TAD Micro Evolution One loudspeaker

Notwithstanding the twists and turns of Japanese corporate culture, the status of Technical Audio Devices Laboratories, Inc. remains unchanged. Founded in 1975 as a subsidiary of Pioneer to build loudspeakers for the professional market, TAD remains part of that corporation, even after the recent sale of Pioneer's home-audio division to Onkyo.

TAD has long been a highly respected name in pro audio, and for decades sold exclusively to that market. But 16 years ago, when they introduced a speaker designed for the home market—the Reference One—its five-figure price raised eyebrows in a market not yet saturated with speakers selling for more than $50,000/pair. But it was less than a shock, given that speakers with pro-audio genes in their DNA are expected to be pricey.

A string of other new TAD models followed, including the Compact Reference CR1, at $45,000/pair plus $4000 for the matching stands—still the costliest consumer stand-mounted speaker we know of.1 All of these designs came from TAD Labs' main development center in Japan, led by chief engineer Toru Nagatani and the pen of content/surpassing-expectations-pioneers-andrew-jones">Andrew Jones (footnote 1), who alternated between creating TAD models for those who could casually write a five-figure check, and surprisingly good and affordable Pioneer speakers for the rest of us.

Now we have the new Micro Evolution One, or ME1, the first affordable speaker from TAD—though affordable only in comparison to the company's other models. At $12,495/pair, just under one-third the price of the CR1, the ME1 will still put a significant dent in your savings.

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Design
The ME1 is the first TAD home loudspeaker not designed by Andrew Jones, who now works for Elac. But Jones's fingerprints are still clearly visible—the ME1 echoes many of the themes found in the CR1. It's a true three-way design in a size normally reserved for modest two-ways, though its design and appearance are anything but conventional.

The bottom end is handled by a 6.3" (160mm) woofer with a MACC diaphragm—TADspeak for Multi-layered Aramid Composite Cone. The rear radiation from this woofer exits the cabinet through small openings on each side that feed into narrow slots that vent to the outside at the enclosure's front and rear. TAD calls this bass-loading design bidirectional ADS, for Aero-Dynamic Slot.

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Is ADS actually a variation of aperiodic bass loading—a technique first used by Dynaco in the 1960s? Based more on a cabinet with a controlled leak than a sealed or ported box, aperiodic loading produces the single impedance peak characteristic of a sealed box instead of the two peaks of a conventional ported system. It also reduces the amplitude of that peak, and is claimed to offer the bass extension of a larger sealed box while lacking what some consider to be the disadvantages of bass ports.

We'll see what John Atkinson's measurements show. In any event, aperiodic loading is rare today, perhaps because when it was first used, the rigorous, math-based techniques for the optimal design of a specific driver in a ported box hadn't yet been refined. Even today, manufacturers in search of more salable bass output from smaller ported boxes bend the rules a bit. They might get more extension, but often at the cost of a sloppy low end and/or an upper-bass emphasis that many consumers confuse with deep bass. This might be why audiophiles sometimes give ported boxes a bad rap.

TAD also uses coincident midrange and tweeter drive-units in its speakers for the home. Unlike coaxial drivers, in which the tweeter and its mounting bracket are positioned in front of the midrange driver, partially blocking the latter's radiation, a coincident driver's tweeter is placed at the throat of its midrange cone, leaving that cone free of obstructions. KEF, with its UniQs, is today's most prolific producer of coincident drivers, though Tannoy might justifiably claim it got there first. Other speaker brands that use coincidents today include Pioneer and Elac. It's no coincidence (sorry) that Andrew Jones did early work at KEF before moving on to Pioneer/TAD and then to Elac.

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TAD calls its coincident drivers Coherent Source Transducers (CST), and the ME1's CST is the smallest yet. Its 3.6" (90mm) midrange cone is made of magnesium, which is lighter than aluminum, and is partnered with a 1" (25mm) beryllium-dome tweeter. TAD claims that this tweeter's response extends up to 60kHz, though that would be a challenge to verify. The crossover frequencies are 420Hz and 2.5kHz, though the slopes aren't specified.

Unlike the usual separate midrange and tweeter, with a coincident driver the frequencies from the bottom of the midrange to the extreme treble originate from the same point in space. This eliminates the erratic response (comb filtering) in the crossover region that can be produced by separate drivers when a listener isn't positioned within the optimal listening window. In a speaker with a coincident driver, the low end is typically handled by a separate woofer, as in the TAD ME1. But in some designs, such as KEF's smaller two-way stand-mount models, the cone of the coincident driver also handles the bass.

A coincident driver's midrange cone can also act as a waveguide for the tweeter, to equalize the radiation patterns of the midrange (or midbass) and tweeter in the crossover region. Sometimes, it can also widen the tweeter's dispersion at higher frequencies.

