Digital Antidote Two
as reviewed by Victor Chavira and Francisco Duran
The CD player has been subject to constant tweaking and improvement since its introduction to the masses over 20 years ago, and now, in the twilight of its life, continues to be a source of inspiration for creative problem solvers. For some, the solution has been to create a tube analog output stage, hence my Audio Electronics CD1. For Tony Taddeo, of Taddeo Speakers in New York, the solution is the Digital Antidote. You may be asking yourself, "What does a speaker manufacturer have to do with digital?" The answer is that a speaker designer is in a unique position outside the digital dominion. Just like you and me, a speaker designer uses software (CDs) to evaluate his or her work. When something doesnt sound right , the designer may be forced to look past the speaker to the source. Hence the Taddeo Digital Antidote. Tony Taddeo discovered a relationship between a DACs phase response and the sound of his speakers. His device claims to correct for phase response errors in the analog domain.
At this point, you may be asking yourself another question, "How can a digital antidote work in the analog domain?" For a comprehensive explanation, please consult the Taddeo web page listed at the end of this review. I wouldnt recognize a phase response if I bumped into one. I can, however, report that the Taddeo Digital Antidote provided subtle improvements in the sound of my system. Anything that does that is worth investigating. The Digital Antidote is not an active buffer like my Source Components Harmonic Recovery System. Similarly, though, the Digital Antidote is designed to be placed immediately after the DAC or the analog output of a CD player. This will require an additional pair of high quality interconnects. Fortunately, I had an extra pair of Nordost Blue Heavens. For this evaluation I listened to Bill Frisells gone, just like a train. Ive been around guitars all my life. When it comes to picking out minute details, the guitar is the sound I trust most.
At first, I listened to the Digital Antidote in conjunction with the HRS. The sound was very sharp and focused. Guitars chimed and twanged with lifelike coherence. The most improvement was noted in the bass, which sounded more taught and tuneful. Coincidentally, no perceptible degradation or added grunge could be heard in the sound of Frisells naturally beautiful guitars. Next, I withdrew the Digital Antidote and listened only through the HRS. The sound became slightly less coherent, and a little fuzzy around the edges. Bass didnt stand apart from the other instruments as well as with the Digital Antidote in place. Then, I withdrew the HRS and listened only with the Digital Antidote. This setup offered the best coherence and the best reproduction of details. The Digital Antidote also offered the best rendering of quiet spaces within the music. I was more aware of the different picking techniques and strokes Bill Frisell used to generate sound from his guitars. Finally, I listened to the music with only the CD1. This gave the softest yet most dimensional presentation. The bass was also the weakest.
In another session, I listened to an old audiophile classic, Fairytales, by the late Radka Toneff. For listeners who enjoy the Diana Krall thing, I highly recommend this 1982 recording, available from Audio Advancements in Lincoln Park, New Jersey. The music on this haunting disc is produced by the two most expressive and tonally complex instruments known, female voice and piano. First l listened with only the CD1. Not surprisingly, the sound of piano and vocals was soft and sweet. Introducing the HRS made the voice sound more assertive. Piano was clear as a bell. Adding the Taddeo diminished some of the dimensionality, but gave the best resolution. The sound of piano and vocal was delicate and refined.
My verdict on the Taddeo Digital Antidote is that it brought the overall musical tapestry into sharper relief. Listening to music though the Digital Antidote was analogous to getting a new prescription for your glasses. You could see well enough before, but now all of a sudden your vision is much clearer and you can read the fine print. Read any good fine print lately? Victor Chavira
I must say that when I first got my hands on the Taddeo Digital Antidote, I wasnt too excited. A plain black box, about 2 inches high by about 17 inches wide, it didnt look too impressive. Id been told by reliable sources, though, that it improved the sound of digital. Now youre talking. Digital always seems to need some fixing. The Taddeo is an active filter designed to correct phase distortion inherent in CD reproduction. It does so in the analog domain. For a full technical explanation, please refer to Taddeos excellent website at www.taddeo-loudspeaker.com. Mr. Taddeo can explain the technical aspects of his product a lot better than I can. His site also has many interesting and informative links. I spent some quality time there.
