Zu's Sean Casey Talks Loudspeakers

At the Los Angeles Audio Show, held June 2–4, John Atkinson spoke with Zu Audio's founder, owner, and chief engineer Sean Casey about the Zu Audio Druid (pictured), Sean's background and his "unconventional" approach, and historic speaker designs. And toward the end of the video, Sean Casey turns the tables on JA by interviewing him about the role of the audio reviewer!

Stereophile's most recent Zu review was published in June 2016, when Herb Reichert reviewed Zu's Soul Supreme loudspeaker, while Art Dudley reviewed Zu's Essence loudspeaker in October 2009.

JA also spoke with Elac loudspeaker designer Andrew Jones at the LAAS.

tonykaz's picture

Here we have Sir Andrew Jones ( of ELAC ) revealing the low cost of Amplification directing the design-decisions in favor of inefficient Loudspeakers. ( hard not to agree with him )

and then;

here comes Zu's "Old School" efficient design proponent offering 97db/watt single driver stuff to the "twitchy" Audiophile group of low power aficionados ( QRP in Ham Radio terminology ).

I've been an active proponent of both philosophies, both work quite well but not as well as Active Loudspeakers......especially if we consider the source quality to be the determining factor in musical happiness!

Andrew Jones is leaning his designs to Active, Zu is not going Active, Meridian, Genelec, DynAudio, Focal and scads more outfits make superb Active Loudspeakers.

I suspect that 5 years from now we all will be using Wifi Active music systems playing music from Tidal & MQA. ( all except the few remaining Grey-Beard, Analog Planet people, anchored in 1979 ).

2K 24P video is also the future.

We've come a looooooooong way and the HFN&RR formula is still great!

Tony in Michigan

Archimago's picture

The only change I would make would be that in 5 years, MQA will likely be long forgotten by most.

rt66indierock's picture

I would look at the financial statements of TIDAL and MQA Ltd before I made any predictions. MQA Ltd in 2016 had a cash burn rate of $360,000 a month. But don’t worry the board of directors is focused on it. And if Sprint put in $200 million into TIDAL in January why on May 27, 2017 did Norway Today report that TIDAL owed about $1.7 million in back taxes? Not to mention TIDAL’s little problems with upper management and subscriber numbers.

tonykaz's picture

Thanks for all that Industry insight.

I'm thinking along the lines of Streaming when I say Tidal and High Quality music when I say MQA.

I see Streaming quality music as the Format that replaces CD ownership, of which hundreds of Billions have been purchased.

Fingers crossed for a better future,

Tony in Michigan

rt66indierock's picture

The financial information explains a lot about of activities MQA, Tidal and how they will be impacted by label deals by Spotify and Apple.

I’m paying more attention to downloads since articles started appearing about Apple Services being the size of a Fortune 100 company. Apple can trade stuff for better royalties on streaming that TIDAL doesn’t have to trade putting them at a competitive disadvantage. CDs will stay around since they are easy to sell at concerts.

dalethorn's picture

Streaming is a very different paradigm from owning music tracks, which for me are high quality music tracks backed up on backup media. One difference is that owned media require no Internet connection, have no streaming and connection fees, and have zero reliability issues related to the several hands the stream has to pass through to get to you each and every time. Another differences is immediate access - I can get to any of the huge variety of tracks I possess in less than 5 seconds, and even if the streamer has everything I have, accessing those tracks in the same order I choose randomly from my players would require building a custom playlist for the streamer *each* time I chose a few tracks, i.e. not practical at all.

Streaming can be good for sampling new music, if you're not too picky. But I'm very picky. The last *good* service I used for sampling new music was Beats Music before Apple bought it. Beats Music allowed me to build genre lists with good examples for matching. The last *great* service I used for sampling was the original Napster circa 2000-2001.

It's doubtful that any commercial service will ever match what that Napster did, which was to sample tracks stored on any of millions of users' computers all over the world. You start with music you like, get a list of who all has that music, then see what else *they* have. Nothing like it ever since.

tonykaz's picture

You're still right,

I'm looking 2 years out,

I see Streaming 24/44.1 with nobody looking back, except the Gray Beards doing Vinyl.

