Yet this full-range, seriously engineered, beautifully constructed and finished, part-active, high-efficiency system will only cost you £8000 in the UK. Which makes it an awful lot of music for your money. How so? Zu supply their products direct to the end-user, and prefer their distributors to do likewise: hence the comprehensive set-up kit and instructions – and hence the low price. Thankfully, set-up is surprisingly straightforward, with a tendency to spread a little wider than most speakers. Toe-in is critical to correct staging, but it’s easily optimised and the biggest obstacle to achieving best performance is the two days or so the speakers take to settle down after being moved. That and just how clearly they revealed the temporary degradation induced by rearranging the Crystal cables!
I’ve already alluded to the presence, drive and immediacy you get from this speaker – all qualities you’d expect given the efficiency and direct connection of the main drivers. But what really sets the Zu apart is the degree to which it banishes the expected side effects. The deep bass delivers just the sort of foundation and solidity required, without slowing or smearing the pace and responsive agility of the broad mid-band. Despite the numbers this isn’t the kind of foundation excavating bass that comes with real subs and monster cabinets. Instead this is reallife, real useable and real satisfying, delivering presence and a firm footing to bass lines, electric and acoustic. At the other end of the spectrum the transition to the tweeter is smooth and sweet, marked by a slightly recessed balance and transients that just lack the vivid immediacy of the mid. It’s a perfectly blended compromise, banishing the high-frequency nasties that attend pushing “full-range” drivers beyond their comfort zone whilst also avoiding the wilder excesses of horn loading. Cymbals and other high-frequency transients a re crisp and more importantly, happen in the right time and place. In fact, the top to bottom range is impressively coherent and neutral for a design with this much sheer musical get up and go. Yes, there are some “cuppy” artefacts, hints of “hollowness” to offend the “rulerflat” brigade, but the rest of us will be way too busy enjoying one disc after another to notice (or care).
And I haven’t touched on their strongest point… When these speakers sing, they really sing. Voices breathe so naturally, the pace and meter of a phrase or lyric falls with such unforced ease, that singers have a commanding power and compelling directness of communication. This is all about the message overcoming the medium. The clarity with which the Zus reveal and define harmonies conjures real magic from recordings, an intimacy that transcends the hi-fi limitations we so often accept. It’s a quality that extends to the convoluted instrumental conversations that characterise the likes of Monk, Coltrane and Art Pepper. It sorts out the interlocking elements within a string quartet just as surely as it unravels the stacked power chords of the latest indie guitar heroes. These speakers are all about access: access to the music, access to the performance, access to the motivation and spirit that drives it. The Zu Definitions put you firmly on the fast track to musical meaning, irrespective of musical type or genre. And that tells you that, despite assumptions to the contrary, these are accomplished and wellrounded performers. The carefully implemented bass reinforcement and structural refinements build on the communicative qualities of the Druids, broadening both the musical appeal and the performance envelope. By carefully nurturing the strengths of their chosen approach and working hard to ameliorate the weaknesses, Zu have creating a genuinely capable all-rounder.
So don’t assume this is a “have fun and hang the consequences” design. It’s a meticulously executed and beautifully crafted refinement of a seriously valid operating model. It even offers an upgrade path. Revealing of partnering components, it thrives on quick, coherent quality rather than quantity, extending the value equation even further. Add a classy integrated to the Zus, with or without a matching bass amp, and you won’t look back. If you want hi-fi and fun, both the facts and the sense of a performance, the Definition 2 gets closer than most to letting you have your cake and eat it. One taste and you could be hooked…