You can't really count on predictions for Zu Audio. Sure, they bring serious engineering chops, a sort of juvenile irreverence, and a real style to every show, but they also delight in culture jamming audiophile expectations.
Take the two rooms they had going in the Atrium this time as a prime example. The first room was nothing but a sweatshop in which underpaid and unappreciated Zu minions slaved to print up "Stolen From Zu Audio" t-shirts on demand for their sweaty fans. I got one, and I sure didn't pay for it.
Then there was Zu's second room. It had the best working air conditioner at the show. It was heaven. I loved that air conditioner. I also loved the gear.
I asked Sean Casey what gear they were using, and he did a pretty credible imitation of a deer in the headlights. "Oh, man, I don't even know what we're using right now," he explained, "it's a total Frankenstein system."
The reason for that is that the ubiquitous Russ Stratton had set up a very convincing five channel surround demo in Zu's room using every amp he could get his hands on. The four corners were served by Zu's Soul Supreme ($4,500 per pair), while center and sub duties were being handled by Zu's new Modern Console No. 1.
The Modern Console No. 1 is a stylish piece that suggests “Eames” meets “Early College”. It houses the guts of Zu’s monster Submission subwoofer in its bottom box. The top box houses two Zu 10″ drivers and some nicely concealed equipment shelves. That whole top assemble is magnetically levitated above the bottom box so that the sub’s vibrations won’t go screwing up your tubes and turntables.
When I asked Sean what the modern console cost, his answer was simple. “We’re actively not selling them right now.” They’re still working on some production tweaks to the cabinets, and those magnets are presenting some issues. There’s a worry that the current version might rip a pacemaker out of some poor sap who only bent down to flip a record.
“We might need some kind of warning sticker,” mused Casey.
As fun as free t-shirts and multichannel music are, the one thing I love about every Zu room is that they’ll play whatever you bring them. That’s why Sunday saw Kirsten and me winding down the show with Zu’s air conditioning, Zu’s couch, and a copy of the Violent Femmes cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”