The Tidal Piano G3 loudspeaker is both an unusual design and a challenge to many of the conventions of American high-end audio. It is a relatively small floorstanding speaker that is clearly intended to provide state-of-the-art performance in smaller rooms, or in spaces that present problems with excessive bass energy, or where there is a need for speakers that can fit in with a wide range of decors.
At the same time, the Piano G3 is the third version of a steadily refined product from Tidal —a firm that has become a leading part of the German high end and one that provides an innovative mix of technologies. It is also expensive even by the constantly escalating standards of today’s market. It sells for $64,000 a pair in a superb, black, grand-piano-like lacquer finish with stainless-steel trim, and $68,000 a pair in wood veneer. That is a price that makes it a competitor with some of the most expensive and largest speakers made in the U.S., at a time when such speakers seem to be in a bit of a size and weight race.
In contrast, the Piano G3 is compact for a speaker in its price range. It is 45.6″ tall by 9.6″ wide by 15.5″ deep and leans back at a slight angle. Its simple rectangular shape and its drivers also are modest by comparison with many U.S.-made speakers. It is clearly designed to fit in with a wide variety of expensive decors rather than dominate them.
It is a simple rectangular box with a clean black, or wood-veneer finish that has well-styled, stainless-steel fittings to support it. The enclosure is made from Tidal’s proprietary cabinet materials, TIRALIT and TIRADUR. The drivers include a comparatively small, round diamond tweeter and two 7″ midrange/woofers. They are mounted on a front panel that lacks any unusual visual features, other than a manufacturer logo plate. And while the Piano G3 weighs 154 pounds, there is no way to tell from looking at it how many special design features it has inside. The wife of one of my audiophile friends rather bluntly described it as “a speaker you would want to live with rather than worship.”
It also is the only speaker I’ve ever reviewed at any price where the instruction manual notes that it has rear connections which allow you to wire it to your power amps in a way that the lower woofer is not connected—so that it becomes a two-way speaker for use in small rooms. It also has a different set of connections for use as a 2.5-way speaker in larger rooms that need more bass but not the full range of power from both woofers. It is the one deliberate effort I’ve seen to design the state of the art for audiophiles with major bass-response, room-size, and/or “boom” problems.
At the same time, its visual simplicity and clean styling hide an amazing amount of internal engineering. There are very good design reasons that it weighs 154 pounds, and the result is that it is one of the best-sounding speakers I’ve heard. It does make trade-offs in its performance that limit its response in the deepest bass and its ability to produce sound levels that can destroy your hearing and produce home-destroying room vibration. But these same trade-offs provide a truly exceptional option for use in many real-world living rooms.
At the risk of revealing the punchlines in the description of its sound quality that follows, it has a superb soundstage and imaging, a remarkably smooth frequency response from the top of the deepest bass to the highest audible frequencies, and it is intensely musical. If you want a speaker that you can easily place in a small to normal living room, that has a visual image that does not look like it belongs on the slopes of Easter Island, and that will not create a divorce or the sudden departure of your partner, the Piano G3 represents the kind of high-end option that is all too rare in U.S. speaker design.
Understanding the Tidal Piano G3’s Design
All kidding aside, I think it’s particularly important to understand the designer’s goals. Accordingly, I asked Jörn Janczak, the CEO of Tidal—and the Piano 3G’s chief designer—to explain why Tidal created the G3 in the form it did.
Jörn’s English, while not perfect, is infinitely better than my German, and the following excerpt from his response makes it clear that the Piano G3 did have unique design goals:
“The narrative for a speaker built like this is that it is not designed to offer the most for a certain price range; nor is it too small for what it is. We preserved the original design brief from the first-generation Piano from 1999; we improved it without changing the speaker’s fundamental concept. It would be no problem to build a way bigger cabinet with less expensive midrange, tweeter, and other drivers, but that is not what Tidal is about.
“I know there are nice products out there for 5 or 10 grand (or even 20 or 40 grand) to have fun with and enjoy. All legit. But whatever else is out there is not built like the Piano, nor does it sound like this speaker. It shines to and for those who connect/drive it in the way it was designed to shine…where a bigger speaker would ruin the sound in that particular space and overdrive the room. It demands and reflects the finest electronics and will forever hide its capability if not completely unleashed in this way. To find out and experience why, for example, one would ever pay so much for a speaker like the Piano, you must be prepared to drive it properly, and we do have such electronics as part of the systems we offer.
