TAD CE1TX loudspeaker

The most money I've ever spent on a pair of loudspeakers was back in the early 1990s, when I bought a pair of used TAD TH-4001 wooden horns and their associated TD-4001 compression drivers. The TAD horn's smooth, micro-resolved response was a refinement upgrade from my multicell Altec horns; plus, the TADs' French-polished wood looked radically less industrial than the soldered-tin, tar-filled 1005/288C horns they replaced. None of my horn-fanatic friends had anything sonically or aesthetically comparable, and all of them were envious. I didn't keep the TADs long, because the friend who admired them most made me a very "friendly" offer.

That was my first experience with Japanese loudspeaker design, and it exposed me to a level of engineering precision and fine craftmanship I had not yet encountered in American-made speakers.

Thirty years later, I find myself listening to a pair of brand-new TAD speakers, and once again, none of my friends have anything sonically or aesthetically comparable. This time, though, it's a living room–friendly, three-way, dynamic-driver standmount/bookshelf called Compact Evolution One – Bookshelf Speaker System. The model number is TAD-CE1TX-WN. It is exposing me to a level of fit'n'finish and sonic insightfulness that is rare among contemporary speakers, even at the highest prices.

In the beginning
The company everybody knows as Pioneer was founded by Nozomu Matsumoto in 1938 as a radio store and speaker repair shop in Tokyo. Over the ensuing decades, Pioneer grew into a revered brand with a global reach. In 1978, Pioneer decided to break into the professional speaker market with a line of all-out recording studio monitors manufactured under the name Technical Audio Devices Laboratories. TAD's first product was the TD-4001 compression driver mentioned above.

According to the TAD website, that driver and its associated TH-4001 horn "found its way into famed recording studios around the world, including those designed by Tom Hidley, who was a top-rated acoustic designer of the time, as well as AIR Studios, Capitol Records studios, and Record Plant.

"TAD speaker units were also used as part of a sound reinforcement system during the concert tour the Eagles made around Japan in 1979, during which the performance of the TAD speakers dazzled audiences. Impressed with the reputation of TAD speakers, big-name musicians such as Jimmy Page and Prince installed TAD speakers in their private recording studios."

In 2000, TAD introduced its first speaker designed specifically for home audio use, the floorstanding M1, which featured the first incarnation of TAD's now-famous coaxial Coherent Source Transducer. The M1 evolved into today's flagship Reference One Floor Standing Speaker (TAD-R1TX-EB/TAD-R1TX-BR), the big brother of the Compact Evolution One I'm reviewing here.

What separates Technical Audio Devices Compact Evolution One from its audiophile-speaker competitors is its highly evolved 5.5" coaxial "Coherent Source Transducer" (CST) driver, which is manufactured in-house in Japan and features a "newly developed" magnesium midrange cone with a concentrically mounted beryllium dome tweeter that, according to TAD, is manufactured with their "proprietary vapor deposition technique." Impressively, TAD's CST is specified to operate between 250Hz and 100kHz.

The CE1TX is a three-way design. The bottom three octaves are reproduced by TAD's 7" "aramid composite" (footnote 1) bass driver, which is made of "five layers of woven and non-woven fabric" that TAD says "optimizes the vibration characteristics of the shell-shaped diaphragm that integrates the center and the cone into a single piece."

Another feature, which surely contributes to the CE1TX's sound character, is its "Bidirectional ADS Port"; ADS is short for "AeroDynamic Slot." These bidirectional slots are slit-shaped ducts with flared openings behind the speakers' 17" × 13" sculpted-aluminum side panels, which appear to float about 4mm beyond the cabinet's sides. According to TAD's website, these slots allow internal air to flow out smoothly, without turbulence: "The symmetrically placed port openings ... reduce port noise and keep internal standing waves from escaping from the ports."

