This review page is supported in part by the sponsor whose ad is displayed above

One CD that receives a fair amount of playtime is the Jack Johnson disc In Between Dreams. Jack's voice and the guitar work, especially on "Better Together", are so present in the room that new guests who stop by to visit just get that dropped-jaw look followed by a big grin. Yes, this is a commercial disc and a lot of processing has been employed by the engineers, but the overall liveliness on many of the tracks is so obvious through the Def Pros that it gets everyone's attention - and that is in a good way. Old regular discs like Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark never seem to go out of style, but the best part of hearing it now is that fave tunes like "Free Man in Paris", "Help Me" and "Car on a Hill" sound so good that I just dispense with the audiophile dissection and dig the tunes. This phenomenon used to happen often to me in the distant past but has been elusive for a while. The Zu Def Pros have contributed mightily to this welcomed turn of events.

I find it surprising to be able to say how transformed my listening sessions run these days. Digging into the bowels of my older recordings has been long overdue and while not every disc is a sonic blockbuster, the ability to just enjoy them for their intrinsic musical messages grab me in a delightful manner. When the really well recorded discs come up for play, there is an added bonus of getting that audiophile buzz on top of the artists' intent and that cannot be denied - but I fuss less about that now. Ain't that the cat's meow?

David Gilmour's latest CD On An Island is a mixed bag on both the musical and sonic sides of the ledger, but those special effects do come across in a fascinating, reminiscent way. It won't replace Dark Side of the Moon but it has its moments. At least one of my friends had to run out to buy it immediately after hearing it chez Turoczi. Phil Manzanera, of Roxy Music fame, does some excellent work on this disc along with the other supporting members. The more I listen on the Definitions, the more I like the work as a flowing study. The very last four tracks have cast a spell over me, which makes it possible to forget about audio gear, technology and all that other stuff. Let's see how it goes after another month of listening. For now, at least, I think there is much music to enjoy on this disc and I will do less fussing and more musing.

Being a Keith Jarrett fan for decades, there are several of his albums that resonate with my being for many reasons. One disc in particular lends itself to my quest in that it is a live recording with very talented backup partners that makes for especially delicious music and sound. I am referring to At the Blue Note: June 4th, 1994 and specifically to "When I Fall in Love" , a track that captures beauty, reflection, talent and an overall magic that lets me listen to this over and over again without any sense of boredom or fatigue. Between the excellent percussion work of Jack DeJohnette and the bass accompaniment from Gary Peacock, a mood is set that is hypnotic and the Zu Def Pros let all of that cast its spell in a gorgeous way. Incidentally, it seemed as though this spell embraced those fortunate to have been in the audience that night at the Blue Note club, since not until the rousing and appreciative applause at the end do you even get the sense that people were sitting close by. My own recording efforts over the years have never been blessed with such a quiet group of listeners so I think this sheds additional light on just how good this music is/was.

There are many other discs to be cited but as this review is getting already on the longish side, I will give short comments of several for the purpose of indicating the range of material used in this evaluation. Many of Reference Recordings Minnesota Orchestra symphonic discs under the baton of Eiji Oue, especially Exotic Dances from the Opera bring much deliciousness to the table. The Sonoma label SACD Music for Organ, Brass and Timpani presents many examples of sonic wonderment in a terrific venue, namely, NYC's St. Ignatius Loyola Church with that outstanding Mander Tracker organ shown at its best; tracks 1 and 12 really give me goose bumps. Neil
Young's Prairie Wind CD has a few gems to offer, some of which reveal an honesty and depth we might expect from someone going through serious life-threatening medical problems. I most recently picked up Bruce Springsteen's Seeger Sessions disc, We Shall Overcome. Bruce and company do an outstanding job of conveying joy, enthusiasm and energy through most of the tracks and the sound is very good. The Def Pros translate the liveliness and exhilaration of those sessions in gangbuster amounts. I need to spin this one a lot more, but it is something worth picking up if you have even the slightest affinity for Bruce. [The photo below shows yet another custom color for the Definition Pro, this one compliments of owner Archie.]

I'll close this section by noting that whether I listened to Jazz, Rock, Classical or other genres of music, the Def Pros behave with a consistency that satisfies and makes me smile. Commercial discs can vary tremendously for a number of reasons, and those variations now become more obvious than ever. It does amaze me to think how much plasticity there is in the process of making a finished recording, and how easy it is to screw it up. Since I record live, acoustic concert performances using fine pro-level gear, the ability to see into the process has been quite instructive for me. I would be the last to claim that my recordings are the ultimate in sonics etc. but since I do use very simple, purist approaches in the process, I certainly can feel the benefits which accrue by not screwing with parameters like compression, EQ, artificial reverb etc. Incidentally, many audio friends near and far have heard my recordings and typically comment on their naturalness and believability. I can't ask for more.

