Zu Cable & Speakers

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James Romeyn

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« on: 10 Jan 2006, 07:40 am »
This is only my opinion & worth what you paid for it.  I absolutely respect opposed opinions for whatever reason.  If you love the Zu speakers, fine, & I want you to enjoy them forever.  

I heard at CES the largest Zu ($9k) & the middle one ($2800) USD.

Largest model: My first reaction, listening to their compressed repetitive monotonous new-agey punk anti-establishment tear-down-the-machine cliche' music with synth, orchestra, guitars, & big-sounding vocals, was, well, pretty nice huge stage & very dynamic.  But you can't tell about harmonic structure & smooth natural tone with that kind of music.  A very congenial employee allowed me to play one of my test songs when I was the only customer: Decently-recorded beautiful orchestra with what sounds like a nice Baldwin grand (not a Steinway with its upper harmonic twinkliness, not the other-wordly bass of a Bosendorfer, but rather balanced right in the middle).  

The first thing I notice right away is, well, the piano's midrange sounds exactly like it is reproduced by...of all things...a largish woofer with a whizzer cone in the middel.  Guess what?  That's exactly what I was listening to.  The piano had a cartoony character to it, tending toward the sound of those tiny little toy pianos that little kids play, with about one octave range (are they around any more?)  Yes, it sounds very dynamic, more so than most "high end" speakers, & it does have a nice big stage.  Very lively, & musically satisfying in its own rather unique way.  

But I would personally never want a speaker than introduces what appears to be this quantity of coloration to the music.  It just draws so much attention to itself, & would never be satisfying to me for a long period of listening.  Especially if (I only heard one familiar song) this imprint to the music appeard on every song played.  I did hear the same coloration on the software they played.    

I know that many high-end speakers are missing the jump factor the Zu have, & also they are missing in dynamics & sensitivity.  But there are alternatives that have less coloration & appear to be a better balance overall.  The Zu mid-size floorstander had similar problems to my ears.  

The only reason I can imagine Srajan Ebaen of 6 Moons loved the Zu speakers so much is this: Possibly the Zu speakers have a specific performance anomoly that is the exact inverse of some problem with Srajan's system & the two balance each other out.  That & the Zu's lively musical dynamic character, which is sorely missing from a lot of the high end.

Agisthos

Zu Cable & Speakers
« Reply #1 on: 10 Jan 2006, 01:58 pm »
I think the message we can get out of this is not to expect the whole audio world to always conform to our own tastes in music.

My tastes favour such things as "down-the-machine cliche' music with synth, orchestra, guitars, & big-sounding vocals"

So its good to hear the Zu speakers do this type of thing well.

A large percentage of audiophool speakers out there have been voiced with nothing else but small jazz ensemble or solo piano, and collapse into a heap when asked to render anything with bass or multiple instruments.

But these type of speakers would keep some very happy.

miklorsmith

Zu Cable & Speakers
« Reply #2 on: 10 Jan 2006, 03:19 pm »
Interesting.  I find panel speakers to be sorely lacking in instrumental tone and harmonic bloom.  To each their own, as always.   :D

James Romeyn

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« Reply #3 on: 10 Jan 2006, 09:36 pm »
There's an old saying that every speaker sounds great playing five particular discs.  

Definitely, the Zu do not collapse into a bowl of mush when the going gets tough, when there is a lot of instruments, & a lot of dynamics, & a high SPL.  That is why I stayed there to hear more music in the first place.  In that regard, they stand head & shoulders over a huge majority of high end speakers, cost no object even; probably beating even the $36k Von Shweikert's at THE Show, with big buck VAC tubes.  

The big Pipe Dreams & other big bad 7' + line arrays can do the same dynamics, but they make their own specific distortion (which I disfavor), are expensive, too big & incredibly ugly.  And forgive me, but really, they appear to perform an "overcompensation" role, if you know what I mean.  

To drive my point home about the Zu's problem (my opinion only), if you get a chance (THE Show next year or?), listen to any of the soon-to-be-released Pioneer/TAD home line designed by TAD's Anthony Jones (don't listen to digital amps, which they used '06), the new TAD Home Audio speakers, or maybe the VMPS RM30 w/ Constant Directivity Waveguide & subwoofer.  These have a taste of the Zu jump factor/lively dynamics & SPL capability, but none of the strange (to my ears) middle-midrange anomolies.  Playing a finely recorded piano is most telling.  

