Newport 2016: Zu Audio and Pass Labs travel to Oz







Zu Audio Soul Supreme (Druid Mk.V in obelisk cabinets) in Ruby Slipper red

I kept opening one eye in the near blackness of the Zu Audio room at Newport Beach as I proceeded to click my heels together three times: but unlike Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I didn’t want to go home.  I wanted the Ruby Slipper red  Zu speakers in front of me to be transported back to my living room in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Zu founder Sean Casey said the finish was a one-off for a customer that his hard-working crew had been perfecting, and T.H.E. Show was the company’s chance to show off their skills. The Soul Supreme ($4,500 USD/pair *custom finish extra) stood there, beautifully illuminated by small spotlights in the darkness, and I have to say, they’re not only absolutely gorgeous to look at, they kicked my ass all over the room with their visceral punch, and slam. These are what I would call Rock ‘n Roll loudspeakers. Soul Supreme is a perfect name for them, because the sound being pumped out of these two-way floor standers was sweet, organic, balanced, and deeply authoritative.

Bringing jammy-mids to a whole new level.

Amplification duties were being handled on all fronts by Pass Labs, and the three-box XP-30 pre-amplifier, ($16,500 USD) and two-box XP-25 Phono ($10,600) were doing an intoxicating job of finessing the signal from the Zu Denon 103 Mk.II (approx. $549 USD) mounted on the vintage Luxman direct-drive PD444 turntable for the 30-watts/channel of pure Class-A power amplification that the  XA30.8 ($6,500 USD) was throttling the Soul Supremes with. I’ve run the stock Denon 103 with its de-facto (in some circles) Step-up Transformer (SUT) – the A23 Denon SUT from Keith Aschenbrenner  – into a tubed phono stage, and I gotta say, this was very reminiscent of that sound only with a bit less mid-range sweetness, and more texture. So, apparently you can have it both ways. Solid state continues to win me over on many fronts, as the tube/transistor lines got pretty blurry here. Bass as always with a properly set-up 103 was huge, and meaty.

Blast from the direct-drive past.

A mix of tunes were being played by Zu’s Gerrit Koer while I was in the room, and it didn’t seem to matter what was thrown at the Zu/Pass Labs matching, they just ran with it. Everything sounded tight, cohesive, dynamic-as-all-hell, and BIG. I can’t emphasize enough the scale this system could throw. These are not monster-sized speaker, they are normal-sized, and wouldn’t overwhelm any decor (well, in this color they might), so be prepared for high praise from how they present the music without breaking the bank if you end up with a pair. The fact that 30 watts was providing this much heft, and weight to the sound is only another reminder that Nelson Pass, and the crew at Pass Labs seem to really know what they are doing.

Gerrit Koer drops the needle.
The Zu Denon 103 Mk. II

In a world that can be an increasingly complex place for many audiophiles to find their way to some peace of sonic mind, without breaking the (serious hi-fi) bank, and with a nod to simplicity of circuit design, use, appearance, and single-mindedness to musicality, it’s impossible to not recognize the efforts of Zu Audio, and Pass Labs in this room.