Price as tested with upgraded tweeters: $6,200
The Cain & Cain Single Horn Ben is a very efficient 98 db, 2-way floor standing speaker. The story of Cain & Cain is important and interesting, so I asked Jason Flanary, the one-man company known as Cain & Cain, to write a brief note about how he came to be that one man. The story is very compelling; sad and triumphant at the same time. What I got was almost three type written pages. He told me to edit it down as needed. Here is the result:
JASON AND THE AUDIONUTS
“The Cain & Cain Company has been in business here for more than 25 years, twenty of those years specializing in quality millwork, furniture and casework for high-end residential and commercial interiors. But something was missing for Terry and at the end of the last century the planets aligned and he began to design several iterations of what has now become the Cain & Cain speaker line. He always thought the ultimate marriage of fine woodcraft and music was the piano; “something of beauty that would occupy a special place in one’s life (and living room).” He found and corresponded with several different audio “kindred spirits” (audio nuts) that fueled his fire and encouraged him to market his creations. The inspired mentoring and humor of Harvey “Dr. Gizmo” Rosenberg, and Japanese tube and horn theories of Sakuma San topped the list. Not often does one person encompass all the things necessary to create a true work of art, but in 2001 Terry Cain and The Cain & Cain Company began creating hand crafted, aesthetically beautiful musical instruments in Walla Walla, Washington that reflect the synergy of a music lover, musician and master craftsman.
Woodworking had always been one of the things that I truly loved and music was always a close companion in my life. Having just “retired” from the world of professional golf course construction, I was content to sit at the local coffee shop with my friends and discuss music, religion and politics until I realized you actually had to have money to retire. A friend said, 'Hey, you should go ask my boss for a job'.
So off I went to see a man about a job. I was truly blessed to be allowed to apprentice under a man like Terry Cain. Terry was a master that was trained by a master in the Old World traditions of joinery and woodworking. Terry devoted many hours to study and execution of cabinet design and audio philosophy.
Early in 2005 Terry could no longer hide the signs of what we later found out to be a combination of Lyme and Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He fought, in stoic Terry Cain style, the awful progression till it claimed him in his sleep December 10, 2006. It came as a great honor to be chosen by Terry and his wife Leslie to be the one to carry on the Cain & Cain tradition.”
THE CAIN & CAIN SINGLE HORN BEN
Thank you, Jason, beautifully put. We are equally blessed to be the first publication to ever review the Single Horn Ben (SHB). Thank you for the honor.
Standing four feet tall and a very significant 2 feet deep and 12.5 inches wide, the SHB is a large speaker. The moniker "BEN" stands for "Big ENough". All of the carpentry and fine wood adds up to significant heft, too. The shipping weight of the two museum-quality wooden crates is 350 lbs. Two of my audiophile friends who helped me unpack and repack the Ben's both happen to be expereinced woodworkers and both commented and the quality and artistry lavished on the SHB's.
Despite the moniker of “Single horn”, there are actually two drivers – a mid/bass speaker and a high compression tweeter, both made by Fostex. If that confuses you, understand that it is the design of the enclosure – in this case a “back loaded horn”- that makes it a horn. Because there is only one mouth (the big opening at the bottom) or baffle on this speaker, it is called a single horn. Cain & Cain does make a speaker very much like this one except it has two mouths, so it is a double horn. Got it?
There are many different types of horn enclosures – open baffle, folded horn, corner horn and on and on.
“Terry designed the SHB to be used specifically with the Fostex FE208ESigma driver”, Jason told me. Terry once wrote: “ The new Fostex drivers are without peer. Old notions of what a single driver should aspire or compare to are now really old. Fostex has created something very special in these drive units… Of all the drivers in the world available, these are what I choose to use and reside in my work”.
The “208” in the Fostex FE208E Sigma designates the speaker’s 208 millimeter (about 8 inches) diameter main driver.
One quality that eludes many single driver horn speakers where one unit reproduces all the sound and therefore the whole frequency spectrum, is the top end. The top end usually tends to be rather soft and rolled off, sacrificing some air and detail for what many consider to be the most magical midrange possible. If you are not aware of it, there is a huge universe of music lovers and audio enthusiasts that firmly believe that this type of speaker is , indeed, the ONLY way to listen to music of all genres. Terry Cain thought that adding a super efficient super tweeter would not negatively impact the midrange, but would add just a tiny bit of sparkle up top and some additional ambient detail to enhance the already superb soundstage. It also provides some versatility that allows the user to tailor the speaker to their room.
Jason explained, “The SHB’s come stock with a Fostex T90A Super-tweeter. They can also be purchased with the Fostex T900A Super-tweeter for an additional $400.00.” My pair had the optional T900A that appear to be milled from a solid ingot of brass. It is very heavy. It sits atop the Ben in a hand-made cradle that keeps it in place. Attach the two leads that emerge from the cabinet and you are in business.
