This review page is supported in part by the sponsor whose ad is displayed above
Reviewer: Stephæn Harrell
Analogue Sources: Nottingham Analogue Studio Space Deck; NAS Space Arm; Dynavector 17D2MKII; Dynavector 20xl; AT OC9; Walker Audio Precision Motor Controller
Digital Sources: Tube Research Labs-modded Sony SCD-2000ES; secondary: TRL-modded Sony SCD-CE595, TRL-modded Sony DVP-NS900V, TRL-modded Alesis ML-9600 High-resolution master disk recorder
Preamp: Herron Audio VTSP-1A; Herron Audio VTPH-1MC; secondary: PSE Studio SL
Amp: Art Audio PX-25 with Sophia output and rectifier tubes; secondary: Audio Zone AMP-STi
Speakers: Cain & Cain Company Studio Series Intermediate Ben with cryo-ed 168 m. Fostex Sigma drivers; REL Strata III; secondary: Omega Grande 6, Sound Dynamics RTS-3; Zu Cable Druid Mk.4 [on loan]
Cables: Audience Au24 cables and interconnects; TG Audio Lab custom copper interconnects; secondary: Analysis Plus cables and interconnects
Stands: Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier; Cain & Cain amp stand
Isolation: main: none; secondary: Acoustic Dreams Dead Ball Isolators; Neuance platform
Powerline Conditioning: BPT 3.5 Signature; cryo'd Pass & Seymour wall outlets; Audience powerChords, T.G. Audio Lab SLVR power cords, Analysis Plus Power Oval; secondary: Brick Wall PW8R15AUD
Sundry Accessories: HAL-O® Vacuum Tube Dampers, Herbie's Way Excellent Turntable Mat, VPI 16.5 record cleaner; Shun Mook Valve Resonators; Auric Illuminator, Walker Audio VIVID CD & DVD Enhancer; Walker Audio SST Super Silver Treatment; Epiphone Dot (Gibson ES-335 knock-off); Epiphone Chet Atkins CE; Fender Blues Jr. amp
Office System: Gibson J100x
Room Size & Treatments: 26' x 18' x 9' - ASC Tube Traps and Sound Planks; Echo Busters absorbers;
Review component retail: $2,800/pr
|Q: How many FedUp employees does it take to follow simple instructions?
A: I don't know. It's never happened.
I explicitly asked to be called when the speakers arrived so I could pick them up at the terminal after work. Why? Because, to any audiophile, it's axiomatic that no matter what time of day FedUp attempts to deliver that new toy, no one will be around to sign for the package. Right as rain, I came home to a tag on the doorknob saying they attempted to do exactly that for which I had tried to save them time and money. Furthermore, the tag threatened that they would try again. Tomorrow. Gevalt!
|I called the 800 number and persuaded them to let me rescue the parcels from the
|terminal the next day. Happy and home with the goods, I proceeded to remove the down-to-earth but very effective packing that had kept the goods out of harm's way. Shortly after releasing them from their bondage, I proceeded to wire things up for what I expected to be a 250-hour undisturbed break in. Oddly, my better half (who never wants to hear gear fresh out of the crate) insisted I set them up, straight away and in the main system. Although I was curious too, the reviewer in me began to explain that it would be unfair to expect too much. I then experienced an ohnosecond -- you know (derived from nanosecond), that miniscule fraction of time in which you realize you've just made another mistake -- when she said, "Fine."
Oh no! All married men know 'fine' is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up. So I did what had to be done. The brief listening session was a somewhat surreal experience. Startling transients that were bigger than life and bass that roamed everywhere - those were among the aural psychedelics we were treated to. She quickly concluded that they "sucked" and sighed loudly. Tempted as I was to come back with "I told you so," all married audiofools also know that even though not actually a word, the loud sigh is not to be misunderstood. The loud sigh means she thinks you're audistic (an audio idiot) and wonders why she is wasting her time standing there with you and your boxes. Needless to say, I am making great strides on the path to appreciating my incompetence. I am learning when to keep my mouth shut.
Into the den then went the Druid. Absent the availability of a local Rap station, they were to be beaten into submission with no less than 100 hours of loud, hard-core and raunchy country & western music courtesy of the substantial Sansui TU-717 feeding my AudioZone STi. I had planned for letting them go for a full 250 hours but Mr. VTAF® suddenly showed up less than a week later - with a bottle of Red Truck wine and a subtle demand to hear the latest gear in residence. So I did what had to be done.