These speakers do have plenty of refinement and readily tell me what I know to be on the disc with both honesty and accuracy while not missing the emotion of it all. Yes, if it is on the disc I can hear the speakers reveal the sound as poetic, soulful, brash, trippy, rhapsodic, evocative, bold or whatever. Note that I said, "if it is on the disc". I find no artifice or exaggeration from the current presentation, just a lively, natural and captivating experience. For someone like me who wants a loudspeaker that is this communicative both for normal home listening as well as while being used as a tool for original recording playback purposes, the Def Pros do it in spades.

Drawing conclusions
First, let me say that having the Zu Cable Definition Pro loudspeaker system in my sound room has rejuvenated and enhanced my love of music. The quest to find high performing, real-world, well crafted speakers has been a long and winding road for over two years. I am now home in my audio searching. This sense of feeling free from yearning for the unobtainable loudspeaker is marvelous. Are there better things out there? Come on... who would doubt that? But -- and this is a big but -- at this size, performance and price level, I don't know of anything else that puts it all together this well.

My system went through some evolution throughout this evaluation period. First the ARC REF 1 went onto the sidelines while the very fine Opera Audio Consonance Ref 1.3 TVC jumped aboard. This took things up a notch and I shall be doing a review of this piece in the near future. Next, all interconnects and speaker wires were moved into Zu Cable offerings. Each substitution brought a small but clear increment to the sonic signature. This was also true when the Zu power cords were added. My Naim CD2 player moved out to make room for the Modwright Sony 999ES Signature Truth player. The biggest differences there surfaced as very satisfying increases in soundstaging, ambience retrieval, bass extension and an ease of presentation. I found no loss in pace, rhythm etc., letting me enjoy this slightly fuller, warmer and richer palette.

Another change was the insertion of the BPT BP-3.5 Signature Plus power conditioner. It brought a clarity and quietude to my system, which had not previously seemed so absent. Once the BPT was inserted, the benefits became addictive. Lastly, Lloyd Walker has new versions of his SST silver treatment and Reference HDL links. After trying both products, I found undeniable improvements in dynamics, integration and speed that motivated me to promptly send Lloyd a check in payment. They do work and I recommend them.

Getting this review finished has been complicated. In addition to settling in the associated equipment, optimizing speaker positioning, completing burn-in, fine tuning the EQ configuration and addressing a few other things, a fair number of weeks elapsed. However, some personal problems really consumed more time than I had ever anticipated. This is not the place to talk about those issues but let me just say that the recent emergency abdominal surgery I required has not been a picnic and it accounted for something like a month's delay in completing my write-up. Thankfully, I am moving along well and shall be able to be more into my normal activity routine. I can even spend a bit more time enjoying my music and the system.

A few final details
As noted earlier, the Def Pro does involve extra gear. Namely, by adding the Rane PEQ55 equalizer, another set of speaker wires, ICs and a stereo amp or pair of monoblock power amps for the bass drivers, one might wonder how much this impacts on getting things right. There is no need to be anxious about that as you will see in the following digression.

I had very good guidance on the initial bass EQ settings from Sean both by phone and during his first visit in January. That started the ball rolling. After playing with those controls on my own, I spoke again with him to finesse things even further. That was a very good thing and allowed me to really enjoy revealing, gratifying and stimulating music playback for several weeks.

Through good fortune and excellent timing, I was thrilled to have both Sean and Adam spend a few hours with me this last weekend. They needed to be in New Jersey for the Vacuum Tube Valley Expo and since it was not a long drive, they arranged to be at my home for a few hours, toting along test gear. Their computer-based software analyzer is capable of assisting in really reaching effectively into fine tuning, so I was gratified to know that this level of analysis would happen here. As expected, they were most cordial, friendly and enthusiastic. After breaking bread for a bit, they got down to business. Two other friends were along for the event so our clan of five was on a mission, and a noble one at that. I won't bore you with exhaustive detail but I do think it would be valuable to report on how this session unfolded.

Adam started arranging a set of laser leveling devices on the floor of my listening room to see how much repositioning of the speakers would be necessary to make them perfectly situated. He was very methodical about it all and after many minutes, he declared that they needed no changes at all. This was excellent news. I had recruited Mike, one of my fellow audio buddies here in the area, about two months ago to help me get the speakers more carefully set up. Mike was diligent in this effort and after we had double checked angles, level, toe-in etc., I was satisfied that the work we did with a tape measure and spirit level was fine. Adam fully confirmed that our efforts were spot on and this made me quite happy.

