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Early October 2010. The email was from Cochin, Southern India. Rethm owner Jacob George had very interesting news: "As you can see, we've been hard at work. Here is the new baby in the Rethm family. For a sense of scale, the width is only 170mm, i.e. a little under 7 inches. Here we're not using a Lowther. Instead this driver is custom-made just for us. It took quite a bit of work to get it to sound the way we wanted, with all the life, dynamics and transparency of the Lowthers but not their shout. We finally did it. A lot of people do not like Lowthers and as you know, I've worked for 10 years on modifying them to overcome their flaws. And no, my supplier is neither Peerless India nor Tangband in China since my numbers for them would be far too limited. Besides, development work across international border takes forever. We had to go back and forth with prototypes far too often. I would listen to one, send it back, they would make changes, return it and so forth. Milind was head of R&D at Peerless but quit about a year ago. With a financial partner he launched his own company Hermit Audio. He does the drivers for us and is one of those truly exceptional human beings. Nobody else would have entertained my demands for continuous little changes in our quest for the best. And, he works with us on small quantities.

"We also introduced our production headphone amplifier at RMAF. This is a pure class A single-ended hybrid amp. While I am personally not into headphones like you, my son Aman very much is. It's because of him that I got into designing headphone amps.

"The photo Sasa Cokic sent you was of an all-valve SET amp with choke-regulated power supply. However its enclosure in particular was too complex. We would have had to sell it in excess of $1.000. I rethought the whole approach and actually always only wanted to bring out electronics if they were different. I therefore always wanted to bring out only hybrid amplification. That's what this is. I actually took the plunge about 4 months ago after I had an epiphany of sorts. I finally had found a solid-state amp I liked enough to keep. It was a pure class A 15-watter made in Taiwan by DA&T (they apparently have a 30-watter as well that does not sound half as good).

"That's when I decided to design an amp with a valve input and pure class A single-ended transistor output. Following your reviews I discovered that I agreed. While Mosfets sound sweet they are not the last word in extension and detail. So we use something called a 'super transistor'. You would probably like this amp better than our earlier valve SET version. It is also a much simpler design to manufacture which means it can retail at or below $750. I have to work out pricing with Aman who may be handling sales of our headphone amps direct. We are also working on a hybrid integrated speaker amp along the same lines except that it will get a transformer gain stage after the tube input stage."

"You are right that as far as tonal accuracy, precision of the signal et al are concerned, there's nothing that beats a transducer not colored by the room. As you said, technically and from a pure sound perspective, headphones are unbeatable. I do often use them to run checks and see if the speakers I'm designing are missing anything. However, to get the feel of space and depth and dimension and that low bass one almost feels rather than hears to be quite simply immersed in the sound field as one would at a live event (admittedly nowhere close but still)... that, naturally, is impossible for headphones. One can still enjoy the music of course. I did a lot of headphone listening when I was stationed in San Juan on a job and had no system. But given the choice and for sheer pleasure, I would always opt for a less 'accurate' speaker system that surrounded me with music than a more 'correct' headphone system that played music only inside my cranium." 

As suggested in my review of the wildly more expensive Voxativ Ampeggio from Germany, the so-called widebander genre in general—single-driver speakers with or without ancillary drivers—seems only partially developed. Such drivers tend to not be co-developed with and thus purpose-built for specific enclosures. Why would that be important? Isn't that true for most other speakers too?

Yes but. One of the theoretical appeals of widebanders is their avoidance of electrical filters. The shadow side is that it limits frequency response corrections to mechanical solutions in the enclosure - and/or after-market modifications of the driver. You'd think it more sensible and efficacious if such drivers and enclosures were developed in tandem.

Arcadian Audio's Pnoe horn with AER driver

That however is still far rarer than it ought to. There are exceptions—AER, German Physiks, John Blue, Manger, Omega and Voxativ come to mind—but the general reality is, widebander speaker designers run with off-the-shelf drivers whose various response aberrations they must correct in their enclosures whilst simultaneously chasing bandwidth. A closer collaboration between driver and speaker manufacturer would be desirable. It's something Jacob George's long struggle with heavily modifying Lowthers knows all about.

It seemed inevitable that this man would eventually get involved with his very own Rethm drivers. It's simply surprising that this very small firm in Southern India has managed now when many larger companies in this sector still have not. Does it seem sensible to expect that the bigger Rethm models of Maarga and Saadhana will eventually also get their very own transducers? Jacob's description of "endless back and forth" prototyping of the Trishna driver paints a rather time-consuming laborious picture which just had to involve considerable financial resources and plenty of good will to come off. But it does seem a harbinger of things to come - from Rethm and, hopefully, the larger community of widebander developers.  

After the show, Jacob checked in again: "Here are a few reactions to the new Trishna from the just concluded RMAF. Neil Gader of The Absolute Sound called it "one of the brightest surprises of the show. Designed for smaller rooms, it retains the beautiful eccentricity of the larger models yet retains the designer’s vision with its paper-coned full-range driver in a narrow horn-loaded cabinet. The active bass is handled by twin 5" woofers in a sealed isobaric enclosure powered by an internal 75W FET amp. And the sound? Detailed and open with surprising extension given the speaker’s small footprint. Price: $4500."

"Stereomojo awarded it best new speaker under $5.000. Computer Audiophile said that "...another favorite of mine was Still Audio showing off his brand new 45-driven amps pushing a huge 1.5wpc into some baby Rethm speakers. These little guys with their oddball shape and Lowther drivers sounded fantastic. Great bass, effortless everything else. Very surprising. The amps and pre are all new from Still - and Still is itself very new. Very impressive freshman showing and I'm looking forward to seeing more of them in the future."

Then Jacob threw in a surprise. "We have been busy making changes to the Trishna after I got back. Despite the good feedback at the show, I personally wasn't entirely happy with the bass response. We have therefore decided to go to two 6.5-inch woofers with a bigger isobaric chamber. We had to do quite a bit of reworking to make this possible. We are also reworking the Maarga and making cosmetic changes to the Saadhana so that all of them follow the aesthetic lead set by the new Trishna. And, Milind is working on two new drivers - one for the Maarga, one for the Saadhana."

January 19, 2011: "We still have not received the drivers. But I got a message today  that the first batch of Trishna drivers have shipped. Milind is also sending me the prototype of the new Maarga driver. The new Saadhana prototype driver should be ready in two weeks. Milind had a very hard time sourcing the parts especially for the Saadhana driver because I'd told him that under no circumstances would we compromise on parts quality. One of the things both of us wanted was this really great bamboo fiber pulp cone. Finally we've got it. Again remember that very few people are willing to entertain us because of our low numbers. I should be able to send photos and intel on all 3 new models in a couple of weeks."

Rethm website