Tidal Audio Akira loudspeaker

Doug White, of Philadelphia-area retailer The Voice That Is, has been a fixture at US audio shows the past few years, where he always gets great sound using loudspeakers from Tidal Audio. (There is no connection between the German audio manufacturer and the music-streaming service owned by Jay Z and Sprint.) In early 2017, Herb Reichert, Jana Dagdagan, and I visited White and spent a delightful afternoon listening to Tidal's then-new Akira loudspeakers. I promised myself to review the Akira, which costs a wallet-straining $215,000/pair, when my schedule opened up. As things turned out, it was more than a year before that opportunity presented itself.

The Akira . . .
. . . is an imposing yet elegant-looking tower standing almost 5' high on its bases, and finished in a high-gloss black lacquer. As I saw when Doug White removed two of the passive radiators to replace a tweeter (see later), this polyester-based finish is three millimeters thick; in fact, Tidal founder and CEO Jörn Janczak told me, when he visited my listening room, that, before sanding and polishing, the several coats together weigh more than 80 lb! The extensively braced enclosure itself is constructed from 42mm-thick boards of a proprietary polyshell material Tidal calls TIRALIT Ultra, which combines glass-hard layers with softer, damping layers of MDF and HDF, the 13 layers compressed with what Janczak describes as "tons of pressure and a layer-melting resin."

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All drive-units are made by Accuton, exclusively for Tidal. The three 7.5" woofers are mounted vertically in-line on the front baffle, each clamped from behind with a ring of polished stainless steel. Their convex diaphragms are made from aluminum honeycomb, and while the response of the topmost driver extends sufficiently high in frequency to be crossed over to the midrange unit at about 250Hz, the middle driver rolls off a little earlier, and the bottom unit even earlier.

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Above the woofers, the 5" midrange unit and 1.2" tweeter are mounted in a 1"-thick block of polished stainless steel, this decoupled from the enclosure with a cork gasket. The midrange unit is a bit special—its diaphragm is made of pure diamond, vapor-deposited on a substrate. Janczak told me that it takes four weeks of the chemical-vapor-deposition (CVD) reactor running 24/7 to produce two midrange diaphragms. As well as having good heat dissipation, diamond has both low density and high stiffness, meaning that the midrange unit behaves in pure pistonic manner up to a claimed 16kHz, a frequency far above the 2.2kHz crossover to the tweeter. An underhung 3" titanium voice-coil former is glued behind the 13-carat diaphragm; the midrange diaphragm is claimed to have a maximum peak–peak excursion of 7mm. The midrange unit's basket is milled from an aluminum block, and the magnet presents almost no obstruction to the diaphragm's rear wave. The tweeter, too, has a CVD diamond diaphragm, this one in the shape of an inverted dome.

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Mounted vertically in-line on the Akira's rear panel are five passive radiators, these basically similar to the woofers but without motor systems, of course. The massive crossover—it weighs 44 lb—is mounted inside a hermetically sealed enclosure below the radiators. It offers "close to 12dB/octave" slopes, and features massive silver- and copper-foil capacitors and very-low-resistance inductors. (A custom-made 16mH inductor is said to have a series resistance of just 0.03 ohm.) Only close-tolerance Mundorf and Duelund parts are used in the crossover—and these are expensive. Janczak told me that for what Tidal pays for the parts used in the crossovers for a pair of Akiras, "you could buy a decent motorcycle."

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A pair of custom-made silver binding posts at the base of the speaker completes the picture, along with three toggle switches that can be used in conjunction with a third binding post to reference the crossover circuitry to the system ground. I didn't try this, however.

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As expensive as the Akira is, it is actually a scaled-down development of Tidal's flagship loudspeaker, La Assoluta, which Janczak described to me as "a pretty huge, 1100-lb tour de force" that costs $550,000/pair. The goal, he said, was to design "something ultimate but with modest dimensions." Modest? Only in comparison with La Assoluta!

Setup
Doug White and Jörn Janczak visited just after Independence Day to unpack the Akiras from their massive wheeled flight cases and set them up in my room. It turned out that these samples were the same speakers I'd heard in Philadelphia, and are White's own pair.

Once the speakers had been unpacked and their aluminum bottom plates fitted to the massive stainless-steel bases—easier to write than to do with these bulky, heavy speakers—White and Janczak painstakingly maneuvered them, inch by inch, until the low-frequency balance, midrange tonality, and precision of stereo imaging were to their liking. Interestingly, the Akiras ended up close to the spots in my room that Wilson Audio's Peter McGrath had found optimal for the Wilson Alexia Series 2 speakers I reviewed in July. The right Akira's woofers were 65" from the books that line the closest sidewall, the left Akira's woofers 35" from the LPs that line its sidewall. Both speakers were 77" from the wall behind them and 127" from my listening position.