For about two octaves of music, from an estimated 3 kHz-12 kHz, Zu  utilize a paper whizzer cone about 3" in diameter.  I don't know any way this architecture could avoid the doppler distortion resulting from sympathetic movement with the woofer.  High-end baffles are made 3" thick & more to avoid the slightest sympathetic vibration of mid-treble drivers.  TAD anchors even their woofers to steel force rods inside the cabinet.  How much greater is the potential damage at 12 kHz?  Also, the whizzer's apparent mass & the fact that its motor must simultaneously drive 40 Hz tones impedes its ability to track 12 kHz waveforms (usually a seperate tweeter), IMO.  Zu made the engineering choice for the whizzer because adding a seperate midrange (even concentric) would have gained smoother more accurate tonal balance at the expense of the lauded jump factor (the required low-pass woofer crossover would dramatically minimize sensitivity).  It appears impossible for Zu's design to avoid the unique distortion that result, IMO.  

If a person doesn't hear it, they are in luck, because that $2800 Zu speaker played fine with a 2W SET!

I believe, even if Zu make inroads to the American market, potential competitors will decide there is not enough market share for more than one player, & it will remain Zu.  Asia will probably remain their biggest market.      

A Zu guy admitted Asia is their big market.  This makes perfect sense.  Asia has been nutz over low power SET's for decades.  I predict a nice short term swelling of USA sales for the novelty effect, then a slow but consistent decline, till high sensitvity is generally ignored by most audiophiles (again), but still admired by SET fanatics.

Most panels, to me, simply make too much harmonic distortion.  But there are exceptions.  A friend I trust pointed out a new Asian electrostat brand that impressed him mightily at THE Show.  I hope to hear it next year.

miklorsmith

Zu Cable & Speakers
« Reply #4 on: 10 Jan 2006, 10:02 pm »
I just picked up a TacT 2.0s (arrived yesterday) and measured my in-room response with Definitions before applying correction.  I was a little surprised by how flat the response was.  I say "a little" because this was consistent with the RadioShark SPL meter readings I had previously.

Are you saying there's no way the speakers can have relatively flat response, or that there's some other problem?  It sounds like an indictment of the response.

I'll try to take a screenshot of the measurements so I can have 'em handy for discussions like this.

James Romeyn

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« Reply #5 on: 10 Jan 2006, 10:56 pm »
I have no idea what the exact cause is of the perceived sound.  I described what I heard & made a conclusion based on that.  

I wouldn't personally be interested in Zu's current two top offerings if they scored 100% on every important design criteria established by the most highly respected & regarded audiophiles & speaker engineers extant.  When computers & test gear can accurately determine the sound of a speaker, we can stop auditioning them before purchase, & just check the specs.  Mark that day.  When it arrives there is no more high-end.  

OTOH, look at this: The Zu's polar response would probably be atrocious, & this could be part of the problem.  20 kHz is a 3/8" (.375) wide wavelength.  The 3" wide (approx) whizzer goes to 12 kHz, but 12k is a .675" wavelength.  A 3" whizzer would be expected to have serious lobing problems reproducing such narrow wavelenths.  Good polar dispersion for this frequency would result from a driver about 1" max diameter.  If you can measure the polar response, I'm more than a little interested.  I hope you can & do.  The VMPS I mentioned are advertised to have a 180 degree dispersion with a sharp skirt, from 260 Hz through 20 kHz.        

As I said, every speaker has five discs it plays well.  Some play more than that.  

I don't know exactly why I heard that little tinkly sound effect on the piano & a common imprint with all the software.  But it would seem reasonable to predict that effect with such narrow wavelengths being reproduced by a paper "whizzer" cone attached to a 10" vibrating piston reproducing 60 Hz.
   
If someone likes the Zu's, more power to them, literally.  They have more power amp choices at lower prices than most any other brand.  That's a great thing to be celebrated.

