Tidal Audio factory

With just 7 months under our belt since we launched Tidal here in the UK, myself, importers Kog Audio and the factory in Germany could not be more pleased with the beginnings and early progress that’s been made. The reaction from customers in shop and home demos has been everything we expected and hoped for and more. Things will continue to move fast in the world of Tidal. We have recently had news of several imminent new products which will be released at the Munich show in Spring 2017 so stay tuned for a number of really exciting developments.

Approaching the end of 2016 it seems somewhat negligent of me that there is still no blog or article on here telling you about Tidal speakers, the product they are best known for. My apologies for that but the truth is I have been just too damm busy selling the brand; only now in mid December do I find myself with a little breathing space to sit down and publish some more useful information out into cyberspace.

Enter stage left then, Tidal’s entry level loudspeaker, the recently revised Piano. The Piano (seen above at the Tidal factory in the background behind the larger Contrivas) is a 2 way floorstander with either a ceramic or diamond Accuton tweeter and dual 7 inch Accuton midrange woofers. Many of you will be familiar with Accuton drivers. They grace many a highend loudspeaker and are widely considered to be some of the most uncoloured, accurate, fast and resolving drivers available anywhere at any price. What you may not know though is that Tidal Audio are in fact their biggest customer and also the exclusive recipient of the world’s only diamond woofer, which are reserved solely for the Tidal Akira and la Assoluta loudspeakers.

Back to the Piano though. This is a fabulous entry level speaker partly because it has such versatility. At 116cm high it is a little bigger than the pictures would suggest but still relatively small by today’s standards and sonically, comfortable in small, medium and large rooms. There is much flexibility with setup and placement and Pianos can go up close against a wall or right out into space, halfway into the middle of the room if necessary.

Tidal piano modes

Part of the Piano’s flexibility is its various drivers modes. The speaker can be set to pure two way mode where one woofer is completely disconnected and we have found this is perfect for very small rooms or where a very close rear wall sufficiently strengthens the lower frequency response. In more regular scenarios both woofers will be engaged in “linear 2.5 mode” and then you have a 2 way that can move a very generous amount of air perfectly suited to medium or even large rooms. There is also a third permutation, “gained 2.5 mode” where the speaker will play with gained bass in the lower woofer and this is suitable for large rooms or simply for more bass in small or medium rooms. As if that wasn’t enough, the tweeter can also be set to linear or gain mode. Linear is a perfectly flat response for normal dampened rooms and Gained mode is useful for spaces that have lots of damping and a lack of hard reflective surfaces such as hard floors, blank walls and glass. It must be stressed though that all these adjustments lie well inside Tidal’s Linear sounding philosophy and each change amounts to a fairly small sonic adjustment; you need to be listening very carefully to detect a difference. Do not expect a bass boost or  brightness at the flick of a toggle switch, the adjusments we are talking about here are just nothing like that.

Whilst referring to the above image of the rear panel it’s worth talking a little bit more about this part of the speaker. We refer to this backing plate as the vario terminal; like all things Tidal there is a level of detail and reason that lies well beyond what only the eye tells us. First of all the speaker binding posts are made from a fibre reinforced polymer which negates inductive electromagnetic fields and silver is also employed as the conductor to ensure the least resistance to the incoming signal. The terminal end caps are hand polished and are a two part aluminium and composite contruction. The subjective feel and sheer quality of materials used here in this most inconspicous area of the loudspeaker will no doubt surpise you on first acquaintance.

All Tidal cabinets are made from their proprietary material Tiradur. This is a specially developed substance that has the rigidity of a hard material such as a metal and yet the resonance absorbing properties of a wooden material such as MDF. Mounted inside the cabinet in a hermetically shielded chamber are the passive crossovers, some 13kg in weight and crafted from the very best Dueland copper capacitors, silver carbon resistors and other custom built components that are of the finest quality available.

Let’s turn our attention to packaging. Again, nothing done by halves here either. The Pianos come in an extremely tough professional flight case with ample corner and edge protection. The weight with the two speakers inside is fairly prohibitive at over 170kg and definitely a 2 or 3 man lift but there is a factory option to have two separate flight cases, one for each speaker, like the bigger Tidals.

With the case lid removed the Pianos are laid out flat on their backs with their covers on. With the complex Tiradur cabinets, the weighty crossovers and literally millimetres of lacquer each speaker is far heavier and denser than you may imagine for something of this size. At approximately 65kg each, care is needed to lift them out and get them standing up on their bases.

Tidal Audio Piano G2 @ Lotus Hifi

Once out though the floor of the flight case has a little secret up its sleeve; lift up a trap door and inside you will find the instruction manual and a very nice hand written welcome note from Tidal’s designer Jörn Janczak. Lift the foam tray that holds the manual and if you ticked the option box, you will then be greeted with a wonderful display of eight gleaming Piano isolation bars. These are the optional outboard vario feet which attach to the speakers’ underside and can be positioned in a variety of ways. Again, the quality of these minor incidentals is fairly breathtaking. Super light to the touch, these aluminium bars are hand milled and polished and then further coated to prevent oxidisation. Whilst not absolutely necessary, they do add a degree of stability to the speaker and definitely make a big visual impact as well.

In this lower compartment you will also find the speakers actual cupped feet which either screw into the speaker base or the ends of the isolation bars if you have spec’d them. These feet are essentially an inverted metal dome into which a metal plate fits, connected by a single ball bearing. They do a very good job of isolating and affording the cabinet a rigid foothold but we have of course found that if they are replaced by stillpoint ULTRA SS or ULTRA 5 feet then there are significant gains to be had. Joining the feet in the foam tray you have your four binding posts, various spares, screws for the bars and a microfibre cloth for careful surface cleaning. The love and care that permeates through these products is all too obvious and most definitely leaves its mark.

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.

Tidal Piano G2 @ Lotus Hifi

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.