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.
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.
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.