Ok, I'll try not to drag this out too long. But anyways, for the past 6 months I have been wanting to try different speakers, only because I have been obsessed with direct 2 channel music listening, no audyssey, no processing, nothing, just Flac on my pc direct to my Onk avr.
I have been looking at Salk HT2-TL's, Philharmonic Phil 2's, JTR Noesis 212 and Tekton Pendragons. The more I researched, what caught my attention was ultra high efficiency speakers. So I ruled out the Salks (can't see spending over $4k on speakers) and Phil 2's. That left me with JTR Noesis and the Pendragons. I wanted to really hear what all the buzz was about with H.E. speakers. As much as the JTR's get rave reviews for music (they are designed for home theater BTW), I had to rule them out simply because they are not full range and must be used with subs. That doesn't fit my 2 channel direct music addition. So that left me with just the Pendragons.
Now the Tekton Pens and Lore's have been getting some reviews that quite honestly seemed too good to be true. But most disturbing was Eric's (one man show and founder of Tekton Design) horrendously long lead times. Some folks waited for 6 months to get Eric's speakers, I just couldn't do that no matter how good they sound. This leads me to searching audiogon hoping for some used pen's or even Lore's that I could pick up used with no wait time. I had seen on the forums that a couple folks were lucky enough to pickup a used pair off audiogon.
After a month, no luck. I was then reading audiogon's forum posts and came across a guy who had both the Pens and the Zu Audio Omen Def's. He was comparing both speakers and ended up selling the Pens, keeping the Def's. This in turn lead me to start researching the Defs.
But I really wasn't interested in spending $3200 plus shipping for the Defs. So I ended up seeing a used pair of Def's (the latest MK1-B's with the new nano drivers) on audiogon well under $2k. At this point I said hell with it and bought them. Worst case, if I hated them, I could just sell them and recoup most of my money back. I was concerned about the design, no crossovers and the use of Eminence 10" guitar speakers, how strange that was I thought. But this was also the same drivers that Eric at Tekton uses as well. Only Eric uses multiple tweeters with a crossover. Erics drivers from Eminence seemed to be stock where as Zu's drivers were custom made and tweaked by Eminence. I also thought it was interesting that Zu uses no crossovers. Zu seems to have a cult following, I couldn't find any official reviews of the newer MK1-B version of the Def's. But from what I gathered folks either love 'em or hate 'em. I read several times that Zu Audio's design and philosophy on speaker building is not for everyone...
Ah, sorry for the long intro but now here we are, the Def's arrive at my door. I rushed to unbox them and hook them up and to start some 2 channel tunes...Keep in mind, direct 2 channel, no processing, no subs. again this is how I listen to my M80's...
I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I loved my M80's and I knew the Def's had to beat them for sure if I was to keep them. I feel I know the sound of my M80's, in my room, really, really well. So I thought I would pick 3 of my go to songs and listen to both speakers as best as one could with no A/B speaker switch. I had to disconnect the M80's after each song (listened several times) then wired up the Def's and listen to the same song. I used my SPL meter to calibrate to 85db for each speaker. I was quite shocked at how much louder the Def's were at the same volume level. 100db 1w/1m is something to behold I must say.
First Song: Mark Cohen's Walking in Memphis.
I've heard this song a million times on my M80's so I knew what to expect. But I really wanted to focus on full range performance. Highs sounded great, mid range excellent and the lows, simply so good as always. For some reason in my room, the M80's really do well on the low end. No need for subs in this room...now on to the Defs.
Whoa, this was strange...where's the low end? WTF? I was kinda freaking out a little, but I remembered I read the Def's manual about speaker setup and placement. So to spare you the details I couldn't go any further until I got the setup right. This lead me into the next day of getting the speakers set up properly.
