Review: Zu Cable Druid Speaker
Listening Impressions of the Zu Cable Druid Mk. 4
The Zu Cable Druid speakers first caught my interest about a year ago after creating some online buzz among various owners and reviewers. Rated at 101dB sensitivity with a 12-Ohm nominal impedance in a nearly full-range speaker with no crossover, the Druid’s intrigued me; however, I remained skeptical. With the exception of some expensive designs, it seems to me that most speakers of the high-sensitivity variety compromise certain sonic aspects in pursuit of this objective. Not so with the Druid’s, or so the online buzz claimed.
Word on the street was that the Druid’s have all the benefits of a high-sensitivity, crossover-less design without the typical limitations. In fact, these speakers have received so much praise, that I became captivated by the possibilities. Of course, I’m not much of a risk-taker, so I just couldn’t bring myself to order a pair without an audition first; even though Zu offers a generous 60-day trial period and complete satisfaction guarantee. So I waited, until…
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed on the Zu Cable website that the Druid’s would be available for audition at a stereo show in Michigan as part of “Zu on Tour”. Perfect. Finally, I could hear for myself what the buzz is about. So I journeyed out to the show to find out if the hype is justified.
A little off the subject, but worth commenting before I start with an assessment of the Druid’s: Three rooms at the show stood out as superior to the rest. The first outstanding room, as it turns out, was the Zu Cable Druid room. The other two standouts displayed Hartbeth Compact 7ES-2’s powered by a pair of NuForce Reference 9’s, and Magnepan 1.6’s powered by an Audio Research VS110. Amazing. Three systems, using completely different technology, and I could live happily ever after with any of the three.
Adam Decaria, part owner of Zu Cable, presided over the listening room, offering specifications and technical information as well as answering any questions. The Druid’s were powered by a 2wpc Yamamoto A-08 with Emission Labs 45 output tubes. Zu’s own Method sub was on hand as well; however, I listened mostly with the sub off.
As I took a seat and waited for the show to begin, the Druid’s appearance struck me as somewhat imposing. They remind me a little of the monoliths in “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Imposing or not, they look really cool. Well built too. The Method sub looks cool to boot. It has a kind of 1930’s table radio retro appearance. In fact, now that I think of it, the whole company is cool. Zu portrays a hip, fun, energetic image. Check out their website.
As the music started, a thought came immediately to mind. “These are only speakers”. I mean they were clearly very good speakers, but come on! They don’t cure cancer. They can’t drive a car. They didn’t fix me lunch. And they don’t represent music in some profound way that suddenly makes me understand the meaning of life and all the mysteries of the universe. I don’t mean to sound let down, but every time I read about these speakers they are described as “revolutionary”, “ground-breaking”, “phenomenal”, etc. They are certainly designed “outside the box”, but after reading all the raves, no mere speaker could possibly satisfy my expectations.
Before you get the idea that I didn’t like these speakers, let me tell you about the rest of my session. After my initial shock, I settled in and started to listen. I mean really listen. You see, these speakers are a slightly different breed. They don’t instantly amaze with their stunning sound and lifelike realism. Instead, they slowly but deliberately pull you in and captivate you. I’d compare them to a jazz trio at your favorite restaurant as opposed to an arena rock concert. Whereas arena rock is in-your-face, you might not even notice a jazz trio as you sit down to dinner. Then, as you unwind and relax, you notice pleasant music coming from the corner of the room. When the trio goes on break, clearly something is missing and the experience begins to lack something.
The Druid’s behave this way. They’re never, ever in-your-face. They project all the detail you could ever want, but the detail is merely just there. These speakers don’t come to you. They wait for you to come to them.
When you do come to them, you’ll realize that not only are they detailed, but they are also superbly balanced. All areas of the musical spectrum receive equal attention. They aren’t bright. They aren’t boomy or bass heavy. They don’t play solely from the midrange, ignoring everything else. These may be the best balanced speakers I’ve heard.
For this very reason, don’t expect to impress your non-audiophile friends with the Druid’s. The Druid’s are very non-spectacular. They sound very right, very non-dramatic. Non-audiophiles might ask, “Don’t all speakers sound like these?” It’s just the way music is supposed to sound… through speakers.
