TAD Evolution Two Floorstanding Loudspeaker Review
Many audiophiles are familiar with the TAD, Technical Audio Device Laboratories, an upscale imprint of Pioneer Electronics, the Japanese mass-market firm that seemed to be everywhere. But many audiophiles might not realize that TAD was launched in 1975 to develop speakers for professional use, that is, horn-loaded PA systems and the like. It was not until 2003 that TAD began to market speakers for consumers. Their first model was the TAD M1, which sold for about $13,000. I've never heard a pair, but I read quite a few positive reviews of this three-way bass-reflex stand-mounted speaker.
When I heard that I was chosen to review these $20,000 per pair speakers, I was thankful for the opportunity to review them because that meant I'd be able to hear them in my home system! TAD speakers have been on my reviewer's radar for quite some time.
The TAD Evolution Two is a 2.5-way, floor-standing speaker about 3.35' tall while wearing spikes, a bit more than a foot wide, and about 16" deep. They have two 6.5" woofers and a 1" beryllium dome tweeter. There are two pairs of hefty speaker posts, meaning one can use a bi-wire speaker cable. A pair of short wires terminated with spades are provided to bridge the speaker posts for a single run of speaker cable. Woofer grilles are provided, but I did not use them.
I auditioned the TAD Evolution Two in a dedicated, acoustically treated listening room. This medium-sized room has two AC power lines, but I use battery power supplies for the line stage, phono preamplifier, and DAC. During daylight hours, the power amplifier's AC is provided by a larger battery power supply. This still leaves many parts of the system that are AC-powered and connected to power conditioners, one of which is a Chang Lightspeed ISO 9300.
The analog front end includes a Basis Debut V turntable, Tri-Planar 6 tonearm, and a Top Wing Suzaku Red Sparrow phono cartridge. The turntable's power is supplied by an AC regenerator that also controls the turntable's speed by changing the AC's frequency. The phono preamp is a two-chassis Pass Laboratories XP-27.
My reference digital-to-analog converter is an EMM Labs DA2. The other components that comprise the digital front-end include a computer-based music server that uses Foobar 2000 or JRiver Media Center software to play files stored on those drives. Tidal and Qobuz streaming services are loaded on the computer.
The line stages I used for this review included a Pass Labs XP-22 and a vacuum tube-powered Nagra Classic Preamp. Since October 2020, my reference power amplifier has been a Pass Laboratories X250.8. I occasionally use a pair of SVS SB16-Ultra subwoofers to augment the very lowest frequencies. I connected the speakers to my reference Pass Laboratories X250.8 power amplifier using Kimber's Carbon 18 XL speaker cable. It's a rather long 4-meter run because the equipment racks are not located between them but to the left side of the two speakers.
Many of the interconnect and power cables were from Kimber's Carbon series, but I also have a few interconnects from Ansuz's A2 line. An Accusound Digital Link connects the digital coax output of the Oppo to the EMM Labs DAC's coax input, and the USB cable that runs from the computer to the EMM Labs DAC is Wireworld's Starlight Platinum 7. The walls of the listening room are painted with Sherwin Williams "Sky Fall" blue indoor acrylic-latex, positively affecting both cognition and comfort.
On most music, when I closed my eyes, I could not pinpoint the speakers' location. Plus, the large soundstage made it so I couldn't determine how tall the speakers were. The soundstage's height was determined by the recording, not the size of the speaker's cabinet.
Some of the excellent sound quality from the Evolution Two's stay was undoubtedly due to their superb, recently redesigned 25mm (~1") beryllium tweeter. Also newly developed, with the help of computer modeling, was the tweeter's cast aluminum, very rigid waveguide. Its stiffness helps lessen unwanted objectionable resonances and aids in directivity. This waveguide is also claimed to aid in extending the speakers' high-frequencies, which reach as high as 60kHz.
TAD says that a "signature" of TAD speakers, regardless of model, is that its tweeter "delivers a polished sound in the mid to high frequencies." Its crossover is located at 2.8kHz, a little lower than average, but that still dips quite a way into the midrange.
The lifelike sonic reproduction of the drums wasn't the first time I've heard this echelon of sound quality, but only from speakers costing much more than the Evolution Two. My reference Sound Lab electrostatic speakers can reproduce this album with a similar level of reality and could make each piece of the drumset sound even more reach-out-and-touch realistic than the TAD's. But the Sound Labs also tend to enlarge the sound of each drum. They are not drawn to scale as realistically as the TADs. The Sound Labs take up much more real estate in one's listening room, thus lowering their living-partner acceptance factor and, in many cases, making this comparison moot.
I have heard from many fans that the mono version of My Favorite Things is quite good. I'm a two-channel kind of guy, though, and one who has been lucky enough to have acquired a few very nice stereo versions of the LP. These sound pretty darn good, despite the instruments often being unnaturally separated between the left and right speakers.
In my opinion, the recording made at Atlantic Studios in New York City, engineered by Phil Iehle and Tom Dowd, is first-rate, and I bet they used the best equipment available at the time of the recording. Even so, the combined musical virtuosity of John Coltrane, joined by McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums, and Steve Davis on bass, almost negates the need for a high-end audio system! One can easily recognize their musical prowess on the most modest of systems. So, I felt privileged to listen to this album on a high-end audio system that includes the TAD Evolution Two. These speakers were able to extract the nuance from this recording session, revealing more of the genius that has been etched into the vinyl or has been encoded into the digital format de jour.
