TIDAL Audio • Piano Diacera G2 Loudspeakers

by Ken Choi | July 14, 2017

© www.theaudiobeat.com

Over the past several months, two things have revitalized my relationship with my audio system -- have caused me to spend much more time with it -- and they are both from companies named Tidal. First, I subscribed to the Tidal music-streaming service. I listen to it mostly in a casual fashion in the kitchen or at my computer, but a few months ago I added an Auralic Aries "streaming bridge" to my audio system, and, compared to the Mac Mini I used previously, the sound quality improved a little, but the ergonomic ease of file playback and streaming via a dedicated app was transformational.

Second, I received a pair of TIDAL Piano Diacera G2 speakers for review. A few years earlier, I had heard a pair of TIDAL Audio speakers at a show, and I was taken aback by their clarity, speed and neutrality. They reminded me of the MartinLogan CLS full-range electrostatic speakers I owned about twenty years earlier, but the TIDALs had more body and bloom. I ended up purchasing the down-the-range Piano Diaceras. This was by far the single largest expenditure I had made in over forty years as an audiophile, and quite possibly the best -- until now.

TIDAL Audio, based in Hurth, a suburb of Cologne, Germany, manufactures loudspeakers and electronics. With an educational background in business and practical experience in the high-precision metal industry, Jörn Janczak found himself unhappily working as the production manager for a German audio company in the late 1990s. He felt he could do better for himself, so he left to start TIDAL Audio in 1999. The inspiration for the company's name came from Fiona Apple’s debut album. At least the timing makes sense.

TIDAL Audio’s website provides an overview of the company's philosophy. TIDAL unabashedly targets the ultra-high-end market. It does so not by smoke, mirrors and slick marketing, but by meticulous research and development. Janczak eschews "funky designs" and attention-grabbing trends. He boldly likens his speakers to the Porsche 911, which is a highly refined automobile yet subject to continued development. His designs rely heavily on measurements to attain his theoretical ideal of combining a flat frequency response with the best possible step response. However, rather than comparing speakers by unverified specs, for Janczak it’s the sonic performance that matters. The TIDAL factory has just expanded to meet demand, so it seems that an increasing number of global audiophiles like what they’re hearing.

TIDAL’s Piano model was first introduced in 1999, and gradual refinements culminated in the G2 designation in 2016. One of most visible changes is the black-coated ceramic (BCC) drivers that TIDAL has incorporated into speakers for a few years now. The black color treatment of the ceramic diaphragms is said to reduce the potential for cone breakup, but Janczak admits that it is also done for aesthetic reasons. There has been a longstanding cross-town collaboration between TIDAL and Accuton to produce custom drive units that have resulted in patented magnet-voice coil assemblies. The current drivers feature uniquely designed long-excursion motors that are isolated and mounted in massive stainless-steel housings trickled down from larger models. In each speaker, 28 pounds of passive crossover are contained in a hermetically sealed and microphonically isolated chamber. As expected, passive parts are painstakingly selected and meticulously implemented based in part on lessons learned from developing more ambitious designs.

The Piano is the smallest model in TIDAL Audio’s speaker lineup, and a diamond tweeter, which changes the Piano into the Piano Diacera, is a popular, albeit expensive, option. The Piano Diacera G2 is a 2.5-way design with two 7" ceramic midrange-bass drive units and a 1 1/4" diamond-dome tweeter, all custom developed in collaboration with Accuton. The cabinet is constructed from Tiradur, a proprietary material Janczak describes as a polyshell composite. It is three materials compressed into five layers to form a rigid, metal-like enclosure that is able to squelch resonances when the speaker is playing. The extensive internal bracing and air-flow routing within the enclosure have been completely reworked as well. The enclosure is a vented box that features two rear-firing ports.

The Piano Diacera G2 offers a degree of flexibility for fine-tuning the sound to the room or tastes. In smaller rooms, completely bypassing the lower mid-woofer unit creates a true two-way speaker. Heavy copper jumper bars can be set to engage both midrange-bass drivers, creating a linear 2.5-way speaker, or alternatively a mode where the filter curve is modified and the lower driver outputs 2dB more bass. Additionally, a toggle switch allows the user to choose between flat or +2dB tweeter output, depending on, for example, the damping of the listening room. I sampled all of these variations, and the changes were subtle but clearly audible. I did most of my listening with both bass and tweeter outputs boosted.

