The voice that is: A Visit!
During one of my recent visits to the East Coast, I was able to arrange my schedule to include a trip to the city of Brotherly Love (i.e., Philadelphia) and specifically for the purpose of visiting a wonderfully upscale high-end audio dealership. Additionally, I was totally intrigued with the opportunity to audition the brand new and recently released Akira loudspeakers developed by TIDAL Audio, the German manufacturer of fine loudspeakers and electronics. The TIDAL Akira is the smaller brother of the company’s top-of-line flagship model La Assoluta, and one of their two ultimate diamond speakers. The place for my visit was none other than The Voice That Is (TVTI), located just about 25-30 minutes west of downtown Philly and owned by Doug White. The setting of this facility is situated in a peaceful, serene environment that is very calming with rolling hills, scenic but twisting two-lane roads and beautiful surroundings.
This was quite a contrast to the drive from New Jersey that included stretches along the heavily traveled NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway as well as several adjoining highways. Fortunately the total drive, including a major unexpected detour due to a primary route over a connecting bridge being under construction, wasn’t much more than 2 hours. And, thanks to GPS – getting to Doug’s place was relatively uneventful. Upon arrival, Doug was there to greet me with his usual warm and congenial demeanor. As you interact and get to know Doug, you quickly realize that he is a serious, long-time audiophile and someone who has a deep understanding and appreciation of music – all genres of music. Additionally, as a former drummer and regular attendee at live music concerts, Doug strives to bring a high level of musical realism to the audio systems he helps design for his clients. His focus is based on addressing his client’s specific needs, as well as considering their budgets, with a total systems solution approach. In his other life, Doug is a long-time entrepreneur with his company providing various types of computer technology.
Approximately eight years ago, Doug expanded his entrepreneurial vision and pursued a new business venture that ultimately became his high-end audio business (i.e., The Voice That Is). During my visit, Doug mentioned that his initial exposure to TIDAL was actually the result of another high-end audio colleague bringing this product to his attention. His affiliation with TIDAL ultimately became a formal relationship and has grown steadily since that time. In fact, Doug had a clear vision of being the premier dealer for TIDAL in the U.S. market and has been instrumental in helping to raise awareness around the brand. Doug further states that with his early exposure to TIDAL speakers, and later their electronics, he was simply hearing things he hadn’t heard before from other well known speakers as well as music being revealed in a much different and more accurate manner. This included a higher degree of transparency, clarity and resolution. He attributes this largely to TIDAL’s no compromise approach to excellence as well as their philosophy around the need for reducing and eliminating resonances to enhance the creation of real sound. Additionally, he states that this heightened sense of resolution is a product of TIDAL’s overall design and not a result of inherent brightness. TIDAL believes speakers are the messenger and should accurately pass along the signal with minimal alteration and/or degradation.
On a side note - since his role as a dealer and representing TIDAL – TVTI has had numerous successes with their exhibits at various high-end audio shows and typically featuring TIDAL speakers (above photo). Fortunately, I’ve had opportunities to check out some their exhibits and often I my experience is consistent with the show organizers and reviewers who consistently identify (and award) the TVTI exhibit as being one of the best at the show. This has included shows such as Axpona, Capital Audiofest, Newport Audio Show, Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF), and more. For a description of the TVTI exhibit at last year’s Axpona Audio Show. At that show, Doug had the very impressive TIDAL Agoria loudspeakers along with the stunning TIDAL electronics and despite being in a relatively small room, in my opinion, the sound was clearly one of the very best at that show and an exhibit where many persons lingered for long listening sessions (check this link here for my show report and comments about the above exhibit). Additionally, the exhibit put together by TVTI at the 2015 Axpona Audio show was similarly quite outstanding in terms of results and recognition. At this particular event – the wonderful TIDAL Contriva G2 speakers were placed in a much larger room than the 2016 exhibit. For shows prior to 2015 – TVTI also demonstrated with the entry-level TIDAL Piano Diacera (.i.e. diamond tweeter version) and achieved outstanding results. Believe this is a testament to both the professional setup performed by Doug as well as demonstrating the flexibility of the placing various TIDAL speakers in significantly different room configurations without sacrificing overall sound.
