Rethm Saadhana Loudspeaker Review
The Rethm Saadhana floorstanding loudspeakers are big, bold, and bodacious-looking speakers, and the task of unpacking their heavily padded boxes required the need for two helpers to set them up. From day one, they assumed a commanding presence in my listening environment, while delivering special performances in my home during the review period. Their striking and unique appearance has a dramatic contemporary look and flair based upon architectural ideas from the vision of their designer, Jacob George.
Except for the wide band driver, the appearance
of this fifth iteration (V5) appears to share little in common with its earlier
predecessor, reflecting a complete rethinking of the speaker system from
top-to-bottom. They created quite a stir whenever music-loving friends stopped
by for a taste of what I was reviewing.
Throughout our conversations, Jacob has been a personable and enlightening conversationalist via email from his home in India while I was getting to know his largest speaker in the revised lineup. Although various Rethm speakers have been around for quite a while and other models have received an interesting reception of mostly complimentary and positive reviews, Jacob's newest designs are garnering many accolades with strong and wide attention at the show circuit. My listening experiences provided deep insights and illuminating reasons why they are impressive standouts in such crowded show demo situations.
Putting Them To The Test
Some of the thoughts Duke said in his famous
lyrics are as follows:
· It don't mean a thing if it
ain't got that swing.
· Create, and be true to yourself, and depend only on your
own good taste.
· If it sounds good and feels good, then it IS good!
· My biggest kick in music -playing or writing- is when I
have a problem. Without a problem to solve, how much interest do you take in
· Critics have their purposes, and they're supposed to do what they do, but sometimes they get a little carried away with what they think someone should have done, rather than concerning themselves with what they did.
I contemplated Duke's lyrics while listening to this
unconventional-looking primarily single-driver speaker, a visionary product of
good taste from the mind of Jacob George. Rethm's Saadhana wide band single
driver has a very lively and swinging sound which projects into a room with
tremendous speed and jump factors. It has a unique cabinet comprised of
removable wood-clad sides, and brilliant silver metallic grills that wrap around
from the front face to the top and then down the back of the cabinet. They have
heavy triangular metal brackets on the lower rear sides that provide excellent
structural support along with a distinguished industrial design appearance.
The primary music range is entirely delivered by the single wideband driver with a uniquely designed vented whizzer cone and custom phase plug. The circular main driver is securely mounted at the top of the square-faced head box with a gap separating the lower cabinet fitted with a set of four 7" isobaric configured bass drivers, yet we only see the front-facing pair of two bass cones which match the diameter of the main wideband driver. Overall, this provides the symmetrical physical appearance of a smaller two-way system sitting upon a large and vented bass cabinet while positioning the main driver at an appropriate listening height for most listeners.
The People Behind The Scenes
The goal of Rethm is to deliver tonality, transparency, macro
and micro dynamics, detail, and imaging with a relaxed naturalness. Upon
extended listening sessions with a wide variety of music selections on records,
CD, or streaming lossless hi-res from Qobuz, I felt Jacob has succeeded in his
goals. With the streamlined appearance and innovative choices for materials, the
speakers are an example of tricking our eyes into sensing a natural flow,
balanced and seamless simplicity to what is, in fact, a
complex cabinet form and array of multiple-sized drivers in a speaker.
As to relating to Duke's comments about critics, I allowed the Rethm Saadhana speakers to play lots of music to express their musicality and performances. The brand-new speaker demos safely arrived from Angie's Audio Corner/American Sound of Canada in Toronto. I met Angie when I was visiting Toronto to see our daughter and her family. Angie is the North American representative for Rethem and spoke highly of their lineup of speakers. She had recently returned from a show where they had an excellent reception for their room featuring the middle of the lineup Maarga Speaker. Angie generously agreed to allow this review and put me in touch with Jacob. Although I had some ideas for what was initially occurring, I reached out to Jacob for advice along the way to resolve the various issues I encountered.
Even after some time, it was
obvious the speakers were not flawlessly blending with their sound presentation
and the acoustical space. They needed a longer time to burn and settle into
place. Jacob confirmed that it was something that would take time to achieve so
the drivers would be smooth and perform properly. With such an efficient design,
it is a challenge to truly push these speakers in day-to-day listening.
