Review: Cardersound Tybone Speaker
The Making of an Audio Crackhead: Cardersound's "Tybone “ Speakers
“And you may ask yourself-well...how did I get here?”
From “Once In a Lifetime” by Talking Heads
Okay. Let me state a few facts at the outset. I am a real user of these speakers. I am not a professional reviewer. I own a pair of Tybones. They are sitting about ten feet away from me right now. Linda Ronstadt’s voice is coming out of them, as sweet as can be.
The first time I heard the Tybone’s, it took me approximately one minute to make the decision to buy them. I know you're supposed to audition ten’s and ten’s of different speakers while you listen to all genres of different music in different venues, weigh them and compare them, rub you chin, mull it over, really AGONIZE over this monumental choice. But that was unnecessary with the Tybones. Not with these speaker.
Good is good and great is great and that’s it. Fort Pitt.
I once owned -up until last week - a very nice pair of B&W 805’s. They are excellent speakers and sounded superb. But a quick comparison of their sound with the sound I heard emanating from the Tybones was so stark that it was not even close. The Tybone’s were so superior in every meaningful aspect - so clear, so transparent, so lifelike in their presence– that it was one of the easier decisions I’ve ever had to make. Take the image produced by the Tybone’s. It is so centered, the singer is so RIGHT THERE in between the two speakers, that it is - for lack another word - “freaky”.
And the soundstage is huge - and when I say huge I mean HUGE, hulkingly huge - so vast that Luciano Pavorotti’s impressive bulk can barely fit inside of it. These speakers are six feet tall and that is the height of the soundstage...at a minimum. And the soundstage is deep. It has a palpable depth. And it projects out...and Out...and OUt...and OUT! And the closer to the back wall you move these double-mouth, folded-horn, single drivers, the more the soundstage gets pushed OUT. When I roll back my listening chair, farther and farther away from the speakers, the soundstage follows me as if it’s chasing me; it's as if I’m Steve McQueen in "The Blob". And when I’m dead in the pocket and adjust the height of my chair to hit the sweetest part of the sweet spot, it’s exactly as if I’m gingerly immersing myself into a pool of warm, liquid sound; it flows under me and around each side of me and over me until I am literally in the middle of it, awashed by an ocean of sound.
Like I said: these speakers are “freaky”.
Now as I’m writing this, sitting in front of these Tybone Things – these oak monoliths – I can’t help wondering how I ever stumbled upon them. After all, the company is brand new and the design is rather -shall we say- “exotic”. Double-mouth, folded-horn, 4 1/2 inch single drivers do not exactly comprise the bread and butter of the audio industry. I would guess it normally takes your average enthusiast more than three months before they get around to buying a pair of six foot, single drivers. Then again, I could be wrong. I have no idea how long it normally takes. I haven’t been at this hobby long enough to venture anything other than an educated guess. But I’ll let you be the judge.
See if any of following rings a “vaguely” familiar bell.
Last December my wife decided to buy me a new cd rack for my birthday, but she wanted me to pick it out. After some quick internet legwork, I chanced upon a Sony 400 disc changer that cost $220, about the price a nice disc rack. Oh boy, I thought. Not only could I get rid of all those dust-collecting jewel cases but I could get a new cd player to boot! That sounded great to my wife (the disappearance of the jewel cases, that is... she could care less about the new cd player ) and so the deal was done.
Maaan, did that expensive Sony unit sound good. It was much better than the $59 five-disc changer I’d bought from the local big-box-chain store. But then, for some inexplicable reason, I began to wonder how the Sony would sound with a bit more power than my Harmon-Kardon 25 watt/channel A/V receiver put out. So I trotted over to the only audio store within fifty miles (good-bye and good riddance big-box chain store), and after careful consideration (and with the expert advice of Jerry Novel, my first audio guru)I purchased a Rotel RB1062 integrated amplifier that produced sixty watts of clean, clear power. I hooked it up and whoo boy! Now that Sony REALLY sounded good.
And then in dizzyingly rapid succession –I‘ll skip the gory details of my addled thought processes - this happened:
The Rotel integrated amp morphed into a 100/wpc Rotel RB1072 Class D power amp with matching Rotel RB1070 pre-amp...and my Polk rt100i speakers turned –overnight, mind you- into the B&W 805S’s with matching B&W factory stands, which immediately gave me the urge to play my old vinyl albums on my rarely-used NAD 533 turntable that was soon fitted with new Grado Gold cartridge because the Electro-Voice Goldring that came with NAD was obviously not good enough. And then, in less than two weeks, the NAD 533 turned into a Pro-ject 9.1, replete with a high-gain Grado Master cartridge, a Pro-ject Ground-it Deluxe isolation base, Pro-ject Speed box, and Pro-ject dust cover.
Now...FINALLY...the old albums sounded pretty great. But they were a mite – how can I put it - graaaiiiny. You know what I mean? So enter the VPI 16.5 record cleaner. And then -let’s see here, it’s all become a blur- there came the Van Den Hull 300 MK3 interconnects, the Tara Labs bi-wired speaker cables, and the MAC Sound Pipe power cords.
