Zu Omen Def Mk.2 - Updated Review

I posted 3 weeks or so ago about the $3600 gamble of buying a pair of Zu Omen Def Mk.2's.  Not a complete gamble of course, since there is a 60 day return policy, but since you cant get a refund on lost time trying something, I suppose I can count that as the real gamble if I didn't like the speakers - thing is, I DO like them!

But before I begin, as a point of reference I have had two previous sound systems:

The first system (up to 2004) consisted of Vandersteen 2CE speakers, MF100 Conrad Johnson amp, Acurus LS 10 preamp with a California Audio Labs CD player.  A simple, clean nice sounding system if not a bit laid back and not the last word in resolution. Certainly a dated system from a technological standpoint but a nice entry system by most peoples standards.

The second system (my current reference system) consists of Thiel CS2.4 speakers, REL 328 sub, Parasound A21 amp, BAT VK3ix Preamp, with two sources: VPI Prime and NAD M51 DAC.  You can see the full system here in the virtual systems on Audiogon.  A VERY clean sounding system with timber and tone that is a neutral to my ears (though I'm sure people could argue that if they wanted to).  The only real negative is the kick drum range is not as full as I would like and thus ultimate dynamics are not fully realized.  But it does get me 95% there.  My room is not optimal, but there is no option for room treatments in the living room.  Not if I want to remain married at least.

The Third system (my current "fun" system) and the one that contains the Zu Omen Def Mk.2's, is powered by an economical Tube integrated amp, a Musical Paradise MP-301 MK3 (6.5 WPC).  It runs Golden Lion KT88's and RCA 6SJ7's.  My source is a vintage Pioneer PL-530 Turntable (that I found in the garbage years ago and pieced together missing parts from ebay) running a Denon DL-103r on a Dynavector P-75 MK3 phono preamp.  Speaker cables are Zu Mission MK2's connected via Speakon termination on the speaker side.  Interconnect cables from the phono pre to the amp is a Cardas Clear Light pair I had lying around and the cable from the turntable to the phono pre is whatever is hardwired form the factory - NOTHING special to say the least.

That's the basic gear set up - the Zu speakers are in my man cave - or should I say man closet!  It's only 11'd x 13'w x 9'h, I'm sure most of you (including me) are thinking "wait, that's waaaaay too small for those big ole' Omen Defs" - and they would be partially right.  The rooms is carpeted with a large sofa and a couple bookshelves. The result is I have some limitations on soundstage depth and width but even though the room is small I do get a decent soundstage that is full width of the room and adequately deep, depending on the source material.  The speakers are on the long wall and are about 2 feet from the front wall (to the front of the speaker) and about 24" or so from the side walls (to the centerline of the speaker) with virtually no toe in.  This set up presented the most natural sound open sound.  I have the spikes installed on the speakers which in turn sits on top of a large piece of wood with its own spikes that penetrate into the carpet - the speaker is tilted back about 2 degrees or so.  There is about 1 1/2" of gap right now and I'm trying different magazines under the speaker to play with the gap for the best sound for the bass.  Right now one copy of my wife's "IN STYLE" magazine gives the best bass response:)  I initially tried putting the speakers in the corner of the rooms and toeing them in but this resulted in a "shouty" midrange.  In there final position they sound quite natural with no shrill treble and with tight bass.  Not big meaty bass mind you, just tight articulate/tuneful bass.

The goal of this system was not to have a system I would critically listen to, it was a system to just "listen to" without all the baggage of worrying about making sure all the boxes were checked on some audiophile check list.  For this system I only set a few rules:  It had to be relatively economical,  had to have a full and live like sound, and would allow me to tip my toes into tube amplification.  Most of the break in happened the first two weeks with about 3-4 hours of play a day.

Now there has been a lot of talk about the Zu "sound", however, if I were to blindfold you and ask what type of speaker you thought you were listening to based on the frequency response, you would be hard pressed to say "this is a full range speaker set up".  The frequency response sounds like a two way, or even a three way speaker.  It doesn't sound like a Fostex full range driver for instance.  However, its how the speaker presents itself that distinguishes it from typical speakers I have heard.  The soundstage is large and full filled with nuance.  Voices sound right, and you tend to notice aspects of the music, that while you may know they were there, they are more clear and more tangible.  For the record the speakers are quite sensitive to cabling.  I ultimately settled on Zu Omen Mission MK2's speaker cable, no other reason than for the good reviews they got and because, in my mind, eliminated a variable - oh, and I hate having to navigate the minefield of cable selection. The frequency response isn't flat, though that fact doesn't seem to jump out at you, what I feel is that the frequencies that are above and below "flat" allow speakers to present the music in a more "live" way if that makes any sense.  And boy are they dynamic!  Kick drums have presence!  Maybe having four full range drivers have something to do with that;)  They seem to keep all these attributes when played softly or loudly, but since I have such a small room I feel I must add the caveat that I'm not sure how they would sound in a much larger room.  Hopefully someone will review these that have them in a larger room so you can get an alternate review.  As for sensitivity, it don't take much, maybe just a few watts is all I have ever used - if that.  My decibel reader at 8ft away sees 97dbs easily.\

I've read many comments on how these speakers are for people that just want to listen to the music and be emotionally involved and not over analyze it,  I'd say that just about sums them up perfectly and to that end the gamble has seemed to pay

Hi Greg,

very good write up on your ZU's, should be helpful for others in the same boat position that you were in prior to purchase.  There is so much I want to comment on and share, so forgive me if this looks like a thread jacking.

