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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE
Amp: First Watt F-1; First Watt F-2 [on review]
Speakers: Zu Cable Druid Mk4
Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Stealth Audio Indra (x2), Zu Cable Gede to subwoofer, Zu Cable Ibis, Zu Cable Birth on sub; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; ZCable Hurricane power cords on both conditioners
Stands: 1 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, DAC and amp; 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: $2,500
Zu Cable's Method subwoofer is patently tailor-made to augment its slender Druid siblings [below]. A word is in order then about the Celtic shaman's bass tuning and how it relates to the proprietary Griewe loading. The shallow speaker box is vented out the bottom. The distance of the mesh-covered opening inside the plinth to the floor determines the amount of air pressure that damps the driver. It stands to reason that experimenting with the precise distance of this air gap would fine-tune results. Here's how designer Sean Casey put it: "For the most accurate response on carpet or hard floors, we recommend a ca. 3/4-inch gap. That's using two stacked standard CD jewel cases as a gauge. Simply adjust spike length so two stacked cases will slide between flooring and base. A larger gap height will increase bass amplitude response but also reduce cone damping. Additionally, it increases group delay by several milliseconds. Some users like their bass to sound a bit heavier but most prefer the accurate bass response even though amplitude response is not as great. Lowering gap height below 1/4-inch is not recommended. Users with hardwood or tile need to get our blunted short spikes in place of the long spikes. This reduces damage to the floor and ensures proper gap height."

The Method's low-pass filter corner frequency is adjustable from 40-160Hz and, at 40Hz, at 6dB/octave electrically [above 60Hz, this slope increases exponentially]. The speakers' gap height should be adjusted as recommended to avoid deliberately lowering the Druids' LF extension which would create a greater-than-intended overlap with the subwoofer's lowest setting. With the Method, 20Hz flat isn't an issue. No need to push the Druid. It's all about ultimate bass quality and seamless blending now that quantity is assured even for rave fanatics. Not for nothing has this 2 x 15" subwoofer been named the Method. Doubling up its custom Eminence drivers increases sensitivity and reduces excursion demands, two vital qualities to maintain response times while sticking to the minimum-effort theme that's one of the hallmarks of the high-efficiency genre.

Riding the hi or lo country is the question - connecting the Method line-level or speaker-level. The former is possibly purer from a technical perspective, the latter transfers the main amp's sonic signature to the Method's 100-watt RMS/200-watt peak plate amp. Zu's subwoofer lets you have it both ways. Settle for what you prefer. At my request, Zu had included an 8' run of their Gede interconnects since my cable inventory didn't include anything longer than 3'. A Zu Birth power cord is standard Method equipment.

Before you think of a 100-watt sub amp as underpowered or marginal at best -- after all, the competition prides itself on 2000-watt monsters -- consider our efficiency angle. The Method is good for 96dB efficiency at 20Hz and closer to 100dB at 40Hz, with 120dB SPLs of non-distorted output claimed possible before THD bares its yellow fangs while your ears have long since fried and your beloved wall art crashed to the floor, its glass covers shattered to smithereens.

In keeping with Sean Casey's obsession over transient fidelity and minimum group delay (all related to precision timing), the Method avoids the resonance issues of vented alignments by being sealed. However, it's not an acoustic-suspension design to sidestep the modulation issues of "loose cones in a tiny box" as Casey put it. The primary restoring force of its two paper cone, pleated surround 15-inchers is the driver suspensions. A Thiel-style acoustic lens sports two front-firing mesh-covered openings 4 inches wide and interrupted by the Zu logo. This lens floats on six 1/4" long stand-offs. Considering these design elements, I fired off a single e-mail sentence to Sean: "About that acoustic lens - I assume the .25" gap in conjunction with the 4" wide opening creates an optimized 'mechanical impedance' for the driver to assist in front-loading it for increased control?"

