I never considered it my place to push or review products. Any component I’ve ever talked about has been in the vein of, “Hey, it works for me; maybe you’ll like it too.” But my Zu Audio speakers are a bit different. Unfortunately, I’m now free to heap praise on them after a sad announcement from Zu Audio informing us that their iconic entry-level Omen Dirty Weekend (DW for short) loudspeaker has been discontinued after eleven successful years.
The DW Mk. 1 started as way to reuse surplus and refurbished drivers from trade-ins, and eventually evolved into the sought-after Mk. II with upgraded drivers and parts. It became simultaneously a best-kept secret, a cult favorite, and one of the greatest audio bargains out there. Built a few times a year and selling-out immediately, DWs didn’t need mass-marketing campaigns. Word of mouth, customer testimonials, and the well-imagined Zu Audio website were enough to pique the interests of budget-minded audiophiles like myself. And if you’ve been to the Zu room at an audio show, you already know their best sales strategy was demoing their speakers with energetic, loud, hip music like many of us listen to at home.
Despite encountering some of the usual skepticism around imperfect measurements, bad reviews, and whether they can be used for serious jazz and classical music, this company has a way of grabbing on to new customers who never want to part ways. I’ve also often read that one either loves or hates Zu speakers, but isn’t that the case with any brand? My DWs are in my living room, where I spend nearly every waking moment. The left channel is less than two meters from me as I write this. I better love them, both their sound and design, or I made a huge blunder. A speaker is not something to be lukewarm about.
I don’t remember how I stumbled upon Zu Audio – maybe in Stereophile – but I’m positive the name caught my eye because I figured it was a German brand. The German word “zu” means “to,” “for,” “into,” or “too” in English. Upon studying their website and learning more about the company, I felt an affinity with Zu’s philosophy and their young crew of seven in Utah. No matter the origin of the name, which I still don’t know, I was dying to get rid of my cheap little Wharfedales and get back to efficient American floorstanders. For the no-brainer price of $999 per pair, I was willing to wait a few weeks until they were assembled and broken-in. Compared to the quality of other stuff on the market, these speakers were heads above the rest. Although they’re not exactly like my three-way speakers from high school, the DWs still have the vibe I remember from the old days, a 50-lb. wooden rectangle that cranks.
Once I hooked them up, I never considered upgrading to the full-scale Omen II at twice the price, and I was not alone. People were so enthusiastic about the Dirty Weekends that I started a Facebook group for Zu fans in 2018. One of my surveys showed that nearly 50 percent of members owned the entry-level Dirty Weekend, compared to all other Zu models. Some group members were indeed interested in upgrading, but it didn’t seem pressing because the DWs delivered so much for the money. The speaker might have been intended to offer a taste of what Zu could do, yet it delivered most of the menu – alas, without putting more pre-owned DWs into circulation for auditioning and perhaps without selling Zu’s more-expensive models.
Meanwhile, orders kept rolling in for the limited build dates of Dirty Weekends. The Facebook group was loaded with messages from excited new Zu converts counting down to the next DW sale or delivery date. COVID-19 stimulus checks flooded the market, boosting sales of home entertainment products across America. Depending upon the amount of your check, it could have also covered a custom paint job or upgraded capacitors in a new set of DWs. Nevertheless, by late 2020, consumers started seeing shortages and delays. Some Zu buyers waited extra weeks and then months for their Dirty Weekends to arrive, and others are still waiting patiently into 2022 to receive the last sets of these beloved speakers.
Though more recent customers paid $1,199 for their DWs, it still was not enough to turn a profit after factoring the cost of parts, labor, and all associated shipping. Despite the accusations of hoaxes, deep state manipulation, and corporate greed, supply chain problems are real. Raw materials are scarcer and more expensive as worldwide production and distribution issues further exacerbate domestic shipping delays. Unless one is directly involved with commerce, it might be easy to believe conspiracy theories around price increases and scarcity. I’d rather believe Zu Audio’s Sean Casey, Founder/Industrialist-Propagandist (his official job title), and Gerrit Koer, Anti-Conformist and Go-to-Guy (his official job title), over any armchair economist or bunker podcaster.
“We’ve learned that in the prevailing labor and supplies environment, Zu cannot profitably build and sell a Zu-quality speaker at the Omen Dirty Weekend price. At best it’s been a break-even proposition, but if we are really honest with ourselves about the true costs of the promotion, it’s a money-loser, which of course we cannot sustain.”
The more significant point is that Zu chose to discontinue a popular item instead of compromising quality – like so many companies had done long before the pandemic. Zu could have contracted with a multi-brand factory, where Zu badges are slapped onto plastic speakers and sold at a healthier profit, or made them just bad enough to ensure upgrades. They could have also launched a souped-up version of the DW and charged more by adding a bunch of meaningless bells and whistles. It would be easy to do just by repeating the words “proprietary” and “trademark technology,” and mentioning lots of esoteric materials in the spec sheet – precisely why I avoided big-box store speakers in favor of Zu.
I consider myself lucky that I got a pair of Dirty Weekends – one of my better audio decisions. After three years of listening, I am still enjoying them. Sure, if I won the lottery and had a dedicated audio room, I would love to own Zu Definitions (now up to Mk. IV status with the Series 6 announced for spring 2022), sort of a monster version of the DW with built-in subwoofers weighing in at 150 lbs. and $8,450 each. Not that it matters, but my upgrade window is long-gone. However, the one-year trade-in policy remains in effect for new buyers, and fortunately, there will still be occasional DWs available to other budget-minded audiophiles. I hope people still manage to get a pair – even as a secondary party set – because Dirty Weekends are so much fun, and loud, realistic, and good-looking. To anyone else who intended to get a new set in the unpredictable future, remember what George Harrison sang, “all things must pass.” Whether it’s good or bad, nothing lasts forever, especially a great audio bargain.