That’s right. As I said earlier, the Druid’s are just speakers. They don’t follow the trend of trying to be something they’re not. You’ll never mistake listening through a pair of Druid’s for a live event. You’ll also never experience the problems associated with speakers that go all-out to recreate a live event. Namely, listener fatigue.
I could listen to the Druid’s for hours and hours. Their balance is slightly to the full and pleasing side of reality. Very nice for long listening sessions. They are easy to listen to, and I suspect, easy to live with. In fact, I see the primary customer for these speakers as someone who is burnt-out from the hi-fi merry-go-round. Someone who is tired of chasing an unobtainable goal. Someone that just wants to listen to and enjoy music.
Customers of the low-powered single ended triode variety also must try the Druid’s. Anyone tired of compromises to obtain SET magic will love these. You see, the Druid’s don’t have any of the typical shortcomings of high efficiency designs. If you’re a flea-powered type, try these.
As I hinted earlier, if I had to summarize this review of the Druid’s in one word, it would be balance. These speakers truly have the amazing ability to remain consistent throughout the frequency range and with all types of music. Other speakers may outperform the Druid’s in some areas; however it is a rare speaker that that gets so much right with virtually no flaws.
My current system consists of a pair of Cary 805C’s driving Gallo Nucleus Reference 3’s. As I compare the two sets of speakers, please be mindful that this was also my first experience with the Yamamoto amp. For that reason, I can not say for certain the effect of synergy with either of the two systems. The Cary’s and Gallo’s interact in a very special way, each playing off the natural strengths of one another while compensating for weaknesses. Although I can’t be sure, I got the feeling that the Druid’s and Yamamoto’s behave together in a similar fashion.
Let’s start at the bottom. Bass. I use neither the subwoofer amp to drive the Gallo’s second voice coil, nor would I use the Method subwoofer with the Druid. In my opinion, you don’t need them. Both speakers provide plenty of tight, tuneful bass, and have enough extension for nearly all types of music. While extension is nearly the same between the two, the Gallo’s come through with just a little more impact. Of course that may be partly due to 25x’s the number of watts powering the Gallo’s; even if the speakers are less efficient.
On to the midrange. Both of these contenders play on the full, robust side of reality. The Druid’s a little more so than the Gallo’s. The Druid’s are warm, full-bodied, and very easy to listen to. The Gallo’s are similar, but slightly more neutral.
And the treble. The Gallo’s have an extension that you must hear to believe. Not bright, mind you. But oh so extended. The Druid’s, on the other hand, are balanced. The treble, like the rest of the frequency range, doesn’t call attention to itself. Keep in mind, there is no lack of detail, no sense that anything is missing. Just the opposite. The Druid’s offer detail galore. How do they do that in such a subdued fashion?
I’ve always found that the Gallo’s excel with intangible characteristics not necessarily attached to a specific frequency range. Imaging, transparency, texture, etc. This comparison didn’t change my mind. The Gallo’s illuminate music in a way that is positively addictive. The sound glows, radiates, and surrounds the listener. And oh, the texture. What does music feel like? The Gallo’s will show you.
The Druid’s work their magic in a different way. They are more subdued. Just as engaging, but different. Let’s just say that the Gallo’s will have you rushing to listen at every opportunity. In contrast, the Druid’s will keep you listening long past bedtime well into the night.
To buy or not to buy? I honestly don’t know. This one’s gonna take some soul-searching. On the one hand, I would immensely enjoy the chance to try the Druid’s at home. On the other hand, I do love the Gallo’s. Honestly, if I were to order a pair of Druid’s for the 60-day trial, I give them a 50/50 chance of staying. After all, they are up against some tough competition. I’m not sure that it’s fair to Zu to order a pair if I can’t be reasonably sure that I’ll keep them. On the other hand, I’m not sure it’s fair to myself to not give the Druid’s a chance to finish winning me over. Oh how I do wish that I could afford to keep both pairs of speakers.
Gallo Nucleus Reference 3
Von Schweikert VR4Jr
Vandersteen 2Ce Signature
Martin Logan Ascent