With just about any manufactured commodity, consumers are offered various tiers of products to choose from. Volkswagens are the entry-level automobiles made by the Volkswagen Group, while their more premium brands -- Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, Bentley -- represent consecutive upward leaps in quality, performance, and exclusivity. VW’s most boutique brand, Bugatti, is synonymous the world over with unparalleled levels of craftsmanship, industry-leading design, and world-class performance. They produce a single Bugatti model, the Chiron, and with only 500 Chirons slated for production, exclusivity is a given.
Tidal Audio GmbH, based in Hürth, a suburb of Cologne, Germany, appears to make and market their products in much the same manner. Every Tidal speaker is said to be designed using the latest technology, and built of the finest materials by the most experienced craftsmen. Bugatti states that theirs are the most refined high-performance automobiles the world has ever seen, and Tidal’s ads bear a similar message. I can tell you from personal experience that, even if you don’t own or have ever driven a Bugatti, just sitting in such a rolling work of art is an emotional experience. As I sat in a Bugatti Veyron, predecessor to the Chiron, all five of my senses were engorged as I visually absorbed the symphony of rich automotive themes before me, caressed the world’s finest leathers, and breathed in their intoxicating bouquet while reveling in the burble of the V16 engine behind me.
The moment I gazed on the flawless gloss-black cabinetry, expertly implemented brightwork, and evocative stance of my review samples of Tidal’s Piano G2 loudspeakers, I was captivated in much the same way. I’d never thought a pair of speakers -- especially speakers I had yet to even hear -- could elicit such a reaction, but there I was. Gobsmacked.
When Tidal introduced the Piano, early in 2016, there were two variants: the Piano Velvetec and the Piano Diacera G2. Tidal dropped the Diacera nomenclature at the beginning of this year because, they told me, more than 90% of all Piano models sold since the new diamond-dome tweeter option was introduced have been so equipped. Tidal now makes the Piano Velvetec only by special order; the stock model has been renamed the Piano G2. The Piano Velvetec ($22,800 USD/pair) has a 1.2” graphite-coated ceramic tweeter, two 7” Black Ceramic Cone (BCC) midrange-bass drivers, an exclusive crossover, and is finished in one of four unique, soft-to-the-touch matte lacquers called Velvetec: Summit White, Jet Black, Sonoma Orange, and Amethyst. The Piano G2 ($39,900/pair) has the new 1.2” diamond-dome tweeter, the same two 7” midrange-bass drivers, a modified crossover, and hand-polished outriggers of solid stainless steel. While my Piano G2 review samples were finished in the standard Midnight Black, the speaker can also be ordered in high-gloss veneers of Pyramided Mahogany or Ebony Macassar for an additional $3000/pair; custom veneers are available on request.
The Piano G2 has a specified frequency response of 36Hz-40kHz, +/-1.5dB, a nominal impedance of 4 ohms, and can be powered by any amplifier producing 30Wpc or more. At 143 pounds, each handsomely raked-back Piano G2 stands 45.75”H x 9.5”W x 14.25”D, its overall footprint varying slightly with the positions of its outriggers. Of all the speakers I’ve reviewed or have seen at audio shows, I’d never seen a pair assembled and finished with this level of attention to detail and craftsmanship. Tidal says that the mile-deep gloss finish is the result of the application by hand of some 55 pounds of polyester piano lacquer to each Piano G2 -- and indeed, the high-gloss black finish of my review samples was as impeccable as a Bugatti’s paintwork, with a complete absence of “orange-peel” or other surface imperfections. Under that crystal-clear, 3mm-thick, mirror-flat lacquer, the panel joinery was equally flawless. The polished stainless-steel ring surrounding each of the 7” Accuton midrange-bass drivers and 1.2” diamond tweeter reminded me a lot of the brightwork used throughout the Bugatti Veyron’s interior, and it was fitted into the front baffle with exacting precision. I particularly appreciated the acoustically transparent fixed metal grilles and polished stainless-steel logo plaque at the bottom of the baffle.
Around back, hand-polished stainless-steel sleeves are fitted over each of the five large polymer knobs for the terminal connectors. These knobs are threaded onto heavy-duty binding posts of solid silver that permit connection only with speaker cables terminated in spades or bare wire. Just above and near the top of the rear baffle are two large ports rimmed with wide stainless-steel flanges, through which the speaker breathes. The Piano G2 is supported by four of Tidal’s VarioFeet: highly configurable outriggers of solid, hand-polished stainless steel. Each VarioFeet sits on a single ball bearing that nestles in an equally beautiful stainless-steel isolation pad.
