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American Beauty: Finally, an ultra high-end speaker that doesn't cost a fortune!

The Audiophiliac discovers an American speaker manufacturer building a high-value, ultra high performance speaker. It's his Speaker of the Year!

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read
The Speaker of the Year! Zu Audio

The Zu Audio Driud Mk. IV is the Audiophiliac's Speaker of the Year! As a former hi-fi salesman and now as a professional audio reviewer for twelve years I've heard thousands of speakers, but the Druid hit me hard. A total rock & roll animal, the skinny monolith/tower feels tremendously powerful, and my samples look extremely cool decked out in brilliant red metallic paint. I initially reviewed the speaker in the March, 2007 issue of Robb Report Home Entertainment. I'm still listening.

A number of American and Canadian speaker manufacturers now outsource production while maintaining sky high pricing, but Zu's home grown speakers are built with outright lavish quality standards and still sell at the low-end of high-end pricing (starting at $1795 a pair for the smaller Tone speakers). Zu also offers a center channel, surround speakers and subwoofers for home theater fans. All are sold factory direct, with a 60 day money-back satisfaction guarantee.

The Zu Druid Mk.IV is a large speaker, 50 inches tall, 11 wide, but since it is just 6.3 inches deep, it does not seem all that imposing. Yes, at $3,400 a pair, it ain't cheap, but it's less than some folks paid for a pair of scalped tickets for last night's Led Zeppelin concert in London. And I have a feeling Druids will still sound great long after a $3,400 flat screen display winds up decomposing in landfill. High-end audio is built to last--video not so much. It certainly gets old real fast, anybody out there still have their $15K first generation plasma set?

Zu speakers are assembled and finished in Ogden, Utah, and almost all of the parts are made in the US including the Druid's 10-inch full range driver and tweeter (Zu assembles and tests the drivers in-house). Keeping production at home allows Zu to offer all sorts of custom options and finishes, and you won't find any plastic parts in a Zu design. The speaker's internal silver alloy wiring is made by Zu, and instead of typical speaker wire binding posts, the Druid features a nifty copper clamping system to secure the speaker cables. Every detail of the design is first rate.

Zu's design methodology is more musical and less measurement oriented than most, which is not to say Zu's engineering is completely seat of the pants, just that the end result produces a sound that is, well, different than what I am used to. That said, the rhythmic pulse of jazz, reggae and all sorts of dance music is communicated with an energy that is far ahead of any I've heard from speakers of the Druid's size and price class. And yet the speakers' poise on classical music reveals a wonderful sense of refinement.

Voices emerge fully formed, more believably human: Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Jack White, Jeff Buckley, and Bob Dylan all but materialize in my living room. Stereo imaging is another strong point. On disc after disc the Druids display an uncanny ability to disappear as sources of sound. Depth and spaciousness are truly excellent. They sound great cranked way up loud, and yet sound awesome teamed up with the puniest of amplifiers.

Zu is clearly a force to be reckoned with.