Happy with these placements, White and Janczak then fitted the four feet under each base, each foot coupled to its base with a ball bearing. They bade me farewell and hit the road back to Philadelphia.

Listening
As always, I began my critical listening to the Akiras with the test signals I'd created for Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2). The 1/3-octave bass-warble tones were produced with good weight down to the 50Hz band, with the 160Hz band higher in level, and the 100 and 80Hz warble tones a little lower in level than the bands to either side of them. As is usually the case, the 32Hz warble tone was exaggerated by the lowest mode in my room, but at my typical listening level, the 25 and 20Hz bands were inaudible. Overall, the lowest-frequency warble tones sounded extremely clean, with no audible distortion. The half-step–spaced tonebursts on Editor's Choice spoke clearly down to their 32Hz lower limit, but with less energy in the upper bass than I was anticipating, and a slight emphasis around 1kHz.

The dual-mono pink-noise track from Editor's Choice sounded smooth and evenly balanced as long as I sat upright in my listening chair, which placed my ears 39" above the floor. If I stood, which put my ears above the tweeter axis, the sound was free from any hollow-sounding coloration, as is so often the case, but the top octaves sounded slightly elevated, which isn't. The central image of the noise signal was narrow and stable, with no splashing to the sides at any frequencies.

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Although, if I had to swear to it on the very first issue of Stereophile, I would admit that the Akira has a faint trace of character in the upper midrange, a little bit of extra "ping," voices sounded remarkably uncolored. I can't remember where I got the file, but a favorite recording of a woman's voice is Alanis Morissette singing her "You Oughta Know" live, accompanied by only an acoustic guitar, on The Howard Stern Show, in 2015. Despite it being a low-bit-rate (128kbps) MP3 file, this recording sounds extremely natural. Through the Akiras driven by Lamm monoblocks, Morissette was powerfully present in my room. I'm not sure that was necessarily a good thing, given the passive-aggressive nature of the song's lyrics, but her every little vocal inflection was laid bare by the Tidals, with no unnatural emphasis.

Nor did the Akira excel only with women's voices. In 2014, I recorded the Portland State Chamber Choir performing Henry Purcell's setting of Psalm 102, "O hear my Prayer," released on the CD Into Unknown Worlds (CD Baby). I listened to the 24-bit/88.2kHz master WAV file for this recording: It begins with unison altos on middle C, sequentially joined by first tenors, first basses, second altos, first and second sopranos, second tenors, and second basses. When the first basses enter in measure 11 with a rising C-minor scale on the words "And let my crying," your heart lifts as the minor key is transformed into major. Not only did the Tidal speakers present each of the eight vocal lines separately, but their superbly precise stereo imaging in both the width and depth planes let me fully appreciate their ensemble singing in that beautiful church acoustic.

The sheer resolution of the Akiras continued to astonish me throughout my auditioning. An album I hadn't played in a while was Winging It: Piano Music of John Corigliano (CD, Cedille CDR 90000123), performed by Ursula Oppens and Jerome Lowenthal. Roon suggested I listen to Chiaroscuro for 2 Pianos Tuned a Quarter-Tone Apart, (24/44.1 FLAC file). One piano echoes the other, the uncertainty in pitch lending an addictively haunting quality—through less-resolving speakers, I'm sure this recording would merely sound as if the pianos hadn't been tuned. And the thunderous bass chords indeed sounded . . . thunderous.

COMPANY INFO
Tidal Audio GmbH
Premium US dealer: The Voice That Is
PO Box 445
Newtown Square, PA 19073
(610) 359-0189
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Diamonds" in the sky ............. Rihanna :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

How can the diamonds get fried? ....... Aren't they supposed to be heat resistant? :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be JA could review one of the new Aurender music servers, shown at RMAF 2018 ......... The new servers are available up to 24TB or 12 TB x2 (RAID1) built-in internal storage .............. BTW, the new servers are also, MQA capable (you don't have to use MQA, if you don't want it .... MQA police are not gonna put you in jail) .......... Aurender also showed a unit with a built-in CD ripper along with the new music servers at RMAF 2018 ........... We don't have to mess with the conventional computers ........... There is a pre-view posted on AudioStream website :-) ...........

jeffhenning's picture

...Better can be made DIY with DSP and a fully active design for way less money. The kicker with that is you have to know how to design them. I do.

Regardless, Accuton makes a good deal of the best speaker drivers on the planet. And the measurements show this is a great speaker.

Unfortunately, had they gone the active route, done the speaker as a partial dipole, used DSP and made a servo cardioid sub to go with it, this speaker would be even more mind-blowing.

I can make a DIY system using close to the exact drivers from Madisound with Benchmark AHB2 amps to drive the mains and Rythmik servo subs for less than $50K. I think that's on the extremely high side.