As is often said, "The best crossover is NO crossover", the theory being that any time any thing is added to a signal path, it degrades the signal. Crossovers are often very elaborate designs with all sorts of wires, resistors, capacitors, filters - you name it. Here, the only insert is a passive attenuator the allows you to turn the tweeter down via a single know on the back.
While the Ben's are tall and deep, they are very stable thanks to their weight and a pair of sculpted,
solid maple footers on the front. Bonnie & Clyde would have a hard time knocking these things over.
You might note that underneath the stabilizer is one of those "as-seen-on-tv" plastic sliders. They work. Put some under the feet and the big Bens will slide around easily, which is a good thing because you will need to move them, maybe a lot.
Horns are notorious for the need of precise placement and the SHB's are no exception. "Speaker placement should be at least 6’ to 8’ apart and I recommend starting 2’ from the back and sidewalls and adjusting the rest according to your listening preference", said Jason. After quite a bit of experimentation and used of those plastic sliders, the Ben's ended up in an 11 foot triangle, just slightly toed in. The Ben's started at at about 9 1/2 feet apart, but they just kept begging for more space. They will definitely fill up a room this large and larger. As you can see, they were well away from any wall which actually may not be ideal.
I think they may prefer to have a little rear reinforcement to firm up the bass a bit, but I wanted to hear the speaker and not the back wall. And, as you can see, there is not enough room on the back wall anyway. That would have put the listening position about 20 feet away. Not good.
The 65" HDTV you see pictured is completely covered with a thick, down comforter for critical listening sessions. Reflections off the big sheet of glass is otherwise audible. The TV and the rest of the video system is completely separate from the audio system. No components or circuits are shared.
Obviously, this is not ideal speaker placement from a practical standpoint. They do take up quite a bit of real estate and can visually dominate a room as they do here. Placement is critical because if you get it wrong, much high-frequency and soundstage information can be lost. The midrange magic can be midrange mushy. Horns often have a reather narrow sweet spot, but that is not the case here if they are set up correctly. The image the Ben's threw was so vivid and stable that no matter where you sat in front of the speakers, a solid stereo image was present - left to right and front to back extending well beyond the cabinet boundaries. The height of the image was remarkable as well. The back wall is 12 feet high. The Ben's image reached the ceiling when there was a large stage on the recording such as Turtle Creek 200 voice men's chorale on Reference Recordings or The Mission Soundtrack.
GOIN' UP AROUND THE BENS
With apologies to Creedence Clearwater for the silly song reference, the Bens are mostly about midrange, but what exactly is "midrange"? A lot of people think of midrange as one-third of the total frequency spectrum. You know; highs, mids and lows - three bands with the music equally divided up among them. Not true. The vast majority of music is produced in the midrange. The human voice mostly falls exclusively in the mids and so do most orchestral instruments, so if you are going to have one frequency band that gets the sound as close to perfect as possible, you want it to be the mids. Here is where the Cain & Cain's shine. Stunningly gorgeous vocals and solo instruments; a real "reach-out-and-touch" experience. "Kind of Blue" was kind of incredible! Who said Miles is dead? And Karen Carpenter, Lady Day and Johnny Cash all sounded alive and kicking in the room as well.
Strings are reproduced exactly how they are recorded, meaning they can be sweet, liquid, bright, dark or any other color. Just not colored by the speakers themselves. Same with brass and woodwinds. It is very easy to tell just what the performers and engineers had in mind the moment tape rolled.
These speakers are fast, too. Leading edges of plucked and struck instruments were never smeared of lagging.One of my favorites torture tests for this is the famous live concert of three of the world's greatest guitarists; Al DiMeola, Paco Deluca and John McLaughlin on "Friday Night Live in San Francisco". This is one performance I have several copies of; LP, SACD, HDCD and CD. Best sound in that order, by the way. The electricity in the air is very palpable as these guys compete, yet do so in such an obviously joyous and fun spirit that it translates to the attending audience and microphones equally well. The style is Flamenco with jazz overtones. You will never hear more demonic technique and pyrotechnics on any acoustic guitar recording. Yes, I am a fan of Vai, Morse, Satriani and all the others, but these guys don't need no stinkin' wires to put the electricity in their playing, especially on that night. No pedals, no stomp boxes and no drummers or bass players. Just three masters and their acustic guitars.
