Review: TAD (Tube Audio Design) TAD 1000 mono blocks
I actually stumbled on Paul Grzybek's tube amps from a close friend that had recommended the TAD 150 Signature preamp for my system. I hadn't even intended to buy another pair of tube amps, but the "package deal" that Paul was offering at the time (TAD 150 preamp, TAD 1000 amps, interconnect, speaker wire, and Panamax surge protector) was too good for me to resist, so I read the info. and took the plunge.
Let me first say that Paul is one of the best guys to deal with in this industry. He's always super responsive, courteous, and very knowledgable about many things in audio.
These are really terrific amps. Are they the "best" I've ever owned...? No, but keeping the price in context and comparing them to other amps I have owned/auditioned, they ARE the best amps that I have heard in, or even slightly above, this price point.
First, a quick history, which will explain the other amps listed. I had just sold my Halo JC-1's to look around, as an ever restless audionut, still in search of the "ultimate" amp, for my system. That last sentence is important because those of us who have been on this sometimes fruitless merri-go-round will realize that system matching, room acoustics, and even personal taste will ALWAYS determine which component is the "best", for YOU.
The Halo JC-1's were the best SOLID STATE amps that I have heard or owned, but having the ASL Hurricanes on hand at the same time I had the Halo's, indicated to me that even the JC-1's couldn't quite capture that total "in the room" presense that only good tube designs seem to be able to deliver.
So, back to the TAD 1000's. While I really suspected that 100 watts per side (even in "tube watts"), probably wasn't going to be enough for the big Prodigys, in my large-ish dedicated room, I still thought trying & buying would be an interesting venture.
After considerable break-in, and the patience and courtesy of Paul G. in answering my various questions, they are now fairly "tuned in" and sound pretty darn good.
Starting from the bottom; Bass reproduction is pretty good overall, albeit not as tight and center of the earth as bigger solid state designs (but what IS there is reproduced with a lot of "timbre" and body intact). This can also be "adjusted", to some degree, by varying the Focus Control, which adjusts the feedback. More -- increases bass tightness, but you tend to lose some of the harmonic structure, throughout the entire audible range. Less -- you again obtain more harmonic structure, with slightly looser bass, but as the Prodigys are obviously more than capable of reproducing every bit of harmonic structure you can throw at 'em, I tend to leave the focus control all the way off (that is no feedback).
Midrange; Of course this is any good tube amp's forte, and here the TAD1000's do not disappoint. All of the harmonic structure, realness and "meat on the bones" is here in spades. It is this "magic" on female vocal, male vocal, and really anything that falls in this all-important midband that makes you forgive the amps other shortcomings, and just sit back and enjoy the experience. I don't know what it is about tube amps (the Hurricane's exibited the same quality), call it some sort of coloration if you like, but I can only describe the midrange as having an "organic" real character that is addictive and again, hard to part with when sliding over to the solid state side of things.
High frequencies; In this area, it may not be a totally fair observation of the amp's true abilities as the Logan's drop to a wicked 1-2 Ohms at around 10k, so yes, the 1000's do exhibit a slight "rolled off" character. To be fair, I experienced the EXACT same effect with the much larger (and more $$) Hurricane's, and indeed, it was this failing that ultimately led me to the JC-1's in the first place. But I will say, amazingly, that the TAD's actually do a little better here than even the much lauded Hurricane's. Again, this is the top-most octave's I'm talking here, the "air" as it were, around percussive instruments, but in most cases, it is never a serious distraction to the overall sound (unless you consciously, purposefully focus on it). Bells, triangles, cymbals still project and ring out well, they just don't have the "decay trail" that indicates full extension to the stratosphere -- again, with MY speakers. (BTW - I briefly hooked the 1000's up to my highly modded Optimus LX4's, with the highly revealing Lineum tweeter, and DID NOT hear any high freq. roll off).
Soundstage; Again, another area that is hard to beat with a good tube design. E-X-P-A-N-S-I-V-E, extremely well focused, images well outside the physical bounderies of the speakers. The only SS amp to equal the TAD1000's (and the 'Cane's) were the JC-1's. One of my friends describes the TAD1000's soundstage as "an enveloping bubble of a sound field" -- couldn't have said it better myself. These amps image like a champ. Also stage depth is also on par with anything that I have had in my system.
Dynamics: Both Micro and Macro are superb. One of the things that I've yet to figure out is how tube amps are able to create such a startling "jump factor" on things such as loud hand claps, finger clicks, tamborine hits, etc. without using the soda can sized caps that you see in most big solid state amps. I hear these explosive dynamic contrasts reproduced better through the 1000's (as I also did with the 'Canes) than I yet have to hear as completely and cleanly through ANY SS amp that I've tried -- although the Halo's came VERY close. (One caveat --I concede that this lack of jump factor might have been an area that was created by my non-use of a preamp with previous amps, but again I didn't use a preamp when I owned the Hurricanes either -- but that's a whole 'nother story & review!) Also, I noticed that the 1000's are very good at late night, low level listening, something that most other amps failed at doing well.
So, will I continue searching for the "ultimate" amp?? Yes, but the TAD1000's have reminded me why I tried tube amplification in the first place. They are eminently musical, their shortcomings are in the "sins of ommission" category, so they are always easy to listen to and enjoy. Finances permitting, I will probably keep them to continue to experiment with in bi-amping modes, and again, to serve as a benchmark in the midrange, for all amps to follow.
A good example of this -- I also have on hand the otherwise excellent EVO 200.2. While the EVO is certainly better at the frequency extremes, I constantly come back to firing up the TAD1000's as the much preferred amps to listen to. (The EVo is now boxed & up for sale).
Bottom line; If you are in the market for a great mono block amp set (tube or otherwise), at a great price, and you don't need TONS of output power, have dynamic speakers that might be slightly on the bright side of the spectrum, you could certainly do a LOT worse than a set of TAD1000's.
Very highly recommended.
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PS Audio P300
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Acoustic Zen "Tsunami" AC cords (amps, preamp)
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