I can see from the photos that this is a ridiculously engineered speaker. There were no corners cut. It's state of the PASSIVE art which means it's not state of the art.

I think Tidal is marching in the wrong direction. When they finally make fully active speakers, watch out!

Anton's picture

I remember your trenchant posts about Wilson speakers, now the Tidals.

You are missing a real market niche, here!

Can we see the stuff you've made?

misterc59's picture

I'm planning on a couple (or more) upgrades, and would love to see something on floorstanders as that's one of my near future upgrades. Although my budget is a tad smaller, it would be nice to see something of good quality that would put a fraction of the dent in my pocketbook!

Cheers,
Terry

timinator2's picture

Have you open-sourced, or posted anything we could learn more about? I think we are entering a new age of DIY with 3D printing, home laser cutters, and DIY CNC machines. I would be greatly interested in your designs. The ability to recreate fully fleshed out and creatively designed edge-of-the-art gear has never been better. Though one might argue it was easier in 1920 when all you needed was a plank of wood a couple of tubes and a transformer. Or in the case of loudspeakers a really big horn and call it done.

Anton's picture

How did you sneak those babies past Fremer, he's the high end speaker reviewer.

I love you, JA, but I hope you shipped them to Mike for a definitive opinion.

I loved "wallet straining."

It would be "wallet herniating and mortally disemboweling for me!"

Thanks for a fun read.

I did note that Tidal seems to using the Contribution Pricing model.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Wallet is gonna drag down the balls too along with it, while herniating :-) ................

"Great Balls of Fire" ............. Jerry Lee Lewis :-) ..............

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Speaker and electronics company Tidal (pronounced Tee - DAHL) is totally independent of / completely unrelated to music streaming company Tidal.

Anton's picture

And next you'll try telling us that the AMG Giro (pronounced 'hero') is not made by Mercedes or that the Oracle Delphi (pronouned ore-ACKLE Delf-eee) is not really made by Larry Ellison.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

....... And Alexia is not made by Amazon Alexa and Jeff Bezos :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

And Wilson Audio is not owned by Wilson Phillips or Woodrow Wilson :-) .............

Ortofan's picture

... the $20K KEF Reference 5 speakers "gave me all I need for musical and sonic satisfaction."
So, what more does the Tidal Akira do for over ten times the price?
https://www.stereophile.com/content/kef-reference-5-loudspeaker-page-2

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Comes with "diamonds" .......... You know diamonds are expensive :-) .........

foxhall's picture

Having the TIdal speakers allows one to glow about them while ferrying friends via private jet for a weekend at the house in Aspen.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Revel top of the line Ultima Salon2 speakers $22,000 (Stereophile Class-A) .......... Have been in continuous production for at least 10 years ......... Stereophile reviewer LG uses them in his reference system ........ JA also did a follow-up review ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

One of the amplifier models used by LG for the review of Salon2 were Bryston model 28-B mono blocks which put out 1000 watts into 8 Ohms .......... Those amplifiers were also reviewed by Stereophile ........ Those amps are also in continuous production for at least 10 years with some internal parts changes ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The Salon2 does not go much below 4 Ohms ......... The Bryston 28-B is capable of delivering up to 1800 watts into 4 Ohm loads .......... The KEF Reference 5 does not go much below 4 Ohms either .......... So, the 28-B can deliver up to 1800 watts to KEF also ............

HammerSandwich's picture
"JA" wrote:

...more of that "we can't repair vintage computers" thing I described in my review of the Roon Labs Nucleus+ server last August. So I bought myself an i7 Mac mini...

Ouch. The Mini hasn't been updated since October, 2014, so it was vintage even before you strained your wallet. (Okay, PCs aren't that expensive these days, thank God.)

The buyers guide at MacRumors.com is a good resource here.

foxhall's picture

Your comments about how those of us who could never afford the equipment at these prices still enjoy reading about them.

Metalhead's picture

Wow, was jealous (not of the speakers) they are nice to read about for entertainment (just like my old Scrooge McDuck comics) but of John having caught Yes in concert in their prime and peak years. WOW.

Caught the Rabin, Anderson, Wakeman version of Yes earlier this year and they were excellent. I had not planned to go but caught Roundabout on the radio and decided what the Hell, why not. So glad I went as Anderson sounded incredible. Cannot believe he can still sing so effortlessly and relaxed in that range for close to two hours. Great show. Just flat out fun and enjoyable.

Hope Scrooge McDuck, the Saudi princes, and Russian oligarchs enjoy the speakers.

Anton's picture

You could probably hide an entire body inside a pair of those, if it was butchered correctly.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Those partitions in the loudspeakers can perfectly fit those parts :-) ...........

tonykaz's picture

Why bother ?

