TAD CE1 Speaker Review

Review
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This is a review written by Terry Ellis March 2022
For the video review please see my YouTube video review

I did not originally intend to review the TAD CE1 speakers, I was just curious to listen to them after hearing their big brother the Reference One as part of an amazing HiFi system last year.  I was curious to know how close the CE or Compact Evolution is to the Reference One at a fraction of the cost. I warn you; you will not want that answer unless your pockets are deep, 20hz deep!

I have had the CE1 here for a couple of months. I wasn’t fully convinced by them at first but now I do not want to give them back.

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Solid Build In Three Dimensions

TAD or Technical Audio Devices Laboratories are a Japanese high-end HiFi manufacturer which was originally a division of Pioneer. I found that fascinating because I used to love my Kuro Pioneer Plasma, but could their speakers match that quality?

The CE1 is a 3-way speaker featuring a CST Driver, a coaxial mid-range driver, with a beryllium tweeter at the centre, and magnesium mid-range driver.  It is a large 14cm driver, compared with all the other TAD speakers in the Evolution range that use a smaller 9cm coaxial driver. It is the same size, I think, as the coaxial driver used in the Reference speakers. I have always enjoyed coaxial drivers for their precise imaging, and this is also true with the CE1, very three-dimensional imaging.  The CST driver is supported by an 18cm or 7-inch bass woofer made from MACs a Multi-layered Aramid Composite shell which I understand to be a fancy type of Kevlar.

On the sides are 10mm thick hard anodized aluminium panels, which look cool, and add structural rigidity and dampening to the cabinet. They also form part of the bi-directional ADS port system. You can see through the sides of the speaker because the port allows air to flow in two directions, forwards and backwards. I have never seen this before on a speaker.  TAD say it helps to reduce port noise and reduce standing waves in the cabinet.

The speaker cabinets are really something, they are large, heavy at 30kg each, and inert. They are made from a mixture of MDF panels with birch plywood bracing, using the technology TAD call Silent – Structurally Inert Laminated Enclosure Technology – sounds cool even if it does not roll off the tongue.

Their looks may divide opinion but, in my room, they look great. It is almost as if I designed this room for these speakers, or perhaps these speakers were designed for my room, if TAD want to find a good home for them…

These are a serious pair of HiFi speakers, and they should be at a cost of £18,950, including the stands I believe.

So that is serious money for a pair of stand mount HiFi speakers, putting them in direct competition with the Marten Parker Duo Diamond Edition, I reviewed last year, and awarded my best speakers of 2021. Let’s be real here, with £19k you have the choice of a lot of great speakers from lots of great brands. To put this into a TAD perspective, the flagship Compact Reference One stand mount speakers cost £45K, so the CE1 look almost like a bargain.   If TAD are reading this, I would love to review the Reference speakers too, hopefully, one day soon.

Brutal Honesty

What do the TAD CE1 sound like? Interestingly they remind me of a combination between a very good KEF speaker, a very good ATC speaker, and a very good Bowers speaker. However, they do not sound like any of them; maybe a KEF a little.

The TAD CE1s are the speaker that transitioned with me from my old room to my new room. They sound much better now in the new room but that is mostly because of the better suited room acoustic treatment and the addition of the REL S510 subwoofers which have been game-changing in how they have allowed me to setup the system and its overall sound.

Below is how the TAD measured in my room, ignoring the bass because that is all subwoofer and room gain, looking at 200hz and up the response curve, that is a very neutral or flat frequency response in the main, with a little recession in the treble presence region followed by a slight peak and then a fairly sharp roll off so these speakers have some character in their treble.  Besides this there is nothing really much else here to consider but I think you can see the TAD professional studio heritage here with the mostly flat frequency response design and this is the bit that reminds me of ATC speakers.

