Once in approximate position, the fabric covers can be lifted off and then it’s time to carefully remove all the clingfilm protection. Preliminary listening and positioning can then begin and at least on carpet, the Pianos can simply be slid around on their sturdy metal plate bases until the correct location is found. After than, if one man can tilt the cabinets whilst the other screws the cupped feet into the base or the outrigged isolating bars then its a fairly simple process to complete the install.
Stand back and simply admire what you see. To be fair to Tidal this is a finish that you will simply not see on any other loudspeaker. The depth of the shine, the thickness of the lacquer which takes 8 weeks and countless passes to perfect, the flatness and eveness of the reflections … no picture or paragraph of words can really prepare you for just how stunning and premium a pair of Tidals look in real life.
Let’s move onto sonics and before we start allow me to state that the ~£20,000 price bracket is for me the start of the real senior league. Speakers themselves make such a huge difference to the overall sound and enjoyment of a system, and it’s with this sort of budget that one is benefitting from a level of design, cabinet size and driver quality that will catapult a system to a level enjoyed by only the very lucky few. Incidentally, because speakers are so difficult to design and because they have so much influence, go from a £20k speaker to say the £40k category and once again, the jump up in the level of performance is simply enormous. More on that later though when we talk about the Tidal Contriva and the newly released Avalon Indra 2.
So what happens when you start playing music through the Pianos ? Well really, like all the best components the Pianos do not have a sound or character of their own. In simplest terms, they just show you the music and reveal the system in the most open and honest way. Now these types of soundbytes have become a little cliche in this hobby of ours but these statements do genuinely apply to a Tidal speaker perhaps more than anything else we have ever encountered. A Tidal speaker is shockingly invisible and has the sort of resolution, clarity and insight into the signal that leaves most customers wide eyed and full of expletives. Even amongst my own stable I have to confess that a Piano will do things that a similarly priced Avalon can’t do and bear in mind that Avalon for me are still amongst the very finest loudspeakers and indeed, were the big influence that led me to start Lotus Hifi in the first place. That isn’t to say that the Piano will always be the preferred choice over the Avalon of course (because it has its own unique set of strengths) but if we are talking pure performance top trumps – openess, transparency, neutrality, invisbility, lack of colouration – then in our experience the Piano is without peer at its pricepoint. Oh and then there’s the finish, the 8 weeks of infinte lacquering, the hand polished jewellery, the top shelf luxury craftsmanship; yep, you basically get that for free. Although I’m sure many would be happy to pay extra for it, there is no premium charge for a Tidal’s aesthetics and painstaking level of build because on sonics alone they already punch way above their pricepoint.
When customers first delve into speakers with me I often get the same brief from them, “I tried loads of different speakers in my room and didn’t like the sound of any of them”, or “All the speakers I tried at home always had too much boomy bass”. Well first of all a giant perspective shift is required here. Speakers are VERY difficult to design and by definition impart the most colouration into a system. So whilst there are plenty of competent amplifiers out there the same can definitely not be said of loudspeakers. The gulf between something like a Tidal and ‘A.N. Other’ hifi floorstander is positively intergalactic compared to the gap between a truly great amplfier versus merely a good one. Most speakers I encounter (and this would include many of the highend offerings from America, Asia and Europe as well as the UK industry) commit a multitude of sins, whether that be extreme colouration and endogenous character, disconnected bass or a huge bass lift, lots of extra added ‘excitement’ (to counterbalance mediocre low-bandwidth electronics), drivers or crossovers that you can individually hear, fairly coarse and unrefined tweeter units or a sound that tries to honour detail and resolution while falling into the cryptic and everpresent trap of sounding overly clinical.
Let’s just state that a Tidal (or an Avalon for that matter) is a very different kettle of fish from the usual hifi speakers that you may find on the British high street. To give you a small insight into why this is so, consider for a moment that a Tidal speaker for example will be designed and tested using a quarter of a million pounds worth of electronics and fed with the most resolving and transparent signal that current know how will allow. Similarly, if you ever go to Colorado and have the privilidge of visiting the Avalon testing room you will see similar levels of partnering equipment and hear a sound that will surely stay with you till your last days.
