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I heard Rogers LS 3/5a driven by a muscular stereo Krell amp many years back and was not impressed. Yet I had no inkling that they could be so different from the JB4 until they stood eyeball to eyeball at Kenny’s. The Rogers was so restrained and aloof yet positivists would call it refined and smooth. The JB4 was so untainted and chaste that negativists would label it brash and discordant. Both had their own deficiencies in different departments yet one’s strength wasn’t exactly the other’s weakness. They just were too dissimilar that I wouldn’t know where to start. One so tranquil, cozy and  - er, British; the other so spirited, responsive and - perhaps Taiwanese American? The rest of the story is not difficult to guess. Nothing personal Kenny, no matter how good your math is, widebanders and LS 3/5a simply don’t add up. End of story. Sorry Tommy I tried.

I wasn’t anticipating miracles but reality checks are always harder to swallow. So I tried to give myself a better chance by turning to a widebander fanatic next. This time I had better luck: no names given but photography allowed, albeit only of the gear. So let’s call this friend of mine Oscar for now. Oscar listens to nothing but widebanders and nothing but SETs, period. He’s been down many other avenues: B&W, Dynaudio (Audience 42, 52, 62, 72, 82…), Elac, Hales, JMlab, KEF, Klipsch (La Scala, RF53, Synergy F3), Martin Logan, Monitor Audio, Quad, Totem (Mite, Rainmaker, Model 1 Signature, Arro, Staff, Hawk, Forest…) but two or three years ago suddenly swore loyalty to widebanders.

You should see his collection. Apart from widebander bookshelves, open baffles, horns, winged horns and back-loaded floorstanders, there were stacks of Lowther and Fostex drivers (83E, 87E, 108EZ, 126E, 127E, 166E, 167E, 206E, 206ESR…) in each corner just waiting their turn to be installed into customized cabinets some day.

Before you read on, don’t say I didn’t warn you. According to Oscar the Wide, not all widebander lovers are the same. And they are the most unpredictable kind. They don’t necessarily subscribe to the same school of thought. They could argue amongst themselves with eyes wide shut. Some prefer small drivers (3 to 4 inches), some 6" and higher. Some believe 4" drivers are the best because they combine the speed of 3" with the driveability of the 6" and 8".

Then there’s the battle of the cabinets: with or without damping, bass reflex, front horn, back horn, transmission line, labyrinth, open baffle. The most stubborn of all are the purists. Very few would want to add tweeters or super tweeters. It appeared to me that Oscar would be open-minded enough to try anything. Otherwise he couldn’t appreciate as many different single-driver units and cabinet designs as you’ll witness in the photographs.

When I arrived, my instinct immediately redlined. The JB4 might be too small for his big room. I had a tape measure in my pocket (very professional of me) but couldn’t possibly take it out. No matter what, taking measurements of your friend’s house was so not the appropriate thing to do. Instead I started to pace up and down the room casually as though impatient for the amps to warm up. Meddling with my quiet count, my friend kept apologizing for not turning them on prior to my arrival. Here’s my best estimate. The false ceiling height didn’t look like 9’ so it had to be about 8’. Width felt considerably wider than my living room so I guessed at 15’ or 16’, length about 28’ or even 30’, with a long-wall setup and wood paneling at the rear boundary.

First we listened to the custom-made Super Swan based on the design by Japanese master Nagaoka-San incorporating the 4" Fostex FE108SE. Oscar’s system included a DIY passive preamp, a DIY 2A3 SET power amp and a Sony S9000 + North Star M192 DAC source. Next we listened to his back-loaded floorstanding horns with 6" Fostex before we perched the JB4 on stands. Oscar’s initial reaction to the JB4 was very favorable. His first comment was "the bass is tight and natural, surpassing the Cain & Cain Abby. The Abby's bass is more artificial." Then he added "this is one of the best soundstages and imaging of all single drivers I've ever heard..."

Considering the huge collection he owns, this was no casual comment. Indeed, imaging is one of the JB4's major fortés as both Frederic and I can testify to. At that point I’d completely forgotten my earlier concern about the room being too big. I could see that Oscar really enjoyed the first two CDs (violin and piano, Chinese orchestral with drums - yes, small and big drums).

But then on the 3rd and 4th CDs (violin and orchestra, children’s chorus from the French movie Le Chorale) the midrange suddenly seemed thinned out with some unnatural lift and shout as Oscar called it when the music hit a certain band. We changed driver tubes from Sovtek 6SN7 to EH6SN7, power tubes from Shuguang 2A3C to EH 2A3, connected the speakers to the 4Ω tabs (it had been on 8) and violin and vocals improved slightly with more body. The speaker cables were Cardas SE15, which Oscar said was especially designed for single drivers.

He suspected the whizzer cones but I thought we might need a Zobel network on the speaker cables. Regardless, we agreed that we could use more midrange mellowness. I left the JB4, JB3 and S2 speaker cables with him for a more comprehensive expert assessment.