TAD Micro Evolution One loudspeaker Page 2

In my months of living with the ME1s, I can't recall a single instance of obvious midrange problems with otherwise good recordings. Instrumental timbres were convincingly reproduced, as were the voices of a wide range of singers, well known and obscure, such as Holly Cole, Norah Jones, Cyndee Peters, Sophie Zelmani, Sinne Eeg (the last two first heard on The DALI CD Vol.3, a sampler demo disc from Danish loudspeaker maker DALI), Muddy Waters, Leo Kottke, Leonard Cohen, the King's Singers, and many others. My in-room measurements (footnote 2) did show a peak just above 150Hz—which is either the upper bass or the lower midrange, depending on your definition—but I heard no evidence of it. Nor was I disappointed by the ME1s' excellent soundstaging, which excelled in both depth and width when the recording cooperated.

If the TAD had a weakness, it was one you might guess from looking at it. While larger than some stand-mounts, it's still a small speaker, and despite its unique bass loading it didn't dig particularly deep in the low end. My in-room measurements did show useful response into the mid-to-50Hz region (figs.1 & 2). (In my setup, any right-channel speaker is handicapped by the absence of a wall to the right of it; the left went slightly lower.) Listening to the warble tones on Stereophile's first Test CD (Stereophile STPH002-2) with both speakers playing, I heard just-audible output at 40Hz.


Fig.1 TAD Micro Evolution One, left speaker, averaged in-room response at listening seat.


Fig.2 TAD Micro Evolution One, right speaker, averaged in-room response at listening seat.

Depending on the instruments involved, the TAD's bass was often more than adequate. Never boomy or bloated, it was consistently tight and well defined—until it gave up the ghost. Double basses, such as David Piltch's on Holly Cole's Don't Smoke in Bed (CD, Manhattan/Capitol CDP 7 81198 2), were often satisfying (the instrument typically bottoms out at around 40Hz). And the cleanness of that bass range always supported the music, even when it was obvious that I wasn't hearing everything the recording had to give. This was frequently the case with recordings of pipe organ, or of pounding drums such as those on Kodo's Mondo Head (CD, Sony Music Entertainment Japan WK 56111), a percussion recording produced by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, who co-composed all but one of the selections.

To further check this out, I went back and forth between the full-range ME1s alone, and the ME1s plus a properly set up and equalized subwoofer operating below 60Hz. In the latter case the TADs were still operating full-range, a setup that most audiophiles could achieve with a subwoofer having its own low-pass filter. But I used the low-pass filter in the Marantz pre-pro. The sub was a Revel B15 (not a current model); I used it only for this bass comparison (except as noted), and not for any of the other listening observations in this review. My measurements (fig.3 & 4) showed that with the sub engaged, the system responded down to 20Hz. This was helped, of course, by room gain, though my open listening space likely offers less bass reinforcement than would a smaller, enclosed room. Also of help were the B15's three analog parametric equalizers, which I tediously tweaked with the help of the OmniMic measuring gear. No other equalization of any kind was used.


Fig.3 TAD Micro Evolution One, left speaker with subwoofer, averaged in-room response at listening seat.


Fig.4 TAD Micro Evolution One, right speaker with subwoofer, averaged in-room response at listening seat.

On at least half of the selections I played, the subwoofer made little or no difference to the sound—not surprising, as many instruments and recordings have little or no significant content below 40Hz. But when they did, the effect was unmistakable, even with a subwoofer dialed in not to add boom or other tricks to the sound. Piltch's double bass on the Holly Cole CD sounded a bit firmer, though I hadn't before felt I was missing anything. Often, the change was dramatic. The drums on Kodo's Mondo Head had a palpable solidity they'd lacked through the ME1s alone. The heart-like beat that opens Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon (CD, Harvest CDP 7 46001 2) was weak through the TADs alone, but clearly present with the sub engaged. And while not exactly music, the thunder that opens and closes the Empire Brass Quintet's performance of Rolf Smedvig's Hopper Dance, from a Telarc recording excerpted on Test Tracks 01 (CD, Tag McLaren Audio 4101), was missing its low, guttural rumble with the ME1s alone.

But while driving the TADs full-range with a sub worked fine with music—apart perhaps from the odd organ climax, passing thunderstorm, or rumble-generated infrasonics from LP playback—I would always add a high-pass filter to the TADs when using them with a sub in a home-theater system. As foolish as that might sound to many Stereophile readers, more than few dual-purpose high-end systems are out there using speakers pricier than and inferior to the TADs. A third ME1 could be used for the center channel for both movies and multichannel audio (and two more for surrounds, but let's not go over the top—Atmos 7.2.4, anyone?).