Also: a cone driver's effective acoustic center is somewhere between the cone's surround and its apex, but generally closer to the apex, particularly at a typical crossover frequency. But in a conventional speaker the tweeter is on the front baffle, perhaps as much as 1" forward of the midrange's acoustic center. This can result in response problems where the two drivers' outputs overlap. While this can be compensated for in the crossover, it's not trivial. But with the tweeter of a concentric driver at the apex of the midrange and closer to the latter's acoustic center, the two drivers' outputs can be closely aligned at the crossover frequency without complicating the crossover.

The ME1's enclosure is made of a combination of Baltic birch plywood and MDF. Inside, a 4mm-thick steel plate extends between the sides of the cabinet to further reinforce it, contributing to the speaker's robust weight of 44 lbs. Two pairs of high-quality speaker terminals on the rear allow for biwiring or biamping, if desired. If not, the speakers' heavy-duty shorting links—not the thin metal straps provided with many biwirable speakers—can be used to connect the terminals to each other, as I did for this review.

As I write this, the ME1 is available only in the impeccable piano black finish, with flat black side cheeks, of our review samples. At the 2017 Tokyo Audio Show they were reportedly shown in a titanium finish. When that becomes available, it will likely be an extra-cost option. In neither case will you have to decide between listening with the grilles on or off—there are no grilles, though a metal screen protects the midrange-tweeter CST from prying fingers.

TAD offers optional stands for the ME1s. They're attractive, a good match for the speakers, and solidly made. The heavy center support is pre-filled—no messing around with lead shot and/or sand—but the stands come in a flat pack and are a bit awkward to assemble. At $1795/pair, I'd expect your TAD dealer to assemble them for you!

Fasteners at the rear of the stand let you secure the speaker cables to it with ties (not provided). Spikes are included, along with floor protectors for use under the spikes. I didn't use the spikes, as there are hardwood floors under the carpeting that covers most of my listening room. In any case, it may not have mattered; the spikes' soft points aren't thin or sharp enough to penetrate most carpets.

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I recommend the stands—the ME1s can be screwed securely to them using the preinstalled, threaded inserts in the speakers' bottom panels. Secured to generic stands with only a few blobs of Blu-Tack, the TADs would be too heavy to walk around the room without being dislodged, and anyway, most multi-use stands lack a top plate big enough for proper support. Even on TAD's dedicated stands, the ME1s were top-heavy and tricky to move around. Gloves with rubberized palms, cheap at any good hardware store, are a big help in ensuring a good grip to walk these or any speakers around the room.

Setup
My listening room measures a modest 21' by 16', with a ceiling shaped like the inside of a four-sided pyramid and 11–12' high at its apex, with an estimated average ceiling height of 9'. A soffit roughly 18" deep (slightly deeper on one of the 16' sides) high runs the room's perimeter. This space is part of an open floor plan, with one of the 21' sides almost entirely open to the kitchen-breakfast area, which in turn is open through a large opening to the dining room. The acoustic space is therefore much larger than the 21' by 16' listening area, and also accommodates a home-theater setup, for my work for our sister publication Sound & Vision. (My two roll-up projection screens, of different sizes and aspect ratios, are fully retracted when I listen to music.)

The room isn't overly dead, but apart from the kitchen space, the floors are mostly covered with large, relatively thick, unpadded rugs. Shelves filled with books, CDs, and videos line the rear wall, several feet behind the listening seats, and acoustic panels of various sizes are scattered around the adjoining spaces to suppress any slap echo that might intrude into the listening area.

Except as noted below, I positioned the TAD ME1s about 6' out from one of the 16'-wide ends of the room. The entire wall behind them is segmented in a bay shape; each of its three facets has a window, but this isn't a conventional bay window. The TADs were a bit more than 8' apart, just slightly more than that from the main listening seat, and angled inward so that their axes crossed just in front of me when I sat in the main seat.

Listening
I began with a Marantz UD7007 universal 3D BD player and AV8802A surround-sound processor (in stereo only) with two channels of a Proceed AMP5 amplifier (125Wpc into 8 ohms; each of the Proceed's five channels is driven by a completely separate power supply and transformer). The TAD ME1s immediately impressed me with their exceptional resolving ability—their beryllium tweeters were clearly the star of the show. This was the first chance I'd had in at least five years to live with beryllium tweeters (as opposed to hearing them often at audio shows), and I don't remember having ever been so impressed by them before.

The leading edges of the percussion instruments in Bizet's Carmen Fantasy, performed by the All Star Percussion Ensemble conducted by Harold Farberman (CD, Moss Music Group MCD 10007), exploded onto the soundstage without unnatural edginess. Subtle shadings of instrumental percussion textures were far more evident that I'm accustomed to hearing, and the distinct reproduction of the ambience of the recording venue added welcome helpings of air and depth. On vocal recordings, sibilants stayed natural as well, apart from poorly miked or overprocessed recordings. The ME1s were not forgiving with the latter, but neither were they ruthlessly revealing.

The midrange was similarly impressive. All we can reasonably expect of a midrange driver is that it be low in distortion, offer a believable balance that clearly reflects the recording quality—for better or worse—and avoid obvious colorations.



