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Positive Feedback ISSUE11
as reviewed by Francisco Duran and Ed Morawski
Looking back at my last few reviews, I see that, for the most part, they have all been very positive. There were three sweet little tube amps in a row and a killer pair of speakers from Canada. What's not to like? Now, to further put my credibility into question, come the Druid speakers from Zu Cable of Ogden, Utah. Putting on a critical hat was not easy while the Druids were playing music at my house. Add to that their unique looks and you get a recipe for play, not work. Also add the fact that at the time that the Druids were here, I not only had my own stable of three amps, but the above-mentioned tube integrateds to hook up to them. The Druids brought out the sound character of the review samples with ease, making life just that much easier for yours truly.
A pair of Druids was sent to us almost two years ago, but due to shipping damage, they had to go back to Ogden. They say that love is wonderful the second time around, and in 2003 we received another pairbut not just any pair. The speakers we got were none other than the red ones with flame accents that Zu had been running at the 2003 CES. The new speakers were also upgraded versions of the original Druids called the Druid 2 composites. As Zu puts it, these are "a complete rework of our groundbreaking loudspeaker." They differ in several important ways from the originals, and from the other Zu models currently available. The enclosure is made from a graphite composite, laminate wood core, torsion-box enclosure. Zu claims that "the laminate wood core combines with the graphite fiber shells to dramatically lower box resonances." This statement can be verified by the old knuckle test. Rapping or slapping on the cabinets, no echoes or hollow sounds came back to me. Knocks seem to dissipate in the box very quickly. This stiff but relatively light construction will be preferred by anyone trying to move fifty-inch speakers into position in their listening rooms.
Other new and noteworthy features are higher tolerances on the Zu260Fr driver and its motor, 1 % tolerances on the supertweeter high pass network, and silver alloy leadouts. The number of solder joints was reduced, and wire runs shortened. Also, Zu's Ibis cabling now connects everything inside. Zu also claims to have a new, blemish-free, high durability finish, and I bet they would paint the speakers in any color you want. This isn't just a tweeter swap with "Mark II" slapped on the end of the name. At first glance it is the same speaker, but upon closer inspection, Zu has significant changes while not drastically changing the design of the speaker.
A few more features before we learn how the Druids sound. You have two choices for speaker connectionthe B-3 input and a pair of unplated Cardas posts are both provided. The Druids are 101dB efficient, with a dynamic range of 103dB and a nominal impedance of 12 ohms. Zu says that just about any amplifier can be used with this speaker. I used six different tube amps and one solid state amp, and in each case got results that were satisfying and musical. One more thing: If you are afraid to dip your toe into the water, they come with a sixty-day money back guarantee!
What started my interest in single-driver speakers was a joint effort of Diycable and Adire, the HE10.1a coax design with a 10-inch driver and 1-inch compression tweeter in the center of the woofer. The HE10.1 was a fine sounding speaker, especially considering the price, and one of its strengths was the ability to present music in a very coherent manner. Music didn't sound sound chopped up and put back together through a crossover and multiple array of drivers. Although the HE10.1's midrange was slightly recessed, and its top end a little rounded off, that uniformity of sound, along with an ease of dynamic expression, made it one hell of a fun speaker.
Enter the Druids. Fifty-two inches tall, with 10-inch drivers and supertweeters mounted topside, and painted red with flames, they cut striking figures in my den. These tall beauties generated quite a few interesting comments from audio friends and family. Upon first seeing them, one nephew said that they looked like surfboards! Most other comments had the word "cool" at least once in each sentence. If the idea is that our beloved audio hobby should be fun, the Druids deliver by the boatload on looks alone.
The biggest strength of the Druids, aside from their efficiency, is their ability to handle dynamics. From the softest passages on discs like Arvo Part's Te Deum to the loudest roar of, say, George Thorogood, they handle dynamics with ease. The Druids respond to dynamic changes with a naturalness that mirrors live music, breathing effortlessly with its ebb and flow like heavyweights that are nevertheless light on their feet, bobbing and weaving yet delivering dynamic punches at will.
Take for example a CD I recently picked up usedThe Skatalites, Ball Of Fire. The first track, a killer cover of the James Bond theme, is done in the Ska style, of course. On this track and another, "Eastern Standard Time," the tone of the brass instruments, the deep pulsing bass and snappy rhythm guitar made the speakers disappear and transported this listener to Jamaica! The music sounded quick and easy, but natural, never forced. The bass on the Druids is deep, firm, and taut. Bass instruments sound very expressive and textured. The quantity of bass should satisfy all but the most bass-hungry audiophiles. It should also satisfy those whose taste runs to the articulate and nimble. That big ten-inch driver isn't slow by any means. These qualities were brought forth through the excellent musical interplay of Christian McBride and the late Billy Higgins on John Scofield's 2000 release, Works For Me. The Druid speakers and my Canary CA-301 amp made for some long listening into the night.