These made-in-Japan speakers are heavy (63.9lb) and on the large side for standmounts, measuring 11.3" wide × 20" high × 17.6" deep. Their sensitivity is listed as 85dB/W/m, and their nominal impedance is specified as 4 ohms. The CE1TX is priced at $32,500/pair; a pair of optional stands adds $2500.

Early in my TAD auditions, I realized that the CE1TX presents unusually consistent dispersion in both the vertical and horizontal planes, and that those dual side ports make them easy to place. The first couple of days, I moved them about in an obligatory manner; no matter where I set them down, they just looked at me and shrugged as if to say, "Put us anywhere you want. We don't care." I didn't put them in the refrigerator, or under the bed, but as I was moving them, I remembered that professional studio monitors are not typically designed to sit far from the front wall as many audiophile speakers are. Monitor speakers are, by necessity, friendly with room boundaries. I didn't try it, but I feel pretty certain the CE1TX would even work on a big desktop or a wide shelf, as long as the tweeters were roughly level with the listener's eyes and toed in to cross behind the listener's head.

My review samples ended up on 24" Sound Anchor Reference stands, about 6' apart and maybe 30" from their front face to the wall behind them. In that position, the 50Hz-to-200Hz region was flatter and cleaner than with any speaker I've reviewed in this room. All listening was done with the included woofer grilles off.

The distributor told me that my pair of CE1TXs had more than 100 hours on them on arrival. Nevertheless, for the first week, I let them play 24/7 in the background at low volume while I worked in my studio. Yet, over and over, I'd have to stop what I was doing and check my iPad to see: what is this fabulous new music Roon Radio has discovered for me? Every time I looked, it was some new conductor or brand of large-scale classical music I don't usually enjoy because the orchestra is too big, the music's bombastic, and the recording sounds clogged and fatiguing to listen to. This happened so frequently that the first thing I wrote in my notes was "These speakers force me to like music I don't like."

Powered by Parasound's Halo A 21+ amplifier, the CE1TX loudspeakers sorted and presented the densest, most complicated and overproduced music in ways that made it more intelligible and agreeable—and oftentimes more beautiful than it is with my Falcons powered by the same Parasound amp. During these early auditions, the CE1TXs made every recording sound right and uniquely "like itself " and, most likely, the way its producers hoped it would sound.

With this combination, on the mind-pulling 33-minute Forbidden Love by Pulitzer Prize– winning composer Julia Wolfe (24/96 FLAC, Nonesuch/Qobuz), the So Percussion Ensemble generated startling, percussive struck-string transients that I could feel in my gut. The So Ensemble did this while painting the most delicate details into a deep, galaxy-like space behind them. If you enjoy the sound of sounds like I do, this demonstration-quality recording will thrill you and your visitors.

As I listened to the Julia Wolfe, I kept thinking, it sounds like I am hearing everything on the recording, yet the sound is never too rough, sharp, dry, wet, muddled, muted, short, or cold, or anything! Nothing is lost, and nothing is exaggerated. The CE1TXs sounded more supple, textured, and relaxed than the Genelec G Threes or my memory of the Harbeth 30.2 monitor speakers—which is the one speaker this TAD reminds me of most. Their sonics and tone balance are similar, but the CE1TX is smoother, finer grained, and focuses the lens another half-turn.

What surprised me was how these TAD speakers made the Parasound A 21+ sound more colorful, three-dimensional, and energetic than usual. I like it when a new speaker makes a familiar amp sound better. And vice-versa.

Shake Sugaree
I am embarrassed to say I'd never heard of singer–songwriter–guitar player extraordinaire Elizabeth Cotten (1893–1987). A song she wrote when she was 11 years old, "Freight Train," was covered by Peter, Paul and Mary and became a staple of the 1960s folk revival (footnote 2). Her signature tune, "Shake Sugaree," was covered by both Dylan and the Grateful Dead. I discovered Cotten's music because Roon Radio steered me to her after I listened to gospel by Old Regular Baptists. The sound of her voice and her sophisticated, left-handed, upside-down guitar picking caused her to jump right out of the music stream. Cotten's talent was discovered while she was working as a maid for Pete Seeger's family in the early 1950s. Through the CE1TXs, her vocal tone was exceedingly natural, disarmingly clear and sincere—and adorably unpretentious (16/44.1 FLAC, Smithsonian Folkways/Tidal).

