available in ghost black maple, sangria maple, electric blue maple, gray maple, natural maple.

Designed and made by Zu Audio in Ogden, Utah.

I really can’t shake the feeling that the Zu Audio team is having way more fun than the rest of us. This room was an oasis, of sorts, from the mundane and the every day. If by “oasis” you mean “completely at odds with everything around it.” And even though I never recognize and largely don’t get the music played in here, I respect what they’re doing and how much they’re doing it “their way”. It’s breathtaking. It’s cool. It’s so American I can hardly stand it. And I want one of their speakers in a big, ugly kind of way. Okay, maybe two of them to make a matched pair so I can play them. Loud. With crazy music I’ve never heard before. Crazy.