Hello fellow AVS clones,
Long time lurker here but not too many posts thus far. I, like many of the lurkers on this board, am a "real world audiophile." I say real world because I have a living room for my theater (at least for a little while longer but I will be building a dedicated theater room soon). I don't have uber expensive gear ie.... McIntosh, Nordst cables, Moon Audio ect. I do however have what many would consider entry to high end gear.
Prefacing my review I will give you a little insight to my set up. It consists of:
Arcam AVR 300 receiver
Oppo BD 83 Blueray player
NAD T534 DVD/CD player
Zu Audio Omen Def main towers
AV123 Bigfoot RSC200 center
Seaton Submersive Sub
Kef Q70 surrounds
Cables are from Blue Jeans and Monoprice
I also have a Marantz 2230 (1973 model) that is about to get repaired but is currently being used with the NAD player and a Carver AV505 amp.
I will begin my review by saying that I have toiled over the "Zu" sound for some time now. I have owned the speakers for about 3 weeks now and have seen dramatic changes withing that period of time. You see, I am a fairly intelligent man but, unlike some of the engineers on these boards, I didn't get to finish my engineering degree due to kidney failure and resulting transplant. None the less, I do know what to look for with regards to music reproduction and have been critically listening to some pretty nice gear for 30 years at many of my friends homes and my own. I toiled with the sound because it is simply different than the laid back (non fatiguing) sound that I have heard from SOME big name, big budget speakers I have heard. Now, I have had the pleasure of spending quality time with some Montana KAS towers and Wilson Sashas driven by McIntosh gear. These are truely great sounding speakers and neither fit into the dreaded laid back audiophile sound category. Different is the best description of what I am hearing. The reviewers are right. full range sound without crossovers does have it's benefits.
These speakers arrived via UPS and arrived in good shape. Boy are they shipped in imposingly huge boxes. That's because they ARE imposingly huge! Once I got these guys unboxed, I was simply taken aback by their sheer presence. The fit and finish is excellent. Rapping on the cabinet produced a nice, solid thunk though not quite as inert as the Wilsons and Montanas. They are remarkably well braced for this price range though. I bought them with a B stock cabinet and the blemishes were all but invisible without a magnifying glass. They have the new upgraded drivers seen in the Superfly and Definition models. Sean, after investigating what my listening habits and preconceived wants were, recommended that we upgrade the caps to the Clarity brand to get that "open and airy" sound that we talked about.
At first I was really unimpressed with these speakers. They sounded clinical and had very little low end. When I spoke with Sean and Christian, they assured me that If I would give it at least 2 weeks at home and allow them to burn in a bit and come to my home's operating temp, that I would be shocked at the difference I would here. Now from a sales perspective I could understand why they would tell this because lots of companies want you to get used to the sound you are hearing. No amount of "getting used to" was going to make me fall in love with what I was hearing.
I finally took an entire day out of my schedule to fiddle with placement, fine tune delays, level match ect...and was not much more impressed. I could tell a little difference but attributed that to better placement. About a week later they seemed to really be opening up so I played hooky from work and did a complete set up with my Sub and tried to get good integration. What a disaster it was. I had all kinds of phase issues pop up and the home theater aspect of these speakers was really disappointing me. The next day I played around a bit more with sub placement and moved the speakers a little closer to the wall. I also toyed around with the height of the plinths. Man, it all the sudden started to sound nice and tight and after adjusting the crossover point it just kept getting better.
Fast forward a few more days. Just like they the Zu crew said. They are opening up more every second I have them running. I spoke earlier of the Zu sound that I toiled with. The Zu sound, at least to my ears, is much more seamless than most I have heard. The word "cohesive" is used by some of the reviewers. If you are a lover of Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Kansas, or Rush, you are will be in for a treat. I am jumping ahead of things though at this point. Today I did some really critical listening of Chesky Records Ultimate Demonstration Disk. I ran it through my Arcam AVR 300 and the Oppo player. I was not prepared for what I heard!
I used to play this disk to show off some custom designed towers. I would always use the old Marantz 2230 though because, as good as my Arcam sounds, it was just embarrassed by the Marantz. When I first got these new Zu's I listened to this disk through the Arcam! Again, totally unimpressed. Today, It was like a totally different set of speakers. Very weighty, detailed, open, and percussive. I listened to a few tracks of note that I will cover here.
First up was Spanish Harlem by Rebecca Pidgeon. The first thing that I noticed was that her voice seemed to be very "live" sounding. Each shake of the shaker was easily discernible from the next. The big bass felt very tuneful and each pluck sounded as if you could hear the musician's fingers initially touch the strings. The resonance of this instrument was as if you were playing it. The piano sounded as if you were just out in front of it.
Next up was "ask me now by McCoy Tyner and Joe Henderson. The sax sounded as if you could actually hear the wetness in the reed. Each valve could be heard closing and opening. The sax sounded as if it was 6 to 8 ft out in front of me, dead center stage. The sound stage that the Omen Def produces is, in a word, immersive!
Last up was probably my favorite. Grandma's hands by Livingston Taylor. As the disk stated, this was an excellent test of mid range purity. The finger snaps did indeed sound flesh and bone. A light foot tapping could be heard that frankly, I had never heard before.
I listened to quit a few different genre of music today. Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Seether, Alice in Chains, Godsmack, Metallica, and Travis Tritt. How's that for culture shock. All I needed was a little Snoop Dog and I would have covered the gamut. Each one sounded incredible through my Omen Defs. I followed music listening up with a few movie demo clips.
These speakers are equally impressive for home theater use. Again, the sound stage is huge! It sounds like an Imax theater in my home but with much better impact. I put in a few of my favorites beginning with Master and Commander. WOW! every board in that ship creaked and squeeked. It sounded as if every wave was in the room with me. These speakers, teamed up with my recently upgraded 2400 watt Submersive, produced a startling effect. Felt and sounded as if the cannons were mounted to my couch!
The biggest single difference I have heard with these speakers vs others was experienced today with Superman Returns. The orchestra music in the intro was awe inspiring. I quickly cued up two more of my favorites. First was Saving Private Ryan. The Omaha Beach landing was as if you were there! Every splash, bullet ricochet, impact, and shell casing had detail that I had never heard before. I followed this scene with the PODs emerging scene from WOTW. The sound levels that the Omen Defs are capable of are staggering. I measured, at listening position 12 ft from sound stage and 14 ft from the sub, peaks of 120db and I had more to go!
Last up, just a few minutes ago. I listened to a drum session with Dean Castranovo. His kit was litterally in the room with me. By the way, all music was played without the sub, full range, and with just a bit of bass and treble attenuation. Not pure direct mode I grant you but not boosted too much either.
I will conclude this "early" review by saying this. I have traditionally been a harsh critic of buying without hearing equipment. That being said, my experience with the Zu crew has been very positive. When the say that it will take quite a while to see the ultimate benifits of these speakers, they are not shi**** at all. Per my experience thus far, the Omen Def is a fantastic value and should be on anyone's list that is looking for a great sub $3500 speaker pair. If you have tube amps, I am told these speakers are absolutely sonic bliss! My solid state Arcam sounds pretty incredible thru these guys so I an only imagine what my Marantz will sound like with it.
Kudos to the Zu crew! Next up.... a matching center. I can't wait!