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"We have worked really hard to bring the finish up to where it is. As you would well know, to compete at that level we cannot have a product for which we need to make excuses either aurally or visually. It has been a long hard and mostly lonely road but I  dare say that I finally have a product that will stand on its own merits. It's actually a pity that most reviewers do not comment a little more on aesthetics.
"I realize aesthetics are an extremely subjective issue. But for that matter so is sound. The way a product looks is a major factor in the buying decisions a customer makes. A good friend in Dallas has ordered a  pair of Trishnas. He just told me that two more of his friends were waiting to order Rethms as soon as they had a chance to hear his pair to assure themselves that they sounded "halfway decent". Their main buying decision was already made on the fact that they loved the way our speakers looked - apart from my friend vouching for their sound of course. He is a recording engineer who has a keen set of ears among other things." - Jacob George

I found Jacob's concern for tweaked cosmetics beautifully expressed in the stylish Rethm logo. Where many will stop at a silk screen if not much sooner (with a metalized plastic sticker), his is attractively cut into each wooden cheek rather than mar the smoothly curved fronts. Like fine Scandinavian design the cabinet execution and color schemes follow suit to become more object d'art—modern art to be sure—than utilitarian loudspeaker or robotic geek statement.

The metal plinth sports integral outriggers which the end user mounts with one wood screw per cross bar to allow the speakers to be flat-packed. This completes the tastefully accessorized dress code down to the shoes. The adjustable-from-above spikes then become the designer shoe laces. Connect power cord and speaker cable, fire up your chosen amp from 45 micro-triode power on up—the $1.500 Red Wine Audio Signature 15 would be a terrific and cost-effective choice—be pedantic with path-length equality during setup (use a laser distance tool), adjust the low-pass filter and level control settings to taste and voilà.

As the close-up shows, the lower of the two isobarically configured upfiring woofers is visible inside the upper of the two unusual slanted vents. Blessedly there is absolutely zero hum with the built-in bass amps. This neatly shifts the burden of finding an equivalently silent main amp to the owner. Vinnie Rossi's battery-powered 15wpc FET amp with triode buffer is ideal also on that count.

Once my audition began in earnest, Stereophile had coronated Voxativ's Ampeggio as their prestigious Product of the Year 2011. The LF-limited widebander thus edged out competing speakers like B&W's 800 Diamond, Vivid Audio's B1, Sony's SS-AR1 and Wilson's Sophia 3. Though I truly admire Mrs. Adler's design achievement, I found this particular distinction overdrawn. To double-check my reaction I cued up Lisa Gerrard's well-known Spirit Chaser for the famous didgeridoo pedal of "Song of the Stars". Though the Maarga couldn't fully energize my deep room with bass power—that'd require more cone area—it did lock most firmly to the true fundamental. This established that ominous sensation of feeling gripped by the short hairs.

The far costlier Ampeggio couldn't do that. Then it suffered certain bass nodes inside its faceted rear-horn line. I've noted that now in both my Villeneuve space and Dan's (he went with a JL Audio subwoofer for augmentation). With the abnormal 'no back-wall' placement of my former Chardonne residence I'd not heard this line resonance. Regardless, Jacob's implementation of a dedicated bass system not only didn't exhibit the Ampeggios' minor hot spots, in my room it doubtlessly showed more extended smoother LF response and patently higher raw bass power.

27" iMac, PureMusic 1.82, April Music Eximus DP-1, ModWright LS-100, FirstWatt SIT2, Voxativ Ampeggio, Rethm Maarga

Likely due to its indirect—upfiring then reflected down and reflected again—woofer loading compared to a traditional front-firing array, the Maargas' bass lacked the guttural sock-'em impact of bigger paralleled woofers. Yet this particular scheme transitioned truly seamlessly into the widebander's coverage. This made for elegant quick integrated articulate wholesome rather than massive attack bass of the brutal slamming sort (not that widebanders and such cyborg bass would likely look for the same customer). But there was more in favor of the Indians. Running the Voxativ with the wide-bandwidth ultra-fast SIT2 amp from Nelson Pass begs for an infusion of valves. This pads down extreme lucidity in favor of added warmth/weight. In Dan's place for example Inès herself had preferred his Colotube 300B monos over the S2 which I'd brought along for the ride. (I preferred the S2 but would perhaps have gone for valves with Dan's M-77 Kondo preamp.)

Without this thermionic infusion of textures the S2/Ampeggio combination to my ears veers into the lean and slightly whitish. The Maarga meanwhile tolerated a deliberate absence of glowing bits just fine. This tracked with Jacob's design goal of wanting to overcome the intrinsic leanness of the archetypal Lowther sound which the Ampeggios—admirably very much without the infamous shout—still do exhibit. Put differently, the Voxativ more openly promotes its blistering speed to prefer valves. Its glory seems more dependent on just the right amplifier. The Rethm is fast but doesn't advertise it the same way. If it were a car, its suspension would be considered just a bit softer. This makes transistor amps of the right sort just as suitable. Which isn't to say that you won't prefer tubes particularly into this speaker. After all, high sensitivity plays even a low-power SET well inside its sweet spot; and active bass neatly circumvents the usual LF control issues of low-current high Z-out amps. Put differently, perhaps nowhere is the special allure of purist micro-power valve circuits better tapped than with a Maarga-type transducer. Before Woo, Yamamoto and Trafomatic valve amps make an appearance, we'll have a friendly duel against the Zu Audio Essence with the S2 amp to generate more color and context.

To conclude the Ampeggio/Maarga comparison, this—and not the larger—Voxativ speaker remains the best single-driver creation I've yet heard. John Atkinson's Stereophile measurements shed light on its surprising in-room performance. That said, Jacob George's eventual capitulation to the concept's irreconcilable LF limitations and subsequent years of perfecting an integral active auxiliary bass system demonstrate an important point. Stubborn adherence to a lovely ideal (a single driver is best, period) can become somewhat myopic. That's definitely relevant when the final retail price comes crashing down on tolerance for genre-specific can't-dos and demands to get it all instead. Rethm's $8.450/pr asking price for the Maarga demands that already, don't you think? How much more so the Ampeggio's $29.500? In my book the Indian isn't simply the better balanced speaker. It's the better speaker period. And that's without yet factoring its decisively lower sticker.