My Listening Report of 3 Single Driver Speakers

I’m visiting Atlanta over Christmas & New Year & decided to take the opportunity (gifted to me!) one afternoon to pop over to Earth Shaking Music (ESM) just outside downtown Atlanta. ESM are dealers for Cain & Cain, Carolina Audio & Omega single driver speakers. They deal with a lot of other audio stuff & with musical instruments but single driver speakers was my focus this afternoon. I was particularly interested in finding out just how one can make a single driver speaker that covers the entire audio freq range as it goes against all that I learnt about speakers & individual drivers to represent each sub-section of the audio spectrum.

The speakers I heard were the Carolina Audio JTM & JSM stand-mount, Cain & Cain Abey & BEN & the stand-mounted Omega Super 3. The Carolina Audio comprises of one Jordan driver while all the others comprise a single Fostex driver. There are some visual differences among the Fostex drivers – the Abey driver has a whizzer cone, the BEN driver has 5 deep ridges & 5 less deeper ridges (to delay cone break-up when asked to put out high SPLs) & the Omega speaker driver has a long (1”) phase plug. The Jordan driver is a metal compound.

The amps powering these speakers were various Antique Sound Labs (ESM stocks only this line of amps) – ASL Explorer DT 50W/ch mono using 805 tubes, ASL 100 IDT 50W/ch & 30W/ch stereo amp where the 50W/ch uses KT88 tubes & the 30W/ch uses EL34 tubes & the tiny ASL MGSI15 5W/ch stereo amp using KT88. I heard all these amps on all these speakers.
CD player was a cheap Toshiba mass-market DVD player.
Preamp was an ASL Passive TIDT (transformer-based passive pre).
Cables were all Carolina Audio i.e. interconnect & speaker.

I had forgotten bring my CDs on this vacation so Dave (owner of ESM) played his – Miles Davis “Kind Of Blue” re-mastered version-track 1, Bill Withers “Best of”-“Aint No Sunshine”, Buddy Guy “Blues Singer”-“Crawling Kingsnake” & a 6-man vocal group – forgot name! & some tracks from Australian & Irish duo which was gothic-like singing with techno percussion.

So, how was the sound??? In one word – unbelievable!
I never thought that a single driver speaker could t-h-i-s good!! All speakers created a large soundstage, clean & crisp highs, plenty of high freq extension (I still am wondering how a large 3” or larger single driver can do this??!!), sufficient to plenty of bass (the BEN produced a whopping amount of bass, which was too much for that room & we both agreed that bass traps were sorely missing!), there was a decent amount of soundstage depth (but I have heard much better in my friend’s RM9-based system), all speakers were very dynamic & this came thru esp. with the 2 Cain & Cain speakers in the Buddy Guy track where Buddy really smacks the strings (much like Michael Hedges did). The JTM & JSM speakers were a touch (but certainly) laid-back/warm compared to the Cain & Cain. Since the Abey produced less overall bass compared to the BEN, it appeared, at 1st, to sound a bit cleaner than the bigger BEN. However, extended listening during the afternoon told me that the BEN was interacting with the room modes to create a lot of bass overhang & when this would be cured, it would be just as clean as the Abey. I was amazed to listen to the Buddy Guy track on the Abey – it created a holographic midrange & this was totally fantastic! There was another common strain among all speakers – they all sounded very natural i.e. no mechanical/techno/hi-fi sound thus one could listen for hours on end without any listening fatigue. One reason for this is a lack of cross-over circuits (no need for them with a single driver!) & boy, what a difference this makes for the better! As an aside, this convinces me more of 1st order cross-over circuits, which is the next best thing to no cross-over.

The JSM was the least efficient speaker in this group at 88dB/1W/1m while the Abey was 92dB/1W/1m, the BEN was 99dB/1W/1m & the Omega stand-mounted was also 92dB/1W/1m (I think!). It was totally amazing (for me) to listen to all these speakers thru the little ASL 5W/ch amp! There was no hint whatsoever of any amp compression & 5W/ch seemed to be more than plenty. This is my 1st experience with a “flea” powered amp & needless to say that I was -pleasantly taken-aback.

The ASL stereo amps have a triode/pentode switch where the pentode mode bumps up the power – the 5W/ch becomes 15W/ch. We switched the stereo amps into pentode mode - it was really, really required when driving the JSM (made a huge difference for the better!) – but the triode mode “magic” was lost esp. in the midrange, the obvious place to locate this loss.

