12 June, 2018

TAD TD-3401 and That Certain Atmosphere Verdier Wavac Tannoy

One Glorious Day!

Review: Pioneer/Exclusive/TAD TD-3401, Part II
My TAD TD-3401 Finds a New Home

TAD TD-3401, Part I

Audio Personalities There are many types, and in my experience the personality governs the outlook on audio.

There are those who never waver in their beliefs (no matter how unfounded), like "never tube" or "never solid state" (Religious Fanatics); those who anally/constantly tweak their systems and proclaim incremental improvements every time (Sales); those who believe in A/B'ing the smallest things yet fail to look at the big picture, like the obsessive cable swapper, or those vintage gear tube rollers prevalent in HK (Anal Retentive, + Religious Fanatics); and so on. In the end, these are people who know too little about music and overly confident in their own hearing ability.

And then there are the masochists, who for some reason struggle with what they suspect are no good. My friend/taskmaster icefox has long assigned me to this category. But he is wrong - I have consistently transformed what others (even I) have lost faith in. There are no better examples than my journey with Tannoy, perhaps even TAD. I know I am seemingly drifting off but the following bits have bearings on the evaluation of the TAD at hand.

Tannoy For the longest time I was really lukewarm towards Tannoy. Having already heard some really good horn systems in NYC before I came back to HK I was not at all impressed by the HK Tannoy scene, populated by "the older the better" and "only vintage need apply" types who believe in the pecking order Silver > Red > Gold (Black is too rare; and HPD and modern stuff need not apply). Oh, I heard all of these, many times - many times too many. I heard largely execrable sound from these people's Silver's and Red's - honestly, I don't have a clue what they listen to. On the other hand, some of the Gold's were semi-decent, or at least showed potential. To test it out myself, I bought a pair of Lancaster (12" Gold") and quickly got pretty good sound out of it (with the help of Aurum Cantus super-tweeters; this is >15 years ago). Of course, it is still a little slow in transients, but much better than older Red's and Silver's. A few years later (> 10 years ago, before I started this Blog) my friend Andy L sold me his pair of Canterbury HE when he switched to the TAD TD-3401 (see below), and I sold the Lancaster's to my friend whlee, who still uses them.

Interestingly, I never have really directly written much about my own Canterbury's, rather spilling perhaps too much ink on others'. During the time Andy had it, he only got fair sound out of them (in a smaller room with DIY 300B). I took them up likely because it was a challenge, not because I really clamored after them. I was after all very happy with my Klipsch La Scala's then and, having to make room for the Tannoy's I was really sorry to see one pair of my La Scala's go. When I first got the Canterbury's, the sound was rather terrible and grey and it took quite a long time to open up (my take is that the hard edge needs a lot of running-in). Masochist triumphed in the end! In the coming year, I should write more about Tannoy's - my own experiences!

TAD As for TAD, the scenario was hardly as dramatic. However, it was true that for the longest time I was not impressed by the very expensive large TAD's I have heard in HK (mostly 2401/2402) and never thought about them, until I heard the TD-3401, as documented here. Now, that is what horns are supposed to sound like! When Andy moved on to DIY TAD systems and other stuff, I grabbed the chance to acquire the TD-3401, and it was bingo from the word go in my place (see Part I). There is also a bit more of TD-3401 listening notes here.

My TD-3401 Finds a New Home
Due to family circumstances I am letting go of quite a bit of my stuff, so on this past Sunday I officially passed the TD-3401 over to my friend Sang, whom you have encountered many times before in this Blog. Sang is a bold soul, as he has never heard them before!

Tight Corners It took a while for the two of us to maneuver each >70 kg beast down the narrow flight of stairs, and Sang's wife Carmen helped a lot too. Basically, what I did was protect the loudspeaker with carton paperboard (from large TV box) which were affixed by a Ratchet Tie Down (飛機帶). We let the loudspeaker slid down slowly the stairs as we prop it up from below. Meanwhile Carmen was pulling on the Tie Down from above, lessening the pressure on us a little. 

We also took my Wavac gears (PR-X2 preamp and MD-300B amp) along for some fun.

Equipment (click pics to enlarge):

CD Transport: Softone/ICL Model 2
DAC: Audio Note UK DAC-2 (old version; PCM-63)
Turntable: Technics SP-10/Audio Technica Arm/Denon DL-103
Preamp: JC Verdier Control B
Amp 1: JC Verdier 300B
Amp 2: Wavac MD-300B 

Click to enlarge. The right lower corner (sofa not seen) is actually the best listening position here.

