Tube Audio Design TAD-803 Single Driver Speaker

Category: Speakers

This is a review of the TAD-803 Single Driver speakers from

I have been a novice audiophile for the past five years so I may not have all the jargon down but I know what I like. I was in the market for a pair of speakers to mate with my recently purchased TAD-60 tube amp. I like to search for good value speakers which have a good return policy and of course Paul's TAD-803 fit the bill. These speakers were for a bedroom setup. PC --> Audigy NX --> Tact --> TAD-60 --> TAD-803.

When I first listened to the speakers they were flat and lifeless with a narrow soundstage. I was somewhat disappointed but I needed to give them the recommended 30 hours of break-in time.

I started to hear improvements after about 10 hours of break-in. The soundstage widen beyond the speakers and the midrange sounded good.

After 40 hours, the music was just right for my taste. The midrange was hauntingly natural. I listen to jazz and the pianos and saxes were scary coming from a single driver speaker. The vocals were very good. I have heard other more $$$ speakers which were more natural but these speakers were a bargain. The bass was good but a sub would help. These speakers played well at low volume levels < 40db without messing up the soundstage.

My previous speaker was a Vandersteen 1C and the TAD-803 sounded better overall. The Vandersteen 1C did provide more air to the music but lacked the natural sounds of the TAD-803. My reference speaker, Odyssey Loreleis have a wider soundstage and exhibits a lot of emotion and excellent bass as compared to the TAD-803 but the Loreleis are a lot more expensive.

I am not affiliated with Paul but he has me believing in his products.
My first experience with the Aural Ersatz TAD-803 single-driver speaker came during a listening session where I was reviewing a well-known brand-name speaker. To my ears the speaker had many strengths but sometimes it seemed just a little coarse and forward in the lower treble area. I needed another speaker reference for a reality check and the one I had on hand that I felt should work well in the 12 x 14 ft listening room was the TAD-803, still sitting in the box downstairs.

So I dragged my 24-inch stands out of the garage and set the 803s up behind and to the insides of the speakers under review. I changed over the speaker wires, cued up my evaluation CD, and sat back to listen.

I must say I was shocked at how smooth and coherent the 803s sounded stone cold out of the box. The detail and clarity were first rate and the highs were sweet and natural, although somewhat reticent in the extreme highs. Likewise the bass was a bit anemic, though taut, compared to the review speakers. I decided to put on some material with wide dynamic swings and heavy bass and let the 803s cook for a few hours.

When I returned for a listen the bass had filled in a bit. I was feeling confident that I was going to like the 803s more overall than the review speakers, so I moved the review pair out of the way and put the 803s in their place.

Changing the location inproved the soundstaging and the bass extension/dynamics.

To make a long story short, to that point I was quite taken by the speakers I was reviewing and was considering purchasing them. After hearing how the 803s have bloomed in my room the review speakers are now back in their box and will be returned to the manufacturer.

The 803s give up a little extension at both of the frequency extremes compared to larger full-range speakers and that is the worst thing I can say about them. In every other way and within their frequency limits (which are actually quite generous for a speaker system this size) the 803s will be difficult for most other speakers to match. At their price, they are a fantastic bargain. In fact, their bass is so tuneful and articulate that I'm not even going to bother with a sub.

That said, I found positioning critical to maximizing this speaker's performance. I had to fudge around quite a bit to find the exact location and toe-in of the speakers in order to get the best bass along with the best immediacy, imaging, and dynamics. Be patient, once you find that magic spot, the work will pay off big time.

I think my reaction is possibly more positive and enthusiastic than the first poster because I did not use a pc-based front end as a source or put the signal through any digital signal processor other than a Monarchy Audio M24 tube DAC. I put the speakers in a dedicated listening room with acoustical treatments and hooked them up to very competent electronics and front-end gear with high-quality audio cables. Or perhaps I was just luckier in extracting a little higher performance from my pair due to somewhat better system synergy and my compulsion to find the optimum speaker positioning.

BTW, the TAD-60 is a great sounding tube amp, but so far I have only listened to the 803s through the Kavent A210 tube-hybrid integrated amp. The Kavent sounds so good with the TAD-803s that I hesitate to change it, but I'm sure I'll try the TAD-60 and other amps at some point.