What’s interesting is this is not a frequency response I normally enjoy in a speaker. It is usually too neutral for me because it can sound lean in the mid-range and forward in the treble and the TAD do which is how they remind me of Bowers & Wilkins speaker. Not awfully so by any means, but enough for me to not be 100% convinced they would be a speaker for me.  Adding the REL subwoofers meant I could control the amount of bass in the system, set it more to my liking, and manage the whole sound using Dirac Live. This produced an end result that I have been seriously enjoying and the system has been sounding pretty awesome at times.

These speakers are brutally honest to what you feed into them. Feed them a poor or harshness from the source and they tell you really quickly. Fortunately, you don’t need crazy expensive amplifiers for them to sound good . I had decent sound from the under £300 SMSL AO200 amplifier, which is a bit of a reach and a ridiculous mismatch in price, understandably, much better sound from the Cary Audio SI 300.2D integrated. Even better sound again from the great value, Kinki Studio EX M1+, although I think the Kinki is really on its limit here for power and quality considering the TAD are only 85db efficient. Really, they warrant a big amplifier.

In fact, TAD’s Evolution range of amplifiers, which are designed for these speakers are 500 watts of TAD class D and so I think that puts into perspective what is probably optimum here regarding amplification. I am fully aware I have probably not heard all these speakers can do, but I have heard enough now to really like and appreciate them.

I think they deliver a fantastic three-dimensional sound stage, one that starts well behind the speakers at times, which is really impressive. Combined with this, they have clarity across the sound stage being intricate and very convincing.  There is an energy and an immediacy about the coaxial driver which can make instruments really pop through with a more life-like type of smooth aggression. To me this is the difference between something sounding overly smooth and HiFi to something which is more realistic in presentation.  The treble can be extremely detailed, precise and ‘floaty’ at the same time. It is just there in mid-air delicate and sharp and I really liked that.

I know I have not heard the best of these speakers with vocals, in terms of a totally natural tone, but I feel like I have had a good taste of it. The TAD CE1 do not have the natural tonality of a Marten speaker, I think they are designed to be ultimately transparent sounding, so you need to add the tonality and sound you like from the rest of your HiFi system. The Kinki Studio EX M1+ is a great amplifier for the money but I would have loved to have had something in the £20,000+ range just to try, such as the matching TAD pre and power, which should provide perfect synergy. I would have loved to have heard that combo because I do think getting the right sounding electronics is really important with these speakers. However, that would put us in the £50k price region for pre and power alone, creating a very expensive system that requires, 20hz deep pockets.

Bass wise these have not really worked for me in my listening room. Some of that is possibly the room and some is the flat frequency response design.. It is not something I usually do as part of a review, interestingly, once I had integrated the REL subwoofers using the high level connection, I had some amazingly transparent bass, with defined notes forming even far back behind the speakers. I have never previously had that in my room, and I do not remember ever hearing that many times before. It is is very cool and very impressive. Yes, I have heard vocals and other information appear well behind the speakers but not bass notes. Whatever TAD are doing with the cabinet crossovers drivers in the CE1 is something not only interesting but rather special, for sure.

Sad To See Them Go

This has been a terrific opportunity to spend some time with these amazing speakers. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I feel like I have learnt a lot about TAD, what they are trying to do, and the speakers they are trying to create. It is sad and almost a crime to get the CE1s sounding their best, sounding really special and then having to take them out of my system so I can move on to review some other speakers.  That is both the best and worst parts of this job.

Who do I think the TAD CE1 are aimed at? Audiophiles that value imaging, for certain, as that is a major part of their appeal. Also audiophiles who are happy for their speakers to be very neutral and transparent. Those words sound appealing but, in reality, I think it means it requires an audiophile that will put in the work to get the overall system right, which may include adding subwoofers. These are speakers that will push you to do better with your system. They are speakers that will keep giving as you improve the rest of your system. That is great and I love that aspect about them.

The CE1s are also very interesting speakers that are quite unique in many ways.  They are a speaker that you need to audition extensively before buying, which you should anyway if you are spending this kind of money.

To conclude, they are up there as one my favourite listening experiences so far, and I would have happily kept them around for a bit longer.

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