OK, back to the purpose for my visit to suburban Philadelphia. Entering the TVTI venue was a very soothing transition and also very pleasing to the eye. However, that was just the beginning and really didn’t prepare me for what I was about to experience once I was completely inside his audio sanctuary. As I entered the main showroom where he conducts business with client demonstrations, my eyes quickly took in a view of a very nicely designed room featuring his reference system with some absolutely gorgeous speakers and very impressive electronics. The components most noticeably on display were primarily from TIDAL. In addition, there were other impressive components mounted on a very attractive equipment rack including digital playback gear by Briscasti and Aurender as well as a beautiful analog rig featuring a very sophisticated looking turntable/tonearm combination by TW-Acustic Anniversary. (See below a detailed listening of all components included in the reference system at the end of this report). Beyond that – in the room was an impressive array of cables, power conditioning equipment, isolation devices, wall mounted sound treatment and other items that graced the room as well. Beyond the primary reference system, there was a secondary high-end audio system including various speakers and components that were available to be pulled into action for auditioning whenever needed.
At this point, let me be clear that this is primarily a report, site visit if you will, and not a formal review. It also represents my reflections on having an opportunity to be one of the very first persons to audition the brand new Akira loudspeaker by TIDAL. As was shared by Doug – the pair I was about to see and hear was in fact the first pair of these speakers available for open audition in the U.S. In terms of the company TIDAL, here’s a bit of information shared with me by Doug. Basically, TIDAL is a small 18 year-old German company, and has a reputation of hand-building extremely high quality and great sounding products. The company’s initial efforts were in designing and building speakers. Subsequent to their success with their loudspeakers, they later started designing, developing and manufacturing electronics with the same level of precision as their speakers. More recently, TIDAL has been manufacturing it's own brand of cables including power cords and interconnects. According to Doug - TIDAL’s philosophy is that everything has a coloration and their focus is on voicing to the real sound of voice and/or instruments, not a colored euphonic soundI should also mention that the fit and finish of these products is way up the scale in terms of being absolutely beautiful. The speakers are available in different finishes and regardless of which is chosen, you can be assured the finish will be as exquisite as you’ve likely ever seen. For example – for the piano black finish, it’s simply stunning and speaks highly of the workmanship from the factory.
Related to this - TIDAL employees are said to be true artisans in their craft as well as being serious music lovers as well. In terms of exposure worldwide and/or in the U.S. – Tidal essentially does not advertise. Instead they are focused on building their reputation as a manufacturer of high quality audio products that produce a sound that is extremely accurate to the source and provides a sound (of music) that is real and honest. Their mindset and commitment is to bringing the finest products possible to the market and customers they serve. In terms of their speakers, according to Doug - nearly every new TIDAL speaker is sold before it is completed in the production cycle. Any extra product available from a model run doesn’t remain available for very long. TIDAL speaker owners typically keep their products for a very long time and usually only sell them to move from one model to another in the Tidal speaker line. This is apparently why you don’t see them for sale often on the used market.