“There would simply be no reason to buy something so expensive and not understand the reasons why; those are not the clients for the Tidal Piano. It stands the test of rationale and emotion—again if one knows and understands what it is. If it did not show performance that lets you forget its price, then it would prove my point. Just connecting it with nice electronics and getting something ‘very good & enjoyable’ would be like having a Patek Phillipe on the wrist just to know the time or using a Carrera 911 to get back and forth in a traffic jam.
“I could use some nice beryllium tweeter or ribbons for a fraction of the price and be able to have nice resolution and reflect to a certain point how one is feeding the system. But achieving the last 20% above that, which allows a speaker to shine beyond ‘very good sound,’ is why we do all that we do. ‘Quantity values,’ like F3 [the frequency at which the bass has rolled off by 3dB—RH] and maximum SPL, etc., have been changed from the beginning in favor of drilling out the highest sonic quality from a relatively modest cabinet in size.
“The Tidal Piano was never a project targeting a certain price class or audience; nor is it a diluted design, trickled down from something else. As our very first product, it was born from the goal of offering the finest possible speaker as a universal and reflective tool for normal rooms—not too small, not too big.”
Jörn also provided a detailed picture of the key design features that are not apparent simply from looking at the speaker, but that shape the Piano G3’s cost. One key feature is the diamond tweeter and excerpts from his reply describe its development as follows:
“We have used diamond-tweeter technology for 20 years. Indeed, we were the first to use it this way. No other audio company has manufactured more speakers with a 1.2″/30mm diamond tweeter. Plus, things have been constantly improved over the years…we have been able to extend the overall response to meet our sonic goals. That being said, having a diamond tweeter does not itself guarantee it will do a good job reproducing the signal/content/music. People like the idea of something sounding ‘diamond,’ and marketing guys love it, but the reality is it has both advantages and disadvantages. Nothing is harder and moves more like an ideal piston than diamond material. Nothing. But also, few things are harder to integrate. The key, as with all ingredients, is implementation. Resolution and dispersion can really be something special if one finds a way to meld them perfectly into the driver for the frequencies above and below its passband—so that the ear does not hear the signal created from different drivers, especially off-axis. We are extremely experienced in this linear integration, which allows the listener to hear deeper into the music.
“With regard to special parts, sure, the finest caps with lowest microphonic effects etc. will help; we just use or create the best parts in order to design to the point of hearing no crossover points. We did find a way to design a smooth signal transition from the tweeter to the driver below with perfectly symmetrical loops (for good off-axis performance) and a good step response, and yet protect the tweeter against low frequencies. Such a big diamond diaphragm also works as a perfect heat sink. The crossover is hermetically and microphonically sealed against vibrations stored in the lowest chamber, directly wired to the terminal (a decoupled 15mm block of stainless steel, from the outside polished to preserve the surface the best way).”
Jörn was more cautious about explaining the innovations in the G3’s midrange/woofer drivers and the thinking behind the Piano G3’s bass response. The following excerpts show how he summarized some key features:
“Both mid/woofers are downscaled versions from our flagship-project the Tidal for Bugatti “Royale.” The diaphragm is black ceramic, unique in this shape and design. Such a hard diaphragm has both advantages and disadvantages. Light, hard, close to perfect pistonic movement, but like all hard and light things, it has a resonance peak which must be brought under control—otherwise, we hear the advantages (resolution) very quickly but the disadvantages (the typical harsh sound most ceramic drivers come with if not properly treated), as well.
“We can’t give away the recipe, but one must bring diametrical things together: hard diaphragm control versus smooth blending-in/out. Classical minimal filters will not work since they can’t control the diaphragms; steep-slope ones mess up the step response and timing. Flat response is no indicator alone, but it is an important basic one. There are at least 20 other parameters one needs to deal with, but one of the most important is step response. We blend the tweeter seamlessly into the midrange/woofer.
Not calculated via DSP, but through all analog technology that is aimed at the core problem.