Wait. There’s more. I’m sure. Oh yes...the DAC. I forgot about the Beresford TC7510 DAC. Now the old Sony didn’t sound so edgy. It had a distinct analog quality to it.
What I needed was something that would make my system sound -how did they put it in the audiophile magazines- warmer? Yes. Warmer. Warm and fuzzy and cozy. With a nice, soft luminescence. (You know where this is going, right?)
“Hello, is this Underwoodwally? It is? Great! Hey Wally, could you please sell me one of your Jolida 9 phono stages? Yes, the one with The Tubes. Right, the unit with the level one modification? You WOULD sell it to me? Gee! Thanks Wally.”
Two weeks later the Jolida arrived and it was all over. I connected it and The Tubes took over. I couldn’t see them because that’s how the Jolida is built. But I could hear the difference. And The Tubes were saying something, something I couldn’t quite make out, something that sounded like “biode” or “diode”. No, that wasn’t it. They were saying “triode”. “Triode” with a capital “T”. “Triode”...whatever that was.
It didn’t take me long to find out.
I read and read and asked questions...lots of questions. Within three days I was a triode expert. And I have to tell you: the whole idea was right. I knew less than nothing, yet I knew. I just knew. It all made perfect and complete sense. The simpler, the better. Less is more. All that Mies van der Rohe, architectspeak. And again, in less than two weeks, there arrived via UPS a silver, metal-flaked Will Vincent Dynaco ST-70 Triode amplifier, 17wpc (and not 35, since it’s a triode). I plugged it in, connected the 805’s, and the world literally stopped. To paraphrase Bobby Jones’ comment about Jack Nicklaus’ golf game: it produced a sound with which I was unfamiliar.
Yes, the world stopped on a dime and gave me nine cents change...and of course it was goodbye and farewell Rotel power amplifier(and as long as I was parting with the amp I might as well say goodbye to the preamp). Triode amp, meet the Dared SL2000A pre-amp. The Tubed pre-amp.
You'll pardon the abrupt transition, but let me assure you of this: speakers are alive. They are not inanimate objects.
I know this because when all that tube equipment began to appear in my listening room, I actually saw the B&W 805’s begin to squirm. Right there, mounted so beautifully on their flat-black stands, those speakers squirmed. (Remember how Rodney Dangerfield would crane his neck and stick his finger inside his shirt collar because it was getting too tight? That’s the kind of squirm I’m talking about).
You see, The Tubes had allowed me to cut right to the chase and realize that a crossoverless single driver was the way to go. And the 805’s knew I knew. And I knew they knew I knew.
So what if I’d never heard a single-drive speaker? It didn’t matter. I knew. And what’s more, the man I’d bought the amp from, a fellow named Tony Bender, had a friend who’d first been a customer...and this friend was just beginning –quite coincidentally - to build single drive, double-mouth, folded horn speakers, the very same ones I’d seen in an Audiogon ad. And Tony Bender’s friend was Jeff Carder of Cardersound, who happened to live in New Jersey, the same New Jersey in which I live. So Jeff and I hooked up.
I drove down to his shop in Vineland to listen to his big, tall THINGS. And as I’ve said, these THINGS sounded better, so much better – as in twice as good, three times as good (who can say how many times as good, except that they sounded much better)- than my B&W’s that it was a shock. I could not figure it out, especially since the Tybones cost a thousand dollars less than the 805’s. So I ordered a pair, Jeff delivered them one week ago, and here I am ,sitting in front of them, still asking myself: “well-how did I get here”?
Okay. Now on to the speakers (and you’ll have to forgive the absence of reviewer-eze because I don’t speak the language; the concept of how blacks becomes blacker continues to elude me).
Visually, the Tybones change in appearance depending upon your perspective. They’re six feet tall from any angle, but if look at them head-on they appear skinny, like a long-legged super model. Yet when you move around them and look at them from the side they look like pillars (I won’t say “the pillars of Hercules”, but they are THERE). They have a definite PRESENCE.
And then there are the two mouths, the two yawning maws of each speaker, one at the top, one at the bottom, each mouth 15 inches high and five inches wide, with stepped sound diffusers inside each mouth, six steps on the top and six on the bottom. And right smack dab in the middle of the speaker is the white, paper-coned Fostex 4 ½ inch 126e driver. And the whole kabboodle is wrapped in a rich white-oak veneer (because that was the color I wanted), impeccably finished, top to bottom, sound diffusers and all. There are two Cardas binding posts on the back, and on the post mounting plate is engraved “Custom made for David Rosenblum” along some other words I have not yet read because I love to stare at my name and savor the notion that these Things were custom made especially for me.