I installed the Taddeo between my Pioneer PD54 CD player and my passive line stage after taking out my EAD DAC and Monarchy DIP. As I started to spin some CDs, the first obvious change was that a glow, or yellowish coloration, was removed from my system. Hmmm! Right away the music took on a more natural sound. The PD54/Taddeo combo sounded smoother, yet more detailed than my reference setup. Details were brought out in a natural manner, especially in the background. A guitar lick that fades in and out, or a percussion hit, now had more of a realistic balance with the rest of the musical picture. I could listen farther into the soundstage, which was very spacious. So far, so good. I like to play a lot of music with guitars. From Pat Metheny to Eric Clapton to Luiz Bonfa, if theyre strumming, Ill play it. Since my system is all solid state, I miss a degree of body to guitars, and stringed instruments in general, something I am painfully reminded of when tube-loving friends drop by. Well, this is where the Taddeo really scored. Through the Taddeo, guitars rounded out.
Glare was also diminished. Cymbals and other high frequency sounds had a degree of edge shaved off of them. For once, cymbals, on many recordings, sounded like they had dimension, instead of being flat, splashy streaks across the soundstage. In addition to its benefits to the mid and upper ranges, the Taddeo preserved dynamics, and the bass was not altered in any way. Bass was full and round, with dynamic shadings and transients as fast and realistic as the rest of my system could muster. You could put this one into the "Lets throw the TV out of a two story building and see what happens" category. Instead of doing that, I took the Taddeo out of the system, using my Pioneer CD player "straight," just to see what would happen. The sound became thinner and very two-dimensional, dark, bunched in the middle stage, and with pinched transients. Putting the Taddeo back in made the soundstage seem to explode into the room. Then I replaced the Taddeo with my EAD DAC and Monarchy DIP, restoring my regular digital rig. The warm coloration returned. The sound was as detailed as with the Taddeo, but the whole soundstage moved toward the front of the speakers. The full combo did not sound bright at all, but the Taddeo had the edge in a natural smoothness from the mids on up.
strength of the Taddeo was the way it made me forget about critical listening and audio
babble and get right into the music. It definitely makes CDs more enjoyable, and takes the
music a notch or two toward realism. It did everything my more expensive DAC combo does,
and bettered it in some areas, at only $400 retail. By the time you read this, a new
version will have come out. It would definitely be worth it if you are thinking of
upgrading your digital front end to check out the Digital Antidote II.
Follow-ups by Francisco Duran and Dave Clark
I was very glad to get the Taddeo Digital Antidote Two for several reasons. First, Id been thinking about mating a Harmonic Recovery System box to my new Musical Concepts/Pioneer DV414 to add a little oomph to my passive preamp, but I wasnt sure if this was the way to go. Would Taddeos improved Digital Antidote work better for me? Since Dave Clark just happened to have the new Antidote, I did the smart thing and borrowed his. It took a bit of coaxing to get Dave to let go of it, but I promised him that I would only need it for just a couple of days and would get it back to him ASAP. At first I couldnt understand why he didnt want to let the little black box go, but after I installed it I sure did.
To back up a bit, Ive been doing some upgrading to my system. Besides buying another Monarchy SM-70 and running the two as monoblocks, everything aside from the TV and the VCR is now hooked up with JPS Labs Super Conductor+ cables. This, plus the Musical Concepts modification of my Pioneer DV414 player (see article this issue) has elevated the musicality and resolution of my system considerably. But something was still wrong. After having several high-quality CD players pass through my system for review, it hit me. CD players dont sound right. The units I have had at my house lately were serious-sounding players, with serious price tags, but no matter the price, they all suffered from digititis! Im talking about that sterile, somewhat edgy sound, with a flat-sounding midrange topped off with the glare that only CDs can bring. No matter the price or pedigree of the CD player, I still heard these traits in varying degrees. Oh, sure, things like tubes, jitter reduction boxes, and tweaks all work to some degree, but its like putting icing on dog poop. You still have dog poop. The really bad part about all of this is that most of us have grown accustomed to the sound of CDs, so we forget how it should be, namely more like analog!
Enter the Taddeo Digital Antidote Two. There have been some internal changes to the original Antidote. In addition to circuit improvements, one half of the analog output signal that the Digital Antidote Two splits has a delay time of 16 microseconds instead of the 22ms which the older version employed. Now, lets look at the new cosmetics. Wow, talk about an improvement. This box went from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan in one fell swoop. The Taddeo now has a gorgeous state-of-the-art sculpted design. Its rounded corners and heavy construction make it very easy to look at and at the same time (Im sure) help to prevent vibrations from leaking into the circuit board. This unit also benefits from the various power cords and vibration control devices I tried with it. Tweakers take note.