After all, certain popular subs are primarily concerned with maximum SPLs (and nearly always at the expense of gross distortion). To not lag behind the Druids' superior self- damping achieved with their Griewe loading, the Method sub nearly by definition had to also become a poster child for control and speed. Speed requires minimized excursions. What controls excursions? Self-damping. To obtain the necessary output then mandated increased surface area for proper displacement. Hello 15" transducers for a cone area roughly four times larger than a 12" woofer, eliminating the need for long over-hung voice coils. This all made sense. I was sure that solid math tied together all the mechanical variables on tap here: cubic air volume trapped inside the box; gap height; width and length of the front-firing openings; how those factors combined with driver sensitivities to determine required amplifier power. Added Sean Casey: "The lens acts as both a mechanical low-pass filter and to help balance the impedance on each side of the driver. It does not affect the polar response below 200Hz. It's technology from the 20s that's gotten lost. I can't take credit for it except to implement it properly."

At 32" tall by 17" wide by 12" deep, the Method definitely won't go into hiding but its cosmetics cleverly break up the monolithic black look of pure utilitarianism which can run somewhat rampant in the testosterone-driven segment called subwoofers. And while some of the entries in this field aren't properly deserving of the prefix sub (as in below the woofer), the Method clearly wears that designation not with just pride but full justification.

You get to chose between signal-sensing or hard power on/off; 0°/180° phase; continuously adjustable low-pass and volume; and lo/hi-level i/o ports to either augment your main speakers (going into the sub but not out) or filter the mains (looping in/out through the sub to send a bass-filtered signal to the mains). In the latter case -- not recommended by Zu -- the high-pass automatically mirror-images whatever low-pass is selected with the crossover control.

Because the First Watt F-1 I'm currently listening to is a very unconventional current-source amp whose outputs are driven in balanced mode, I hesitated to connect its outputs to a subwoofer that might sum left/right channel grounds and cause upstream problems. Low-level connection via the second output of my ModWright SWL 9.0SE preamp it thus was, the Zu Gede interconnects carefully routed to stay away from the sub's Birth power cord. My listening space has 45-degree corners and the Method found itself placed 18 inches off that short bend.

The first thing any prospective Method actor will discover? This subwoofer has output up the proverbial. This is where I set the level control to deliver appropriate bass [right]. The
second thing you'll notice and confirm when you turn off the amp powering your mains? This subwoofer is tight, precise, articulate and "fast", meaning drum beats stop when they should and don't ring out. Ditto for transients. There's no confusion or splattering, something driven home by the machine-gun trills of The Sultans of Rhythm, a Turkish percussion group whose members are faster than computer-controlled drum machines.

THX fiends with their silly SPL meters would have a heyday measuring the Method's brutality factor - how loud it'll go, what kind of structural damage it'll inflict. Music lovers of course won't give a damn. They'll be far more
interested whether this sub blends for an effective two-piece speaker system or stands out as a separate third entity. If you set it too loud, it will attract attention - not by being localizable when the low pass is set to 40Hz but because the lowest octave is unrealistically prominent. If you obey realism, however, there's no telling that a sub's in the picture until you open your eyes and know that the Druids by themselves couldn't possible pull this stunt.

Vitally responsible for this seamless coherence are two aspects - tone and texture. Paper-cone drivers tend to have a particular sound, a theme that here continues unbroken from the Druid's 35-15,000Hz full-ranger to the Method. There's no discontinuity of tone, something solo piano or double bass would instantly point out. Think Jacques Loussier or Renaud Garcia-Fons.

There's also no mismatch of texture, something the disparity between horn-loaded mid/tweeter (high-efficiency ease) and sealed powered subwoofer (brute force muscle) made challenging to dial in perfectly with my previous reference speaker, Avantgarde Acoustic's famous Duo.

Texture differentials can arise by different routes. If the means of reproduction over different frequency bands are vastly different, there'll be a difference of feel from the lowest to the highest note, something our brain will register even if we need to focus on exactly why something doesn't seem quite right.

If leading-edge acuity differs -- sharper in one spectrum, softer in another -- our brain perceives another red flag. This can occur with what I call cyborg bass. It's made up of brutally chiselled bass transients that are too dry and overdamped to suggest a disconnect from how bass notes bloom and decay in unamplified music.