Zu Druid MK IVs vs. Essences

I'm trying to decide between these two speakers and, after reading lots of reviews and impressions on-line, I'm more confused than ever. I'd like to hear what differences Audiogoners have experienced between the two. Of course, I'm not looking for the final word, or consensus - just folks' subjective impressions.

I won't get to audition either speakers, because I'm in northwest Wisconsin and a bit isolated. But I've bought a fair number of speakers without hearing them, so that doesn't worry me. I like revealing speakers that are a bit upfront and I'd rather have scintillating highs and great mids than thundering bass. I even like a little thin-ness in the bass.

Thanks in advance for any impressions you can offer.
This does not quite answer your question, but have you considered the current Zu models, Omen Def and Soul Superfly? Zu does demos, b-stock, etc., that will bring you in at a price competitive with the models you are considering, and the Zu guys are good to deal with. I can't do comparisons, but I heard the Superflys, and I think they could be described as upfront and revealing.

Thanks, John. I thought about that option, but Zu isn't selling directly online right now. They have a notice up that says they will be again soon, but there's no date listed.

I was also thinking - but I could easily be wrong - that the new line of Zu speakers were supposed to fill in some of the lower price points that Zu hasn't met before. I know cheaper doesn't mean worse sound, but I thought the Druids and Essences might be built a little better than the Omen or Soul Superfly models. But I'll be happy to be corrected.
Hi Klein,
I owned the Essence before and now the Omen Defs. I have also heard the Superfly's extensively. The new production are far superior to the Essence in all regards IMO. Much larger soundstage. Great dynamics. Great tonality. Intimate vocals. I have not heard the Druids, but I do believe the current models are supposed to be an improvement so to speak on the Druid line, whereas the Essence were an outlier in the Zu lineup so to speak.
If you don't want a lot of bass, and you like tube amps, then go for the Superfly. Just give Zu a call, I guarantee you that they will make you a pair. Also, they have very good B Stock pricing on EBay where the sell maybe 1 pair per week.
At one time I owned both the Druids and then the Essence. Have not heard any of the new Zu's so I can't comment on them. Between the Druids and Essence the choice probably depends on what kind of music you like. For Rock, I prefered the Druids. For Classical and Jazz I prefered the Essence. I think Zu is very good value for the money but I thought those models lacked the detail that better high efficiency drivers can provide. However, as a stepping stone into the world of high efficiency speakers I think they do a good job.
Sibelius: I would agree that the Essence were better on jazz and vocalists than on rock, hip hop, electronica, etc.. They got really "busy" easily with anything too fast paced. In comparison, the Omen Defs and the Superfly's have much better dynamics, much better detail, while being what I like to call "musical" for lack of a better term. They sound much more like live music and have a much wider and deeper soundstage. And IMO, vocals and jazz and rock and all genres sound better than they did on the Essence. The change was so dramatic and such an improvement that no direct A/B was required. I just got out the boxes for the Essence and put them up for sale within a day. And that was when I was running the Melody I2A3 that 6 Moons raved about with the Essence (it was dead quiet and awesome on both speakers btw).

BTW, Zu has a closeout special on the standard Soul in a very nice Maple for $999. That will be hard to beat at the price.

Best of luck,
Thanks, all. This has been very helpful. I'm going to hold off on buying Druids or Essences. If I do go for a Zu speaker, it will probably be a Soul Superfly or an original Soul. $999 is a nice price, I have to say.

But, based on these comments, I'm rethinking Zu. I really like revealing, detailed speakers, no matter what type of music I'm listening to. I mainly listen to soul, funk, reggae, jazz, rap, afro-beat, and Latin jazz and soul. I'll probably start researching some other brands. I've had a pair of Reference 3a DeCapo MMi's in a low-powered second system for the past two years, and they're my reference speaker right now. But that system is in a little 8 x 10 room. I don't even use a subwoofer, and the 3a's still sound wonderful. But in my large listening room they get lost.

If anyone can recommend a larger speaker that's as revealing and detailed as the Reference 3a's I'd love to hear about it.
Morganc says the Omen/Superflys have apparently more detail than the earlier Zu Druids/Essence models.

What amplifier? Price range?

Other options, Tekton,Tonian Lab, Coincident,Sonist. These are examples of high efficiency speakers with detail,especially the Coincident and Tonian Lab models.
maybe look into Audio Note speakers, crystal clear and easy to drive, also, if you buy the model E, they are nearly full range.