These are really strange speakers and a strange design. They have 4 ported slots on the BOTTOM of each speaker, each slot arranged weirdly and the slots go from thick to thin. The object is to get the floor spikes adjusted so the bottom of the speaker sits 1/4" to 5/8" off the floor so as the bass sounds to your liking. Now they are rated down to 30hz, but I'm thinking there is no way they go that low...I knew I was fairly limited to placement of these monsters as I only have so much space in my living room to work with. So after a couple hours of adjusting the height off the floor, going back and forth, listening to bass heavy songs, I finally got the low end I was missing. Man these things are really touchy, just am 1/8" off the floor one way or another makes a big difference in the low end.
Anyway, back to "Walking in Memphis"
WOW, now we are talking! These things just instantly had me hooked. The sound is really different, but yet similar to the M80's, it's so hard to describe. I think the high end sounded the closest to the M80's, but the mid range...the mid range seemed clearer and more pronounced. The dynamics of these speakers are fantastic. More so than the M80's. But...here's what surprised me the most...The M80's beat the Def's in the low end! It's not that the M80's sounded any better, they both sound great. I just think the M80's went lower and had more depth, maybe even more visceral impact than the Defs. It's just a different sound between the two I had to come to grips with.
I listened intensely to 2 more songs, Yes's Rhythm of Love and Molly Hatchets Dreams I'll Never See.
I have to say, the Def's are simply the funnest speaker I have heard, if that makes sense. These things go incredibly loud with no breakup and they do it so freaking cleanly, its amazing. I love the fact I will never need an external amp to blow the walls out. The headroom I have with just my receiver is something else. I love the dynamics and the soundstage is huge, the imaging is precise. And what I hear is what other Zu speaker owners hear, it's that "live sound" in your room. That the vocalist, the keyboardist is "actually in your room with you" sound. The best way to describe it I think...is when listening to the piano in "walking in memphis" on the M80's, I hear the recording of the piano playing thru the speakers. With the Def's I hear the actual piano keys playing thru speakers, like they bypassed the recording process. It's really special.
I will say this about both speakers. At low to moderate levels, no one would know which was which speaker. But as you go louder, it's not that the defs are better sounding, they are just "different".
Soundstage is great on both, some advantage to the Def's. Imaging is great on both, slight advantage to the Def's. Dynamics definitely go to the Def's. I think in regard to the highs, it's a tie. Both sound the same to me. The midrange...this is a tough one, as I have to say Zu designed these speakers for midrange, for vocals, for a specific range...it seems, that is slightly dominant over the M80's.
Another thing, both speakers are extremely revealing. I never felt either speaker masked poor recordings.
As for the low end, at this point I have to give a slight edge to the M80's. That really surprised me, it goes to show how good the M80's do in the bass department, at least in my room. I can live with the bass in the Def's, but I wish they had the M80's low end, that would be really special. But you can't have everything, Damn it!
I think that for a pair of $1300.00 M80's (what I paid for them) to go up against a pair of $3200 speakers and still hold there own, and then some, is a true testament to the M80's value and performance for the dollar spent. Let alone Axiom's smaller drivers going up against four 10" full range drivers. I would not have paid $3200.00 plus for the Def's, or likely any speaker for that matter. I just don't think the difference of $1900 plus...is worth it.
So which speakers am I keeping...?
Well, that was a tough decision. I like them both for different reasons. It really came down to which "sound" I preferred...a more audiophile (whatever that is
) sound or a more "live" in your face sound. I chose the Def's...the M80's have to go and I will dearly miss them.
I guess I'm in the "Zu Cult" now. But don't worry, I still have my M22's and QS8's, & they aren't going anywhere. I will say what others have said about Zu's speakers and other H.E. speakers for that matter, they are NOT for everyone. Some folks will absolutely hate them, as they would likely hate Tekton's sound as well. If you like a more refined, laid back sound, the Def's are not for you. But for me, I was missing that dynamic, in your face, in your room, forward sounding musical blast of ferociousness that the Def's provide me.
So there you have it, hope you enjoyed my journey.