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Capital Audiofest 2016: Zu breaks loose with pure Definition

CAF-Zu-4365

Why do you go to an audio show? Is it to consort with the like minded? Shop? Explore an alien world?

There are a lot of answers to this “why” question, but one of the ones that my audiophile-writer colleagues like to harp on is the “fact” that, surveying any given show crowd, the most popular answers will most definitely not include “discover new music”.

[Cough]. That’s because they’re snobs.

Thing is, I do hear new things every time I go to a show. Not being superior. Not being smug or snide or anything at all — just acknowledging a reality, and putting it in contrast with what seems to have become something of a meme: that audiophiles don’t really like new music, and/or, that audio shows are full of staid — no, worse, boring — old dudes with no sense of musical adventure.

Let’s put aside that these staid, boring, old audiophiles running the rooms all — literally, to a person — asked me “Scot — what do you want to hear?” And, when I shrugged, suggested something. Usually, something I’d never heard before.

Instead, lets pivot to an egregiously obvious outlier.

“Yes, the Zu Audio rooms are different,” the pundits grudgingly acknowledge. All of them — to a person.

[Cough, cough] Sorry, must be something in the air. Anyway ….

So, yes, while it’s not that case that Zu Audio is the only room where one can here good music — or better still, new-to-you music (you just gotta ask), there is something different going on in Zu Audio.

Visiting Zu is like walking into an audio adventure. I literally never know what to expect — except that I will hear stuff that I’ve not only not heard of before, but from genres that I’ve never heard of before. I suppose you could say that, after several years, I’ve finally learned my lesson. Yes, I’m dense. Now, I just try to reserve enough time for the experience.

There are some common elements to those experiences, between the parade of LPs with the colorful covers from colorful bands that never seem to stick long enough in my mind to actually write down. I mentioned the dense thing, right? The first commonality is, obviously, the speakers. Zu makes speakers. They come in all sizes, but the uniting thread is “high-efficiency” — which probably most usefully translates into “kick ass loud speakers”. I don’t mean that in any other way than they’re meant to be played. Played a lot. Preferably with fun music. And yes, if you are so inclined, you can play them loud enough to attract other enthusiasts from the next three towns over. Holy crap, these things play loud.

I’m almost tempted to call them “lifestyle”, in perhaps the best possible translation and reclamation of that abused term. That is, the brand is more “for life” than “for the cave”. Though, I could totally imagine that a cave with a disco ball, lasers and a fog machine would be the perfect place to find Zu Audio speakers!

Today’s lesson in musicology: Cymande. I’d never heard of this band before, but if you’re into reggae (or funk), it should be on your list — though personally, I could have sworn it was a Santana album when Zu Audio’s Sean Casey first cued it up. Anyway, my copy is on the way from Amazon.

Sean is unapologetic with his musical selections — he brings crates and crates of LPs with him to play on his vintage Luxman turntable, outfitted with one of the new Zu Audio phono pickups. The selections are notoriously eclectic — and wickedly marvelous. I’ve asked Sean several times about curating a list of music for us would-be explorers — maybe something on the Zu website — but whenever I mention it, he always stops and backs away, his eyes going wide as raises his hands defensively. “I’m no expert in music, not at all,” he says — though, to hear him talk about the stuff he’s playing, you’d be forgiven making such a mistake. The true wizards, apparently, are his co-workers. It’s their appetite for music — specifically, new music — that is bottomless and relentless. It’s the cast-offs that Sean sneaks off to a show. According to Sean, there’s an informal ban on repetition at Work Zu, so audio shows are where he gets to revisit some stuff without being publicly browbeaten. Works for me. But, Sean — about that list?

The CAF show was in partnership with Koby from Hi-Fi LogicZu Audio Definition Mark IV, here clad in a deliciously touchable hickory, were driven by a Pass Laboratories 30.8 amplifier, XP preamplifier and phono pre. A Bespoke Audio Company preamplifier fronted the chain. Zu Audio cabling was used throughout.

A couple of general notes about the room — Zu has “grown up” in a rather remarkable way. The sound here was not only detailed and dynamic, but really punchy and engagingly lively. Interesting side note –while they sound best with the ear on-level with the “super” tweeter at ear level (and given how tall the Definitions are, that means sitting up a bit), as I heard them in the room, it’s clear that you can sit or stand, and the sound doesn’t really change all that much. Party speakers? Oh yes. Yes, please. I do wonder if we might be better off trying to get ’em up off the carpet — those down-firing subs might sound best not firing into something soft and squishy. Anyway, this was a fun room.

Prices are all on the Zu Audio website.

I have a pair of Druid Mk V that just showed up, so I’ll have more to say about the “Zu Experience” at some point … stay tuned.

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About Scot Hull (979 Articles)

Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.

5 Comments on Capital Audiofest 2016: Zu breaks loose with pure Definition

  1. You can make fun of it, but I carry records I know well to Axpona and local stores because those records are “sonic reference material”. I actually get irritated when the demo or dealer forces me to listen to unfamiliar music. I ask myself “is this the soundfield of the recording or the monitors? Is this heavy bass part of the software or a result of how the hardware is set up?” Etc. I don’t take Steely Dan or Diana Krall records. Those records will already be there as they are common demo material.

  2. Rafe Arnott // July 27, 2016 at 12:08 PM //

    Great write-up, and photos Scot!!!

  3. I also had the Cymande experience in Sean’s room, and I beat you to it Scot! I’ve been listening to my copy (Amazon) over and over for the last week. Wicked good stuff.

  4. I own a pair of Def 4s driven by a 300b SET. The Def 4s sit on hardwood. Sean dialed in the dedicated bass amp so that they are flat down to 16Hz. As you described, the sound does not change all that much as I walk around the room – even outside the speakers. As an “old white guy,” I love listening to the music that Sean plays at shows. I just wish that he would “publish” his play list.

    • See, Sean? That’s two! Maybe we could start a chant.

      “Publish the list! Publish the list! Publish the list!”

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