T+A Caruso All in One Speaker System Review

The last cube this intriguing was made by Rubik

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

5

Recommended
T+A Caruso All in One Speaker System Review
SRP: £3,000.00

Introduction - what is the T+A Caruso?

The T+A Caruso is a self-contained wireless speaker. We’ve looked at a fair few of those of late and they’re a significant product category that has expanded to cover a wide selection of price points and form factors. Even with all this studiously noted down, the Caruso is not really the same as any wireless speaker we’ve looked at up to this point.

Of course, this is T+A we’re talking about so this should not be a huge surprise. Whether making a DAC with nine individual DACs in it or starting from scratch at building one of the most extraordinary headphones I’ve ever tested, the underlying similarity in all cases is that T+A does things the way it wants to, with few concessions to anything other than whether it thinks it is a good idea or not. This means that the Caruso is rather bigger and more sophisticated than anything we’ve looked at in this category before. As ever, ‘bigger and more sophisticated’ are not automatically interchangeable with ‘good.’ Does this rather hefty and ambitious cube have what it takes to justify the asking price and tempt you away from more conventional ways of spending this money? Let’s cue up the cube and see what it can do.

Specification and Design 


T+A Caruso (2020)
The front panel is dominated by the large and attractive display

The Caruso is a device where the specification looks more ‘normal’ on paper than the end result does. The Caruso is a wireless speaker that has a UPnP module built in that accepts audio via both wired and wireless connections. This module is able to handle sampling rates of up to 24/192kHz but there is no DSD or AIFF support which is an irritation (although I grant you that these are not formats that people tend to use casually). As you might expect, the Caruso also supports internet radio via the same module.

What is a little less common is that the Caruso goes on to add more inputs. Many more inputs in fact. The internet radio functionality is augmented by the ability to access both DAB and FM. This is in fact the start of a range of connectivity that means - if you wanted - you could use the Caruso without recourse to a network at all. For starters, the Caruso can play CDs via an inhaler mechanism on the front panel (and, while this may seem a bit of an oddity from a UK perspective, Germany has remained keener on physical media).

This is joined by two analogue connections on RCA (together with an RCA line out and separate sub out), an optical and coaxial digital input, USB connection for reading sticks and drives, and Bluetooth including support for AAC and aptX. Not enough? OK, how about AirPlay, native support for Spotify, Deezer, Tidal and Qobuz and a headphone output? The only thing you might reasonably ask for in addition to what the Caruso has fitted is an HDMI ARC connection although, as I’ve stated before, there is performatively, no difference between stereo ARC and 48kHz optical.

This is given voice by a 200 watt amplifier that acts on an interesting selection of drivers. The Caruso is probably the largest device I’ve ever tested that is ‘half stereo.’ It has two soft dome tweeters and two 40mm midrange drivers that are allocated as left and right and there are pair of 100mm drivers arrayed in the same fashion. These are then underpinned by a pair of 170mm radiators and a single 170mm bass driver. Below 200Hz, the Caruso is effectively operating in mono.

T+A Caruso (2020)
CD playback is an unusual feature 

If you have been mentally weighing up the dimensions of the chassis required to give all those drivers a home, let me put you out of your misery. The Caruso is a big lad. It is a near cube (it’s 2 centimetres shorter than it is wide and deep) almost 30 centimetres in any direction. This means it is nearly ten centimetres larger than the Naim Mu-So Qb2 (to which it bears a passing resemblance) in any given dimension. It also weighs a momentarily surprising 12kg.

The reason for this is that T+A’s endearing insistence on building their equipment with a view to it surviving being dropped off the Burj Khalifa. The Caruso has an extruded aluminium chassis that acts as both the mounting point for the drivers and the means of fitting the cosmetic elements of the design. Despite being completely different to both the DAC 8 and the Solitaire P, it feels every bit as wilfully over engineered.

The key difference is that it feels much less fiddly to use. T+A has dispensed with the control app that was used by the MPD8 and the result is rather slicker and more cohesive. The Caruso app is available for both Android and iOS and in the time I’ve been using it, stability has been absolute. Not everything is perfect; the search for artist and album in the streaming services feels a little laborious and it can be a little slow to wake the Caruso up but it’s a simple to use and generally confidence inspiring piece of software. No less importantly, the T+A is very customisable too. Bass, treble and a selection of EQ functions can be widely adjusted and the performance can be effectively dialled into the room and space and location you put it in.

T+A Caruso (2020)
The display offers extensive set up options 

What’s more, unlike a number of rivals, it’s part of a range of control options. The front of the Caruso is given over to a full colour touch screen that replicates the app. Now, we’ve said in the past, touchscreens and displays are risky things. We’re used to the vividness and responsiveness of our phones and if the one bolted to a piece of £3,000 equipment doesn’t stack up, it rather undoes the good work elsewhere. The good news here is that this screen works well. It’s responsive (if a fraction oversensitive), clear and easy to read and logical to use. There is also a slim remote handset which means you can control the Caruso how you see fit and not feel you’re being railroaded into the way that the manufacturer feels like.

The presence of the display also helps the aesthetic of the Caruso. Without it, this would - bluntly - look like an ambitious subwoofer. With it on the front, the look and feel of the Caruso is - and I am aware that I am a 39 year old man largely devoid of sartorial style - pretty cool. The brushed metal top plate is also very smart. I’m not completely sold on the underside LEDs which are a bit Fast and the Furious and cannot, as best as I can work out, be switched off. Value is subjective, and there are myriad different ways of spending three grand. Crucially though, with the Caruso, you can see where the money has gone.

