Is the Rethm The Second a perfect speaker? That's a trick question, naturally. It very much depends on your idea of perfection. What the Rethm does well it does spectacularly well. Where it isn't exceptional -- low bass, for example -- it performs well enough to avoid telegraphing imbalances. Rather, its bass is perfectly adequate for most all acoustic music and will only miss the lowest left-handed keys on the piano. It does, however, require a subwoofer like the very synergistic VBT/TBI Magellan units if you desire added warmth, weight and extension into the bottom-most octave. Because it doesn't do 20Hz and, depending on room and setup, begins its roll-off somewhere between 55 and 45Hz, it doesn't fulfill typical American full-range expectations by its lonesome. But then, low bass -- unless truly well done -- is often overrated and more of a liability than asset.

Alas, if you've grown used (useless?) to seamless, non-boomy and 'fast' 20Hz extension like my DUOs provide, you might be addicted to this type of solidly grounded presentation. Then you will require a subwoofer on the Rethms to accept them unflinchingly on bottom-feeding fare. And while Jacob's single-driver religion might cringe at such sacrilege, I'm here to report that precisely because the Second is truly good well through the mid 40s and still shows signs of active life in the upper 30s band, it's a perfect candidate for subwoofing. But make no mistake, said subwoofer better be lightning-fast and dynamic to not undermine what makes this speaker so special in the first place. Hence my enthusiastic recommendation of the Magellan VARTL technology. Crossing it in somewhere between 40-50Hz and adjusting the sub attenuator just a few skoches up from mute warms up and fills out the presentation to probably make everybody happy.

Now, some audiophiles categorically write off backloaded horns as having ponderous, uncontrolled and behind-the-beat bass. I'm not sure where exactly Jacob's design falls within the backloaded horn/transmission-line approaches - the slight but continuous expansion of his circular line might indicate horn-variant; the relatively small terminus openings and complex routing of the rear chamber tunnel could point at a TL version. What's clear regardless of stepping into these murky engineering waters? That bass with the Seconds is on the beat, articulate and bouncy rather than sluggish and only exhibits minor hollowness if not sited properly. Perhaps because Jacob eschews all stuffing, his bass performance avoids the kind of dryness common to overdamped designs and falls into the lean, fast but very tuneful and clearly enunciated category.

The Lowther-typical presence-region emphasis has indeed been successfully tamed though perhaps not entirely eliminated. On Mafalda Arnauth's Encantamento debut for Narada World [7243 5 84608 2 7, 2003] for example, and specifically in her upper register, I occasionally detected certain notes jumping out of the fold as it were, partially because the Rethms track dynamics like starved blood hounds, and partially, I suspect, because measurements would show a gentle remaining rise in the upper mids. Rather than a gross and reprehensible aberration, here it's merely a slight tailoring very much like certain designers deliberately voice for to have especially female vocals achieve extreme presence.

Now add treble that doesn't telegraph any hooding whatsoever but clearly can't extend into the ultrasonic stratosphere. It deftly counterbalances the lacking bottom octave to leave the position of the acoustic center point fixed for a natural tonal balance, neither displaced up- or downwards like Castaneda's famous assemblage point, movement of which was mandatory to enter the domains of altered perception which his many books chronicle. From a frequency response perspective -- far lower on my personal 'trigger list' than dynamics (especially on the micro scale); speed; immediacy and harmonic wealth -- this Rethm then behaves very much like a good two-way tower in the Soliloquy Model 6.2 vein. Incidentally, that's not a hidden plug for this firm which I used to work for. Rather, it simply happens to be a speaker which I'm intimately familiar with and for which, within Soliloquy's lineup at the time, I've always had a special fondness.

