Equipment Review JAN/2001
Taddeo Digital Antidote Two
Analog pair of RCA jacks IN and pair RCA jacks OUT
Dim.: 18.5" W x 8.5" D x 2" H
Weight: 11.5 lbs.
Taddeo Loudspeaker Co.
2604 Elmwood Ave., Ste. 105
Rochester, NY 14618
It has been some years since Tony Taddeo introduced his original Digital Antidote. The focus of his rather basic little brown wood box was to correct serious phase distortion in the analog output of any CD player - distortion which was designed into the digital conversion process and caused by the brickwall filter at 22K. He has dubbed this phase problem Digital Flicker Distortion and compares the confusion it causes in the brain to the visual confusion resulting from motion pictures filmed and projected at too slow a rate (16 fps silents vs. 24 fps sound films). Digital Flicker is so consistent and similar according to Taddeo that his special proprietary circuit reduces it greatly no matter what the software or hardware source. He feels this distortion is more serious and audible than the much-discussed jitter. The original unit, which I lived with for a time, did make all CDs sound more musical and pleasant, with subtle widening and deepening of the soundstage. However, I also heard a very definite rolloff of the extreme top frequencies, which after a while moved me to return the review unit without purchase. This was due to a tradeoff between phase compensation and reduction of the upper frequencies.
I realize my personal frequency response is not now what it was when I reviewed the original Digital Antidote, but the first thing I wanted to do after hooking up the brand new version was to check the extreme high end response with it in and out of my system. With music I could hear no effect on the frequency response, but certainly some other very good effects of which much more in a moment. Due to many improvements in the new design over the original, and the fact that it is now an active circuit rather than passive, the upper frequency rolloff has been reduced to only 1 dB down at 11K and 2.5 dB down at 20K (which I can't hear anymore anyway!)
Version Two is quite a different animal from the original. It is much heftier, more solid and professional-looking, with lovely silver script on the front and a single blue LED in the center. The power cord is detachable and the unit sits on four quite solid rubber feet. The transformer is built into the unit. There are no controls and the unit is intended to be left powered on permanently. It is also more than twice the cost of the original, but of course time has passed and what you are getting now really works! Operating entirely in the analog domain means that the Antidote Two can do its magic on almost any sort of digitally-originating signal. Taddeo does warn against 24bit/192K signals or SACD outputs without the 50KHz filter provided on players. It appears that the unit can't do its thing properly if there are any frequencies above 96k in the analog output.
I used the Digital Antidote Two primarily with my Arcam CD player (used as a transport), feeding the 96K-capable MSB Link DAC II with optional upsampling of 44.1 to 96K. For comparison I used as a second source my Pioneer DV-05 DVD player. I also tried both with the Perpetual Technologies P-3A and with insertion of my pair of Monarchy SuperDrive jitter filters between the CD player and DAC inputs.
First up was my favorite test CD, the Opus 3 gold CD "A Selection From Test Records 1, 2, 3" with a guitar quartet on track 2 and a traditional jazz band on track 3. While both test tracks sounded great before insertion of the Taddeo, after insertion the guitars took on a more natural and musical timbre and the already-clear spread of the four guitarists across my three frontal speakers made itself even more holographic. Switching from the Arcam to the Pioneer player (pre-Taddeo) lost a bit of the deep bass end and added too much bite to the initial transient of some of the chords. With the Digital Two in the circuit the bite was much gentler and again the guitars took on a more realistic musical personality.
On a new Albany CD of light classics by composer Don Gillis the first movement of Symphony "X" has a great deal of brass in the orchestra to depict the All-American City. A/B-ing with the Taddeo in and out of the chain quickly showed up a before-unnoticed fuzziness to the timbre of all the brass instruments. To my ears it is a sort of aural equivalent of rice paper or tracing paper over the burnished brass. The Taddeo stripped this away and the result was a super-clean and impactful brass sound. Another reviewer used the expression "de-burred" and that fits too. The stage depth of the orchestra also expanded.