“What do we have at the end of the day? A very rigid cabinet holds the drivers in position so that very light and stiff diaphragms can move in two directions, perfectly controlled by a well-designed and well-made crossover.
“The lacquer is not just some black paint. We use many, many litres of true piano-polyester lacquer (10kg per speaker) and have about 4mm thick lacquer on it. The way we apply it to the cabinet, compress it, sand it, and polish it might make it look nice and shiny, but it also has an effect on the sound, since it is the final layer of the cabinet itself, lowering Fs even more and ‘closing’ the cabinet even more from both sides. The Piano responds down to about 38Hz, although that does vary in practice with the room. We have experienced some amplifiers that will deliver deep bass, while others do not regardless of setup.”
He explains the reason for being able to connect the speaker as both a two-way and three-way system as follows:
“There is one application the Piano can do that all other 2.5-way speakers can’t: It has, ‘built inside,’ maybe one of the finest 2-way monitors. So, it can cover small places where people are looking for a solution from something with a 6-7″ mid/bass and a tweeter, without overpowering the room. Compacts have disadvantages against the Piano playing in that mode: The Piano has all drivers and crossovers in separate chambers; a compact does not have space enough for this—all are in one chamber. The Piano also has the way more stable and rigid stand and yet maintains the same footprint as a compact placed on a stand. The beauty is that a user can unleash a fuller-range speaker for a bigger space if he moves to a bigger space or wants a deeper bass extension.”
There are many other special design features, including the crossover, and the method of connecting the G3 so it can become a two-way speaker. Jörn sums up his view of the G3 as follows:
“We know the Piano is not for everybody, and in fact it can’t be for everybody. A proper setup, along with proper associated equipment, will give a deep view into the recording. The Piano is our smallest speaker but no less a reference speaker, since it is built with the same level of perfection that we build into our big ones.”
This effort to create a state-of-the-art monitor for real-world listening rooms is clearly a design choice, and not the result of any limits in Tidal’s manufacturing capability. Tidal also produces larger and more expensive speakers, including its top-of-the line Tidal for Bugatti series, developed for the luxury car company—a full-out assault on the state of the art. This Bugatti weighs some 480 pounds a side and is part of a full system of Tidal electronics, including a discrete digital-to-analog converter. If the Piano G3 seems too small and cheap, you can always buy the Bugatti, which sells for well over $400,000 a pair.
Putting the Tidal Piano G3 in Perspective
Jörn’s comments are far more useful than most manufacturer literature and copywriter technobabble, but there is an obvious bias behind them. No one is objective about something he is truly proud of. A dedicated high-end designer and manufacturer is going to see the result of years of work and two major generations of modification efforts as a major achievement. He virtually has to believe in his own work.
At the same time, I found no objective reason to disagree with his comments, and I really enjoyed my listening sessions with the speaker, using a wide range of components and source material. I had Pass Labs, Meitner, and PS Audio components; a range of interconnects and speaker cables; and a listening session where a friend brought his own single-ended tube design.
The results were impressive with a wide variety of associated components in two different rooms and in several different room locations. The Piano G3 did a particularly good job of revealing the colorations of the boxes and wires in the rest of my system—one of the key tests of a really good speaker. Properly set-up and supported by top-quality musical source material and electronics, the Piano G3 is one of the best speakers I’ve heard.
Here, however, I should introduce my comments on its musical performance with some important caveats that have become more and more important as the inevitable limits imposed by the colorations in front-end components, wires, and cables, musical source materials, listening positions, and the sound character of the listening room become more dominant aspects of the sound of any system than the speaker.
I try to cope by testing speakers with different components and with both analog and a range of different types of streaming and digital recordings. I use different mixes of gear, rather than a single reference system, because a high-end audio system has a large “error budget” of different colorations from each passive and active component that affects what you actually hear.
You can never audition or evaluate a speaker by itself. Given that high-end manufacturers tend to produce components with a somewhat consistent sound character (though only “somewhat,” as the nuances they prefer clearly evolve in different ways over time), mixing gear from different manufacturers and/or different generations has a significant and unpredictable impact on sound quality. The level of synergy between components depends heavily on personnel effort or dealer support, as well as access to different components to experiment with.