Footnote 1: Andrew Jones now works for German loudspeaker manufacturer Elac. Click here to see a recent video interview.
COMPANY INFO
Technical Audio Devices Laboratories, Inc.
US distributor: MoFi Distribution
1811 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue
Chicago, IL 60660
(312) 738-5025
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COMMENTS
AllanMarcus's picture

Is the "Micro Evolution One" from TAD some sort of remake of the Evolution Acoustics Micro One? If not, this naming is _really_ confusing, and Evolution Acoustics should be P-Oed.

spacehound's picture

One on the 'marketplace', the other on the speaker itself.

I am pleased to see that TAD has now become a serious player in high end 'domestic' speakers, and quite a popular one. It is good to see a 'real' manufacturer, as opposed to what I call 'a few guys in a garden shed' making speakers and selling them through tiny 'specialist' dealers that only hifi 'enthusiasts' ever visit.
And a major manufacturer such as Pioneer has FAR more resources to call on than the 'garden shed' (or as a maximum, some small industrial unit) manufacturers so is likely to make better speakers. Who are these 'garden shed' outfits? You can guess the two I mostly have in mind :-)
It works, too. I live near Southampton, UK. There are no less than three central 'high street' television/AV/audio shops that carry a small stock of TAD speakers or will quickly obtain them for a 'listen' as they have dealt with Pioneer for many years.

Why do I like it? It is enlarging the marketplace so 'legitimising' it to some extent. The small manufacturers cannot do those things.

The speakers.
As a fan of Tannoy dual-concentric (coincident) speakers I have known that Tannoy have been right all along for fifty years plus, and other manufacturers such as KEF, and now TAD, are confirming that correctness.
However, at 12,000 dollars the price is a nonsense. You can buy Tannoys with ten or twelve inch 'coincident' drive units for that and they sound amazing. And KEF are not far behind.

Whatever you say about this TAD it remains a small squeaky speaker with no real bottom end. No sane person will pay 12,000 dollars for that. It just isn't hifi, though I am sure it is as good as you will get in a small box. Even calling a six and a half inch driver a 'woofer' is nuts, though nowadays everyone does it.

For both of my reasons above, were I to change from my present Tannoys, TAD is the first place I would look, though not at these particular speakers.

prerich45's picture

This is Dave in Milton, nice review and nice measurements! The TAD looks really good with the Rel added on. I see you have given them the nod for Class A (Restricted Extreme LF)...with that said, you also mentioned that other companies can give the TAD's an sincere challenge. Would that statement lead me to believe that we may have other Class A (RE LF) speakers that are far less expensive than the TAD?

hb72's picture

thanks for interesting review! I see lots of text about bass and whether it is sufficient or not: here my thoughts about it:
31 squaremeters may be modest for US standards but is plenty for people living in large cities such as Tokyo, London, NY, also SF, people who also have & want to spend the dough on these beauties for their fancy city flats.

Also I'd like to invite friends of systems that reach below 40Hz (rather one octave pls, not a few semi-tones) to convince me about the indispensability of this very frequency range to great undivided enjoyment of (most) music (i.e. not earthquakes or car-crashes ..).

rzr's picture

This was a terrible review for a very nice loudspeaker. Stereophile has been losing it and this review continues to show this trend. Most of the article used either low-fi marantz, a home theater pre/pro in 2 channel mode, and an amp that has been out of data for over a decade. Why not go buy a $100 sony all in 1 box system at Best Buy to do the review?
The reviewer ups the ante and uses a better pre and amp from BAT, and guess what, the speakers perform better! Amazing when this happens. These speakers should have been reviewed using the BAT pieces 1st, then moved up to better upsacele pieces like the PS Audio BHK and Directstream DAC/Player and guess what, performance would skyrocket. If you want to continue to use a pre/pro and a proceed amp, you should think about going over to Sound and Vision.
The TAD corp should restrict you guys from reviewing any loudspeaker system that costs over $500 until you change your review process

supamark's picture

if you'd actually read the review you'd have noticed he explicitly states that he also works at Sound & Vision (hence the surround system). I've been reading Mr. Norton's reviews for like 30 years, I think he knows a little bit more about all this than you do.

Oh, and Kal Rubenson's review of the $4k pre/pro used:
https://www.stereophile.com/content/music-round-75

Since you've demonstrated that you don't actually read through articles, Mr. Rubenson summed it up thus:

"...the decidedly improved analog outputs benefit all audio functions, including analog multichannel pass-through. If your concern is primarily for music playback, can you do better spending $1000 or so for a separate multichannel preamp? No way. It's easy to recommend the AV8802A, despite the bump in cost: It offers cutting-edge features and outstanding sound."

The more you know!

PS - pretty sure the pre/pro is lifted directly from the $7k McIntosh pre/pro with the *identical* back panel - both companies are in the Harmon corporate fold.

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