Regardless, the TAD-803s are like a breath of fresh air. They're a pleasure to listen to and they're staying put for however long it takes me to find something I like better. I have a feeling it could take a while.

Just so you know, I have no affiliation with Paul or Bizzy Bee Audio either -- other than being a satisfied customer. And I have paid the same prices for Paul's gear as any other customer does, although I admit to having taken advantage of Paul's great sales promotions.
I picked up a factory blemished pair of TAD-803's on a lark for my bedroom and man was I surprised! Even up against my reference Harbeth Compact 7ES-2's and Soundlab Dynastat hybrid electrostats, these amazing, lightweight little speakers proved to be pure, lively, coherent, smooth, detailed, and on 18" stands away from walls very three dimensional. They actually ended up replacing the Harbeths in my living room, but only after two significant changes:

1) To my ears the TAD-803's need serious EQ, +4 to +6 db (depending on recording) wide Q lower/mid bass lift at 90 Hz, -4 db narrow Q notch-out at 2.5kHz and -3 db shelf down above that in the treble to sound anything like my references and keep me from crawling the walls with upper-mid/lower-treble peakiness and missing bass harmonics. I guess I'm the perfect example of the audio customer who needs the "BBC dip" to be happy, or at least stay sane.

2) They absolutely need a subwoofer for deep bass extension, but will integrate with one incredibly well. They roll off at just the right place to keep boom out of the room even with all that EQ.

So what's the point of having them if I have to do non-purist EQ and use a sub? Once octave-balanced and bass-integrated, the TAD-803's sound great on anything I throw at them, not just jazz or classical, with trueness on vocals, and actually show up the Harbeth 7's in the area of pure treble extension because of the supertweeter. They've really changed my mind on where to spend what percentage of money on a system. Before I thought, spend it all on speakers. Now I think, with these guys, a decent sub and an integrated or preamp with some EQ, the lion's share of money can go to a great amp and source equpiment and you'll have a real giant killer system. I would love to hear Sam Tellig's opinion of them in Stereophile!

So if you're still with me, here's my very satisfying, relatvely low cost, vintage, semi-vintage and TAD-803 living room system that seduces me away from my main Dynastat/Musical Fidelity system every single day:

-TAD-803 speakers on cheapo 18" Monitor Audio metal stands
-Cambridge Soundworks' Original 12" Subwoofer (don't laugh!)
-Sony CDP-CX400 CD Changer feeding its digital out to:
-Sony TAE-2000ES-D Preamp with 3 band digital EQ and sub out
-McIntosh MR-67 Tuner with cap and resistor mods
-McIntosh 2105 Amplifier so far unmodified

I really like this preamp's D/A converter, and I've had a wonderful Benchmark DAC1 for comparision. In case you're wondering, the Harbeths went into my home theater where they sound awesome enough to leave the Center off, and the bedroom is still waiting for its system. Another pair of TAD-803's perhaps?
I recently got a pair of this from Paul and I couldn't believe how this pair of sub-$1000 monitors beat out my other, much more expensive floor-standers.

In response to one of the great reviews earlier, I think the lack of treble from that member's setup is due to the stands not being high enough. Paul has indicated that 31" speaker stands will work best. I think this makes perfect sense as each super tweeter is actually facing a little downward. Common, mass-market monitor stands are merely 24" high (like my pair's) and that just won't cut it.

Parts Express has some good 30" stands that look pretty promising. I gonna get one of those and see how much more I could get from the TAD803SD.

Happy listening!
I'd like to semi-clarify that my review was PROBABLY of the older NON-SD version with the crossover. I say probably because I bought them for a very low price (albeit blemished), they say "TAD-803" NOT "TAD-803SD" on the back (do the new ones actually say SD?), and people are complaining about the SD version not having enough treble which is defintiely not my problem. I tried to title my review "TAD-803 Needs EQ and a Sub" to be safe but it defaulted to "TAD-803 Single Driver" to stay on thread. Hope that didn't cause confusion or cast bad light on the newer SD version.

I must say Paul's site could have been a bit more clear on the exact differences between the old vs. new versions when both were available. The cabinets look identical, both versions really have two drivers, both have a yellow basketweave bass/mid cone. Which all of course begs the question, do the new ones have the same drivers as mine and the only difference is the crossover design? If so, let me at their innards with some retrofit parts! Give my TAD-803's a BBC dip and much less supertweeter!!!