Sean Casey Shows New Zu Audio Druid Mk. VI in California

Ron Resnick

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Jan 25, 2015
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#1
Sean Casey, Founder of Zu Audio, demonstrated Zu’s new Druid Mk. VI loudspeaker at the home of Phil Ressler, in Woodland Hills, California. Phil, a true SET amplifier devotee and one of the most knowledgeable about tubes audiophiles I have ever encountered, is a long-time client of Sean’s, owning Definitions and Druids for the past 14 years. Phil hosted this private event for Sean.



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It was a real pleasure to spend some quality time with Sean. Sean is a very charming and entertaining mix of cool, outdoorsy, Utah hipster; boyish excitability; and deep technical audio knowledge. He is the rare designer who makes audio geekdom fun! (My test is: “Is this audio designer fun enough and normal enough to introduce to my non-audiophile wife?” Sean definitely passes the test.)


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The new Druid Mk. VI literally is all new, with a new full-range driver, a new tweeter and a new cabinet construction. The two most important ways in which the new speaker improves upon the Druid Mk. V appear to me to be the new full-range driver and the new cabinet. The new cabinet, according to the Zu Audio website, “is a wood cored fiber reinforced composite complete with full filleting.” Sean told us that the new cabinet is lighter in weight than the prior design, but is significantly more rigid.

The build quality of the Druid Mk. VI appears to be very high. Look closely at the perfect machining of the metal base!


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The vinyl replay components in Phil's Druid system (Phil has two complete analog playback systems, one in the living room and one in the dining room) include a vintage Luxman PD-444 direct drive turntable with an Ortofon Meister Silver SPU. The turntable has been modified by replacing the sprung and foam-damped factory feet with one pound brass cones, threaded for leveling, and resting on Aurios media bearings. The Luxman has two tonearms installed: Victor models UA-7082 and UA-7045. The SPU rides on the UA-7082 tonearm. The SPU is connected to an M2Tech Joplin Mk. 2 analog-to-digital converter ("ADC") which in turn is connected to an M2Tech Young Mk. 3 digital-to-analog converter ("DAC"). Both are powered by the M2Tech Van der Graaf linear power supply. The Joplin Mk. 2 ADC and the Young Mk. 3 DAC together perform the phono preampfification. In this setup RIAA equalization is performed in the digital domain. (Phil kindly provided me the model names and technical details of these digital components.) The line preamplifier is a Melody Pure Black 101, and Audion Black Shadow mono amplifiers with 845 power triodes drive the Druids. All cables are by Zu. There is a JohnBlue super-tweeter atop each Druid; it is an experimental addition.

It is sacrilegious to me to digitize a phono signal, but I have to admit that the M2Tech A-D-A sounded inexplicably non-digital. (We did not do a direct comparison to an all-analog signal chain, however, so this impression is not terribly valid.) Sean told Phil that he thinks he would not have been able to guess we were listening to an A-D-A signal. I know I would not have been able to guess!



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Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
5,233
96
48
Beverly Hills, CA
#2
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I have heard Definitions Mk. IVs three times at friends’ homes, and other Zu Audio speakers at various audio shows. I understand why Zu speakers have a devoted and passionate, if not large, following. The Zu sound is, to my ears, rich and full-bodied with natural and realistic tone. (“Tonally dense” is how my friend in the English countryside with Definition Mk. IVs driven by NAT Audio SE2SE 211 amplifiers likes to put it.)



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But, candidly, for some reason, I always found the sound to be a bit rough or ragged -- raucous and lively sounding, but not sophisticated sounding. I think this is why Zu speakers have a reputation for making classic rock-type music come alive. I have always liked the rich tonality of the speakers, but I felt there was some lack of smoothness which turned me off a bit.

The new full-range driver, or the combination of the new full-range driver and the stiffer cabinet, has solved completely this issue for me. My single strong impression of the new Druid Mk. VI was that it sounds smoother than any Zu Audio loudspeaker I have heard before. That slight rough or ragged sounding issue I had is gone.

The Druid Mk. VI also sounded more dynamic than the other smaller Zu speakers I have heard. The new speaker rocks out just as much as the prior model, but now that slight rough edge has been smoothed out, leaving a more natural and convincing presentation.



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Sean said this new full-range driver will replace the full-range driver currently in all prior models. So, for example, the next iteration of the Definition model will utilize this new driver. I think this new driver will make the next iteration of the Definition a very competitive loudspeaker to a broader market segment.

Thanks very much to Phil, his charming wife, Frances, and Sean for a very fun and interesting evening!

Zu Audio Druid Mk. VI Specifications:

Druid Mk.VI is a fifty inch (130cm) tall, seven inch (18cm) deep, floor standing loudspeaker system with a footprint of 12–3/4 inches (32.5cm) square. It’s a high efficiency and high power handling design and features our ten inch (26cm) full-range nanotech driver augmented by a Radian based driven tweeter assembly.