The Piano G2’s multi-chambered cabinet is constructed of Tidal’s proprietary Tiradur material, which is made in much the same way carbon fiber is, just without the autoclave. Seven layers of proprietary material are pressed together with several tons of pressure and bonded with a special glue placed between each pair of layers. The glue impregnates all layers to form a significantly more rigid anti-resonant material with damping properties said to be very close to those of wood. All of the panels and interior braces comprising the Piano G2’s cabinet are 30mm thick pressings of Tiradur, and Tidal says that the composite’s unique properties are what make it possible for them to use true polyester piano lacquer instead of acrylic. When I rapped a Piano G2 with a knuckle, I quickly understood why Jörn Janczak, Tidal’s founder and chief designer, refers to Tiradur as a “polyshell composite”; the tomb-like sound of the cabinet was even more inert than those of my reference speakers, Rockport Technologies’ Atrias.
The 1.2” diamond-dome tweeter occupies its own hand-polished, stainless-steel sealed enclosure in the uppermost one-fifth of the raked front baffle. According to Janczak, this is the same 30mm tweeter made by Accuton, with pure diamond diaphragm, as is used in Tidal’s top-end models. Tidal says that it’s “the biggest diamond tweeter in the world,” with the equivalent of just over one carat (200mg) of diamond deposited on the dome. It’s also one of the costliest components of the Piano G2. (A variation of this tweeter was sourced from Accuton by Bugatti for use in the new Chiron’s audio system.)
The Piano G2’s midrange-bass drivers aren’t quite as new as the diamond tweeter, and Tidal was fairly tightlipped about their specifics. What I can tell you is that these 7” BCC woofers are made to Tidal’s specs by Accuton, a partner of long standing. Each one has a large chassis of stainless-steel, a motor capable of making long excursions, and is colored using a unique paint that’s said to help seal the slightly porous diaphragm and thus reduce cone breakup. Either midrange-bass driver can also be configured using Tidal’s VarioTerminal, to help the Piano G2 acclimate to its environment using various terminal connections, which alter the crossover’s operation. If you have a smaller room, remove the beefy brass jumper altogether, and the Piano G2 will function solely as a two-way speaker, completely bypassing the lower midrange-bass driver. Reinstall the jumper to the terminal labeled Linear, and the Piano G2 will function as a normal 2.5-way speaker. If you have a larger room, move the jumper to the Gain terminal and the Piano G2 will provide 2dB more bass energy through its lower woofer by way of a modified filter curve. In either of the two latter conditions, the lower driver has a very narrow bandpass of 36-60Hz, while the upper driver is crossed over to the tweeter at 1800kHz. The tweeter’s output can be increased by 2dB by flipping the Gain toggle on the rear panel. In my well-damped, 12’ x 22’ room, I found that the Piano G2s sounded best when I took advantage of both positive gain settings, which I used for the duration of this review.
Making possible this level of room compliance is an exceedingly high-quality, ultra-low-tolerance passive crossover network hermetically isolated in its own enclosure. Janczak told me that the parts cost alone of one of these crossovers is well over $1000. He also said that each hand-assembled crossover network, replete with air-core inductors, oversize copper coils, silver-carbon and metal-film resistors, and massive, pure-copper-foil Duelund capacitors tips the scale at just over 28 pounds. Hearing from Janczak about the Piano G2’s crossover, and seeing the results of the attention to detail and level of craftsmanship lavished on every part of this speaker, I began to understand the philosophy behind the design, construction, and execution of Tidal products: nothing less than perfection, cost be damned.
I drove the Tidal Piano G2s with my standard reference gear: Simaudio’s Moon Evolution P-8 preamplifier and Moon Evolution W-7M monoblocks, a PS Audio DirectStream DAC, and a Dell E7440 Ultrabook computer running JRiver Media Center 20. Voltage was regulated by a dedicated 20A outlet using a PS Audio P10 power conditioner, and everything, including my Rockport Technologies Atria speakers, was tied together with a full suite of Clarus Crimson balanced interconnects, speaker cables, USB links, and power cords. Also on hand, thanks to my upcoming review of Simaudio’s Moon 888 monoblocks, were three other Simaudio Moon Evolution models: the 780D streaming DAC, the 850P preamplifier, and the 820S power supply. I experimented with each of these, and quickly realized that the sound was best, overall, with all the latest Simaudio Moon gear in the loop. However, for consistency’s sake, my observations throughout this review were made using my standard reference gear, except as noted.
