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RMAF 2016: Zu, Peachtree Know How to Set the Mood

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In terms of pure fun, the one room I always look forward to at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is a mezzanine-level space shared by Zu Audio and Peachtree Audio.

From appearances by rock-n-roll legends and guest DJ segments to some of the hippest vinyl sessions and lights-out demos, there is always something interesting going on. No matter what the activity or the music being played, the vibe remains totally chilled out. And the after-parties (regular show hours usually wrap up at 6 or 7 p.m.) can stretch into the wee hours of the morning.

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RMAF coverage courtesy of Noble Audio: https://nobleaudio.com/

No matter how happenin’ the scene, Zu and Peachtree probably wouldn’t attract nearly so many show-goers if the sound wasn’t also exceptional. But it consistently is, and 2016 was no different. In fact, this may have been the two companies’ most impressive effort yet.

One reason likely was Zu’s decision to go all-out in the speaker department, bringing a pair of prototypes called the Zu Experience (best guess, somewhere in the $30,000-a-pair range). They sounded much more sorted-out than a typical work-in-progress and, indeed, should be formally released soon.

The speakers appeared to have several of Zu’s famous full-range drivers flanking a tweeter, with a large woofer on the bottom. While other statement transducers at the show were being driven by a variety of Godzilla-channeling mega-amps, Zu employed the $2,300 Peachtree Audio Nova 300 integrated.

The 300 may lack the ego-stroking, half-inch-thick metal faceplate of typical hulking monster amps, but it still can shoot plenty of fire. The Peachtree unit, which will ship next month and is available for pre-order, outputs 300 watts into 8 ohms.

The ICE amp section is said to have quadrupled the switching frequency of the company’s best previous model. Peachtree also took the unusual step of eliminating the company’s trademark tube circuit in the 300’s preamp, mainly because the solid-state design engineers submitted had an impressive signal-to-noise ratio of 111 decibels.

Never fear, though. At some point in the future, fans of Peachtree’s valve sound will be able to order a separate stereo tube buffer that can be connected through the unit’s “loop” input/output.

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David Solomon, a founding member of Peachtree who returned to the company in February after a short stint at Tidal, enthusiastically offered a variety of his favorite test tracks on the rig.

He started with “Mose Allison Played Here” from folk-Americana stalwart Greg Brown’s classic album Slant Six Mind. Brown’s deep, conversational croon sounded like he was carrying on a conversation with me from the next bar stool, while the acoustic guitar on this spare track was clean and crisp.

The next song was Neil Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand.” The Zu-Peachtree combo perfectly captured the Canadian legend’s trademark quavering, bordering-on-flat falsetto in all its ragged glory.

Finally, Solomon turned all the lights out to play an early mix of a Roger Waters composition from Amused to Death. The track, I think (it was pitch dark, so my notes are an illegible scrawl), was  “Perfect Sense Pt.1.” The song’s layered mix of recorded conversations, thunderstorm effects and a beautiful descending piano line was nicely reproduced, with each part aurally shining in the blackness of both the Experience’s soundstage background and the room.

When Waters’ British-accented rasp emerged about a minute into the song, the effect on the Zu-Peachtree rig was startling. The former Pink Floyd member’s vocal was recorded so “dry” that, in the dark, it almost sounded like he’d slipped inside and was standing in front of the integrated amp, which was on a table between the speakers.

“This is my favorite version of he song,” Solomon said after the lights came back up. “But Waters wasn’t happy with it, so he went back and changed it.”

It doesn’t appear the designers of the new Zu speakers and the Peachtree 300 will have any second thoughts about their work, though. It would be hard to improve on the sound they produced in Denver.

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About John Stancavage (185 Articles)

Contributing Editor for Part-Time Audiophile

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