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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: 2TB iMac 27" quad-core with 16GB of RAM (AIFF) running OSX 10.8.2 and PureMusic 1.9 in hybrid memory play with pre-allocated RAM, Audirvana 1.4 in direct/integer mode, Metrum Hex, SOtM dX-USB HD with Super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s
Preamplifier: Bent Audio Tap-X, Esoteric C-03, ModWright LS100 with Psvane CV181-T, TruLife Audio Athena
Power amplifier: FirstWatt S1 monos, SIT2; ModWright KWA100 SE, Bakoon AMP-11R, Clones 25i [on review]
Loudspeakers: Zu Audio Essence
Cables: Complete Zu Event loom, KingRex uArt split USB cable with Bakoon BPS-02 uninterruptible battery supply
Powerline conditioning: GigaWatt PF-2 on amps, GigaWatt PC3 SE Evo on front-end components
Equipment rack:
Artesania Esoteric double-wide three tier with optional glass shelf, Rajasthani hardwood rack for amps
Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
Review Component Retail: starting at $6.495/pr, $5.000 for Submission subwoofer

Remember the Druid?
Some 9 years ago Zu's original black Druid marked the spot which put the company on the map. When I crossed its path, the brand already had traction in the PRC and Hong Kong but very little at home. Forward to 2012. The mainstream press has long since caught wind. In the small world of higher-efficiency aficionados, Zu has become a household word. How might a bold marketeer broadcast the Druid's relaunch into this scenario? The return of a legend? Arguably too bold. But replace legend with classic and things suddenly gel. There was after all something distinctly iconic about that stylized black&white image. Remember how it showed a young man walk away from the viewer, Druid slung casually across his shoulder like a pair of skies? My writeup of it had turned out instrumental for the firm's early development. It felt distinctly à propos to now return to that scene of May 2005.

2012's version of that image

I'd then been living in a tiny earthship in New Mexico's high desert abutting the Sangre de Christos mountain range of Taos. Julia Robert's vast Arroyo Seco estate bordered on our landlord's small property. One of her many dogs was a frequent visitor slipping through the fence. I had no notion that I'd be running 6moons out of Switzerland during the Druid's next incarnation. Or that my fascination with valves would have been mostly replaced by equally low-power transistor amps, my CD player by an iMac plus USB DAC. Or that I would have worked my way through Zu's catalogue by adding the Method sub to that first pair of Druids; moved on to the Definition II; upgraded to the Definition Pro which accompanied me to Coral Bay beach in Cyprus; and 7 years later still own a pair of Zu Essence. Think of Essence as a kind of super Druid. Similar profile, twice the depth, with a ribbon tweeter.

Sean Casey and Garrit Koer of Zu at CES 2012, photos compliments of Pete Davey's PFO Online show report

Returning Zu to its roots revised and presumably much improved, the Druid V's obvious role is brand ambassador. It's thus got to incorporate all Sean Casey and collaborators have learnt over 12 years in the biz. This would include manufacturing process to affect cabinetry, metal work, paint/veneer finishing and their own hookup wiring; lengthy research into new nano compounds and chemical treatments to strategically apply those to Zu's trademark 10.3" twin-cone widebander; refinements to the latter's motor; a completely new aluminum alloy tweeter with Mylar surround based on a 2-inch Radian 850 compression driver platform; a more sophisticated version of Zu's original Griewe loading scheme which borrows from motorcycle exhaust air-flow management; and finally hard-earned experience on how to correlate subjective listening impressions with specific design decisions.

Finally to carry on that classic name with utter conviction, the Druid V had to purposefully look the part. It couldn't be anything but an angular 1.5-way with an openly run widebander on top and a lone high-pass filter on the auxiliary tweeter below. Its form factor and overall dimensions had to spell Druid in no uncertain terms. And for 2012 there would be more bandwidth, higher resolution, greater linearity and deeper sophistication. Plus at least 97dB sensitivity preferably at 12Ω or higher to accommodate low-power SETists. Given allowable ingredients (the same widebander without filter compensation in a shallow enclosure like the original), nailing this renaissance project against the progress made with other models since must have been a tall order to Sean Casey.

Having gone all out on their massive $40.000/pr 400lbs Dominance, going in the probably most important question of this project was concept. Just how much of what Zu could throw at the Druid V should they throw at it? Was this to become a celebration of high value à la Omen below?

Should it become a no-holds-barred statement instead? If so and given the very real constraints of air volume behind that lone 10-incher, just how much luxury trim was reasonable before demands for lower louder bass would conflict with a sticker that moved too upscale? At $3.750/pr the current Soul Superfly already sports a Druid-type driver complement and does so in a fancily tapered enclosure. Should Druid V reach beyond Superfly on price and luxury cosmetics if not necessarily on bass reach and power? Should the design go raving bonkers over custom billet aluminum like Dominance's rippling baffle? Should the standard skins be paint, lacquer or the newer wood veneers which became available long after the original Druid?  
Griewe foam cartridges

Cross branding at the Cleveland International Motorcycle Show with Zu Presence and Essence

Should the V usher in Zu's long dreamt-of custom shop where customers undeterred by special-order lead times could personalize their acquisitions just as the Harley crowd had done for decades? Such questions must have racked Sean Casey's brain. Particularly with this model there was more to it than simple specs and test-bench antics. Relaunching a classic is serious business.