July 12, 2011

The Musical Truth - TAD-D600 SACD/CD Player

Many years ago, I sat in a friend’s BMW 7-series sedan cruising down the North South Highway. It was a workday, so the traffic was light. We were chatting about the business meeting we were going to have and some other casual stuff. My friend’s driving stance was relaxed, the one-hand-on-the-wheel, sit-back-in-the-leather-seat type. The ride was firm and comfortable. The cockpit was quiet and cosy. The engine was purring gently with the occasional growl when the accelerator was stepped on a little harder.

After a while, I noticed that we passed every car we came across on the highway. I thought, “This sure is a relaxed day, people are driving so slowly.”

Then it struck me. I took a glance at the speedometer. The needle was pointing at 150-160km/h, way above the 110km/h legal limit. For the entire 2 hour journey, this speed was maintained, even when the highway got a little curvy. The bimmer ate up everything for lunch. I never had the concern that the car might get out of control. I never felt unsafe. Heck, I even thought we should go faster since the car apparently could. I felt totally normal like I was travelling 80-90km/h in my Japanese sedan. My admiration for BMW was sealed on that day.

TAD-D600 disc player. The black box on the left is the separate power supply

I had the same feeling after listening to the TAD-D600 SACD/CD Player for 2 weeks in my system. The player was not apparently doing anything differently. Each CD, each song, was not sounding overtly different from before. I thought I enjoyed the music just as much. Just that there was one area that I could easily discern clear improvement, that was its bass performance. That was it.

However, when it was finally taken out of my system, the ‘don't forget to take a look at the speedometer’ moment struck.

The TAD -D600 was heavy. There were 2 pieces. The main player itself weighs 26.5kg and the separate external power supply 13kg, giving them an almost 40kg total weight. This is heavier than even some power amp, let alone a disc spinner. The weight of the main unit was contributed by the heavy base, made up of a copper-plated galvanised steel plate, with integral three-point support spikes, all in an effort to counter all sorts of performance-polluting vibration.

The disc drawer is lined with felt. It slides in and out smoothly and quietly

Lugging them up to my room was hard work. Putting the player on my equipment rack was not possible due to the main unit’s weight exceeding the rack’s weight limit. Also, the umbilical cords that tied the power supply to the main unit was too short (less than 1m long, I think). So, I decided to place them on the floor.

The performance of the TAD-D600 player was unremarkable to start with. I would rate it as a competent player but not much to justify a 6-figure Ringgit Malaysia price tag. Not wanting to jump into conclusion, I decided to put the player on repeat overnight, though the player must have been run-in at AV Designs after a few months on demo. My subsequent experience was that if the TAD-D600 was switched off then it needed a 1-2 hours playing time for it to get back to performing optimally. The TAD-D600 has a default ECO-friendly mode that puts it on standby if it is not played for 30 minutes, this feature can be defeated.

Digital ins and out on the left. Analogue outs on the right. DC power supply hook-ups in the middle

The player morphed after the overnight warm up period. The first thing I noticed was the bass. I have never heard bass like that from my system, it transformed my system’s bass performance totally. Bass went deep, became remarkably powerful and very tightly defined. It was not just heard but was also felt. I was also hearing into the nuances and the details contained in the bass notes. Now, I could really appreciate the full force of Marcus Miller’s electric bass guitar playing on his “Silver Rain” album. Every bass note, deep, impactful yet agile, was clearly enunciated for the listener to savour.

The second remarkable achievement of the TAD-D600 was the density of the sonic image. Even with CD material, the sonic image was filled with vivid colours and solid and focused images. Minute details emerged. Details that was just a blur before became clear. The spaces in-between was filled with pitch-black darkness. The soundstage was deep and wide, and clearly defined.

The TAD-D600 also eschewed all kinds of colouration. There was no ‘sweetness’ or ‘warmth’ added by this player to the music. I believe it remained absolutely true to the recording. I heard the widest range of differences ever in the sound of my CDs. The best thing was that such a truthful trait did not make the player sound clinical or sterile. Music from the TAD-D600 sounded full-bodied, it retained the organic flow, the vitality and the harmonic richness, just like it is in live music, not adding anything of its own.

This machine really stepped aside and let the music do the talking. There was no sonic signature that I could attribute to the player itself.

The separate power supply block

and the umbilical cords that tie it to the main unit

After a week or so of listening to the TAD-D600 I got complacent.

The player never put a foot wrong. All my favourite CDs came through beautifully. I was enjoying the MUSIC and the SOUND from my system. But, with hindsight, I realized that I started to take this level of performance for granted. I thought while the TAD sounded very good, it could not be that far from what more affordable CD players could achieve.

Till the moment when the TAD-D600 was packed up to take the trip to Big E’s place, that is.

Within 15 minutes of switching back to my own player I realized I had forgotten to ’look at the speedometer’. It dawned on me that the TAD-D600’s achievements were so much ahead of the others, but it did them so easily, so effortlessly, so naturally, that I forgot about them after a while. I took it for granted. What the TAD could do, the others did not have in them.

My resident Ayre C-5xeMP was not unlistenable, to be sure. But it did not have or could not achieve at the same level, things that the TAD-D600 had, such as the amount of musical details, the scale, the natural dynamics, and especially things in the bass department. It also added a little bit of warmth to the sound. I would still rate the Ayre as an exceptional performer for the price. However, if we were talking about absolute performance, the TAD lorded over the Ayre. Well, not just the Ayre, but every other digital frontend I have heard in my system. Just that with TAD you have to pay a price, and that price is RM129,000.

Thinking back now, I am amazed to no ends how truthful music sounded with the TAD-D600. The TAD-D600 did not favour a certain genre, it was equally excellent with everything – classical, jazz, pop, rock.

I am not even certain whether I have heard the best from the TAD-D600. The price for the TAD-D600 alone could buy the rest of the audio chain at my place with change. It would appropriately fit into a system that costs minimally, I think, half a million Ringgit. And it will not be out of place in 7-figure systems too.

For a bimmer that could achieve a top speed of 250km/h or more, travelling at 150km/h was a stroll in the park. Just like the bimmer, I shudder to think what the TAD-D600 could dig up from the humble silver disc in an appropriately high-end system.

With both the TAD-D600 disc player and the TAD-C2000 pre-amp now out of my system, I am suffering the withdrawal. This listening experience will be extremely difficult to top.

Contact James Tan of AV Designs at 03-21712828 to listen to TAD


rui calado said...

yes, that is true,when i first listen to the d600 in munique high end show last year,i was completely blow away by the richeness of the sound and natural timbres,and the bass never,never heard it soo defined and powerfull.i alredy had the oportunity to deal with all of the best cd players and transports,but none of them surpassed the tad d600
rui calado.

OdioSleuth said...

rui calado

your observation about the TAD-D600's sound is right on, I can't agree more. :-)

Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...

rui calado,

I could not agree with you more.

rui calado said...

i try the tad d600 as a dac via digital xlr 110 ohm to an aurender digital server and still amazing sound transparency,botton end,imaging just perfect,and with high def files,sounded almost like real music playing live.the rest of the system is asi grand mono,asi liveline preamp,tad r1 loudspeaker´s,and kubala sosna elation cables,digital by stealth aes.the best system i heard in a long long time,we used evolution acustics mm3 too.

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