Well, the Single Horns gave me a special seat right on the stage with them. The hall, the ambience, the sound of the floorboards of the wooden stag, the unique characteristics of their three instruments and the guy's own unique touch and style. This recording has some of the most rip-roaring dynamics imagineable. These guys use their instruments as drums as well as guitars, so there a many moments that can startle you if the speakers allow the full spike through. DiMeola likes to snap and pull strings resulting in breathtaking, sudden, dynamic peaks. The SHB eats dynamics like M&M's, except they don't melt in your mouth. Incredible! Many direct radiators tend to compress or limit big dynamic swings. The Ben's give them to you in full array.
The tweeters add just enough high frequency information to reproduce the zing and the ambient info, breathing just that extra breath of life to the recordings. I think they must only come into play above 7kHz or more.
There is a real sense of ease with the SHB's, perhaps because they are so easy to drive. Rated at 98 db efficiency, they are an amplifier's dream. Or not. Depending on how good the amp is, but more on that in a minute. The philosophy is that owners of speakers this easy to drive can spend less on amplification since it only takes a hand full of watts to drive them crazy. Low power, low dollars, right? Ummmm.....maybe not. We'll see.
Nevertheless, the Cains will play loud. Very loud. 100+ dB loud. And they do it very well. No strain, no stress. They can play at volume endlessly, it seemed. The purity of the sound allows long listening sessions with no fatigue. Rooms much larger than ours would easily feel their power. I think neighbors a block away probably felt it, too.
So. Incredible midrange? Check. Clean, sparkling highs? Check. So that just leaves..
THE BASS CASE
The main reason Terry designed and built such massive cabinets was not to reproduce the mids or the highs, there are several other much smaller Cain & Cain models below the SHB's that will do that. The Ben's are big and heavy to reproduce the low frequencies. Size and mass also allows them to play a bit louder overall as well, but it's mainly about bass. While there is certainly a good quantity of bass down to, oh, I'd say 45 useable Hz depending on the room, the quality of bass, while not bad by any means, just was not as incredible as the rest of the spectrum. My ears tell me things started drifting away at around 60 Hz. I checked out the Fostex website and found the above chart. Looks like what I heard, though the drop off at about 150Hz was a little surprise. Again, your room and any speaker is an intertwined system whether you like it or not. And let's not gloss over the "depending on the room" qualification. The Ben's are a bit finicky when it comes where they live. We already discussed room placement and how they were probably handicapped by being so far out in the room. I will say though, that there have been many, many speakers in this room that produce prodigious amounts of bass which the room handles well. While not loaded with ugly sound panels, the room is strategically tuned by placing appropriate decor items in the right places.
The beautiful waterfall you see at left is in the mouth of the horn kind of like a tongue that helps control the bass frequencies and articulation.
What we are saying is, the bass in this installation was good, but not great. It could be a bit vague at times, making you work to follow the bass line, especially with electric bass. They seemed to like acoustic bass better, but still the rhythmic foundation - that which propels the music along, was sometimes less than it should be. I believe moving them closer to a back wall would help a lot with deeper pitch, but I am not sure definition and resolution would ramp up enough.
Jason had this to say, "As far as needing a sub I would have to say it is a matter of personal preference, though I think the average listener would be more than happy without one. Terry’s SHB cabinet design eliminated the need for a sub. For those who can’t live without their sub, we have the Bailey, specifically designed to integrate with all the C&C speakers, in matching woods and finishes, for $2000".
Personally, I would opt for a sub in my room. But, if that were the case, I would probably also go with the smaller SuperAbby for this room. I am positive the SuperAbby (right) with the fine Bailey sub Jason makes would be a better fit for the Maison Mojo. Maybe if I ask him real nice...
Linda adds her listening impressions: "They are large but the esthetics of the cabinetry and design are a work of art. The finish is like satin. They are unique! They could easily overpower a room. A piano black would look much better for us. As for listening to music, they are fantastic. The sound fills the room. I felt like I was in a large concert hall. The details of the instruments and vocals are right where they need to be even if you’re not sitting right in the sweet spot. The only slight negative I would have to say is that they lack bass. For some listening ears that may not be an issue."
Parade of Amps
Something else you need to know is that you cannot just throw any amplifier together with these speakers, Well okay, you can, but assuming any 'ole amp will bring out the best in these is a mistake.
This is also a good time to mention that the Ben's Jason sent were demo models that had been well broken in, though some would say these speakers take months and years to reach their optimum, if ever. While I do not know exactly how many hours these had on them, I do know Jason was satisfied that they were ready for a review. But you should know that a new pair will keep improving over several hundred hours.
Considering the super efficiency of the SHB's and coming off a stunning victory in our shootout of 14 different amplifiers, I first plugged in the tiny Trends TA-10.1 integrated amp. This is a $150, 15 Class-T watts per channel integrated that many think is a giant killer. Well, the Ben's simply chewed it up and spit it out as if they had been insulted. Oh, the 15 wpc easily drove the SHB's to very loud levels without breaking a sweat, but the sound was not pretty. The KingRex, which bested the Trends in a face-to-face shootout, fared no better.
