Happy New Year! And for those attending the Consumer Electronics Show next week, good Luck!
I know there are some reviewers out there who enjoy the schmoozing and carousing at the various shows, and that there are many audiophiles who would give their eye teeth to be able to attend, as I was one of them many years ago, but for me the shine has been off for several years. It usually takes me three years to forget how much of a pain in the butt it is to spend days walking miles through the halls and rooms in Las Vegas to find those one or two products which are really a significant improvement over what's already out there, and my last show was only two years ago. I truly feel sorry for those writers from other magazines who are forced to walk those endless corridors to hear the less than stellar setups. I much prefer to have the products come to me for evaluation, or to be invited to some dealer or distributor's house to listen.
Such an event occurred yesterday. A local high end dealer, Maurice Schmir whi is owner of Dyana Audio and of Eliot who is the Maine dealer for the TAD Reference One loudspeaker among other high end equipment. They called about a week ago to let me know that TAD Director of Engineering, Andrew Jones who is one of the best speaker designers, was bringing over the new TAD M-600 power amplifiers, TAD D600 CD/SACD player, and his newest creation, the TAD Compact Reference stand mount speaker. Also present was David Schultz, director of sales for Transparent Audio.
Being one of the developers of the KEF Uni-Q concentric midrange-tweeter driver, and the Infinity Prelude, Overture and Reference speakers, and at Pioneer, the EX line, Andrew has taken this a step further, using vapor deposited Beryllium in the mid-tweeter “Coherent Sound Transducer” to give a theoretical point source from 250 Hz to 100 kHz. With the addition of two 10 inch woofers in a 330 pound cabinet, the TAD Reference One speaker gives a rock solid image extending the frequency range down to the low 20 Hz. I first heard these at a CES several years ago when they were in their development phase and thought they sounded fantastic then. At my last CES, with the design completed and with Mr. Jones playing open reel tapes the sound was glorious.
Maurice has had the dealership on them for about a year now, and driving them with Accuphase electronics and Nordost and Transparent cable, they have always sounded superb, definitely up in the class with Magico, Focal, Wilson, and all the other super high end units. Unhappily, Pioneer, for some reason, has not deigned to give them the sales and publicity staff to project them to the public as they should. Thus most of the high end community, which relies on the publicity to determine which speakers to own, have not been properly informed as to their high quality.
I've had a chance to listen to many speakers over the years and can safely say, that if I were younger, were not presently saving up for my long put off retirement, and were not happy with my 7.1 horn speaker and SET tube amplifiers, I would place them on the top of my list for purchase. That was before yesterday afternoon when I got to hear them with the new TAD 600 watt Class AB solid state monoblock amplifiers. That's right! TAD, which for at least 50 years has been a speaker producer for both professional and home, owned by Pioneer Electronics, known for low and mid hi-fi equipment, has developed new amplifiers for the super high end group, again without any publicity.
I first heard these units running Andrew's Compact Reference speakers at the CES two years ago tucked away in a small back room of their exhibit. According to Andrew he placed this demo in a small room as he hadn't had time to evaluate the amps, and the speakers were still in development, so he didn't want anyone to consider them a completed product. The sound was very promising to say the least, and they were developing a floating Class A design for the benefit of analog purity with the efficiency of AB. I gave the Model One demo Best Sound at the Show. Since then they've completely redesigned the unit keeping a very efficient AB biasing of 100 milliamps, with maximum output of 600 watts. Each silver monoblock weighs a total of 198 pounds with its black cast iron base with aluminum feet, and has two sets of speaker outputs for bi-wiring.
Cost is $53,000 per pair, not an insignificant amount. You're probably sitting there wondering how a Class AB unit could cost so much considering that is above the territory even of the most expensive Class A tube amps, and how it could sound good enough to drive one of the best speakers in the world.