Sonic Notes

  • Placement These were placed where the Verity Audio Rienzi were previously (left pic, before; top pic, now), and they blended right in with Carmen's bookcases (though partially blocking them). Mind you, this placement is not ideal for such large loudspeakers, but they will have to do for the moment.
  • Tweeter Positions At my larger old place I had the tweeters on the outside, and so we tried it out first this way. Somehow closer together in this smaller place the sound didn't quite gel and so we switched the loudspeakers. With the tweeters on the inside things became well focused.
  • Grills Though the grills were actually quite transparent, perhaps they did soften the treble a little (which can be good). However, we all agreed that these loudspeakers look stunningly beautiful without the grills, so they were left off.
  • vs Verity Audio Rienzi When placed in similar fashion, previously the sound of the Rienzi was actually very good and earned my complete approval. The Rienzi is taller and, being augmented bookshelf type, threw an airy soundstage, but the images, as is usually the wont, are on the small side. Everything is Fleshier and has More Atmosphere It took seconds to tell that Everything is more Flesh and Blood with the TAD's. With jazz, there was no contest, no matter it was Miles' Kind of Blue (Sony) or Sarah Vaughn's Live at Mister Kelly's (EmArcy). For the latter, Carmen remarked that it was like being in the (smoky) club. Mind you, this CD is also the one that got my shidi hooked on the TAD's (see previous links; I urge you to get this CD). Classicals too benefited from the added weight. The opening of Tchaikovsky's Manfred (LPO/Rostropovich, Warner) had Sang shaking his head in disbelief - mine too, the brooding atmosphere was just absolutely compelling! Tonally Similar (Neutral) Sang remarked that the small Rienzi and the large TD-3401 actually have very similar tonal quality and balance. I agree and, as the TAD is of monitor origin, this attests to the neutrality of the Verity Audio.
    Image result for michael rabin magic bow
  • Air, Soundstage and Height The TAD is shorter and has a much wider baffle and this can lead many people who are used to bookshelf types to not "visualize" well. Also, the horn midrange and large woofer produce so much energy that some may think there is not so much air on top. Yet that cannot be further from the truth. What we perceive as "atmosphere" is in fact these energies converging to make sense of the recording. I personally felt nothing much lacking but, as mentioned in Part I before, if possible I'd raise the loudspeakers to ear level. Lacking stands we tilted the front a little (employing past issues of National Geographic) and that lifted the images a little. Make no mistake, it was still excellent, not like the pitiably low images produced by the Quad ESL 57 in smaller spaces. Sang subsequently reported that he got even better results from sitting on the floor. Ha! Raise them!
  • CD vs LP Commendably, in this setup, digital and analogue have very similar balance and hence near-parity, which is what I always advocate. However, with digital replay, some passages could be just a tad (no punt intended) sharp, a character of the TAD (these monitors were used in the analogue era); whereas with analogue this was not a problem. Michael Rabin's The Magic Bow (re-issue LP) was very finely rendered; so was a favorite Musica Antiqua Koln Bach LP (Archive), which compared with before was just juicier (if such a term can be used for this ensemble). Delightful!
  • DAC-2 Comes Full Circle Sang recently bought the AN DAC-2. As this old BB PCM-63P version is very rare and I haven't seen any other unit beside the unit I used to own I took a very close look. Holy! It is my old unit (treated in detail here), re-sold to Sang! Now, that must be Audio Karma!
  • Wavac vs Verdier We briefly switched to the Wavac MD-300B (still using the Verdier Control B preamp). This combination is one I have never tried before, and it was quite winning. The result was largely similar to what had been carefully compared before (here, with no less a roster than icefox and Carmen's brother Danz!). We did not try the PR-X2 preamp this time. One thing of note: the Verdier now sports Shuguang 300B whereas the Wavac uses Russian tubes; if you ask me, swapping them might yield interesting results (as the Chinese is more ying; and the Russian more yang.) More to follow.
  • TD-3401 No question about it, A Masterpiece! Here in a relatively small enclosure and with a small horn one gets a full blown horn sound, something that very few horn loudspeakers can achieve (one exception may be the JBL L-300). The excellence in air, dispersion and presence is once again confirmed. In fact, aside from the constraint of the smaller space, in some way its performance in Sang's home is even better than at my old place, as I had never really had much time to it.
  • vs Tannoy Canterbury HE Head to head with the Tannoy it is a toss up. In use, the Canterbury is richer, more forgiving, even more efficient and, due to its larger volume, more powerful and extended in the bass. Although the Canterbury is a modernized Tannoy, the older TAD sports a house sound of even faster transient and its portrayal of the leading edge is even cleaner and superior.
  • That Precious Atmosphere One problem with most modern loudspeakers is the lack of atmosphere. No matter how good the soundstage and imaging are, no matter how balanced they sound (if that), they do not render atmosphere well. I have often pondered why. My take is you need the combination of horn drivers and large woofers to reproduce atmosphere. We have recently marveled at the atmosphere conveyed by our friend Eric's epic horn system. But in this relatively confined space I was surprised that the TAD was able to convey some of that atmosphere (with jazz, that is a given; but with classicals that is impressive) - along with high quality bass, this is the most precious thing in audio. Basically, when you have that, the system is already made. One can only further refine it. Salut!

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