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Upgradeable speakers--everything old is new again

Can you upgrade your speakers? Can you make your old speakers into new speakers without trading up?

Zu's newly reworked tweeter and woofer Steve Guttenberg

You can't make your Nikon D200 DSLR into a D300. If you want the new one, you must buy it.

Even Steve Jobs can't transform last year's iMac into the latest, greatest iMac. And you can't add HDMI switching to your 4-year-old Sony receiver. But...that's exactly the sort of upgradeability that some high-end companies offer.

Take Zu Audio. The company offers an upgrade kit that'll transform any Druid speaker built from 2001 forward into the current Druid Mk 4/08 model for $600 ($800 upfront, with a $200 refund with return of original drivers). Since a pair of new Druid MkIV/08 go for $3,400, the $600 fee seems very reasonable to me. Complete new Zu speakers are sold factory direct with a 60-day money-back guarantee. They are manufactured by Zu Audio in Ogden, Utah.

Last year, I raved about the Druid MK IV speakers and dubbed them Speaker of the Year. So I was eager to install the kit and see for myself if the smart folks at Zu could actually improve this great speaker.

The upgrade kit includes a pair of new woofers and tweeters and all of the necessary tools to get the job done. Examining the quality of the parts and build integrity of the Zu's designs from the inside of the speaker only increased my respect for the design.

New woofers and tweeters Zu Audio

Zu even produced a how-to DVD that shows the installation in real time. Druid owners who'd rather not roll up their sleeves can ship their speakers back to Zu and have the pros handle the job--for free--but the owner pays for shipping. I needed around 50 minutes to complete the upgrades, and I was taking my time. I wanted to get the job done right. The first time.

I popped on a few CDs to check out the new sonics. The treble is now clearer, more detailed, and more dynamic. Bass is also improved, it goes a wee bit deeper and definition gets bumped up. Imaging was always exceptional, and now it's even better. The sound is more holographic and three-dimensional. Owner feedback on the Zu site confirms most of my impressions.

But I'm not so sure all the changes are for the best. Yes, I just ticked off a string of improvements, but for me the pre-change Druid MKIV was more fun to listen to. The un-modded speaker is less good in an audiophile way, but it provided a stronger emotional connection to the music and the upgrade feels less involving. I "get" the improvements, but my gut feeling is stick with the original.

As always, your mileage may vary.