The next thing was to run the computer software to see how things were performing in terms of frequency response, power levels etc. Adam manned the PC tower and did a quick full frequency sweep, which revealed no anomalies or oddities about the setup. After more detailed dissection, it was noted that I had a suck out at 26 Hz of around 3-4 dB. Sean tackled the Rane Parametric equalizer and with a few adjustments was able to fix that issue. After another low frequency sweep, there was now a bump at 24 Hz, but in very little time that also was remedied. The Rane EQ looks to be an analog device from its front panel but is actually a DSP unit at its interior, allowing for lots of adjusting and addressing small details. At the 1/12 octave level, we now had really good, linear performance.

As an aside, hearing those low steady-state tones coming out so cleanly and powerfully brought a major grin to my face. I already knew the Def Pros were giving me the best bass I ever had in my room, but hearing it this carefully presented was a revelation as well as a treat. When we A-B'd the original EQ settings with these new values, there was virtually no difference to hear on most music. As I dig out my pipe organ discs, we'll see how that observation holds up. Before settling in to music listening on Saturday night, the Zuists did one final test. We were able to look at the SPL levels on conventional recordings as perceived at my listening chair. With the volume control at my standard gain level, we saw the vast majority of tracks delivering 85-90dB levels. On a hotly recorded track we did see peaks of 92-94dB but that was really not typical of most things.

The ease of presentation, excitement of delivery and immediacy of it all really came through in this part of the night and everyone there felt enthused by it. I am pleased that those who have been in my listening room in the last two months had the same kind of reaction.

The final message from this recent analysis is that it is possible to get these speakers to perform really well in normal domestic settings. This exercise confirmed my belief that I'd reached particularly good in-room response several weeks before this weekend. For me, it was gratifying to know that I attained 99% of this new performance by merely using my ears, a tape measure, a spirit level and careful listening. This experience clearly shows that you need not be concerned about having a technician come to your place to do the setup. Yes, knowing what good sound is, having patience and basic guidance such as a few phone calls to Zu Central, is all that it takes. For those who may harbor reservations about the extra effort needed to make the Def Pros work properly, there is always the standard Definition system, which provides the built-in bass amp and none of these extra steps. I am biased, but I know that having the Pro version takes me to a level well beyond the ordinary.

For the sake of putting many of my observations together in one place, let me note these points. After listening to lots of other speakers over the past 2+ years, I regard the Zu Def Pros as distinguished in their ability to convey a truly lively, engaging, immediate and truthful sound. When I had auditioned pro monitors from both the UK as well as from a large US firm, I was able to see neutrality and accuracy - but almost to a fault. That level of analytical revelation was intriguing but it never grabbed me at an emotional level. When I heard planar and electrostatic gear, it again had some very good things to offer, but energy and drive were just not present enough. Large multi-driver systems certainly could move air but their lack of focus and integration was bothersome. Mini monitors clearly could do the disappearing act for which they are famous but the lack of impact, deep authoritative bass and excitement again left me lukewarm. The Definition Pros bring tonal balance, imaging specificity, inner detail, texture, dynamics and clarity into cohesive focus while also managing to capture and deliver the emotion of the music and the musicians as well. This is remarkable!

So, in the end I've concluded that the Zu Definition Pro Loudspeaker system does it for me. The ability to enjoy all kinds of music, softly or loudly, fabulously recorded or just so-so, is a refreshing experience that eluded me for a long time. The nostalgic reminiscences of outstanding hornspeaker playback from the past continue to come back, but now I get that great feeling at home without any of the fussing over enormous enclosures, overly-demanding setups, outlandish expense and other complications. I have found that even with quality high-powered amps of the sort I use, there is subtlety, finesse and robust character to the sound that many users of the SET mindset have considered unique to those designs. Lots of other users of low-powered tube amps report very good things and glowing comments about these speakers too, not the least of which is our esteemed editor. I suspect he'll have some things to say about that soon.

[You've pretty much said it all, Les. I'll only add that I find it telling how on our staff you, I and Steve, in our respective speaker journeys, have finally settled on modern full-range implementations of vintage approaches - you and I with the Definition Pros, Steve with the Bastanis Prometheus II. In common to these particular Zu and Bastanis models is that they mate wideband drivers with large cones and no crossovers to sealed active bass systems, tweeters that enter only in the overtone range and very high system sensitivities. Though nearly the polar opposite of the entrenched school of modern speaker design, it's clear that some experienced listeners find much in the mostly abandoned old school of acoustic transducers to be distinctly preferable - if implemented properly. With Altec Lansing's relaunch of the Voice Of The Theater A7 as another example, we're beginning to see more commercial reminders that those folks half a century ago had gotten a lot right that's since been forgotten or "improved upon". - Ed]

When it comes to balancing utility, quality, taste and pleasure along with a real-world budget, I am convinced that the Def Pros do it exquisitely well. These speakers are a class act and I will be buying this pair. Congratulations to the Zu team for demonstrating real know-how, competent designing, excellent execution and a passion for engaging, joyous music reproduction. I am jazzed enough about this all to recommend the Def Pros for a 6moons Blue Moon award.

Manufacturer's website