Sealed bass always has me expect a particular sort of ferocity, energy, control and potential violence. Aarka was sporty enough to match said profile but equally bloomy and fulsome to also behave like a vented type on steroids so with their breed's woolly boom-inducing drawbacks banished. It soon turned out that Aarka's particular mix of bloom and control was the ideal foundation for a lively yet full-bodied performance that suited a repertoire well beyond the ken of most widebander enthusiasts. Its ability to tackle such jobs in fact became this assignment's unexpected key plot twist.

Although Aarka is a compact monitor, on tactile elasticity, bass quantity and sensible mass it struck me as capable enough to embarrass many floorstanders just as the Dutch & Dutch 8c and Buchardt Audio A500 had done earlier. By going fully active and sealed, today's small Rethm secured its first win. Widebanders are still widely considered to be prickly, whitish, ethereal or piercing but after reviewing quite a few specimens, that's not been my experience at all. Suffice to say, Aarka didn't break my lucky streak either. Its 5-inchers free from potential issues performed just as their kind should. Here I mean elevated speed, image specificity, insight, directness, articulation and clarity plus that particularly attractive expressiveness, seductiveness and intimacy typcial for their kind. I find such transducers particularly artful on these delicate sensual counts and Aarka emerged as quite the artistic type, too.

Widebanders tend to be as hi-res as they're euphonic and tangible but typically they also live on the lean side of town. Aarka's take on that balance was to an extent quite the opposite. Its front drivers fed by their internal hybrid amps had the necessary extra heft and saturation to match their woofers' unexpected power. This resulted in performance less focused on detail and pronunciation than Maarga but one that was undoubtedly ballsier so very surprising given today's compact form factor. The takeaway was clear. By trading in some speed and resolution, Aarka's designer has managed to deliver an enjoyably casual and rather beefy tuning that's not picky about the playback repertoire so targets a broad audience. If I had to describe this product in one sentence, I'd in fact call it an augmented widebander for the masses that's a breeze to set up and use. Several days into my auditions it struck me as ideal for newcomers who are both intrigued by widebanders and still skeptical. It's the most approachable widebander design I know and its price and fully active profile make it even more attractive.

Once I had a firm idea of its sonics, it was time to stack up against my still smaller, passive but twice-as-dear sound|kaos Vox 3afw. Both were similar on seductive features so appropriate for minimalist acoustic fare but pretty much diverged everywhere else. Aarka felt heftier, more grounded, voluptuous, relaxed, dark and calm while the Swiss was more radiant, quick, contoured and investigative. Still, all that was a given long before their first skirmish. Where Aarka's tuning emphasized extra boldness and a forgiving nature with less grip and traction, its Swiss opponent was leaner but more energized and equipped with noticeably stronger magnifying optics. Although these differences had a drastic impact on how both sounded and felt, the biggest disparity was in their spatial abilities and perspective.