The anxiety you shared about plunking down hard earned cash on the ZU's, sight unseen, is exactly where I was in 2014 and I made a big mistake with thinking I could save a grand and go with Tekton LLC instead.  I went for bear with upgrades on the Tektons and ended up a very unhappy customer with the sonic results.  I have a medium sized room (more on this later) 16' wide, 22' deep and vaulted ceilings to 14' high.  I must have moved the Tekton's around over 30 different positions.  Nothing would open up the sound stage.  Low power class A amps, high powered A/B and D amps, it didn't matter.  On a farce I came across a used pair of ZU Essence for $1600.  I bought them, plopped them down right where I had the Tekton's and was immediately blown away by the difference.  Everything but the deepest bass was far better through the ZU's.  I sold the Teckton's and lost my lunch on depreciation for a new customized pair.

My friends were so impressed by the difference the ZU's rendered in my room that one of them bought a new pair of Omen Def MKII's with Libtec speaker cables and Speakon connection.  NOW, his room is more like your room, very compact.  Only 10' wide, ceiling is only 7' high, but its a good 17-18' deep.  The ZU's would not open up in his small room.  He also bought the optional $400 plinths to see if that would help, only marginally did the bass improve.  He was pretty unhappy with his results despite really nice amplification options.  We ran Pass Labs 150.5 and Luxman 550ia on them.  SO, I sold my Essence and bought his Omen Def's.  I came full circle back to that point where I was going to put a deposit on them back in 2014 but didn't.  Funny and ironic.

Results in my room, it was like a turbo charged version of the Essence.  Music energy was overwhelming to me at first.  They were very open and yet so bombastic.  I've heard panel speakers and I have to say in the right conditions, these ZU's throw a big wall of sound at you like an electrostat.  Of course I had to take it a step further and go big with the Radian tweeter upgrade.  $800 later, I couldn't be more happy with a pair of speakers.  I've had a lot of great, large speakers, not too mention the benefit of demoing other large fantastic speakers.  I've auditioned or owned Klipsch La Scala, Cornwall, JBL 250ti, ADS L1230, Altec A7's and Model 14's.  I've had extensive listening with Vandersteen 3A Sigs and Vonschweikert VR33's.  I had Tekton Seas Pendragons.  No, for me, its these moded ZU Omen Def's. I throw on something like Nils Lofgren's "Keith Don't Go" and I always get goose bumps.  Rock, Jazz, electronica, Bluegrass, these speakers do it all for me.  Even my wife and young daughter request music from this system, not something that happened in prior iterations.

Bottom line, I share your enthusiasm.  I simply cannot highly recommend enough these speakers with the Radian tweeters.  You get 100 lbs of American made speaker that is 101db @ 1watt sensitive, all amps are an option to you.  

One last thing, you really need to swap out your Thiels and just listen to the difference extra room volume can do for your ZU's. Thank you for suffering through my diatribe! Cheers


Great write up!  I'm glad you shared, there are not many reviews on the mk2's, and none I know of with the Radians.  

Its funny you mention moving the Thiels,  my only complaint it how HEAVY the Zu's are!  My ole back struggles to move them very far. I do want to try it for sure. 

you make a great point about the blindfold comment; with the right distance from these speakers, there is a coherence in a 1.5 way speaker that is harder to get from a 3 or 4 way system.  I remember needing 12-13 feet from the JBL's because of the 4 different drivers.  The La Scala's needed a huge room.  The widebander in ZU's are more natural and of course the paper cone always has its organic benefits versus poly type cones.

I believe these speakers can offer a lot to music listeners and audiophiles alike.  I've tried class A, class T, A/B and D amplification, these speakers respond accordingly and therefore their ability to be tailored to preference is amazing.  

Happy listening 
Glad you are happy with the Omen Defs.  Tell me more about the MP-301 tube amp... how do you like it?  I've been reading about it and it sounds like it would be a great match with Zu speaks.  
I love my Omen Defs that I purchased back in 12. A few photos (I'm a pro photographer) I took for Sean are still on the ZU site. One day I would like to do the driver upgrades, but I have mine so dialed in (and broken in), I would hate to mess things up. 

I'm not an expert on tube amps since this is the first tube amp I've ever owned, but I can tell you how it sounds to me. It gives the Zu's a real "fleshy" sound, meaning their is an air of believability in the instruments and body to them. I upgraded the power tube to GL KT88's and that really made a big difference for the good.  Bass is full but tight and of course midrange is smooth. Highs seem sweet as well. I'm in a small room so so stage is a bit small, but the instruments and singers are well enough defined and seem like they are in the room with you.  I have no lack of power with the Zu's, in fact I have power to spare.  Again it's a small room. I'm very happy with it. If I were to upgrade I hear Decware makes a good amp for the Zu's. 
Quick update:

So I choose to to upgrade the Omen Def Mk2's with the Radian tweeters. So what benefits does the tweeter that crosses over at 12k bring - in one word ALOT!  

If if your thinking of plunking your hard earned cash on a set of Omens, no matter which ones. opt for the Radians. It's a must IMO. 

So what do they bring:  smoothness with no edge, clarity and less congestion, far more open. Voices are soooo natural sounding. All this -easily noticeable- after only one hour of first listening to them. I'll report back after I've had many more hours with them. 

Thanks Impecules for the input and help to see my way to getting this upgrade!