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This review first appeared in the January 2009 issue of and can be read in its original German version here. It is herewith translated and presented to an English-only audience through a mutual syndication arrangement. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end has a link below it to his e-mail should you have questions or feedback you wish to send. All images contained in this review are the property of or Zu. - Ed.

Reviewer: Ralph Werner
Sources: Analog – deck - Acoustic Solid MPX; arm - Phonotools Vivid-Two, SME M2 12-inch; carts - Denon DL-103, Ortofon MC Rondo Bronce, Shelter 501 MK II, Zu Audio DL-103; digital - audiolab 8000CD, Esoteric X-05
Amplification: Phono - Aqvox 2 CI MKI; preamp - Funk LAP-2, Octave HP 300 MK2; power amp - SAC il piccolo monos; integrated - Accuphase E-212, Lua 4040C, Myryad MXI 2080, Octave V 80
Loudspeakers: AudiaZ ETA, Quadral Rondo, Sehring 700, 701, 703, Zu Audio Druid mk4
Racks & Stands: Creactiv, Taoc, Liedtke Metalldesign Stand
Cables: Various
Review component retail: €10.400/pr

"Zu has been approached many times by Hi-Fi industry movers and shakers, asking us how we are reaching out to the youth, how we are trying to tap into younger markets. This question reveals just how lost today's Hi-Fi is. Zu is currently made up of ten full-timers and I am the oldest at age 38. We are the younger market. We aren't reaching out to this younger generation, we're living it, making it. We are reaching out to the older generations ..." Sean Casey - Zu Audio

Launched in 2000, US firm Zu Audio arrived in Germany only eight years late. A few months ago, Luxman importer TCC GmbH added Zu. While one may doubt that our market needs yet another speaker brand, just another simply isn't a formula that works for Zu. Regardless of your reaction to their product, the combo of design, sonic traits and, okay, outlaw image is anything but stale milk. This was confirmed by our Zu Druid mk4 writeup, the first on this brand in Teutonia. "Love 'em or hate 'em" was the upshot, arguably the best response a young firm in an oversaturated market could hope for. It's beside the point that I personally can't fully grasp this black'n'white scenario, the subject today is the Presence, the central model of our Yanks which is bracketed by the Druid and the top model Definition 2.0 and weighs in far from chopped liver at 10.400 euros.

Presence tech
This speaker isn't a demure wallflower at 1.20 meter height nor will its 38cm broad baffle win slim-line awards. The 50s vibe of lower half and widebander conspiring to retro visions of musical furniture is contrasted by triangular form factor modernity. And it's not a rearward slimming of the side panels but a true triangle. The beige paint skin of our tester is undoubtedly the 'quietest' color option of the Americans. If you'd rather have a Ferrari in your living room, be my guest. When colleagues Jörg and Martin stopped over for the first anticipatory sound check, they quickly staked out opposing positions:

Jörg: "Finally a truly well-designed loudspeaker!"
Martin: "I find it rather ugly but sonically, it does defy my preconceptions ..."

The triangular enclosure primarily serves sonic goals. Standing waves find less support for strong procreation than they do between parallel walls. This attenuates resonant box behavior. To further suppress it, a novel building material of Plywood core sandwiched between two thin MDF layers was sealed with a special Gelcoat composite that is routinely used by boat builders. Adam Decaria, Sean's Casey partner in Zu, doesn't tire to stress how superior this composite solution is to pure MDF even though a cursory knuckle rap might suggest the inverse. And indeed, the rap test on the Presence does suggest Ikea ware rather more than anti-resonance optimization. Well, I'm exaggerating for effect.

The Presence is a sealed alignment. This doesn't seem hi-tech because it has gotten quite rare in an age where most designers rely on bass reflex designs. It could also raise eyebrows considering how Zu preaches sensitivity in capital letters. Why diminish it with a sealed box? Enter impulse fidelity. There conventional bass-reflex boxes lose their lunch with a lack of damping below their resonant frequency. They get very ringy down low, sufficient reason for the Zusters to close off theirs. This creates ca. 42 liters of air volume for the bass, far from butch for the claimed 16Hz extension. It gets ameliorated by surface area, class D power and electronic compensation. All together four hard-hung 10-inchers from the pro rack of Eminence line up for joint duty on the two bottom octaves. They are driven from two internal 180-watt Hypex modules. When I first was offered this assignment, this immediately caused guffaws of "ah, boys and girls, this should clean house and sound the antithesis of malnourished..."

