Review: Tube Audio Design TAD 150 Tube preamp

Category: Preamps

The Tube Audio Design TAD 150 Pre-amp is a reference level pre-amp that I believe will rival ANY pre-amp and ANY price.

The TAD 150 replaced a ten year old Musical Design SP-2B which was very good for its day, but the TAD 150 really did pick up where the Musical Design Piece left off.

The improvements were from top to bottom, the separation, and detail are much improved as well as this unit's ability to dig deeper in the music, and I hate to use this because it sounds so cliché, but yes, I'm hearing things that was just hinted at or simply not there at all with my previous pre-amp. The tone, accuracy, and soundstage of this unit is truly holographic and 3D. It is the most natural sounding pre-amp I have ever owned or Auditioned, but even more spectacular is it's stability it sounds so effortless, you know the types that sound either like they are trying to hard, or trying to keep up, this unit never sounds strained or harsh even at loud volumes or complex passages! No matter loud or soft this unit integrity stays in tact.

So I could go on about how quiet it is, how covenant having a remote control is and so forth but I think you catch my drift. My recommendation is to at least audition the unit, you get your money back if you somehow convince yourself that you don’t like it, but to be fair it may or may not be for everyone based on your taste, but I can almost guarantee that you would have to pay at least $5000 dollars to get anything that comes close.

Associated gear
Musical Concepts CDT-4 transport

Musical Design DAC 1A20 Platinum.

Custom built (By Bizzie Bee) S.E.T. amp using 6AS7 tubes(5W.P.C.)

Bizzie Bee Frozen interconnects throught whole system including Digital Cable.

Speaker Cables are a home brew using Radio Shack RG-58 Coax.

Speakers are Klipsch Quartets. Highly Modified with Auricaps, Goertz copper foil inductors and solen Fast cap.

Similar products
I also bought a TAD 150 tube preamp.

What a difference it has made in my setup too. I currently have a TA-30 and a ShengYa CD-S10 tube cd player too.

The TAD 150 was a fantastic upgrade of my system. The soundfield really expanded and the clarity increased too. Now the music comes at me layered. The voices come in at a higher plane than the instruments do. Quite fantastic. I really like what changes this preamp brought to my system.

Jeff Aguilar
As a mostly classical music listener, the difference between Paul Grzybek's little wonder and the mainstream solid-state offerings (Adcom, NAD, Rotel, etc.) in the same price range, it's rather amazing. Soundstaging is wonderful and doesn't collapse in loud passages. It's sound is open and overall, effortless. Hard to complain.

I have no prejudice for tubes over solid-state or vice-versa. When the music is more important than the hardware, the TAD-150 is a real find.

My speakers are B&W N805s, power amp is the current smallest Rotel (dandy for a condo-dweller) and my CD player is the Marantz SA-8260.

Peter Borchard
I just purchased this pre-amp from Paul, and I can't believe how much it improved the performance of my Cayin TA-30, an already fantastic sounding piece of kit, with the added bonus of now having remote capability. If you have a Cayin integrated, or a solid state power amp that sounds a bit "Lean" with your solid state pre-amp call Paul and order the TAD-150. It's tubes will flesh out your sound. Hell, with a return option you have nothing to loose, and Paul is a great resource to help you tune your system to get the best out of it.
I received my TAD-150 today. Bought it from another A-Gon. Hard to review when your componenets seem to dissappear into the music and you can't find adjectives to describe what you are hearing. This unit is absolutely the most transparent preamp that I have ever heard not that I am an authority compared to some other people on this site. The music seems 3D. The soundstage is wide and deep. There is no grain to speak of. Probably the best thing that I can say is that I virtually stopped listening to the electronics and focused on the music. The all-tube design sounds very natural. I can listen at louder volumes without fatigue as the music doesn't scream at you, it just flows. I have tried a number of preamps this year. In order they are B&k pro-5, B&k pt3 series 2, Sunfire (the one you stack with the AMP), Counterpoint Sa-3, ARC SP9 MK2 with Amperex USN-CEP NOS tubes. The other preamps used except for the ARC come at you with either hardness (Sunfire), lack of detail (B&K), bass definciency (Counterpoint). The ARC with the Amperex tubes had a nice soundstage and phono section but, the TAD-150 takes it to another level. Rather than compare this preamp to others in a given price range, I would have to forget the price and compare it with units regardless of price. Keep in mind that I am using a McCormack DNA-1 non-deluxe and not modified yet. What else can I say but, I believe that I have reached the end of the preamp trail for quite a while. I will re evaluate in April after Steve McCormack modifies my DNA-1.