Naturally, their built-in bass driver amp, woofers, and crossover were also part
of the extended break-in period. The positioning of the speakers was critical
but no more so than any other brand and diverse types of speaker design.
I adjusted and shifted them closer and farther away, then wider apart looking to achieve an excellent balance to their direct and reflected sounds in my listening room. I also adjusted the bass setting for the sound area of the self-powered speaker crossovers and volume. I decided to add more room treatments by adding a large wood block diffusion panel on the wall behind the speakers and another carpet runner behind the listening chair.
sensed that the extremely high-efficiency design of the Saadhana Speakers was
best served with a good 300B tube amplifier. The 18 Watts of my own Art
Audio Carissa SET Amp using a pair of 845 tubes felt like too much
power. Once again Jacob confirmed it would be a promising idea to try a lower
output amp. I reached out to Scott Bierfelt of Verdant Audio and the US
representative for Art Audio. Scott generously let me borrow his beautiful Art
Audio Diavolo 10-Watt SET amp using a pair of 300B tubes. The
transparency and resolution of the Saadhana loudspeakers easily revealed the
different sounds of the TJ Fullmusic 300B or the alternate Emission Labs 300B
XLS tubes that Scott provided. The Diavolo proved the case that people with low
power amps especially when using the 300B tube
will love the efficiency and sound of these speakers. These speakers will
rejoice and revel with a few Watts of power.
There's Still Room For Improvement
Fortunately, I was able to reach out to Joe Kubala to exchange
the long runs of demo cables (that have been here for over a decade) to receive
a loom of the newer Kubala-Sosna designs and lengths to better serve my
equipment racks and speakers set up on the short wall and closer together than
in the past. The speakers were now reaching a level of excellence and satisfying
performances with the arrival and setup of the Art Audio Diavolo amp and new
Again, the words of wisdom from Duke had played out. Being concerned with what Jacob achieved with his innovative designs not fitting in with my regular and more conventional setup for Quad Speakers, I reached out for help and advice to understand what he had in mind to realize what was possible to best serve his creation. The speakers' performances came into having a deep sense of musical style and sound upon implementing some changes that I had thought would be helpful while asking other companies for support products to be able to bring out the best attributes of the Rethm Saadhana speakers. The challenging work here is that the extremely prominent levels of efficiency, transparency, and resolution of these Saadhana loudspeakers require the best supporting equipment and cables possible so they can reach the summit of their design.
They act like a point source speaker and project very quick
transients with a dramatic range and huge swings in dynamics. The single
all-in-one wide band driver does not need to interact with a crossover to blend
with a tweeter. This type of design offers an enhanced midrange for instrumental
and vocal details and dimensionality which creates a more open and lifelike
sound. They were mid-range behemoths at times with the music occasionally
startling me and leaping into the room.
While the bottom end of the spectrum did not shake my room
like the dual pair of REL subs that usually enhance the foundation sounds of my
reference stereo with Quad speakers, the built-in isobaric drivers provided an
excellent tunable bass they blended seamlessly with the top-level driver and was
able to be dialed into balance with the acoustics of my room. As designed by
Jacob George, the Rethm Saadhana speaker enables the owner to control both the
bass level and crossover point.
Jacob also explained other ideas about his ideals. I suppose his experiences growing up and attending concerts with his father were a profound influence on his development and interest in music. Jacob said "Transparency and dynamics are high on my list of priorities. Now, I feel a haze envelope the sound as soon as I hear a system with crossovers. Lots of folks are not too bothered by this. Some folks do not like the sound to be too dynamic and like it a little laid back. I come from the school that says that no amount of dynamics is ever enough... as nothing can come close to the dynamics of real live sounds."
Jacob added, "What is important for most people I would guess would be tonal accuracy. And I subscribe to that too. But some people like it leaner, and some people like it warmer in the lower midrange and upper bass. What is just right? Personal preference, I guess."
I agree with Jacob's commentary and felt a good deal of respect and admiration for sharing his ideas with me. He managed to describe many of the attributes I also listen for in a stereo and try to achieve at home from my perspective and experiences as a performing musician for the past 50 years. The Rethm Saadhana speakers have clarity and speed with a sense of space that somehow manages to float and project the essence and core of musical sounds into the room. The wide band design and matching bass drivers enabled a spectral balance and naturalness to the overall listening. Their tonal balance was adjustable with choices of tubes and amp designs. Of course, quality cables and clean power supplies are essential too.