I used to own the Essence. I liked them and agree with above posts. Great for classical and jazz (which is my preference anyway). I foolishly sold them, but after a few other pairs I got lucky and currently have a pair which in my opinion outperform the Zu's: the Omega MaxHemp V2. They come up for sale once in a while. I got this pair with the older Hemp drivers for not much more than what your looking at.
I own Druid Mk 4-08 in one of my Zu-based systems, and directly A/B'd Essence with them in my room.

I've written before here that I consider Essence the least-Zu speaker. It was a successful speaker for Zu in part because it has some characterisitcs appealing to what I'll term the hi-fi buyer rather than the music listener. Essence sounds more like the average hi-fi buyer expects a loudspeaker to sound, while still delivering the essential qualities of a Zu cross-overless design: holistic tone, high efficiency, transient speed and articulation, and excellent octave-to-octave balance.

There are two problems with the Essence that resulted in Druids remaining in my secondary system, and both pertain to the ribbon tweeter. First, because of the supertweeter's relative inefficiency, the FRD had to be dialed back for the two to be in balance. The result is a 4db loss in efficiency in Essence relative to Druid, and it's quite audible. Essence is less bursty, plays with audibly less dynamic life at a given power and generally sound comparatively constrained. Now, if your only prior reference is a less efficient crossover-based speaker, then Essence will sound lively compared to that. But against Druid, Essence sounds a trifle flat. Second, the essential tonal quality of the ribbon supertweeter is mismatched to the tone density of the FRD, and for me it is distractingly zippy and bothersome. There is audibly less unity between the FRD and the handoff above 12kHz.

So for the latter, some people aren't bothered, but then I've yet to hear a ribbon tweeter I can live with. The former issue of detuned dynamic performance to accommodate the ribbon in Essence is real for anyone who has a chance to hear both. I am specifically recommending Druid Mk4-08 over Essence, though less so the earlier versions of Druid.

Of the current Zu speakers, Superfly costs less than Essence and trounces it on dynamics, musicality, tone density and for being generally musically convincing. Superfly is a sensational speaker worth amplification of considerably greater cost. If you have a large room to load sonically or you just like a spatially bigger sound at some expense of ultimate precision and focus, Omen Def is also preferable in my mind to Essence.

Hi Phil: flat is a very good word to compare the Essence to the newer Superfly and Omen Defs. Your analysis makes perfect sense. Thanks for the insight.....
My MK4/08 Druids have the Superfly 16ohm HO FRD along with a host of cabinet/crossover mods recommended by Sean at Zu. The change in sound from the Orig MK4/08 is quite dramatic........It certainly has more punch, attack and detail but has lost some of the midrange warmth and smoothness, bass is deeper but harder to hear??? if that makes sense......possibly cleaner but not that it was whoolly before. The Druid is a good speaker and the search for bottom end in the new speaker range may have interfered with the Druid magic.

Dynamics are as good as ever.....most speakers sound flat in comparison!

I still have the MK4/08 FRD/Tweeters..........may make a OmenwithDruid or Drumen one day.......incorporating the Eminence lab2 12" subs in a 1cubicft sealed section.........one day
Zu Druids have poor response, always have.
The bass "thinness" is its terrible low freq rolloff you are hearing.

You can do much better for the money, don't fall into the "audiophool" pit.
Below is a measurement of the speaker.
The word Terrible is giving this speaker credit.
Docks - Wasn't there more to the story there, something like they suspended the speaker (as the do when they test all speakers) but the Druids are bottom porting, hence the poor response??
I remember reading something like that once or twice.
I believe that explanation is correct regarding inappropriate measuring method given the speaker`s unique design.
The main point everyone misses when constantly dredging up the stereophile measurements ..... Is it's a Druid mk2, with different Audax tweeter and frd...... Nothing like a mk4/08..... As well as the bass requires the cabinet loading from being 10mm off the floor.

The things the Druid do well they do really well...... Lunar eclipse awards from 6moons suggests its better than average.....
I'm thinking of buying a pair of Soul originals for my kids room. Found a high quality tube integrated at the dump swap shop.

Only thing that concerns me is the lack of grills. I assume the drivers are really rugged and these are sold to folks with children. No problems yet with the Verity Parisfals or Vandersteen 5's but they have coverage.

I'd appreciate any opinions.
These aren't "Stereophile Measurements"
1. Its soundstage magazine.
2. All loudspeaker measurements are performed independently at the National Research Council of Canada.
3. That's why PSB, Paradigm and a few other Canadian makes are very accurate for a good price.

I suggest everyone seriously look at these graphs.
Docks - I've seen the graphs before. They look terrible.
The reason why the NRCC suspends the speakers under test is so they can minimize room/boundry interactions. That's all good, unless your speaker happens to use the floor to produce sound. If that's the case, the test, and your graphs, are pretty useless.
That's my understanding anyway. And you don't seem to be addressing that directly so I guess you're unaware??

