Sunday, June 27, 2010

TAD's a great sound

The TAD Reference One speaker

The last time I heard the TAD Reference One speakers was during last year's KL International AV Show, but I did not spend enough time listening to them to form a firm opinion.

Last Wednesday, I spent about two hours at AV Designs and played a stack of CDs that I brought along for the listening session.

TAD (which stands for Technical Audio Devices) is actually the hi-end division of Pioneer much like Lexus is a high-end Toyota.

The TAD Reference One speakers are huge - 129.3cm (50 7/8") high, 55.4cm (21 13/16") wide and 69.8cm (27") deep - and require a big listening room. It is a prerequisite that you need a room sufficiently big, otherwise you might as well audition smaller speakers. Another prerequisite is that you must have a very deep pocket - they cost RM280,000 a pair.

At this price range, you need not bother too much about whether there is sufficient bass or good treble or good midrange. If speakers costing this much don't fulfill any of these normal sonic parameters, they shouldn't even be on sale.

After spending much time listening to songs that I am familiar with, I noted that the TAD's sonic signature is a slightly upfront sound with a soundstage that is relatively narrow but deep with good height. The narrow soundstage could be due to the size of AV Designs' showroom which is very long but only 14 feet 3 ins wide - the huge speakers are less than three feet from the side walls. Placing the TADs further apart with more space between them and the side walls could result in a wider soundstage.

The images are slightly larger than in real life giving the music a front-row presentation.

The beryllium Coherent Sound Transducer.

The two woofers. The vent is at the bottom.

Imaging is good - thanks to TAD’s Coherent Sound Transducer (CST), which covers the frequency range from 250 Hz to 100 kHz. The CST comprises a 16cm diameter midrange cone and a 3.5cm diameter tweeter dome with the tweeter placed in the centre of the cone, just like KEF's and Tannoy's concentric units, to create a point source. However, TAD uses beryllium - the lightest and most rigid metal in the world. While other manufacturers like Yamaha (the famed NS1000), JM Lab and Usher have used beryllium before, TAD claims to be the only firm using vapour deposition to make the cones and domes.

The very expensive CST, which is protected by a wire netting, gives the midrange and high notes a very neutral and precise sound. There is no bloom, no overhang of sound, no prolonged sustain of notes. An airy and clean treble gives the impression of spaciousness.

It would be very difficult to match such quality mids and highs with similar-quality bass, but TAD has somehow succeeded to make the music sound coherent and seamless.

Even though two 25-cm diameter woofers are used, the bass is fast, tight and clean, and goes down low enough for you to feel rather than hear it. Made of a tri-laminate of woven aramid fibres sandwiching a foamed acrylic core, the woofers do a good job reproducing the bass notes without the need of a sub-woofer - the bass is specified to go down to 25Hz (- 3db).

Despite the largeness of the speakers, they sounded quite cosy and intimate possibly due to their slightly upfront nature and the relatively narrow soundstage (in AV Designs'showroom).

Since the TADs were auditioned in the showroom of the Malaysian dealer for Bryston, they were partnered with an all-Bryston system - the BCD-1 CD player (used as transport), the BDA-1 DAC, BP-26 preamp with MPS power supply and a pair of 7B SST2 monoblocks. A pair of 28B SST monoblocks were also used for a while which resulted in even better-controlled and more detailed bass. Cables were from Wireworld.

AV Designs' James Tan (left) and C.W. Low 
standing next to their latest product.

For such big speakers, they seem relatively easy to drive at 90 dB sensitivity. Though TAD recommends amps from 50 to 300 watters to drive them, they sounded better when driven by the 28B SST monoblocks (1,000 watters) than by the 7B SST2s (600 watters). And these speakers sound just as good when played loud as when the volume is turned down.

The Reference One is actually a three-way system (crossovers at 250Hz and 2kHz) with a vent that is at the bottom of the baffle. Its box is made of multi-laminates of an undisclosed material and is tear-drop shaped to eliminate standing waves and resonances. The CST is housed in a separate chamber to isolate it from the back-waves of the bass units.

All these contribute to the weight - 150kg each - of the speakers. These are huge, expensive and heavy speakers.

Buyers of the TAD Reference Ones would be mature hi-fi aficionados who have already invested a mountain of cash in high-quality systems but wouldn't mind spending a bit more money for the ultimate sound.

So it would be advisable to listen to them carefully and take your time to decide whether to sign the cheque for the last pair of speakers that you will ever buy.