Rob Babcock

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« Reply #6 on: 10 Jan 2006, 11:11 pm »
I'd be reluctant to make any snap decisions based on one listen in a hotel room at CES.

James Romeyn

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« Reply #7 on: 10 Jan 2006, 11:20 pm »
I too advise caution against snap judgements.  This seems like a fair audition: Music played for about 30-45 mins, in two rooms on two Zu systems, including my own familiar disc played on about a dozen other systems at THE Show & CES.  None of them had the same apparent coloration, other differences, but not the one in the Zu room.

There was more problems with the larger dual 10" Zu's vs. the smaller one, IMO.  The would appear to be severe vertical lobing & floor/ceiling bounce resulting from two 10" whizzer-equipped fullrange drivers, w/ 12" spacing, simultaneously reproducing 50-12 kHz wavelengths.

Rob Babcock

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« Reply #8 on: 10 Jan 2006, 11:27 pm »
Fair enough.

_scotty_

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« Reply #9 on: 11 Jan 2006, 12:03 am »
A rave review from Srajan Ebaen will not repeal the laws of physics.
A ten inch woofer makes a poor midrange driver. The intermodulation distortion from the whizzer cone doesn't help either.  The coloration Jim
heard does not have to come from frequency response abberations.
What the drivers energy storage characteristics are like and its intermodulation distortion levels will also contribute to perceived colorations.
An experienced listener can hear the innate colorations  different cone materials impart to music even when the speakers have a flat response curve. What Jim heard,
Quote
here was more problems with the larger dual 10" Zu's vs. the smaller one, IMO. The would appear to be severe vertical lobing & floor/ceiling bounce resulting from two 10" whizzer-equipped fullrange drivers, w/ 12" spacing, simultaneously reproducing 50-12 kHz wavelengths.
 was also due to the tweeter crossing over too high with
too much overlap between the tweeter and the woofers. The wavelengths
are too short for the drivers output to be in phase through the crossover region due driver setback errors on the baffle. This is not the only speaker to suffer from lobing errors due to this type of problem. Because of the wavelengths involved there is no way to solve the problem physically.
The solution requires that the crossover be lowered to frequencies where
the wavelengths are longer.  2500Hz with the correct tweeter would be a good place to start. Of course this solution will result in a more conventional design which goes against Zu's design philosophy.
Scotty
Correction to math errors,  The wavelength in inches of a particular frequency of sound is equal to 1100ft/sec divided by the frequency in Hz times 12 inches/ft.   1100/12000  =.0916x12=1.1in.
1100/20000=.055x12=.66in.

miklorsmith

Zu Cable & Speakers
« Reply #10 on: 11 Jan 2006, 12:31 am »
I own these speakers and I appreciate all the theoretic dissections, but Jim is the only one I've read correlating with actual experience.  That's the opinion that matters to me.

Zu has reportedly had problems with their sound at shows.  I know they were unhappy with the sound they got at RMAF though I haven't heard from them this time around.  I have e-mailed Sean to see what they think of the sound they got at the show to try to make sense of it.

Floor and ceiling bounce?  Maybe.  I have ceiling panels and a heavily carpeted floor.  The ceiling panels are new but it is a 9' ceiling.  Maybe in another room it would be a problem.

Off-axis response?  As smooth as any speaker I've heard.

Who knows?  Seems everyone that read a speaker design manual knows more about design than the professionals at Zu.  Jim gets a pass because he at least bothered to listen to the speakers before espousing their ills.

My opinion?  I haven't heard a speaker since connecting with Zu that didn't sound seriously broken.

Rocket

hi
« Reply #11 on: 11 Jan 2006, 12:53 am »
Hi Miklorsmith,

Quote
My opinion? I haven't heard a speaker since connecting with Zu that didn't sound seriously broken.


Therein lies the dilemma.  It is totally personal taste and i'll give you an example of one i had yesterday.  I recently purchased a spread spectrum technologies 'son of ampzilla' which i showed off to a friend of mine.  I will say that his audio experience isn't as good as mine but he has heard a number of good systems over the years.

He totally hated the sound the of SOA and although it took a while for the sound to grow on me i really like it now.  Is it perfect?  Probably not.

