There is nothing whatsoever ‘compact’ about the Compact Reference loudspeaker. OK, so it’s a standmount loudspeaker and next to the full-on TAD Reference One monitor, the CR1 is compact, in the same way a Range Rover is more compact than an Abrams tank. At a meaty 46kg (plus a further 16kg for the stand), close to a metre and a quarter high, nearly half a metre wide and more than half a metre deep, ‘compact’ is not the first word that springs to mind. That it needs to be physically deep into the room to spring to life, thereby necessitating a bigger room than most standmount loudspeakers mitigates the size of the speaker somewhat, but even in a barn, these are not small loudspeakers.
For those who missed the back-story, TAD (Technical Audio Devices) Laboratories is a Japanese company, owned by Pioneer. The parent company has had an on-again, off-again working relationship with good audio (anyone who remembers the performance of the Pioneer A-400 amplifier will know just how seriously the company can take the task of making good audio) but where Pioneer also has to develop in-car and home cinema systems, TAD has a single goal – making the best possible audio components.
This is achieved in part by hiring the best designers for the task, in TAD’s case Andrew Jones, formerly of KEF and Infinity; both very strongly research-driven companies, companies that understand both the importance of drive unit and of solid cabinet design. Those elements clearly rubbed off on Andrew Jones, because you could argue the TAD CR1 is an expression of those design briefs, writ large. When you delve a little deeper – Jones was involved in the Uni-Q development project for KEF – things snap into focus.
At the heart of the CR1 is its 16cm CST (Coherent Source Transducer) drive unit. This comprises a 3.5mm beryllium dome tweeter in the acoustic centre of a 16cm beryllium cone mid/woofer. Let’s park the review there a while. TAD isn’t the only game in town when it comes to beryllium, but it is the only company that goes the distance and makes the tweeter and the mid/bass unit out of this hard to work with material. Not only does that give TAD huge brownie points among industrial chemists and metallurgists (the conversation normally goes something like, “You vapour deposit beryllium over a 16cm cone? Is that even possible? When did you arrive from the 23rd Century and can I see your time machine?”), but it gives the loudspeaker a fundamental consistency of dynamic envelope and tonal colour that is almost impossible to replicate using different materials for treble and mid/bass. As one is sitting in the middle of the other, this becomes a highly significant factor in the overall design. While the loudspeaker is also designed to be near-as-makes-no-odds indestructible in normal usage, the downside is all that beryllium doesn’t come cheap.
Back to the CR1 itself; the tweeter rolls off at around 2kHz and the mid/woofer at 250Hz. Bringing up the bass is a (slightly) more conventional 200mm bass cone, featuring TAD’s clever short throw/long gap voice coil system and a triple-laminated aramid (synthetic fibre, more commonly used in cars and protective clothing) cone.
Drivers – no matter how sophisticated – do not a good loudspeaker make. The cabinet is a key player in bringing those drive units to life. Yes, the drivers play a significant role in this (especially the CST unit, with its ‘ISO’ isolation system that blocks vibration from being put into the loudspeaker cabinet), but the deadness of the cabinet, and the limiting of internal standing waves in the process makes the difference between good sound and ‘good grief!’ TAD played its last acronym joker by giving the ported cabinet the SILENT treatment, which stands for ‘Structurally Inert Laminated Enclosure Technology’. Unfortunately, while it’s good sport to scoff at acronyms, this one works well, because it describes both what it is (layers of machined birch ply, more layers of pressed MDF and a 27.5mm aluminium base) and what it does (makes the cabinet deader than Elvis, driving with Amy Winehouse in James Dean’s Porsche over to Julius Caesar’s house). The boat-backed body helps minimise standing waves and internal resonances, and the whole cabinet is finished in a rich high gloss sapele veneer with contrasting satin black curved baffle and top plate. The net result is a loudspeaker that stretches from around mid 30s (TAD claims 32Hz) to the upper bat (TAD claims 100kHz). The speaker is also a moderately efficient 86dB/W/m and with a nominal impedance of four ohms, but at this price point, such statistics are almost irrelevant, because the partnering electronics should be more than able to cope (polite direction to the range of TAD electronics aside I’ve heard TAD loudspeakers sound extremely fine on the end of Ayre and Belles electronics and I’ve no reason to expect the loudspeaker to place unfeasible demands on the partnering electronics).