Tyler Acoustics Decade Series D1 Loudspeakers

Let’s keep in mind here that as I’ve done my fair share of gear reviews, I’m not a professional reviewer or writer. That said, these things are special - Special enough to make me set up a little time to type away an undoubtedly wandering series of paragraphs and sentences into a confusing cauldron of mumbo-jumbo. Enjoy!

For the record -- In - oh, around May or June of 2012, I added a pair of Tyler D4M "monitor" sized Decade speakers for a "smallie" reference. One of these days if I can find the time, I'll post the praises. But it's just more praise…
I’ve never been a big fan of --- I don’t even know how to categorize them --- “Expanded D’Appolito” arrays (the usual D’Appolito speaker being a “MTM” or “Mid-Tweeter-Mid” such as a typical center channel speaker, the Tyler Decade D1’s being a dual-woofer/MTM/dual woofer or WWMTMWW design) such as those made famous by Duntech, Dunlavy and the like. Something was always wrong. Either they were brash and “scooped” sounding, or they lacked subtle detail that’s so important in a mastering situation, or I just didn’t care for them for whatever reason. I understand that a lot of people use them, love them, etc. I’ve just never been one of them.

But one day, I received a call from a colleague (Cass Anawaty of Sunbreak Music) out west. He asked me if I’d ever heard of these guys (Tyler Acoustics - http://www.tyleracoustics.com). The name seemed vaguely familiar (probably my frequent bouncing around Audiogon.com), but I wasn’t specifically familiar with their products. Did a little R&D to find that Ty Lashbrook is basically a ‘legend in the making’ in the audiophile field. Long story short, I ended up contacting Tyler about these beautiful boxes pictured on his web site and decided to give them a try.
mastering studio shot

Of course, I heard it -- “But John, you’re using B&W Nautilus 802’s - The almost de-facto standard mastering speaker - Sterling, Abbey Road, Skywalker freaking Sound, etc., etc., etc. Why would you possibly want to try something different?” I heard it from colleagues, I heard it from friends, I heard it from the little voice inside my head that tells me to make coffee at midnight. And for good reason -- A loudspeaker such as the Nautilus 802 doesn’t become one of the most used and trusted speakers in the industry for no reason... It’s a fantastic sounding speaker. I’ve been using mine for years with no real ‘complaints’ per se, but were they the perfect speaker for me? That was arguable. The whole “The guy’s list of pro users is basically non-existent” thing resonated a little, but actually seemed less important... Every big-time product out there started out with a limited number of (if any) pro users. Pouring over the internet, I found that number to be less than two. Still, the commentary and reviews on these speakers sparked my curiosity to where I couldn’t help myself anymore.

So I figured “what have I got to lose” (he allows a generous return and refund window) and called Ty to order a set of Decade D2’s.

But wait - I thought this was about the D1’s?!?

Yeah, it is. After chatting with Ty for what seemed like hours about his speakers, he made me feel very confident that the much larger D1’s weren’t going to ‘take over’ my space. The room here at MASSIVE isn’t very massive... But it’s very well-controlled using over 30 broadband traps from GIK, RealTraps and several custom Klups traps made specifically for this room. Spacing in here is very picky with any speaker. The ‘sweet spot’ in the room is hardly 8’ from the front - so I’m looking at around 6.5’ from the fronts of the speakers. The 802’s are very ‘forward’ in the mids from this distance. And being hyper-sensitive in the high end, having those 35kHz Nautilus tweeters that close would occasionally dissect parts of my brain. I really didn’t think the room could handle these behemoths, but the whole “what have I got to lose” thing came around again and I ordered a pair of D1’s in cherry with black oak center sections, copper tweeters and gold phase plugs.

Hey, you don’t get to do this sort of customization often. 80-some available finishes. The cherry closely matches a lot of the color in here - The oak rails on the console, the cherry-oak floors, the smooth cedar walls - all complimentary and in the same ballpark. “Get what you really want” was Ty’s repeated advice.

The Tyler Acoustics D1's
Fast-forward around 8 or 9 weeks and Ty is pulling up with a trailer (he was dropping off a few pairs of speakers in the area anyway, so it saved a few bucks on shipping the 170-pound beasts). He had places to go, I had places to go. We quickly roughed them in and I started the “break-in” disc (a mixture of very dynamic recordings, sweeps, noises, warbles, etc.) on, made sure all the drivers were functioning, thought “eh, they’re okay” and then went off to mix a concert (I think if was Anoushka Shankar that night, but I can’t remember).