Having this as a backdrop to my visit – just how did my listening session go and specifically what was my impression of the new Akira speakers? Truth be told, I was simply stunned by their sound. Or perhaps I should more accurately state – their lack of sound. What I heard was perhaps the least colored sound and stunningly beautiful, pure sound from a loudspeaker (and accompanying system) that I can recall ever having heard. The degree of clarity and resolution was so pure and presented music in a open, clear sensational manner. I’m talking not about hyped up brightness but sound that was about as real and life-like as I could imagine. In terms of frequency extension – music poured from the speakers in such a natural manner that it was difficult to discern that I was actually listening to a pair of loudspeakers. In fact, the so-called disappearing act was pulled off to the max with sound that came through with such a natural and dynamic way that it was easy to simply close my eyes and drift into audio nirvana. Additionally the sound was relaxed, silky smooth, loaded with intimate details with every little musical nuance being revealed. There was simply no tension while listening to recorded music - just as it is when listening live. When called for – music also came through the system with as much verve, punch and drive to provide the impression of the real thing. For those of you who are curious and want specific information around the specifications for the Akira loudspeakers, the drivers are exclusively made for TIDAL by Accuton:
DRIVER CONFIGURATION & TYPE
o 1 - 1.2 “ 1 karat pure diamond tweeter
o 1 - 5” 13 karat pure diamond midrange-woofer* (see note below)
o 3 – 7.5” long excursion woofers
o 5 – 7.5” long excursion passive radiators
CABINET CONSTRUCTION, OTHER
o Multi chamber cabinet made out of TIDAL's proprietary cabinet material (TIRALIT Ultra)
o TIDAL UNOPULSE passive crossover - proprietary design to reproduce signals with an excellent step response and linear frequency response. Crossover is micro-phonic and hermetically isolated in a separated chamber
o Pure silver binding posts for perfect contact, isolated massive aluminum knobs on fiberglass isolation core
o Special 5-part TIDAL stainless steel isolators
o Original TIDAL piano lacquer in midnight black. Optional cabinet finishes: finest hand selected veneers in TIDAL's original transparent piano lacquer. Other finishes: on request
o Free option: polished stainless steel side panel with AKIRA engraving
o Akira is being delivered in 2 x ATA-flight case
o Speaker dimensions: 140 cm high / 55" high x 11.5” wide X 22” deep
o Weight: 2 x 158 Kg / 2 x 348 lbs
o Nominal power handling: 400 / 800 VA
o Nominal impedance: 4 Ohm
o Recommended amplifier power: > 30 watt. Very easy impedance load, no impedance drop below 4 ohm
Again, my primary focus with this report is to describe the sound of these wonderful speakers, as well as the accompanying system, in a way that will provide you with an overall understanding and impression of both the sonic and visceral impact the sound of this system. Ironically, Doug had cautioned me in advance that once I had this listening experience – that very likely I would start reflecting (and also rethinking) on what I’ve been listening to as well as how I’ve been listening. In this regard, let me also be perfectly clear – the cost for this mega system is at up there and not for the faint of heart. In fact – it takes my breath away. However, what I found perhaps more important than just the cost was hearing, with my own ears, what can be achieved with a true high-end audio system that produces truly excellent reproduced sound. I also believe that another key aspect of this profoundly authentic musical sounding system was undoubtedly due to the synergy produced by a full system of speaker, electronics and cables designed by a single manufacturer. I’m not taking sides on this particular issue, nor am I suggesting that the typical mixing and matching of designing a full audio system doesn’t work, but if you’re able to hear for yourself what I heard, perhaps you will agree with my assessment.
Over many, many years, I’ve had numerous opportunities to hear quite a few different speaker designs including some that were truly outstanding. This includes dynamic speakers, horns, planars, electrostatics, hybrids, other. My recent experience listening to the TIDAL Akira has been like none other and literally caused me to recalibrate my thinking. Perhaps the sound was further enhanced due to the room being designed to minimize issues normally associated with side wall reflections, back wall and ceiling absorption/reflection, floor resonances and/ or various other types of room conditions. As we’ve often heard – the room is the last dimension in achieving really, really good sound and this is something Doug has taken into consideration for his showroom at TVTI. It works! Beyond the primary reference system, there was a secondary system also located in this room. This system also had some very impressive speakers, electronics, cabling and power conditioning. Although we didn’t have a lot of time for auditioning this particular system, Doug did provide an opportunity to check this out and get a glimpse of the sonic performance capability of the entry level TIDAL Piano G2 loudspeakers. These were being powered by the newer, innovative Bel Canto Design ACI 600 Integrated amplifier along with various highly respectable cables. Doug stressed how he can arrange various TIDAL speakers with various electronics to address different client needs and budgetary considerations and also achieve a high level of performance and musical satisfaction. For a detailed listing of this system, see below at the end of this report.
