Let me preface my experience with the TIDAL for Bugatti Royale system by saying I know, I know–I hate it too when audio reviewers proclaim a new BEST SOUND EVER every month or so. The limit, I think, should be twice in a career. Once when you’re young and you don’t have a lot of seat time and you tend to think everything sounds great, and once when you’re older and realize you didn’t know what the hell you were talking about the first time and you have to apologize to your readers.
Words and Photos by Marc Phillips
I thought about this a lot during Munich 2023, where I was lucky enough to be invited by TIDAL’s Jörn Janczak, along with CMO Miriam Janczak, to be among the first to hear the TIDAL for Bugatti Royale system. I do get comments on this website from readers who think I love everything I review, when I’m actually trying to review the things that I love. Yes, I thought about all this in Germany, and I came to a conclusion: it’s all about access.
Not everyone gets to hear the best in high-end audio. There are several non-snobby and pragmatic reasons why this is true. First of all, much of the “ultra” gear is bespoke, made to order, not even generally available to dealers who otherwise carry the brand. There aren’t a lot of review samples floating around. Jörn Janczak’s warehouse is not stacked to the rafters with big boxes that say TIDAL for Bugatti Royale.
Second of all, and this seems to be the case with me personally, once you hear something rare and exquisite and you declare it as such, other people notice that and approach you. “If you think that was amazing,” they tell you, “I want to you to hear this.” And you get access. This is one of the many reasons why I think I have the greatest job on earth.
Oh, there’s one more thing. I have many great friends in the high-end audio industry, friends who expose me to the finest gear in the world. So my private audition of the TIDAL for Bugatti Royale speakers and Royale MC-1 controller was made possible by Doug White of The Voice That Is! Doug, of course, is the premiere TIDAL Audio dealer in the US, if not the world. He’s the one who asked me to cover the debut of the TIDAL for Bugatti line last year. That didn’t happen, of course, due to an outbreak of Covid in the TIDAL Audio factory shortly before the show. Doug is the guy who said, “Wanna try this again in 2023?” I obviously said yes.
Doug is also the one who convinced Jörn Janczak that I should take a listen to the Bugatti system while I was there. This debut was so tightly controlled that only dealers, distributors and very select members of the press were allowed to hear the system, and that was only during their designated appointments. Everyone else, including the remaining press and the show attendees, were given access to the debuts of the TIDAL Audio Contriva G3 and Piano G3, held elsewhere in the large room. But not the Royale. (By the way, please keep all your Pulp Fiction references to yourself.)
I made a big thing about that other system in the front half of the exhibit room, the one with the new Pianos and Contrivas along with the Intra power amplifier and the Contros controller. Not counting cables, there’s only four pieces to the system for a grand total of $167k. That’s a huge amount of money, I acknowledged, but many audiophiles (such as myself) have huge, ramblin’ systems with tons of gear collected over time that probably approach that amount and don’t sound anywhere as good as this. We talk often in this hobby about getting off the merry-go-round, of buying one perfect system for the rest of your days on this planet. This is clearly reflected in the TIDAL approach. Four pieces and cables. All you ever need, unless.
In its way, the TIDAL for Bugatti Royale system is this approach taken to the extreme. This three-piece system, with the Royale speakers and the Royale MC-1 Controller and the cables, is so simple and streamlined and easy to use that it can be called a genuine lifestyle product. The controller just features a power button, a volume knob and a source selector knob. (Of course there’s a beautiful remote.) Sure, you can add pieces to this system–I’d have to consider how to play my LPs–but if you’ve reluctantly fallen in love with streaming, you know what I’m saying about succumbing to the future.
It’s gauche to talk about prices at this level, and I’m getting tired of all the emails that decry the silliness of this industry and its skyrocketing MSRPs. I have 101 arguments why you should keep those comments to yourself, but I’d rather just not publish your comments. But I do mention prices in my reviews because it’s the first thing people ask. How much?
The answer is that the Tidal for Bugatti Royale system will cost you around $450k complete, depending upon finishes. (The choices are almost infinite at this level.) That’s a lot of money. At the same time, I saw many loudspeakers in Munich that cost more than that alone. That ESD Acoustic system, by the way, can be yours for just $3.6 million. I think some of the Bugatti automobiles go for that kind of money.
