Caintuck Audio Betsy
Heaven’s 2 Betsy’s!
By Frank Alles
Mick W, one of my audiophile friends in a small group we have here in the
Tucson area sent me an ad from DECWARE advertising the Caintuck Audio “Betsy”
open-baffle loudspeakers for a mere $450 per pair.
intrigued me since I am curious about open-baffle designs and also because the
price was so low for decent quality pair of audiophile speakers. As it turned
out, speaking directly with Caintuck’s Randall Rash, my review pair of the
Betsy’s in the Sapele (an attractive African hardwood) finish does in fact
retail factory direct for $450/pr and he even had stained plywood versions
available for only $350/pr. Hallelujah brother! The prices that DECWARE charges
appear to be the same as if you purchased them directly from Caintuck
Audio—with the possible advantage that you could also buy a nice little tube
amp from DECWARE to make the Betsy’s sing.
To be sure,
the Betsy’s are built to a very attractive price point. The Betsy’s bases, made
from 2” by 12” stock work fine and look okay (not that you can see them from
looking at the speaker from the front). But in the exotic world of high-end
audio, a more upscale base with a less resonant binding post “box” would be nice
possible upgrades. That said, the lower cost of those materials did not seem to
affect the sound very much if at all.
main and only driver is an 8-inch full-range unit with a whizzer cone for
extending the high frequencies without using a crossover. Two leads from the
speaker to the binding posts is all that is required for connecting to an
amplifier. Betsy’s driver is impregnated with carbon-fiber to improve
stiffness, and both the cone and the motor assembly are very light weight for
faster-than-usual transient response.
DIYer’s, the drivers themselves are sourced from Wild Burro Audio and as of
this writing there is a 2-month wait for delivery if you’d like to try to
build your own speakers.
about open-baffle speakers is that they radiate sound both front and rear and eschew
the typical box enclosure to achieve a very open sound—sort of like a
Magneplanar, but using conventional drivers. The trade off is normally less
bass extension (as it is in this case). But in view of the Betsy’s coherency,
super-fast transient response, and holographic imagery, I’d say this trade-off
is well worth it. Besides, as it happens, the Betsy’s bass performance, which
begins a mild decline at about 80Hz still seemed to have satisfying bass output
to below 50Hz in my room with the room gain taken into account. And as I said
the bass is very detailed and articulate. Of course it almost goes without
saying that the bass freaks among us will probably want to add a subwoofer for
extra bass extension, but I enjoy the Betsy’s bass just as it is.
Caintuck Audio website they picture matching open baffle 15-inch woofers (at
extra cost) to compliment the Betsy speakers. I did not have the extra woofers for
my evaluation, but they look quite cool.
claims his open-baffle subs mate better with the Betsy’s than other box-type
woofers. He sells two subwoofer models, one with either a 12” or 15” Eminence
bass driver for only $150, and another that uses an Auggie 15” woofer for $350.
Additionally, he can source a Dayton Audio SA-100 plate amp and attach it to
the rear base of either subwoofer model for only $125 extra.
with the “budget” theme, I first tried a couple of lower cost options with the
Betsy’s. I used my Lenovo laptop computer (with a USB cable and replacement 5V
supply by JMaxwell Audio)
as the music source feeding the modified Jolida Glass FX Tube DAC III, which,
in turn fed my amplifiers.
with my 80 watt/channel custom Tripath amplifier, which gave very impressive
sound. Later I moved to a DECWARE Super Zen Triode single-ended tube amplifier
using a tube rectifier and two Russian output tubes similar to the EL84. The
amplifier is rated at only 2 watts/channel, and while it sounded quite dynamic,
detailed, and amazingly good in most ways I found myself wanting for a touch
more meat on the bones. But then, I did have the Betsy’s set up in my large
14’x30’ room, which I’m sure was challenging for the 2-watt Super Zen Triode
amp to adequately fill. Mind you the Betsy’s sensitivity spec is only 92.4 dB @
1 watt input.
Later on I
tried my modified Dignity Audio 300B mono amps rated at 8 watts each.