If I may, I'd now like to refer you to my recent Charisma riffing on what makes certain systems special. Extrapolating from this column, I posited that just like charisma -- defined here as a tangibly charged and heightened energy field of emotional radiance around a person -- certain systems too radiate a peculiar something that weaves a spell. And just as human charisma and human shortcomings can coexist peacefully without the latter invalidating or negating the former, so can such systems 'suffer' certain objective shortcomings or deviations from theoretical perfection while being emotionally far more compelling than so-called perfect systems. Needless to say, if we could objectify the necessary ingredients of aural charisma beyond just knowing it when we hear it, the entire audiophile trial-by-error odyssey would come to an end. And as someone benefitting from our ongoing collective chases to have things to write about, I couldn't very well have that, could I?

More importantly, as far as I can tell, there's really no universal recipe for this type of charisma. However, those who biologically, culturally and psychologically find themselves hardwired to be triggered by the same musical and sonic qualities do form an aural brotherhood of sorts - which is why our 6moons writer bios exist. Once you've identified and subsequently verified a writer's biases and trigger points as being similar to your own, you're liable to also have similar reactions to whatever he/she might review. It's the 'reviewing the reviewer' bit you must perform to have such findings begin to relate to you in very specific and useful ways which brings us right back to the present review subject and its very potent charisma - if, that is, you should find yourself in agreement over the importance that timing, immediacy, directness and instantaneousness have on your musical enjoyment.

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, for example)? 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 that was equally apparent to me and my wife who's anything but an audiophile but has very perceptive hearing. 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.

But there's more. Until you get used to it, I can nearly guarantee that you'll initially turn up the Rethms louder than you should. That's not because their directness is so involving and free of subliminal distortion artifacts that you want to crank things - though that's the case, too; it's because these speakers are very dynamic. Major and minor peaks get louder than expected. You'll soon find yourself setting the median level lower than before to account for this increased dynamic range and jump factor. This is no mere theory. It happened with Ivette while Jacob was still present, in a way that illustrates both points. Like most women, Ivette doesn't like 'loud'. Well, she never once opened her eyes or fidgeted as she sunk into the splendor of some classical string serenade whose climaxes ended up well eclipsing realistic levels. Sitting off-axis, I stared in wonder at my darling wife who'd sternly object if I listened at such levels. Alas, she was a goner though distinctly not asleep. She could withstand these higher decibel levels -- unexpected since the initial median level seemed just fine -- because they weren't accompanied by traces of unpleasantness or evidential residue of reproduced 'fake'. Therein lies a curious paradox. While these Rethms don't need to be played loud at all and in fact excel at lower levels, they are equally convincing and enjoyable at higher-than-usual levels.

A curious side benefit? Because the Second Rethms don't require bombastic music to come alive and 'show off' (turning what you might have assumed to be flat and two-dimensional into 'minor bombast' all the same), you could find yourself hypnotically returning to relatively simple -- deceptively simple -- musical fare. You'd find untold riches of juiciness and expressiveness in female vocals with sparse accompaniment: Glykeria, Maria del Mar Bonet, Eleni Tsaligopoulou, Melanie Pappenheim, Maire Boine, Sian James, Eleni Karaindrou, the Choir of All Saints-Honiara. You could say that the Rethm acts like a microscope, revealing dimensions of molecular life in a tiny square inch of dirt you'd usually never stoop to inspect at close range.

Don't confuse this with a bombardment of musically irrelevant hyper detail. That's not it. Its gestalt is intrinsically relaxed, benign and natural. It's just that this gestalt is emotionally intensified because its dynamic tendrils unfurl to spread and stretch out and become this bigger and more interesting creature.

A different way of putting it would be to say that this 100dB crossover-less speaker somehow heightens perceptional sensitivity in the listener. In your younger years, have you ever entered an adult toy store to wonder how hardened your perceptional pleasure threshold would have to be to require such artificial, coarse and nearly violent stimuli to feel anything? Rethmfication points in the opposite direction. Think goose bumps from the merest brush of another hand over the little hairs on the nape of your neck, not some nipple-studded rubber contraption. Or think of the wealth of subtle flavors in foods when you have abolished the use of sugar or salt in your kitchen long enough to resensitize your palate. Suddenly ordinary soft-boiled eggs no longer require salt to taste wonderful and, in fact, only reveal their natural flavor because of the lack of salt.

