Zu Audio's outrageously awesome speaker

The Ogden, Utah company's most affordable tower speaker, the Omen DW, is a real keeper!

It's been a few years since I wrote my last Zu Audio speaker review , but this time out I wanted to try their least expensive tower, and that's where things got interesting.

The Zu Audio Omen Dirty Weekend speaker. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

The Zu Audio Omen Standard and Omen Dirty Weekend (DW) are virtual twins, but with one very significant difference: the DW uses "recycled" drivers. That is, the DW drivers come from Zu customers who traded up to one of Zu's higher-end drivers. Let's stop right there: Zu Audio is one of the rare speaker companies to offer upgrades in any form, but when they redesign a driver they offer the new, improved version to their customers. The traded-in drivers are cleaned, measured, and fully checked out and used in the Omen DW; the cabinets and everything else about the speakers are brand new. The Omen DWs sell for $999 per pair, $500 less than the Omen Standard. The 36-inch-tall speaker weighs 53 pounds.

The Omen DW looks like a two-way tower speaker, but it's configured in a radically different way. Most affordable two-way speakers in the Omen DW's price class feature 6- or 8-inch woofers that "crossover" the sound from the woofer to the tweeter around 2 kHz; that's in the low treble frequency range. The Omen DW's 10.3-inch driver goes from the deepest bass, 35Hz, to high treble, 12kHz, with no crossover network of resistors, capacitors, or inductors inline between that 10.3-inch driver and your amp. That direct connection is at least partly responsible for the immediacy of the sound. The Omen DW has a separate tweeter, it handles high treble from 12kHz to 25kHz.

Like the more expensive Zu speakers, the Omen DW features machined aluminum trim, and the connectors are similar to the ones I see on $10,000 speakers. The Omen DW is made in Ogden, Utah, and most of the parts, including the 10.3-inch driver are built in the U.S. The Omen DWs are offered in your choice of four real maple, not vinyl wrap, finishes: Ghost Black, Gray, Sangria, or Natural. The cabinet is constructed from North American high-density composite wood plate. In a market flooded with "me too" speakers, the Omen DW is a standout.

It's unusually efficient, so the Omen DW was able to play loud with my 3.5-watt MiniWatt N3 amplifier. The sound was agreeably soft and mellow, which really clicked with old jazz CDs, but it wasn't making it with rock. Stepping up to my 20-watt-per-channel NAD 3020 amp, the sound totally kicked butt! This is what unusually high sensitivity designs like the Omem DW get you; I used my 25-watt-per-channel First Watt J2 and 100-watt-per-channel Rogue Cronus Magnum tube amp for the bulk of my listening tests. The Omen DW will sing with just about any amp, but when you upgrade you really hear the difference!

The Omen Dirty Weekend 10.3 inch driver, and below it, the tweeter. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Play Duke Ellington & Ray Brown's "This One's for Blanton" CD, and you hear Duke's piano and Brown's stand up bass come alive. I've heard this CD many times before, but it never sounded this real before. Miles Davis' "On the Corner" LP rolls out a rhythmically intense groove from start to finish. Davis' trumpet floats above the interlocking percussion, and I love the way the Omen DW puts me inside the mix. By that I mean the music feels live, like it's happening right now, in the moment. The players' soft and loud dynamics, slow and fast rhythms, all of it comes across in ways other speakers, including some of my favorites merely hint at.

The Omen DW is a turn-it-up, hell-on-wheels demon, but it serves up oodles of detail at hushed, late-night levels. When you get the chance to crank the volume the speaker's stature looms large. Man, it breathes life into music, live rock recordings showcase what this speaker does so right.

The $1,298-per-pair PSB Image T6 speakers make more bass, but it's nowhere as limber and alive as the Omen DWs. The T6 images more precisely, but the Omen DW delivers a bigger, more spacious soundstage. The Tekton Enzo speakers I wrote about a few months ago are much better speakers. They sell for $2,000 a pair, and sound more accurate, and the soundstage has superior depth and dimensionality, so individual instruments pop out of the mix with greater separation. The Enzos' treble is clearer, but the Omen DWs' get you 75 percent of the Enzos' sound.

My biggest knock against the Omen DW is that it kept me up on too many nights, playing music long after I should have gone to bed. One CD led to another, and another, and then I looked at the clock, and it was a couple of hours later than I thought it was.

For $999 a pair, they're tough to beat. If buying American-made gear makes a difference to you, and you prefer real wood and not vinyl; and metal, not plastic trim, check out the Omen DW. You can try them at home for 60 days and if you're not happy Zu picks up the cost of return shipping. Zu also offers a 100 percent trade-in value if you want to upgrade to one of their higher-end speakers for one year after you purchase the Omen DW. Zu mostly sells direct from its Web site, but they do have a few brick-and-mortar dealers in the U.S.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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