The listening room, speaker location, and listening position also color a speaker’s sound. This is why I audition the speakers that I review in different locations in my main listening area, and in another listening room, to hear how the sound changes with room conditions. This kind of experimentation has become a critical part of reviewing because you hear the speaker’s interaction with a given listening room more and more clearly as speakers get better and better. Even inches of change in a speaker placement can have a major impact on deep and midbass. The same is true of the resulting differences in room reflections and changes in listening position.
More than that, I have heard enough other audiophile listening rooms to realize that the personal taste of even the most sophisticated high-end audiophiles differs significantly in evaluating and setting up a speaker. So do their choices of music and performance. I also know from visiting a number of manufacturers’ listening rooms and talking to different manufacturer design teams that even when they use similar language to describe their goals, they are seeking different nuances and use different recordings and components to get them. I also realize my own biases—and every reviewer has them. I really enjoy my PS Audio FR30 speaker and the Legacy Aeris as references, but I also realize that their sound reflects different personal choices by their designers that led to differences in their sound. The same has been true of the Wilson Audio and Magico speakers I’ve used as references in the past.
Personal taste in music also matters in optimizing a system and particularly in choosing a speaker. My goals are to get the best possible sound from chamber music, jazz groups, and single voice or small vocal groups. I have other audiophile friends who want the best sound from large bands, full symphonies, or grand opera, and others who focus on getting the best sound from rock, folk, and rap. I have one friend who judges a system largely by its ability to loudly play the lowest organ notes, and another that can never get away from the sound of the lowest electronic bass.
“Quid est veritas?” a jesting Pilate said. Reviewing the Tidal Piano G3 is all too good a reminder that search for the absolute sound—by manufacturer, audiophile, or reviewer—has always been personal, and the better recordings, components, set-up, and room adjustment get, the more dominant personal choice becomes. In many ways, the only difference between the human element of high-end audio and the human element of America’s increasingly polarized politics is that most audiophiles would rather listen to music than argue.
The Sound of the Piano G3s
All that said, I suspect that the majority of audiophiles will still appreciate the exceptional sound qualities of the Piano G3s. As I have noted from the beginning, they do have two limitations that are part of their design. They do not provide the deepest bass or play the loudest and most dynamic passages of popular or classical music with the least coloration, but these limitations are relatively minor, even in much larger and more neutral listening rooms than they are designed for. In the real world, it takes a subwoofer setup to produce the lowest bass realistically, and nothing you have in a real-world listening room is going the reproduce the live sound of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony or the impact of the near-deafening wave of sound in a club.
Even in a comparatively large listening room, the Piano G3s provided very good overall bass and dynamics, although you might want to move them a bit closer to the rear wall than usual, and you will need to experiment with bass test tones or music to find the best location in rooms that have zones where a speaker can experience serious suckouts in the low end—something that can be even more important in small listening rooms than larger ones. I would also advise you to listen very carefully to the level of midbass energy during setup. Doug White, Tidal’s Premium U.S. Dealer, installed the review samples in my home and went through a very careful set-up procedure. However, he placed the G3s in a position where there is a narrow zone of room issues in the midbass.
Moving them about 12 inches showed that it really was a room problem rather than a midbass problem in the G3s. Even so, I found getting the best sound required a bit more experimentation with the finer details of placement, toe-in, and listening position than usual.
I also found that the Piano G3s still had slightly less apparent upper-bass/lower-midrange energy than my reference speakers, although this had the effect of adding a slight depth and width to the soundstage—and that soundstage bordered on the superb in several listening positions in two different rooms.
When it comes to soundstage, imaging, and overall transparency, I have no reservations at all about the Tidal Piano G3’s sound quality. No two speaker designs sound alike, but properly set up, the G3s performed as well in these aspects as any set of speakers I’ve heard. They produced a wide, open stage with excellent depth and imaging detail (when the musical source material provided such information), and they did so with natural and highly detailed dynamic contrasts.