Back in Issue 9, I was quite pleased with the results I got with Taddeos older Antidote Two, but didnt feel the need to make the unit a permanent fixture in my system. That has all changed with the new version. It took me all of a few hours of listening to Dave Clarks unit to want one badly enough to buy one, and thats just what I did, as fast as I could. I have been quite pleased with my Musical Concepts-modified Pioneer DV 414 DVD player. This baby has competed quite successfully with CD players costing $2000 and more. Competing units may better my player in one area or another, but they never seem to have across-the-board better sound, even though they are more expensive. I know my player isnt perfect, but Musical Concepts sure gives you a heck of a lot of music and value for your money. So, here I was, thinking I had a pretty hot digital setup, but it came as a shock when I hooked up the Taddeo Two and found it to make a significant improvement. I had found that the older version removed a degree of glare and digital edginess and added more dimensional imaging to the music. With the new Taddeo, the improvements were more than subtle. It de-burred the digital edge and harshness of every CD I played, and to a significant degree.
Most noticeable to me was the way the midrange performance improved. Instead of a somewhat glassy flatness to vocals, which to me is always present in CD playback, there was now a roundness and reduction of glare. Take, for instance, one of my newly-found treasures of late, the band Government Mule. Their CD Dose is filled with straight-ahead, dynamic blues/rock, the pressure letting up on only a few tracks. I especially like their cover of the Beatles "She Said, She Said." Although this disc is very well-recorded, the Taddeo Two elevated the sound to a great degree, and brought a rounder, more full and natural presentation. Flipping on Jimmy D. Lanes clean-sounding Legacy disc, I heard improvements in the same areas. There was a wholeness to vocals and guitars that made the music more natural. Feeling in the mood for music closer to the equator, on went another new treasure, Rumba Jazz, a tribute to the Cuban tenor sax and violin virtuoso, Jose "Chombo" Silva. On this disc, you have an assortment of brass, percussion, and string instruments, with excellent musicians making exquisite Latin music. This is a fine-sounding disc, but again, with the Taddeo Two installed I heard that roundness of tone and cleaning up of vocals and instruments. This roundness I am talking about is not a smoothing out and loss of detail by any means. Brass instruments have plenty of bite, but they are just more natural sounding. Guitars, both acoustic and electric, have plenty of detail and harmonic overtones, snare drums and cymbals still have snap and speed, but all of these instruments are carrying a lot less excess digital baggage.
I gave as much time to the worst-sounding CDs in my collection as I did to the sonic blockbusters. For example, I played some UB40 (hard core fans of reggae, please dont draw and quarter me!). On their CD Labor of Love, the lead vocals of the Campbell brothers were improved to the point of enjoyment. Labor of Love is not well-recorded, but I enjoyed listening to it all the way through with the Taddeo Two installed. Before, I would just pick out a few favorite songs and put the disc away. With the Taddeo Two in my system, all CDs sound less harsh, less glassy, less flat, and much more enjoyable!
I tried the Taddeo Two with more than one CD player. First, the Flatfish combo from Sakura Systemstheir Model 4713 Flatfish CD player, 4799 Power Dumpty, and Model 4799 Progression DAC, all of which retail for over 8000 bucks. This is one sweet and slick-sounding player, a solid state unit had me thinking there were tubes inside. As good as the Flatfish combo was, I could still detect that digital sound, though to a lesser degree than with the other players. Hooked up to the Taddeo Two, I felt the music had slightly more detail and air, with a notch more dimension. The bass was noticeably cleaned up, and now sounded deeper. The timbre and pitch of bass notes was more articulate, giving me the feeling of more and better bass. Although the Taddeo Two had the least effect on the sound of this player, it still made an improvement.
Next up was a pair of tube players, the Audio Aero Prima and the Audio Note CD2. The Prima has a sweet, clean, three-dimensional sound. The midrange has a fullness and wholeness that only tubes can bring. The Audio Note is another special player. With its warm, musical sound, it really lets you into the music. As with the players already mentioned, the sound of these units took a jump to the next level of musicality with the Taddeo Two. Transients now sounded less flat and stiff and the midrange sounded more real. What the tubes in these units added to the music, the Taddeo Two improved. With a nice tube player and the Antidote Two, I felt there was really no need for an external DAC in my system, at least for now.
