Pronounced Zoo, not Z-U, Zu Audio is an American original proudly proclaiming to be a revolution in American hi-fi. The revolution has to do with craftsmanship and technology in the service of the musical experience. The star of the show is Zu's own made-in-the-USA 10-inch full range driver, which is supplemented above 10 kHz by a fill in tweeter. It's not the first speaker to market featuring a full-range driver, but only a select few models can claim to be almost entirely (90%) manufactured in the US. I applaud Zu Audio's commitment to twin-cone full-range drivers, a technology that originated in the 1930s. The twin cone had gained some measure of popularity in the 1950s and 60s, but seems to have been nudged out of main stream audio in the 1970s by the ubiquitous multi-way speaker.
The advent of three and four way designs with a multitude of woofers, squawkers, tweeters, and super tweeters, no doubt swayed popular thinking to equate more drivers with a higher-quality product. The inherent problem with multi-way speakers is that they slice and dice the audio signal with the hope that it can be reconstituted in the listening room. They are the sonic equivalent of the Veg-O-Matic. What are the chances of reconstituting a believable sonic image from a multitude of drivers arrayed on a baffle at various acoustic centers? Even a two-waywith a crossover around 3 kHz will struggle to integrate an image unless care is taken to time align the drivers. The problem is only magnified as the number of drivers increases. I'm not suggesting that it's impossible to do so, but most commercial multi-way systems I've auditioned over the years lacked one particular perceptual attribute; namely, cohesiveness.
Cohesiveness is not something that can be
measured but can be easily perceived. It has to do with the perception of a
loudspeaker speaking with a single voice. The avoidance of crossovers in the
critical midband certainly helps, but full-range drivers are most convincing in
this regard. I first heard the Omen Def during the 2011 THE Show in Las Vegas,
and I liked it instantly. It sounded eminently listenable, lacking that infamous
Lowther shout in the upper midrange, and seemed to perform quite well at the
frequency extremes. The significance of its 98 dB sensitivity combined with a
benign impedance magnitude wasn't lost on me. It appeared to be a potentially
ideal load for low-power tube amps. The proof of the pudding was in the
listening. At the Show it performed superbly partnered a 2-watt SET amplifier.
Needless to say, considering its performance to cost ratio, the Omen Def made my
short list of essential review projects for 2011.
Few Technical Details
OK, with the bad news out of the way, let's focus
on the Omen Def's considerable sonic virtues. Its cohesiveness was responsible
for an intrinsic capacity to craft a huge 3-D soundstage with an exceptional
depth perspective. It excelled in terms of musical values. Its jump factor, the
ability to unleash the music's dynamic range and emotional expressiveness was
considerable. While low-level detail resolution was decent and at times even
surprisingly good, this speaker was much more than just about the facts. For
starters, rhythmic drive was admirable. But above all else there was on display
superb interplay between musicians. The give and take between members of an
ensemble was rendered to a degree I've rarely experienced with a multi-way
speaker. Many speakers can resolve individual instruments in an ensemble, yet
only a handful is capable of conveying an ensemble as a holistic and organic
The Omen Def consistently generated a big tone
balance at the listening seat. There was plenty of lower midrange, upper
bass, and mid bass energy to satisfy my sonic taste buds and do justice to the
power range of an orchestra. Deep bass extension reached the low 40s in my room
and bass lines were reasonably well controlled, though lacking in slam factor.
Partnered with the 12 wpc single-ended Audion Sterling EL34 Anniversary
integrated stereo tube amplifier, the sound was both warm and dimensional. The
Audion emphasized musical over audiophile priorities and as such suited the Omen
Def nicely. This sweetheart combo delivered warm and lush midrange textures.
Single-ended amplification magic coupled with full-range drivers resulted in a
depth perspective which at times appeared to push right through rear wall of my
listening room. One generally associates imaging excellence with the minimonitor
genre. But believe it or not, this large floor stander's imaging prowess is
plenty competitive and it delivered the goodies with a tonal balance that
minimonitors can only dream about.
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