As I am well acquainted with the TAD brand it didn’t surprise me that the sonic voice of the ME1 remained familiar—another way of saying that the ME1 was a speaker that just doesn’t phone it in. Like its larger siblings, it retains a full-bodied, big-boned character that smoothly spans a wide frequency spectrum. Intensely dynamic, it performs with a power that is rare among smaller speakers. Tonally it is highly disciplined, well balanced, and predominately neutral—it won’t play fast and loose with a recording. Great recordings are as musically satisfying as can be, while lackluster efforts are revealed, warts and all. Low-level timbral details are conveyed with naturalistic delicacy and realism.
Its midrange is quite neutral with a slightly warmer character, the treble a little less warm, resulting in an overall balance that I’d describe as intense but approachable. A company that produces both professional and consumer lines, TAD doesn’t make shy, recessed, restrained, or laid-back products, and anyone who has spent time in a recording or mastering studio knows that studio monitors seldom sound laid-back. Rather, such monitors tend to be incisive listening tools—cool and critical to a fault. If anything, they tend to be neutral-to-forward in personality, which is what the ME1 turned out to be. Put another way, if you were seated in a symphony hall, the listening perspective would be closer than mid-orchestra, more like a Row C or D seat. Personally, I prefer this orientation; others may seek something a little more reserved.
Prior experience with TAD’s CST led me to expect excellent imaging, and the ME1 did, indeed, produce near-ideal point-source coherence—a sensation of crystalline focus and image integrity. Images were individuated with the precision of a julienne slicer.
The TAD also possessed a vast palette of tonal color that allowed the finest timbral distinctions to rise to the fore. During Glinka’s “The Lark,” for example, each note of the concert grand piano was portrayed with lush expressiveness, appearing to hang in the air an instant longer, while the resonance from the soundboard was fuller and more present. There was a starry twinkle to the piano’s upper-octave arpeggios and more weight to bass chords. Dynamics were wide open, not piercing or aggressive, but incisive in the manner of a real concert grand.
I was transfixed by the way vocals nested unwaveringly within the venue’s soundspace. Singers were replicated with nuance and sensitivity as the ME1 captured each vocal inflection, from deep chest sounds to airy falsetto. The speaker didn’t favor male or female singers either. There was Frank Sinatra, his throaty baritone caressing the ear during “Angel Eyes” and “In the Wee Small Hours,” or Jane Monheit’s version of “A Case of You” with its rich, humid timbre. During Martin Zeller’s Cellist 6 Suites & Violoncello Solo Senza Bassocello [MA Recordings], the cello was appropriately resonant, not bloated but full, and carefully balanced between the instrument’s natural woody warmth and the aggressiveness of the bowing. The ME1 struck a fine balance between the light and dark of the cello personality, yet never lost sight of the instrument’s timbre and physicality.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the ME1’s résumé was the ease with which it reproduced the gravity and scale of an orchestra. This might be a real eye-opener for compact-monitor fans, who may have thought their own fifteen-inch-tall two-ways were adequate for the task of bass reproduction. For them, the sheer oomph and drive of the TAD’s power range might come as a shock.
As I listened to a couple of EMI-ASD chestnuts, Holst’s The Planets (LSO/Previn) and Britten’s Four Sea Interludes (LSO/Previn), the ME1 imparted an authority to the wind and brass sections and to the timpani and doublebasses that was exhilarating in its authenticity and ability to convey the acoustic of the hall. When the orchestra rose to a crescendo in the closing few bars of “Jupiter,” I could feel the ominous welling up of low frequencies beneath my feet.
Similarly, when it comes to establishing and holding a rock beat, the ME1 really punched my dance card. Electric bass lines retained pitch control and linearity across the lower octaves. Drum kits with their assortment of drumhead tunings and “skin” sounds have rarely been more completely individuated. Port noise or overhang was never an issue even at higher levels. However, even the finest smaller monitors ultimately run low of bass firepower at some point. Thus sub-forty-cycle bass, while perceivable to a degree, became more of a challenge as the ME1’s responsiveness and focus began to soften and waver slightly, especially at low volume levels.