The TIDAL Contriva Loudspeaker
|The TIDAL Contriva Loudspeaker|
|World Class Loudspeakers from Germany|
I first learned of the German audio equipment manufacturer, TIDAL, a few years ago when I met their U.S. distributor, Daniel Barnum of Half Note Audio. He brought the company’s fine amplifier and preamplifier, the Impact and Preos, respectively and gave me a brief history of the company and what makes their products so unique.
The Impact and Preos took up residence in my listening room for several months and churned out some really fine music and rewarded me with months of memorable listening sessions. When I was told by Daniel, that TIDAL also builds loudspeakers that perform just as well, I was a bit skeptical. Rarely do you find manufacturers who do both electronics and speakers equally well. Actually, GamuT does a pretty good job of this, but I felt they were more the exception than the norm. Besides, as much as I liked the TIDAL amp and preamp, and I liked them a lot, I wouldn’t say that I felt like, “I just have to have these electronics otherwise life won’t be the same.” Still, when Daniel offered me the opportunity to review the TIDAL Contrivas, I figured it would be another opportunity to review a world class speaker and put another feather in my cap. Daniel invited me to come by his room at the 2008 CES so I could get a preview of what I would be receiving for review. I made my way over to the room where Half Note Audio was doing their demo and saw the speakers for the first time. I must admit to coming away impressed with my first encounter with this speaker and became genuinely excited about reviewing it.
Where did the TIDAL speakers come from?
Not long after that CES, the TIDAL Contrivas were delivered to my home by Daniel Barnum himself, and I had to admit, the speakers seemed more impressive in my listening room than they did at CES. They arrived in flight cases, one for each speaker, a very nice touch I must admit. I was impressed by their build quality when I saw them at CES, but up close and personal, in my listening room, where I could put my hands on them and give them the once over, I become even more struck by them. The craftsmanship was beautiful, and in fact, was first class in every respect. I thought the GamuT L7 was the most beautiful speaker I had beheld in my listening room to that point, but the Contrivas took my breath away. I had to ask myself, “Just who are these TIDAL people and how come I hadn’t heard anyone talking about them prior to me having them in my listening room?”
I first met TIDAL’s founder, Jorn Janczak on day one of the 2008 CES, I didn’t know who he was and we only spoke in passing. But the next day when I saw him we shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, and talked a bit about my Impact/Preos review and my upcoming review of the Contriva.
I could try and describe the look and feel of the Contrivas to you, but it would be an exercise in futility. A lot of the descriptors I would use have already been used and would sound like I was repeating a bunch of clichés, especially after using them to describe the GamuT L7 speakers. I can say confidently, that I have not encountered a better made speaker, prior to the time the Contrivas arrived in my listening room. That includes most of what I can remember of my speaker reviewing experiences and all of my CES experiences. The Contrivas measure a hair above 51″ in height, 11″ wide, just about 19″ deep and a very, very solid 200 lbs plus each. The cabinet is made from 2” – 3” HP-MDF. Try rapping your knuckles on the top or the side of the Contrivas. You’ll hurt your hand before you hurt the speaker. The driver compliment consists of one 7” midrange and two 9” Accuton low-range drivers with white ceramic diaphragms. The tweeter is a 1.2” Accuton driver, also with white ceramic diaphragm. The midrange driver is custom made for TIDAL along with some crossover parts. The finish on all TIDAL speakers is exquisite and a site to behold. The finishes have exotic names like tiger-eucalyptus, curled bubinga, rose bubinga, African pyramided mahogany and ebony macassar. You can get finishes in high gloss or non-glossy finishes to suit your tastes.
TIDAL Contriva performance…
As I’m sure we all are aware, build quality and looks do not always equate to performance and this is why I had to carry on with the listening part of the review. I am happy to report that in the case of the of the Contrivas, the sum of its parts, build quality, and impressive looks, are far exceeded by this loudspeakers ability to reproduce music. I had a little bit of a hard time writing this review because the Contrivas caused me to re-evaluate how I listen to music and what I should reasonably expect loudspeakers to do. It was also difficult because, as I mentioned before, a lot of what I have said about loudspeakers in the past, sounds like a cliché when describing the Contrivas. I’ll start of by saying that, in my listening room, and most rooms that I’ve visited, the Contrivas do a stunningly convincing job of making me feel like I have been transported to the recorded venue. Phrases such as “high frequency air”, “midrange presence” and “low frequency performance”, seem mundane in comparison to what’s really going on. The performers, especially musicians, and vocalists, came through with more realism than what I had experienced before. Instrumental tonality and timber sound convincingly real as what I’d expect to hear when I’m at Chicago’s famed Jazz Showcase or at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Orchestra Hall.
