Any quest for audio perfection should ultimately bring you to within listening distance of TAD loudspeakers.
The brand, which since the 1970s has been a subsidiary of Pioneer, is arguably the most respected of all the sonic super-brands, but it's also the one least heard – given that a pair of Reference One floorstanders will set you back around £50K, it's perhaps not surprising that TAD (Technical Audio Devices) rarely graces the pages of the popular press.
The native habitat of the TAD speaker is typically the high-end recording studio, but over the past few years Pioneer has been craftily squeezing TAD's design expertise and sensibilities into a range of other products: its EX Series of high-end speakers and a range of high-performance in-wall speakers for the custom theatre crowd.
Time then to track down the original Big Taddies. My mission for this was clear: get first-hand experience of TAD's monstrous Reference Ones and report back…
The Reference Ones are the brainchild of Andrew Jones, Pioneer's director of speaker engineering.
They hail from Japan and use beryllium, a costly material, to make what Pioneer calls a CST or Coherent Source Transducer, which uses a 35mm tweeter dome at the centre and a 6.25in midbass cone around it.
Each enclosure also features two very high quality 10in bass drivers, crafted from a composite of woven aramid fibres and a foamed acrylic material, to form a light yet rigid piston. This can drive bass down to a portassisted in-room level of 21Hz – which is pretty deep.
The CST devices go up to 100kHz as well, so 'full range' takes on a new meaning: bats to blue whales?
My search for the TAD R1 eventually led me to London's prestigious AIR Studios, which recently took delivery of a pair. Consequently, I found myself in a room with what at first glance appeared to be two grunters playing with a hi-fi.
In actuality I had chanced upon Tony Hickmott, from Pure Pleasure Records, working with AIR Studios' Ray Staff, a legendary mastering engineer. The duo were preparing an audiophile vinyl release of Motörhead's classic 1916, the early-1990s studio album from the British rockers, and now widely regarded as a genre classic.
Of course, to master a recording, you do need to be able to hear it in true reference grade conditions. This is where the TADs come in.
The boys may have been mastering hard metal mayhem, but they all had to take time out from Lemmy and Co. while I treated myself to a little slice of Adele. I was on a mission after all...
The level of purity and utter beauty delivered by the Reference Ones was similar to something I had recently experienced in front of a set of room-EQ'd Steinways but the immediacy here was incredible.
Whereas the scale of the Steinways was as big as the temple at Abu Simbel, this TAD R1 set was more… human. The illusion of having the cute and cuddly Adele sat right before me on a high stool, emoting into one of those huge valve microphones, was perfect. The room appeared to melt away.
The reality is that no matter how naturally-gifted your vocal chords may be, the noise they make will be recorded no more finely than the studio's own speaker monitors can manage. No wonder these TAD R1 models are the speakers of choice for the music business aristocracy. I listened and I yearned.
Of course, Adele had to give way to the thunderous assault of Wurzel, Phil Campbell and Philthy Animal while Lemmy barked before me: 'And I marched and I fought and I bled and I died.' It was as if the band was performing live before me. T'was brilliant.
The tragedy is that so few will actually ever get to hear these Reference Ones in anger. The sound they make is a cogent argument for large-scale hi-fidelity, but sadly it comes with a frightening price tag.
Their finish is absolutely exquisite, with yard-deep lustre and lines that are almost enough to make you rob your local Post Office in order to afford them. Funny enough, when my photographer on this job was bragging later to some contacts about the kit he'd just snapped, before they knew what had been going on, one had said: 'So, not the sort of thing you'd listen to Motörhead on then, eh?' How wrong he was.
These TADs are the Ace of Spades – absolutely, unassailably, legendary