It’s the worst kept secret of the US hi-fi show scene that if Zu Audio are exhibiting then their room will be the best place by a country mile to hear different/cool/far-out demo music. Where else would you hear a Bassnectar cut follow Robert Fripp? Answer: nowhere. You can even take your own vinyl and they’ll happily spin it, no matter how esoteric the choice.
In Irvine this year, the whole team is here to handle music choices and field tech questions: Sean Casey, Gerrit Koer and Chuck Williams. Casey’s wife and kids screen-print t-shirts off in the side room, demand for which is heavy. The vibe is more focussed than the initial chaos might suggest. Casey is the consummate professional, running with an egalitarian approach to room attendees: zero pandering to reviewers no matter how prominent they might be.
Revolution not evolution. Centred against the rear wall is the Zu Modern Console No. 1 (US$7800). Retro styling pitches it into households where the aesthetic compromise of traditional component racks and loudspeakers isn’t an option. The Zu promo blurb name-checks Bauhaus and American Mid-Century Modern but what I see – borrowing from the Inspiral Carpets – is cool as f#ck. It’s a sideboard that makes beautiful music.
The Modern Console No. 1 is furniture first, sound system second. Not that the latter is a compromise in the hands of Casey and co. First into the design go a pair of transverse-mounted Nanotech 10″ full-rangers (based on those found in the Soul floorstanders). Next, the bottom section houses a downward-firing Submission subwoofer. Third: Zu keep cabinet resonances to a minimum by floating the top half (that houses a turntable, electronics and left/right drivers) above the lower sub-section with magnetic levitation. This prevents the mechanical energy of the sub from transferring to the upper housing.
Of course, Zu being Zu, they couldn’t just debut the Modern Console No. 1 and be done with it. Oh no. For the first day at least, the console played centre channel and subwoofer in a 5.1 surround setup of 4 x Soul Supreme (US$4500+/pair). WHY? 1) Because it’s Zu Audio and 2) because they can.