TIDAL Audio speakers are well known for their finishes. Some 25kg of polyester piano-lacquer finish is applied to each black Piano Diacera G2 speaker, then polished by hand in a several-months-long process that results in a 3mm-thick, perfectly flat finish. There are smaller things -- like the silver binding posts with hand-polished aluminum over polymer knobs -- that exude attention to detail. The heavy aluminum outrigger feet with ball-bearing isolation cups have been reworked to provide a more stable base for the speakers. The Piano Diacera G2 is very similar in size to the Piano Diacera, at 45 3/4"H x 9 3/4"W x 14 1/2"D, but at 143 pounds, each speaker has gained 26 pounds.

Wynn Wong of Wynn Audio, the Canadian distributor for TIDAL Audio, graciously brought the Piano Diacera G2s to my listening room. Setup was a breeze -- they were simply positioned where my Piano Diaceras had sat for a few years and they sounded wonderful from the get-go.

I began listening with The Poll Winners (16-bit/44.1kHz AIFF [Contemporary CCD 7535-2]), a 1957 recording featuring guitarist Barney Kessel along with Shelly Manne on drums and Ray Brown on bass. This example of easy-to-listen-to West Coast jazz has been in repeated play for many years, mainly because of the musicianship but also because it is a very nice, natural-sounding recording. It simply came alive when played through the Piano Diacera G2s. The familiar music was projected with a presence and immediacy that were captivating. The spirited string interplay between Brown and Kessel on "On Green Dolphin Street" made for very engaging listening, due in no small part to the way the speakers handled transients with remarkable speed and clarity. Although Shelly Manne’s percussion seemed to take a backseat to the guitar and bass on this track, careful listening revealed how he rhythmically propelled the music along, deftly accentuating changes in tempo and punctuating the others’ riffs. Again, the speed and transparency of the Piano Diacera G2s allowed for an easy appreciation of Manne’s masterful drum work. This was a remarkably tight trio (they went on to record several more albums), just as the Piano Diacera G2 was a remarkably tight loudspeaker, displaying quick transient response, no sense of overhang or smear, and a complete absence of self-generated noise.

One of the fortuitous outcomes of ripping a CD collection is discovering music that you’ve long forgotten you had. One of my bottom-of-the-rack rediscoveries was Mustt Mustt (16-bit/44.1kHz AIFF [Real World Records 0777 7862212 3]), an album featuring Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the late Qawali singer who was one of the first artists signed to Peter Gabriel’s record label. Qawali is a deeply spiritual form of musical expression performed by the Sufi sect of Islam. This album is made more accessible, as it combines some Western elements with the Qawali singing. My favorite track is the least traditional of all -- a remix of the title track "Mustt Mustt" by the British trip-hop group Massive Attack.

Electronica meets Qawali here to produce an enveloping sound that might lull a listener into a trance-like state approaching that of the singers. Think rhythmic bass lines and an electronic drum kit with plenty of delay and reverb mixed together with the intensely spiritual wailings of the Qawali. The imaging of the TIDAL speakers was precise and the soundstage was remarkably deep and wide -- the latter being one of the more improved facets of the G2 over its predecessor. Cranking up the volume simply gave more of the same -- a generous helping of spacious, clear, coherent and tactile music with no sense of dynamic compression, congestion, or harshness that might have been stereotypically attributed to ceramic drivers years ago. Bass was tight, quick, tuneful and completely satisfying.

As you might be able to guess, I like to explore the world-music sections of music stores. These recordings can offer unique and beautiful sounds as well as interesting rhythms. Sometimes this music is just not terribly pleasant to the Western ear, so I make any purchases with considerable trepidation. Tidal streaming has allowed me to fearlessly increase my library of world music. The Hadouk Trio, from France, features three multi-instrumentalists. Their music leans to jazz and new age, but they employ obscure woodwind and percussion instruments from around the world. An example is "Dididi," from Air Hadouk [Tidal 16-bit/44.1kHz stream] that features the duduk, an ancient Armenian double-reeded woodwind that has a beautiful tone in the hands of lead Didier Malherbe, who massages notes out of his instrument in a manner that sounds completely unlike that of the traditional Armenian masters I sampled on YouTube. "Dididi" is a lilting, lyrical song where the duduk is accompanied by a "gumbass" and a variety of percussion, notably djembe and congas. The Piano Diacera G2s presented the duduk with rich, densely saturated tonal colors. The sound was textured and lifelike -- although I admit I’ve never heard a duduk live. Whether I put on new-to-me music like this or play an old LP with which I’m very familiar, the Piano Diacera G2s consistently produced a sound so tangible and alive that I was compelled sit down and make the time for a good, long listen.

