I listened to the Technical Audio Devices (TAD) Reference Ones (€ 70.000 per pair) for about ten minutes today at Munich's High End 2010 and came away with an observation that really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's followed TAD designer Andrew Jones's work in loudspeaker design. Jones was a key figure at Britain's KEF before joining TAD, and now with TAD he's bent on pursuing the state of the art in loudspeaker design. It wasn't that the Ones simply sounded great -- they pretty much always do -- but it was how great they sounded even listening way off to the side, far from what audiophiles call the sweet spot. I've heard the speaker many times before, but this was the first time I took note of this aspect of its performance.
Why did I end up there? It wasn't necessarily by choice. When we visited the TAD room, there was a packed house, with Jones holding court, rolling through musical selections. I simply never got the opportunity to get into the sweet spot for a proper listening session, but that was OK. What I heard standing to one side was amazing: a big soundstage (no precise imaging, of course, but still a huge 'stage), scary-real dynamic swings, and, most impressively, even tonal balance. That's right: the sound was basically neutral even though I was far from an ideal listening location. I never sat in the middle, nor did I feel the need to. Doug Schneider did, mind you, and he assured me that his impression of the sound was just as positive.
It's no secret that good off-axis dispersion is important in loudspeaker design, and what I've described illustrates that. If you've ever heard speakers that have to be so precisely set up that even moving them a quarter inch ruins the sound (not alters it, but ruins it), it's not necessarily because that speaker is good or that it should really need such precise fine-tuning -- more than likely the culprit is really poor off-axis dispersion characteristics. In other words, the sound that the speaker projects to the front doesn't match what it's projecting to the sides. With the TAD Reference Ones, it's pretty obvious that the on- and off-axis response characteristics are quite similar, and it doesn't take miniscule movements of a quarter of an inch to get them set up properly.
A design like the TAD Reference One proves just how good a great loudspeaker can sound from anywhere in the room -- a feat rarely duplicated at a show. Of course, the rest of the system played an important part to the overall sound as well. Powering the Reference Ones were the TAD M600 monoblock amplifiers (€ 26.500 each) and ahead of that was a Constellation Audio Altair preamplifier. The source was the TAD D600 CD player (€ 26.500), and cabling was from Silent Source. Maybe I'll make a point of listening to a few other high-profile speakers on display here while standing over to the side so I can do a mental comparison.