Given Andrew Jones history, it would be easy to think the CR1 as the best speaker KEF never made, dismissing the CST unit as a UniQ driver made from beryllium in the process. And you’d be what we in the audio business call “an idiot” for doing so. That the CR1 shares common ancestry with designs like the KEF Blade makes the two speakers about as alike as a horse and a rhino. The loudspeakers sound very different, behave very differently and even demand a different installation. In the case of the TAD CR1, the loudspeaker needs to be further from the rear and side walls and also needs slightly more of a toe-in than most coaxial transducer designs (such as Tannoy dual concentrics, KEF UniQs).
That ‘slightly more toe-in’ is in fact telling, because it seems TAD has resolved (or at least, practically overcome) the diffraction and intermodulation issues inherent to coaxial designs. Instead, what you get from the CR1 is something close to a true point source sound, only one that has all the scale and drama of a really meaty conventional cone and dome dynamic box loudspeaker. That’s been a secret desire of most loudspeaker designers for the longest time, but a partially achievable one until very recently. The TAD design knocks that one out of the park.
How this sounds in reality is like a near complete absence of cabinet coloration, drive unit interaction and all the things we have come to expect from loudspeakers that are not electrostatics, but also with all the things we know electrostatics cannot deliver. Like bass.
I’ve used informative and detailed loudspeakers before, but nothing like this. There are loudspeaker terror recordings, the things you rarely hear in demonstrations because they pull apart a system like an angry chimpanzee. Piano, for example, or early music and all its polyphonic voices; these test the coherence of the system, its real-world dynamics (playing close mic’d drum kits tells you a lot about how impressive the system sounds, but a solo piano says more about how it will sound in day to day operation) and more. And in both cases, it was like being in the control room when the recording happened. The firm hand of Brendel was in the room and the Talis Scholars were behind double glazed glass. You could hear into the recording with all the precision one might need to drive a mixing desk – and any gain-riding or accidental mic distortions are clearly annotated. Which is to say, the overall sound is very slightly forward; not bright in any manner, just direct and so unbelievable articulate in the presence and brilliance regions, all that insight comes across as a forward presentation.
This is actually one of the hardest loudspeakers to describe in sonic terms, because you end up thinking about things in terms of what other loudspeakers do wrong. When it comes to describing what this does right, it pretty much does all of it right. There isn’t a genre that falls down through the CR1s – if the idea of playing some dirty dubstep through a £37,000 loudspeaker appeals, it will sound fantastic through these loudspeakers. If instead, your jollies are more cerebral and you dream of re-animating Miles Davis in your listening room, the CR1s get damn close to perfection in the current loudspeaker market. I could spend page after page examining every aspect of the CR1’s performance in detail, but what’s the point. It’s good at all of that loudspeakery stuff, and a few seconds in front of these loudspeakers will demonstrate exactly what I mean.
There is one aspect of the performance that is worthy of note though; the bass. The CR1’s bass is remarkable, both in terms of depth from a standmount (it goes toe-to-toe with the Magico Q1 on this) and how it handles its last octave. What marks out a full-range loudspeaker from its rolled-off peers is generally an underpinning of solidity. You don’t just get to hear the music, you don’t even just get to hear the space in which the music was played, you get to understand the location itself. Your spatial cues are reinforced by that sub-30Hz region and this helps tell you the difference between recordings made in their own acoustic space and the use of echo and pan on the mixing desk. Loudspeakers that roll off in the low 30s can’t retrieve that information, and that atavistic sense of ‘thereness’ is lost. Except, for some inexplicable reason, the CR1 does supply more of this information that it should. There is no smoke and mirrors here, no weird science, no sense of faking out the bass. The speaker rolls off perfectly, never once upsetting the status quo as it fades away in the bass… but somehow it preserves that sense of ‘in the room’ that normally only comes with full-range loudspeakers. But it’s this that sets the CR1 apart from the majority of its standmount peers.