One of my favorite finds on Tidal has been that of another multi-instrumentalist, the Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds. His work might not be universally appreciated, but whether electronic/ambient or acoustic, it is consistently slow, pensive, minimalist and always innovative. The Chopin Project [Tidal 16-bit/44.1kHz stream] is the album where I first discovered Arnalds, while browsing for some classical music. This is a collaboration between him and the German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott. Here we have Chopin and Chopinesque piano music accompanied by string quintet and the restrained use of synthesized sounds. Arnalds wanted his recording of Chopin’s music to sound "less sterile," so, to this end, he had Ott play an old found upright piano. He used vintage microphones to record to tape. He captured background noises such as rain and street chatter in his mixes. Classical music purists would certainly decry this gimmickry, but I found the outcome to be aurally addictive.

The Piano Diacera G2’s resolving powers readily created the illusion of sitting right beside Sarah Ott as she played. On "Eyes Shut- Nocturne in C Minor," Ott’s truncated interpretation of the famous Nocturne is bookended by melancholic strings and synthesizer. There must have been a microphone positioned a few inches from the piano’s soundboard, as the sound of the instrument was so immediate and majestic. The lowest and highest registers of the piano were rendered with impressive weight and sparkle. I suspect another microphone was pointed near Ott’s face as her breathing was so clearly audible as she played.

The first part of the Nocturne in C Minor is slow and contemplative. Here, Ott’s highly emotive phrasing and touch were convincingly conveyed by the beautiful attack-decay and sustain-release characteristics of her notes through the TIDAL speakers. I thought it a real shame that the Nocturne in C Minor was not performed in its entirety on this track as the complete work also showcases a pianist’s pyrotechnic virtuosity. Nevertheless, I listened to The Chopin Project uninterrupted from beginning to end a number of times, which was exceptional considering the digital musical cornucopia I now had at my fingertips. I am certain that the Piano Diacera G2’s honest re-creation of the stark beauty of this minimalist music is a major reason why I enjoy it so much.

A potential drawback of these speakers is bass extension. Admittedly, in the boosted bass mode, the amount and quality of the bass are perfectly satisfying and more than commensurate with the size of the speakers. A few years ago I purchased a JL Audio subwoofer when a local dealer had a promotion. It has entirely heightened the enjoyment of my audio system. Carefully implemented, it unobtrusively adds heft to the bottom end of music like "Mustt Mustt", while also expanding the soundstage and enhancing the ambient soundfield of recordings such as "Eyes Shut -- Nocturne in C minor."

For the purpose of this review, I listened mostly without the sub. However, with the subwoofer in use with the Piano Diacera G2s, I was more apt to connect with the music. Certainly, a larger TIDAL speaker would obviate the need for a subwoofer, but the proper incorporation of a sub (or two) is not only a more cost-effective option but also a likely salutary addition to almost any real-world-sized speaker system.

The Piano Diacera G2s have built upon the strengths of the original Piano Diaceras in an evolutionary fashion. The hallmarks of both speakers are speed, resolution, transparency and clarity without compromise of tonal color, texture and musicality. The G2s have taken things a step further, doing everything a little better. Music played through them sounds more real and immediate. It is easier to hear deeper into the soundstage, appreciate low-level detail and get lost in the music.

But these are expensive speakers, and many audiophiles will not be able to justify their cost, despite the quality, engineering and performance involved. This is a competitive price point in today’s über-speaker market. I’ve spent time with a handful of the direct competitors and none of them was fundamentally flawed. Personal taste and sonic priorities will direct a buying decision.

For my taste and priorities, the TIDAL Piano Diacera G2s are just about ideal. These speakers simply compel me to spend more time appreciating music, so they will be staying in my listening room.

Prices: $33,990 per pair in Velvetec finish. Gloss-black finish is $39,990 per pair. Optional veneers are available at extra cost.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

TIDAL Audio GmbH
Immendorfer Strasse 1
50354 Hürth, Germany
+49 (22 33) 966 92 25

Associated Equipment

Analog: Brinkmann Bardo turntable with Brinkmann 10.5" tonearm and EMT Ti cartridge, Allnic H-3000 phono stage, Purist Audio Venustas phono cable.

Digital: Auralic Aries streaming bridge, Western Digital My Passport USB drive and My Book Live NAS drive, Meitner Audio MA-1 V1 digital-to-analog converter, Totaldac D1 USB cable.

Preamplifier: Luxman C-800f.

Power amplifier: Luxman M-800a.

Subwoofer: JL Audio Fathom f113.

Interconnects: Purist Audio Venustas.

Speaker cables: Purist Audio Venustas.

Power cords: Purist Audio Venustas, Essential Sound Products The Essence.

Power conditioners: Torus Power IS-15 and IS-20 isolation transformers.

© www.theaudiobeat.com