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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Audio Aero Prima SE; Accustic Arts Drive-1; Eastern Electric MiniMax CDP
Preamp/Integrated: Eastern Electric MiniMax; Eastern Electric M520 [on review]; Onix/Melody SP3 [on review]
Amp: Eastern Electric MiniMax; FirstWatt F1 [on extended loan]
Speakers: Cain & Cain Abby and Bailey [on review]
Cables: Crystal Cable Reference complete wire set of analog and digital interconnects, speaker cables and power cords; Z-Cable Reference Cyclone power cords on both powerline conditioner; 2 x Stealth Audio Cables Indra analogue & Sextet S/PDIF cable
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco four-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S]
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for tube amps; GPA Apex footers underneath stand and speakers; Walker Audio SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; WorldPower cryo'd Hubbell and IsoClean wall sockets; Musse Audio resonance dampers on DUO subs
Room size: 30' w x 18' d x 10' h [sloping ceiling] in long-wall setup in one half, with open adjoining living room for a total of ca.1000 squ.ft floor plan and significant 'active' cubic air volume of essentially the entire (small) house
Review component retail: $1,500/pr for Abby; $1,500 for active Bailey (standard), $1,250 for passive Bailey

If you're on a working man's budget and in an average-sized listening space, Terry Cain's 70" tall but skinny Abby in solid Alder wood is arguably his best speaker despite being priced as his entry-level offering. Serious punters might thus overlook it. Too bad. For them. To make this good thing better yet, Terry designed the Bailey subwoofer specifically to complement the Abby -- and higher-priced entries in the Cain & Cain stable -- both in appearance and performance. The former means furniture-type cosmetics with the Studio Series base to match every model across the line. The latter means speed and energy, the two hallmarks of single-driver crossover-less speakers. Because the 1/4-wave Voight pipe Abby only uses a whizzer-fitted Fostex F166E of a mere 4.5" cone diameter (rimmed with an inverted foam surround for a total diameter of 5.5"), its bass extension and displacement are necessarily limited. While larger Cain & Cain models employ costlier Fostex drivers and grow the lengths of their backloaded horns to increase LF performance -- to the detriment of size and cost, naturally -- the Abby/Bailey combo remains a full $2,500 less than the single-horn I-Ben, the next model up. Regardless, the 3-piece combo will positively destroy the dearer model in terms of bass sock and reach. Once you factor in how a sub/sat approach allows separate placement of the mains for best imaging and that of the sub for best bass/room integration, you might rightly wonder why anyone would aspire to spend considerably more to get less. Well, you'd certainly assume advances in refinement and perhaps overall linearity (and the ability to play larger spaces and higher volumes) but where all-'round real-world performance goes, the Abby/Bailey threesome surely rules the Cain & Cain roost.

"Not pretending to reinvent bass technology or to add anything other than precise craftsmanship", the Bailey uses a Seas 10" aluminum woofer. It loads sideways into a front-ported Birch Ply
enclosure but the owner is free to experiment with all manner of other orientations to serve decor and performance optimization. A 300-watt plate amp mounted into its own sub enclosure provides power and hi/low i/o ports allow for augmentation mode (running the Bailey from the main amp to merely fill in below the main speakers) or crossover mode (looping the Bailey between preamp and amp to remove low-frequency duties from the main speakers). As with anything dispatched from furniture-maker Terry Cain, the Abbys and Bailey ship in solid wooden crates designed to withstand the notorious tuff luv of FedEx and UPS. A variety of stain finishes are available.

As I stated in my review of Nelson Pass' FirstWatt F1 amplifier, "... most whizzer-fitted full-range drivers I've heard thus far do suffer varying degrees of peakiness. Depending on the cleverness of the designer fashioning an enclosure for them, this either gets tamed down to merely suggest a certain liveliness and energy or remains troublesome especially on charged female vocals. Terry Cain's neat speaker cabinet turns the 4kHz/4dB peak of his affordable Fostex driver into something that measures far worse than it sounds... Naturally, transitioning to my $18,000 Avantgardes with active bass modules would reveal more subterranean trickery and certain wave-like surges cresting and breaking in the low 30s; and you'd occasionally hear more upper-harmonic spray; and certain drones would simply be sustained with more prominence and growling - but going back to the Abbys, you wouldn't at all feel like a bandaged cripple."