After offering up some freshly made pizza and hauling the Druid back into the main system, we spent the next two hours listening, staring at each other in disbelief and generally laughing and scratching about how these little boxes (we're used to much bigger cabinets) could deliver so much presence, punch, stage, tone and pace. All true, but still, something still struck me as a bit off - or, shall I say, not quite complete?
|Back to the dungeon with the Druid. The sentence: another 150 hours of C&W hell of course. Said banishment facilitated, Pete looked around the kitchen I'd thrashed while working dough and stewing sauce and asked, "How many honest, intelligent, caring men in the world does it take to do the dishes?" "Both of them," I said, "but since neither are here, let's head over to Jeff's and check out the Tom Evans toaster oven." Then a voice from the other room. "Go ahead," it said. "Don't worry about the mess." Pete and I looked at each other calculatingly. Every married man knows "go ahead" is a dare, not a permission. So we did what had to be done.
|The next weekend, after all rational residents of our abode had left for an afternoon in the sun, I rolled the Druid out once again. And this time, while playing a multiplicity of music at various volumes, almost everything fell into place. Truthful textures and natural tonal balance, great pace, splendidly articulated instrumental detail and dynamic scaling, and well-developed description of a spacious (when called for) soundstage that would be the envy of many so inclined. And, most notably -- while they sounded great according to all manner of oddioidiot standards -- they were utterly musical. Clearly, the Zu crew is doing great work when it comes to bringing honest, high-value product to the table for reasonable cashish. I found the combination of their full-bodied tone and obvious dynamic agility simply remarkable - and, they fused flawlessly with my REL sub.
|Just one riddle remained. While these speakers do come to life at modest volumes, my listening habits include lots of late-night sessions at lower levels. In order to deliver their best presentation in my system (and they now do), the Druid did ask to be goosed with more gain, thereby generating SPLs higher than what I typically care to listen to - unless the occasion calls for rocking out (which they do, too). What to do, what to do? I had not yet listened to the Libtec speaker cables which (at Sean Casey's insistence) were sent along with the speakers because I never deeply audition more than one new component at a time. But since they were employed in the dungeon during more than 250 hours of burn in, why not give them a try?
|Long story short: That the B3 cable archetype is said to not resemble any known geometry, or that B3, according to Zu, "...affords increased immunity from both electric and magnetic interferences and lower reactance (both XI and Xc) compared to known cable designs of similar conductance and inherent EMI resistance [and] also dramatically reduces the dielectric space penetrated by the electrical and magnetic fields..." may or may not have something to do with my experience of the Libtec in my system (see Srajan's recent in-depth exploration of the Zu design).
|Once introduced to the system, it immediately liberated the music at very low volumes. I am not alone in this observation. Reader David Vair with whom I've briefly corresponded wrote: "Sean and Adam had encouraged me to bring my amps to the Easton PA Show (Zu on Tour), which I did. My amps were the 300B push/pull monoblocks that Les mentions in the 6moons summary of the show. What you observe regarding their cables intrigues me because something bizarre seemed to happen when my amps were hooked up to their cables and speakers: No hum. My amps are already exceptionally quiet but to have no noise on 101dB sensitive speakers is astonishing (I mean, you could put your ear right up to the driver and hear
|nothing). This behavior doesn't happen at home and my current speakers are only 93 dB so I can only surmise that it's the cables? They must be very quiet or noise-free cables."
Very quiet indeed. A very low listening volumes now, I found that the Libtec (starting at $499 per 1-meter pair) allowed important musical attributes to be more clearly conveyed: improved nimbleness and firmed-up definition in the bass; better transparency and coherence in the mid-bass; overall faster transient response; and wider dynamic contrasts. Whew! And these charms are not lost at louder volumes so there's no sacrifices involved.
What this tells me is that, inherently, the Druid always had it in them to deliver this stellar performance at all volumes. At first, my resident cabling was simply a limiting factor. This may or may not be an issue for you. In the end and in other words, the Druid are better than my first two months of listening led me to appreciate - and even then I was convinced that they represented a remarkable value. When faced with this next level of accomplishment, so immediately obvious and ultimately decisive, I pulled out the checkbook and did what had to be done.
Note to my editor: You may question my use of the word Druid instead of Druids. I'm not sure about Zu's intent in naming the speakers but in Old Irish Gaelic, the word for wizard is "drui" (plural: "druid"). Wizard, eh? How à propos for the performance delivered at this price point. Want to dig a little deeper? I did. The words true and tree are joined at the root, etymologically speaking. In Old English, these two words looked