Here's a review for the Omen Def that you might find interesting. The reviewer kept the speakers, and also said another pair he wanted to keep after reviewing was the Reference 3A Grand Veena.

For sake of arguement, even if the measurements of this Zu speaker are actually poor, if it sounds wonderful, then the measurements are irrelevant ultimately. Ears trump lab results.
Ears trump lab results.

However, ears might also need cleaning or some education. In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is King. Just because a few people like something does not necessarily make it wonderful sounding. A bass guitar woofer in an aesthetic audiophile cabinet...mmmh.
The solution is simple if you don`t like the sound of something ,don`t buy it. For those who like the sound and if it improves their enjoyment, measurements be dammed.I`m sure you selected your componemts based on listening(I would hope) or would you purchase only based on measurements? Perhaps what you like sounds subpar to other listeners. It always subjective, so personal prefernce and individual impressions rule the day. How do we reach our final decisions? we use our ears and the response /effect to what we"hear".
If you no of a better way to audtion audio components I`m all ears.
Best Regards,
Sebrof - You can't seriously expect these speakers to be accurate. This is a textbook example of a speaker not to buy IMO. Sounds like someones got buyers remorse.
>>You can't seriously expect these speakers to be accurate.<<

Yes, you can. Look, it's simple: Druid's design *requires* a floor immediately beneath the speaker for it to operate correctly. Changing the floor gap by millimeters alters bass response and if it is set up wrong to be too tall, the midrange can begin to be affected. Dial it in right, and Druid's tonal response smooths out. Within a practical adjustment range, the floor gap can be used to tune bass response to room characteristics or subtle specific user preferences. The speaker in use sounds nothing like the graph from Soundstage's mid-air test.

Essence, Superfly and the Omen series also have varying levels of Zu's proprietary acoustic impedance loading scheme that open the cabinet to some degree on the bottom. All have been engineered to sharply reduce the floor gap sensitivity that was elemental to Druid, with Essence specifically having a double plinth to enforce its own "floor."

Definition 1, 1.5 and 2 were sealed cabinet speakers. The upcoming Definition, Experience and Dominance models do not vent through the bottom, so floor effects are not a factor.

If you set up a Griewe loaded Zu speaker correctly, it will test and sound like the relatively neutral speaker it is.

Druid's design *requires* a floor immediately beneath the speaker for it to operate correctly.

Is that all? Those measurements suggest way more issues than that but as Charles1dad points out - it is all in the eye (ear) of the beholder - if you like it so what...
Docks, not sure who you are referring to re: Buyer's remorse. I've never heard Druids.
I'll assume at this point that you do not like the speakers for other reasons than the way they sound, or the way they measure, since you insist on ignoring what I and others are pointing out. If you disagree that the testing methods are flawed then say so and give reason. Otherwise we get it - Druids stink and you have the graphs to prove it.
I could care less. They may very well sound bad. I'm just suggesting there may be more to the story that makes the graphs you keep referring to invalid. That's all, really.
It is curious that Zu speakers so often engender negative comments, commonly by individuals who dismiss or do not bother to understand the design and engineering concepts behind the speakers and who have not heard them, categorically dissing others who enjoy them.
>>Is that all? Those measurements suggest way more issues than that...<<

Druid, at then $3600, was not as linear as the later $11,000 Definition, Zu's second speaker. But then no one expected it to be. It has a somewhat warmer overall tone than Definition, Superfly and Omen Def. But it was accurate as loudspeakers go, and smooth rather than ragged in its response. The lack of a floor under the partial Griewe loading scheme affects the full range driver's performance well into the midrange.

Most speakers yield a test graph more ragged than they sound, BTW.

213cobra -
Because its one of the most terrible responses ever. =/
Not only is it's bass response poor, its mids and highs are poor. The floor excuse just doesn't cut it.
This is just plain old colored sound IMO shouldn't rest in any persons home that is serious about music reproduction.
Docks.......have a look at the date on the soundstage review.....sorry i said stereophile but thats where i saw it..


What has this got to do with DruidMk4/08 or any of the new zu speakers????

As I said before you dismissed me......different drivers/cabinets/hi-pass.....

The Anti Zu brigades love brandishing around these measurements........2002 using an Audax tweeter and completely different FRD.