The Contrivas speak with an uncanny tonal balance from top to bottom that is neither bright nor dark nor dull, but is fully natural and neutral. For you folks that like to dissect the music into parts, here goes my attempt. Bass is authentic and authoritative with enough energy and extension to excite the room if the music calls for it, but refined enough that you can follow along with the pitch and rhythm that we tend to take for granted down in the lower registers. The TIDAL’s midrange performance is as close to realistic as I have heard. I have commented on the Contriva’s performance in the presence range as they continually transported me to the recorded event. Image portrayal, though dependent on the quality of the recording, was at times startling. My notes contain observations that don’t lean towards descriptions like width, height and depth but were more like being able to pin-point where in my room the performers exist in relation to each other from side to side and front to back. The Contrivas focus images uncannily, which adds to its lifelike staging capabilities. High frequencies are extended and insightful without a hint of being harsh or strident, unless it’s in the recording. Triangles, bells and other upper frequency percussive instruments possess realistic decay while being played through the Contrivas.
Let’s now consider the Contriva’s performance with recording references. One of the Contriva’s strengths is its ability to replicate the complexities of piano music. The Contrivas did an incredible job of this and is easily the best speaker I have heard in my listening room, and most other places I’ve visited, at reproducing piano music. Played through the Contrivas, the sound of a Steinway piano comes through distinctly different from that of a Bosendörfer.
Earl Wild, playing piano on Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 [Chesky Records], kept me mesmerized. I had not heard this piece sound as rich and nuanced before. I’ve always thought it was pleasant to listen to, but through the Contrivas, there was much more information, detail and emotion with this piece that I had not experienced at as high a level before. I usually listen to this piece for its wonderful orchestral accompaniment. Now I listen to the orchestral parts as a means of getting me to the piano music.
One of my favorite references of late has been Joel Grare’s CD, Paris-Istanbul-Shanghai[Alpha]. Not only is this disc beautifully recorded, but it also contains well done performances with an international flair (Spanish, Chinese, and Turkish) as the title suggests. The first track, which is also my favorite, is titled “Nihavent”, and features Mr. Grare playing a traditional Chinese two-stringed instrument called a “Guo Gan.” The tone of this instrument is both warm and extended in the upper registers but never strident, especially for a stringed instrument. Played through the Contrivas, I could feel as though I was there with the group as I could easily follow the ebb and flow of the melody, the instrumentalist’s breathing, and Mr. Grare’s finger work on the Guo Gan.
Now on to some of the Contrivas other strengths, such as it’s soundstaging and imaging capabilities. On very good live recordings with carefully setup microphone placement, these speakers are more than capable of capturing the width and depth of the venue without bringing attention to itself. I mean big images, fast, clear, and on the best recordings, a lifelike quality that I have heard on very few systems.Their speed and accuracy is about as truthful as it gets. I check imaging and tonal balance withVivaldi’s: The Four Seasons; Flute Concerto in D[Chesky]. With the Contrivas in place, the performers are smack where they ought to be, and stay there. The image is quite deep and even the soloist has his own place as opposed to some that extend speaker to speaker.
Final thoughts on the Contrivas
This review has been harder than most for me to write. On one hand, they have been the best speaker, overall, that I have had in my listening room, and an absolute joy to review. This is definitely one of those pieces of equipment that I hated to see leave my listening room. On the other hand, they made me reassess what I have been listening to, in terms of music, and what to look for performance-wise. It’s sort of like getting my ears tuned up and reflecting upon what is important to me in terms of my listening biases.
The TIDAL Contrivas are one of the fastest dynamic speakers that I’ve heard in their ability to replicate lifelike detail and transient information. One could argue that the Contrivas might not be quite as fast as electrostatics, however, that argument would not come from me. I can say that I found the Contrivas to be infinitely more musical and natural sounding than my Martin-Logan Quests. Yes, I know that the Contrivas are far more expensive than the M-Ls, but remember, I am a lifelong lover of electrostatic speakers confessing to this.
