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.
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!!!
Hi all,
New 2007 TAD-803SD’s - now say SD on the box and label.
2007 has a small switch on the binding post plate that allows you to adjust how hot the tweeter plays. 2005 produced 2-ways (last of them close out priced, now gone) have a crossover with a main driver that plays up to 3kHz - many said this speaker is too hot on top. Newer 2006 crossover-less design has a 10k main driver that is directly wired to the binding posts, plays close to flat on top. BBC dips and other home EQ measurements that do not jive with laboratory flat are normal room acoustic anomalies we all endure setting up speakers. Reporting some sort of EQ problem without being in a perfectly acoustic chamber is not valid due to not having a solid reference to base measurement findings. Speaker placement – stand height and angle, how far from walls, ceiling, floor and corners attribute to how speakers sound. Curing EQ problems first should involve a speaker placement adjustment (if the room (or wife) allows). VU meter readings with standard low cost microphones should be taken lightly, a very rough indication something needs an adjustment. I must say a digital EQ is a brilliant device. Surprised there aren’t more products with digital EQ built-in. Since it is altering data before conversion it blows away old 80’s style analog EQ’s with multistage op-amp feedback that naturally kill recorded harmonic structure and phase timing – creating a blurry 1980's sterile EQ corrected sound – better, maybe. Digital EQ is best if your room / speaker placement / listening position can not be physically altered to find the most pleasing spot. If you have 2006 single driver 803’s and decide the highs are a bit soft for your liking I can adjust the tweeter feed resistor value to raise the highs to custom flatten response for your room. Only cost is return shipping, $30. Or wait till you get over 50 – can’t hear the highs (>10kHz) anymore and find highs up there sound more & more like noise! Most senior audiophiles prefer a soft high speaker. I’m 42, can just barely hear 14kHz, used to hear TV set faint horizontal 19kHz power supply ringing very clear, now I’m too old. Like those teenagers with phone ring tones that only <30 can hear. To satisfy both young and old ears I made the new SD version with a tweeter level switch to help tune room and personal taste. Paul