WASHINGTON DC (PTA) — Two new writers have joined the Part-Time Audiophile staff. Luckily for us, both were able to join us at Capital Audiofest 2019. Before the show started, I invited both Dave McNair (mastering engineer by trade) and Nan Pincus (whose vitae reads like someone I’d want to bring along on an art heist) to shadow me for a few hours while I gathered my show coverage.
There’s nothing like jumping out of the swimming pool and into the hot-tub, and then going back to the pool. Those transitions of temperature are a to shock the system, but those extremes also amplify the noticeable differences between differing environments. It’s that same “shock” that I was looking to create for Dave and Nan with the variety of exhibit rooms we visited on day one of the show.
What better way to shock the system, than by introducing Dave and Nan to the “first-rebel of hi-fi” himself — Mr. Sean Casey. There would be plenty of opportunities for Dave and Nan to spend time with the run-of-the-mill audiophile sound that is available from a variety of manufacturers. Sadly, most of them aiming for the same audiophile targets with only the littlest of nuances being the identifiable variances between them.
Meeting with Sean Casey they would get to know someone who is different from the rest, takes a unique approach to the business, and takes an even more unique approach to sound. A sound that could easily be described as “the most excitement to be had in hi-fi.”
For a little background on Sean Casey and Zu Audio, I’ll quickly blaze through the “campfire version” of the Zu Audio history. It all started in the year 2000 when Sean Founded his company Zu Audio — wait, no it didn’t — it has to be much earlier than that. Let’s go back further, much further. Sean Casey’s passion for speakers started with a full-horn loudspeaker experience he had as a kid. It lit a fire under Sean that would keep him in-and-around audio to some capacity for what we hope is the rest of his life.
However as a chosen career path (or life long journey) audio was always seen as plan-C for Sean. In Sean’s youth, men like Richard Feynman inspired him to take up pursuit of the sciences and academia. In college however Sean was less than thrilled with the university physics culture, and felt that kind of shock you get when you are living life like it’s a hot-tub, and then suddenly someone throws you into the pool. Cue revelation.
Sean soon found himself working within a plan-B passion, motorcycles and motor tuning. But with slim chances of making it in the pro-Motorsports world, Sean continued to search the landscape for an alternate career path that still married with his passions.
After leaving college Sean reached out to Ray Kimber, whom he had known from his time working the live-sound scene in Utah. One thing lead to another, and eventually Sean found himself working in the hi-fi industry, building loudspeakers under his own Zu Audio label.
Fast forward a few years, and today Sean is nearly twenty years at the helm of a uniquely respected and innovative hi-fi company. What comes next for Sean? Who knows. But for my own selfish needs, I hope it involves music.
Here at Capital Audiofest 2019, it’s all about the Dirty Weekend Mk.II ($995 pr USD) loudspeakers, and the amplifier of choice, for us it was Rogue’s new Sphinx V3 ($1,595 USD). The usual suspects from Mofi and Rupert Neve Designs / Fidelice at the helm, along with ModWright’s tube phono-stage adding sparkle and soul.
It’s the kind of sound that gets into your being. It raises your heart rate, and gets you moving in your seat. It’s not like anything else in hi-fi, and for many live recordings Zu Audio is the only way to go. Let’s use Nan Pincus for an example, at no other time during the Capital Audiofest weekend did I see her reaction to the music manifest itself in the same way as it did with Zu Audio.
I discovered the Zu sound in 2014. I was visiting an audio store in Hong Kong for the first time and they had these unusual speakers in gorgeous colours with those gorgeous drivers that immediately caught my eye. And the sound was something so “alive and kicking”, so engaging, that I kept going to that store over and over again to listen to the different models from Zu (Soul, Omen, Definition,…) paired with different amplifiers (Rogue, Line Magnetic, Melody…).
Short after I was ordering a pair of Omen Def directly from the factory in Utah, to Macau-China, where I was living. That pair, I was told, wasn’t supposed to be sold outside the US, and yet the people I spoke to at Zu never raised any issue; instead they gave me all the support and answered all my questions even long after I received the speakers. Amazing people for an amazing sound!
Today I live in Portugal. Left many belongings behind, but my Zu came all the way across the globe with me!
I have owned Zu Definition speakers for a long time – actually getting one of the first pairs of Def 2s and one of the first pairs of Def 4s. It may be trite, but it is all about the music. And Sean is a rarity in the high end audio world. Extremely knowledgeable, iconoclastic, and customer friendly. When I call Zu, I speak to a live person – Sean if he is available. Sean delivered my Def 4s personally and dialed them into my space. I have not fussed with set-up system since – other than when a component needs to be serviced. The sound may not be for everyone, but it is hard to argue with a company that allows for 60 day in-home auditions. How else can you make an informed choice?