The price starts at $9,999.

https://www.zuaudio.com/loudspeakers/druid-r3jpx

Zu Audio
3350 S 1500 W
Ogden, UT 84401
USA
(801) 627-1040
info@zuaudio.com
 

spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
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E. England
#3
Hey Ron, kudos to you for starting this thread.

I'm usually the go to guy for Zu on this forum, but on this occasion I'm v happy to have let you kick things off.

I told you Sean is one of the good guys, he'll be v happy with the boyish enthusiasm accolade.

As you know, I was smitten by the Zu sound in the first 5 minutes of hearing them in 2008, bought the speakers there and then, and a decade later (two sets, major mods to second pair), I remain as much a fan as I was on day one.

I've worked v hard to wring as much improvement out of them as possible, and they've really responded to SETs, room acoustics, and most recently, careful dialling in of subs crossover settings (thanks to Sablon Elite pwr cords here and DDKs suggestion to bring subs in v minimally).

Tonal density and dynamic verve are the watchwords for Zu enjoyment, but I'm the first to admit they're not the best choice for ultimate refinement, transparency or microdynamics.

It seems like the recent evolution of drivers and cabinet are finally addressing these shortcomings.

And if that's true, and the Zu devsity/verve thing isn't diluted, then Zu may finally come of age and really start appealing to those listeners who won't have been their typical customers in the past.
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
6,425
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E. England
#4
Ron, when you say that the slight roughness in my system has been fully addressed by proper audiophile smoothness, I'm presuming you mean there's an extra level of transparency and microdynsmics that the previous drivers/cabinets somewhat obscured.

I totally get this, I've lived w Zu for a decade, and despite my promotion of the brand, I'm fully aware they've never ticked the boxes of those seeking a more insightful, "interior lit" kind of sound.

It's taken me a change of room, clean power grid, careful choice of cables (esp power cords), and hard lessons learnt on subs integration, to wring the last % of performance from them.

Even now however I know more transparent and smoother presentations are out there, horns, Apogees, SOTA box spkrs.

But I'm reluctant to move, because Zu full range driver/high efficiency/zero crossover paradigm I truly believe brings this tonal density/vervey immediacy to the party, and I'm not giving up on the deep textured sound that my Nat SETs are so adept at.

Now I hear from you that one can have it all LOL, keep my current Zu/Nat tonal density and combine it w proper audiophile transparency, w no compromise on dynamics.

Hmm...
 

PeterA

Well-Known Member
Dec 7, 2011
4,963
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North Shore of Boston
#5
Nice write up, Ron. And I like the photos which add a lot to the post. Did you hear the system with out the super tweeters? Also, what is that round thing under the full-range driver? There seems to be a wave guide, but it does not look like a conventional tweeter or a port. How did you find the imaging and sense of presence? Was there a 3D holographic presentation? These qualities are usually pretty good with speakers that have one coaxial driver, at least I have found that with the Fostec? and TAD drivers.

I love the component rack, but that TV and glass coffee table remind me of that "coffee table" thread. Very cool looking turntable.
 

spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
6,425
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E. England
#6
Peter, that's the Radian tweeter.
Zu call it a supertweeter, because the full range driver is going into treble territory, indeed the Radian only comes in at 11-12kHz.

I'll let Ron answer about SQ attributes, he's heard my Zus in depth for a day, and examples elsewhere.

You gotta love Zu Hot Rod paint finishes, that gloss red would not be out of place on a 10x pricier Wilson.
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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Beverly Hills, CA
#7
Thank you, Peter!

Did you hear the system with out the super tweeters? no

How did you find the imaging/3D holographic presentation: I think the speakers were too close to the front wall for me to experience these effects. KeithR, what did you think?

I think presence was good!
 

caesar

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May 31, 2010
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#8
Hi Ron,

Thank you very much for the excellent report! Outstanding photography also!

For rock, blues, and soul music, not audiophile crap, I have never heard another speaker that immediately grabs your emotions and puts one is a spell-bound state where people lose the sense of reality and enter that state of flow. This is the type of stuff audiophiles dream of, but get bogged down thinking of audiophiles terms like "soundstage", "imaging", "slam", etc., and end up wasting lots of money and years of their life. With Zu, forget about the damn audiophile vocabulary!

I'm with guys like Herb Reichert and Steve Guttenberg - For those types of music that I mention, I'm taking a Zu over any Wilson, Magico, Focal, Sonus, or any other type of well-marketed speaker - any time. (I am experientially impoverished with Zu and other music genres.)
 

caesar

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May 31, 2010
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#9
Does anyone know the frequency cutoffs between the main driver and the tweeter below main driver, and also between the lower tweeter and the super-tweeter that sits on top of the speaker? Thanks
 

spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
6,425
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E. England
#10
Caesar, you maintain the prize of only WBF guy to show ANY interest in Zu beside myself (and KeithR who used to be an owner).

