Manufacturer: Tannoy Limited
t is difficult to briefly tell the story of a company whose roots date back to 1926. The first important event in its history, when it was called Tulsemere Manufacturing Company, took place in 1929 when Guy R. Fountain (Pic. 1), its founder and longtime head, developed a new type of electrical rectifier intended for home use. Its design was based on using two pieces of dissimilar metal immersed in an electrolyte. One metal plate was made of tantalum, and the other of lead alloy. The combination of the words ‘Tantalum’ and ‘alloy’ brought the company name effective today, Tannoy, registered March 10, 1932 year. A year later, Tannoy presented its first speakers and then microphones.
The Kensington GR speaker under review is the smallest, which does not mean small, design in the new series. Built using 10-inch Dual Concentric system housed in a characteristic cabinet resembling a piece of furniture from before WWII, it is a modern speaker through and through. In spite of that, it looks wonderfully anachronistic and surprisingly appropriate at the same time. It is one of the few speakers my wife would be happy to keep in our living room. Its front grille is locked with a key (!) and the cabinet is made of veneered plywood. The speakers rest on solid spikes and treble can be adjusted by two switch blocks labelled ‘Energy’ and ‘Roll Off’ on a large, golden plate on the front baffle. The Energy control is a +/- 3dB shelving filter over a frequency band between 1.1kHz and 27kHz, and the Roll Off provides adjustment in the range of +2dB to -6dB per octave at high frequencies between 5kHz and 27kHz. The speakers are large, measuring 1100 x 406 x 338 mm, and heavy – you need another person with you to carry them. They have extremely high sensitivity of 93dB (2,83V/1m) and friendly impedance – nominally 8 ohm and minimally 5 ohm, which should make for an easy load. Frequency response is specified for 29Hz-27kHz, at -6dB.
Albums auditioned during this review
With audio products that are long awaited and highly anticipated the first impression is most important – the first album or even track played on them. Poorly selected can spoil mood for a long time and, in extreme cases, put off the auditioned product. It is not even so much about the quality of the recording, or at least so I believe. It is rather a matter of emotions. On the one hand, we have in our throat and over our chest a ready built pedestal for the product while, on the other, it is supposed to be shoved onto the pedestal by our emotions evoked by a well-known and liked song (album) that has a connection with our past. In my case, that sequence of events is applicable each time..
The Tannoys arrived just when I was reading Depeche Mode’s biography by Jonathan Miller, and reached the period of time when they’d released their third album titled Construction Time Again, or more specifically the first single from it, Construction Time Again (Jonathan Miller, Stripped: The True Story of Depeche Mode, 2004). Hence, I had – really! – no other choice but to listen to this very single. I chose its version on the CD that was originally released in Germany as a 12-inch maxi-single, which here features the 12-inch mix in addition to the basic 7-inch mix and live tracks. The band’s instrumentation grew significantly over that time and included first digital samplers. And Martin Gore finally began to write songs that made the band as we know it today, not without considerable help from a new member, Alan Wilder. The sound on the single and on the entire album was darker, denser, more selective, but also sharper.
I did not have to listen to Depeche Mode for too long before concluding that I preferred a slightly different tonal balance. The Tannoys at their default factory setting of treble level and roll off (both positions set to FLAT) sounded too forward for me in my system. Treble clarity was exceptional, better than the Harbeth and as good as that of the Krypton3 http://highfidelity.pl/@main-330&lang=en a> speakers from Anssi Hyvönen (Amphion). The level of treble and upper midrange, however, seemed too high to me. As I said, the third DM album is brighter and sharper, which partly justifies what I did next. I lowered treble level by 1.5dB and changed its roll off setting to -2dB (Treble Energy = -1.5dB | Treble Roll Off = -2dB). Everything “clicked into place”. After a while of getting used to Tannoys more selective (but not more resolving) sound against the Harbeths, I was listening to jazz when I tried another treble setting with the Energy at -3dB and Roll Off at +2dB. The sound was now slightly different but also good. What was important for me was that I could use the controls to compensate for the acoustic characteristics of my room and audio system to fit my personal preferences. While the changes may have seem small – after all, what’s a two decibel change, isn’t it? – the sonic improvement was dramatic, from a rather hard to precise yet deep sound.