The Speaker in qusetion is a MK4/08 not the MK1.......these measurements are possibly why the Druid evolved to the MK4 ;)
Whizzer Cone:

A small supplementary cone attached to the voice coil of a speaker for the purpose of producing and radiating high frequency content more effectively than the larger speaker cone. A whizzer cone is attached to the voice coil in the same place as the speaker cone; however, where whizzer cones are used it is necessary for there to be some additional flexibility in the joint between the speaker cone in the voice coil. This allows the speaker cone to become somewhat decoupled from the higher frequency motion of the voice coil so it doesn't dampen the voice coil from being able to move the whizzer cone at those higher rates. Whizzer cones have fallen out of popularity in the last couple of decades, mostly due to the added coloration of the signal produced by the necessary slop in the coupling between the speaker cone and voice coil.
Unless you guys have comments about Essence vs Druid, then why are you posting here? Have you heard either one? If so could you put your comments in a constructive way, vs just arguing the same point for every Zu thread that pops up? Please, give us all a break and allow those of us who want a discussion have it.
Docks which particular Zu models have you listened to and with what amplifier? Did the audition take place in your system, dealer showroom or was it at a show? What did you think?
Thanks Much,
>>The floor excuse just doesn't cut it.<<

If you don't understand how Zu's proprietary acoustic impedance model works, and how their full range driver is affected by it, then your assessment of the "floor excuse" is invalid. This isn't a multi-way speaker with a cardboard tube port we're discussing, so it doesn't behave like one. Hear it properly installed and you'll also hear that the speaker doesn't sound like the graph. And certainly no speaker/room combination in normal domestic construction has flat response. The speaker and the room cannot be divorced from one another. Attempts to measure speaker response in a non-interactive room are irrelevant to what you'll hear if the test is conducted with the speaker in a position where one of its critical working elements is removed.

More important, no current production Zu speaker has so completely an unmitigated dependency on being placed on a floor to perform well, though to varying degrees some kind of resting surface is advised.

docks - your claims on the druid response are equivalent to removing the tube port in a 'conventional' speaker, measuring it, then mocking the speaker's response.

Zu complained to soundstage about those measurements BEFORE they were performed, or at least released. Soundstage responded that all their measurements were done according to the same protocols. Nearly a decade and several iterations later, the misleading graphs still haunt the speaker, and I'd argue the entire line.

I owned the Druids and enjoyed them quite a bit, then the Definition 1.5's, Pros, and now the 2's. I'm off the merry-go-round. I hope you can be so lucky some day.
The impedance and frequency plot shows that the Zu Druid is a Paul Voight type design.The notches in the bass are caused by line harmonics cancelling the output from the drivers front. The distance from the floor will make a 3 dB difference at certain frequencies but noway nohow can this explain a 20 dB notch. The erratic response in the midrange is likely due to the whizzer cone.
I've owned them both and think they suck. Sold the Essence to a frequent poster here who claims they are not very good and moved on.

I've heard the latter models and they are okay but still are not that great especially when compared to slightly higher end gear.

I think the drama comes in when Zu claims to offer world class performance. World class is a very high standard and they are far from it.

Maybe market very good and affordable or something. Buy these instead of a mountain bike....

Get out and listen more and you will find your answer. They are a good value but an if you listen to enough speakers I doubt you will end up with Zu.
I respect your opinion, but really that`s all it is. You or someone else could(and do) make the same statement about Wilson,Thiel,B/W Manaplanar etc. People simply like what they like. High End audio is nothing but "subjective choice" at the end of the day. If you`re happy with your system`s sound, great! be happy and don`t worry if another person`s taste does`nt match your own.
Point taken. I guess it is not fair or respectful of the design or tastes of other people. I apologize for that. I think I am still feeling sore about losing a bunch of cash on them too. I picked them up from a dealer at a discount prior to Zu dropping dealers and going back to the old pricing strategy. Perhaps therapy would be better than venting?
>>shows that the Zu Druid is a Paul Voight type design<<

It isn't. In Druid there is no interior taper and no progressivity in managing the rear wave. Also, the driver is placed at the top of the tube, which is not the usual Voight approach. It's also not a transmission line, though the speaker might externally resemble that. Druid was the first instance of Zu's proprietary acoustic impedance matching model, and it is only a partial implementation, relying on both a specific cabinent interior volume as well as precise distance from driver to the floor via the floor-facing vent and the user-adjustable plinth-to-floor gap. The result is that the floor gap has much more than 3db effect on the free-space frequency anomalies. The speaker does not sound like the free-space test curve. If it did, no one would have bought it.