Next I sought out one of the earliest Red Seal CDs in my collection, highlights from a Rubinstein Carnegie Hall Recital of 1961. Without the Taddeo the piano tone in the quiet opening portions of Debussy's Sunken Cathedral were just that - sunken. The flat and opaque sound wasn't saved by the freedom from speed variations (that made even poorly-done early CDs of piano music such a pleasure to those of us sensitive to that LP fault). Only when the cathedral was rising up high out of the water with the dynamics getting much louder did the piano begin to sound more like a real piano. Next, I started over with the Taddeo in the chain. Now even the most subtle opening piano notes sounded more like a genuine piano on a stage with a real hall around it. The couple of coughers in the audience also sounded more real. But at the same time the soundstage-expanding ability of the Taddeo resulted in emphasizing the 40-foot-wide piano sound that was a result of improper miking of the piano, as it so often is. So this was a mixed blessing. Guess I prefer the wide piano - you can always mix to mono if your controls allow for that!
I switched to the Pioneer DVD player for some 96K DVDs from Classic Records. No sound at all. Obviously the Monarchy SuperDrives only accept 44.1K, so I had to remove them from the chain. I feel the Pioneer has better jitter specs than the Arcam anyway. It also has their proprietary Legato Link circuit on the analog CD output, which supposedly addresses some of the same phase distortion that the Taddeo singles out. I only use the digital output because I found the Legato Link to reduce the higher frequencies without even the improvements of the original Taddeo Antidote.
One of my favorite of the 96K discs is Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack - 13 great piano ticklings by Piano Professor Dr. John. I had until recently a 15 ips open reel dub of the master tape for this album and the 96K DVD surpassed it easily. Now with the Taddeo in the circuit the piano sound was even more convincingly right in the listening room, and the couple of vocals were almost scary. Singers sound more like genuine flesh and blood. A recent reissue of some old mono broadcast tapes of Billie Holiday performing at a club in Boston - that already had more presence than any of her studio recordings - now put Billie right in front of you. I had read that the improvements others had gained with the Taddeo diminished as the source went up in quality - being the most with early, poor CDs and the least with 96K DVD or SACD. I'm looking forward to trying it with my soon-to-arrive next SACD player, but with the sources on hand the changes were about the same across the board. Perhaps with a no-holds-barred CD player such as the Linn ($20K), Krell or Wadia the improvement would be less.
But wait. I forgot about other rock-bottom CD players in this house - my trusty Optimus portable and the CD-ROM player in my Mac! I had already used the Optimus for a time as the transport for some highly tweaked D-A processing and it worked great. I knew the Mac CD player sounded about as flat and opaque as one could get, especially with the over 25-foot cheap interconnect running from it to my preamp for listening to webcasts. So I inserted the Don Gillis symphonic CD in it and listened. Sure enough: flat, dull, almost no soundstage and the brass section full of burrs. Then I switched the cable from the back of my preamp to the input of the Taddeo. Wow! Here were sonics to give my Arcam and Pioneer players a run for the money. The improvement in clarity and especially in soundstaging was phenomenal! There was still little deep bass and some fuzziness to the brass, but that was to be expected. On my favorite guitar quartet track the soundstaging improvement was equally dramatic, as well as the much greater apparent resolution. Now I could hear what others were talking about as to poorer sources showing even more improvement with the Taddeo!
Now it should be pointed out that like many audiophile tweaks this improvement takes some relaxed and extended listening to a variety of source material. Don't forget to consider your own physiology as well as the equipment. I was hearing little improvement at one point in my testing and then realized I had taken a couple of Excedrin an hour earlier. Forget it - no more critical listening for several hours. As I mentioned in my MSB review a couple months back, the upsampling option in the Link DAC II was an extremely subtle improvement that was often completely unhearable. I find spinning CDs on the latest version of the Bedini Clarifier before playing makes a much more identifiable sonic improvement than MSB's upsampling. With certain CDs - evidently suffering from more jitter in mastering than others - the Monarchy SuperDrive Duo makes a similar sonic improvement. I would rate the enhancement factor of the Taddeo - at least in my system - as not earth moving but certainly more dynamic than any of the forementioned tweaks. So far I haven't slipped in a single CD or DVD on which I failed to hear at least some improvement in the general direction of the very best analog reproduction. Another reviewer said he was now uninterested in purchase of a SACD player because with the Taddeo all of his CDs sounded just as good as the best SACDs. I wouldn't go quite that far, but the analogy is certainly in the right neighborhood.
I plan to vote for it by buying myself - though very slightly wider than the other three components it makes an impressive stack when it joins the Link DAC sitting on the MSB P1000 Power Supply, sitting on the heavy MSB Isolation Plate. While I haven't had time to fuss with it any more as yet, I understand from colleagues that the Taddeo responds well to mass loading, isolation, cones, power cords and similar tweaks.
- John Sunier
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