Footnote 1: Kevlar is an example of an aramid fiber.

Footnote 2: See youtu.be/R2DCWfBkMSI.

Technical Audio Devices Laboratories, Inc.
Bunkyo Green Ct. 2-28-8, Honkomagome
Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0021
(781) 982-2600

JRT's picture

The specs in this review and in TAD's marketing webpage do not include maximum SPL, which is useful in determining the maximum signal crests which can be accomodated relative to a specific propagation distance and Lref (reference level). The 200W maximum power handling is presumably a thermal limit rather than a nonlinear distortion based limit or mechanical excursion based limit, and that thermal limit is presumably relative to a longish time averaged interval of music signal rather than accomodating signal crests without significant mechanical clipping.

Looking at KEF's published specifications for the Blade Two Meta for comparison, KEF lists max SPL at 116_dB, but with no SPL filter weighting or other conditions mentioned.

Audio Engineering Society has recently published AES75-2023,
"Abstract: This standard details a procedure for measuring maximum linear sound levels of a loudspeaker system or driver using a test signal called Music-Noise. In order to measure maximum linear sound levels meaningfully and repeatably, a signal is required whose RMS and peak levels as functions of frequency have been shown to be representative of program material. Various existing standards define noise-based test signals which, like Music-Noise, have incorporated the knowledge that typical program material has a diminishing RMS level with increasing frequency, but Music-Noise uniquely also features a relatively constant peak level as a function of frequency, so that the crest factor (peak level – RMS level) increases with frequency, which an analysis on a large variety of music and other content has revealed is an important additional characteristic of typical program material. The specified procedure determines a loudspeaker’s maximum linear sound levels by incrementally increasing the Playback Level of Music-Noise until a stop condition is met: either an unacceptable change in the transfer function’s magnitude or an unacceptable change in the coherence of the transfer function."

I appreciate the measurements already included in these reviews, appreciate the significant effort that goes into providing those, and understand that J.C.Atkinson is not likely in need of more work to keep himself busy. That said, it would be better to see max SPL IAW AES75-2023 included in Stereophile's published measurements of loudspeakers, not only because the data itself is very useful, but also because publishing that would bring added useful considerations to the reader's attention, get them thinking more about accomodating signal crests without clipping, electrical or mechanical, in high quality playback.

More information about M-Noise and related measurements are detailed at the following link.

AaronGarrett's picture

That Julia Wolfe recording is great! I'm on a Grisey kick at the moment. I don't know if it's your kind of thing but I'm totally hooked on this https://i.imgur.com/gXcAeQZ.png

Nirodha352's picture

So… low impedance and sensitivity don’t matter anymore after having been branded bad boys by reviewers for ages?

Long-time listener's picture

...if I could afford it. But first, if I'm paying $32,000, I'd ask that they make it less ugly before they deliver it to me. Its visual design is discombobulated and all-over-the-place: There is a white ring around the upper drivers, and a black ring around the lower; there is an unpleasantly cheesy, orangish wood veneer coupled with metal side panels. At the very least, change the white ring to black to bring some unity and harmony to the visual design.

Just because the sound engineers can produce a good-sounding speaker doesn't mean they can produce one that looks good. Sheesh. For $32,000?

funambulistic's picture

It seems all of TAD's speakers use the white/silver ring on the mid/tweet - it is kind of their thing. I tend to agree with you on their choice of wood as it is not for me. I would prefer something darker, like walnut. The ME1 (smaller version to the CE1) comes in piano black or silver, which would be a nice option on the CE1. Going up the line, the Reference models come in Beryl Red (meh) or Emerald Black (nice!).

tenorman's picture


orfeo_monteverdi's picture

[please forgive my poor English]

First of all, please note the question mark in the title, as well as the words "more or less" and "reminiscent", as I am aware that, otherwise, the title could trigger reactions (after all, we are talking about a 4 Ohms low sensitivity speaker).