In my first few moments of listening to the Piano G2s I was again reminded of the first time I put butt to leather of a Bugatti Veyron: Everything about the way these speakers looked and sounded screamed luxury, class, and exclusivity. I cued up Chris Stapleton’s Traveller and skipped to “Tennessee Whisky” (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Mercury Nashville/Tidal). Immediately I felt I was at an outdoor concert, beer in hand, listening to Stapleton and his band playing on a stage about 30’ away. Stapleton was to left of center stage, complemented by his band in close proximity. What surprised me was that, despite the tight cluster of Stapleton and his band, the soundstage didn’t sound collapsed around them. I could hear the fast transient taps of Derek Mixon’s hi-hat quickly decay into what sounded like a huge expanse, while being easily able to appreciate the intricate details of Stapleton’s strummed acoustic guitar. J.T. Cure’s electric bass cleanly laid the foundation, sounding deep, controlled, and rhythmic.
Later, my foot tapping a hole through my carpet during “Shoot to Thrill,” from AC/DC’s Back in Black (16/44.1 FLAC, Atlantic/Tidal), I was treated to a sonic picture that seemed to defy the boundaries of my room. I never listen to this track at a normal listening level, and after turning up the volume a bit more, I quickly realized that, despite oozing sonic sophistication, the Piano G2s loved to rock. Even when I pushed them hard, I heard nary a hint of compression; all aspects of the music simply grew while remaining in proper proportion to each other. More often than not, when I listen to this track as loudly as I do, I can listen to it only a few times before my ears -- or my wife -- tell me to turn it down. The Tidals never prompted me to end the party. Phil Rudd’s slams of the brass were appropriately aggressive in impact, but without being exaggerated in any way by the Tidals. His kick drums, too, sounded surprisingly extended and punchy, reminding me a lot of what I heard from Paradigm’s exceptional new Persona 7F (see Comparisons).
Taming things down a bit, I moved on to Katie Melua’s The House (16/44.1 FLAC, Dramatico). Produced by Willian Orbit, this album is generously seasoned with electronic flare, particularly in the first seconds of Melua’s singing of the chorus in “Twisted,” accompanied by only a smoothly and delicately plucked electric guitar. Immediately after, the sound is taken over by deep, resonant, electronic bass tones reminiscent of the iconic synth bass in Daft Punk’s “Armory.” While I enjoyed the fervor and transient precision with which the Tidals reproduced these notes, it was also the first time I was keenly aware of just how fast these speakers’ output rolled off below their specified 36Hz cutoff. But the effortless bloom, textural detail, and sheer bravado with which all other low-bass and midbass frequencies were reproduced let me easily forgive, and sometimes even forget, the absence of first-octave information.
I was also enamored of how well balanced was the Piano G2’s sound. The outputs of the two speakers’ six drivers were integrated into a sound of such harmony and balance that I could have easily been convinced that I was listening to music reproduced by two full-range point-source drivers rather than by six separate drivers, each firing along its own axis. Hearing the inner detail of each string of Melua’s acoustic guitar being plucked against her melodic and dynamically captivating voice was not only highly enjoyable overall, every aspect of the performance was remarkably easy to discern. But more than anything else, what made the Piano G2 so appealing a speaker was my feeling of ease in listening. I could play just about anything as loudly as I wanted without the sound ever becoming fatiguing, hard, or aggressive, and the projection of aural images was nothing short of spellbinding, regardless of musical genre.
Sarah McLachlan’s voice in “Angel,” from her hugely successful Surfacing (16/44.1 FLAC, Arista), absolutely soared into my room through the Tidals. The singer’s sonic presence was meticulously etched at center stage, sounding warm and smooth and full of feeling. The space between her voice and her wonderfully nuanced acoustic piano, and around them both, easily implied that this track was recorded live, not in a studio. Actual live recordings, such as “Hold On,” from McLachlan’s Mirrorball (16/44.1 FLAC, Nettwerk), continually engulfed my room, enabling me to appreciate such spatial cues as the thwack of Ashwin Sood’s drums deep back on the stage, and the sounds of the audience eerily surrounding me.
Not long before receiving the Tidal Piano G2s, I wrapped up my review of the Paradigm Persona 7F loudspeakers ($25,000/pair). In that review I described the Persona 7Fs as a “benchmark product at their price point,” and gave them a Reviewers’ Choice award. I was so taken by them that I decided to sell my Rockport Atrias ($25,500/pair, discontinued), with the intent of making a custom-finished pair of Persona 7Fs my new reference speakers.
But as I waited for the 7Fs to be built and my outgoing references to sell, the Piano G2s arrived, and I was once again beguiled. The Persona 7F certainly digs significantly deeper in the bass than the Piano G2, its beryllium midrange driver is slightly more tonally accurate, and its beryllium tweeter is just a hint more detailed. But accuracy and detail aren’t always equivalent to naturalness and nuance, and the Paradigms, while ultimately more technically capable, don’t achieve quite the same level of realistic evenhandedness and ease of sound as the Tidals, which do cost 56% more.