In terms of compatibility, the Contrivas did not prefer solid-state to tubes or analog to digital. All were treated equally well and given the ability to “strut their stuff.” I got excellent results with the Contrivas being driven by the big, 600 watts per side, XLH M-200 mono amplifiers. The M-200s allowed the Contrivas to show their breathtakingly visceral low end capabilities as well as their ability to replicate lifelike transients. Oddly enough, my favorite amplifier on the Contrivas were the wonderful Chalice Audio mono amplifiers. Music listened to with the Contriva and Chalice combination in place was, for lack of a better phrase, “excitingly real.” I have heard the Contrivas driven by the highly regarded TIDAL Impact and Preos combination, and the ASR Emitter II, both of which rendered a high level of performance whether you like solid state or tubes. The vacuum tube based Chalice monos have that certain magical quality that when matched with a pair of speakers like the Contrivas, are capable of allowing you to experience music at the highest level.
The cables I used during this review were from Silversmith and Stealth Audio, which did excellent jobs of bringing the music home, bit I did most of my listening with the impressive sounding Dynamic Design Ultimate Series cables. As enjoyable as the musical experience was with these cables, the Contrivas did their best work with the formidable Argento cables in the system. The Argento cables let flow all of the information upstream in the audio chain, to be revealed at the highest level by the Contrivas.
I hate to admit it, but I went through some serious withdrawals when the Contrivas went back home. I missed the things that the Contrivas did so well, which was to reveal music at a high level of performance from top to bottom. I found that I needed to reassess my criteria for what I am listening to when I’m doing future reviews, and to look at my finances to see how it would be possible to purchase a pair of Contrivas. I was quite successful in one of these endeavors and failed miserably in the other.
Keeping in mind that I have not heard every loudspeaker in existence, still, I’d be hard pressed to imagine that there is a loudspeaker significantly better than the Contrivas. When you take into account their thoughtful design, quality of finish, solid build quality, and stunning musical virtues, you get a speaker that could be on anyone’s short list of the ultimate loudspeaker. Probably the highest praise I can give the Contrivas is that, not only did I have the usual group of friends and acquaintances come over to listen to them during this review period, but they routinely would ask if they could invite their friends over to experience them as well. I give the TIDAL Contrivas my “highest” recommendation.
Tidal Contriva Specifications:
RMD-cabinet, crafted in tongue and groove, made from 2″-3″HP-MDF
2 x 220 mm (9″) Thiel & Partner (Accuton) woofer with white ceramic-diaphragm
1 x 173 mm (7″) Thiel & Partner (Accuton) midrange-woofer with white ceramic-diaphragm
1 x 30 mm (1,2″) Thiel & Partner (Accuton) tweeter with white ceramic-diaphragm
Mechanical and pressure isolated passive crossover network laid out with ultra low tolerance components
Exclusive use of silver/gold/oil- and copper-MKP-capacitors, metalfilm-resistors and air-core-inductors for longest term stability
Extremely linear frequency response, excellent step response, optimized phase and group delay
Massive silver/goldplated soft-copper binding posts with removable heads for fullsize-eylets, spades and bananas. Serial accessories: 2 professional ATA-flightcases on wheels, stainless-steel isolators (16 parts), chrome-plated stand-bars for a safer stand, microfibre-cleaning cloth, owners manual leatherbook with its personal measurement protocols
Serial cabinet finish, high gloss polished piano lacquer: midnight black
Optional veneer-group 1, high gloss polished woods in piano lacquer: tiger-eucalyptus, curled-bubinga, rose-bubinga
Optional veneer-group 2, high gloss polished woods in piano lacquer: african pyramided mahogany, ebony-macassar
Alternative choice for veneer-group 1 and 2: natural silky-dull finishes (non-glossy finish with a noble silky-dull shining)
other wishes or veneers: on request.
Drivers: 2 x 9″ woofer, 1 x 7″ woofer, 1 x 1,2″ tweeter
Nominal power input: 150 / 300 VA
Nominal impedance: 4-6 Ohm, very easy to drive with tube amps
Recommended amp input: quality instead quantity, 10 watts or more at 8 ohms
Frequency response: very linear, F3 = 29 Hz
Efficiency: 88 dB – 92dB (depends to the way of measurement)
Dimensions: 51,2″ x 11″ x 18,9″ / 130 cm x 28 cm x 48 cm
weight: approx. 506 lbs. / 230 kg (with packaging)
Price: $60,900 in African Mahogany
Half Note Audio
P.O. Box 503
DeKalb, IL 60115
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