in ,

The audiophile lifestyle according to Zu Audio

  • What defines our taste/s in hifi gear? Those of a more platitudinous nature would claim that it’s all about the music. But that implies that we’d be just as content with a $50 Bluetooth speaker as a US$500k system. Being an audiophile is about the being into the gear. No shame in that.

    With the equipment itself back under the spotlight, purists might have us believe that it’s all about the sound quality (with the implication that nothing else matters). Listening room and associated hardware variations, as well as our ever-evolving music tastes, say otherwise. It would take us a lifetime to pinpoint what we might consider ‘best’ and why many refer to the audiophile life as a journey.

    Even for those of us fortunate enough to enjoy a dedicated listening room, a loudspeaker system doesn’t exist in isolation. It forms part of our life and can also serve as an extension of our identity.

    Helping us narrow down our field of possibilities might be hardware’s physical size. We might have the floor space for a pair of gargantuan floorstandars powered by car-engine-like monoblocks and fed by eel-liked power cords. But a smaller room might dictate that a pair of standmounts and an all-in-one integrated would be a more appropriate fit, both physically and acoustically. Minimalists with larger rooms might also opt for the latter for its low box count and diminished physical intrusion.

    Now we’re into aesthetic territory where looks matter. That we eat with our eyes first is hard-coded into the brain. Why should our hifi hardware/software choices be any different?

    Our listening room’s visual fit-out also plays a part. Floral wallpaper might visually accommodate a more traditional looking speaker. Plain walls and modern furniture might say otherwise. We want a match, not a clash.

    On music matching, a pair of single-drivered beauties might sounds exquisite with a small string ensemble but lack the kahunas to deliver balls-to-the-wall dubstep.

    We might also opt for one functional aspect over another: Bluetooth for those who want to make it easy for visiting non-audiophile friends to play their music. Or a phono stage for our own vinyl collection. Or an easy to use smartphone control app for family members. For apartment dwellers, the thirst for a subwoofer’s beefier low end might be mitigated by one’s consideration of neighbourly harmony.

    Combining form, aesthetics, ergonomics (or software UX) with sound quality and budget and and we inch toward a multi-faceted choice recipe that reflects the way in which we live. In other words, a lifestyle.

    This in turns leads us to the more nebulous notion of brand values. A manufacturer’s taste in music or life philosophy also bleeds into his/her products. If known to us, we might subconsciously (or not) align our choices with those values.

    Similarly, Zu Audio’s audio show presentation involves far, far more than talking up their loudspeakers’ custom full-range drivers, low pass filtered super tweeters, the resulting crossoverless implementation and tone-heavy, speedy sound. Theirs is a multi-faceted approach, as detailed by the copy/paste from Zu Audio’s Instagram account, that covers their long weekend at RMAF 2017. Into the mix go music, food, coffee, socialising, friends and neighbourly considerations. Y’know, like life itself:

    Denver (RMAF) has always been a great show, this year was the best yet. We teamed up with Peachtree again, and in the same big room, Pikes Peak—a large conference room in the back corner of the mezzanine, a perfect spot for us and our spectrum of music and life-like play levels, the Saturday night party—not to mention but mentioning that our neighbors, VAC, and distributor On A Higher Note tolerate us better than most (thanks Kevin and Philip). David Solomon of Peachtree Audio was running the demo a good bit of the time, good sounding but real stuff; Gerrit, Harvey, and Ian swapping in every now and then to keep the music grounded—Nicolo, the good Italian he is, was making sure the coffee was up to certain standards.

    In 2001 the first Druid was dropped and in 2017 for the launch of the Mk.VI we decided to take it back to 2001. To showcase the next big step the designs were in homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Show posters and sister shirt for sale on the website soon.

    We were showing off two main systems, the new Druid Mk.VI ($10,000/pr), driven by the Peachtree Nova 300 ($2,500) and cabled with Zu Event ($3,000). Supporting the very bottom octave we were also running a pair of our Undertone subwoofers ($2500 each) 28Hz low-pass, 3rd order, there to even out the bass response of the room and give you the needed sub-bass energy and life that doom soup, black metal, big orchestra and big pipes require. We also had the Soul Supreme setup on the Monolith wall.

    While the Druid rig was amazing in sound and looks, the Omen rig was the one bringing show goers to reality—a thousand bucks a pair, driven by the little thousand dollar Peachtree was embarrassing the sound most all the other exhibitors at the show were making (save for VAC and On A Higher Note of course). No subs in the rig, big sound, deep, energetic, warm and rich. There were no tricks on how we were getting our great sound, just a bit of thought on the room, good matchup with amps and gear, playing real music, all kinds of music—it helps that Zu now has a solid rep for playing real music, it’s been a long time coming, since 2001, mixing great music & fully avoiding soulless sound effects and state-of-the-art recordings of shit music and expressionless musicians.

    For analog we were running:

    • Rupert Neve Designs 5060 desk top summing mixer. This is an all analog EQ-less mixer that is both fun to run and sounds sweet and pure
    • Rega P6 turntable with Zu Audio Zu/DL-103 pickups (standard grade)
    • K&K Audio phono-stages.
    • Technics SL-1200 turntables
    • Shure M44-7 pickups. (For $100 each, yeah, they sound amazing and have excellent shove).

    In the Zu foyer space we again hand printed “Stolen from Zu Audio” tees and passed out treats. We were also serving up espresso and pour over coffee. Coffee was Caffe Ibis from Logan Utah, their Highlander Grogg. Complimenting the coffee were biscotti, made by Lavender Kitchen, a sister company of Lavender Vinyl, also Ogden born.

    The Saturday night party was excellent, but very light on dancing (we’ll get that fixed for 2018), but it was fun. Ian laid down a healthy mix of endure-dance tunes, Gerrit stuck to his perfectly timed dub and electronica, and then around 11pm Harvey After Dark gave us a sick mix of doom soup. Dance sound was the best yet, connecting Druid, Soul Supreme and Omen together with the Undertone subs—George was particularly impressed. And speaking of, a big thanks to George Volinsky for his contribution to the Saturday night party—blender of the best and sneakiest margaritas on the planet, as well as his close friend Sarah (Revolution in the Kitchen) for spending all day cooking up a storm of her locally sourced Vegan inspired fare.

    Once again, we sucked at getting marketing and sales takeaways, but all that had their ears on took away the sound and music we were serving up—not to soon be forgotten.

    A big thanks to all that attended.


    Sean Casey
    Gerrit Koer
    Harvey Day
    Ian Casey
    Nicolo Castioni

    Further information: Zu Audio

    [Photo credit: Zu Audio]

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

    Spotify + KEF = high-end audio for mainstreamers

    Form & function: McIntosh’s MA5300 integrated amplifier