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|These, of course, are the attributes of the young. In our 20s and 30s, we tend to be full of passion, ambition and the belief that we can make a difference and change the world. As we age and atrophy, we unfortunately tend to shy from taking risks. We get comfortable. New ideas bounce off our carefully cultivated resistance to change. We turn into boring old farts. Well, not this guy! I can assure you of that.
There is a parallel in the audio industry too. It seems that the truly revolutionary forward steps aren't taken by the established firms but by small, feisty upstarts who, like Peter Finch (who was not quite so young but still feisty) in the 1976 film Network, are "...fed up and not going to take it anymore!" Zu got me jonesing to this type of Punk spirit. Plus, I liked what I heard in Denver. So I requested a pair of Zu's new Tones.
The Tones are average-sized bookshelf speakers intended primarily for 24" stands although I suppose you could place them in a bookcase. But why hide these beauties? The enclosure is 1" thick MDF with a phenolic skin layer. The main driver is Zu's own full range 10.3" Zu260FR/G2 that has a phenomenal 40Hz to12kHz bandwidth (50-60 Hz bass in this sealed enclosure and how the driver has been modified from the Druid and Definition models). That's about 8.5 octaves of single-driver coverage as opposed to the 3 octaves of conventional drivers. There is no crossover. Via Zu's cold forging, this mid/woofer's voice coil connects directly to the very rad Cardas binding posts with Zu's own B3 silver alloy.
|This wide-bander is supported by Zu's T1 CNC-machined, billet aluminum horn-loaded phenalic tweeter. It kicks in at 12kHz via a high-pass filter mounted directly to its back. As in the other Zu models, both drivers are time-aligned by virtue of the recessed tweeter behind the horn throat. The grill here is an integral part of the baffle and thus non-removable. I particularly liked the contrast between the aluminum tweeter, the black grill cloth and the red custom finish. All in all, the Tones were extremely attractive. Build was superb. Nominal impedance is a healthy 12 ohms. Sean indicated via email that Zu would be changing the printed efficiency spec from 101dB@1w/1m to around 96dB. Apparently the Tone has turned out to be slightly less efficient than originally thought. No matter, a 96dB rating will have any amp drive the Tones to very loud levels with little effort.
|Specs include a general description as dynamic, full-range, crossoverless with tweeter; box loading old-school sealed (not acoustic suspension); 12-ohm nominal Z (8.5 Ohm minimum at 20 Hz); 50/60Hz - 25kHz (in-room response dependent); power handling 150 watts RMS max; group delay <4ms; high-pass filter @ 12kHz; ¼" and 5/16" acceptance of ring lugs/spades|
|and bare wire; 1.3" thick baffle; Zu/DuPont Chroma system finish; 9.5" x 11" x 16" D x W x H; weight 30lbs. The specs indicated that the Tone's cabinet is an "old-school sealed (not acoustic suspension)" design. I asked Sean to elaborate. "As used in the Tone, sealed is more like an infinite baffle. The air space behind the driver is not used for 'spring' or restorative force. Acoustic suspension arose when Kloss and Vilchur got together in, I think, the late 50s or perhaps early 60s. Taking old Western Electric drivers that had the restorative elements built into the spider and surround, hacking them apart and gluing them into very low compliant surrounds and spiders and then using the air in the cabinet to assist the driver, the result was the 'boom box' with apparently good bass but no detail. Consumers ate it up. Here is some history."
A cool Zu feature is their choice of finishes. For an additional surcharge and lead-time, prospective customers email or call Zu, describe the requested color and Zu fires back a digital mockup of the speaker all gussied up in the requested color. Zu will even mail a paint chip and others with similar tints using DuPont's Chroma system. Noting 6moons' penchant for lots of photos in our reviews, Sean wily suggested a custom finish for my review pair. I agreed and instructed Sean to whip up whatever he fancied. Well, imagine my surprise when the Tones perfectly matched the color and décor of my living room. See for yourself. Sean had no prior knowledge of my room's color scheme. My wife has been oohing and aahing since their arrival. Even more so once they started playing music. I'll get to that momentarily.
My samples, extremely well packaged by the way, came in a delicious "candy red Zu frost tint matte with a touch of pearl." They looked stunning. However, as much as I am reluctant to rain on a parade, it turns out that this particular finish was a wee bit prone to scratching by fumble-fingered reviewers. I found out the hard way. When removing the shrink-wrap, I managed to scrape off a one-inch strip of the finish with my fingernail: from pristine product to factory B-stock in a blink of an eye. If you decide on a matte finish, do be careful.
|Sean also shipped up a complete Zu Cable wire harness. Zu initially started up as a cable manufacturer. Sean came from a wiry background by heading up Ray Kimber's primo Kimber Select brand and co-founded Wasatch Cable Works. I asked Sean to ship whatever cables he would recommend to a Tone customer. Instead of sending his most expensive fare, Sean sent me the Libtec speaker cables, three runs of Gedde interconnect and a handful of Birth power cables. Hardly their statement products. One would think firms would prefer that reviewers use their highest performance cabling to show off their equipment in the best light.
Sean simply stated that, yes, the Varial, Ibis and Mother will offer greater performance but probably wouldn't make much sense relative to the price of the Tone. How refreshing. My cable samples were impeccably packaged in thick, heat-sealed plastic bags with clever little orange cable condoms to protect the connectors. The interior connections of the cables including the power cables were sealed in a ferro-doped potting compound for optimal signal fidelity as well as longevity.
I set up the Tones on both lead-filled 24" metal stands and on Skylan's sand-filled MDF/plastic stands. I preferred the Skylans. I used the Tones with my Manley Labs Stingray as well as the truly fab Shrimp preamp and Mahi monoblocks, JAS' Array 2.1 300B/805 SET and Audio Zone's AMP-1. I used Zu's cables as well as a whole smorgasbord of various wire. Overall, I preferred Zu's cables so I left them alone. I tried a variety of positions in my room and settled on roughly four feet from the front wall to the front baffle and about two feet from the sidewalls to the outer edges of the cabinets. The Tones sounded best aimed directly at the listening position. They arrived fully broken in so I got down to business straight away. I spent several weeks listening to the Tones sans subwoofer and eventually added my REL Q108 sub. The resultant sound with sub was certainly fuller and more powerful in the bottom end as well as completely seamless. The Tone is a small speaker so don't expect plenty of deep bass. What bass it had was taut, tuneful and quick. Think Paul McCartney's light fluid bass playing as opposed to Jah Wobble or Bill Laswell's bottomless rumble. The Tones would be ideal for small rooms. However, you might want a decent fast sub like a REL for larger digs. I understand Zu is working on a matching 2 x 10" compact sub for the Tones. That, I imagine, should be a spectacular match.