It was an awesome afternoon (thanks to my wife!) spent listening to (what I would consider) unconventional speakers. Dave’s hospitality was great & he was a very obliging store-owner putting all his offerings thru their paces for me. I went in there a skeptic of single-driver speakers & came out quite convinced! The most glaring fault of these speakers is that they cannot play to very loud SPLs – maybe 105dB SPL is their max? Maybe some owners can shed more light on this? I could find no other obvious flaws in these speakers (I’m sure there are & I’d find them ifffff I could live with a pair for some time).
I live in Atlanta and have had several very enjoyable listening sessions at Earthshaking. I listened to the Carolina speakers which to me represent an unbelievable bargain. Very coherent, smooth, yet extended (except in the lower frequencies). They are a bit laid back and I don't think they could fill my rather large listening room, so I chose not to take the plunge. If I had a smaller listening room I'd pluck down my $1700, add a sub and be done. They're that good.

I'm curious though. Did you think the Abbey's were a bit harsh sounding? I think I heard a bit of that Lowther honk I've reard about and am curious to know what you heard. They didn't seem as smooth and fatique-free as the Carolina's. Dave didn't have the Ben's in yet so I definitely need to take a trip back, though they're totally out of my price range.

He's a great guy and is really carving out a niche in the low powered, single driver space. Hope he makes a go of things. The Atlanta market really needs a dealer like Dave!


I went thru my notes (both on paper & in my mind) - we played the BENs 1st & then switched mid-stream on one of the tracks to the Abey. Yes, I did hear a bit of harshness & I immediately thought that the Abey were a bit forward. At the same time I heard the soundstage narrow a lot & the bass reduce quite a bit. So, I figured that the midrange got emphasized. Maybe I was wrong & it's that Lowther honk? I definitely noticed that it was recording dependent i.e. if the CD was well recorded the harshness was less objectionable/not present vs. a recorded that was badly done. In fact, Dave played a bad recording & then 50 seconds into it switched it & told me "I just figured why I don't play this CD anymore!" I don't know what CD that was but it sliced my ears off on the Abey!! Even my previous B&Ws sounded better!
So you're right - there is something about that Lowther driver. Not entirely objectionable if you're careful but that limits you to what you can play thru it.
Would any Abey owners like to chime in to shed light on this one? Thanks!
Do not be to narrow in your search. Try listening to the Tannoy line sometime. I found them to be exceptional. But maybe over your price range.
I have been using single drivers with SET amp for awhile now, and I really like it.
The "Lowther Honk(or shout)" is much less with the new series of drivers that has been out for about a year or so, now. Also, it is much better after a long time of break in(500 hours) which most dealers don't have time to put on their demo speakers. Additionally, I have developed a cone treatment that virtually eliminated any residual aspects of the "shout"(not for sale). The Abbey is actually an iteration of a Voigt Pipe enclosure, and is similar to what I use with my Lowther EX3 drivers. Very enjoyable for what it is designed to do.

I would say that a true SET amp is a requirement on these kinds of speakers, since they have a synergy with single driver speakers that is not matched by push pull type amps. Lower power is better, with a 3 watt 2A3 SET or a 2 watt 45 SET being about perfect for these Lowther driver systems. A 300B would probably be better for the Fostex drivers or the Jordans. I use a 2 watt 45 SET ZOTL by David Berning with 12v battery power and choke loading, and it sounds extremely good on my modified Lowther Voigt Pipe system. No problem achieving 105db peaks at 1 meter with this setup.

As far as these systems being too revealing for poor program material, this is quite true. Poor program material, especially in CD, is sometimes unlistenable. As a result I use LP playback only on my system, which gives me a much more palatable overall result. But there are some LP recordings that are very poor also. When you have a very revealing system, it will reveal a poor recording just as fast as a poor product or matchup in the system synergy. You really have to know what you are doing to get a system like this sounding just right, because even slight errors in synergy or product selection will become painfully obvious when listening. There is simply no place for any flaw to hide. But when you get it right, it will deliver musical performance like very few, if any, other kinds of systems can.

