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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Ancient Audio Lektor Prime; AMR CD-77 [on loan]
Preamp/Integrated: Supratek Cabernet Dual; ModWright LS-36.5 with PS 36.5; Melody I2A3; Trafomatic Experience One [on loan]

Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; 2 x First Watt F4; Yamamoto A-08s; Fi 2A3 monos;
Speakers: Zu Audio Definition Pro; DeVore Fidelity Nines; WLM Grand Viola Monitor with Duo 12; Rethm Saadhana

Cables: Crystal Cable Ultra loom; Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer; Stealth Audio Indra, Meta Carbon
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular 4-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option; Furutech RTP-6 on 240V line feed
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; Acoustic System Resonators
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room

Review Component Retail: $8,000/pr

In his HiFi+ review of the Zu Definition 2, Roy Gregory mused in Issue 55 that "it seems strange to use the term conservative when it comes to Zu, but that's exactly what these speakers are, in engineering terms at least." He was of course referring to the strategic augmentation of horn-loaded phenolic tweeter and 4 x 10" rear-firing woofer array above and below Zu's trademark widebanders. In the hi-eff wideband nation, that's pinstripe conservative indeed. And, it's based on solid engineering to get bandwidth otherwise out of reach.

Just as true is Zu's deliberate punk image distilled in the tag line "A Revolution in American Hifi". A rare Zu ad with Johnny Cash's stiff middle finger thanking the hifi establishment for its support probably didn't help the matter. This fresh attitude also tends to sidetrack observers from the level-headed design acumen which the Zuists throw at their products.

Like EveAnna Manley's Harley parked behind Manley Labs, Zu connects with Milwaukee. Owners Sean Casey and Adam Decaria own Buells and the new US Harley dealership that set them up is presently researching the effects of music on a satisfying sales floor experience - with ceiling
suspended custom Zu speakers of course [actual dealership above].

Beyond V-twin hardware, what fascinates Zu about Harley-Davidson -- as it does and puzzles scores of Harvard-groomed marketeers -- is the outlaw branding. It's as iconic among corporate weekend warriors as it is with genuinely motley bad asses. High-end hifi lacks anything equivalent. Don't blame Zu for attempting to clone their own little slice of the Harley approach. And don't let their stance obscure the fact that Zu speakers and cables are every bit as serious on build and performance as the iron hogs from Milwaukee are deadly serious about taking on all Japanese comers.

The new Presence is a Zu heartland product. It occupies the long vacant niche between $3,800/pr Druid Mk4 and $11,000/pr Definition 2. It's pinstripe academic to argue whether the Presence is really a souped-up Druid or a scaled-down Definition. It's a bit of both and a bit of neither. From the Druid, it inherits the inverted tweet/mid face, from the Definition two of its self-powered (but optionally externally amplified) woofers. From the Mini Method sub,
the Presence borrows the vintage radio motif of slotted grill to disguise its frontal woofers. For the final flourish, it then goes for a triangular cross section, an exciting first in the Zu catalogue.

The 3/4" Super Ply cabinet isn't a casual move just to be different. It was strategically developed over countless discarded prototypes [see below]. "It sports a wider than 1.5 inches glue surface on each of its 60° mitered longitudinal edges for strong joints. This layup uses eight voidless hardwood layers sandwiched between two outer 0.125" MDF sheets to give a very high strength to
weight ratio and produce a wideband sound print or broad Q for tone. The triangular divider plate and bulkheads also reduce plate modes by several factors over rectangular panels. With the Presence, resonance modes are spread out as they are with the shape to release energy faster than with rectangles and MDF. The core goals for this cabinet were a reduction of mass; an increase of strength; broadband Q; a wider baffle without having the speaker appear bigger; and a reduction of delay distortion and general noise for the internal acoustic spaces (hence no ports).

