07 September, 2010

Home Visits: TAD and Rey Audio

Home Visits: TAD and Rey Audio

It's time to tie up some loose ends, and write up a few recent visits. Foremost is a wonderful Rey Audio setup.

Part I. Rey is King (in Spanish it is)
Sometime ago thanks to icefox I had the fortune of visiting andyhkw (aka 富貴, I believe) at his Tsuen Wan loft. He had recently finished re-arranging his gears. That's no mean feat, as he had rotated all equipment 90 degrees to another wall, and his main speakers weigh several hundred pounds, each! Andy's setup is relatively simple (but hugely costly):

Digital: EMT 986 (hard disc player). Delicious!
Analogue: EMT 948
Preamp: ARC Reference 3
Amp: MC2 MC-1250
Speakers: PMC MB2i and huge Rey Audio (RM7)

First we auditioned the PMC in front. Previously, with lesser PMCs I have always been bothered by bass that seemed a little lagging behind, which I attributed to the transmission line designs. Not so this time. This was true monitor sound, tonally accurate, well integrated and dynamic. Rock and pop recordings were fast and highly exciting. Overall, in this large room, bass was still just a shade lean. Moving the seat up a foot or so produced better defined bass and even extension. I suspect a little room mode at work here. Still, a highly commendable setup.

With great expectation we moved on to the double-15" woofer Rey Audio. It was a revelation when the first bass notes of a classical piece came in and we just FELT it. A clarification is in order, it was classical music at low volume, so this was not what's commonly referred to as 褲管震 of the rock-JBL kind; rather it was a sensation of feeling a distant rumble, of feeling THREAT, of feeling atmosphere. There's no better attribute to the quality of a system if one has this feeling during listening (this is not something you'll ever feel with Maggies, e.g., no matter what their other attributes are). The Rey's were almost completely blocked by the PMCs, darker and likely less neutral, yet the sound had tremendous authority and the presence of live music.

A note here on the equipment. Once again it upheld my belief that a good tube preamp matched with a solid state amp frequently is a simple and effective solution for speakers that demand power (both in this case). I'd also like to note that, although I have long been an ARC fan, previously I had not been impressed by the ARC Ref3, even suspecting it of lack of dynamics. It's all in the implementation after all. It should also be mentioned that both digital and analogue replay were very balanced and tonally similar, as it should be in a good system.

Now, we have here not just a highly commendable setup but an awesome system. In many ways, I think it even gives Alansoo's wonderful (and complex) so-called "TAD2401" system (now more and more of a Goto system) a run for its money? Competition is healthy! :-)

Part II. A Tale of Two TADs
Of the huge number of hifi systems in 錦繡花園 there are two that I know quite well, those of the 2 gentleman in the picture. Both use TADs with tubes but their approaches differ greatly.

On this day we all met up and by chance talked about approaches. Although they looked to be of similar vein, Andy on the right always claimed his hearing has been compromised and builds his system upon high frequency air and treble performance; Simon on the other hand, craves warmth and smoothness, preferring to build upon a solid bass.

A tad sharp?
In a previous visit to Andy he was using the stock TAD 3401. Since then a lot has happened. He acquired 2 adjacent houses and crafted new spaces out of them. In the new house, the listening room is a lot larger than previously, though still kind of squarish. I have visited this place several times.

Now he is using a pseudo-2402, in that the treble-midrange driver with its original horn is placed out of the box, on top of an aftermarket cabinet that houses the woofer. For reasons of symmetry and bass performance, Andy placed the speakers almost right against the wall. Gears:

Analogue: Clearaudio YKW (the unmentionable you-know-what); Goldfinger
Digital: MacIntosh-Amarra-Firewire; Weiss Firewire-XLR converter+professional DAC
Amplification: Kondo step-up, M7 phono, M7 preamp, Ongaku

We listened mostly to vinyl. The sound of the TAD is now very crisp and sharp, and there is a lot more bass to be had than in the old room. This marks a big step-up from his old house. In case you wonder, yes, the Kondo system drives the TADs quite well. It showcases hifi recordings quite well but falls down a little on mellower classical material. Nonetheless, it is frequently exciting and never ear-grating, though at times one is aware of an "anal" control, a refusal to let loose. Presence is quite good with the right material. The TT has recently been upgraded. Sound is very dynamic, with black background, but I am still bothered by its lack of rhythmic elan. I remain unmoved by this Clearaudio.

I should mention that the crossover in the picture is newly developed by our friend tubediyer. I have listened to the original crossover and can attest that this DIY one maintains the tonal balance while improving on details and perhaps transients. I understand our friend wadia is also trying one out (for his Rey Audio) to great satisfaction.

Andy in the last 2 years has completely gravitated to CAS. Previously he was using iPod/iTransport, but now that has been replaced by the full system detailed above. This is probably the most expensive CAS system I have encountered. On a previous visit I listened to it in detail. I was quite disturbed by a glassy sound. Replacement of the Nordost XLR by a Kimber immediately ameliorated the situation. This shows other hifi parameters are still important in the digital domain, and one can EASILY trip up.

Am I impressed by the very expensive Weiss? the answer is NO. It does not equate a good CDP, not to say trailing far far behind vinyl. My view on CAS remains: have fun on the cheap, and forget about all the bullshit of delivering the best. That's only sales talk cleverly crafted by certain "experts", who have been wrong again and again on the path of digitals.

A tad smooth?
For some reason, previously I have only briefly treated Simon's system in these pages. His has always been a musical system. 300B driving TAD of course is a challenge, and Simon has steadily improved his system's driving ability. System now:

Analogue: Verdier La Platine-Boyer arm-EMT cartridge
Preamp: Shindo Giscours (using WE349a)
Amp: Shindo 300B monoblocks using old stock WE300B
Speakers: TAD 2402

Compared to the previous visit, the system certainly gained in dynamics while remaining highly musical. I asked him what he did. He said the only changes were the tonearm and cartridge, plus a little tube rolling.

I have always treasured some of the very fine sound coming out of the WE tubes in this system. That's not for mere mortals to savor, perhaps even know...:-) More power to him.


  1. HI John, I own a 2402 clone, Arai's design. They are certainly keepers and I don't think I'll part with them.

    I also found that they benefit to be placed against the rear wall. I'm still tweaking my listening room.

    Currently I paired them with a Pioneer A-09 amplifier with the PD-T09 CD player. If I manage to find them, my dream setup would be the exclusive C7 and M7 (orM8) combo. Speaker cables are belden 9497.

    I wish I can try a tube setup but I don't know where to start if you have any suggestions to fit with those speakers it would be appreciate.

    1. Hi Yan, seems like a decent setup indeed.

      The 2402 is not that efficient, so flea-powered SET amps (300B, 2A# etc) are out. If you want to go SET, try an 811 amp (like my fantastic Wavac MD-811, reasonable second-hand price, if you can find it) or you have to go for a 211 or 845 amp (Line Magnetic may be a reasonable place to start). For push-pull amps, you have a lot more choice. Something like Primaluna would be a great place to start; look also at Rogue and Quicksilver, all good value.

      For tube preamp, I just learnt about Brown Audio Labs, which seems very reasonably priced (the preamp is rave reviewed in Absolute Sound). Check out also Primaluna and Rogue again.

    2. BTW, I am amazed you have a T-09. I thought they are not seen in the West.