On the one hand, the Kensington GR sounded similar to the Harbeth, but on the other they were completely different. I ran through many comparisons between them in my mind, trying to assign both pairs of speakers to one or another group, yet I could not find any simple parallels between these two designs. By the end of auditions I could only say one thing for sure (which was incredibly insightful…) – they are different. However, to make you aware of the kind of that “otherness” and to demonstrate that, in spite of this, the Harbeths have more in common with the Tannoys (and vice versa) than with other speakers I will say that if I were to compare them to headphones, the Westminster GR would be tonally the HiFiMAN HE-6 magnetostats, while the Harbeths would be the Sennheiser HD800. In turn, when it comes to soundstage the illustration would be exactly opposite. Yet both of the speakers would build on momentum, dynamics, intensity and soundstage. The Tannoys sounded selective, offered a dense tonality, especially at the bottom end, were extremely dynamic and showed a soundstage that’s characteristic for a given recording studio, reverb or concert hall. They differentiated them better. The M40.1, although even more resolving, tried to show everything in a better light, prettier, which – at some level – resulted in hiding the minute differences. You could hear them when you listened carefully, but it was other elements that were in the foreground. The Tannoys, in turn, built a larger soundstage and showed it immediately “as is”. Which way is better? It depends on what you are looking for in music. One thing must be said objectively: the speakers reviewed today build the kind of presentation characteristic for studio speakers, which means no compromise. The next piece of information should therefore come as no surprise: their tonality is very even. The M40.1 are rather warm with a slightly emphasized mid-bass, which helps them build larger phantom images, but also gives a bit of a soft character to the whole. The Westminster GR are more linear in that respect.
Sitting down to auditions with the Depeche Mode album in hand I had no other recordings scheduled. I was ready to go where the speakers would guide me. And they did it straight away. It works this way: I play an album, listen to it, skip between tracks and it creates in my mind the need to hear something different, to try another quite specific disc to verify this or that.
With the Depeche Mode, once I clearly heard the tonal differences between the title track on the 7-inch and the 12-inch versions (the extended versions were created in a hurry and in a slightly different way than standard versions, so they sound different), I just had to play material from Bach’s Die Kunst Der Fuge performed by Marcin Masecki. This great yet simple looking CD was released by Lado ABC.
The cover features an embossed ambigram, which viewed from one direction reads "der Kunst" (Marcin Masecki), and from the other "der Fuge" (Bach); spot on of what this recording is. It is a well-known fact, so let me just say that Masecki is an anarchist musician with his own controversial approach, also to the recording process. In this case, he simply put a voice recorder on the piano and recorded the whole material in one take. It might seem, especially to an audiophile that it just cannot sound on any acceptable level. And yet it sounds amazing. How did the Scottish speakers react to that? Well, in their own way. First they built a credible soundstage, especially in terms of its size and depth but also showing “air” – not by drawing a sterile, dissected instrument with reverb layered on top, which is not true. It was not a very dense presentation as the Tannoys do not do anything like that. Yet its clarity, excellent dynamics and good resolution managed to convey the “temperature” of this performance, of this moment and event. It is something beyond the usual hi-fi concepts, but I’m sure you understand what I’m talking about. The listener’s (as in: my) attention was not drawn to individual sounds but rather to their sequence; not to details but to how they form larger textures. However, it would be difficult to say that the “cabinets” under review do not show details. There are lots of them, almost as much as in the Amphions I referred to earlier. Their presence, however, stems mainly from clear, unblurred attack transients. Here, when something appears it appears immediately. The Harbeths, by contrast, tend to slightly round everything and introduce a minimal but present delay. Hence their phenomenal ability to engage in music that’s never irritating. But also a slight softness, especially when it comes to the top and bottom end, which is not present in the reviewed speaker pair. What matters here is a more direct way of presentation. That, perhaps paradoxically, results in much larger emotional temperature changes between tracks, for example by better showing differences in instrument recording – whether microphones had been positioned closer or further. It was possible to easily ‘read’ such albums as Bach’s St. John Passion performed by Smithsonian Chamber Players and his Chorus and organ works performed by Amadeus Webersinke on the brilliant XRCD24 Cutting HR reissue. The latter with a higher tonal balance and a fairly large distance to the organ, the former slightly lower tonally, and also closer. And Nino Rota songs, recorded in a fairly narrow perspective (too narrow). The differences were large and clear, and added a lot to album reception.
Modern productions, such as Daft Punk and Jack Johnson, also sounded spectacular, due to high dynamics and interesting bass presentation. The bass was tight, deep and superbly differentiated. It was not as focused as with the Amphions, nor did it have such “density” as with the Harbeth. In absolute terms, however, it sounded – between the three – most “concert-like”, in the sense that this is how we hear the bass guitar during a concert or how we perceive the double bass in a small club. I do not mean that the Amphion or the Harbeth showed it worse; it’s rather that they attempted to compensate for the lack of eye contact with a performer (instrument) by emphasizing something, each in its own way.
With Jack Johnson I heard something I had to verify immediately and which showed that nothing’s for free and some solutions force a certain distribution of emphasis in the “debit and credit” category. The Harbeth sounded lower and had more saturated, denser midrange. The Tannoy focused rather on its precision and contourness than body. It is a top high-end design and what it does, it does it very well but compared to other high-end designs clearly shows differences in its approach. Dense electronica, such as on Wolfgang Riechmann’s album Wunderbar, or tasty, elegant jazz on Miles Davis Seven Steps To Heaven sounded less saturated and dense than with the Harbeth. This mainly concerned vocals and lower midrange. In this respect, the M40.1 are perfect, even if they do it at the expense of other parts of the frequency range. As a result, the volume of sound seemed larger with the English speakers than with the Scottish. Not entirely, as the Tannoy had a huge momentum, but the energy focused on the midrange and powerful upper bass brought a better sense of the physicality of sound and its stronger “presence” in this range. Harbeth’s bass offers slightly deeper extension and is warmer and in consequence more enjoyable. Only that it is less differentiated.