In later Zu models that are not sealed, the Griewe acoustic impedance model is complete, though slightly differently implemented in the straight cabinet and tapered cabinet speakers. In those cases the free-space (off-floor) performance is far closer to the on-floor performance, because the Griewe model is enforced within the cabinet rather than nakedly dependent on a user-adjusted gap between cabinet and floor. However, in Druid, the user adjustable floor gap does give the listener a valuable tuning device for managing the always problemmatic speaker/room interactions in the bass frequencies, in normal domestic construction.

I respect your opinion, but really that`s all it is

Agreed. Same goes for me and Dock's comments about the measured response. Just think of it as a service to prospective buyers and the OP - to be aware of some of the limitations of the products under discussion. Perhaps Bjesein might not have lost $600 if he had been forewarned here on Audiogon and been able to make a more considered or informed decision.
FWIW - these speakers do wonderfully well with a flea powered amplifier. They definitely have some major advantages for some.
Disclaimer: I am the present owner of the Zu Soul Superfly, and I have previously owned the Druid Mk4, and the Essence.

The summary so far is:

1. Some people who have heard Zu speakers like them.
2. Other people who have heard Zu speakers do not like them.
3. There exists a set of measurements conducted by Stereophile in 2002 of an older version of the Zu Druid and these measurements are unflattering to Zu.
4. People who like Zu speakers consider the 2002 Stereophile measurements as not being an accurate representation of the capabilities of the 2002 Druid owing to a somewhat unique design.

What is interesting too is a recent Stereophile review of the Zu Essence. In it, John Atkinson measures the Zu Essence and has this to say about it:

"In many ways, the Zu Essence is an underachiever, measurement-wise. But the surprise for me, when I auditioned it in AD's room, was how much of its measured misbehavior was not too audible, other than the rolled-off highs and the lack of impact in the lower midrange. I suspect that Zu's designer has carefully balanced the individual aspects of the Essence's design so that the musical result is greater than the sum of its often disappointingly-measuring parts."

Also, Art Dudley in the same review of the Essence says this:

"With its very good bass extension, superb musicality, lack of egregious timbral colorations, and impressive spatial performance, the Zu Essence qualifies as the first loudspeaker I've heard that combines genuinely high efficiency with a level of audiophile performance for which no excuse needs to be made, all while being priced within the reach of the serious-but-not-crazy hobbyist. I'm really impressed with the EssenceĀ—and, yes, I could happily live with it myself: It's that good."

So I think even Stereophile says it sounds better than it measures.
In Druid there is no interior taper and no progressivity in managing the rear wave.

What you are suggesting is that it is even simpler - a quarter wave pipe.

I've owned Wilson Sophias, Dynaudio C1s (one of your favs), and had Barefoot MM27s in my room as well for an extended audition (pro audio speaker).

Zu Definition 2s are the real deal, driven by the correct amplification. Whizzer cone or not. I'd love for you to hear a pair some day. Over time, i am getting used to not having a passive xover in the way---which seems to suck the life/dynamics of many speakers even when driven by 1000 watts. As for the Druids--I think they sound rolled off to me in previous interations and the bass didn't satisfy me, but Superflys (at least at THE Show) were anything but.

Wilson W/P 3/2s sucked terribly 10+ years ago and no one brings up their measurements compared to a Sasha. They had a hole the size of 18-wheeler in the midbass which took 9 iterations to get rid of. What gives. The Wilson Witt was a complete joke.

Zus are designed to go with warm amplification---after owning 9+ amps, I can guarantee that. Here is my list (which is growing--Sophia 845s could be next):

Bat 300xSE
McIntosh MA6600
Shindo Haut Brion
Triode Corp 845SE
Shindo Montille
Vac Phi 200
McIntosh 601s
DeHavilland 845s
Mastersound Due Venti

Mac for SS and 845s have worked best imo.


I should also add, if I didn't own the Zu Def2s---the Reference 3A Grand Veena was really impressive at THE Show and would probably be strong consideration.
Okay, check the listing for the Essence Time Warp Candy Gloss direct from Zu. Original price $10,200 selling for $6,000 new. Great deal since they are new at $6000, well under the list of $10,200.

The Zu site lists them for $4,000 a pair. The Essence goes for maybe $2,200 used if lucky.

Where does the list of $10,200 come in to play?

I came to the realization quite a while ago that there are generally two broad camps of listeners.
1)The higher the power the better the amp and sound,this group tends to prefer lower efficiency speakers with 300,500....watts, hey how about 1000 watts anyone.

2)This camp prefers high efficiency speakers with simple first order, or no crossovers at all driven by low power but high quality amps,SET and PP usally with DHT tubes.

There`s no right or wrong approach as many roads lead to Rome. Threads like this one are a reminder.

As for me, after spending time in the former camp, I found the latter more satisfying and real. Just one man`s humble opinion.