I'm prepared to be wrong.

Tony in Michigan

Bromo33333's picture

There are lots of ways to the top of the mountain in audio - it is all picking what tickles your fancy (picking the strengths and weaknesses of a particular direction).

Low power/Hi Eff
High Power/Low Eff
Active Speakers.
Permanent Magnet Dynamic
Field Coils

All of it done well, will transport the listener better than a clock radio (though if the music is good, even through a clock radio it'll work!)

I've given up prognosticating the future - I think streaming is here to stay, but it is anyone's guess which technologies and companies will be ont he top of the heap. All we know is that full bandwidth streaming at CD resoliution and above through various techniques is possible, and as networks and network speed improves, it'll only get better - at least the technology.

I don't know exactly what a stereo system will look like in 10-20 years for a mass market consumer. Not sure anyone else does either.

tonykaz's picture

That is just about the best summary of things Audio as came down the Pike, you could be the next "As We See It" contributing Author.

I might suggest that the Tube guys have the advantage although I've been a SS guy since the 1980's.

I'd love us ( Stereophile ) to have a Kevin Deal type person to write a regular Tube Rolling Column, maybe even this HWS fella or HR ( who would be a natural ).

Annnnnd as long as I'm asking for stuff,

I'd like to see Stereophile feature a Central Park, park bench Audiophile column aimed at the folks that listen to their music on the "hoof" ( something like a "Homeless Audiophile" ) featuring portable gear.

Tony in Michigan

sasami's picture

BBC monitor flat and boring? Not as flat as KEF and Elac. Personally I think BBC speaker are not boring even compare with Zu's.

Anyway speaker are going active. Kii, Linn, Dynaudio, KEF, Avangrade, Æquo Audio, Audium list go on. You have choices from most popular design to horn to wide bander.

mns3dhm's picture

Kudos to Stereophile for posting interviews w Andrew Jones & Sean Casey. The Steve Guttenberg interview was great as well - his The Audiophiliac blog on CNET is worth reading. As a suggestion, you should ask readers to submit names of persons they'd like to listen to. Here's mine - Dan Laufman at Emotiva.

iliketolisten's picture

Laufman? While Emotiva makes some high value gear, and some not so good gear, he's not a visionary or a highly regarded engineer/developer.

Glotz's picture

and to playback one's music. High efficiency speaker approaches, any of em, are great. They bring you closer to the signal and the noise floor, but it's another set of trade-offs to account for.

I further see that additional random vibration in the speaker assembly has real effects from inefficient connected amplification (pre-amp too in the case of capacitance and signal loss eg: passive preamps). Great guys, that have passion about a particular 'art-form' such as this design type, do it well. I imagine planar dynamics have similar, but unique set of vibrational directions, inherent to their low sensitivity. It reminds me often of how Vandersteen's carbon-clad balsa speaker diaphragm seems to address a need for the old and the new.

Are any of you suggesting LP listeners sell they're collections for another format? How is that cost-effective?? I focus on what I own.

Playing LP's is soooo much more fun than any digital file. Brings yet one more pleasant aspect to listening to music.

And John, you are so very great at knowing what to say and when to say it. Always enjoyable and educational. And if a speaker sounds better than it measures, so be it! I appreciate that honesty always.

Busychild's picture

When ever I go to the shows the first three places I go: #1 Zu Audio. #2 Fern & Roby. #3 Vinni Rossi- These three MFG have great sounding gear. AND- when I go in their rooms I can hear something other than Dianna Krall, Norah Jones and Kind of Blue. Zu Audio's Definition speaker is one of the best sounding speakers at any price IMHO. I get Zu Audio. Zu Audio gets me.

iliketolisten's picture

The Zu guys, if I recall, only demo the material they have on hand. Comparing well known common pieces, gives you at least some common ground to compare to other speakers. If you can't compare the same piece of music across different speakers, you don't really have a good basis for comparison. Yes, it can get boring, so throwing different stuff makes it less so.

klosterman's picture

Back to the video, what is the time domain vs. amplitude domain ? points?