I am now more used to planar drivers than the diamond tweeter in the Piano G3, whose sound is marginally less forward than that of my references. However, that diamond tweeter in really outstanding in creating a relatively wide listening area and was equally musically convincing. When the recording was good enough and natural enough, the Piano G3 provided a level of musical detail that was exceptionally revealing, without a trace of hardening even at very loud volumes. From a room placement perspective, it also did so in both nearfield and more normal listening positions, and in ways where experimenting with positioning in terms of the distance between speakers and from the speakers to the listening position—and in the exact angle at which they point toward the listening position—paid off in providing some of the best sound I’ve heard.
The G3s’ compact size also paid off in allowing me to place them in positions that had a relatively limited impact on room decors—a factor no true audiophile will ever care about, unless he happens to live with virtually anyone else.
In terms of timbre and frequency response, the Piano G3s again sounded slightly more distant in the upper midrange and treble that my references, but here I must stress the word “slightly.” I’ve had the same experience with other good dynamic speakers and ribbon designs, and these are areas where I’ve have heard equal or greater differences in the sound of live music as I moved around within different halls during a rehearsal.
This superior sound quality was also clear when I started focusing on the sound of different instruments and voices. The Piano G3s do very well in getting the full range of sound quality out of solo, choral, and grand opera music. The sound of a range of male and female voices, and the level of detail from even the best vocal recordings, was as much of a pleasure as the source material and associate components permitted.
The same was true in listening to the musical realism of different instruments other than those with the deepest bass, and even here I’d say that the level of natural detail the G3s provided with Bach organ music, and even oddities like Kodo drums, largely offset the lack of deep-bass energy you hear from larger speakers. Percussion detail was exceptional, even with cymbals from the most complex jazz performances. Woodwinds and brass were equally good, with none of the touch of dryness in the woodwinds or edge in the brass you sometimes find even in otherwise outstanding speakers.
As for strings and piano, the level of detail and naturalness of timbre clearly distinguished between different instruments, and the imaging again was as natural as the recording. As is the case with all top-quality speakers, the Piano G3s do all too good a job of revealing studio-assembled music where the soundstage never really existed or was modified out of existence, but listening to music that depends on excessive multimiking, blending separate tracks, and reinventing the sound is, I suppose, a matter of taste. The good news is that you can really appreciate a well-miked live performance and one miked to produce true stereo.
No speaker is all things to all audiophiles. The Tidal Piano G3 is, however, a truly innovative approach to dealing with real room and decor issues in ways that reproduce almost all the best high-end performance of much larger loudspeakers.
Specs & Pricing
Type: 2-way/2.5-way dynamic loudspeaker
Driver complement: 1x exclusive 1.2″ Gen 2 diamond tweeter; 2x exclusive 7″ Gen 2 black ceramic mid/woofers
Nominal impedance: 4 ohms (3.2 ohms minimum)
Recommended power: 30 watts minimum
Frequency response: 38Hz–>55kHz (anechoic), -6dB; 150Hz–18kHz (anechoic), ±1.2dB
Dimensions: 9.6″ x 45.6″ x 15.5″
Weight: 154 lbs. each (shipping weight, 233 lbs. each in flight cases)
Price: $64,000/pr. in Midnight Gloss Black (optional veneers at extra charge)
TIDAL AUDIO GMBH
Immendorfer Strasse 1H
The Voice That Is (Premium U.S. Dealer)
By Anthony Cordesman
I've been reviewing audio components since some long talks with HP back in the early 1980s. My first experiences with the high end came in the 1950s at the University of Chicago, where I earned part of my tuition selling gear for Allied Radio and a local high-end audio dealer, and worked on sound systems for local night clubs, the Court Theater, and the university radio station. My professional life has been in national security, but I've never lost touch with the high end and have lived as a student and diplomat in Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, NATO, Asia, Iran and the Middle East and Asia. I've been lucky enough to live in places where opera, orchestras, and live chamber and jazz performances were common and cheap, and to encounter a wide range of different venues, approaches to performing, and national variations in high-end audio gear. I currently hold the Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and my open source analyses are available at that web site. What I look for in reviewing is the ability to provide a musically real experience at a given price point in a real-world listening room, and the ability to reveal the overall balance of musical sound qualities that I know are on a given recording. Where possible, I try to listen on a variety of systems as well as my own reference system.More articles from this editor
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