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Ask any speaker designer about the ideal loudspeaker. You'll invariably hear variations on a theme, not by Rossini but on the single-driver point-source pulsating sphere. As your giddy excitement mounts over this exciting concept -- you get it big-time -- you'll hear in the very next breath that no such driver exists. It's pure theory and reality bites. No single driver can cover the whole audible spectrum. Once designers are forced to embrace the multi-driver alternative, why stop at two drivers? The answer to that question becomes obvious when you consider the serious offerings of most makers. Never mind pipe dreams. 'Nuff said.

One of the few holdouts in the keep-it-simple full-range arena is Tannoy. Keep it simple in this case means, stick to two drivers if one alone can't get the job done (but don't go to three or more if two are sufficient). Tannoy's classic dual-concentric Prestige line of 10-15" two-ways in vintage cabinets is very popular in Japan. For some reason, audiomaniacs there don't seem to suffer a peculiar modern notion - that just because a particular technology has roots going back half a decade or so means it's been superseded, outclassed and pronounced unfit for contemporary consumption. While Tannoy's new Dimension series adds the de rigeur 100kHz super tweeter to keep up with the Joneses and them times, their classic stuff does not [left, Westminster Royal].

The Druids remind me a lot of these classic Tannoys except for the obvious - they're a lot smaller and arguably easier to integrate in modern spaces. There are other differences, too. The Tannoys go lower and their main driver doesn't go nearly as high (it crosses over acoustically at 200Hz and electrically at 1kHz). But besides K.I.S.S., these Brits and Yanks share another similarity in one critical regard: high sensitivity. The Westminsters for example are 99dB.

What makes the Zu Druid so radically neo-classical? It looks at past accomplishments of wide-bandwidth drivers with great fondness. It then asks one very pertinent question that eludes most speaker designers working today: What if? What if we revisited certain proven design principles of the past but applied modern-day materials and computer modeling? Why not take things to the next level just like you would with any serious love affair once rose-tinted initial infatuation has past?

Asking that question naturally only makes sense if you consider past accomplishments - well, accomplishments. If you don't think much of 'em, why walk down memory lane? To fully grok the Druid requires more that just conceptual sympathy. It requires an honest appreciation for the past, a sorrow for what has been lost, a disdain for selective ignorance and a longing to get back at the essentials. In the case of Sean Casey and team, it also required a long and hard look beyond the rose-colored glasses to simultaneously assess the weaknesses of existing wide-bandwith driver solutions.

Remember, only the biggest loudspeaker houses fabricate their own drivers. Even stalwart Thiel who does now certainly didn't start out that way. When applied to Zu -- zoo who? -- this simple truth signals a very unique combination of vision, conviction, passion and commitment. Rather than growing as a company to eventually finance the requisite R&D for their dream -- i.e. paying their dues first -- these fellows insisted on all or nothing from day one. To do things right according to their sensibilities meant a from-the-ground-up proprietary driver. Nothing else would do. Now that's balls, brains and brawn all thrown into one kettle. Then season to taste with a special kind of fierce and uncompromising madness. After all, query any audiophile who's never listened to Lowthers about them. "They shout!" Case closed. Why bother reopening it to fight with the majority opinion on full-range drivers (of which Lowthers are the most famous)? This reminds me of Jim Smith who decided to import Avantgardes to the US when everyone knew that horns honk. Everybody would cup their mouth with their hands and prove it to you. Why choose, with great deliberation, to walk down a gauntlet where audiophiles line up to kick you into the gonads armed with thick books of common wisdom, you merely dressed with a thin loin cloth of contrarious notions nobody takes serious enough to inspect without bias? Ouch!

The thing is, there ain't one driver that can do it all. Period. Grappling realistically with that fact from the onset is what sets Zu apart. As you shrink a driver's diameter -- say to 4 inches -- it becomes more and more useable as a tweeter but rolls off in the bass that much sooner. Move driver diameters in the opposite direction and lose high-frequency extension. Where on this axis do you want to pitch your tent? Sean and Adam decided on bass over treble, figuring they'd fill in the missing sheen on top with a deliberately bandwidth-restricted tweeter to have it kick in as late as possible and keep its contribution out of the range where human hearing is exceptionally sensitive to transient fidelity: 1,000 - 4,000Hz. They ended up with a driver whose tonal center remains where it belongs, at middle C. Both the top and bottom octave are equally shelved off. Because the design concept included an add-on tweeter rolled in at 6dB/octave, the full-range driver could be deliberately designed to mechanically fade out at the equivalent rate. Needless to say, keeping things simple by no means equates to easy. Mostly, to arrive at easy means wading through the swamp of complexities first. In case of the midwoofer/tweeter transition here, it means a split-shelf crossover at 12kHz that adds a second knee at 15kHz to alter the slope.