If the Second Rethms should have you find yourself listening at lower volumes because you're hearing more and more at lesser levels, that's precisely why. Speaker sensitivity (the ability to respond to the tiniest of signal fluctuations with nary an effort) removes mechanical obstacles which to overcome previously required more decibels but in turn buried a certain finesse in the noise floor. Now things flow unobstructedly and the former effort relaxes. And that, if you think long-term listening, could well spell the difference between technical and experiential perfection.

Like the mythical Oroborous snake swallowing its own tail, we've conveniently returned to our opening gambit: Is the Rethm the Second a perfect speaker? In a certain way, it very much is. It achieves its emotional/experiential perfection without in the process incurring the kind of obvious imbalanced flaws elsewhere that would continually intrude, disturb and remind you of themselves. So what if other $6,000/pr speakers can flex the walls with 25-cycle pressure waves to create room lock? When you consider how listening to them makes you feel vis-à-vis the Rethms, it may no longer seem like such a big deal. In fact, it may appear to be quite the distraction. The trick to this convincing stunt work lies in how well Jacob George has chosen his compromises: You don't really notice them unless you try hard. What you do notice without trying is what these compromises are in service to - contiguousness, proximity, intervention-less 'first-hand' transmission of sounds and their encoded charge.

Admittedly, that's quite a mouthful - and our poor snake would no doubt agree and retch. But having in my Avantgardes another high-sensitivity design in-house made it child's play to confirm the contribution -- or more accurately, the lack thereof -- that the absence of crossover and driver multiplicity created. By comparison, the spherical horns sounded a bit coarser and more effortfull. Naturally, they also sounded warmer and fuller. But in the domain of spatial effects, wafting decay trails, communicativeness at low levels and that ne-plus-ultra sensation of thereness without any fuzz or blurring, the Rethms surpassed them. Incidentally, these qualities remained consistent whether driven by my AUDIOPAX monos, the 50wpc pure Class A Coda Technologies' S5 or Acoustic Reality's Enigma Plus digital IcePower amp. The differences there had to do with harmonic bloom (not surprisingly, the AUDIOPAX reigned supreme); dynamic agility (with the Coda the winner) and 'fluffy-air' spaciousness (with the Enigma Plus taking the prize).

While zero NFB triodes seem natural mates for single-driver speakers, the Second Rethm proved equally adept at dispensing its magic with 50 and 120wpc solid-state designs, confirming that its intrinsic qualities as described are a function of speaker design, not component compatibility. Which now begs the question: How does the Second compare to the smaller Third which John Potis is eagerly awaiting with poised pen? Good question, that, and the whole reason for the twin-pairs-to-Taos exercise. With technical features and photo reportage left to John's capable hands and camera, here are my comparative findings in a nutshell:

The Third Rethm with its smaller driver and shorter transmission line/rear-horn was even more dynamic and, on percussive transients, cracked harder yet to make for some ferociously rhythmic grooves when the music demanded - as it does on Eric Vaarzon Morel's Dutch Flamenco de Hoy [see world music reviews].

Bass extension was necessarily sacrificed in a sizable space such as mine for which the Third is specifically not recommended. Especially when you crank the speaker, this leanness upshifts the tonal center to become slightly 'top-heavy' and 'treble-leading'. Alas, there's even more openess than with the Second if you can imagine such a thing. In went the small VBT/TBI Magellans with their 6-inch woofers. Olé! Comparing both Rethm models now, I thought it was the Third who dished out a spicier can of whoppy-ass. Specifically, male vocals gained a fetching degree of 'open-throatedness', making the same singers sound slightly chestier on the Second. Also, increased presence of higher harmonics added some zing and blister on strings for that illusion of speed while the counterbalance of the Magellans down low avoided zippiness. Running the Thirds off my super-ultralinear single-ended pentode monos filled out the harmonic envelope for a becoming infusion of warmth to, with the now mandatory augmentation of the subs, have the larger Rethms actually trail their younger brethren in my opinion.