The speakers were especially enjoyable when I was playing many
recordings made by Kavi Alexander on the Water Lily Acoustic label. I worked
together with Kavi back in 1994 when he came to Philadelphia to record with
Wolfgang Sawallisch and The Philadelphia Orchestra. The recreation of Kavi's
legendary recording A Meeting by the River made with Ry Cooder and V.M
Bhatt was beautiful and emotional to hear. I found listening to the rest of his
oeuvre of world-class Indian artists to be compelling and a revelation with the
incredible details and dynamics of the Saadhana speakers.
Once again, my experiences and listening evaluations with the Saathana speakers simply brought to life the essence and results of other comments Jacob said something to me about his listening and musical ideas.
Jacob said "People of course have different things they are
looking for from a high-end music reproduction system." And like most
people, I am looking for multiple criteria that it can satisfy and not any one
thing. There is the whole soundstage thing. Where again there are different
schools of thought. For me, it is critical to the recreation of the illusion of
reality. And there is a good reason for this. At a live event, one's eyes fill
in all the information on spatial location and direction. Seldom is it the ears.
At live events, if one closes one's eyes, all directional information collapses because PA systems are not designed to recreate this information. It is our vision that then tells us that the sound of the violins is coming from the left, and that the clarinetist is where he is, and so on. And this is the one single reason why I value valve-based systems over solid state. I have yet to hear a solid-state amplifier recreate the palpable three-dimensional fully immersive sound that even a merely competent SET amp can reproduce... let alone a great one.
And then, there is the detail. A good system must be able to
reproduce all the little details and nuances in the
music. But a lot of systems are "in your face" with the detail.
Some people like this. For me, it could get a bit much. We believe that all the
details should be there but woven into the fabric of the entire soundscape."
I was impressed with Jacob's dialogue and thoughts. I recently
had a conversation with an audiophile debating and discussing this whole sound
stage concept and the magical act of reproducing music at home. We discussed
being immersed in the sound of music in the huge space of the concert hall. The
sound is everywhere and often not specifically identifiable and located with
closed eyes. As a musician who has performed hundreds of concerts and recording
sessions, the visual sensory cues we experience at concerts are
something that is missed at home.
I endeavor to make up for that with equipment choices that contribute to an excellent sense of space and imaging but are not over the edge of realism with too many highlighted details. I also would concur with Jacob in embracing the magical wonders and natural musical sounds of tube-based preamplifiers and amps. I especially like being able to use an efficient speaker with a SET amplifier.
Owning over 100 records by Duke Ellington, along with more CD anthologies, of his huge collective library of music is a true luxury. I enjoyed hearing everything starting with the early 1949 mono 10-inch recording Columbia CL 6073 of the Liberian Suite where the vocals by Al Hibbler were dramatically brought to life and next playing the wild drumming of Louis Bellson on "Skin Deep" on the 1953 LP Hi-Fi Ellington Uptown [Columbia CL 830]. Ellington Uptown also has some of my favorite tunes such as "The Mooche," "Take the A Train," and "Perdido." The three solo violinists, Svend Asmussen, Stephane Grappelli, and Ray Nance were easily heard and distinguished when playing the Ellington's Jazz Violin Session Lp on Atlantic SD 1688. On CD demo play, Duke and Louis Master Takes was an absolute delight and pleasure to hear and tap my foot along with the players. Their dialogue during the outtakes was especially clear to hear.
I think he has managed to develop something special, to
transplant and create thoughts from life experiences and ideals by using various
parts and designs to manifest many of his ideas about music into speakers that
come closer to engaging a person in the experiences of being at a musical event.
These unique loudspeakers quickly capture a person's visual attention with their outside-the-box look and style. Their ears and emotions will be entertained and intrigued by the many aural cues, subtle nuances of textures, and tonal colors, along with their depth of sound. If your local dealer is not carrying this lineup, plan to visit a show where Jacob and his Rethm Speakers are attending to see and hear them. I am confident it will be a memorable and worthwhile experience. Congratulations and bravo to Jacob on his new lineup.
North America Distributor