Zu Audio, Rogue Audio, Rupert Neve, Fidelice, ModWright, MoFi | CAF 2019

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.

Capital Audiofest 2019 brought to you in part by Tenacious Sound.
Capital Audiofest 2019 brought to you in part by Verdant Audio!

The Story

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.

The Sound

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.