TAD rates the loudspeaker with a sensitivity of 85dB, a nominal impedance of four ohms and a maximum power input of 200W, which suggests you need a powerful amp, but not a power-house amp, to drive the CE1 comfortably. Naturally, a lot of those amps are also likely to come from TAD’s own stable, and this is what we used. But this is not mandatory, and at Munich this year, the CE1s were also sounding excellent hanging off the end of some new Audio Alchemy electronics.
TAD’s website suggests the Compact Evolution 1 to produce an “Overwhelmingly massive sound from a compact cabinet.” Which would be an overwhelmingly pompous thing for a company to say, were it not for one little detail – it just happens to be true. It does make a truly massive sound, one that just can’t come out of a cabinet that small - and I’m used to “it’s bigger on the inside” loudspeakers like the Wilson Duette 2 and the KEF Reference 1.
This is one of those rare speakers that redefines what is possible from a standmount. Every thread of King Curtis’ ‘Memphis Soul Stew’ [Live at Fillmore West, ATCO] is played out with harmonic structure fully intact, not just faux richness or depth. This is a complex, slow-build live cut that starts with a bass guitar and ends with a whole funk band playing at full tilt, and as a consequence needs to be able to be as convincing when it’s just one musician playing and when there are a dozen people on stage without underplaying the former or blurring the latter. This is normally the acid test of smaller loudspeakers, because they can do the opening parts but fall over by the time the Memphis Horns kick in. By way of comparison, most bigger loudspeakers are fine with the full brass section, but tend to make Jerry Jemmott’s bass lines sound a little too big for their own good. The CE1 is one of the few exceptions that can cope with both equally well.
This track tells you a lot more about the CE1. You can hear voices in the crowd picked out with ease, but not undermining the sound of the audience as a whole. You can hear the picking dynamics of Cornell Dupree’s signature Fender Telecaster playing change during the repeated riff, even when his playing is pushed back in the mix as more and more musicians are playing. All those threads are clearly defined: even Pancho Morales’ congas – which can get lost in the mix – are easier to pick out and follow than through many other loudspeakers.
Moving over to solo piano (Martha Argerich playing Chopin Preludes on DG) there is a sense of physicality and weight to the sound, like you get to hear on a real piano in a live event: not just in the midrange, but extending up to the far left hand and down to the far right. In a way, this is what a BBC loudspeaker is supposed to sound like, rather than exaggerating the slightly softened bottom octave and the very slightly ‘shiny’ upper mids.
But it was playing ‘Chameleon’, by Trentemøller [The Last Resort, Poker Flat] that really showed what these speakers are capable of. I’ve used this track to determine low-end performance of a system for some time, but there are little demi-semiquaver pre-beat beats that I’ve not heard before. The track takes on a malevolence even more menacing than before, as it should: the track can do atavistic things to you. At its best, this track shouldn’t sound like it was played, programmed, or recorded; it should sound as if it was squeezed out through the ovipositor of something very big, very sticky, and very scary that was best locked away in H.P. Lovecraft’s, H.R. Geiger’s, or Hieronymus Bosch’s imagination. That usually only happens if you are playing the track through big full-range loudspeakers at ‘naughty’ levels. But this happened here, even played at normal levels. Impressive doesn’t even cut it.