A high-performance, high-end speaker, made in Utah

The Zu Essence is a full-on rethink of the speaker company's sound. Based in Ogden, Utah, Zu Audio is fast developing a reputation among the audio cognoscenti.

The Zu Essence comes in a vast range of colors and finishes. Zu Audio

The Zu Essence is a big speaker, with a really big sound, fully capable of rocking out like few high-end speakers anywhere near its $3,600 price can. The Essence's wham-bam dynamics are explosive, so please trust me on this, you'll never get that sort of impact from a bookshelf or smaller speaker. My complete Essence review appeared in Home Entertainment magazine, but let me share with you the gist.

Speaker design over the last decade has mostly been devoted to producing greater accuracy, higher resolution, lower distortion, and wider frequency response, but those qualities don't necessarily produce a sound that will stir your soul. Accuracy is one thing, but there's an artistry to speaker design no computer will ever match. Zu designers are definitely more interested in musicality than accuracy, and it totally works.

The Essence is 49 inches high and 12 inches wide and deep. It has a 10.3-inch full-range driver and a 2.5-inch foil-ribbon tweeter. The advanced technology tweeter is sourced from Taiwan, and then entirely rebuilt and modified in Ogden, Utah . All of the 10.3-inch paper-cone driver's parts are made in the U.S., and assembled in the Zu factory. The completed tweeters and woofers are extensively tested and sorted into matched, close-tolerance pairs that are used in production speakers.

Zu offers a range of standard painted and wood veneer finishes, and a slew of extra-cost custom paint finishes. Zu's paint shop does outstanding work, with overall build quality the equal of speakers that sell for many times the Essence's $3,600 price. In the context of today's high-end speaker market the Essence is a steal!

Building high-end speakers in the U.S.A. Zu Audio

This speaker can rock out better than any speaker near its price, and since the Essence is unusually efficient, it clicked with very low-power amps, like the $378 Miniwatt N3 (3.5 watts per channel amplifier). Actually, the speaker sounded best with a First Watt J2 (25 watt stereo amp), but I've also used the Essence with my 400 watt per channel Parasound JC 1 power amps, no problem. In fact, the Essence delivered great sound with every amp I've tried.

With just one 10.3-inch driver you can't expect outrageously deep bass, but pitch definition and dynamic oomph are excellent. This speaker can boogie like nobody's business.

Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's wildly unconventional score for "There Will Be Blood" on CD was something else again. Greenwood's score uses mostly strings, and he recorded and mixed them within a heavily reverberant soundstage. This CD can sound overwrought on a lot of speakers, but it was spectacular with the Essence. The strings' natural warmth and body were on display, and the Zu's nuanced handling of dynamics completed the picture.

The Essence can bend your ears back when the music's jolts demand it, which also makes it a fine choice for home theater duty; in my HT 2.0 (stereo) system, the Essence coasted through action-packed flicks with ease. You don't have to take my word for it; Zu sells the Essence factory-direct in the U.S. with a 60-day, money-back satisfaction guarantee.

If the $3,600 Essence is out of reach, don't despair; Zu will soon offer a new $1,800 tower, the Soul. I will review it and tell you all about it later this year.

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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