Surprisingly those amps played the Betsy’s fairly LOUD in my large room without
any obvious signs of distress. I will mainly comment on the Betsy’s sound
quality using the Dignity 300B’s. And though the Betsy’s played at a healthy
level in my large room they do have their limits and are not intended as “high
don’t come with any type of feet, but DECWARE’s Steve Deckert had pre-installed
a tripod of rubber feet that you can typically find at any hardware store. I
was installing them on padded carpet so I put two Black Diamond Racing carbon
fiber cones under the left and right sides of the front baffle to give them a
slight tilt back (since the Betsy’s are not very tall). I also put a 5-pound
weight on the rear center of the base to provide more stability. This all
worked very well. Before I installed the BDR cones and rear weight I used
Betsy’s rear handle to move the speakers around so I could find the
best-sounding position for their imaging and frequency balance.
tried the 2-watt DECWARE Super Zen Triode amp in my Small-Room System on my
Wavetouch Audio Grand Teton SE speakers and it threw a huge layered soundstage
and some of the sweetest, most extended high frequencies I’ve ever had the
privilege to hear.
Steve Deckert has agreed to send me a second Super Zen Triode amplifier so I
can run the resulting pair in bridged mono, which will bring the power output
to 6 watts for each amplifier. I suspect the bridged Super Zen amps will work
very well with the Grand Teton SE’s (and the Betsy’s for that matter) and I will
be doing a full review of the Super Zen Triode amplifiers sometime in the near
future. Steve D assures me that the image density will improve with no loss in
Beginning with Eva Cassidy’s “Wade
in the Water,” Eva’s voice came to life with very wide dynamic contrasts. When
she changes her volume level and you can tell when she’s belting it out,
cruising along, or pulling back from the microphone. With this wonderful sense
of dynamic flavor the music almost seems to breathe. Also on this particular
track, the trumpet sounds very natural and when the musician triple-tongues it,
it’s very easy to hear due to the fast transient speed of the Betsy’s nimble
The treble is generally airy.
Cymbals shimmer, and high frequency percussive instruments like bells,
triangles, and drumsticks clicking together are both plausible and poignant.
The Betsy’s don’t have the last word in high frequency extension or refinement
as compared to more expensive speakers with top notch ribbon or beryllium treble
drivers but I don’t think you will find many speakers that provide more
convincing highs in the Betsy’s price range.
That said, the Betsy’s do seem a bit
prominent in the lower treble, which gives them a slightly forward sound with
some treble-rich material. This is part of what gives the Betsy’s their lively
sound—with the other part being their dynamic nature.
I did notice that the Betsy speakers
are particularly adept at reproducing many types of guitar playing. Whether
it’s acoustic or electric and whether the strings are being strummed, plucked,
or thwacked, the Betsy excels at providing a super-convincing guitar sound.
Again, the Betsy’s lightning-fast transient speed and dynamic capability are on
display. Playing recordings from Jimmy Vaughn, Mick Fleetwood, and John Mayer,
showcased the Betsy’s talent for providing lifelike guitar sound.
I’m quite familiar with the sound of
John Mayer’s Continuum CD (AWARE/Columbia
82876 79019 2) and I have to reluctantly admit that the Betsy’s outclassed many
much more expensive speakers with their exquisite rendition of Mayer and his
band on this well-known album.
Songs like “Waiting on the World to
Change,” “Belief,” and “Gravity” sound like you’re there at the concert. Just
check out the bass line on “Belief” when you have a chance. Although the
Betsy’s don’t provide the deepest bass, the speed and articulation of the bass
guitar and drums may just knock you back in your seat a bit.
As far as imaging goes, the Betsy’s
will not disappoint. They can layer a deep and wide sonic portrait like
nobody’s business—and probably throw in a few small nuances you hadn’t noticed
before. They are really that good.
But of all their many talents, I
believe the area where the Betsy’s truly excel lies in providing outstanding
vocal performance with both male and female singers. Listening to all my
“heavy-hitter” vocal tracks from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Ingrid
Michaelson, Regina Spektor and, of course, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole’s famous rendition of
“Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” it became apparent that the Betsy’s might just be
a vocal aficionado’s wet dream. And any verbose description I can offer would
likely be inadequate. No joke!
Okay, for a scant $450/pair, the
Betsy’s are not perfect; no surprise there. But for me, they serve the music in
a way that almost no other speaker anywhere near their price will be able to
These are high-fidelity speakers,
not PA speakers, so although they will play at healthy sound levels, if you are
a head banger and want sound that will vibrate your whole body the Betsy’s
won’t do that (nor are they intended to).