Many thanks Herb for this thouroughful review. Always a pleasure to read you, sincerely.

I listened to the 1st European pair a few months ago, at a dealer's. It was a burnt in pair, touring in Europe. The dealer is still waiting for his own pair.

The partnered electronics may not be have been ideal, but what I could hear later in the afternoon, just before attending a concert the same evening, became interesting. It is that experience, which specifically focused on the midrange, that I wished to share.

I listened to lieder (piano and baritone voice here) through the CE1-TX. Though there were no horn speaker under the hand to compare, I was struck by two things: the "rightness" of the piano (no high bass/low-mid emphasis which usually makes sound the left hand on a Steinway like a Harbeth - I own a pair of Harbeth M30.2 Anniversary, I'm definitely not trying to shock anyone here).

But most of all, I was struck by the incredible clarity, expressiveness and naturalness of the voice. We played at concert volume, at least subjectively (I sat approx. 3,5m-4m away from the speakers). Then, 120 minutes later, I was sitting right in front of the German baritone Benjamin Appl, 10th row (in a concert hall endowed with a very good acoustics - remember? I'm the "posh tippler", as you nicknamed me ;-) And Benjamin Appl sang exactly the same piece of music I heard on the CE1-TX two hours earlier (I had chosen them purposely for the TADs of course). The way the CE1-TX is able to project voices (in the best sense of the word) in a nearly "live concert way", is astounding; voices remain perfectly natural though, without coarseness or "astringency". And this reminds me a little of bit of horns (the best ones, not the fatiguing ones). To reach such a sound pressure level and expressiveness, a powerful amplifier might be required, though your feedback on what the low-powered First Watt Sit3 (30W facing 4 Ohms) is capable of with that speaker, is really intriguing and, for the prospect, is worth investigating.

Of course, one must not (or should not) play at such high sound pressure levels in town, with neighbors. Therefore the importance of another point: how do the CE1-TX behave at low, even very low level? (Steve Guttenberg in his YT video review seems to say that they still sound great at low level, even at very low level).

The speakers should come back at the dealer's in a few weeks. I will be able to assess them more thoroughly. They seem definitely promising, maybe even one of a kind.

Another point that struck me in your review was that the Harbeth 30.2 Anniversary (that I own, in a 2nd system) is the one speaker this TAD "reminds [you] of most"; not the Joseph Audio Pusar Graphene (which has nevertheless a higher-grade Scanspeak tweeter than the M30.2; the treble of the M30.2 is very good -you even wrote "gorgeous"-, but in absolute terms, I find that it lacks "magic" and air by comparison - the TAD, by contrast, are champions here). The TAD CE1-TX may remind me a little of my M30.2 Anniversary too (just a little, as far as I am concerned), but the CE1-TX are quite a different animal for sure. It seems they convey music in a unique way for their size. To be confirmed...

Kind regards from Europe.

PS: I live in such a tiny country that there is no need to be a tippler, even less to be posh, to access great concert halls just next door ;-)
Nevertheless, I like "posh tippler". I keep it. Thanks!

laxr5rs's picture

If you ever hear me attempt to describe speaker performance with words like that, poor cold water on me and tell me I'm hopped up on goofballs. The subjective review is a ghost story.

Idano-nuttin''s picture

Jerry Garcia first recorded 'Sugaree' on his eponymously named first solo album 'Garcia'. Different altogether than EC's song. Also, if Herb's friend had never heard (of) EC, how did he know 'THAT was how that recording was supposed to sound'? These may be fabulous sounding speakers, but like most standmounts, not pleasing aesthetically in the least.