"After the raw carcass gets heavily gel-coated directly onto the MDF substrate with a catalyzed polyester resin*, it is cut flat, then two coats of epoxy are added over the gel coat, cut again, block-sanded, then the base paints and clear coats are laid on. This new process, specifically the gel-coat layer on core, distributes more structural integrity on the perimeter of the cabinet and also yields more progressive damping characteristics. This combination presents a very solid baffle to the driver forces, introduces a reduced time signature to the overall sound and results in a clearer, more constant sound top to bottom, loud to soft." After its finishing process, the Presence core hits the scale at a trim 22 pounds each, roughly half of an MDF equivalent.

However, Sean and Adam were not content or challenged enough to simply triangulate a Druid with an integral Mini Method. They had their sights set on an improved widebander. Though externally unchanged, the new driver has a bigger motor, increased flux density and a more linear impedance above 100Hz to optimize power transfer for the kind of transformer-coupled tube amps that are popular with Zuists.
* Gel coat is commonly used on boat hulls and cultured marble counter tops because of its extreme hardness which bonds deeply into the substrate.

This new Zu103FRD driver is a Zu product with certain Eminence ingredients and Western Electric roots. It's not an off-the-shelf driver. Eminence contributions are the punched iron, the riveted frame, charging the motor, winding the coil and gluing it to the spider and primary non-Eminence cone. The pole pieces, shunting circuit and center cone are from the machine shop adjacent to Zu. At Zu, the basket is refinished, the whizzer punched and a light but strong adhesive added to both cone faces. James is the only Zuist making drivers and he puts about 40 minutes into each which doesn't count curing. To finish up, there is the one-piece billet trim ring to increase driver rigidity and coupling to the baffle.

In the Presence, the 103FRD sees a sealed sub chamber while the tweeter and twin 10" woofers share the remaining two thirds of the sealed cabinet. Mundorf silver PIO caps and Mills resistors make up the upgraded 12kHz @ 6dB/octave network on the tweeter. The familiar looking whizzer and phase-plug fitted widebander runs wide open of course with no 'electronic limiters'. The integral 120-watt plate amp powering the dual 10s either takes a line-level input (from a preamp or a pre/pro's or home theater receiver's point.1 output); or a speaker-level input (from a bi-wired stereo or mono amp). There is also a direct speaker-level input for the woofers to bypass the plate amp. Simply remove the preinstalled jumpers between the two auxiliary Cardas loop terminals and use the lower of the two. Zu is also finalizing their own direct-drive bass amp upgrade.

It will be an in-house built combination of Hypex bass amplifier, Rane DSP equalization and remote control, all ensconced in a Zu-style billet aluminum chassis. If you provide your own bass amp/s, you also must supply your own low-pass (likely between 40-75Hz) and a bass amp attenuator. Otherwise the woofers on the direct input will run wide open to 2000Hz and beyond.

System sensitivity for the Presence remains Zu's trademark 12-ohm 101dB, frequency response 20 to 20. The whole triangular concept scared Zu at first. It seemed the market at large hadn't exactly favored previous such attempts though the new Mårten Design FormSeries embraces it again. Gershman Acoustics' Cameleon was short-lived even though from an engineering perspective, triangular cabinets are quite unsound, i.e. less resonant. And a less talkative cabinet is good for highly dynamic transducers. So Zu worked the Presence concept long and hard and detailed out specific bits of hardware to insure that no corners were cut - except for the ¼" roundovers along what otherwise would have been seriously pointy edges. Gloss black, Maserati Blue Nettuno and Ferrari Red lacquer finishes are the stock color options. The older and lesser Zu paints of Tokyo Frost and textured matte Black are relegated to the special order heap. Zu really wants to get you into lacquers. The driver trim ring and tweeter horn are available in clear-anodized aluminum or black though custom finishes are possible. Just ask. Ditto for cabinet colors. If you've got spare change, custom is what you'll get and anything goes, the wilder the more fun for the paint crew.