And yes, I did also use the ME1s as the main left/right speakers in a surround system. Moving them in and out of position every day or two to do video work for Sound & Vision would have been tedious at best, and for me, evaluating video with films but without the sound system to support them quickly gets old. I won't address that application in any detail here—this is, after all, a review of a speaker to be used for listening to music in two-channel stereo. Still, I also used a nonmatching and far more modest center-channel speaker, a Revel Concerta1. I could have used a phantom center, but I've never liked them.

Moonlighting as part of a surround-sound array, protected by a high-pass filter, and played at levels that weren't over the top but still might prompt an angry, late-night visit from the neighbors, the TADs worked superbly. Even in my large room, the Proceed amp's 125Wpc into 8 ohms—and considerably more into the into ME1's 4 ohms—was more than adequate for any level I could stand with films—or with music, with or without the subwoofer.

If you think film sound is slumming, it isn't. I'm a huge fan of film scores, and the best experiences I had with the TADs with large-scale music, such as symphony orchestras or elaborate electronic compositions, were when I played soundtracks from a film's original Blu-ray, not the separate release of the score on CD. For more on this subject I highly recommend Score, a superb documentary on BD about film scores, their composers, and how they're recorded. The final orchestral flourish on that release, appropriately titled "Finale," sounded spectacular through the TADs when supported by the Revel center and sub. My only frustration is that this selection isn't credited in more detail—I can't tell you what film it comes from.

Change of Amps, Change of Positions
After all of the above, I switched from the Marantz pre-pro and Proceed amp to a BAT VK-23SE preamp and BAT VK-255SE power amp. And in an attempt to perhaps extend downward a bit the ME1s' sub-free bass, I moved them to the long (21') wall of my room, flanking my equipment rack. The TADs were still well out from the wall behind them (about 4', to keep them far enough from the equipment rack to avoid adverse reflections). As before, they were roughly 8' apart, 9' from the listening seat, and toed in toward me.

I also continued to use vintage Cardas Hexlink cables of the same generation for all analog connections, including player to preamp. The connections from preamp to amp were balanced (the BAT power amp doesn't have unbalanced inputs). The speaker cables were the same as before.

In these positions, the ME1s' bass seemed to extend another 5–10Hz lower than before fig.5 & 6). This increased the solidity of the low end, though it still didn't equal the extension with the subwoofer—or even of larger, competent floorstanding designs. But the most interesting change was in the timbre of the sound from the BAT pairing. It was less bright than with the Marantz-Proceed combo—though I hadn't been at all unhappy with that setup—and more liquid and rounded, though not in any way muddled or ill defined. The BATs were a superb match for the TADs, though at $14,000 an expensive one. I'm tempted to say that they sounded tube-like, which would no doubt please BAT, who also make tubed gear (the BAT preamp and amp are strictly solid-state). But my experience with modern tubed gear is nil, so here I'll say only that the sound was more likely to please tube fans than the cool, somewhat more analytical, less organic sound of the Marantz pre-pro and Proceed amp (the latter ancient in audio years but still very much Levinson–lite).


Fig.5 TAD Micro Evolution One, left speaker, long-wall position, averaged in-room response at listening seat.


Fig.6 TAD Micro Evolution One, right speaker, long-wall position, averaged in-room response at listening seat.

Then, to reconfirm my earlier observations, I returned the TADs to their original positions and the Marantz and Proceed electronics. The ME1s continued to impress me in a big way. Yes, their bass was still limited, though by how much will depend on your room and setup. A smaller, more enclosed room than mine will inevitably reinforce the low end, and the speakers' inherently clean bass should work against the usual tendency of such rooms to produce too much and/or uneven bass.

At $12,495/pair, TAD's Micro Evolution One is a very expensive loudspeaker even in today's high-end market. Companies such as Bowers & Wilkins, Elac, GoldenEar, KEF, Monitor Audio, and Revel offer models that can give the ME1 a significant challenge for under $15,000/pair, and offer more extended bass.

But the appeal of the TAD sound, and the ME1's smaller, less obtrusive size, can't be denied, and deserve to attract enthusiastic buyers. However, those buyers should first confirm that a pair of ME1s will provide satisfying bass in their rooms. They can later add a subwoofer or two—and there are now many subs, even a few for less than $2000, that can do the job without compromising the ME1s' sound. But you might be resistant to that extra expense—and/or prefer to keep your listening room free of subs.

That said, the Micro Evolution One is a remarkable speaker. Highly recommended, and clearly a solid candidate for Class A (Limited Bass Extension) of our "Recommended Components."

Footnote 2: These measurements were taken with the OmniMic system from Parts Express: good, but not as sophisticated as JA's in-room or pseudo-anechoic measurements.
Technical Audio Devices Laboratories, Inc.
US distributor: MoFi Distribution
1811 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue
Chicago, IL 60660
(312) 738-5025

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:

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.