TAD Compact Reference One | Initial Impressions
This entry was posted on Friday, September 12th, 2014 Authored By: Robert Entenmann
Prior to becoming a Technical Audio Devices dealer I traveled from consumer show to consumer show in search of componentry that would leave a lasting impression. There are several indispensible factors that affect one’s perception of sound quality in any given system: the components themselves, the acoustic synergy between components, the quality of the recording at the time of demo, and the often overlooked acoustical influence of the room and your position within it. In light of these parameters, some reasonable assumptions can be drawn about show setups. Namely, everyone has about the same amount of time to set up, wants to put their best foot forward, and the dimensions of hotel rooms tend to be ubiquitous so there are typically no advantages gained by the space itself. Having established that the rooms were on a level playing field, my criterion for differentiation became focused on significant differences in cost and magnitude (monoblocks vs. two-channel amp, etc.) of the system.
All things considered, I would classify consumer audio show setups into the following categories; tubed, solid-state, hybrid thereof, digitally sourced, analog sourced, and their umbrella categories: expensive, median, and modestly priced. The difficultly in coming to a conclusion regarding what room sounded most impressive, was circumventing my personal preferences. I typically favor rooms with tubes and an analog source component strictly by virtue of them displaying the components that I find most sonically appealing. The challenge of finding the best room became a psychological one; I had to keep an open-mind and an objective sensibility.
The neat thing about consumer audio shows is that the industry is small, so therefore you see a lot of redundancy from show-to-show, particularly with similar combinations of equipment. For instance, the Vandersteen 7’s are almost always paired with either Audio Research or Aesthetix, and if Richard is around, an analog source component. This makes life easy for me because I tend to think that I have a good “sonic memory.” Keeping this in mind, there are details that one may overlook such as the type of music that is being played at the time of demo or what day they listened to the system: on the first day very few rooms sound their best. In addition to the genre of music that is played at the time of demo and the temporal quality of one’s visit, the experience is dramatically affected by the volume of the music and the accessibility to the sweet spot in the room. With all of these considerations, how did I come to any definitive conclusions?
I have spoken about the “wow” factor in past posts, specifically: “Guide: “How to do a Show” – New York Audio Show 2014. Irrespective of my personal preferences in a high-end audio system, I listen first for a room that gives me the feeling that I want to sit down and continue the session. As trivial as this process may seem, the psychoacoustic underpinnings are well founded. Perception and draw, the initial mental and emotive inertia that inspires our spirit, is what guides us from the hallway into a given room at a show. This force was never more compelling than with the TAD Labs product, as it consistently persuaded me into Mr. Andrew Jones’ Technical Audio Devices suite. Mr. Jones is a man who wears multiple caps well. The art of the demo is not an overlooked pastime but rather a refined skill he has cultivated over the years, in tandem with his decorated career that has most recently culminated in his position as Pioneer’s director of engineering on their speaker products, his brainchild: The Reference One.
Mr. Jones’ expertise are not limited to the development of speakers however. TAD incorporates a line of top-flight componentry that were used to voice the Reference One & Compact Reference One MKII. This audiophile match-made-in-heaven always delivers a seductively transparent and uncolored performance that is distinguished by the reference’s unique combination of vapor-deposited beryllium drivers, a 6.5” midrange and its concentrically mounted 1.375” tweeter. The tweeter was developed with TAD’s proprietary HSDOM (Harmonized Synthetic Diaphragm Optimum Method). This precision engineering technique provides the tweeter’s diaphragm the ability to control differential vibration, giving it a frequency range that is comparable to that of a super tweeter, 100kHz.
Operating below 250Hz is an 8” (TLCC) Tri-Laminate Composite Cone Subwoofer. Its claim to sonic superiority, according to TAD, is its ability to remain completely linear: producing highly accurate waveform reproduction across its frequency range. In order to live up to its promise, TAD Labs paid close attention to the magnet structure, employing OFGMS (Optimized Field Geometry Magnet Structure) technology, which stabilizes driver performance regardless of amplitude. The diaphragm’s corrugated edge further contributes to its high linearity. The TLCC coupled with the OFGMS results in a diaphragm that delivers deep, tight low-bass and a mid-bass that seamlessly ties into the 250Hz crossover point to the midrange, arguably the most important and audible transition a loudspeaker has to perform.
Now that all of the technical jargon is out of the way, I’ll revisit my initial impressions. The first room I experienced with TAD Labs componentry had the following equipment associated with the system: D1000 Disc Player, C600 Preamplifier, a pair of M600 Monaural Power Amplifiers, the Evolution One Speaker System, along with the Reference One & CR1. Pioneer is the parent company of TAD, and therefor Mr. Jones has the economic advantage of displaying his equipment in a suite, as opposed to a standard room, at every show where the TAD Labs product is demoed. I figured this was worth mentioning after I made it a point earlier that the room makes a big difference with respect to what the end user experiences sonically. With half a million dollars worth of audio jewelry on the floor, we wouldn’t want the M600 grabbing the phone and complaining to the front desk that there isn’t enough room. But I digress…
Recalling the first time I heard a TAD Labs room, I remember one thing above all… I could distinctly hear a blaring trumpet simultaneously with a belting female soprano and both were uncolored, distinct, and without loss of pitch or placement. It was patently clear to me at that moment that the CR1 was not an ordinary point source speaker. Point source speakers are notorious for their imaging capabilities and accuracy with respect to phase and time, for example a symbol being struck on a specific part of a drum set. The point of contact that the tip of the drumstick makes on the surface of the symbol is incredibly small, and point source speakers will recreate a more authentic representation of this event more accurately than any other speaker type. The concentric design of the midrange driver also helps mitigate phase issues, due to time delay, by virtue of the tweeters placement. Be is the periodic symbol for Beryllium, which was very cleverly worked into Mr. Jones’ slogan for the TAD Labs product; “Be There.” I can whole-heartedly attest to this slogan’s implications as being a tangible reality when experienced.
The next cut was a song I had no prior familiarity with. I’m not used to being thoroughly enamored with a song I’ve never heard before. There’s something personal about music that takes time to warm up to, unlike a majestic painting that one sees for the first time. I may be impressed with the dynamics of a recording immediately, however the emotional connection typically takes more time to cultivate. This was not the case with the CR1. The tenor sax voiced with unparalleled accuracy, allowing me to hear the reed, and the resonant effects of the instruments tubing, some people might liken this to hearing the back of the singer’s throat.
So I sat, listened, and pondered my predisposed notions about what good HiFi should sound like or more importantly how quality sound is achieved. If you had asked me prior to that session if digitally sourced music could sound as convincingly real as vinyl, I would have answered with a stark no. To add to my confusion was the fact that a single vacuum tube could not be found anywhere in the system, but it still imaged, staged, and provided depth perception as though it was full of them. I’m not sure it would be prudent to explain my experience in technical terms and my opinion is just that, an opinion. In the world of high-end audio, perceptions are subjugated to the realm of the subjective. However, in the world of the objective, I’ll bet a very fancy turntable that your experience will be memorable if you are lucky enough to find yourself in the sweet spot of the TAD Laboratories Compact Reference One.