Regards

Rod

Marbles

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« Reply #12 on: 11 Jan 2006, 01:00 am »
There is only one person who cares what speaker you have, that's you, so if YOU are happy with them, then to hell with the rest of the world.  Enjoy the speakers that you like best and don't worry about what others think of them.

Really, do you care what car someone drives?  Nobody else cares what speaker you listen to.  If they make every other speaker sound broken, then you have found the one you were looking for.

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« Reply #13 on: 11 Jan 2006, 02:56 am »
Quote from: Marbles
There is only one person who cares what speaker you have, that's you, so if YOU are happy with them, then to hell with the rest of the world.  Enjoy the speakers that you like best and don't worry about what others think of them.

Really, do you care what car someone drives?  Nobody else cares what speaker you listen to.  If they make every other speaker sound broken, then you have found the one you were looking for.


Absoutely,

If you are in this hobby to enjoy music that you love, all it matters is if you like the sound coming out of your speakers. Heck with the rest.  But since no speakers are perfect, I hope we can discuss what compromises were made to get the "brand" sound to spread the knowldege base.   8)  I have certainly learned alot from the discussions (often heated) since coming to this board.

James Romeyn

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« Reply #14 on: 11 Jan 2006, 08:24 am »
Quote from: Marbles
There is only one person who cares what speaker you have, that's you, so if YOU are happy with them, then to hell with the rest of the world.  Enjoy the speakers that you like best and don't worry about what others think of them.

Really, do you care what car someone drives?  Nobody else cares what speaker you listen to.  If they make every other speaker sound broken, then you have found the one you were looking for.


Amen.  

I started this thread with the caveat that I want any Zu owner to love their speakers.  I meant it without reservation.  When I walked into the room, the staging being so huge & the jump factor is what got me interested in hearing them.  I actually thought, till I played my own music, that I might want a pair.  

BTW, they are an incredibly swell group of upbeat, fun to be around people.  I hope to give them another serious listen next year.  Their music, with sexual, political & social overtones, was childish, immature, eccentric, & self-cntered.  One song made light of Dan Quayle.  I couldn't care less that Quayle was slammed, but comments about persons missing from the scene for 13 years are a cliche & severely dated.  It's also plain stupid to be in sales & make political enemies when completely unnecessary.          

Scotty's diatribe is typical.  We are all used to his scientific analysis 'splaining why something he hasn't seen or heard sounds like it sounds.  I don't think he does it out of malice.  

Truly, I don't know exactly what caused my reaction to them.  But according to physics as I understand it, the Zu philosophy has serious drawbacks.  I read the entire brochure.  Nothing was stated to explain how or why the dispersion/overlap problems mentioned herein were solved with unique methodology.  So I imagine that means the problems weren't solved.  As Scotty said, I believe there are bound to be problems with the spacing of the 3 drivers all overlapping at 12 kHz.  That appears to be a recipe for serious lobing issues, fer sure.

I have no idea how the more expensive model could have smooth dispersion as the owner states.  If the owner hears smooth dispersion, that's great, & that's all that should ever matter to him.  I wish I had thought of moving around the sides while it was playing to experience it.

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« Reply #15 on: 11 Jan 2006, 09:20 am »
I don't get it- some will quote physics all the way from high school general science all the way up to quantum mechanics to discredit certain products, but when their pet fetish is involved (often cables) then we're admonished to "just listen," as if those same rules have been repealed when dealing with wire. :wink:   I guess physics depends on who's ox is getting gored. :lol:

miklorsmith

Zu Cable & Speakers
« Reply #16 on: 11 Jan 2006, 03:41 pm »
All true.  I feel a little like a 1-legged man in an ass-kicking contest when it gets to the physics and mechanics of audio.  Thus, my ears remain my best and only tools to appraise the qualities of what I hear.

Why do I take my gear more personally than my car?  Dunno.  I'm not on Subaru Forester boards waxing on about my all-wheel drive, so I guess it's just a personal orientation.  I bet the Subaru-board guys couldn't care less about their speakers.

I like the Zu guys, they've been great to deal with.  I appreciate their ethics, i.e. American design and production.  They're new and acceptance in the US is still small.  Whether it grows depends, at least partially, on informational boards like this one since they don't have hundreds of dealers to let people decide on a first-hand basis.

