Reviewer: John Potis
Digital Source: Pioneer DV-535 DVD/Bel Canto DAC2, McCormack UDP-1 universal player [on review]
Analog Source: Sota Jewel, Sumiko Premier FT3, Micro Benz MC Silver, Bryston BP-1.5 phono stage
Preamp: Herron Audio VTSP-1A
Power Amp: Art Audio Carissa; Art Audio Symphony II [on review]
Integrated Amp: Underwood HiFi/PartsConneXion Level-2 Music Hall Mambo [on review]
Speakers: Silverline Audio Sonata Series II
Cables: JPS Labs Superconductor interconnects and speaker wire, DH Labs D-75 digital interconnect, JPS Power AC, Analog AC, Digital AC and Kaptivator power cords
Powerline Conditioning: Balanced Power Technology BP-3.5 Signature: ZCable Ultra Z-Sleeves
Sundry Accessories: Vibrapod Isolators
Room Size: 12' by 16' with 9' ceiling, speakers set up on long wall in quasi Audio Physic orientation.
Review Component Retail: $4180/pr

Designed around the 6" Lowther DX 55, the 98dB-efficient Third Rethm loudspeaker is, by hornloaded speaker standards, a fairly compact affair. It measures an unassuming 43" high, 18" deep by about 12" wide. At 44 lbs, the Third Rethm is a lightweight PVC/Fiberglass enclosure punctuated by solid hardwood base and shoulders, with stainless steel hardware tying it all together. Hidden within that enclosure is a 9' folded labyrinth said to be made more efficient in its transmission of rear-wave energy by a horn whose cross-section is perfectly circular beginning to end. Rethm quotes a room-dependant bass response of 55Hz. Rethm supplies a single pair of Delrin input terminals that accept banana plugs only. Internal hookup wiring is bare copper with linen sleeve.

My review pair came in basic flat black for an appearance any NASA engineer would love. Truth be told? I was rather taken by their looks. They arrived in wooden shipping crates and required a minor amount of assembly that included the mounting of the Lowther drivers, application of a decorative trim-ring and something that separates the Rethm line of speakers from all other Lowther-based designs.

I refer to a Rethm-designed bullet-shaped insert of expanded polystyrene that mounts behind the Lowther driver with electrician's tape affixing it to the magnet. This attachment is intended to prevent the driver's rear wave from reflecting back through the driver diaphragm, something Rethm designer Jacob George claims represents a major flaw in other Lowther-based designs that largely accounts for the infamous "Lowther shout". This magic bullet simultaneously creates a compression chamber effect said to accelerate the rear wave propagation through the rear-loaded horn labyrinth.

Noteworthy in a review of a 98dB-efficient loudpeaker is that as good as the lower-power Art Audio 845 Carissa and its 300B Symphony II sibling sounded, a lot of my time was in fact spent with the Underwood HiFi/PartsConneXion Level-2 Music Hall Mambo at the helm. It functioned and sounded marvelous with the Rethms. By no means would I thus suggest the Third Rethm exclusively to owners of flea-powered tube amplifiers. [At HE2004, Red Planet Labs made another very successful case for such a pairing by mating The Second Rethm with a 100wpc+ transistor amplifier - Ed.]

The Best Of The Best?
How do you define "best"? Does it equate to perfection? I think not. We regularly accept something as best despite obvious imperfections. It's a lot easier to talk about something as being best without insisting on flawless perfection. That's not just in matters of audio, either. Take the 2001 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Raven football team. Champions, yes. Perfect? Nope - not even close. In fact, they had one of the worst offenses in the league that year. The 11-1 Ravens won three straight games without a point scored by their offense. You know what they say - sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Well, the Ravens proved that sometimes the best offense is a spectacular defense. While a very important piece of the 2001 Raven football puzzle was thus often non-existent, overall the team was formidable to say the least: The best in the League.

The Third Rethms remind me of the 2001 Baltimore Raven football team. Perfection? Certainly not. With bass extension that reached to only 75 or 80Hz in my room and a tweeter-less treble that topped out above 12kHz, there's a lot that the Rethms will never be able to bring to the table. But in other areas, the speaker is so spectacularly good that this lack of bass just isn't a deal breaker.

Balancing and to an amazing extent compensating for what the Third Rethm can't do is what it can. The top and bottom of its range may only be hinted at but its middle, like the 2001 Raven defensive unit, is something to be reckoned with. Like a blitzing Ray Lewis, the Lowther DX 55 driver comes right at you with one of the most transparently musical and utterly detailed executions I've ever heard. I've read and laughed when seeing, in terms of speed and transparency, dynamic speakers being favorably compared to electrostatics - most of them truly don't compare. But
the Third Rethm really does. Where the Rethm actually betters some electrostatics is in its depiction of musical body. The Third is not merely about leading edge transients - it follows up with harmonically complete totality. It renders voices more beautifully transparent and purely natural than most anything else. To hear the Third's crossover-less single driver coherency is to be instantly impressed if not smitten by it neatness and order. Acoustic instruments and vocals don't just come across as sounding right, they sound real. Amazingly so in fact.

Lowther drivers are well known for the "Lowther shout". It's what turns off some listeners and becomes just one of those imperfections that's accepted by those who otherwise adore what the driver does so unbelievably well. The Third Rethms are the first Lowther-based speaker I've evaluated. I can't personally comment on just how well Jacob George has succeeded in eliminating that honk via his magic bullet, wooden phase plug and perforated custom skirt. Ears I trust tell me that it's been greatly ameliorated. And I'll tell you this: What I hear from the Third Rethm bears little resemblance to what I've read about with other Lowther-based systems. True, there's a gentle rise through the upper mids which gives the Rethm a forward and musically exciting quality. I suppose that those who believe in "the absolute sound" (those who experience live music from the same seat time and time again and don't realize that their absolute is severely compromised the moment they move forward or sideways by a few rows or seats) probably won't find that the Third conforms to their expectations of absolute timbral and tonal neutrality. But those a little more tolerant while accepting what the speaker does so right will likely share my enthusiasm. And there's plenty to share here.

No matter what your idea of the absolute sound might be, there's no denying the reach-out-and-touch-you transparency and realism which the Third brings to the table. The Rethm strips away layers of opacity, coloration, congestion and haze which you likely never knew were there. It leaves the cleanest window on the music you may have ever heard. It's the speaker equivalent to the SET amplifier. The Thirds have the same kind of illuminated-from-within musicality and detail prized by low-powered SET fans. If you've never heard it, nothing I can say will convey what's awaiting you until you give the Thirds a try.

That's not to say that the Third completely skirts the Lowther imperfections. While it does a remarkable job of remaining smooth and behaved throughout both the fundamental and harmonic range of most acoustic instruments, you can occasionally get the Third to bear its sharpened teeth. While clean and undistorted electric guitar

sounds fabulous, heavily distorted guitar is another matter. It would seem that the guitar's distorted frequencies overlay the otherwise hidden Lowther frequency peak like ketchup on fries - the combined energies result in a superfluous dose of sizzle. If the distorted guitar happens to be contained on a bright-sounding CD such as Nirvana's Nevermind [DGCD 24425] and gets combined with elevated SPLs, the result can be downright annoying.