Although Aarka debuted two years ago, C-19 lockdown had Jacob George back at the drawing board. His time spent there ended up turning his entire lineup upside down. Being styled unlike any other Rethm we've seen so far, Aarka makes that novelty point rather well. Although widebanders are far less numerous than their regular multi-way siblings, they've been quite frequent guests on HifiKnights. Since our launch in early 2016, I've reviewed about a dozen. With the exception of one passive monitor, most were floorstanders. One even had internal isobaric subs. A fully active monitor of the breed was yet to come, however. Today closes that gap. First though it's worth knowing that most widebanders intend to stand unassisted by a subwoofer. That loads their lone driver into a folded rear horn thus necessitates a rather large cabinet. As such these topologically minimalist exotics are targeted mainly at connoisseurs already hip to the breed's special appeal. For many years we had little variation on this general scheme but several moons back this changed. Now manufacturers known for purist widebanders have added separate powered subs. India's Rethm had simply taken the active detour before anyone else in this sector did.
After years of having been faithful to the orthodox widebander genre, Jacob wanted to increase its bass output and in-room adaptability. That called for powered bass augmentation inside the same box. His first commercial effort Saadhana debuted in January 2007. It caused quite the CES stir. Soon after Rethm's entire catalogue underwent a major transition to actively augmented widebanders. Jacob's company has been known for those ever since. After sampling Maarga two years ago I'd been left impressed with an appetite for more. Whatever was to be in the cards next, it'd feature active bass and Rethm's own drivers. Other than this, I hadn't a clue. The compact pallet sent my way from India now comprised three separate boxes housing something far smaller than Maarga; and fully active. In Sanskrit Aarka translates to singing praises. It was Rethm's first monitor which Srajan reviewed two years ago. Today's version is a heavily reworked successor 18 months in the making. Jacob explained that the first Aarka never really launched past Srajan's solitary sample. During the pandemic he conceptualized a new folded labyrinth for his floorstanders with associated new overall form factor. Then the same principles and aesthetics transferred to the more compact Aarka in the hopes that it'd inherit the sonic gains which the reworked floorstanders had already secured. It worked.
Rethms are known for their active bass as much as folded tubular frames. That peculiar look is now gone. Naturally I had to know why. Jacob explained that more conventional rectangular cabinets are far easier to manufacture than his old curved shells. Those had also proved too controversial and polarizing with too many in the audience. The new styling of course still had to spell Rethm. The same applies to his wideband drive units. Those aren't outsourced but rolled from scratch at his facility. Each model gets its very own so there's a total of four unique drivers of ascending diameter. Aarka's is the smallest so a 5-inch whizzer'd paper cone of 94dB sensitivity whose ferrite motor adds small neodymium magnets atop its pole piece. Each rear stroke of this driver travels through a nearly 1m-long labyrinth. That's folded several times before it opens into a large horn mouth on the front. To achieve higher mid-bass density but less midrange presence, this escape route for the rear emissions shortened compared to the original Aarka. Since Rethm's founder isn't fond of ports, Aarka's bass is a dual 6.5" sealed affair firing out the back.
Although we've seen widebanders with external/internal subs elsewhere, Aarka is fully active. It doesn't require external amplification at all. Being 100% self-sufficient on the power count means that anything beyond a DAC with volume control and some RCA interconnects has been decommissioned. Aarka measures 21 x 45 x 47cm WxDxH and weighs 15kg. The electronics inside include a 70wpc class AB solid-state amp for the woofers and a 25-watt hybrid amp on the widebander. That's based on a 6H6P twin-triode driver and FET outputs. Being located at the end of the rear-horn mouth makes this solitary tube externally accessible so easy to swap, nice to look at and illuminated from below upon engaging the hybrid amp via rear switch. Should an owner opt to bypass this amp in lieu of their own, that white back-lighting goes dark. On fit 'n' finish relative to price Aarka looked good but upon closer inspection clearly was hand-made in a small boutique shop. Tolerances were off a bit in several places and some foam showed around the woofer baskets upon removing their grilles. Yet I'd consider none of it a deal breaker. My loaners came with stands which I had to put together. Assembly was straightforward. Two wooden rectangles with a shorter one in the middle formed the letter H. That connected to a single steel square on top while the bottom got doubled-up steel plates plus four pointy cylinders in-between to form a decoupling plinth. That structure sat firm with speaker on top. It's just that those tiny barrels held in place via silicone resisted sliding on the floor. Any setup tweaks demanded that I remove the monitors from their stands first, carefully move the stand then top it off again with the speaker. That was inconvenient. So I'd like to see this part of the design revisited.