When I reviewed it some years ago, the TAD Compact Reference or CR1 was the best stand-mount loudspeaker I’d ever heard in my room—or anyone else’s for that matter. Today it continues to represent state-of-the-art performance and a level of design and finish that leaves audiophiles breathless. In my view it owes the lion’s share of its success to two factors—TAD’s pure beryllium coincident driver technology, and the talent of its lead engineer Andrew Jones. It is also among the most expensive stand-mount loudspeakers at a gulp-worthy $42,000 (with stands, at least)—pricey even for the well-heeled among us.
My hope was that with the debut of TAD’s lower priced Evolution line a couple of years ago, the company would soon bring to market a more affordable three-way stand-mount to follow in the CR1’s footsteps. First out of the chute, however, was the Evolution One (E1), a delightful three-way floorstander—kind of a midi-version of TAD’s wide-body Reference Model One. Now enters its little brother, the Compact Evolution One or CE1.
I’m not going to lie: I was surprised when I gave the CE1 the once-over at its premiere at CES. I assumed its look would adhere to the same conceptual page that produced earlier TAD efforts. It turned out to be a complete departure. So much so that I was reminded of the line from the delivery-room doctor who, when the new dad worries that his baby doesn’t resemble him, says, “Well, at least we know who the mother is.” That’s the kind of switched-at-birth look the CE1 engenders. The CE1 is less the result of an auteur’s vision than the previous models, and more of a group effort from the TAD design team led by Toru Nagatani.
While surprising, the fact that the CE1 cabinet profile departs from the complex and expensive teardrop design of the CR1 is easily explained. The thorny issue of cost-containment likely guaranteed the conventional narrow-baffle-box approach. The three-way, bass-reflex enclosure, composed of a combination of birch plywood braces and MDF panels, is beautifully executed, however. An attractive olive wood veneer vertically wraps around the front baffle, top and rear panel providing a nice contrast of surfaces. The CE1’s physical strength and rigidity are evidenced in the new Bi-Directional ADS (aerodynamic slot) port, constructed of 10mm-thick anodized aluminum side panels with long, thin slots and flared openings to the front and rear. A fascinating design, the symmetrical front-back, left-right layout extends vibrational damping and eliminates the effects of unwanted sound from a conventional circular or slotted port. In addition, optimization of the enclosure’s size and port layout are said to have eliminated standing waves up to 250Hz.
The drivers will be familiar to TAD-watchers. Always topping the marquee is the CST (Coherent Source Transducer), a proprietary coincident driver that uses the 1 3/8" beryllium-dome tweeter of the Reference Series. Manufactured in the company’s Japanese factory (as are all TAD drivers), the tweeter dome is made by TAD’s own vapor-deposition process, a method that TAD argues yields a grain structure superior to conventional stamped beryllium domes. A 5.5" magnesium midrange has been substituted for the far more costly 6.5" beryllium unit of the Reference line. The 7" woofer uses a diaphragm made of layers of laminated woven and non-woven fabric. The cone is coupled to a 3" voice coil with a powerful neodymium magnet. (The CR1 uses a larger 4" coil.) Crossover points are set at 250Hz and 2kHz. Less than inspiring are the awkward single-post floor stands (optional). They have such a large plinth that the CE1’s footprint ends up being bigger than that of either the E1 or even the CR1. The stands just don’t complement the style of the monitor.
The primary question is just how much of the CR1’s performance and musicality has made the transition to the CE1? Short answer: quite a bit. And to a large extent, my time with the CE1 felt like a reunion with an old and faithful friend. Its overall sonic character is clearly cut from the same finely woven cloth as that of the CR1—a very good thing. In many aspects it remains a powerfully dynamic performer undaunted by limitations of size. Here was the familiar, richly textured, bottom-up sound that provides a rigid foundation beneath every musical selection. Here was the same natural bloom throughout the lower mids and bass that not only serves the instruments that play in this zone but also fleshes out acoustic and ambient cues and venue boundaries, and adds likelike scale to the soundstage. When I listen to Nils Lofgren Acoustic Live, in and of itself a very lively and dynamic performance, I expect to get a strong sense of the air and ambience of the acoustic space. And the CE1 delivered it. This is a key strength of this TAD.
The CE1 has a marginally warmer and more forgiving sound than the ultra-detailed CR1. And though it’s slightly less precise at the frequency extremes, it may, in fact, be more musically involving and approachable for listeners who are not as keen to experience the “no-place-to-hide” level of clarity and transient speed of the CR1. (It’s also less persnickety about amplification and cabling.) For example, its rendering of the wide-ranging tonal colors and contrasts of solo piano was superb. The beryllium-dome tweeter was righteously extended and had a sweetness in the top end that opened up a gusty piano arpeggio rather than squeezing it down and drying it out. Low-level resolution, the ability to communicate the softest cues amongst the boldest outbursts, was also outstanding. Each keyboard image was backed up by the resonance of the soundboard, plus the CE1 laid a foundation of granite beneath the instrument.