Review: TAD (TubeAudioDesign) TAD 150 Signature Tube preamp

Category: Preamps

Just wanted to add my review along with the other excellent review previously posted here, about the TAD 150 Preamp, as my system is different, in many respects, so it will hopefully offer a different prespective.

I had always been a staunch "NO PREAMP" audio guy for a loooong time. This is the first preamp that I have owned in over 10 yrs.

I just believed that the best preamp is NO preamp, so have always designed my system around either passive preamps (Reference Line 2b, which I still own) and by utilizing CD players with "direct out" capabilities. Past CD's of this type have been Mark Levinson No. 39, and Theta Miles, in that order, prior to my A.A.

Well, long story short, another audiophile friend of mine suggested that in many cases a good preamp can actually improve(?) some areas (micro, macro dynamics, midrange timbre, etc.) that you just can't get without using one, despite agreeing that going "direct" will probably yield the most "transparent" reproduction, so I thought, what the hey, I'll give one a try.

Being enamored towards tubes, ESPECIALLY, in any "front end" component, I started a small search around to see what was considered a good value, in tube preamps. I came across Paul G.'s TAD preamp after a recommendation, and after reading the many very positive reviews posted here and at other audio related sites. The design looked great and seemed to offer a lot of bang for the buck, as it were, so....

Let me first say that I was VERY skeptical that this preamp would actually "improve" the sound over my much beloved Capitole, so if anything, I went into this with slightly negative expectations.

Well, you know what I'm going to state here -- yes, after letting the preamp thoroughly break in with my XLO/Cheski burn-in disc, for about 100 hrs., I was ready for serious listening, and WOW!

First thing I heard was a very noticable improvement in the bass. This was completely unexpected, and I hadn't realized that the bass coming direct from my A.A. was a bit muddy & loose, compared to the now cleaner and tighter (but just as deep and authoritive) bass now reproduced via the 150 Sig.

Next was in the realm of dynamics, on both ends of the scale, micro and macro. This wasn't as big of an improvement as the bass, but was still noticable in a better "jump" factor on dynamic recordings, and more natural dynamic shadings, overall, in all recordings. All this without ANY increase in the background noise level -- still silent and "black" as ever.

The soundstage and stage depth were surely areas that would suffer, right? Nope. This is one of the great strengths of the Capitole, as it throws a HUGE, expansive stage, with tons of air and depth. No improvements, per se here, but I really was just hoping no loss would be incurred with the insertion of the TAD150, and this proved to be the case. No change. This was true when using both the excellent TAD1000 mono block amps and also with a Bel Canto EVO 200.2 that I had on hand.

So, what do we have? Better bass reproduction, better dynamic shadings, no losses anywhere else. Yep, this over- achieving preamp's a "keeper" in my system!

I must point out that I am by no means an expert when it comes to preamps, as again, i just haven't tried that many over the years, but I did have on hand a Counterpoint 1000? all tube design, which I borrowed from a good friend (and who's system I always felt was very musical), to compare to the TAD150. We both agreed (much to his dismay) that the TAD150 trounced the Counterpoint in all areas.

Quick, short list of other preamps I have owned over the years; Conrad Johnson PV11, Perreaux SM3, Carver ??, Reference Line 2b passive (still own & will use in vinyl playback system)

Bottom line ; anyone in the market for a great tube (or SS) preamp should look and listen to this preamp before spending any more or looking at anything used around this price point.

Very highly recommended! Kudos to Paul Grzybek!

Associated gear
Audio Aero Capitole 24/192
Martin-Logan Prodigy
TAD 1000 mono-block amps
PS Audio P300
Aural Thrills "Active" speaker cable
Acoustic Zen "Tsunami" AC cords
Virtual Dynamics Pwr 3 AC cord
Sonic Horizon "Sunrise" AC cord
Quantum Power "Symphony" and "Symphony Pro"
Shakti "Stones" & "On Lines"
Sennheiser HD650
Wheatfield HA-1 hdph. amp
Alpha Core Triode Quartz XLR to RCA jumper
The Build quality of the TAD 150 is top notch & I like the fact that both tubes glow behind their prospective windows, a very nice touch! I don't think any stone was left unturned in its design, a beautifully constructed preamp! But in this case, beauty is not only skin deep. The TAD 150 offers a spacious soundstage that is both equally as wide as it is deep! I'm an audiophile that is very difficult to please but the TAD 150 has exceeded my expectations! The fact that even the stock tubes sounded good but the Tung Sol tubes (12AX7s) bring it to a level that in my opinion places it in the company of preamps over twice its price! Ambience recovery-transparency, & sparkling transients, are remarkable, you will want to listen to your entire CD collection, even places an excellent perspective on older recordings. I am hearing details in the music that some other preamps have masked over. The remote is the icing on the cake. Finally, replace the stock power cord with a good aftermarket power cord, this will really extend the highs & be sure to allow the preamp & tubes ample time to break in before reaching any final conclusions as you will know where I have been. A very unique product, I give the TAD 150 my highest recommendation!
The praise for the TAD 150 is well-deserved. The sense of air and space is the biggest improvement I noticed over my previous preamp, the Adcom GFP-565. Delicate background instruments are revealed in full clarity, not lost in the mix. The depth, width, and height of recordings are reproduced with realism I had never experienced in any of my previous systems. SACD's (the good ones, like "Monk's Music") are an absolute delight. CD's that I had previously regarded as inferior recordings (e.g. Lucinda Williams "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road") became listenable or even pleasant to listen to. Paul is very customer-oriented. He modified mine to change one set of line outs to record outs at a very reasonable price. The TAD 150 even has a very good phono section. Never having owned a tube preamp before I was concerned that it might be noisy or bloated sounding. Not to worry - it does everything right. Very highly recommended!
A follow up to all the glowing reviews the last of which was thanksgiving 2005(7 years ago). I bought a TAD 150 signature recently and was able to do a side by side shoot out with two other budget priced tube amps, one Lamm designed ec88 preamp and one Audioromy FU29 integrated amp. All of these amps sounded great thru my vincent/bozak/ microseiki/music hall sacd player system. Alone they all made me smile especially the AudioRomy which I was still burning in. When the TAD 150 appeared I was at first disappointed as it did not have the tube quality I was used to which can be described as musical/embroidered, magical/enhanced sound.
The TAD was very accurate with no expansion of any component of the sound. It sounded sweet but almost nonexistent like it was just passing along the music without tailoring it in any way. It sounded right with an amazing soundstage, great and very accurate bass, and smooth treble. I rolled a couple of sets of tubes and found the rca black plates to be all that they are said to be. All in all a great amp that soon will be driven by a macintosh 2155 SS amp. I will report back the combination.