If I didn't love the speakers, none of this would matter.  Do my feelings about the company "color" my attitudes about them?  Of course.  It works the other way too, unpleasant interactions leave me not liking the gear as much and not wanting to promote business with that company.  Maybe this is fair and maybe not, but it is how I am.

Living with two of their models and having people who have never heard them trash them anyway gets under my skin.  The problems that are cited as "inevitable" simply do not occur in my room.  Or maybe this is a personal blind spot.

Not long ago, I went to a friend's place and heard a highly-regarded pair of speakers, matched with excellent electronics.  They shocked me immediately, but toward the end of the session I found them much more palatable.  Ultimately, they would not be my choice but it was interesting to note that my perceptions of them changed even within the space of one listening session.

But, extreme off-axis behavior would be noticeable and measurable.  I'm still figuring out my TacT but when I get it dialed in, I'll try a set of measurements at 10 degrees off-axis, which I think would be indicative of a three-person-wide window.

James Romeyn

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« Reply #17 on: 11 Jan 2006, 06:25 pm »
Just to further emphasize the good in the Zu performance, about 25 years ago, in my high end journey, I purchased a pair of redwood enclosed speakers housing, of all things, a 10" guitar speaker & one or two piezo horns.  They had a similar jump factor, & other similar qualities of the Zu (though in far less quantity).  There's a speaker for each & every taste in this hobby, & that makes it better for all of us.

The happier anyone is with their sound, the happier I am for them.  If 50% of the audiophiles own Zu as their reference in the next year, that's great as far as I'm concerned, & doesn't harm me one bit.

I couldn't agree more about my disdain for people commenting on predicted performance without having heard something, especially scientific jargon.  That is sheer idiocy, not helpful, potentially damaging, & should be banned by the board.  At the very least, we could & should all write scathing remarks toward that activity.  The purpose of the hobby is to please your own ears, not a test rig.  Your own ears are the only test rig that matters.

_scotty_

Zu Cable & Speakers
« Reply #18 on: 11 Jan 2006, 08:21 pm »
The combfilter problems Jim heard are occuring primarily in the vertical axis
due to the vertical orientation of the drivers. The speakers won't have this problem in the horizontal axis. Their polar response is going to be a little funky above 10kH but that will be less noticable than the vertical issues.
If you set down and listen to them at a constant seating elevation the vertical
combfilter behavior will be less noticable. Much of the combfilter problems will only be apparent if you move up and down vertically.  The dispersion problems these speakers have are predictable just by looking at the physical driver layout on the baffle and the tweeter crossover frequency specified by the mfg.
     What cannot be predicted by a theoretical design analysis is anything the speakers are doing that a listener might find appealing.  The lack of a complex crossover in the range of musical instrument's fundamental frequencies is a good thing as is the apparent lack of compression.  Most speakers have complex crossover networks, show moderate to low efficiency and exhibit varying degrees of compression.  I agree with miklorsmith when he says that most loudspeakers sound seriously broken.
I think the compression that most speakers exhibit is a serious issue.
It seems to me to be a waste of time to get the frequency response flat
with perfect horizontal and vertical polar response plots and have the music arrive to your ears DOA.  Many people are relatively insensitive to compression errors made by loudspeakers.  This is understandable when you consider that almost  every speaker they have ever heard had compression and its presence is accepted as normal. Live unamplified music does not have compression and equipement used to reproduce music shouldn't have it.
Scotty

Rob Babcock

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« Reply #19 on: 11 Jan 2006, 09:32 pm »
I'll admit that philosophically the Zu's are about 180 out of my idea of ideal speaker design (not that it matters).  But I've learned over the years that there's more than one way to skin a cat, and lots of approaches can be made to work.  Even some that look "crazy on paper."

The Zu's are a little steep for me, price-wise, considering I'd probably just fool around with them and move on to something else (unless they really blew me away, but even then- where's the surrounds?  Center channel?).  But I'd like to try the single driver thing eventually, if nothing else just to check it off my list.  A good candidate for me would be a pair of The Horns from Horne Shoppe.  A lot cheaper to get into so I wouldn't take a bath on resale (assuming I didn't keep 'em).