If used solo as a single-driver speaker however, the Third clearly requires the loading reinforcement of the smaller cubic air volumes more modestly sized rooms provide. It thus behaves exactly as advertised. But when used with copasetic subwoofers -- and I'd include RELs into this picture -- I suggest that potential buyers with larger rooms also seriously give the Thirds a whirl. You might, as did I, find that their midbass and vocal range prowess gains a small but appreciable edge over its larger sibling. Of course by the time you add a quick-footed refined subwoofer with onboard or external amplification, any price advantage the Third [$4,180/pr] enjoys on its own will vanish. It's truly a function of preference then, and how each speaker interacts with the room. What I will tell you categorically? Separating bass duties going the sub/sat route makes speaker siting far less critical and, at least potentially, promises more linear bass in a higher percentile of rooms.

In closing, Jacob George's Rethm The Second is far from an idealistic design-exercise-run-amok to prove some theoretical point of superiority which, to be honest, is how I feel about certain single-driver designs. Jacob acknowledges the intrinsic pre-existing challenges of the chosen approach with open eyes and refreshing candor. He then goes to extreme lengths to modify his Lowther drivers; crafts complex, forbiddingly hard-to-build cabinets; and even tweaks the hookup wire, speaker cable connector and floor interface to a 't'. My only functional complaint is the current limitation of banana use exclusively [see below] - but Jacob indicated that his new custom terminals will accept bananas, spades and bare wire. The Second Rethm is a tour-de-force of Lowther-based engineering and its designer -- contingent merely on a relatively modest capital infusion to finalize the R&D and custom parts manufacture -- already has plans to build his very own from-the-ground-up transducer rather than tweaking Lowthers.

The Second Rethm's only minor concessions when judged against its smaller Third Rethm sibling are no different than common differences between 5.25" and 6.5" two-ways, say between Soliloquy's Models 5.0 and 6.2. The latter has more bass, weight and warmth, the former superior midrange openness and apparent speed. The larger-woofer'd floor-standing speaker does not require a subwoofer to be enjoyable with most all music, the smaller one definitely does unless one had a small 12'x14' room. Same here. How both Rethms advance the art vis-a-vis conventional dynamic speaker designs plays in a similar dimension as moving to no-dielectric cables like Omega Mikros; to superior power line conditioning like Walker, Combak or BPT; to advanced resonance control supports for audio equipment like GPA.

All of these resolution-enhancements remove gunk and congestion, lower the noisefloor to reveal finer layers of encoded information; and in turn demolish obstacles between you and the music. What makes the Second Rethm unique is that these advances do not carry the penalties of good-at-only-one-thing-and-nothing-else that tend to arise whenever a designer chases a particular quality to the extreme. The Rethm does deliver extreme immediacy, clarity and 'suchness' - but it doesn't become a compromised, unbalanced design statement. This uncanny balance turns what could have remained a merely fancy -- albeit very challenging to execute -- concept into a rare example of relative perfection.

The remaining question merely concerns itself with whether Rethm's 'relativity' conforms to your requirements or not. Since all speaker design in the sane realms of finance must dance this dance of balance versus compromise, this now puts us squarely back on mainstream's terra firma. And that is the real compliment the Rethm deserves: Sonically, it's a single-driver mainstream product. If you've heard numerous iterations of single-driver speakers, you will realize just how phat a compliment this is. To achieve mainstream -- aka well-balanced -- status with a single-driver design remains an elusive proposition and goes far in explaining why there are so few commercially successful variants. Clearly, Jacob George of Rethm enjoys both the requisite common sense and ingenuity to use Lowthers in a commercially highly viable fashion, and the forthcoming Fifth Rethm bookshelf will only further broaden his potential customer base. Color me very impressed indeed!
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