So let’s stop talking about the cost of things. If the TIDAL for Bugatti Royale system is the best high-end audio system I’ve heard, in my very humble opinion, what does that sound like? The best way I can describe it involves that nothingness I keep meeting on the way to audio perfection, that feeling that the gear is no longer interpreting the signal as much as delivering it to you in its arms as gently and unfettered as possible. I’ve been exploring this world of nothingness, of extraordinarily low noise floors and distortion, of hearing everything on the recording and nothing else. Every single thing. This, however, takes another big step forward.
Jörn Janczak asked me to choose three tracks to start off my audition. I turned to Doug White and said, “You know what I’m gonna say, right?”
That’s right. The first thing I listened to was “Chocolate Chip Trip.” That’s what happens when you ask. I thought Jörn would kick me out of the room after that, but instead he and Doug were floored–neither had heard it before. “The dynamics!” Jörn exclaimed. I think everyone immediately understood why I keep asking to hear this in the “big rooms” at the audio shows. These two men now understood why I wanted to hear it on this system, right now.
The second song I listened to was “Yulunga” from Dead Can Dance’s Into the Labyrinth. That’s right–the TIDAL for Bugatti Royale system was getting the Yulunga Test. That first strike of the big bass drum was softer and deeper than ever before. I expected the deep, but not the soft–the size of this gossamer thud was larger than ever before and occupied a huge space that suggest all other Yulunga tests were marred by either compression or a colorations at certain frequencies.
Finally, I listened to one of my latest reference tracks, Hildur Guðnadóttir’s “Bridge of Death” from the Chernobyl soundtrack. I use this track to define the size of the soundstage and the precision of the imaging, but also because it’s a haunting soundscape with the melody buried deep within, and it takes concentration on the part of the listener to flesh out Hildur’s ideas. Jörn said it was the scariest music he’s heard in a while.
I think I proved to the room that I wasn’t just another grumpy old audio guy, thanks to these weird musical selections. But Jörn Janczak did want to play some of his favorites for me so that I could hear a greater variety of music. It became clear after just a few minutes that I was hearing something totally new–as I mentioned, that’s become a familiar response as I stick fast to my audio journey. The TIDAL for Bugatti Royale system goes deep and wide and high and low and everywhere else you want to go. Just so you know. It’s easy to settle in your chair and close your eyes and ask yourself how close this comes to the real thing, music being played right in front of you by live musicians, and it’s easier than ever to slip into those thought processes and just go with it.
When Jörn heard the final version of the TIDAL for Bugatti Royale system for the first time, he wanted to run out into the street and grab the first person who walked by and tell them, “Come see what I have made!” You feel that unbridled love when you listen to this system for the first time. Jörn Janczak made this system from out of the dust, and he made it the best he possibly could. He was surprised that the Royales weren’t bigger than they are–they’re only 5’4″ but they weigh several hundred pounds each–but they were better in every way compared to his previous designs. Even the much larger ones.
There was one word that was mentioned repeatedly during the course of my experience with the TIDAL for Bugatti Royale system: reset. This is a reset of the state-of-the-art in high-end audio. You can take what I say about this system with a grain of salt, and perhaps you should. This isn’t the first time you’ve read about a new product in high-end audio that’s supposed to change everything. But the response from the industry people who have heard this system perform (I was told I was #41, by the way), is uniformly ecstatic. People cried when they first heard it. I’ve never cried at a high-end audio show–have you?
That’s why it’s important to be prudent about TIDAL for Bugatti Royale until you hear it–which may be difficult to do. Last year Doug White mentioned the possibility of events in the US where people could hear this. I think that’s the way to do it, and to quell the din from the naysayers who do nothing but read reviews and talk on the internet forums. The very idea of “the Bugatti of hi-fi” is not a cheap marketing ploy but a very precise capture of a feeling. The closest I could come to describing it was “it’s not for audiophiles per se, but audiophiles who would jump behind the wheel of a Bugatti without hesitation and take a few laps on a track.” It’s a system for people who don’t make purchasing decisions based on what other people tell them. It’s for those who hear something special, and then buy it because they don’t want to be without it. It’s for audiophiles who can make decisions on their own.
It was a privilege to walk into this room, sit down for an hour, and listen to the very best I’ve heard so far.
If you would like to hear even more coverage from Munich 2023, check out our recap report and highlights from our audiophile-oriented show The Occasional Podcast. You can stream the episode direct from the embed below, or from your favorite podcast platform including iTunes, Android, Google, Deezer, Spotify, iHeartRadio and more.
Also don’t forget to check out our latest collaboration – a solid bronze record weight available only for a limited run. This 800g of solid bronze features the PTA roundel on the top which also acts as a 45 adapter. You can purchase direct from the PTA Approved Store here on the site.