CAS 2014: Zu Audio with First Watt, K&K Audio, Rupert Neve and Rega


Dyn_CAS-logo-2Over the last year, I seem to have become the designated hitter for the Zu Audio room. This is some kind of cruel joke on our readers, because I usually say the same thing. It’s probably going to be some variation on the theme of Zu trading a bunch of sound quality for a bunch of fun. This may be because Sean Casey has omnivorous tastes, serious knowledge, and no use at all for HiFi orthodoxy. In short, I get to cover the weird guys.

Yeah. Please don’t throw me in that briar patch. That would be awful. Just awful.

Let’s get the basics out of the way. When we were in the room, Zu was showing a pair of maxed out Omen Def speakers ($5,000) in a shocking Tardis Blue. Some unused and unloved standard Omens looked pretty in the background. The digital source was a laptop feeding a MHDT Havana ($950). Analog came from a bright red Rega P6 with one of Zu’s re-bodied Denon cartridges (prices vary depending on tolerance) feeding a K&K Audio Maxxed-Out Phono Stage ($2449 as a kit). Rather than using some audiophile preamp to switch signals, Zu opted to use a Rupert Neve 5060 Centerpiece ($8,000) 24 into 2 desktop mixer.

Things got interesting when it came to amps. Depending on when you came in, you could listen to Nelson Pass’s First Watt SIT-1 monoblocks ($10,000 per pair), or you might hear some unobtanium DIY jobbies from a friend of Zu in San Francisco. These monster 845 amps were fitted with some serious iron, some serious triode driver tubes, and some very, very cheap casework still wearing the brand name of the donor gear.

Things go even more interesting when it came to the lighting. Zu tried to keep the lights dimmed, but the lights actually flickered. All of the lights. All the time. That’s …. That’s not something that usually bodes all that well.

It didn’t seem to affect the sound through the First Watt amps, though. When those were hooked up, the Zu’s had better definition, tone, and slam than I’ve heard from any Zu without a subwoofer. They were even throwing a usefully deep soundstage. This was simply the best I’d heard any Zu speaker sound. It made me regret leaving my vinyl at home.









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