As I mentioned the Betsy’s don’t
delve into the deep bass or the highest highs, but they are well balanced and
exceptionally musical. In the bulk of the audio range they do very well indeed.
It probably would be a nice thing
for Caintuck Audio to provide some type of footers (whether cones or points)
with the speakers even if they need to charge a little more. As I noted I used
my own Black Diamond carbon-fiber cones but not everyone will have those lying
An unusual thing I encountered with
the Betsy’s was a kind of high-frequency vibration that I believe is caused by
the whizzer cone. It’s hard to describe but is like a kind of vibrational
emphasis on the sibilant energy on a few of my vocal recordings (in a very
narrow band, perhaps the 3kHz area). Douglas at
Wild Burro Audio acknowledges that this phenomenon does exist and both of us
agree that it diminishes over time with break-in. In fact I hardly notice it at
all anymore on my review pair.
If you hear a strange buzz or emphasis on sibilants just
keep playing the speakers and it should calm down. I have only heard it on a
small percentage of the many recordings I’ve played. A slight repositioning of
the angle of the offending speaker can also help.
I found the Betsy’s to be very
revealing and musical speakers. Through them, I could hear some subtle details
(some deep in the background) that I had not experienced with many other
speakers. While their overall frequency response curve falls a bit short in
extension into the deep bass and highest audible highs, if care is taken in the
speaker’s in-room placement, the Betsy’s provide a nicely balanced and musical
presentation. In fact, in my estimation the unassuming Betsy’s compete with
some of the best loudspeakers I’ve experienced in terms of transient speed,
low-level detail retrieval, holographic layered imagery, dynamic contrasts, and
engaging lifelike immediacy.
As crazy as it sounds I find that in
the parameters I named above, the Betsy’s can surpass or compete on a level
field with many speakers at 5x to even 10x their super-low asking price. While
a few companies are manufacturing open-baffle designs with 10” to 15” drivers,
I was told (and based on my experience with the Betsy’s tend to believe) that
the optimum driver size for an open-baffle speaker of this type is closer to that
of the Betsy’s 8” unit, all things considered.
And honestly, the Betsy’s are just
too much fun for words, so how could I resist buying the review pair? Clue: I
surely could not!
7926 Alexandria Pike
Alexandria, KY 41001
See Also: DECWARE
Peoria, IL 61611 USA
Caintuck Betsy Loudspeakers
Impedance: 5.9 Ohms
Burro Audio “Betsy” 8-inch carbon-impregnated full range driver with whizzer
22.5”H x 18”W x 12”D (base platform)
Depends on finish. $350/pr for stained plywood. $450 for Sapele (review
up to $500/pair for other hardwood finishes. Contact Randy at Caintuck Audio
for more information
Note: Caintuck Audio also sells matching 12” and 15”
open-baffle subwoofers (not tested) for the Betsy’s.
FJA’s Associated Equipment
Orbe SE II
Benesch ACT 0.5 tone arm
Ebony L MC cartridge
AT33EV MC cartridge
DV-563 CD/DVD player
Lenovo laptop computer
Audio DirectStream DAC
Glass FX Glass DAC-III W
Thrills Audio Phono Preamp
Audio NuWave Phono Converter
Phono One phono preamplifier
Samuels F-117 Nighthawk phono stage
Audio Axiom II passive preamp/Walker mod
DPA-1 digital preamp
Audio DA08 300B mono amps (modified)
SP3 Mk-II tube amplifier
Audio ST-100 tube amplifier
Audio Focus SE
Audio Grand Teton (original version)
Audio Prelude Plus
Labs Revelation interconnects
Analog Two interconnects
Vitality speaker cables
Vitality AC cord (DirectStream DAC)
Audio Mega Power Lynx AC cord
CuQ SoundPipes AC cords
Audio Enigma Series AC cords
MagicPower AC cords
Audio P3 PerfectWave Power Plant
Audio P-100 AC Regenerator
Fidelity V-Link USB to S/PDIF converter
Diamond Racing Shelf & Cones
hard-wood block feet
Kelly’s Baltic birch wood block feet
Circle Cable Pillows
Green Room Tunes