AV Designs is on the mezzanine floor, West Wing of Rohas Perkasa building, Jalan P. Ramlee, Kuala Lumpur. Call them at 03-21712828 or 03-21712825.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Radical design from Thorens

Vinyl was supposed to have become obsolete some two decades ago when the CD was launched.

But now when the CD  format is said to be in its last legs, analogue companies like Thorens are still launching turntables.

Class, as they say, is permanent. And the vinyl addicts will proclaim that LPs and turntables are class acts.

When you pass by Asia Sound in Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, you will see colourful turntables on display - these are the Rega P3-24s.

Tucked in one corner near the door is something that looks like the body of an electric guitar.

That is the new Thorens - the TD309 that has set the vinyl market buzzing.

This is not a revamp of an old design - it's a totally new creation that does not look like a typical Thorens.

If you are a fan of the TD124/125/160, etc, you will be surprised by the radical design.

It has a glass platter and felt mat a la Rega, but that is where the similarity ends.

The TD309 has an isolation device - a Tri-Balance suspended sub chassis - and adjustable belt tension by moving the motor which is suspended on something that looks like the spider of a speaker unit.

It also comes with a balance weight and a spirit level to ensure the system is perfectly flat.
The aluminium sub platter with single line contact has a spindle that is 10mm in diameter which provides more stability.

Its plinth is made of MDF and covered with red or black lacquer. Personally, I prefer the cooler looking red model. Its odd angular shape is to diffuse vibrations and resonances.

The TP92 arm that comes with the turntable is also a new design and an Audio Technica AT95E moving magnet cartridge is also supplied. The cost: RM4,900.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

TAD at AV Design

The TAD Reference One at last year's KLIAV.

TAD speakers will be making their presence felt in Malaysia.

Respected dealer AV Design has been appointed the exclusive dealer for the high-end TAD speakers.

C.W. Low of AV Design said the partnership with TAD began two months ago.

"We now have the TAD Reference One speakers on demo connected to an all Bryston system," he said

The Reference One speakers cost RM280,000 a pair.

During last year's KL International AV show, audiophiles heard the speakers in an Ayre-based system.

AV Designs is on the mezzanine floor, West Wing of Rohas Perkasa building, Jalan P. Ramlee, KL. Call them at 03-21712828 or 03-21712825.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sub-platters for Rega

In the past, those who wanted to upgrade and tweak their Rega turntables had to order the Groovetracer sub-platter from the United States and pay import tax plus courier charges for it.

And some people have noticed (or complained) that with the Groovetracer subplatter, the so-called 'Rega sound' is gone. In its place is a neutral and relatively less exciting sound.

Many audiophiles have found out that Rega turntables, especially the lower-end models, spin at a slightly faster rate - instead of 33 1/3 rpm, it spins at 33 2/3 or faster. This tweaking of the pitch makes the Rega turntables sound lively and upbeat.

However, when I met Phil Freeman, who is effectively the CEO of Rega Research, in February this year, he denied that Rega had designed their turntables to spin faster to create the 'Rega sound', but he did say that the turntables are checked if they spin accurately before they are shipped out and the parameters of quality control are such that they are passed for sale if they spin faster rather than slower.

The Performance sub-platter next to 
the original Rega sub-platter in a P3-24.

Now, Malaysians need not buy Groovetracer sub-platters; they just have to check out the Performance sub-platter from Malaysian audiophile designer and vinyl addict Michael Lim.

His sub-platter has a hub made of high-grade aluminium with designs engraved on its surface to slow down vibrations. The axle is made of polished hardened stainless steel. The spindle is also made of steel.

Michael Lim's sub-platter, which costs RM450, comes with a small packet of lubricating oil, but you will have to use the original Rega ball bearing and belt.

Turntable designer Michael Lim with his sub-platter.

Michael Lim is aware that the original Rega plastic hub is slightly smaller than needed to ensure a perfect 33 1/3 rpm spin.

Thus he makes his sub-platters in two sizes - Model One's hub diameter is 101.85mm while Model Two's hub has a diameter of 101.15mm, which is the same as the Rega sub-platter.

From his tests, he has found that using the Model Two on the P3 and P5 results in the record spinning at the same speed as when the original Rega sub-platter is used.

Using the Model One on the P1 and P2 results in the record spinning at exactly 33 1/3.

Is there a difference in sound quality?

"When spinning at exactly 33 1/3 the sound is duller, but smoother and more detailed. When spinning slightly faster, the sound is livelier," said Michael Lim, whose earlier design was a vinyl platter to replace the original glass one.

His Performance sub-platter can be used on the Rega Planar Two and Three, the P1, P2, P3, P5 and P25.