I have fiddled with the speaker placement –and fiddled and fiddled and fiddled- and right now they are 10 inches from the wall behind them and three feet in from the side walls. I have discovered, much to my surprise, that every time I push them a little farther back the soundstage gets pushed a little farther OUT FRONT. It’s like pushing down on edges of a Whoopee Cushion: the more you push down on the edges the more the middle bulges out. And as I’ve said –but it bears repeating because it is so much FUN to do- if I roll my listening chair back a foot the soundstage follows me and comes out another foot, and so on and so on. It’s as if it’s attached to me by an invisible string.
I suppose this is where I should inject the relevant equipment information but I already did that and I destest redundancy… especially my own... ESPECIALLY my own. Quickly though: the Dynaco Triode amp, the Dared pre-amp, the Jolida phono stage, the Pro-ject turntable, and all the aforementioned accoutrements.
Now the big question: what happens when I turn on my system and awaken the Tybones?
You have to resist the urge to stick your head into the speaker mouth so you can see all the other speakers that are in there because there is no way –no way in Hell- that all that sound is being generated by a lone 4 1/2 inch Fostex. And since their sensitivity (or is it “efficiency”) is 93 db, you don’t have to turn up the pre-amp gain very much...hardly at all if you’re listening to a CD, a bit more if you’re listening to vinyl. That Triode amp doesn’t break a sweat, and yet the sound level is waaay sufficient. Plenty enough. And should you desire more than enough – and don’t we all desire more than enough from time to time – you can have it if your eardrums are up to it.
Still, regardless of the decibel level, the sound is honeyfied. Always. The top end goes up forever, the midrange is strong and full, and the bottom is...well, it’s sufficient. Yeah. Alright. Like most single drivers –and all speakers really – the Tybone’s don’t get down, don’t get "down-down". But when the bass is there, there in the grooves - when you listen to Zeppelin doing “Since I’ve Been Loving You”- you feel it. It is accurate. And fast. And crisp. There is zero muddiness...nary a trace.
Listening to Blind Faith’s “Do What You Like” (on the o-rig-i-nal 1970 vinyl we’re talking) is a transcendental experience. Clapton's strings will make you cry. Rick Gretsch’s bass is ALL around you and drags you right to the bottom of that pit in your stomach. Stevie Winwood truly sounds like a lovesick seagull. And Ginger Baker? Ha! Ginger Baker. Like Clint's .44 Magnum, his drum solo will blow your head clean off. It’s not as if he’s playing his kit right there in front of you; it’s as if you’re standing one inch behind him and hear what he’s hearing... not what his audience hears, but what Mr. Baker hears. I know. I’ve played the drums. Trust me. The sound is the same sound you hear when sit at the kit. You can hear every single stroke, even the single click when he clacks his sticks together. Even when he taps his tiny 4-inch cymbal. In fact, all of the cymbals decay so slowly that the hsszziinng never stops. And at the end of the cut, when Ginger is double-bassing at the speed of light with all his precision and control, and he’s flailing at the brass hats and pounding his way around the tom-toms while the other superstars are screaming “do what you like!!” at the top of their frenzied lungs...
Honestly. Words are totally insufficient. You absolutely have to hear these speakers to understand.
And that’s on the hard stuff.
You should hear the softer stuff. You should hear Peter Paul and Mary sing “Stewball” in mono. Each voice is discernable, surrounded and separated from the others by their own aura, as is the guitar and the bass and the ambience of the studio in which PP&M recorded the song.
Oh man: these speakers deliver the female voice so deftly that it’s as if Joan Baez and Eva Cassidy (poor Eva) and Tracy Chapman have actually performed in my listening room. When Joni Mitchel sings “California” in that voice of hers, you feel those neck hairs rise?
I could go on and on about all the tracks I love, but the list would be too long. Sometimes I think I’m a starving man who’s trying to stuff as much food down my throat as I can, but no matter how much I eat I want more. Try this on for size: I have listened to these speakers for ten hours straight and have still wanted more.
I once owned a Corvette, a maroon 40th anniversary edition. I distinctly recall that every time I walked up to that car it was a special event. Every time. These speakers are the same as that Corvette, but with an added bonus: you may think you remember how good they sound but you don’t. You can’t. Your audio memory does not last that long. You may INTELLECTUALLY recall that they sound very good, but it isn’t until you hear them once again that you are VISCERALLY reminded how good they are. Because every time I turn them on I get blown away afresh.
Listener fatigue? Not with the Cardersound Tybones. You can’t wait to get the next platter onto the turntable. You’re always ready for “just one more hit”...just one more before you go to sleep...just one more. One more will finally be enough. But it never is
Which is why the reason I called this review, “the making of an audio crackhead”.
Dynaco ST70 Triode Amplifier
Dared SL2000A Pre-Amp
Jolida 9 Level One Mod Phono Stage
Pro-ject 9.1 Turntable w/ Ground-It Deluxe Base and Pro-ject Speed Box
Grado Master High Gain Moving Iron Cartridge
Beresford TC7510 DAC
Sony CX 455 CDP
Van Den Hull 300 MK3 Interconnects
Tara Labs Speaker Cable
MAC Sound Pipe Power Cords
Lovan Sovereign Racks