As the full day visit progressed, and with listening to a wide range of recordings, both analog and digital, my audio-Jones was more than fulfilled. Additionally, I was now much more aware and appreciative of what I would call the sound produced by TIDAL products. In a word I would describe their sound as pure. I would also easily add to that by stating the sound as not simply being clear but also as see through, transparent, characterless, elegant, free of a sound typically associated with speakers and immensely musical. From my earlier experiences listening to various TIDAL speakers and particularly with this on-site visit, my sense is that the TIDAL Akira speakers excel beyond well beyond my expectations and are about as close to being perfect transducers as I’ve ever heard…..and trust me, I’ve heard plenty. All-in-all, this visit was a most informative, inspiring and illuminating experience and one that I will not soon forget. Also to say that, even many weeks later, what I heard during this visit still rings in my head and has given me a different reference point. Many thanks to Doug White for his hospitality and for sharing with me the treasures within his audio salon. Finally, just imagine my angst as I was preparing for my return drive to NJ and getting back into my midsize loaner vehicle with it’s marginal audio system. Fortunately my drive was only 2 hours and instead of listening to music – GPS and NPR were my travel companions and both got me back to NJ safe and sound. Wow – what a day and something I won’t soon forget. Definitely looking forward to the upcoming Axpona Audio Show to check out the exhibit for TVTI as well as the many other manufacturer’s/dealer’s exhibits that will be there offering up presentations with great systems and great sound. Take care and hope to see you there!
o TIDAL Audio Akira Speakers - $219,900 (Midnight Black finish)
o TIDAL Audio Presencio Reference Preamplifier - $77,900
o TIDAL Impulse Monobloc Amplifier - $66,200
o Aurender W20 Music Server - $17,599
o Briscasti M1se DAC - $10,000
o TW Acustic Anniversary Turntable - $22,000 w/TW Acustic 10.5 Tonearm - $5,550
o EMT JSD P6 Cartridge - $6,000
o TIDAL Audio Reference Powercord - $6,750 (1.25M), XLR interconnect cables - $7,500 (1.25M)
o Signal Projects Andromeda AES/EBU digital cable - $4,235 (1M)
o Dynamic Design Neutron SW16 Digital Powercord - $7,500 (1.5M), Challenger AE15 Digital Powercord - $4,000 (1M)
o Purist Audio Design Dominus Luminist Revision Speaker Cables - $17,460 (3M)
o StillPoints ESS GRID Rack - $8,600 - $12,100 (varies w/configuration)
o StillPoints Ultra SS Isolators - $249 (each)
o Signal Projects Poseidon S40 Power Conditioner - $11,000, Golden Sequence Power Cable - $4,675
o Telos Grounding Noise Reducer - $5,000
o FoQ Modrate Pure Note HEM-225 Isolators - $1,125
o Purist Audio Design CAT7 Digital Ethernet Cable - $590
o Bel Canto Design ACI 600 Integrated amp - $25,000
o TIDAL Audio Piano G2 Speaker - $22,800 (Black Velvetec finish)
o Signal Projects Apollon Speaker Cables - $5,500 (3M)
o Aurender N100H Music Server - $2,999
o Pranawire Photon USB Cable - $1,295
o Signal Projects Atlantis Power Cable - $1,995
o StillPoints ESS GRID Rack - $8,600 - $12,100 (varies w/configuration)
o StillPoints 6 Isolators - $899 (each)
o Purist Audio Design CAT7 Digital Ethernet Cables - $590 (5M)
o TIDAL Audio Contriva G2 Speaker - $65,900 (Macasar Ebony)
o TIDAL Audio Preos Preamplifier - $32,900
o TIDAL Audio Impulse LPX Dual Mono Amplifier - $35,200
StillPoints Aperture Panels - $699 - $749 Cherry, each)