Publisher's Choice Awards 2008 STEREOTIMES
"If we had a category for “component of the year”, this would be it
for me personally. The Contrivas took my musical enjoyment to a height
I didn’t know was possible in my listening room. I’m still going through
withdrawal with having sent them back to the distributor. I first
heard these speakers at this years CES and thought they were exceptional
Having them at home did nothing short of convince me of how wonderful
they really are. I reached new heights of realism, presence, performance
at the frequency extremes, and most importantly, a level connectedness
to the music I had not felt before. Every time I turned on my system,
each album or CD I played, I was not just sitting there listening
to music, it was more like an “experience.".
Mike Wright STEREOTIMES. Please read the whole review:
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
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
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
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
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
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
with Vivaldi'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
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
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.