My recent experience with The Second Rethms and subsequent e-mail exchanges with John Potis currently doing the honors on The Thirds reconfirmed a festering suspicion. Our popular frequency domain measurement fixation and our associated insistence on and desire for full-range twenty-to-twenty response ought to, relative to importance on listening enjoyment, really be seriously downgraded. It should be replaced by something altogether different and possibly not readily measurable.

Last month's first solo riffing on Charisma postulated that certain system weave the magic far more potently than others while perhaps being simultaneously extra guilty of clear 'objective' trespasses against so-called perfection. Nonetheless, those trespasses fail to intrude on emotional involvement. Wimps. In other words, human hearing seems to be rather tolerant of frequency response deviations. We can accept playback far removed from flat as involving and enjoyable if other playback parameters take precedent. If you're in love, you don't have time to get distracted by a few pimples.

If frequency response aberrations equate to pimples -- both within reason, naturally -- then what equates to the feeling of love? What is that emotional subtext of active participation which so overrides and outshines any visual/audible deviations from perfection so as to utterly deflate their ability to distract, devalue or truly matter?
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If my experience with the Rethms is any indication -- and John's seems to parallel mine to a scary extent but we shall learn the exact extent in his forthcoming review -- then certain core qualities epitomized by these single-driver crossover-less high sensitivity designs might get us closer; closer to understanding what constitutes that mysterious audio charisma we recognize when we hear it but seem so ill-equipped to define clearly enough to go about the chase deliberately and knowledgeably rather than shooting blanks in the dark?

As I stated in my review of the Seconds: "... Take the very first micro-second rise of sounds from silence. It's something volatilely apparent with stringed instruments - perhaps because they couple directly to the air without the intermediate 'buffer' of lengthy tunnels of vibrating air columns as in brass and wind instruments? While you may think that your current multi-way speakers do a good job of realistically portraying this instantaneous attack of plucked strings, I dare predict that you'd find them rather wanting when compared to the Rethms. Don't mistake this statement for implied sharpness or edginess - no grating nails on chalkboard here. How it translates perceptionally is simply as a sensation of lack - as in the absence of an intermediary agent which (now turning from spontaneous perception to abstract concepts) is represented by crossover networks; frequency sharing between multiple drivers; and concomitant timing errors within single notes whereby their fundamental and harmonics are no longer 'of one piece' but discombobulated in time.

Now remove these temporal distortions of phase shifts and lobing errors. What you will be left with is a tacit Aha! recognition of realness, of unmitigated directness. The ear/brain mechanism doesn't have to sort through reminders of artifice.

Instead, it locks onto the sound without any intermediate translating efforts. It's a very obvious and powerful quality. Depending on your listening biases, this unbroken, un-put-back-together wholeness and its shadow of direct-coupling, between one driver and your ear/brain, could well take major precedent over ultimate frequency extension..."

This gets us squarely at the truism that if it sounds good and measures bad, we're measuring the wrong things. I know that the Rethms don't measure terribly well, requiring extensive placement tweaking to get them to really sing. But sing they do - with a vengeance. So what is it that they do so extremely well as to be far more important than flat response and full extension into upper treble and lower bass?

Transient fidelity for one. The beginning of each note, from the fundamental to the highest harmonic, occurs on time, vertically perfectly integrated - no mess of premature ejaculators or misfiring late comers. Put differently, there are no delays in time, no smearing, blunting or veiling. The amount of musical/emotional energy released when the time domain remains intact is truly astonishing. It's obvious even to an utter non-audiophile. It presents itself as a much heightened sense of communicativeness, of clarity, stimulation and directness. This suggests that human hearing is far more sensitive to even subtle timing errors than frequency response deviations. If true, it might explain why feedback-less amplifiers, short circuit paths, minimal dielectrics and resonance control all seem to be common denominators in "emotionally engaging" systems. These devices/ architectures all pay attention to the time domain. They all remove or at least minimize temporal distortions.

If true, then Charisma would have to be related to time domain fidelity. And when you think about it, how much of that gets measured and analyzed? Or as Caelin Gabriel once stated, "you need to be very concerned that all frequency components of the signal arrive at the ear at the same time". Charismatic mystery solved? Hell no.

If I had the answer, I'd patent, bottle and sell it for a premium on audiogoN. Not. But it does suggest that most audiophiles unnecessarily concern themselves over things that could be extremely secondary or tertiary while overlooking a far more essential arena where simplicity rules supreme - where remaining true to time is the most important rule. Does this explain Messrs. Kessler's and Rochlin's fondness for timekeeping devices? Food for thought - they might in fact have stumbled upon part of the truth. How come I don't own a Franck Muller? I'm a bloody writer without a real job. Better get with the program then... it's high time after all.