T+A elektroakustik Talis S 300 Loudspeaker

What It’s All About

Equipment report
T+A Elektroakustik Talis S 300
T+A elektroakustik Talis S 300 Loudspeaker

After the S 300s are unboxed, the owner must bolt three curved, flat metal plates to the bottom of each speaker to create a stabilizing outrigger structure. T+A  provides beautifully machined, adjustable TipToe-style spikes, four per side, that screw into the outrigger base but I found that these didn’t come close to piercing my not-especially-thick carpet and pad to make contact with the concrete slab beneath. As the thread size isn’t the same gauge found on North American speakers and equipment racks (but, rather, a European M6 metric thread) T+A quickly sent longer spikes that did the trick nicely. James Shannon tells me that these will now be supplied routinely with S 300s; I do hope that the more elegant pointed cones will be included as well, for those with a less challenging floor-covering than mine.

An aside. The Talis S 300s were shipped directly from the Herford factory and were packed with gratifying care. You’d be surprised how many loudspeakers arrive damaged (or at least represent close calls, with evidence of significant trauma to the shipping cartons). With S 300s, you can be confident that the speakers will probably get to you in good shape. Each speaker is packed in a cardboard box with stabilizing foam; that box is then placed inside another cardboard box. Those boxes are then snugly positioned side-by-side in a substantial wooden crate. That crate, by the way, isn’t secured shut with wood screws but instead with an ingenious system of metal clamps that are easily pried off with a large screwdriver and replaced with a mallet or hammer. These details may soon be forgotten when the loudspeakers are making music, but during those first moments of ownership it’s encouraging to know that this level of attentiveness went into a peripheral but nonetheless important aspect of the speakers’ production.

The Talis S 300s were in and out of my system—mostly in— for two months. That system included Pass XA 60.8 monoblocks (they each have two sets of binding posts, which facilitates bi-wiring) and either a T+A DAC 8 DSD connected directly to the amplifiers or an Anthem D2v pre/pro that allowed experimentation with DSP room correction and a subwoofer. A digital data stream was provided by either an Oppo BDP-103 universal disc player or a Baetis Reference 2 music computer. The occasional LP was played on a VPI Scoutmaster ’table fitted with a JMW Memorial tonearm holding a Sumiko Blue Point Evo III cartridge. My usual cabling is Transparent Gen V Ultra, and I began my testing of the Talis loudspeakers with those wires—but later changed the speaker cables to either one or two pairs of T+A’s own product, Speaker Hex ($1600 for a 3-meter pair), which the company provided. The advantages of bi-wiring the Talis S 300s, in terms of maximizing intelligibility of the most complex music, were readily apparent and I did most of my serious listening with that configuration.

In my 15' x 15' room—the ceiling height varies from 10' to 12'—the S 300s were positioned in the same general vicinity as other bass-reflex loudspeakers of this size. They were located about 2' from the front wall and were 8.8' apart, center-to-center. The front plane of each speaker was 9' from the listening position, with each Talis canted in slightly.

I thoroughly enjoyed all stripes of music through the Talis S 300s and was in decidedly no hurry to return them to those robust crates and send them on to their next destination. From grand opera to The Grand Slambovians, from Anonymous 4 to Maroon 5, from piano trios with Emmanuel Ax to piano trios with Oscar Peterson, these loudspeakers never failed to engage me. If there’s one sonic attribute above all others responsible for the appeal of these speakers, I feel it’s their complete lack of additive and subtractive tonal coloration. That’s not to say that the S 300s are bland or that they short-change music in drama or character. Quite the opposite: Distinctive voices and instrumental timbres are immediately identifiable. You won’t mistake the lowest notes of an oboe with the middle range of an English horn, even though the pitch is the same, and with a little practice, you can learn to distinguish a Stradivarius from a Guarneri del Gesù violin. After only a few notes, there’s no mistaking Michael Bublé for Frank Sinatra, even if the former is appropriating the latter’s repertoire and trying mightily to emulate his style. There are plenty of loudspeakers that will parse these kinds of distinctions. What the Talis S 300s do that most others can’t is to reliably represent the uniqueness of more complex sonorities, sounds that may be responsible for a musical effect of special significance. Two examples should give an idea of what I mean.

Serious Steely Dan aficionados will be familiar with the song “Razor Boy” from the group’s second album, Countdown to Ecstasy. The subject, as usual, is obscure though the narrator is letting a woman who is riding high know that her comeuppance is imminent. What makes the arrangement so exceptional (other than jazz bassist Ray Brown sitting in for Walter Becker) is the pairing of two instruments perhaps never before combined—vibraphone, played by frequent SD collaborator Victor Feldman, and pedal steel guitar, played by Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. The sonorities of both instruments feature a gentle attack and long sustain; together they provide the textural and harmonic density that saturates the song with bitter melancholy. Through the S 300s, I experienced this as never before and the song’s poignancy was heightened.

Similarly, in Benjamin Britten’s ballet score The Prince of the Pagodas, the composer set out in the second act to mimic the sound of an Indonesian gamelan orchestra, a singular aural phenomenon he’d experienced first-hand on a trip to Bali about a decade earlier. Britten managed to do it utilizing only Western instruments—two pianos, celesta, xylophone, vibraphone, a pair of piccolos, orchestral gongs, a tom-tom, and discreet lower strings. On a recording—I listened to Oliver Knussen’s excellent version for Virgin Classics—it only works if this extraordinary instrumental grouping is heard as a perfectly blended sonority as, ideally, it would be in life. The Talis speakers bring it off because there’s no extraneous coloration to undermine Britten’s sleight-of-hand.