TAD Evolution One loudspeaker
I had been anticipating getting to audition a pair of TAD loudspeakers in my system since the introduction of the original TAD Model-1, in 2003. It was designed by Andrew Jones, who had recently assumed the mantle of chief designer at Technical Audio Devices Laboratories (TAD), at that time a subsidiary of Pioneer. Although TAD dates back to the mid-1970s, its research and development efforts had been focused on the professional sound market, something that continues. Jones came from a long line of speaker innovators at KEF and was assigned the goal of developing state-of-the-art speakers for the domestic market. The Model-1 was innovative with respect to both its drive-units and its enclosure constructionit used 52 layers of ¾" plywood. More important, it sounded spectacularly natural and vivid. It was large, it was expensive ($45,000/pair in 2003), and it made a statement: Pioneer, long a maker of loudspeakers, was once again at the fore of the industry (footnote 1).
In view of the rising costs of materials and labor, as well as continuing advances in materials and production, Jones redesigned the Model-1. The result was the slightly smaller, still expensive ($78,000/pair), but equally impressive Reference One, which has been a great success since its debut at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show. However, even at the time of the Reference One's launch, Jones was planning to design significantly less expensive speakers based on the same technology. He's since taken this in two directions. One is the Compact Reference CR1 ($37,000/pair), a stand-mounted three-way reviewed by John Atkinson in January 2012, and which he resoundingly approved. The other direction was the production of EX series, into which Jones trickled down most of the principles used in the Model-1 and Reference One to a price range within reach of many audiophiles. When I reviewed the top of the EX line, the S-1EX, in March 2007, I felt it was an outstanding speaker: well made, fully satisfying as a reproducer of music, and competitive with speakers costing twice its price of $9000/pair. But there was a catch: The S-1EX wasn't called a TAD.
I recall seeing an advertisement in the New York Times Book Review in the early 1970s that read, in banner print, "Anyone who says that you can't tell a book by its cover has never tried to sell one." The EX line bore the Pioneer badge, not TAD's. Despite the EX models' competitive excellence, it seems that putting a mass-market name on what were clearly high-end speakers discouraged buyers, and the entire EX line seems to be quietly disappearing.
When I saw the Evolution One ($29,800/pair) at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, I knew it was the real thing: a low(er)-priced TAD model wearing the proper badge. And in view of my experience with the S-1EX and the many excellent and entertaining show demos of the Reference One that I heard, I bet on the TAD DNA (and Andrew Jones) and jumped at the opportunity to review the E1.
The Evolution One is a slimmed-down version of the Reference One, with which it shares not only its curved side and rear panels, which greatly enhance the cabinet's rigidity and reduce its resonances, but also its use of a very thick front baffle. This extends above the top panel to form a framing arch for the coaxial tweeter-midrange drive-unit, and stops a few inches above the base, thereby creating a wide port to load the woofers. The base contains the complex crossover, isolated from the main structure by compliant mounting. I was surprised to see that the removable underside of the crossover cavity is covered by a heavy, impregnated felt panel. Felt seemed an unusual choice of material, but it effectively damps any resonances. Four substantial, upright, multiway binding posts, suitable for single- or biwiring, rise from the rear skirt of the base.
The drive-units are arrayed vertically, with TAD's signature Coherent Source Transducer (CST) coaxial driver at the top: a 5½" magnesium midrange cone surrounding a 13/8" beryllium-dome tweeter. Magnesium and beryllium are extremely light and stiff; together, these two drivers provide a single-point source for all frequencies from 250Hz to 100kHz, per TAD. Below this driver are two 7" woofers with layered Aramid diaphragms. The coaxial driver is protected from curious fingers by a fixed scrim of what appears to be a fine, open weave of synthetic fiber. The woofers have removable covers.
All of these features are reminiscent of the Reference One and the S-1EX. The tweeter elements are the same in all, but the diaphragm material of the midrange driver is magnesium in the TAD-E1, beryllium in the Reference models. The midrange is also smaller. "Since magnesium is not as stiff and light as beryllium," said Jones, "the cone resonance would be at a lower frequency. By going to a smaller cone, we manage to put the cone breakup frequency back up higher, though not as high as the CR1 and R1 beryllium cone." That said, the Evolution One exudes the same quality of design and construction as its Reference brothers.
An hour after the Evolution Ones were delivered, Andrew Jones arrived to set them up. He first put them precisely where my main reference speakers sit. Then he hooked up his laptop to the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC via an AudioQuest Carbon USB cable. The Mytek's XLR outputs were routed to a Parasound Halo JC 2 BP preamplifier and, in turn, to a Halo A 31 three-channel power amp, bypassing my usual Meridian 861 digital processor. Then came the fun. As we tweaked the positions and toe-in angles of the TAD-E1s, Jones played lots of tracks, many of which would be familiar to those who've attended his entertaining show demos. Finally, as his favorite Boz Scaggs cut, "My Funny Valentine," played over and over, he finished. I hope he was happy with the final setup. I was.
Footnote 1: Before the construction of the World Trade Center, outdoor bins of electronics parts and raw drivers lined the sidewalks of Manhattan's Cortland Street. As a do-it-myself teenager in the 1950s, I used to paw through them, looking for bargains, and was always impressed with the drivers labeled "Pioneer," a brand then unknown in the USa wide variety of cones and horns with excellent fit and finish. I should have taken a chance on them then.