We might have ROLEX cravings but probably not the $200,000 Presidential in 24k Gold with high quality diamonds. ( or something even pricier like a PP )

We can realistically expect the $20K loudspeakers from PS Audio to be fully competitive or probably better than these Fancy Pancy Tidals that don't have the Arnie Nudel DNA.

Of course, if you are already a Gulfstream Owner being driven around in the backseat of a S600 AMG merc. these beautiful Diamond encrusted cabinets are right down your disposable income stream, after all, you earned it.

Certainly, a Pair for the Hamptons House. ( maybe a full 7.1 surround system, for gods sake )

Tony in Michigan

Bogolu Haranath's picture

That Hamptons House deserves Wilson WAMM speakers with Thor's Hammer sub-woofers 7.1 surround sound system :-) ...........

RobertSlavin's picture

A pair of Raidho D-2.1 speakers have a total of four mid-range/woofer drivers with diamond coatings and retail for $48,000 to $54,000. The Tidal Akira speakers have just two mid-range drivers of diamond and retail for $215,000. The rest of the Raidho D-2.1 also appears to be made with expensive components. I would have appreciated Mr. Atkinson showing greater skepticism for the price in this review.

Let's remember that you can still get a pretty good home for $215,000 in parts of the U.S. (never mind in other parts of the world).

My understanding is that Stereophile's policy is not to review components in its full reviews, as was done here, unless the product has five US dealers or, in some cases, is available by mail order. This review said the number of dealers wasn't disclosed.

I think because of the ridiculous price and the apparent lack of dealers Stereophile should not have reviewed it, at least as a full review.

tonykaz's picture

There wouldn't be a Dealer Network for this sort of thing, would there ?

It's an Inner Circle of Guru's that help the Affluent top 1%ers ( like Sports Stars with 1.5 Mil. Contracts ) fill their Status & Ego needs.

Beryllium drivers are shit compared to Real Diamond Coated drivers.

People that read this Magazine are the people that are "NEVAH" allowed on that other side of the Velvet Rope. FOR GOD'S SAKE!!

We regular civilians live wonderful lives dreaming about owning a Rogue Amp, a Pass Amp, a Prima Luna Amp & maybe a nice selection of interconnect Cabling and if we get lucky a P20 from PS AUDIO!

Magazine Covers are a World of their own, they sit on the Barns & Noble Shelp competing with all the other Glossys for the best reach and grab numbers ( sell-thru ). After-all, didn't we read Playboy for the Journalism ? ( or Rolling Stone for that matter )

This issue : Jim Austin & Nelson Pass, Focal Kanta by Deutsch, Jim Austin and the PS Audio P20, scribbler extraordair talks Rogue, JVS does Tubes ( egads ) must read, HR looks at the PS Sprout mk.2, JA studies Luxman, Iverson looking at D/A conversion.

Phew, tons of dam good stuff with a vintage Aretha Franklin on the Front cover. ( singing for Ortofon )

Stereophile saves me from following the Corn Harvest yields too closely, thank-y'all !

Tony in Michigan

prerich45's picture

I'm reading a lot of post complaining about the Tidal's pricing, and yes it's up there. However, I remember hearing the Tidal Piano Diacera's in a show years ago - and they're one of the best I've heard in my life! Fit and finish were superb, and the sound almost made me cry and shout at the same time. They were better than the B&W 802's that I heard, Better than Aerial 7t's, better than Martin Logan CLX, and better (imho) than the MBL setup at that show as well. Yes, the speakers cost a lot and I may never have an opportunity to own them (unless I win Megamillons). I haven't heard these yet - but if they take their DNA from the Piano's.....they just might bring a person to tears.

tonykaz's picture

tears is exactly what we're crying about here, ( not bitching about ), crying like an onion causes.

Tony in Michigan

dumbo's picture

The below quote hints to the forgotten item.

"To pay my own tribute, while lifting to my lips a glass of a rather nice Pinot Grigio"

Come on JA, you can't leave your fellow wine lovers hanging on what this nice Pinot was :)

The cabinet construction picture is impressive indeed but given the fact that the noted "discontinuities at 90Hz, 700Hz, and 1.1kHz" were present in both cabinets its probably safe to assume that this issue wasn't the result of a botched "in field" hardware replacement on the one speaker requiring a fix.

Perhaps "Cork" isn't the right material to be used as a buffer between the drivers and the cabinet in this case. Afterall, for almost a cool quarter mil for these speakers one might expect something a bit more esoteric in terms of materials.

Anton's picture

Let's see, JA has mentioned beer in a recent review, now wine.

There was a Scotch fueled review at Audio Stream.

I'm liking the mild added lifestyle joy, thank you!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

They need to get some bourbon, tequila, vodka, gin, cognac, hard cider and moonshine fans in the reviewing team :-) ...........

Anton's picture

I'll go for one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer while listening to John Lee Hooker.

You can take it from there!

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