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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Accustic Arts Drive-1; Audio Aero Prima SE [on loan]; Consonance Droplet CDP 5.0 [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Bel Canto PRe2; Audiopax Model 5; Deja Vu 6SN7 preamp [on review]
Amp: Onix SP3; First Watt F-1 [on loan]; Audiopax Model 88; Deja Vu 300B stereo amp [on review]
Speakers: Avantgarde Duo
Cables: Stealth Audio Varidig S/PDIF, Stealth Audio Indra (x2), Crystal Cable Reference interconnects, speaker cable and power cords; ZCable Hurricane power cords on both conditioners
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand and speakers; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell wall sockets; Musse Audio resonance dampers on DUO subs
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan
Review Component Retail: $2,800/pr | $1,159 for matching Isis speaker cable (8.2' pair)

With Nelson Pass' First Watt kitchen table effort about to launch the F2 and F3 low-power transistor amplifiers; with Vinnie Rossi doing the battery-powered micro-power Tripath thing under his cannily christened RedWine Audio banner; with Peter Daniel shrinking his extreme GainClone concept to ever more extreme levels -- and with everything else occurring under these particular skies I don't know about yet -- it had become high time to own a high-efficiency, reasonably priced speaker to test this new breed of amplifiers with. After all, my cherished Avantgarde Duos -- despite their right-on-the-money 103dB efficiencies -- include self-amplified woofer modules. Plus, at $20,000/pr before the ascendant Euro forces the next predictable price increase, they're dead wrong on the money count for this adventure. Zu Cable to the rescue. Certain readers had whispered into my ear about their Druid speaker. Our own John Potis had reviewed an earlier iteration which then still sported an Audax 3/4" soft-dome super tweeter (Audax has since folded its doors). John confesses to very fond memories to this day. On paper, everything else about these speakers (101dB sensitivity; 8.5-octave wide-bandwidth driver with a first-order horn-loaded super tweeter added above 12kHz; modest proportions) also checked out perfectly. Hmm.

A few e-mail exchanges with designer Sean Casey later [co-designer Adam Decaria above with older custom-lacquered CES show unit], I placed my order. If our readers trust our recommendations with their wallets, wasn't it only fair I practiced similar faith in their feedback especially when a number of them, alarmingly synchronicidal, suddenly and very suggestively sang the Druids' praises? A few other items caught my attention. There's the proprietary, from-the-ground-up 10.3" driver. Say Lowther, Fostex, Supravox, PHY, Jordan. The list of manufacturers who specialize in such full-range devices is alarmingly short. Plus, most of them have been around since Noah's ark emptied. That longevity is a very good thing. Still, the prospect of sampling a very contemporary made-in-the-US variant with a nominal 12-ohm impedance is exciting news.

Another new wrinkle was the floor-firing Griewe alignment of the box proper. Ron Griewe was Cycle World's editor-in-chief for fourteen years and has worked as an engineer for several motorcycle makers. He holds patents on performance-enhancing exhaust tuning and has licensed some of his design research to Sean Casey's loudspeaker project.

Further evidence that the Druid wasn't merely another Lowther in a box? Zu's own silver-alloy cable becomes the hookup wire that "cold forges" directly to the driver voice coils for the most direct signal transfer imaginable. Zu's own in-house engineered and manufactured, solid aluminum-billet machined super tweeter was the final frosting on my cake. It justified loosening my purse strings in the noble pursuit of audio reportage. Well, that too. Truth is, I  wanted these for myself. Badly.

I really couldn't see how I could possibly go wrong on this count. I also really dug that here were some younger music lovers with solid engineering credentials who weren't content to follow the usual me-too route. Instead, they spent the time and money to rethink certain dogmas, pursue the path less traveled and focus on specific core qualities close to my own heart: speed, immediacy and dynamics. While audio's never like the real thing -- sometimes it actually sounds better -- the most important attribute for a live-style emotional charge is dynamics. Dynamics, dynamics, dynamics. I'm not referring to ultimate loudness capabilities -- though the Druid is rated to 300 watts power handling -- but to the greased lightning reflexes that manifest in the tiniest of signal fluctuations. For that you need high efficiencies and simpler rather than more complex crossover. Ideally, no crossover whatsoever would be king and concubine. With a split 1st-order tweeter filter at 12/15kHz, the Druid is a crossover-less design for all practical intents and purposes.

Unlike smaller drivers, Zu's 10-incher promises to do sufficient 40Hz bass to not require a subwoofer. To boot, the 12" x 12" footprint (actual box dimensions are 11" x 6.3" x 50" WxDxH) is ideal for where I intend to use this speaker when it's not making appearances in the big rig - close to the wall upstairs, i.e domestically unobtrusive. To be honest, I haven't looked forward to the arrival of anything with as much anticipation in a long while as I do to the arrival of the Druids. Everything already spells clever, friendly, realistic, comprehensively conceived and high performance before I ever see these puppies in the flesh. It's all nice and groovy to flip one's wig over the latest state-at-the-art assault that displaces as much fiscal mass as a new car or serious down payment on a house. It's something else altogether to feel inspired when domestic acceptability is accounted for by size and appearance and real-world appeal secured by within-reach expense. Would the Druid Mk4 be the hammer I expected it to be?

Conceptually, single-driver loudspeakers (this one's technically a 1.5-way) are phase and time coherent though the Doppler effect could be cited when you consider how the high-frequency whizzer cone rides atop the woofer. The day-to-day observable Doppler effect occurs with police or fire sirens. They sound higher pitched as they approach (wavelengths shorten), then successively lower as they pass us and recede into the distance. Theoretically, each time the Druids' woofers move forward, they modulate the tweeter response. Once you do the math and consider the average stroke of this 10" driver -- to calculate possible tweeter response deviations in terms of how woofer distance traveled equates to wave length -- it seems more of a conceptual than audible problem. Still, it's only fair to mention in this context and avoid painting a picture of theoretical perfection. Clearly, if the single-driver ideal were the one perfect solution, nobody would bother with multi-driver designs. The market place rather demolishes any such notions in one brief instance. As usual, it's about priorities. What type of compromises are acceptable to facilitate certain concrete gains that matter more to you than that which is sacrificed?

With the Druid, anyone could comfortably predict a lack of the 20-40Hz band and likely very measurable frequency domain irregularities. However, how audible would these ultimately prove to be? How well would dynamic aptitude be balanced against timbral finesse, high-frequency air and bass heft and extension? Like you, I'll have to wait to find out. Delivery is scheduled in two days when I shall prowl the Hilton's hallways in New York to cover the Home Entertainment show. Consider this a mere teaser then of things to come. In the meantime, read up on the Druid on Zu's website if these factoids trigger your imagination as hotly as they have mine already ...