T+A Caruso (2020)
The remote recharges via USB- WHY DOES NOBODY ELSE DO THIS?
 

The Caruso is a device where the specification looks more ‘normal’ on paper than the end result does

How was the Caruso tested?

The T+A has been connected to an IsoTek Evo3 Corvus mains block and was used both wired and wirelessly. It has taken a feed from a music library on a Melco N1A NAS and an optical feed from an LG 55B7 OLED. AirPlay has been tested via iPad Pro (and this has been used for the bulk of app testing) while an Oppo Find X2 Neo has been used for Bluetooth testing. Material used has been FLAC, Tidal, Qobuz and some on demand video content.

More: Audio Formats

Performance

T+A Caruso (2020)
Connectivity is extensive 

There is an element of a leap into the unknown when confronted with something like the Caruso because it has so few parallels among things we’ve already tested. It is over twice as expensive as the Naim Mu-So 2nd Generation which is already on the large and ornate side for an all in one speaker. I fired it up unsure of what to expect. Firing the Caruso up incidentally via either wired or wireless connections is simplicity itself; if this system trickles over to the more ornate T+A products, it will be to their benefit.

From the moment I started listening, there was an element of the Caruso’s performance that scratched away at me because I couldn’t place where I’d heard it before. It took a fair bit of leafing through Word documents and notes before I found it because it wasn’t a product I was expecting to make parallels to because that product is the KEF Blade. Before you assume that I’ve lost it after a few months of being on my own talking to cats, you’ll have to hear me out on this one.

The reason for drawing this parallel is that the Caruso uses a similar facet of how we hear and respond to sound to mask that it is a single chassis. By pushing certain frequencies forwards and lower frequencies out to the side, the T+A takes the idea of a single point source and uses enough DSP and engineering setup to leave you listening to something that has a definite left and right. Is it the same as two carefully placed speakers? No… but it’s rather closer than you might expect.


T+A Caruso (2020)
The app is a good one

Listening to Recoil’s amazing Liquid, an album that sounds far more up to date than something which celebrated its 20th birthday recently, the Caruso shines. The album is unsettling, dense, shifting and intense and the T+A has the measure of it. Each word of the lyrics is clear and easy to follow, very much something being pushed forwards. It’s underpinned by the considered electronic thuggery that is a Recoil trademark which the Caruso pushes out into the wider space it is placed in. It’s not a conventional presentation but it works.

One of the reasons it manages to do this is because the scale and clout that the Caruso has is deeply impressive. We should not be overly surprised at this; it is after all a £3,000 device, but the T+A has clean, effortless bass that feels deep and well controlled. There’s always the fear with radiators and many drivers in the same chassis that you will be audibly aware of its presence but the Caruso does a fine job of being an inert and imperceptible base for some serious low end heft. This is an effortlessly room filling device that delivers weight and scale in a manner in keeping with the asking price.

And, because of that extensive functionality, it can do it across pretty much any requirement you might have. Using the Caruso as a TV speaker might be considered to be overkill but it works brilliantly. Dialogue is clear and easy to follow and the combination of higher frequencies forwards and lower frequencies passed to the side is incredibly effective. It’s an awkward shape to be a true alternative to lower and wider rivals but it gives nothing away in terms of soundstage and presentation.

And, should you still be using CDs, it’s very good for those too. There isn’t as much information available on the hardware used for digital to analogue decoding in the Caruso but there’s elements of the DAC8 in the way it goes about its business. This isn’t a device that goes in for hyper detail and the sort of etched presentation that is superficially exciting but wearying long term. Instead you get the detail you need in an unforced, considered and enjoyable way. Its here that the company’s heritage of making complete systems really starts to pay off. Everything here feels like it was designed to work with everything else and it leaves the Caruso feeling bespoke; a device built to do what it does rather than cobbled together.

T+A Caruso (2020)

 

By pushing certain frequencies forwards and lower frequencies out to the side, the T+A takes the idea of a single point source and uses enough DSP and engineering setup to leave you listening to something that has a definite left and right..



Verdict

Pros

  • Big, confident and expansive performance
  • Great connectivity
  • Very well made

Cons

  • More limited than more conventional rivals
  • Quite big
  • Not cheap

T+A Caruso All in One Speaker System Review

Let me (for once), cut to the chase about how the performance of the T+A stacks up against other devices at £3,000. It is possible to put together a system of components for £3,000 that will outperform the Caruso. You know this. T+A knows this. It’s not a substitute for a more traditional system, be that true separates or an all in one to which you add speakers and nor is it designed to be.

What has surprised me, pretty much from the moment I turned it on though is how close it gets at times whilst being as convenient, user friendly and generally clever as smaller and more ‘normal’ wireless speakers. If you can’t face the system matching hassle, you don’t want the extra boxes, complexity and general faff that comes with breaking things up by role, the T+A starts to make more and more sense. I don’t know how big the market is for a device like this but I suspect it is more significant than you or I as ‘traditionalists’ might expect. This is a unique product but one that works well enough across its many functions and features to earn our enthusiastic Recommendation.

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Connectivity

.
9

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Features

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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