The Taddeo Two
does what it claims to do, and does it well. It does so without messing with the basic
tonal balance of your system or glossing over detail and dynamics. It makes listening to
the music coming from my silver discs much more enjoyable. When I took it out of my
system, the music sounded slightly pinched and the soundstage shrank. There was less air
and less overall dimension. I also heard the return of a slight coloration, but the thing
that was most noticeable to me was a flattening out of the all-important midrange. Why
Sony/Philips et al. havent bought the rights to this thing and made Mr. Taddeo a
rich man is beyond me. I feel so strongly about the Taddeo Digital Antidote Two that I
cant imagine myself listening to a CD player without it, at least in my rig. Highly
The Taddeo Digital Antidote Two is for some, a rather controversial product. How can a device operating in the analog domain, way down the chain mind you, affect the digital signal by not only correcting for phase errors, but by also producing a waveform that mimics that of 24/96?
Well, it is way beyond me to explain, that responsibility I pass on the manufacturer, and in this case, Tony Taddeo has a very extensive website (www.taddeo-loudspeaker.com) that says all there needs to be said on the hows and whys of the unit. If you find yourself still with a few unanswered questions give Tony a call. He is extremely well versed in the world of bits, and will tell you all you ever wanted to know or didnt about digital and the future it holds for the music lover.
Okay, quite simply the Two will allow digital to sound more "natural" regardless of whether the unit is working with a converted 16/44.1, 24/96, or DSD signal than previously experienced. I will refer the reader to the Taddeo review in Issue 9 and to Franciscos follow-up in this issue for the complete story, but let me just say that with the Two being fed a signal from my older EAD/ HRS combo, when compared to the Sony 777 SACD machine the differences were subtle at best. Certainly none that would warrant purchasing an SACD machine.
That is, I had on hand a well broken in 777 here with a CD title in both formats to allow for direct comparison (Jon Hassells Fasinoma on Water Lily Acoustics). Going between the two CDs showed no real differences that I could discern, at least with the Two in the chain. Take the Two out and yes, the SACD sounded way better. No contest. But with the Two in the system, one wonders how much DSD is solving more for phase issues than anything else. Sure one gets more resolutionon paper at leastbut I wonder if that is really the biggest benefit of DSD? At least at his point in time. No doubt as DSD takes hold a big assumption based on current releasesthe format will require a different approach or philosophy in the recording process. Much as 16/44.1 has done since its adoption, as time moves on, 16/44.1 is sounding way better than it did at its inception. Hey people learn from their mistakes. You can make very good sounding 16/44.1 CDs, and you can make ones that sound like crap. No doubt DSD, here at its infancy, has a way to go still.
With the Taddeo Digital Two, music sounds more like what I feel it should. Less grain and grit, less hash and shit. Music takes on a more natural flow, just as one hears with DSD and 24/96. Much like one hears with analog, but analog is analog and digital is digital. End of story. But one can make digital sound more "analog-like." Try my current set-up as a starting point (see above). Room for improvementcertainlybut it is quite good none the less. Yes, it works well with 24/96 upsamplers like the D2D as I mentioned above and it should work just as well with SACD and DVD-A machines too. The perceived improvement, perhaps, will not be as great as that heard with 16/44.1, but it is still worth the money. This is my assumption based on not actual listening to the Two combined with any SACD/DVD-A machine, but that formed by whats suggested in the literature.
reviewers who feel that the unit is too subtle - if that - or is based on some
pseudo-scientific bullshit, well I have two possible explanations for their
position. One, their hearing has become too acclimated to the anomalies inherent in
a converted digital signalregardless of the sampling and frequencyand they
need to listen to their set-up for an extended period with the Taddeo in signal chain.
Listen to this for several weeks and then take it out. If you do not hear a difference
than all I can say is that reviewer has some other agenda that he/she needs to deal with
before they should listen to this product. What that is, I would not care to speculate,
but I will say the Taddeo Digital Two makes moving to an SACD or DVD-A machine a moot
point for quite while.
Taddeo Digital Antidote Two