Full range driver 35-50Hz depending on room crosses to Radian tweeter at 11-12kHz, levels out at 20Hz.
Hence the supertweeter
 

spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
6,425
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E. England
#12
Caesar, you've nailed it better than I ever could.

Zu IMHO gets the essence of tone and timbre right.

One is immersed and cannot fail to have an emotional reaction.

Now, that can be hate (Ked not a convert), but in our case, deep love and affection.

But as a proud daddy of two sets of Zus over a decade, I'm also honest to admit their rough'n'ready charms don't fully transfer to being ultimate transparent and neutral transducers for classical or other acoustic music.

Here the charms of Zu are a bit of a liability. And a reason why I've gone the extra mile with room, power, cabling, setup.

And got nearly that extra mile.

If it transpires that impvts in cabinet and drivers are truly bridging the gap to a more smooth, transparent and microdynamic presentation w this newest pair, then Zu should be congratulated, especially since there are no reports of what they've always excelled at being jettisoned.
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
6,425
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#13
Hey Ked, we're all big boys here.
Unlike the British establishment that go into collective virtue signalling meltdown the moment ANY criticism is made of certain religions.

Caesar is just encapsulating everything I've always loved about Zu. With no prior coaching.
 
#14
Ron,..thank you for a great review, commentary and photos. Please relay to Phil Ressler that he has a very beautiful and impressive system!
 

cjfrbw

Active Member
Apr 20, 2010
2,160
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Pleasanton, CA
#15
Yeah, I think Zu and Sean are the definition of hipster audiophilia: younger generation who just want good sound in a room and aren't clued in to the creaking shibboleths or cost-hierarchy obsessions of the older guys. He didn't even know who Al Di Meola was at the recent CAS 2018 when I asked him to play my record.

These were the speakers at recent CAS 2018 sans super tweeters. The Zu's are always in some kind of large room with no treatments, and I have always wondered what they would sound like in a more optimized space. I like Sean's imagination in using all kinds of amp chains with them, ranging from Allnic H5000 DHT preamp one year, to First Watt SIT amps in another. Sometimes tubes, sometimes SS. Last year was the Pass Labs XA 30.8, this year was an all-Pass chain with the Pass Labs XA25. The Feynman physics text was a nice touch, sitting on the XA25 without bursting into flame for a Class A design.

Given the limitations of the usual open room environs, I thought the sound with the Pass XA25 was excellent. The XA25 amp is the best Pass Labs sound I have heard to date, and successfully transcend the anti-organic nature of SS without obscuring detail or fundamentals. The combo had tonality, broad imaging, dynamics, etc. etc. and pushed a nice array of my audiophile buttons, anyway.

In the past, I did like the Zu speakers with tubes and the First Watt SIT, but the recent expo was the best yet overall with the XA25.

I notice the host in LA uses the 101D preamp, as well as the 845 tubes, and that must sound great with these speakers as well.
 

spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
6,425
71
48
E. England
#16
CJ, another good summing up of the Zu ethos and Sean as a person.
Too bad he doesn't know Al Di M, I've just spun a whole bunch of his lps thru my Zu Definitions, and he sounds as good as ever.
 

caesar

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May 31, 2010
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#17
Hey Ked, we're all big boys here.
Unlike the British establishment that go into collective virtue signalling meltdown the moment ANY criticism is made of certain religions.

Caesar is just encapsulating everything I've always loved about Zu. With no prior coaching.
Obviously preferences vary among individuals, but I think guys who are really into classical music and guys who listen to rock more than half the time, including to bad recordings (and even Grateful Dead crowd recordings!), very frequently talk past each other in this hobby. And even guys who are deeply into classical can't agree on anything either: valin magico and peter mcgrath Wilson both believe they got the real truth.
 

caesar

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May 31, 2010
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#18
I have no desire to listen to anything but rock, blues, and soul on Zu....enjoy it for what I think its strengths are: reproducing amplified music with spellbinding and goosebump raising emotion, and evaluating the musical performance instead of an audiophile checklist.

And furthermore, every brand that has a strong brand following, also has a strong number of detractors. Many find Magico sterile and many find Wilsons lack transparency. And people feel very strongly about all of it. So it's a good thing
 

caesar

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May 31, 2010
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#19
In Ron's pictures, Zu seems the be finished as well as Wilsons that cost 5tomes, 10 times, and 20 times new as much. Didn't realize their production was that upscale! Wow!
 

spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
6,425
71
48
E. England
#20
Caesar, it's true that Zu will never fully appeal to those listeners who's sole diet is classical, there is just the last bit of transparency missing.

I've worked hard to wring everything I can from my pair, and I enjoy classical more than ever on them.

That's why I'm so happy to hear Ron's report that indeed the one remaining shortcoming in the Zu sound has been successfully addressed w the new model.
 

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