Directly compared with my Rockport Atrias, the Tidal Piano G2 had a delicacy and ease of sound that the Atrias couldn’t muster. Both sets of speakers imaged brilliantly, effortlessly conveying a feeling of three-dimensional space -- but the Tidals sounded a touch less forced, particularly when played loudly. I most noted this when listening to Rudd’s brass in AC/DC’s “Shoot to Thrill” -- the music just grew in volume and flowed out of the Tidals, whereas, at similar levels through the Rockports, this track began to sound a bit sharp. On the other hand, I preferred the Rockports’ control in defining Rudd’s kick drum -- the instrument’s punch was a bit faster, sharper, more like a kick than a well-defined thud. Swapping the jumpers on the Piano G2s back to the Linear position helped define the bass a bit better, bringing it more in line with what I was hearing from the Atrias -- but the lack of bass presence now made the overall sound a bit thin, so I left the jumpers in the Gain position.
Focusing on the midrange during McLachlan’s “Angel” highlighted the similarities and differences in these speakers’ sounds. They projected soundstages of similar size, portraying McLachlan as clearly as I’ve heard in my room while letting me appreciate such inner details as the breath in McLachlan’s voice and the decays of her sung notes. Where the Tidals and Rockports diverged was in texture: through the Piano G2, voices were a shade and a half warmer, sounding smoother, richer, less grainy. McLachlan’s sibilants were also better tamed by the Tidals, and the sound of her piano had a wisp more body, weight, and tonal color than through the Atrias.
Finally, after completing my official listening comparisons and note taking, I swapped out, one by one, my reference electronics for the new Simaudio gear. Each time I incorporated a new Moon model into my system, I heard minute changes in the sound -- and the biggest changes when I swapped out my Moon Evolution W-7M monoblocks for the Moon Evolution 888s. Those differences were not subtle -- the 888s cast a vaster soundstage, with a sense of liquidity that not only told me just how transparent the Piano G2 is, but also was part of the best sound I have ever heard in my listening room. Period. Gobsmacked again.
When I first learned that Tidal’s Piano G2 started at just under 40 grand, I was a bit skeptical -- that’s a lot of money for a 2.5-way speaker of somewhat limited low-end extension. But after examining the Piano G2 in person, understanding how it’s constructed, appreciating just how vast its materials costs are, learning that each pair of Piano G2s takes six weeks to build by hand -- and, last but not least, hearing how impressively these speakers perform within their specified frequency response of 36Hz-40kHz, +/-1.5dB -- any concerns regarding their value evaporated.
On their website, Tidal quotes Scott Hull, of Part-Time Audiophile: “This is the Rolls Royce of High End Audio.” Having spent the last four months appreciating and understanding the sonic character of the Piano G2, I wholeheartedly agree. My time with these speakers has taught me that, while fully capable of communicating resolute bass, micro- and macrodynamics, effortless midrange articulation, and a wonderful sense of transparency, what the Piano G2s are really all about are body, balance, and ease.
But in terms of build quality, I must respectfully disagree with Scott Hull: The Piano G2 is less Rolls-Royce than Bugatti. I have never seen a pair of loudspeakers crafted with such artisanal care. Yes, they’re expensive. Yes, there are other speakers on the market that offer more in terms of deep-bass extension and utter neutrality for less money. But, as with a Bugatti, what you pay $39,900 for is not the highest sound quality alone. You pay for a bespoke visual and aural experience by way of musical seduction, and Tidal’s Piano G2 has seduced me as has no other speaker.
. . . Aron Garrecht
- Speakers -- Rockport Technologies Atria
- Subwoofers -- JL Audio Fathom f112 (2)
- Amplifiers -- Balanced Audio Technology VK-255SE (stereo), Parasound Halo A 51 (five-channel), Simaudio Moon Evolution W-7M (monoblocks) and 888 (monoblocks)
- Preamplifiers -- Anthem AVM 60, Balanced Audio Technology VK-53SE, Simaudio Moon Evolution P-8 and 850P
- Sources -- Oppo Digital BDP-103 universal BD player, Dell E7440 Ultrabook laptop computer running Windows 10, JRiver Media Center 20
- Digital-to-analog converter -- PS Audio DirectStream, Simaudio Moon Evolution 780D with 820S power supply
- Cables -- Clarus Crimson S/PDIF, USB, balanced interconnects, speaker cables, power cords
- Power conditioner -- PS Audio P10
Tidal Piano G2 Loudspeakers
Price: $39,900 USD.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Tidal Audio GmbH
Immendorfer Strasse 1
Phone: +49 (2233) 966-92-25
Unit 31, 20 Wertheim Court
Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 3A8
Phone: (647) 995-2995
The Voice That Is
2693 Old Cedar Grove RD
Broomall, PA 19008
Phone: (610) 359-0189