As you can see, you need to sacrifice something to get something else. I perceive the differences between the speakers as a function of the Harbeth’s dedicated midrange driver and larger woofer. Let’s admit it, size matters. On the other hand, the Tannoy shows more things in a recording, and more differences between various recordings. Its sound is not exaggerated in this respect, nor is it detailed to the point of being annoying. It is simply a presentation that contains more data, built on precise attack, accuracy, coherence and dynamics. What needs to be emphasized, the speaker tonality is very even. It is also a much easier load than the Harbeth. I think they will be best paired with tube amplifiers. My Leben, though not on par with the Tannoys, showed things in the texture and harmony that the much more expensive and – objectively – better Soulution 710 treated less carefully.
Although the Kensington GR speakers are large and look very solid, they are also very easy to drive. The basic amplifiers during the auditions were the Soulution 710 solid state amp and the tube Leben CS-300 XS [Custom Version], but to verify this observation I also used the following all-in-one systems: the Block CVR 100+, the Naim UnitiQute2 and the one with the lowest power output, working with a tiny Class D power stage, Pro-Ject Stream Box DSA. Even the smallest one offered dynamics, momentum and bass that will not be possible with other speakers. Generally, however, I see the Tannoy driven by a tube amp.
The speakers were positioned in exactly the same place as such designs as the Definition 10A from the same manufacturer, the Raidho D1, the Estelon XA or the Amphion Krypton3. All of them, including the Kensington GR were compared to my Harbeth M40.1 sitting on specially designed, custom made stands from Acoustic Revive. I achieved the best results pointing them directly at the listening position and removing their front grille. Although the latter actually may easily remain in place as the speakers look great with them. The Tannoys, just like the Harbeths, were placed on the Acoustic Revive RST-38 quartz isolation boards. A comparative test had the character of an A/B comparison, with 2-minutes music samples. Whole albums were also auditioned.
The original shape of this type of speaker cabinet design was first seen with the launch of the Tannoy Autograph in 1953. A wooden (here 18 mm veneered plywood) cabinet and its decorative components are reminiscent of a piece of furniture rather than an audio product; a characteristic front grille, and above all the fact that it is locked in position with a key - it all makes the Prestige Gold Reference line absolutely unique. The Kensington GR is the second model from the top.
Dual Concentric coaxial driver used in the Kensington GR is the latest Tannoy development. It consists of two sections or units, high and low frequency, crossed over at 1.1kHz with 2nd order filters both from the top and bottom. The high frequency driver features an aluminum / magnesium alloy huge 2-inch (52mm) diaphragm, loaded into a very long, gold anodized steel horn with characteristic holes on the throat side – hence the name Pepperpot. The diaphragm is formed in a 5-stage advanced technological process to ensure very high stiffness to mass ratio. The diaphragm is attached to Mylar suspension with venting holes. The voice coil is made of aluminum. The driver sports a rear damped acoustic cavity to decrease its own resonance. Multi-stranded copper wires are used for signal output.
The crossover network is mounted on MDF boards that are bolted to the cabinet side panel. Point-to-point assembly is used, with 99.99% purity silver wires. The low frequency section that includes polypropylene capacitors bearing Tannoy’s logo and iron core coils and the high frequency section sporting air coils are soldered separately. The latter features lots of PCOCC 99.9999% purity copper lead out wires to connect to the gold plated switch block terminals on the front baffle, which are used to control the treble level and roll off slope. As the wires are connected using crimp connectors (a few of them in the signal path), in Asia, after determining appropriate values, they are often permanently soldered. Yet this is treated as a design interference and it voids the warranty. The whole crossover assemblies deep cryogenically treated (DCT), which consists in rapid freezing to extremely low temperatures and slow warming up. It relieves stresses at crystal structure level and reduces signal noise.
The speakers sport fantastic WBT Nextgen speaker terminals on the rear panel. As usual with Tannoy, there are not four or two, but five terminals. The fifth terminal is used for ground connection and is connected to the driver chassis. Tannoy demonstrates the measurements to prove that properly set up system helps reduce signal noise. Both crossover sections, the high and low-midrange frequency, are connected outside using a shielded cable, the same (minus the screen), that is used for internal wiring. Bi-wire links come in a beautiful wooden box in which we also find a golden grille key, wood wax, spikes with lock nuts, and a great mini-guide to Tannoy history, describing main design solutions used in these speakers. There is also a separate owner certificate, with the signatures of people responsible for checking the individual components. I found a quality check stamp inside, on one of the braces, and it so happens that the person has a classic Polish first name: Genowefa Sarley.
The whole unit looks insane, and the buyer is confident to be SOMEBODY.
- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4
- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One