For more information, e-mail Michael Lim at

Related post:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Daytona - a better clean-up act

How much electric current does it take to power up a CD player, a preamp and a 300-watt power amp?

The answer, to be honest, surprised me. It took merely 0.7 amp.

The Furutech Daytona 303 Multi-Mode AC Filter/Power Distributor that I had for a week recently had an amperage meter that measured the amount of current used.

I had always been under the impression that huge power amps would suck current from the mains like some kind of solid-state leech.

On standby mode with nothing turned on, the Daytona itself consumed 0.6 amp.

When I switched on the CD player, it was still 0.6 amp. I switched on the preamp and it was still 0.6 amp. Then I turned on the Bryston 4B SST and it consumed a bit more current - 0.7 amp.

246 volts, 0.7 amp

I played some music and the reading was 0.9 amp. Turning the volume louder, of course, resulted in more power consumption - 1 amp. And it was already very loud even with the 85dB sensitivity ATC speakers.

It was only on one percussion test track on the Wilson Audio Ultimate Reference CD when the bass drum was hit real hard that the digital amperage meter hit a max of 1.3 amps - only for a split second. Most of the time, the meter read 0.9 to 1 amp.

As for the voltage meter, it read from a high of 254 to a low of 238 volts. If the voltage is too high or too low, the Daytona switches off to protect your components.

Frankly, I found the Daytona 303 to have too many features and I used only a small percentage of what is available.

According to Furutech's website, the Daytona 303 is "purpose-made to comprehensively protect your audio and video system with 5,250 joules of surge protection plus three types of filtering that dramatically reduces induced, radiated and ground-borne noise".

It adds that "micro-circuits monitor line voltage and disconnects instantly if dangerous over- or under-voltages occurs, then reconnects once the power returns to safe levels". 

The Daytona also features three ultra-advanced isolating filter sections including two analogue, two digital, plus another pair of ultra-high-current audio filters. The Daytona also sports 10 surge-protected AC outlets, six Digital filtered outlets, plus two ultra-high-current, four unfiltered outlets. Also three pairs of protected coaxial connections and 1-in/2-out fully-protected phone line connections.

The Daytona, which is as large as an American power amp at 41.4cm (W) X 26.5cm (D) X 14.9cm (H, has outlets for DVD, DVR, CD, Cable, SAT, TV and projector other than outlets for power amps and preamps.

Furutech also uses its GC-303 EMI-absorbing compound and its non-magnetic rhodium-plated α(Alpha) phosphor bronze fittings.

Like its other power distributors, its chassis is made of high-quality aluminium and steel which shields against RFI.

It has eight indicators for abnormal operation such as fluctuating voltage and incorrect polarity.
There is even an LED lamp with a gooseneck at the rear for easy viewing.

The Daytona comes with the Furutech FP-314 Ag II power cord, so you save a bit of money by not having to buy a power cord to connect it to the mains.

I am using a Furutech e-TP60/20 power distributor which is already giving me a rather quiet power supply.

I recall the sudden decrease in noise floor when I plugged my system to the e-TP60/20 and the extra smoothness in sound quality and increased micro details.

Replacing the e-TP60/20 with the Daytona 303 was more of an incremental step - but it was a rather big step. It built very much on the strengths of the e-TP60/20.

The first time that I used the Daytona, there was no connection as the voltage was too high at 254 volts and I had to wait a while for the voltage to settle down and stabilise before the components could be switched on.

The greatest difference was noted when the CD player was plugged into the digital socket which is filtered. It really cleaned up the sound and more details could be heard.

With the power amp plugged to an unfiltered socket, there was no loss in dynamics. Some power filters tend to constrict dynamics; it was not so with the Daytona.

After a week of using it, I felt that it worked rather well - it also improved the picture quality of Astro programmes on my television - but it was pricey at RM10,600 (after discount). And it had lots of under-utilised or unutilised features.

The gooseneck LED light is useful in the dark, but I feel it is there just to give it marketing rather than practical value.

What I really wish for is a basic (and more affordable) Daytona model which cleans the power supply for a simple system comprising CD player/transport, DAC, preamp, power amp/mono blocks and perhaps a laptop for computer music.

Well, Furutech could also include sockets for an AV system - BluRay/DVD player, AV amp, active sub-woofer, satellite TV decoder, LED TV and projector.

I - and I think most other audiophiles would agree with me - don't really need to protect coax inputs and phone lines from surges and, frankly, the gooseneck LED lamp is totally unnecessary.

Related post:

The Furutech Daytona 303 Multi-Mode AC Filter/Power Distributor and other Furutech projects are available at Audiomatic, Amcorp Mall, Petaling Jaya.