I do not have an original pressing of this album. Still, I have a few excellent reissues of it, including an early USA copy in perfect condition and a Japanese pressing in even better shape. Through the TAD Evolution Two, I did not feel like a fly on the wall during the session, but I got the eerie feeling of hearing real people play real instruments, as this sonic motion picture allowed me to witness it in the comfort of my own home.
The Evolution Two speakers are genuinely full-range. Their bass is specified as reaching down to 30 Hz, which meant that the lowest strings on Steve Davis' bass or the kick drum on Elvin Jones' kit could vibrate the floorboards as well as my gut when I had the volume turned up to a reasonable level.
The Evolution Two's woofers are made with a "newly developed MACC (Multi-layered Aramid Composite Cone) diaphragm and a delta bracing structure" incorporated into the TAD woofers. The TAD website says this was why I heard the speakers produce such a powerful, tight, and pitch-specific bass. This was especially true of the mid-bass, where much of the sonic action was in the double bass and drums.
TAD also alleges that the "vibration-suppressing" center cap of the woofers have "excellent flexibility." Perhaps the reason for the speakers' excellent mid-bass and lower midrange that I heard was due to what TAD calls their "corrugated surround back-coated with damping material." However, I'm sure that the lifelike sound coming from Coltrane's tenor and soprano saxophones was due to many factors, including John Coltrane's sound that he managed to get from his horn, of course.
On TAD's website, they explain that the drivers within their Evolution Two floorstanders have a "long voice coil with a short magnetic gap…and a long pole piece structure that generates a symmetrical magnetic flux and is positioned in a double short ring to minimize its inductance fluctuations over the entire frequency range, and also will reduce dynamic distortions". This somewhat complex, technical description did not matter much when I was listening to this Coltrane album. I was entranced by his enigmatic approach to soloing and the seemingly telepathic connection his band had with him.
Much of the fantastic sound from John Coltrane's horn was, of course, due to his playing -- the speakers were merely a vehicle for translating the signal from my system's front-end. His stream-of-consciousness soloing persisted in blindsiding me with his supernatural ability, making the superior sound quality of these speakers a bonus rather than a requirement. But the sound quality of these speakers allowed me to dig deep into this music, letting me bask in all that is John Coltrane.
One of these artists was Todd Rundgren. Not only was this pre-teen seduced by Todd Rungren's painted Gibson SG guitar and his skin-tight outfit, but by the segment where he played piano and sang with a backup band from a reel-to-reel tape recorder sitting on top of his piano.
Among the first (and best) of his albums I acquired back in those days was A Wizard, A True Star, a single LP with about 60 minutes of material on it. It did not bother me that I had to set the volume much higher than necessary on my primitive hi-fi setup. But as I grew older and my turntable setup became more advanced, this bothered me more and more.
It wasn't until 1986 that this album was released on CD, rectifying many sonic problems. Many, but not all, this was an early CD release, after all. A bit later, this album was released on a double LP (although digitally mastered) and then, finally, in 2017, A Wizard, A True Star, was released on SACD. Listening to this album on SACD on the Oppo BDP-203 universal player, its analog outputs connected directly to the vacuum tube-powdered Nagra linestage was a revelation.
Listening to A Wizard A True Star through the Evolution Twos was a gas. I could not only hear all the details hidden below other instruments and voices in the mix; it was as if I were hearing the master tape played back in my listening room. Todd was having an enjoyable time in the studio, layering instruments and voices to create new sounds and a soundstage that sometimes sounded like an audio equivalent of funhouse mirrors.
Via the TAD Evolution Twos, I could hear all the instruments and voices as Todd Rundgren originally intended. His lead vocals entered the room, as his maniacal backing tracks frolicked behind him. I could sometimes also hear a side-effect of overloading a multi-track tape. This manifested itself as tape saturation, which led to some compression on some of the tracks on his multi-track recording. On the tapes that Todd Rundgren assembled for this album, each track is layered with many instruments and voices, most of which were recorded by Todd himself. I guess that at times 16 tracks weren't enough, and he had to "bounce" tracks, that is, combine tracks to make room for more sounds. Even when the best sound engineers perform this procedure, this often compresses the sound on the track and also introduces more tape hiss into the final mix.
The Evolution Twos let me hear this tape saturation, even on the first track of the album "International Feel" on the percussion track. Regardless, a spin of the SACD on the OPPO BDP-203 was a revelation and revealed to me that the TAD Evolution Twos are very musical-sounding speakers. They seemed to "know" which instrument it was reproducing, and even if it was electronically enhanced, I could hear in my mind's ear the intentions that were behind the person who was making the music. I could also enjoy this album with the sound quality it deserved from the get-go. I reveled in the sound quality that was missing from this album all the years before its digital release, and especially before it was released on a high-resolution digital medium.
I doubt many listeners will have to turn their volume controls that much higher than usual. But this trait was noticeable. That is why I'm mentioning it. As far as "needing more juice", I didn't try the Evolution Twos with the feeble wattage of a single-ended-triode (SET) amplifier, but these speakers did spend some time in my second system, where I drove them with a Pass Laboratories INT-25 integrated amplifier with an output of 25 Class A Watts per channel and was able to enjoy them at a more than reasonable volume.
Other than this nit, the Evolution Two floorstanding speakers by TAD is a winner. Priced at $20,000, they are more than worth the price. They are great-looking speakers with a small footprint that will fit not only in many music lovers' spaces, but I'd bet it would also fit into many audiophiles' existing systems, that is, if these ultra-transparent speakers don't inspire upgrades. Are they highly recommended? You bet!