As you'll have noted, the Presence is a semi-active design. Hence the bass offers a few adjustments. Since you needn't integrate a separately placed subwoofer, leave the phase at 0°. You should mind the hi/lo-pass frequencies and attenuator though. As starting point, Zu recommends 20Hz below, 50Hz above and a 12:00 volume. 'Bass boost' should see 6dB to lift the 50Hz to 20Hz stretch by 6dB at the bottom. This creates electronic compensation for the lack of cubic volume. Further options remain. Removal of the wire bridges between the two left Cardas terminals removes the Hypex amp from the signal path to insert an external amp. Alas, bi-amping alone won't be happiness. You also must provide low-pass filtering. The option per se is nice to have but most won't exercise it. Zu's pragmatism confirms that: "If you are not a sound engineer, or have not done much work with crossovers, parametric equalization or other forms of signal processing, you are in for a ride." And indeed, bass flexibility to support room interaction and personal taste even with their integrated solution is far broader than with purely passive speakers. Hence there's little reason to upgrade (though Zu apparently is at work on an external bass amp module).

Moving on up, we arrive at the heart of the Presence, Zu's 10.3-inch widebander dubbed Zu103FR which works within a minimally damped 12-liter sealed chamber. Zu's signature non-ingredient is a
crossover, hence the signal appearing at the right Cardas terminals then couples, via Zu's very own hookup wiring, directly to the driver without encountering any capacitors, coils or resistors. Zu considers this vital to respect proper timing, dynamics and impulse response of the music signal. While this driver appears identical to the Druid's, it runs a stronger magnet and larger pole pieces to increase motor power. Core driver ingredients are Eminence issue but Zu adds modification such as the pointy phase plug, the pole pieces, the membrane coating and the dress ring which doesn't merely dress but improves driver stiffness. New are driver matching tolerances down to a claimed 0.1dB (!). Below the widebander sits Zu's trademark horn tweeter which enters at 10kHz and 6dB/octave via a sole Mundorf silver/oil cap + resistor hi-pass to cover only the highest highs which elude the 10-incher's whizzer. It also means that the Presence super tweeter kicks in 2000 cycles sooner than the other models. Incidentally, the Druid treble has been deliberately attenuated by 3dB to counteract the missing bottom octave, an address not required for the Presence whose tweeter shares its sub enclosure with the woofers.

Presence sonix
Those after max resolution, extreme airiness and holographic image outlines will find Zu's general sonic aesthetic problematic. Not that those aspects are poor by any stretch but they aren't champion material either. Both Druid and Presence have better market alternatives should those qualities top your wish list. To be a bit cavalier about it, the Yankee cocktail throws immediacy, top speed, dynamic realism and tonal balance in equal parts into the blender, shakes 'em up to prevent any one trait from dominating the mix and tops it off with a shot of imposing soundstaging. Cheers! Those averse to filling their room with music to prefer instead a safe 4-meter distance to a sharply outlined string quartet while looking forward to 2:37 minutes into the cut where a whiff of talcum powder drizzles on the floor... well, such folks won't be among Zu's target audience. And so the Presence continues with the above ingredients while adding "full" to the "range" with potent side effects. Just imagine critical but curious high-enders stuffed onto my couch who all burst out laughing. Way off-the-cuff behavior, that! Before we get to the biggest differentiator, let's start at the beginning.

Presence treble is more open and defined than the Druid's. For my tastes, it segues seamlessly into the midrange and doesn't require more output, the latter at least partially due to not invoking the 3dB cut of the smaller model but probably also due to the revised widebander operating in a smaller and sealed enclosure. Still, the upper octaves could be even more resolved for a 10K+ challenger. Legion are the more affordable speakers which offer more in this regard. But this doesn't faze me in the least. The usual criteria don't begin to tell this story.

Overall, the Presence sounds lighter, its upper mids clearer, fresher and more detailed. In that respect, she moves closer to the mainstream since "lighter than the Druid" means nothing more than ground zero where the general market is concerned. The flip side is that -- nomen est omen? -- the Presence also sounds more present. At times, this exceeds my personal predilections; at least within the context of extreme speed and dynamics particularly in the midrange this speaker creates to be so immediate that I'm in love. The same directness operates on soundstaging which occurs perhaps a step ahead of the frontal line.

This minor issue is readily handled with appropriate electronics because the Presence's presence region is more responsive to amplification that its smaller sister. Others will call it more transparent, i.e. not as 'forgiving' as the Druid. Or more neutral. Regardless, this aspect of the presentation is easily tweaked with ancillaries. The other matter is purely subjective. I'm personally extremely fond of the Druid's fulsome power region which packs a lot of meat on the bone without (vital!) losing anything in dynamic reflexes. It's always twitchingly alive and sexy. There, that needed to be said. Now, the Presence isn't slower by one iota but I'd have to be quite mistaken if between 80 and 250Hz, she wasn't also a bit slimmer. So it's possibly this somewhat leaner power region which creates the higher presence factor. One could combine these two last paragraphs by saying that 90% of all hifisters would call the Presence tonally neutral, certainly more so and less 'woody' than the Druid. Which, tail tucked, I'd agree with while thinking to myself that wood isn't the worst of building materials. Which gets us to the bass.