Anthony Gallo's celebrated Reference 3 comes to mind. Its midranges hand over to the radical CDT² tweeter without any electrical filter. That's effing brilliant and only took countless iterations of driver prototyping to change cone curvature and variable cone thickness (among other parameters) before the driver would do in the mechanical/acoustical domain what other designers would attack with a compensation network. So simple ain't easy by a long shot. The same applies to the Zu Cable Druids. They are now in their 4th incarnation. If you were to add a subwoofer, you'd roll it in below 45Hz, possibly lower. It means the main crossover-less driver -- direct-coupled to your amplifier's outputs in other words --covers 40Hz to 12kHz. That's colossal bandwidth. It's at the very heart of why the Druid is special. That and the 101dB sensitivity arrived at without hornloading.

Before I describe my druidic listening adventures, I wanted to cover this background so you understand my enthusiasm and the award that follows it very logically. Here's what we got: A statement speaker for only $2,800/pr. Where other designs that rely on existing drivers have to jump through hoops to extend bandwidth via complex back-loaded horns (translate as expensive and big), Zu Cable uses a very shallow and hence easy to damp cabinet that's simple to make. While the exclusivity of the transducers could be successfully spin-doctored to jack up the price, Zu applied to the pricing issue the same sanity that's already obvious elsewhere in this design. And while I'm no patriot by any stretch -- I see myself as a cosmic citizen first -- I do believe in the "think globally, act locally" admonition. Zu Cable is manufactured in the US of A, not offshore. That may not mean anything to some. However, considering how skewed domestic audio manufacturing has become when you ask about country of origin, this does become another very powerful argument in favor of the Druid.

101dB + 12-ohm load makes for yet another deal clincher. It's the ideal candidate for micro-power amps of any persuasion. There ain't many speakers in the still-affordable sector that can be said of. Regardless of what you think of the micro-power genre, one aspect is beyond discussion - you can get into it very cost-effectively. Once hernia-
inducing get-it-up shenanigans on part of your amplifier are no longer required, you can shop for class and refinement over bestiality. Or do it for a song. $7000 PX-25 amplifiers, $500 tube integrateds, $700 Class-T minis. $1,000 chip-based integrateds - take your pick. What's especially unusual is that you can include arc-welding super amps into this list if you already own one or simply fancy them. Think 300 watts of power handling.

If you add all of these aspects into one big picture; and the upcharge option to go wild on some automotive lacquer finish; and the imminent availability of a monstrous subwoofer ideally equipped to mate perfectly with the Druids; and the imminent availability of equivalent monitor speakers should you decide to do multi-channel ... well, a special recognition is clearly in order to signal to the endless field that is today's audio choices that the Druid is something very unique indeed. Call it retro-chic, call it forward-thinking ultra performance, call it back-to-the-roots home-grown HiFi, call it sane, inspired, realistic, practical. Call it whatever you will but don't stick your head into the sand and overlook it. The Druid is a serious piece of work that accomplishes what often seems mutually exclusive - uncompromised performance with truly special attributes for a very fair price in a decor-friendly package [above for the Harley crowd from a past CES as eye catcher, then still with the old Audax tweeter].

A few more factoids. The main driver's exceptional efficiency was arrived at via deliberate focusing of the magnetic field into the 2" voice coil with a lot of ferrous material including two 1/4" thick plates or pole pieces. While certain compression drivers sport even higher BL factors, the Zu260FR-G2 is up there at 14.5. Behind the phase-plug/lens of the tweeter sits a phenolic softdome whose high efficiency to keep up with the main driver means it rolls off pretty steeply above 22kHz. The new $2,500 Method subwoofer employs two front-firing 15" woofers custom-fabricated by Eminence to Zu's specifications and visually hidden behind an acoustic lens with an upright slot and vented further through a circumferential slot at the base of the 34" x 17" x 12" [HxWxD] cabinet. This sub features a 40Hz 1st-order low-pass and achieves 96dB efficiency at 20Hz, with 120dB playback levels in the listening seat possible before THD begins to rear its ugly head. A 100-watt amplifier with 200-watt transient peak headroom provides the power.

If nearly full-range at $2,800/pr doesn't support your listening habits completely, $5,300 for a three-piece setup will. And not just any three-piece suit, mind you, but a high-sensitivity affair. I earlier said "longing to get back at the essentials." We all apply a different value system to what we cherish most about audio reproduction. The Zu philosophy revolves around dynamics and speed which naturally includes transient articulation and rhythmic fidelity. When you ask yourself how come you
can clearly and spontaneously distinguish live music from canned from outside a window where soundstaging, separation and perhaps even timbre have been - er, thrown out the window... well, what performance aspects do you think make this distinction possible? Hint - the Zu foundation of attributes. Include tone in that as well.