Ogden, Utah. October 2012. Hi-fi isn’t just about boxes and wires – it’s about people. Meet Christian Drecksel: paint shop guru and tour guide of Zu Audio’s factory floor. I’m here to talk Union, a new loudspeaker that’s pitched sonically closer to Zu’s A-game Soul Superfly (right) than their entry-level Omen (left).
I’m keen to see the build process from woe to go. First up: Drecksel drives me ’round to meet one of the local box cutters.
Zu outsource the cutting to a triumvirate of woodshops. A rigid three-ply composite is cut to strict build specifications. CNC cutting tables ensure precision. I get a sense that error-tolerance amongst team Zu is super low. The factory itself has a feeling of long hours spent in the pursuit of high standards – everyone seems dedicated to a team outcome. Music is nearly always playing downstairs and rarely does five minutes pass without my hearing someone, somewhere laugh hard.
Super-strong adhesive brings the cabinet together. Zu main-man Sean Casey occasionally tests build strength by smashing a box in the street below; his (dramatic!) way of finding weak points in cabinet construction.
The entire box is sanded before Drecksel takes over in the paint room. To this Union a ghost black finish is applied.
Here’s a ZuGriewe. Originally designed for motorcycle engine exhaust systems, it is deployed in Zu loudspeakers as box loading to ensure speed and bass articulation. The ZuGriewe is designed to reduce box-internal acoustic noise and to ensure the speaker plays nicely with the room.
More internal padding…
…and the box is almost ready for the driver.
Here’s a Zu paper-cored ‘nano-tech’ driver. ZuCX/ND-8 FRD. FRD = full-range driver. ND = nano technology, trickled down from the Dominance model. Drecksel is understandably cagey about the post-manufacturer treatments applied to the driver but he is at pains to point out that this is NOT an off-the-shelf unit. It’s made by Eminence to Zu’s specifications.
“I can’t say anything about the Nano process other than I am the only one who knows the the full process. Sean developed the application, calculated all the ratios and we worked on the process until he was happy with it. Clearly he got it right as anyone who has bought an upgrade kit can tell you.”, says Drecksel.
In the Union it’s a coaxial driver deal. There ain’t no crossover – the amplifier is shotgun-wedded to the driver. The nano-tech unit runs full-range – up to 12kHz – at which point the tweeter takes over via a high-pass filter. Each driver sees 600 hours of factory burn-in time before being fitted to the cabinet and shipped.
Sydney, Australia. March 2013. Last time I visited Sydney Audio Club was to check out the NAD 390DD amplifier. This time I’m here to hear the Zu Union strut their stuff. We’re a long way from Zu’s Australian distributor in South Australia so Sydney agent Cameron Pope (of Krispy Kables) is on hand to field questions. Pope is a solid fit for the unpretentious Zu Audio vibe. He’s an affable and easy-going chap free of the (sadly too common) inflated hi-fi retailer ego.
An SACD player from Esoteric and a nicely finished 80 wpc tube amplifier (made by a local fellow) complete the demo setup.
The room is far too big for the Union – bass seems fairly light on. The amplifier is wound up to 3am on a Boz Scaggs cut and the top-end shows becomes frazzled. You won’t be filling airport hangars with these speakers. From where this reviewer is standing this is a GOOD THING! Clearly, the Union will play nicely in tighter spaces.
What is obvious from the outset of the afternoon’s playback session is Zu bring bags of tone and timbre to the table. Voices hang suspended in space and imaging is just superb (even at the back of the room). The Union are also agile. A Rammstein track plays gnarly and fast – nothing sluggish here. Musical layer interleaving is also a standout.
Sydney Audio Club’s second half is a series of musical show-n-tells from members called up at random. Someone awesome has brought along Van Morrisson’s Veedon Fleece and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Push The Sky Away (killer records both) thus proving that not every audiophile down under dines on chick-with-guitar white bread. Huzzah!
In the USA a pair of Union will run you US$3000. Australian pricing comes in at AU$3499. Even the most committed local purchaser would struggle hard to direct import a pair for less.