Terry Cain's paid close attention to the 300Hz-and-up band as seen by the drivers' circular radiused baffle with perfectly flush mounting. If you thought things were good in the lower registers, think again. The vocal range is where these 168 mm Fostex Sigma drivers really begin to sing.

The ability to communicate a performer's intent can be exemplified by tonal accents leaping off plucked strings while their arpeggiated chords linger and resound in the hollow guitar cavity. It's easy to appreciate Peter Case's secret longing as he sings of the earthly delights found at the "Entalla Hotel" from The Man with the Blue Postmodern Fragmented Neo-traditionalist Guitar. (This vastly underrated album features Ry Cooder on the stereo-electric). And, it's damned near impossible not be stirred when Alison Krauss tells you that she "knows a way to make you smile" on her latest, New Favorite. The harmonic coherence of the varied stringed instruments and vocal layering will transport you into her world in an instant, her emotional sincerity pulling on your lapel with no mock uncertainty.

The first thing most people notice about these speakers is of course their uncanny ability to cast a huge soundstage while hugging you with wrap-around ambience. That's all very impressive and great fun. But more important and enduring/endearing is the effortless continuousness of the music. Call it a tangible seamlessness, an unimpeded flow, a flawless weaving from one note to the next. It progresses from languid solo piano lines to complex orchestrations through steeply winding dynamics but always retains its innate gestalt of an endlessly circulating current of which you become an integral part.

This is much like the oft-quoted difference between great analogue and merely decent digital reproductions. The BEN excels at communicating the unwavering stream that pours forth from a well-performed song. On the XRCD recording of Doug McLoed's Come to Find, the subtle gradations of guitar and voice, the shifting from soft introductions to full-blown melodies were as life-like as any I've heard - anywhere, anytime, in any listening room. In the end, this combination of low-level shading and explosive, unrestrained macrodynamics became truly addictive and my pocket book is now unrepentantly the poorer for it.

Take Bruno-Leonardo Gelber's performance of Beethovens Piano Sonata No. 8. It conveys a Steinway of clearly both enormous heft and poignant delicacy as the master takes the instrument from subtle whispers to vigorous, nearly violent outbursts. By the time Gelber hits his full stride, so many harmonics are at play that I've long since given up on sorting through this clamor. But things with the BEN were different. What was formerly raucous but perhaps also bordering on occasionally psychotic now was transformed into an experience of beguiling coherency - even in the densest thick of complexity. Best of all. the BEN's ability to unravel such convoluted tangles of sound was not at all unique to this one treasured recording.

Just yesterday 'twas Christmas Eve. Between grandchildren, friends and relatives, the house was full throughout the day. No sooner was everyone out the door than I grabbed for my musical equivalent of Calgon®. Curtis Counce's You Get More Bounce with its mix of cool jazz and hard bop really does take me away when I need to go. This is a band with plenty of solo strength. They're not shy about letting it show either. A growling trumpet jumps out of a huge space on stage left. It's a counterpoint to the drumming, wonderful piano work and the bass of Mr. Counce himself on the right. The playback is sufficiently alive to convey the spring of the drumhead and the subsequent pressurization of the drum cavity. When rolls on the snare get this well-differentiated, you enjoy some very special musical insights.

Whatever may have been missing at the frequency extremes (and I guess I missed it) becomes irrelevant when you consider the organic nature of what is there: Stuff of immense emotional conviction that grabs you and makes you forget about that reviewer's pencil. The tune entitled "Bigfoot" brings us to Hard Bop's equivalent of the dueling banjos, with intense and palpable drumming on the right side of the stage playing off against penetrating sax and trumpet on the left. Such timbral truth is hard to deny. You can't help but connect to the proceedings - tune in and drop out in a bow to the late Timothy Leary.

Laurie Anderson's "Strange Angels" has got to be one of my favorite albums, for sorting out the wheat from the chaff when reviewing various gear. In my system, today, she just floated. In less refined rigs, it's easy for her to be squarely planted on stage. While this may be accurate for other performers, anyone who has ever seen this artist work knows that the last place her voice should rise from is the ground. It's very eerie when reproduced correctly - eerie and strangely compelling at the same time.