These speakers do not have a ‘sound’ that you hear and then “don’t like”. That really is the whole point. They don’t impart a personality of their own and you can’t really hear them as such. The cello doesn’t sound more “woody” because of the cabinet resonances, the bass doesn’t sound “bloated” or “punchy”, percussion doesn’t sound “detailed” or “sparkly”, the midrange doesn’t project forward over everything else to fixate your attention, and detail in general is not over accentuated or over defined. The speaker never smears the sound and never sounds slow or flustered. You don’t hear drivers or disconnected frequencies and you don’t really get any sense of a transducer being in front of you. No, you just hear the music and the sound is not in the cabinet but in the whole room hanging in three dimensional space … behind, in front, outside, inside, everywhere in fact apart from the where the speakers are.
As I touched upon before, these statements about ‘letting you truly hear your system’ apply to a Tidal more than any other speaker i’ve ever encountered. In fact, the level of resolution and transparency they provide is so extraordinarily high that I now have to hold up a small warning sign. With the Pianos there is absolutely no safety valve, nothing held back, no smidge of warmth as a protection mechanism and no colourations that other colourations further up the system can collude with and hide behind. They are incredibly dynamic when the music calls for it and will impart a level of energy and clarity into the room which is truly breathtaking. The Piano will give you absolutely everything, warts and all, and they will force you to understand your system in a way you’ve not done before.
Whatever colourations or traits that your system possesses and which were previously obscured, will now be revealed. The Piano hold up their large crystal glass magnifying lens and peer back through it at your rig. Such is their outright capability that they will seem to grin smugly at you and politely request that you give them greater neutrality and even more resolution than you are able to feed it; “Is this really your very best shot my friend ?”. Interestingly, this has meant that some demos we’ve performed with them have subsequently prompted a small adjustment to the system upstream. A little brightness that wasn’t there previously, a bass lift from a cartridge, a DAC that now sounds a touch mechanical. These are things that were all then easily fixed with cost effective accessories from the likes of Stillpoints and Entreq. The net result ? A much improved system overall and a new reference point startlingly closer to the actual recording and inner life of the music.
Don’t let any of this extreme nature put you off though because once you have a good system that is fairly neutral, flat and even in reponse, and well set up (existing Lotus customers will likely be good to go because that’s exactly how we build systems), the Pianos will deliver in a way that you perhaps not imagined possible. The coherency and order of the music will simplify every track you care to play. As well as seeming completely unflappable the Pianos are also lightning quick and the frequency range curtails nothing; when it’s on the disc, you will enjoy the most pure and soaring highs but without any sense of brightness and the quality, shape and texture of the bass is something really special too.
The all important Tidal trick that I need to get across to you though is that despite the extraordinary levels of resolution and microdetail and despite the feeling of limitless bandwidth and dynamic headroom, the Pianos never ever sound anything other than completely liquid, un-Hifi like and ‘all of a piece’. With a Tidal you will enjoy an unprecedented insight into the source but at the same time they will never fatigue, overwhelm or sound even remotely stark or clinical. You get the whole, the complete circle, the music. It’s this uncanny ability that ultimately allows you to forget the equipment.
Turning to more general considerations, the Piano G2 are very easy to drive and we have some customers even using them with very low wattage Single Ended amps. Generally we find that they work with any good system as long as it adheres to the criteria given above. The more resolution you send them the more they will give and they will easily do justice to the very best Digital and Vinyl front ends .
The Pianos work wonderfully with Vitus and Allnic electronics but truth be told, they really are at their very best with Tidal Electronics which to be fair is what you’d expect. Tidal amplifiers and DACs have a matching level of neutrality and extreme bandwidth and when paired together, the invisibility and rightness of the system is something quite remarkable.
A quick word on the Velvetec option. This is a beautiful matte finish offered primarily by the factory to get around longer build times. As Tidal’s most ordered loudspeaker, it made sense to find a way to produce them at a quicker rate than any of the lacquer finishes and you also make a fairly big saving as well and can choose from all sorts of different colours.
So there you have it. I hope this has been a good introduction to Tidal speakers. My customers in this price bracket are generally demo’ing these and the Avalon Transcendant as an alternative and to give you an idea, in November we had one customer go with the Piano and one found the Transcendant suited his system and listening preferences better. Both incredible speakers at around the £20k budget …. win win all the way.