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In equestrian terms, the Saadhana is a competitive Arabian racer - temperamental, purpose-bred and intolerant of quarter measures. In automotive terms, she's a British car - idiosyncratic but self-authenticating in the bends. When practicality strikes, she won't be your only car. For those roof-down wind-through-the-hair blasts however, she'll be your favorite wheeled missile. As you'll see, these images aren't fluff or writerly avoidance to soft-pedal the hard facts. Let's start at the beginning then:

In my room and before ignition, this speaker demanded more than the usual breathing room from the front wall. With the driver diaphragms at first where almost all other speakers end up relative to the listening chair, the sound felt reined in. It was not as open, gushing and unfettered as I remembered either the 3rd Rethm or any Rethm show demo I'd ever heard for that matter. Before altering the physical setup and while still chasing intimacy and projection power from other addresses, I'd removed the felt backing Jacob had installed behind the Lowther diaphragms. I figured -- presumptuously perhaps -- that being the only driver alteration the DX55 had undergone vis-à-vis The Third, reversing it would bridge the gap. You know the routine. Audiophiles grasp at straws while drowning.

Coincident with various later cabinet relocations, I also spiked to the floor and got millimeter-obsessed to attain precise path length and paralleled driver equality. Zero degree of toe-in. Perfect left/right driver to ear spacing. In toto, I had changed three things over my initial sampling. When I finally hit on the right placement (the 1/3rd-into-the-room attempt set off a major mid-bass resonance) I'd not changed speaker width or sidewall distances. I'd simply moved the speakers as though on railroad tracks to and fro. Suddenly it was magic time in the Rethm zone. Now I couldn't bother to wreck things again. Thus I don't know which of the three changes -- or what combination - the felt, spikes or listener distance -- settled the argument. But settle it did. Without doubt, the Saadhana transcends the prior Second which I tested in Taos. No wonder the Second went extinct. The younger 'un killed it. Fratricide, blood and violence. Most excellent!

One of the notorious two Lowther issues -- no bass -- has gone kaput. It's so laughably buried, it deserves no further mention. Bass now competes with the DeVore Fidelity Nines which are likewise attired with twin 6ers, albeit firing forward and sideways. There is an obvious difference in tactile bass feel. That's presumably due to the different loading. As such, it seems related to how down-firing and front-firing subwoofers energize differently. The former is more diffuse and farfield, the latter more focused, direct and localized. It's not a matter of quantity but tactile perception. The Saadhana's bass is obviously of the first kind. Riding the hand-over frequency up or down becomes the warmth control. It either fills or leans out the upper bass. The continuous controls surrounded by dense sun ray markers are finely calibrated. This expands their useful scope for ultra-fine adjustments. You may have to count hair lines to duplicate the same setting side to side but that's a minor irritation only.

Having played clarinet for 15 years, I'm always intrigued by what current artists on this instrument are up to in the WorldMusic genre. Suren Asatryan on Veda | Farewell is a fabulous recent discovery on the Turkish Akustik label (thanks, Sezai Saktanber). He's half Barbaros Erköse on steroids, half Djivan Gasparian on acid. He gets more sheer volume out of the Armenian duduk oboe for his second reed than normal. Think Michael Brecker whose sax was always louder than the competition. Veda sports some essential modern bass ambience including didjideroo, e-guitar and big low drums. It darkens the atmosphere and erects deep artificial soundscapes Mercan Dede-style. There are also parallels to the French Hadouk Trio whose Didier Malherbe is one mean dudukist in his own right. (He once again shines on Utopies, their 2006 release on Naïve, with percussionist Steve Shehan in especially rare form.)

Where the Second Rethm would have missed to believably erect the vital foundation for this kind of ethno ambient fare, the Saadhana was right in its element. It simply traded ultimate mass and roiling displacement for semi-omni imaging and extreme magnification power while going plenty low and solid to be completely satisfactory.

The second Lowther legacy, the upper midrange bite, has not been buried entirely. Take an unapologetically energetic outing like Balkan Messengers 2 [KAF Muzik], a quartet of Nedim Nalbantoglu on violin, Orhan Osman on bouzouq/guitar, Mahmut Dahil on clarinet and Izzet Kizil on percussion. As a virtuoso ensemble headquartered in the Turkish resort town of Marmaris, their playing is dedicated to an advanced form of occasionally frenetic Roma folk Jazz. The violin and clarinet play very lit up, the former with Romani fiddle elements, the latter with
Zurna-esque harmonic edge. Cayenne action starts in the second octave above middle C. The Turkish clarinet's tone gets glassy due to the thin reed. That transmits uncut and rides the remaining upper midrange plateau.