The contributions of the oft-maligned pedal steel and accordion struck me as more appropriately insistent than I'd heard before. This is very important.

They do make prominent contributions to the story line. Sadly, those are routinely overshadowed by some of the electronica happening concurrently in the same space. Also, the female back-up vocalists on "The Monkey's Paw" now acquired a vibrato -- a growl -- that I had never noticed before. This effect, again, lent itself well to the story Ms. Anderson was telling - "The gift of life, it's a shot in the dark. It's the call of the wild, it's a big wheel, a big ride."

And that too is the story of the Cains. They are a big ride. But they never lose sight of how multiple delicate nuances contribute to the overall musical gestalt, are in fact its building blocks. The more of them your speakers have at their disposal; and the smaller of size these building blocks are; the more complex the surface textures of timbres, the more intelligible the otherwise obscured, broad-lined inner details of the music.

BENs baffle being cut after glue-up
A baffle being hand-turned on a variable speed DC lathe. The variable speed allows Terry to rough blanks at a slower speed and ramp up the speed 'til it reaches 2500 rpm for final sanding. This allows for aggressive production speed while turning. He can also reverse the rotation in seconds to polish to a deeper luster faster.
Assembly of the precision parts is done manually and without fasteners, one chassis at a time ensuring both solidity and consistency.
Finishing is done in Cain & Cain's new state of the art finishing room.

System setup and component matching is an opportunity for both elemental and trick tuning. For example, while my resident Art Audio Diavolo shares many tasty traits with the late-arriving PX-25, the upper midrange energy of its optional 300BXLS tubes (though perfect for the Cabasses) proved a bit intense for the BENs. Still, when I spent a few weeks with the 208mm-based single horn from the Cain stable, the Diavolo proved the perfect match. Never say never. Next in line for BEN audition were the Wright Sound Company 2A3 monoblocks. Yummy - but not quite enough heft in the bottom end. What I really needed were 2A3 on steroids - their deliciously nuanced mids plus delicate but never recessed highs with a bass line that would kick serious techno-butt and send the silverware a-shaking all over the room. Dream on?

< Diavolo
PX 25 >

I don't know what caused this good karma, but Joe Fratus of Art Audio called out of the blue to ask if I'd be interested in listening to his PX25. Would I? I was drooling nonstop for a week in anticipation of that feedback-less encounter. You see, the PX-25 has a reputation as, er, a 2A3 on steroids. Synchronicity!

Long story short: Upon arrival, the steroids did not disappoint. Liquid, dynamic, transparent and simply brimming with deeply saturated instrumental textures, the PX-25 also put more meat on the bones of vocalists and struck me as more harmonically complete. One example was the increased heft of the piano on Michelle Shocked's Short, Sharp, Shocked. The improved integration of Shocked's voice with her body meant breathy yet properly weighted vocals. And, true to the genre of this disc, the instruments were full-sounding yet retained their typical edge and twang. I was pleased to hear the strings deliver decisive dynamic gradations and transient snap. Detail was delicate when called for, contributing a properly nuanced presentation.

Of course sources are important, too. You knew that. Just to show that it ain't all about spendy, consider that, at a fraction of the cost, the Sony SCD-CE775 made more organic music with the BENs than the somewhat sterile Sony SCD-77ES.

Another qualifier? Get some space between yourself and these transducers. Music via the BENs does require a bit of real estate to coalesce properly. I found a happy spot about ten feet away. That seemed to be about the minimum though one might find marked improvements upwards of 18' back.

Reality bites. But these horns sure don't.

Once the PX-25 was strapped to the BENs to kiss off subsequent listening sessions with absolute synergy, things morphed into such a state of aural compulsion that I forgot to pay attention. Finally, I bought a tiny digital voice recorder to take to blathering notes as often as necessary. Digital is good for something after all.