"... In fact, even challenging female vocals like Dulce Ponte's Lagrimas [BMG 74321 25787 2] -- which can quickly expose a full-range driver's Achilles heel in the lower-to-mid-treble band -- only elicited very few and transitory glimpses of isolated prominence but even then never objectionably so. Truly, as far as full-range drivers go, this Fostex unit is one smooth and extended operator. Any whizzer jokes are not on the driver but the jokster who'll be exposed as a wheezing old-timer who hasn't kept up with them new and present times. To be honest, I'm not sure whether to feel more impressed by the Abbys' treble or bass performance. At the end of the day, I'll cop out and opt for overall balance. That's really the most compelling reason for why to consider ownership of the Abbys..."

"... Nobody in their right mind expects to buy a $1,500/pr speaker that does it all. What you get with the Abby... is a surprisingly warm-sounding speaker. At non-excessive listening levels, it's not zippy or tipped-up at all but rather, meaty and gutsy. Naturally, it's dynamic -- you expect that
from a zero crossover design -- but it isn't hyper-dynamic like the Third Rethm which really is a speed freak of sorts. The Abby tracks dynamic swings very well and scales instantly but doesn't exaggerate this aspect to seem unnatural. Going to the most challenging of materials --classical symphonic -- you'd be surprised by how well this single driver sorts through the thicket of massive complexity. You'd really appreciate dynamic responsiveness when the first crescendos carry the climaxes farther than expected..."

Curious how the addition of the Bailey would transform the Abby's performance, I'd requested a subwoofer loaner and today shall report on my results with this 3-piece system run from a variety of amplifiers priced such as to make natural mates: the Onix/Melody SP3 integrated, the Eastern Electric M520 and MiniMax pre/power duo, the FirstWatt F1.

The Bailey's power inlet is located so close to the amp's heatsinks that power cords terminated with round casings around their IEC plug won't fit. Standard Belden cords like the one included work fine but even my super-skinny
Crystal Cable Reference don't by virtue of using a fat plastic barrel to house the connector [see below]. The closely-spaced cluster of speaker terminals on the Bailey's plate amp also means that banana-terminated wires will be the ticket for ease of connection. I built some using Radio Shack 10-gauge copper. Hitched to Eastern Electric's new M520, the Abbys' 95dB sensitivity revealed the amp's operational noise floor to be considerably higher than my -- far more expensive -- Brazilian monos into the considerably more efficient 103dB Duos. Superior noise specs are one area where higher expense with tube electronics usually nets very real returns. Though likely inaudible from the listening seat in most spaces not as wickedly quiet as my semi-underground earth ship, the constant surf/hum between tracks did bother me a bit and prospective users of this combination should check first that they're okay with it. Be advised too that the M520's attenuator comes on quickly. Settings above 9:00 o'clock with the Abbys at a standard distance became unrealistically loud. Ultralinear somewhat diminishes amp gain but full-on pentode sounds better. The Bailey has a bit of transformer hum but it's subdued enough to be inaudible at the listening seat. Incidentally, this powered subwoofer is also available amp-less should an owner wish to use her own bass amp [a B&O ICEpower module would be stunning] or slave multiple Baileys together. Retail for a passive Bailey takes $250 off its bill.

The inclusion of the Bailey for LF mule muscle means placement of the Abbys becomes far less critical. With them, you're no longer concerned over ultimate bass extension. Simply position them for best soundstaging and where decor considerations dictate. Then fill in bass wherever they happen to roll off in your room, using the Bailey's continuously adjustable low-pass filter (50-100Hz) in tandem with its gain pot. Serious subbers will eventually opt for two Baileys to extend stereo performance below the hand-off where one sub otherwise means a summed-to-mono signal (from ca. 60Hz on down with the Abby). However, most shopper in this price/performance range will be more than happy with one Bailey.

Owners of integrated amps likely lack pre-out/main-in loops to insert the Bailey's crossover as a bass subtractor. In my mind, that inability is a very good thing. After all, one of the major appeals of single-driver speakers is their absence of a filter network preceding the driver. Why insert a subwoofer crossover ahead of the Fostex F166E? It's not a wall flower in need of protection. Due to its high sensitivity, excursion demands at regular volumes are already minimized. The quarter-wave back-loading produces enough bass to drop the hand-over to the Bailey low enough to be acoustically seamless (although for best results and proper timing, the subwoofer should ideally be sited in the same plane as the speaker). I thus used the Bailey exclusively in augmentation mode, mostly tapping its signal from the main amp's terminals via speaker cables in parallel to the Abbys. This also transfers the main amp's sonic signature to the subwoofer amp. In my book, it's the hookup with speakers like the Abby that don't require bass subtraction for dynamic protection. I experimented with line-level hook-up with the MiniMax duo and MiniMax/F1 combo, both of which gave me the requisite second pre-out. However, I still didn't loop the Bailey but ran it in augmentation mode only.