In a properly sized room for a system like this, it is possible to get very close to live volume levels for the kinds of acoustic or club music that are typically played on systems like this. No, it is not going to simulate the live SPL of Led Zeppelin at Shea Stadium, but it will do rock and roll very nicely for the SPL that most people would be satisfied with in their living rooms, and not do much hearing damage in the process. If you are a headbanger, then this is not the system for you. If you want a very musical system that has micro and macro dynamics to die for, which is what I think is the heart of the emotional content of the music, then this is a great system for you.

I applaud you for reporting your findings on this type of system to the members, because I think there is still some lingering doubt that a low power, single-driver system can be a satisfying audiophile package. In my opinion, it is about the only type of system that I could live with anymore, because it does what none of my other more "conventional" high power SS or tube systems could do. It delivers music better than any of the more "normal" systems that I have ever heard. Yes, there are flaws which are primarily in deep bass response and some colorations. Nothing is perfect. But these are very good systems that can do some things better than anything else, and should be taken seriously by anybody seeking truly musical reproduction with incredibly live sounding dynamic detail at reasonable SPL.

Thanks for your feedback & kind words!
Thanks for the interesting comments.

IMHO, coaxial speakers (pioneered long ago by Tannoy)offer the same single coherent source as the drivers that you mention, without the "whizzer cone" or other "by design" cone breakup characteristics necessary to get HF out of what is basicly a woofer.

I would rather live with rolloff around 12 KHz than listen to "whizzer" buzz. But then I am 65 years old, any my ears are rolled off anyway.
Gotta weigh back in here.....

TWL, I wondered about the break-in issue when I was listening to the Cains. Perhaps Dave needs to just run em every night while the store is closed. I'll mention it to him and plan a return visit. Not sure I heard their best.

I have since heard the Tannoys and The Horn from The Horn Shoppe (Ed Shilling) since then and I have to say that at some point I'm going to take the plunge into Single Driver Land.

A buddy of mine was recently putting together his first high end system and had a somewhat limited budget. We both fell in love with the Tannoys! He bought a pair of Saturn 10's from Audio Atlanta and I gotta agree with Eldartford. They do most, if not all, the wonderful things I've been hearing in the single drivers. They're coherent, dynamic and fast. Transients come to life and images float in the room. Good stuff!

We also recently took a trip to Leesville, SC to visit Ed Shilling and hear The Horns. Two things you gotta know about Ed. He loves his single drivers and he loves his beer. We had a great time listening, drinking and chatting away. He's quite a character.

His speakers have to be THE defacto value in audiophilia. For under a grand you get a good heaping of single driver joy, and he backs it up with a 30 day guarantee! I think you're gonna want a sub with his speakers because when pulled out from the corners they lose a bit of LF energy, but boy do they sing! Maybe not all the delicacy and inner detail the Carolina's have, but coherence, drive and speed out the wazoo.

Needless to say, I'm a bit of a convert too. Still haven't found the speaker I'm ready to settle down with (kinda like my love life!) but I'm enjoying the search!
I have had a pair of second hand Abbey's for over a 2 years now. I have also heard new Abbeys and they HAVE to be burned in before they sound anywhere close to right. I also think that the higher DB's needed for multi driver speakers are just not needed with the Abbeys. These play louder at low volume than others do. They are so clear and clean that lower volume ( compared to multi driver speakers ) is very pleasing where as many multi driver speakers HAVE to have volume to sound nice.
Try another visit after the Abbey's have a couple hundred hours on truly MAKES this speaker.
I know this sounds odd but until you witness these speaker designs first hand you just don't know what your missing.
Some of the better performing fullrange drivers. A short list starting out with lowest price performance. Fostex fe126e,fe166en [Abby used fe166e probably new ones use fe166en] 206en, fe168e sigma, fe208e sigma whats in the Ben.Fostex f120a,f200a my personal favorite fullrange bang for the buck driver near the best but with better bass response than most all fullranges. The SEAS X-1 probably best value in hi-end fullranges. The Feastrex and Voxativ FC drivers are very good but over priced I feel.FYI Fostex made some special editions most have a esr behind num fe138esr fe166esr fe206esr fe208esr all are very good drivers. Just stay clear from modified or treated cones. Dont over pay, Horn shops use the same fostex as many 3k horns. Much in audio is hype so educate yourself. Tonian, Omega offers some good cheap fostex designs, madisound has bk20 kit for fe208esigma DIY a speaker that performs like Bens. But it is good to support a good dealer like Earth Shaking Music so you can experience things like fullranges most Audio dealers do not stock such.