But mostly, I just let my shoulders relax, got out of my head into my heart and listened to vinyl as though there were no tomorrow. Just as I was preparing to get serious about penning this review, a bunch of test pressings from Acoustic Sounds showed up. I had ordered them a few days earlier in a brief moment of pre-Xmas lucidity. Big mistake - not the album choices but the timing of their arrival. Leaving the listening room for my morning mountain-bike excursion now became damn-near sacrilegious, getting back to clients a chore. What about bills to pay? My brain feebly attempted to register consternation at such excesses.

Bills, uh, yeah. Carpe mañana.


You know what I want? Everything. I need my music to live and breathe. I want to experience waves of sound gushing forth from instruments stroked, caressed and coaxed by the hands, lips (and possibly feet - kink alert!) of living, breathing and emotionally complex human beings.

With the Cain & Cain twin-horn BENs, I'm now knee-deep in this loop of ongoing musical conversations, with all manner of folks who'd otherwise never come to my neck of the woods. And rather than dealing in cryptograms – or the proverbial bi-location of myself to a recording venue or the likeness of bodies somehow teleported into my living room -- it's becoming more and more about message & meaning.

While of some relevance if that's what matters to you, the journey is so much richer than the last word in frequency extremes. If the meaning of the words and notes escapes you, the journey begins to lose its sense of adventure. Lots of gear will give you measurements. Fewer effectively communicate artistic intent. The BENs -- just in case I haven't been clear up to now -- do it better than any speakers I've owned or reviewed before. That they throw an enormous soundstage, deliver real-life height perspective, stunning inner detail and timbral fidelity is an unexpected bonus.

What's more remarkable -- if you value the musical dialogue -- are the directness of expression and instantaneous dynamic responsiveness. The latter quality already converted me to the Avantgarde Duos. But this uncanny directness and coherency is special. I first admired the BENs for the effortlessness with which they expressed the music. In retrospect, perhaps a more accurate statement would go like this: Thanks to the missing crossovers and multiple driver sources -- which our brains would have to reassemble and translate into a recognizable whole -- with the BENs, I no longer have to work to understand the music. [See my personal setup below.]

In most aspects of life, it is through relationships that we learn about ourselves. If connecting with the musicians and the music is what it's all about -- a joining enabled by ease and naturalness of expression -- why not facilitate that relationship by keeping things simple? One transducer seems to be the key here. This isn't just pretty theory. It translates into practice far more fully than I could have appreciated just a few years ago. Before hearing a well-implemented single-driver design, driven by simpatico electronics, it was hard to believe it could help me connect. Perhaps I was deceived by excessive faith in a belief instilled over the early years of the journey: More just has to be better.

But understand that the BENs are clearly not for everyone.

They require mindfulness and, in some cases, patience in setup. They're physically rather imposing - elegant, but big. They won't do subwoofer bass. And, they don't chase the highest harmonics, if you're even young enough to still perceive those.

But, should your values match mine, they could well be one of only a few ultimately valid and satisfying choices. Their relative affordability in the scheme of High-End exotica certainly adds to their appeal. They are prime candidates for the very real virtues of micro-power triodes that ask only for the right kind of relationship (a non-reactive, high-sensitivity load) in order that they might freely expose their substantial inner talents. The marriage of 6 premium watts with the BENs is magic - and unlike many other relationships, uncomplicated. Quite the recipe for audiophile relief if you ask me.

Unless you're lucky enough to be well-mentored, this probably relegates the BENs to a later-in-life linkage. You know, the type you settle down with when you're done sowing wild oats, chasing impossible ideals and holding faith in the tired-old beliefs. This certainly describes me by now. And where speakers are concerned, I've become a ben-liever. Squared, if you count the Abbys...

Terry Cain responds

Dear Stephaen and Srajan,

It's with huge gratitude that I want to thank you guys for enthusiastically enjoying my speakers. Cain & Cain Co. is pleased that our designs have met with musical enjoyment. It's a great honor to be granted space, both in homes of music lovers and the 6moons website. This speaker "journey" has provided me an unimaginably enjoyable experience, musically. And rewarding for the people I have met along the way, as yourselves. And for that I am extremely thankfull, to you both in particular. I wish you the very very best for the coming new year.

Sincerely, Terry Cain

[Click on "next" for Stephaen's interview with Terry.]