Nalbantoglu's high-speed upper-register runs of crisscrossing scales evince fiery pause-note accents. Those glint with extra fire on certain notes, especially on axis. That's not where you'll be doing any of your serious listening. Unless your second chair puts you in line with one of the speakers firing straight out as it does me behind the monitor while writing. That proves the peppery content. As such, it is emitted into the room. It's present. It becomes part of the overall sonic mix.

Off-axis back in the listening seat, that isolated sharpness normalizes. But not the flavor. Whether you'll find this objectionable or exhilarating depends, among other things, on your routine exposure to live instruments at close range when they don't do pretty but raw. Keman taqsim -- speed-freak Middle-Eastern Balkan fiddle improv that scrapes smoke off the strings -- can be as intense in its own way as a Mexican mariachi band inside a Taoseño bar - Thai soup laced with red chili oil. There's an after burn. On music containing such elements, the Saadhana hones in. Most music is comparatively neutered and homogenized. It will not outright showcase such behavior. Being myself fond of the wild stuff however -- recent vocal discoveries in the power belter milieu include the Clejani Express and Alena Bislyova singing with the Siberian Gypsies on Network's luxo twofer compilation -- I can readily envision how a more buttoned-down crowd might make a polite exit, first for the unhinged music choices, then for the enhanced heat provided by the speakers.

Vocals. It's always been that ultimate of instruments to justify the otherwise nearly maddening obsession with this flawed and overpriced archaic transducer. Hot damn though if the Saadhana doesn't make an undeniable case for Lowther's ongoing relevance. Voices are so open-throated and full-throttled that all the innate emotional charge spills into your lap. It's popular to proclaim how the sound just hangs in space uncorrelated with the speakers. Set up properly, it most assuredly does with the Saadhanas. It's as spooky as it was with the Gallo Reference 3s - simply rather more so.

It's not a muscular sound like my sealed big Zus make. There also isn't the kind of intense infrasonic coverage that grounds everything six feet under. Rather, the sound levitates. Alas, don't think ethereal, disembodied and ghostlike. Rather, it's a pulsating sonic cloud that radiates from behind the speakers out into the room. It's a very non-mechanical phenomenon. It loads freely throughout the listening space without pixilation of details. All is perfectly fluid. Magnification of textural micro detail is intense especially in the vocal band. Those familiar with the difference between open-baffle and box speakers will instantly recognize this particular flavor. It's the waft 'n' wane factor. Things breathe. Pre death, you've transcended physicality. No more mortal containment. Air is all around. These speakers simply conjure up a giant set of invisible lungs that do their endless circular exchange business in free flotation. It's the ultimate and endless bel canto loop. You might call it the spiritual element of music listening. Ether. Prana. Finer energies. Truly!

Back on terra firma's technicalities, half the Lowthers' radiated energy emits rearward through their folded pipes. This energy vents at the contoured plinth by 270º. It thus becomes reverberant rather than direct. This energizes the in-room upper harmonic content. Add the same dispersion type for the bass, albeit 100% indirect. You might see how rather than razor-etched, fiercely honed, laser-guided images focused and locked, there's got to be a more freely billowing, unlocked, liberated gestalt at play. I strongly suspect this stems from not eliminating half the driver's energy as regular box speakers do. I observed the same liberated gushing mien at Ocellia's in France recently. Their PHY widebander is likewise free to release its rear radiation into the room. Electro/magnetostats and dynamic open baffle speakers do of course likewise. Most simply won't compete in voltage sensitivity.

The key phrase about the general sound really is energizing the response of the in-room upper harmonics. Due to the dipole/bipole dispersion (the exact mix thereof is naturally a function of phase shifts through the folded lines), the upper mid/lower treble power response is rather higher than with direct radiators. This creates the spark of life. It also intensifies tone harmonics. That's one of the Saadhana's definite strong points.
Orchestral mayhem of the 20-headed fugue sort however isn't. If that's your main fare, you need something that sorts through the thicket without getting the least bit tangled up. The Saadhana acquits itself quite well considering its modest driver complement. Yet anyone pushing Mahler and Strauss as their forté is spinning for the White House press office. Also, if you favor the sock-em type of slammatronics, move on. The bass loading here won't oblige.

Considering the combined cone surfaces at work, it's counter-intuitive to correlate the huge sound. That scale stems from the dispersion pattern. When it comes to raw air displacement, we're not talking much driver surface. This has no bearings on achievable sane SPLs. It impacts perceived impact. In that sense, the Saadhana is a soft, not hard speaker. It's rhythmically extremely astute and fleet-footed but it won't pound or pummel the listener. There's more focus than with true Duevel-type omnis, less focus than what the Wilson school produces. Because Jacob has nearly neutered the Lowther; and because Nelson Pass' FirstWatt transistor amps aren't your usual solid-state fare - the Saadhana is ideally suited to the F3 and F4. The ground lift switch proved the ticket to banish a ground loop between Pass main and Rethm bass amps. The result was dead silence unlike over my Yamamoto A-08S, Fi 2A3 monos and Serbian Trafomatic Experience One review loaner. All of those betrayed low-level tube hiss with minor 'oscillation' warble. That's a curious thing since over the Zus, this doesn't happen. Perhaps the Lowther is more revealing of micro-level tube fluctuations?

