ReTHMic Blues  O   O   O    
and then . . . the ReTHM Experience!    

ReTHM horn speakers did not make a good first impression with me. But as I got to know them better, I grew to like them more and more. Now, I love them.

The initial poor impression was mainly the fault of component mismatch. I never realised how important component matching was until I experienced the ReTHM. All along, I had thought that all high-end, high quality equipment would sound good and that proper matching would only make them sound better. But no. In some cases, a mismatch can actually make a component sound bad.

This was the case with the ReTHM, which sounded exceedingly bright and
harsh the first time I hooked it up. It was unlistenable.

Yet certain things did catch my attention. Like the incredible resolution, the amazing speed, the exciting dynamics.... I had a feeling there was something very special about this loudspeaker.

ReTHM designer Jacob George - I was introduced to him because he happened to be the cousin of an old friend - had also mentioned to me that the speakers may be difficult to match. They sounded bad in his friend's house but very much better in his own home, he had said. I was not yet going to give up on this loudspeaker.

Came T S Lim to the rescue. Lim is the designer of DIVA amplifiers and a
very experienced audiophile. I have often heard him perform wonders with hifi set-ups by simply changing the speaker position, and by using simple tweaks, like isolation cones.

When he heard the ReTHM, his first reaction was "Change the preamp!"

Lim explained that because of the Lowther driver's very high sensitivity -
about 100 dB - normal active preamps provide too great a driving force and make the speakers sound too harsh. When I switched over to a passive preamp, the sound improved.

Still, it did not sound quite good enough. Lim, who was doing some soldering work in my office and not paying much attention to the ReTHMs, then asked, "What speaker cables are you using?"

"Nirvana," I replied.

"No wonder!" Lim said.

And here's the surprise. "Use cheap cables," he suggested.

What a big surprise! When I removed the $2,000 Nirvana cables and
inserted some cheap, $1-per-foot speaker wires, the sound improved
dramatically. Now the ReTHMs sounded much smoother, much more listenable. Some of the details were gone, but the speakers sounded good for the first time.

I learnt such an important lesson about component matching. Lim had always talked about it, but I never fully understood what he meant. Now I did.

Putting together a bunch of "good" hifi equipment will not necessarily
produce good sound. Great sound is attained only when the components are correctly matched. And this may sometimes mean mixing expensive, high end components with others that are less expensive, less "high end".

However, I still dare not say that I now understand how component matching works. Because the same Nirvana speaker cable now sounds great with a new, improved pair of ReTHM speakers. I guess we really have to try things out and not depend solely on theory or on past experience.

Anyway, on to the new, improved ReTHM . . .

Although the first pair of ReTHM speakers had begun to sound very much
better, it was still not satisfactory. The bass did not go deep enough, the
mid-bass was too lightweight. The tonal balance was not right.

I gave this feedback to Jacob. He said he has received similar feedback from many others and was working on a new design with much better bass response.

Jacob and I had also been talking about about launching the speaker at the
2000 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and he wondered if T S Lim and I would be interested in having DIVA amplifiers show with ReTHM.

I asked Lim. His response was, "If Jacob can improve the bass, it will be a
great speaker."

And so Jacob did. With only about two months to go before CES in January 2000, Jacob announced that his months of hard work had paid off. His new design has a much deeper, fuller, richer bass response. "We're in business," he said.

Lim agreed to develop a new, DIVA 2A3 push pull amplifier and a DIVA tube buffer passive preamp specially to match the ReTHM. We would launch them at THE SHOW, which is held in conjunction with CES. We booked our room almost at the last minute.

Jacob, Lim and I went to THE SHOW purely on faith. Lim and I had not yet
heard his new, improved speakers. Jacob had not heard Lim's new 2A3
amplifier. But we all had faith that both Jacob and Lim were capable and
talented designers.

When we finally connected ReTHM and DIVA together... again the first
impression was not good. Again, there was no bass!

Jacob could not understand. He insisted that he had very much better bass response back home. Lim also insisted that his new amplifier had deep, punchy, well controlled bass.

But something was wrong. We experimented with all possible speaker
positioning, either to maximise the bass response or to take full advantage
of its beauty in the mids and highs.

We swapped CD players, from Lim's modified Marantz CD63 to the Sony SACD, then back to the Marantz - because the Marantz sounded more musical.

Nothing worked. After a few hours, we were all tired. Lim wanted to give
up, Jacob wanted to go home and abandon THE SHOW. Even I, who was not doing anything except watching the two of them work, was tired. We were all disheartened.

Then Lim said, "Let's try something...." adding, "I don't think it will work miracles..."

Lim reversed the speaker cables, swapping the red with the black.

What we heard next was truly a miracle! The bass came on. The sound was
good. For some reason which none of us understood, the earlier set up was
out of phase! Swapping the cable connections solved the problem. Now all that was needed was for Lim to fine tune the speaker position. We were ready for THE SHOW.

Response from visitors at THE SHOW was very encouraging. Many who were familiar with Lowther speakers commented that the ReTHM was the best they've ever heard.

They were particularly impressed by the fact that the ReTHM did not have
the mid-range "frequency hump" which made other Lowther's somewhat
irritating to listen to. All along, Lowther fans had to tolerate this irritation in order to enjoy the Lowther's other qualities - its speed, dynamism and realism.

Many were also impressed that the ReTHM produced such good bass given the relatively small size of its enclosure, and given the fact that Lowther speakers - except for those in gigantic boxes - are generally weak in bass response.

And when they heard that the ReTHM retails for US$5,000, the reaction was "very reasonable". Good sounding Lowther speakers usually cost at least two to three times as much.

Reviewers have written favourably of the ReTHM:

* Art Dudley of Listener (May/June 2000) says "the new ReTHM loudspeaker may be the best Lowther application yet". Dudley further reports that "THE SHOW was also the first place I've heard Lowther (and Lowther-type) speakers producing what I consider hifi sound. particular in the ReTHM room."
But it was not just the sound that impressed him. Commenting on the musicality of the system set-up, Dudley adds that "the "Lowther-based ReTHM loudspeakers also knew the difference between songs and sound."

* Dick Olsher (former Stereophile reviewer), notes in the internet magazine that the ReTHM had successfully solved many of the problems inherent in single-driver horn speakers, such as problems with back-wave reflections, standing waves and driver resonances.
"Driven by the Diva Seduction amplifier," Olsher writes, "the ReTHM sounded absolutely delicious with a nice blend of delicacy and dynamics."

* Positive Feedback, probably the most important magazine for serious audiophiles has acknowledged ReTHM's specialness by asking for a pair to be heard at its annual gathering of writers and reviewers in September 2000. Only a select few get this invitation.

* Albert Yeung, who writes for the Chinese language HK magazine Audiophile, is well-known for being a difficult man to please. Yet he too, gave ReTHM the thumbs up.
And this sort of made T S Lim envious. "I am jealous," Lim says. "Albert has been listening to my amplifier designs for eight years and it¹s only now that he says it is good. Yet Jacob get the thumbs up at his first attempt!"

Loudspeaker design is probably the most difficult of all the hifi arts and it is rare indeed for a first time designer to succeed the way Jacob has with the ReTHM.

The ReTHM is truly a great sounding loudspeaker - provided you learn to play it right.


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