The 200 wpc Lyngdorf (Class D reviewed here) power amp with my Halcro preamp was much better, but still the Ben's were not happy.
Abandoning solid state, I introduced the Ben's to the Audio Space Galaxy 88 reviewed here. KT88 tube based, the Galaxy runs in either Triode mode at 24 wpc or ultralinear at 48. I swear I heard a sigh of relief from the big Cain's. Now we are making music! Bass became much firmer and more controlled.
Next up was the sexy Italian "Armonia" from Nightingale with a little sweet EL34 tube action. Mama mia! Ben obviously likes the Italian ladies as she was raising the Cain to new levels of music making. The soundstage started taking on ginormous proportions and the midrange was as warm and sensuous as Gucci leather.
There is a reason these speakers love hitting the bottles; they were designed to be driven by tubes and the 300B in particular.
Knowing this, I asked Mike Allen of Jolida if he could spare a 300B for a few weeks to use with the SHB's and he was generous enough to do so. As the big 50 pound JD 300B integrated lit up, so did the Ben's. The massive, overbuilt Jolida puts out all of 9 watts per channel, but oh how those 9 glorious, single-ended watts sing! The Single Ended Triode is a perfect mate for the Single Horn Bens. Even at that low power output, there was plenty to drive the speakers to earsplitting levels. It is hard to imagine that Led Zeppelin and 9 wpc could co-mingle, but that they did. This combo rocks. Jazz and classical also came alive with a vibrance and depth of emotion that just has to be heard. If you have not experienced the horns + SET fusion, you simply must, especially if you are among the many who just have not been able to find that combination that satisfies your musical soul.
Mojo? Oh yeah.
There truly is some very special about this marriage. It is very easy to see why tens of thousands of people worldwide have listened to and owned about ever conceivable combination of amps and speakers types and have concluded that horns and SETs are the only true way. It is a shame that, for many people, this combination is very difficult to audition. I have lived in Florida for 30 years and to this day I would have no idea where to go is this entire state to hear a demo of either a single horn speaker OR an SET amp!
One more SET amp arrived courtesy of Joe Fratus' Art Audio. Terry Cain and Jason have worked with Joe on displays at some audio shows in the past, so this coterie is not new. In this instance, the towering infernos of the Carissa's twin 845 power tubes and NOS GE 12BH7's pushed the Ben's up even another notch on the musical scale. Of course, it brings the price up as well, which brings us back to the "high efficiency = low amp power output = cheap amplification" theory. Clearly, the better the amp and the better the tubes, the better the horn loading responds. Just go price a matched pair of "new old stock" 300B tubes if you want to see what sticker shock is all about. One can easily sink $1,000 or more into just one pair - IF you can find them. They are hard to find and sell out quickly when a cache is found. There is a reason for that. They sound amazing.
Of course there are less expensive SET amps out there - the Jolida being an excellent example. You even get remote control.
Since all Cain & Cain speakers are made to order for each customer, you have your choice of several cabinet finishes."Woods -- cherry, birdseye maple, curly maple, teak, and walnut, and finishes--cherry, walnut, merlot red, hunter green, cobalt blue, and black, are just some of the choices available", says Jason. "Customers are encouraged to call with their ideas and we’ll be happy to work with them on their own custom pair". Like any custom, hand-built work of art, do not expect Jason to have them ready for you in a few days. An artist needs time to work his magic!
"Terry Cain taught me to listen with my ear and my heart, to find the soul and emotion of music, not chase the elusive ideal of 'perfect sound'. 'Perfect sound' is all relative to the ear that is listening. Why do we truly love music if not for the emotions that it stirs inside each of us? The 'right music' is a friend and companion to each of us in our lives. I know I’m not the only one that actually has a soundtrack for his life--the music that helps me relax, the perfect CD for the road trip, the music to end my day or start it, the music that transports me to the first time I heard it performed live--I listen to Ray Charles and see him live at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. The list goes on and on. As Terry once said, “We understand the joy of music and seek what it takes to experience and share that joy.” - Jason Flanary
If you have a large room with a large space close to a back wall and value exquisite sound accompanied by exquisite woodworking, the Cain & Cain Single Horn Ben will bring you into the gates of audio paradise. In the right room, there may easily be no need for a subwoofer. Be ready to audition some Single Ended Triode Amplification. The Triode company makes excellent examples as do Jolida, AudioSpace and others.
For information, Call Jason directly at 509-522-224. He will be happy toadvise you as to the best speaker for your room and direct you to a nearby dealer. If none are close, you can buy directly from Cain & Cain.