Rest of System...

Vandersteen 2CR Sigs ( my other end of the road piece)
Adcom GCD-600 ( will probably upgrade to SACD.
McCormack DNA-1.
Thorens 160 BC with Linn Basik Plus and Goldring 1012. IC's XLO's. Power cables- Magic Signal and Fro-Zen from Bizzy Bee....

Now I think I will work on my golf game....

Now that I've lived with the TAD-150 for a couple of months, I can happily say that it's even better than my original report -- a real sleeper especially when compared to what's typically available in the price range. Frankly it's hard to believe it couldn't go toe-to-toe with the big-bucks esoterica. Granted it has a somewhat funky side, with the tubes on display through the round windows, the volume control turning itself all the way down on turn-on, and some volume control overshoot with the remote control. (I don’t happen to need the remote.) It's chassis, expectedly, is not machined from a solid billet of unobtanium, although I’ve yet to understand why that would matter in the real world. It is, however, remarkably better than the norm. I often complain about volume controls that aren’t better marked to make repeatability easier, but in use, this too seems a moot point.

The only possible shortcoming of this preamp is it’s phono section. Although it sounds fine, it seems very fussy about even the slightest grounding or tonearm wiring problem. I’m using a current Shure V15 iteration and the noise floor (hum) is just a hair below normal listening levels and may be unacceptable to some who are still deeply into LPs. On the other hand, at the cost of the preamp, it’s isn’t too much to ask to consider an outboard preamp either.

Overall, this preamp is a very wise choice even if hifi gear isn’t your main interest. It’s not just for audiophiles.

--Peter Borchard
Lower the price and put out a TAD 150 line stage only. if it can beat my ARC sp6c-1. it could be the best out there
let me know

Let the final results speak for themselves!
I've had this preamp for a couple months now. I haven't tried the phono stage yet, but the line stage sounds very good to my ears. If you're in the market for a preamp in this price range, this pre should be on your audition list --- then decide for yourself if it's a keeper ...........
Review #2

I have had the opportunity to live with this piece for six weeks or so. My Joe-Zen power cord and Signal cable IC's are starting to break in. Soundstage is even wider and deeper. Quality of recordings are very revealing good and bad. This unit will stay in my system for quite a while. Can't wait to upgrade my CD (Adcom GCD600) and Mod my McCormack DNA-1.

I recently replaced a Counterpoint SA-1000 with the TAD-150. On first listen, the 150 broadened the soundstage to beyond the edges of the speakers, added realistic layers of depth, and provided a black background from which the music emerged to fill the room. I look forward to allowing the unit, to break-in, to upgrade the power cord, and to roll some tubes in the unit to fine tune the sound. I do wish that the MC section had more gain, volume levels are satisfactory but the volume control is at about 3 o'clock.
The pre-amp continues to get better. The soundstage has filled in and the frequency response is now smoother and more extended in both directions. Depth has become more delineated and voices, massed choral and solo are rounder, with more air around them then before. Generally the sound is closer to real, more believable, more like the real thing than with many other preamps at 3 times the money.

Finally used the headphone output w/Grado SR-80's, the only thing to say is DAMN, that is an awesome sound.
Jswillis73 and I have alot in common in that we both owned & enjoyed the Musical Design SP-2B for sometime. The fact that he has recommended the highly regarded TAD 150 and also because of the excellent posts on it above, I want one!