I enjoy listening to Paul Denman, who has played electric bass on many if not all of Sade's albums. The tight sound of this band complemented the Druids' rhythmic and dynamic qualities very well. On songs like "Paradise," from the album Stronger Than Pride or Love Deluxe's "No Ordinary Love," Denman displays his prowess on his instrument. The Druids sounded solid and appropriately deep on these cuts. The tonal balance was very even, with no imbalances in the lower registers. Of course, we are not talking about sub-20 Hz bass, but the Druids managed to convey the low-end message very well.
I then reached for the Stereophile Test CD 3. This disc is a cheap and cheerful way to get an idea of how a pair of speakers stand in the bass department. Except for a volume level adjustment due to the different sensitivities of the Druids and my Spendor 2/3, the two pairs of speakers sounded close in this test. I heard a slight but noticeable drop in bass output at 63 Hz from both speakers. There was also a decrease in bass output at 50 and 40 Hz, although a satisfying amount of bass was heard on both speakers at these points. At 31.5 Hz, the 2/3s edged out the Druids, but just barely, although there was not a lot of bass energy from either pair of speakers down there. The perceived difference between the two speakers was that the Druids' lower bass was more full and had more authority. Those with solid state amps will no doubt have different, perhaps better results, but I am sure that they will lose out in the areas of tone, texture, and timbre. By the way, spikes are an absolute must if you want any kind of bass reproduction from the Druids. Without the spikes, mid to lower bass was almost nonexistent. Since the Griewe bass loading exits from the bottom, this makes senseyou don't want to cover up the exhaust pipe!
I was having so much fun with the Druids that in went Jethro Tull's Stand Up CD. The standout for me on this disc is Glen Cornick, the bassist. His articulate playing on cuts like "A New Day Yesterday" and "Bouree" is a musical tour de force. Jethro Tull could play anythingblues and jazz to folk music were interwoven in their tunes with expert musical craftsmanship. The Druids delivered this music with a speed, delicacy, and effortlessness that spelled pure enjoyment. Suspended disbelief transported me to the days of my youth. Who says we don't have time machines? Mine were tall and red, with flames.
The Druids' treble ranges exhibited all of the speed and clarity needed to reproduce Ian Anderson's flute in a satisfactory manner, by which I mean it was never splashy or bright, but detailed and realistic, as a flute should be. Another new disc in my collection is Silk Road Journeys featuring Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. There is some interesting music on this CD. High frequencies are in abundance, from a Persian hammer dulcimer to the challenging vocals (to these ears, anyway). The Druids handled them well. There was no rolling off of the highs. The Audax supertweeter extended the treble range with a smooth yet detailed presentation. The treble of the old Druids was an issue with a few of our writers, who felt it was bright and thin. Not so with the new Druidsfor the most part, the treble ranges were well balanced.
At this point, I swapped my Analysis Plus speakers cables wires for the Zu Ibis, which proved to be a real ear opener. The Ibis cables really let the speakers speak for themselves. There was no excessive brightness, no trace of glare, and at the other extreme, no dullness at all with the Ibis. The Ibis cable brought an inner resolution and air to the proceedings that were as natural as all get out. The music now sounded more relaxed, open, and inviting. There was a better sense of truth of timbre and less of an artificial, "hi-fi" sound. Use your own speaker cable at your peril. The quality of the Ibis/Druid matchup was brought to its full glory with symphonic music. The inner detailing drew me into discs such as Samuel Barber on Argo doing Adagio for Strings and his Symphony No. 1, or Copland Conducts Copland on CBS Masterworks. The Analysis, good as it is, sounded a little bright.
The strength of the Druid/Ibis combo spilled over to the soundstage, most notably on Pat Metheney's disc, Secret Story. On "The Longest Summer," the piano had just the right amount of sparkle, weight, and bloom. When Metheny broke in with his guitar synth, it filled the front, sides, and back of the stage and surrounded the piano. The Druids could be placed closer to the back wall than the Spendor 2/3s without losing a lot of depth. The Druids are more up front in comparison to the Spendors, which are more laid back. The Druids have an open sound that is very inviting. They bettered most of the speakers that I have had in my room, with the exception of the Living Voice Avatar OBX speakers that I heard a few years ago.