Well, I'm very familiar with Maurice's system as I've spent many hours there, and he was playing one of the CD's that I have played a thousand times for testing. About 30 seconds into the listening session, I was ready to sell my first born for the amp-speaker combination. In all of my 30 plus years in high end audio, I've never heard a system sound so life-like. My body completely relaxed and my mind was dragged into the music. I turned to Maurice and asked what was different and he replied that the only thing was the substitution of the TAD amplifiers. Considering his regular amps are $54,000 a pair monoblock Class A Accuphase units, and he was using the Accuphase CD player and preamp, I was shocked at the improvement. To those who think that amplifiers make no difference in the sound as long as they are within decent specs, should listen to these. That would shut them up.
Then they introduced me to their still in development D-600 digital player. The unit matches the amplifiers, has stereo RCA outputs, does CD and SACD playback, and also has AES-EBU and a-synchronus USB input for up to 24/192 bit computer files. Unhappily it does not have a volume control which would allow it to circumvent a preamp and directly control the amps. While the sound difference was not as spectacular as putting the new amps into play, there was a definite further aliveness to the image.
Unhappily, I had developed some vertigo over the previous two days and was not able to stay to hear the new Compact Reference units, but will report on them in the nears future. I must implore anyone going to the CES to go to the TAD room for a listen. I guarantee it won't be a waste of time, except for possibly keeping you there for a listen far beyond the time you allotted.
Product Of The Year
The first was the Black Ravioli Footers, the best feet I've ever tried, but they fell out due to their not having a stable distributor in the United States. Then there was the OPPO BDP 83, BDP 83 SE and finally the Wright modded BDP 83 SE Universal player, which while well worth its price for quality, didn't quite make the cut.
The Pure Power PP2000 Regenerator was the first runner-up as it was the first product to clean up my electricity to the point where I could listen to my system any time of day without getting disgusted with the sound. But I know that every system's electrical problems are different and I am not sure that spending $2995 would be appropriate for every person's system.
Finally there's this month's discussion of the TAD player-amplifier-speaker system, which while the best sound I've ever heard from any two channel setup, at way over $100,000, but is out of my and probably 99% of audiophile's budgets.
So, at last, that left me with an advancement that may completely change how we listen to music and watch video, the one piece of equipment that is not only cost efficient as far as its price of $3360 with a pair of Stax headphones and amplifier, but what it can replace in your system, the Smyth Realiser A8 Headphone Audio Processor.
While great headphones such as the STAX Electrostatics and Etymotic Research in-the-ear units can produce excellent sonics, I've always hated using them as they tend to put the sound in the head rather than projecting an appropriate soundstage, and the deep bass body impact is missing no matter how good they are. Plus they only can recreate two channels of sound.
Enter this non-descript mini black box which can replace everything from a mono to a 7.1 surround system of speakers, amplifiers and wiring, and use only the sources and preamp or pre-pro. With its storage space it can emulate any system that one can measure and reproduce the feeling that one is actually in the venue including the room response. While one still has the feeling that the headphones are hanging on your head, gone is the in-the-head soundstage, replaced by whatever system you've measured. With the addition of a close-by subwoofer or chair shaker, one can actually be fooled into believing one is listening to the original system in the original room.
Thus if one is smart, one can purchase this unit with headphones, a superior quality preamp or pre-pro with a digital connection to a superior source or two, and then go around to others' super expensive systems in their mega-bucks sound rooms and get 99% of their sound, saving a fortune. In addition the unit can be used anywhere you want that has electricity and a source. Instead of using megawatts of electricity with those big tube amps, the unit with headphone amp draws less that 100 watts.
I've actually been using this unit more and more rather than turning on my complete system, and over the past two months my electric bill has dropped precipitously, spreading joy through my Scot heritage bones. If I weren't a reviewer, and didn't have friends over for sound sessions, I'd be tempted to sell my equipment and use this unit as my primary source. Next week I'll probably take it up to Maurice Schmir's house and emulate his megabucks TAD system for two channel playback. Another cost savings. Too bad my tube amps won't be pre-heating my sound room quite as much.