Never mind cemetery aspirations of eternal quietude. Sonically too, I championed the Supratek Cabernet Dual and FirstWatt F4 combo. As reported elsewhere, strapping a direct-heated triode like Mick Maloney's 6SN7-fed 101D to a class A impedance converter (or power buffer) without voltage gain or feedback nets powerful triode effects with current control, frequency linearity and completely absentee tube hiss. It must be said, the F4 was bloody born for Lowthers. Nelson Pass himself had strapped the F3 sibling (a very close personal second) to a PM6A 16-ohm Lowther in a prototype open-baffle speaker he and Joe VerHalen of Lowther USA had cooked up for the just-concluded Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2007 in Denver. This speaker was driven from Nelson's active crossover providing bass compensation for the dipole concept's steep roll-off below resonance. An XA30.5 saw duty on the bi-amped 10-inch Seas woofers. A trick circuit dubbed pyramid controlled excursion below the desired F3.

Jacob was understandably reluctant to buy into my delirious e-mails of sacrificing EML 45s and JJ 2A3s at the altar of transistors. Like me, our man from Cochin is a dyed-in-his-curry valve fancier. He's clearly subscribed to the Golden Rule of the Lowther Cookbook thus far: You may not drive us with transistors, no sir! So, I took extra pleasures in grilling sacred cows. Front ends remained flexible, from Zanden to AMR, Ancient Audio, Raysonic and Shanling. To gild the lily for stretches, I even inserted the Yamamoto or Trafomatic Experience One ahead of the F4 for even more autumnal tone colors (albeit with a modicum of noise).

Reggae, Rap, Techno, large-scale classical - anything that relies on incisive hard-hitting infrasonics and separation power during complex counterpoint stuff where micro and macro-level signals clash profusely won't experience perfection by this Lowther implementation based on the usual multi-way standards. As for treble, I desired nothing by way of quantity. Qualitatively, the muRata in the Micropure Kotaro and the double-ribbon in Volent's Paragon VL-2 are ultimately more suave. However, the appearance of real bass has addressed the Lowther balance. The remaining upper midrange energy no longer distracts this listener. In fact, it's an inherent part of the magic. With a big but - if not played too loud. Which is an easy trap due to how low-distortion of a transducer the Saadhana is at the usual levels from which to mindlessly push upwards. To quote from Bernard Salabert of PHY whose drivers enjoy equivalent sensitivity: "When you listen to music at a realistic level (80 to 90dB), 92% of the movements with our efficient cones are less than 4 microns. When the whole cone can move 40 to 400 microns however as it does on a lot of commercial speakers, there is huge intermodulation and absorption to pay. People who judge a drive unit's action with their eye (which most of them do) are utterly fooled. The true quality of a drive unit lives in those 92% which cannot be seen without a very large microscope. It is not in the big slow movements made to try to reproduce the very low frequencies that one discovers the true quality of a driver."

Big motor and light minimum-excursion cone equal greased reflexes and superb micro articulation. That's why you don't want separate woofer motion to interfere with this infinitesimally small Lowther voice coil business. With the Saadhana's split cabinetry, you don't. Because the DX55 isn't high-pass protected, reason warns that its +/-1mm excursion window could be shattered by excess high-amplitude bass. None of my favorite ambient fare with true sub bass -- living with the Zu Definitions teaches you about what's really on your albums -- caused break-up or hit stops. I can't guarantee what you might do but anyone attracted to Lowthers in the first place and not living in a castle should probably be fine. However, with high settings on the bass control plus excessive preamp levels, the bass alignment can be made to sound stuffy and hollow. Plainly, then the compound loading gets overdriven.

Because the turnover frequency to the woofers can be set an octave higher than the Lowther's point of diminishing returns, Lowther leanness is no more. Lowther bass suck is history too. All that adds up to one perfect Lowther. As described above, that's far from the perfect speaker however. Where the Saadhana excels -- vocals, tone, the conveyance of the energy encoded in the notes, true intimacy with the artists -- it's addictive as sin.

The Saadhana presents the listener with a surprisingly diminutive point source which even past its massive trim ring encounters mostly curves rather than sharp edges on the ultra-modern architectural cabinet. The auxiliary but visually integrated bass modules not only hide their compound driver complement from sight, the bass quality too is audibly invisible as anything separate from the visible point source. The smaller the point source, the bigger the sound? If that were a rule, it'd apply here in cubits. However, the speaker did clearly better for me farther out into the room. If you must park your speakers close to the wall, the Saadhana would seem to not be fully maximized.