The first obvious plus is non-fussy placement friendliness. The Presence doesn't demand 1.5-meter front-wall distances. Half will do and less too. I recommend whatever creates the best soundstaging, to then tweak offsets with the bass panel dials. English, medium or well-done? Definitely medium if dryness in bass matters be your poison. Think just the right time in the pan, friskily charbroiled on the outside -- fast and articulated down low -- but still juicy on the inside to not merely be all outline crispness and artificial crunch without substance. That's the ticket. Shortage of substance most certainly is not on today's cooking roster. Nor is shortage of reach. Leftfield's debut album carries a hidden track which I'd forgotten about since these days, I mostly play individual tracks. Whatever, one night this album spun all the way through when suddenly, my stylish brown-stone window began to rattle violently without apparent rhyme or reason. 1st second: What's that - a 40-ton semi nailing it down the alley? 2nd second: Shit, that comes from right over there. 3rd second: Shit-eating grin. 4th second: Jump for the remote.

Folks, we're not dealing with quasi bass here. True sub bass isn't merely catered to by lip service. When required, the walls move. And make no mistake, sometimes that is required. The kicker of this exercise is how nothing booms. Granted, a door might complain, a shelf or that window (making for superb detection of future room tuning victims incidentally) but in my living room, I could not invoke standing wave boom. Don't mention the kitchen though. While pouring a nice cuppa Joe with music in the den, I found myself in the eye of a resonant peak cyclone. Funny things do happen with 10-meter+ wavelength whales. Let's just say I wouldn't want to move into the flat below.

To serve another cocktail, the bass of the Presence is very fast, very deep and very pressurized. To appreciate that fact requires no infernal volumes. Au contraire. Only very very rarely have I heard subtle drum work on calm pieces and at subdued playback levels this rhythmically alert and tonally articulate. This speaker will play very softly and (extremely) loud without dropping things or coming apart. This reads far less impressive than the bona fide exception it is. Usually the optimal SPL window is far narrower.

With that said, if string quartets don't make up your main diet, you will prime the pump again. With rhythmically driven rock and electronica -- for glorious breaks and time shifts, rediscover Primus -- I know of little in this class that could begin to fill the shoes of the Zu Presence. At least when you have approached a live stage to within three meters to be engulfed by the pressure waves of towering Marshall stacks and loved every minute of it. Or during massive orchestral crescendos where previously you lacked for power and glory.

When was the last time your system blew the hair out of your face? Or perhaps you don't like it that direct. I however do, at least occasionally and particularly with such music. The
unmitigated immediacy whereby the Zu Audio Presence works over the entire audible band combined with potent low bass and very wide (if somewhat shallow) staging transmits so much energy that many competitors seem teapot tempests by comparison. Which is precisely why certain high-enders don't see eye to eye with these speakers. They're too close for comfort, never mind that nothing is really amiss with their luxo mini monitors in the first place. Yeah, dream on, boys...

Presence conclusions
Obviously, Zu's Presence tower won't be everyone's darling yet to delegate her to exotic niche status misses the boat. While their attitude of independence will strike one as admirable and the other as a put-on, it shouldn't affect a purchase decision. If the outer appearance leaves one cold, there still remains the vital question of whether one likes the sound or not. You'll need a solid appreciation for true full-range coverage; provide a good room (my 25m² worked brilliantly); but most of all cherish a highly dynamic and direct perspective such as to gladly book minor setbacks elsewhere. No one speaker is an egg-laying, wool-bearing milk cow marvel. While trivial, it bears repeating plainly because the Zu Presence sounds anything but conventional. This drives home the dilemma of not being able to be all things to all people more furiously than usual. Put differently, it's the stuff of polarization. Which leaves us, as always, with what's important to you...

The sonic check list
  • Bass is fulsome and articulate but most of all, exceptionally fast and pressurized all the way down. The semi-active solution ensures adjustments to room and taste.
  • The mids are first and foremost immediate and direct due to high sensitivity and textbook dynamics. Tonally mostly neutral, with a minor presence lift and slim but sporting power zone, canny amplification mates can tweak the balance. Just don't defy the core competency with electronic sleeping pills.
  • The highs mesh seamlessly and are clear and never forward but more resolving power is certainly available elsewhere.
  • Dynamically without peer in both the micro and macro realms to be truly exceptional.
  • An imposing soundstage, albeit more so in width than depth. Localization focus is good but not the last word. Ditto for the body of individual stage actors.
  • Unconditional SPL stability. More unusual still is perhaps the ability to listen very quietly without having tone or dynamics nod off.


  • Concept: Crossover-less widebander with auxiliary super tweeter and active bass system
  • Trim: Nextel-reminiscent mate paint in black, charcoal, cobalt, Phoenix red, moss, sage or dune. High gloss extra. Refer to home page for samples.
  • Sensitivity: 101dB / 1W / 1m
  • Nominal Z: 16 ohms
  • Dimensions and weight: 121 x 38 x 33cm (HxWxD, triangular foot print), 36 kg/ea.
  • Other: Active bass with built-in but defeatable amp to enable optional external amplification or equalization.
  • Website
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