In further comparisons with the Spendors, the Druids were slightly cooler, cleaner, and faster, but these qualities did not equate to leanness. From the lower midrange on up, the Druids had it all over the Spendors. They had a fuller and more solid sound. The top end was a tad less bright and the bass slightly more taut and extended. The Druids also had cleaner, more distinct transients. Drum strikes and the like were quick, sharp, and naturally fast, which made dynamic shadings more easily heard, and in turn made it easier to communicate with the music. If not as sweet as the Spendors, the Druids were more full. Vocals were also more intelligible, and there was more inner detail and better separation of instruments. This made the Spendors sound flat and slightly squeezed in comparison.
The Zu Druid loudspeakers were quite a hit at the Duran household, but should you consider them as a permanent part of your music rig? If you want a musical, full-bodied, and very efficient speaker that is fast and super nimble, and which gives you a complete and solid musical picture at all volumes, the answer might be yes. The Zu folks are also people of integrity. One gets the feeling that they are in this business for the long haul. Needless to say, highly recommended! Francisco Duran
To those of you who are envious of reviewers, let me say that it is hard work. Just carrying equipment can be backbreaking. Constantly changing connections can be tedious. Then there is the hardship of having to listen to components that are not as good as your own. Worst of all, though, is writing reviews of boring equipment. So many components look the same, do the same, and sound the same that it can drive you crazy. Once in a while, though, something comes along that makes the reviewer's life worthwhile. The Zu Druid loudspeakers certainly fit in that category. I was familiar with Zu, having purchased a few sets of their reasonably priced but good-sounding cables, but I wasn't quite ready for the Druids.
Their design is different. The pair I received were bright orange, with flame graphics! It took me back to my teenage years. There are so many unique things about the Druids that I had to make notes. First, the Druid uses a full-range driver, then adds a supertweeter. Second, the tall, very shallow cabinet is made out of a composite material designed, among other things, to provide maximum damping for the drivers. (Zu calls it Griewe driver loading.) Even the base is differenta thick block of metal with the biggest spikes I have ever seen. Around back are Neutrik Speakon connectors that mate with Zu's speaker cables and Cardas binding posts for use with other cables.
I tore my system apart and replaced my cables with Zu cables, then placed the Druids in the corners. The speakers are not ported, so you can pretty much place them wherever you want. I immediately noticed how efficient the Druids are. I had to turn my volume control way down because they were at least twice as loud as my reference speakers at the same setting.
Like their looks, or like a good scotch or fine caviar, the sound of the Druids takes a bit of getting used to. I don't mean to be clever hereI'm just stating a fact. My immediate impression was one of brightness, but I quickly discovered that this was due to the amount of detail coming through the supertweeters, even at extremely low volume. In my opinion, Zu's addition of the supertweeters was a stroke of genius. I don't believe the Druids would be such standouts without them. This, along with the detail and smoothness of the full-range driver and the lack of crossover, with its consequent phase coherency, imparts such total neutrality that the results are breathtaking.
Zu claims a sensitivity of 101 dB @ 1m with 1 Watt input. Although I did not test this, I believe it. A tiny 10-watt tube amplifier from Sophia Electric powered the Druids to quite adequate listening levels in my small room, and it also complemented the smoothness of the Druids, making for a very sweet combination. The Druids seem to have been born to be mated with a tube amp. Nevertheless, for most of my audition, it was powered by my Plinius SA-102 with an Accuphase DP-65V CD player as the source. I played around quite a lot with placement, and the speakers sounded just fine about two feet from the rear and side walls and toed in about ten degrees. In this position, there was plenty of soundstage and the imaging was spot on. I originally feared that the Druids would be too tall for my room, as they stand about fifty inches high, but this turned out to be completely unfounded, especially since the super tweeter is mounted under the full-range driver. In my listening position, I could detect no anomalies because of their height.
The ability of the supertweeter to pick out the most minute details without imparting any harshness amazed me. While I have heard this level of detail with other speakers, including my reference pair, everything seemed much more focused through the Druids, while fixed precisely in the soundstage. The imaging of the Druids is really something.
I generally like to discuss certain recordings during my reviews, but it seems rather pointless here. Every CD I played sounded totally neutral, without either warmth or coldness, harshness, or brightness. The Druids render acoustic music very well, but will definitely rock when called upon to do so. Although I have some badly recorded CDs, the Druids made them all sound good, despite their ability to reproduce extreme detail.
What are the downsides? If you are looking for warmth or room-thudding bass, look elsewhere. Bass is not emphasized in any way, so if you like tons of low end you may be disappointed. The bass is certainly there, but the Druids do not call attention to it. I did some tests with Stereophile's Test CD #1 and my Radio Shack sound meter, and found that in my room, the bass extended down to 40Hz, then fell off rapidly.
As I say, the Druids take some getting used to, so do yourself a favor and get acquainted. Ed Morawski
Zu Cable and Loudspeakers