Unplugged. When Renaud Garcia-Fons bows his 5-string upright with deep vibrato, his bass sings to you with passion. When Sevda vocalizes, you should feel hypnotized. Creating that gut-level connection so you feel played is what the Saadhana is all about. Many technically competent speakers utterly fail at that. The Saadhana packs it. That alone makes it a huge success. It's damn difficult to criticize with pencil in hand and against a dry check list. That said, if you play the Saadhanas too loud, they quickly get hollow and whitish at the core. You can presample that effect by sitting directly on-axis. It's not where you'll seriously listen, ever, but that particular quality becomes more predominant as you prime the pump. However, those levels will nearly predictably be higher than normal if you actually bother to measure 'em.

Unlike urban myths claim, you need not run valves to enjoy good results here. A FirstWatt F3, F4 or Red Wine Audio Signature 30.2 will be splendiferous. If you run tubes, make sure they're quiet. The DX55 is hardwired to them. If you're a speaker swapper, you may want to build a movable stand to wheel the fully assembled speakers around. While Jacob has already lengthened the copper ribbon leads, to perfectly level and square off both cabinet halves, keep them a tight 4mm apart for visual perfection and feed through the wires without breaking them while messing with the spikes isn't something you'll want to do more often than necessary. Best to park the Saadhanas on a mobile platform then. (Jacob is building me just such a platform to match its finish to my pair. Whether it'll be available as a special-order item in the future I don't presently know.)

The $8,000 question
Has Jacob's gambit paid off? For confessed Lowther addicts, squarely. For calmer heads, it depends. For this kind of cashish, other speakers exhibit fewer limitations while arguably also less magic. If you see eye to eye with the Lowther lure, little else will satisfy. This equals willingness to accept the innate limitations of truly complex music, excessive levels and the undercurrent of chilli bits in the vocal range.

Even if you're ultimately better served by something else, a spin with the Saadhanas remains instructive. You'll appreciate the ongoing fascination with the Lowther DX55. It's a classic conundrum - a bit idiosyncratic like a British car, self-authenticating once driven, hard to explain to innocent bystanders. And practically speaking, perhaps not the only occupant of your garage. Compared to most ordinary transducers, the Saadhana is a life-wire connection to the tunes. You simply feel more. Isn't that precisely at the core of most addictions? It rather transcends staid technicalities. And the Saadhana obliges by being Indian-sourced medical-grade ganja. Pass it around? Not this pair, sorry. It ain't going back. That's always supposed to be the ultimate endorsement. In this case and especially being a reviewer, the Saadhana couldn't be my only speaker. But the bases it covers are for the inner pleasure animal. Even (especially?) reviewers need to get that type of satisfaction - at least some of the time...

Besides no bass and the shrills, the average Lowther is notorious for one other crime - endless break-in. I've run IsoTek's break-in CD with good results but there's no way of knowing what many more months of simple playing might do. Seeing how I don't listen to any one speaker for long periods of time, reporting on long-term changes in this case could mean rather indefinite postponement. I thus published the above as "early findings" to report with a follow-up later if warranted by surprise discoveries. After reading the above, Jacob George requested I refit the rough commercial felt liners behind the DX55 cones as these apparently address the rising response at higher amplitudes head-on.

It turns out the man was correct. While seemingly a very small tweak -- a narrow felt strip wrapped around the driver's perimeter such that it covers the area where cone and surround meet -- the audible merits far exceed the modesty of the tweak. By purportedly absorbing reflections between cone edge and basket instead of telegraphing back through the diaphragm, the occasional cayenne action on vocals has been successfully banished.

My Swiss friend reports the same of his pair which must play a far bigger space, i.e. output higher in-room SPLs for the same volumes at the ear. My criticisms in that regard were thus premature. Let that be a reminder to take this minor tweak serious. Install it exactly how the supplied CD/ROM clip shows it. It takes very little time and most certainly is worth its feather weight in solid audio gold. On that subject, synchronicity intervened once more.

If Lowthers + transistors are taboo where popular wisdom is concerned, Lowthers + class D amps must be a straight ticket to 7th hell. With Red Wine Audio's new 30wpc stereo Signature 30.2, it's time for Lowtharios to become their baddest selves and board that train. This amp is significantly warmer than Trafomatic/Yamamoto-style SETs yet gives up nothing in resolution or inner detail. It arguably exceeds many triode amps in dynamic verve and its bass is certainly superior, not a real issue here but the absentee noise is. Most agreeable is how this amp, without any preceding preamp, builds out the mass/density equation without slowing anything down. At $2,500 with remote-controlled premium stepped DACT attenuator, this black box shames much trophy audio and in combination with the Saadhanas, leaves you wanting for absolutely nothing. But things were to get better yet.