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Review: Rethm Aarka Active Speakers

Jun 26, 2023Jun 26, 2023

If you like the way the Rethm Aarka look, you should hear how they sound.

My first Aarka encounter occurred back in July at Axpona 2022. Here's what I said, "…the sound was immediate, vibrant, rich, and captivating. Bravo!" Having now lived with the Aarka for a few months, I have to say that sometimes first impressions stick over the longer listen.

The Rethm Aarka are, as the post title says, active speakers. There are actually two amplifiers in play in each cabinet—a 25 Watt hybrid amplifier that marries a tube driver stage (6H6P) with a FET output stage that drives a 5″ wideband driver, and a 95 Watt Class A/B amp that drives a pair of 6″ bass drivers around back. I would suggest that these rear firing bass drivers go some way in explaining why the Aarka sound so open. More on that in a moment.

Jacob George's Rethm has been making single-driver speakers for more than 20 years. The Aarka are the first fully active design, although older models have included powered bass drivers so the step to fully active wasn't a leap. When COVID hit, Rethm, like many companies, shut down for some time and they took this time to redesign their line and Aarka is one byproduct of that process. Their new aesthetic for the enclosure comes with a familiar tagline, Form follows Function.

As you can plainly see, these are not empty words—Jacob George is also a practicing architect—as the Aarka marries a number of different materials and finishes in a cabinet design that puts some of its skeleton on the outside. Like the Centre Pompidou in Paris. I think the Aarka look right at home in the Barn and bear some resemblance to my Box Furniture Fallen "A" rack and Eames lounge chair (and Eames leg brace). But with anything that deviates from the generic/norm, your opinion may vary.

The review pair were the exact same pair as the ones I saw and heard at Axpona, and one speaker clearly got some rough treatment en route to the Barn: the acrylic nameplate that surrounds the 6H6P tubes and angles down over the front showed up in pieces. Rethm sent a replacement which was an easy fix but if there's anything I would change about the Aarka's appearance, I’m not so sure I’d keep this clear acrylic nameplate, having had the chance to see the one speaker without it. A very minor quibble.

Around back, the two bass drivers are joined by a number of inputs and a few buttons. I’ll let that picture do most of the talking except to add two things—I did not try the Aarka with an external amp since part of the beauty of this package is its all-in-oneness, and I did make use of the bass controls, finding a wee bit more level past noon filled things out nicely in the Barn. I also found myself a few inches closer to the Aarka than I typically get to larger speakers, which makes perfect sense seeing as the Barn has a lot of volume to fill. Moving even a few inches forward relieves the speakers of some work.

The simple system in use for the duration of this review found the totaldac d1-tube DAC/Streamer (review) also acting as volume control connected to the Aarka with AudioQuest cables. Both speakers were plugged into an AudioQuest PowerQuest 2 conditioner using lengths of AQ NRG-Z3 power cords. Roon ran the playback show, as usual.

My first inclination when setting up the Aarka was to give them ample toe-in, where I could see a thin slice of the inside of the cabinets. After some sitting and listening and moving, they ended up with a very slight toe-in as this setup offered the best of all worlds—strong center fill with a super wide sound image extending well beyond the speakers, recording permitting. Once thus placed, I settled into the seriously fun listening phase.

One of the tracks on my test track playlist, it's called "fun," is "Rainy Day, Dream Away" from The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Electric Ladyland one of my earliest loves. This stereo mix makes full use of imaging effects, with Hendrix's guitar, Freddie Smith's saxophone, Mike Finnigan's organ, Buddy Miles’ drums, and Larry Faucette's congas spread out all over the Barn and mostly behind the speakers until Hendrix's spoken (and coughed) intro enters very wide, stage right and up front. The Aarka threw this expansive sound image out into the Barn with great clarity and focus, while each element had a clear and distinct voice. With those very minor tweaks to the bass level (up), "Rainy Day, Dream Away" also sounded rich and full.

Valerie June sings out strong and clear as a bell on "Colors" from The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers. Acoustic guitar and June's vocals open the affair, and the Aarka do the things you expect a wideband driver to do, namely carve out a very solid physical form of Valerie June, embodied, in Barn. These speakers also do a lovely job with acoustic instruments, and here the guitar sounds just right, with a clear sense of the hollow wooden body and steel strings that have a glint of metallic sheen, as they should. The music sounds lit up, but not overly so, as it should.

Wet Satin is former Lumerian members Jason Miller and Marc Melzer and they describe the sound of their self-titled debut as ‘Komische Tropicale’. Works for me. This album is also a treasure trove of spatial hi-jinx, with sounds coming from every which way, really anywhere but the speakers. The Aarka disappear like ghosts, allowing Wet Satin's thick and kinda whacky beat-rich music to spray across the space of the Barn as if fired from a thousand tiny sources. Crunchy guitar, lotsa reverb, percussion, bass, and more bass provide a very danceable and physical experience through the Rethms. Their bass doesn't go super deep but the bass they do reproduce is fit and taught. I found that turning up the bass level beyond a touch past ‘noon’ was too much boom for the Barn. Your space and taste may vary.

There was a time in my NYC days (late 80s/90s) when all I needed was some Second Viennese School and I was set. Mainly Webern but Berg too, with an occasional touch of Schoenberg. Hey, I was single. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony present a big slice of Berg in their 2011 release on the SFS Media label with Alban Berg: Violin Concerto, Seven Early Songs, and Three Pieces for Orchestra. Clocking in at over an hour, I admit to having a soft spot for the "Early Songs", here sung by soprano Susanna Phillips. Once again, the Aarka get all of the parts right, all of the varied orchestral voices with Phillips nicely present center stage.

This is big music, with big swings especially when we get to the "Three Pieces for Orchestra". The combination of big complex music reproduced in a big Barn pushed the Aarka to their limits. Of course bigger speakers make music sound bigger, with more physicality and force. There's no way around it. That being said, I found the Aarka reproduced Berg's Three Pieces for Orchestra in a convincing manner, albeit a bit shy on ultimate fortissimo. In their plus column, the music the Aarka reproduces is done so with great clarity and color, and they do dynamics proud, sounding super light and super fast with not even a hint of strain or stress.

The Rethm Aarka have a very appealing set of strengths. They make music that feels physically embodied in room while extending the sound image as far as the recording will go. They also have an addictive airy quality, without a hint of a boxiness. What's more is they get the big things right—timbre, dynamics, and flow—and I can say after extended listening they remain immediate, vibrant, rich, and captivating. Bravo! And all they ask of their owner is a good source and some cables, the active Aarka take care of the rest.

If you like the way the Rethm Aarka look, you need to hear the way they sound. Color me impressed.

Rethm Aarka Active Speakers Price: $6000/pairCompany Website: Rethm

Each enclosure contains the following:

Driver configuration:

• 1 no. 5 in. wideband driver in front.• 2 x 6 in. Bass drivers at the back.

Electronics configuration:

• 1 amp. for bass drivers: 95 wpc. class AB solid state amp.• 1 amp for wideband driver: 25 wpc hybrid amplifier with FET output and tube driver stage. Tube used as driver is 6H6P.

Rear control panel has the following:

• Power on/off switch• Internal amplifier bypass switch• Level control• Crossover filter control• RCA input socket for line level signal.• Banana sockets for speaker level inputs.

Rethm Aarka Active Speakers Price Company Website