Yes, it was “eh...” But I’ve learned many times that brand new speakers - especially paper cones & soft-domed tweeters - need a solid break-in (I don’t care what some ‘experts’ say about it - I’ve measured the results myself). They sounded a little ‘flat’ on the bottom, a bit scooped in the mids and a little harsh on top. Just as I’d expect with brand new drivers of the types used in these boxes.

Several days of constant pummeling went by until I got comfortable enough to start working on them - “Low priority” stuff mostly - Editing, compilation assembly - anything I could do that didn’t rely on sheer accuracy (which was improving every day). Everything started sounding familiar after a couple hundred hours (Ty had about 100 on them before they arrived). The low end extended wonderfully, the mids smoothed out in a rather revealing manner, the top end became very clear and uncluttered. The ‘disjointed spaces’ between the speaker sets nearly disappeared.

D1's in cherry with black oak center inserts
Getting 7 drivers in one box to play nicely with each other is no small feat -- Ty chose another ‘audiophile legend in the making’ in Danny Richie to design the crossovers. How I understand it is that Ty designs the speakers and sends them off to Danny for design and tweaking of the custom crossovers used in these speakers. And what a job he did... For casual listening, they’re wonderfully transparent. For critical work, where you’re concentrating on quarter and half-dB adjustments “working around the crossovers” is a common problem with many (MANY) speakers. Not with these - The “gaps” that are common in some speakers, the “buildup” common to others -- They’re just inconsequential on the D1’s. Drivers working in harmony with each other in this way is something that’s very rewarding to excellent recordings - and very revealing on some ‘less than stellar’ recordings.

And that was put on display pretty quickly... Within days of putting these speakers in, while I'm still learning them, I had visits from several local studio owners and engineers that I work with regularly. They'd bring over some recordings, we'd listen to some stuff (everyone wanted to hear Dark Side of the Moon on SACD on these things for some reason...), have some coffee and talk about how wonderful the imaging was. One of the issues that I was having was how great everything sounded -- Not that I'm complaining, but I'm not in the business of working on speakers that "make" everything sound great. But finally, one engineer came in with a recording he'd been having some issues with. After listening to a few select DSOTM tracks, we popped in his problematic mixes and -- well, they sounded really bad. His expression was much like that of "Dramatic Look Gopher" as I started smiling nodding my head. He asked why I seemed so happy about these semi-awful mixes. I explained that for the last few days, I'd been listening to Chesky recordings, Pink Floyd, Elgin Symphony, Al Dimeola, watching movies with great-sounding soundtracks and foley work, etc. and I hadn't heard anything that sounded - you know... bad. And I was thrilled to hear that 'bad' sounded BAD on these speakers. Both tonally and spatially in this case.
Dramatic Look Gopher - YouTube it

And speaking of spatially... The imaging with the D1’s is just plain remarkable. I was expecting superior vertical coherency -- one of the obvious advantages to this sort of array. But what I got was a 3D soundstage that had me reversing little DVD clips over and over. The “image” of the 802’s for example, was very “kidney bean” shaped - As one would probably expect. The D1’s had a very “rounded diamond” thing going on. You could ‘hear the ceiling’ in a (recorded) room. Walls, floors, front, back - Not in an exaggerated way, mind you - but in a controlled, precise manner. I make a couple dozen “simple stereo” classical recordings yearly (many just for archival purposes, but it gives me many welcome opportunities for experimentation). Knowing exactly what the room sounded like at the time the recording was made and listening to those recordings on these speakers found them to be very accurate and revealing of space and instrumental positioning - Up to and including the apparent rake of the stage in relation to the positioning of the microphones.

They’re fast, they’re smooth, they’re accurate. They’re big (short of 6’ “stock” and just a whisker over 6’ on the bases I use here to get them up to the right level for my listening scenario), they’re weighty (around 170 pounds each). They’re built - They’re beautiful. They’re exceptionally well-priced (under $10k and you can usually score a great deal going through Audiogon, where Tyler regularly runs “special pricing” on his already freakishly special pricing), exceptionally well-constructed. They’re well-received by everyone that’s heard them here and translation to other systems is excellent.

One wonders why Ty doesn’t have a list of mastering facilities a mile long on his user list. But a speaker this good, priced so very reasonably, will somehow find a way to be heard.

Chain: Miscellaneous sources including Samplitude Professional / Sonica X58, Cambridge Audio Azur 650BD SACD, Tascam DVRA-1000 DSD deck through Crane Song Avocet monitoring controller / DA converter through Silver Serpent balanced connectors into a Pass Laboratories X-250 amplifier with Pangea AC9 power and Cobalt speaker cables.