Tannoy Dimension TD12 loudspeaker Page 2

I returned my attention to speaker placement, paying careful attention to the changes, both measured and heard, as I went along. More than anything else, I noticed that small shifts in loudspeaker and microphone position yielded greater measured differences than I'd expected—although the octave between 125Hz and 250Hz was consistently elevated by at least 3dB relative to the rest of the midband, which may have accounted for the dark quality. It was easy to get flat bass response all the way down to 25Hz, although not so easy to do it without bringing a 6dB peak at 31.5Hz along for the ride. I dealt with a slight (3dB) peak at 4kHz by aiming the speakers more or less straight ahead, rather than toeing them in drastically toward the listening seat.

Thinking such finicky behavior might be mitigated in a larger room, I brought the TD12s—as well as the sources and electronics I'd been feeding them—into our living room, which measures a comfortable 28' by 21', again with an 8' ceiling. Décor, or what passes for it, required me to arrange the speakers along the long wall, spaced a healthy +14' apart and firing across the room's short dimension.

Bingo.

I don't feel constricted in a room of less than 230 square feet, but the Tannoys apparently did. Giving them more breathing space made a significant difference in the TD12s' overall tonal performance and the cleanness of their bass response—although I found it interesting that the spectrum analyzer still found small peaks at 31.5Hz, 4kHz, and 160-200Hz, again varying somewhat with microphone placement. Of those artifacts, the only one that proved persistently audible in the larger room was that lower-midrange hump—and then only slightly. Given enough room, the Tannoys distinguished themselves as great speakers with a darkish midrange, not as loudspeakers with an objectionable coloration.

Whatever dark quality remained was most audible on voices, male artists taking on more thickness than I'm used to—as I heard from Frank Sinatra on Moonlight Sinatra, my favorite of his Reprise-era records. And alto Kerstin Meyer, doing the honors on Barbirolli's recording of Mahler's Symphony 3 (BBC Legends BBCL 4004-7), sounded slightly chesty. But the sheer presence of well-recorded voices wasn't dimmed in the least; in fact, I enjoyed vocal music of all sorts at least as much as usual through the Tannoys: This was just how they sounded.

It was clear sailing from there. Spatial performance was superb, with surprisingly good depth from far left to far right, even when I had the TD12s fairly close to the wall behind them. Perhaps most significant of all, the Tannoys had a tremendous sense of scale, as good as any horn I've tried at home. Whereas my Quad ESL-989s are large speakers that behave like small speakers when it comes to the spatial aspects of stereo reproduction, the Tannoys are large speakers that behaved like large speakers. Imaging precision, and even the ability to sound tidy when called for, were not beyond them—the Joni Mitchell disc and others like it never sounded freakishly big—but the TD12s fairly lived to play orchestral music. They helped bring my enjoyment of Ein Heldenleben and other Strauss tone poems to a new level, letting me appreciate the physical aspects of the big, often gaudy arrangements in a way I hadn't before.

Yet the TD12s did something else I've come to associate with efficient speakers: They played music convincingly at low levels. Sometimes I want to hear orchestra music at less than orchestral volumes—but I still want color and presence and scale. The Tannoys did all of that with apparent ease. At volumes where conventional loudspeakers can't manage a convincing center image, the TD12s filled the imaginary stage with real, involving music that just happened to be quieter than real. I remember listening one afternoon to Curzon and Knappertsbusch play the Adagio un poco moto from Beethoven's Piano Concerto 5, the "Emperor" (LP, Decca/Speakers Corner SXL 2002, one of the loveliest records ever made), at a very low volume, just because that's the way I wanted it. The Tannoys sounded wonderful. As I've said before, hi-fi is good only when it does what we want. This was very good.

The TD12s were supremely dynamic, playing all sorts of music with realistic amplitude contrasts and, consequently, a fine sense of drama. Were they as capable of startling a listener as Harvey's Westminster Royals—or other fine horns, for that matter? Probably not. But they were more satisfying than most, and for sheer physical impact of drum sounds on well-recorded rock, they had few peers. When the kick drum and electric bass came in near the beginning of Procol Harum's "Shadow Boxed" (The Well's On Fire, Eagle ER 20006-2), I could feel it in my sternum—yet pacing wasn't the least bit slow. Utterly, utterly cool.

Drawbacks? For one, I wound up thinking the Tannoys sounded better—more open, even more neutral—with their grilles removed. It had nothing to do with the blocking of this or that frequency range; the structure that covers the main driver itself is a row of regularly spaced strands or strings. (Think whale's mouth and must strain plankton.) The very heavy grille panels—11 lbs each, which is more than some speakers weigh—might be storing resonant energy. Just a guess.

Neither my wife nor I cared much for the styling. All that black velvet picks up dirt too easily. The chrome-like trim and the eye-like tweeters are jarring, especially next to the nice cherry veneer. Putting the bad grilles in place adds a chrome porthole to the mix, making it look like the sort of thing that has Ted Williams' head in it. You may respond differently; in any event, the Tannoy's very high build quality is indisputable.

Little amp, little room
Harvey Rosenberg, who passed away shortly before the destruction of the World Trade Center, was led to Tannoy by his nascent interest in low-power amplifiers: His horn-loaded Westminster Royals had a sensitivity rating of 100dB. Still, it's fair to say that all the company's Dual Concentric speakers are more efficient than average.

Before sending the Dimension TD12s back, and acknowledging my own fondness for the breed, it made sense to try them with a couple of single-ended triode (SET) amplifiers.

Dragged back to the smaller room, powered now by my 300B-tubed Audio Note Kit One (about 7Wpc on a good day), the Tannoys did all right, but just. Heldentenors and loud pianos pushed the envelope, taking on that distinctive, clipped-tube mushiness. My Fi 2A3 amp sounded beautiful through the Tannoys, but only at consistently low volumes. I didn't even try driving the Tannoys with SETs back in the big room, where the 35W Naim was itself getting into a peck of trouble here and there. While the TD12 is undeniably efficient, then, I wouldn't buy a pair for only that reason.

But if my musical diet leaned heavily toward large-scale orchestral music, and I wanted to build a dramatic, dynamic, and altogether engaging music system into a large living space, the TD12 would be at the top of my list—exceeded only by my abiding interest in building my own ridiculously large horns some day, and knowing in the back of my mind that my wife would never let me spend $23,000 on Westminster Royals. Money I don't have anyway, and probably never will.

Most readers look at review conclusions the wrong way, if you don't mind my saying so: Either the reviewer wishes he or she owned the thing under review, or they don't—the latter constituting various and imagined different shades of black. That's silly, of course, and in spite of how we might want the hi-fi marketplace to work, nothing's that simple. So the truth will just have to do, and the truth is this: The Dimension TD12s may be a little too colored for a reviewer to use, but they're also a little too entertaining, exciting, and involving for a reviewer to use: He'd never want to put anything else in their place. Strongly recommended for music-lovers who know what they like—and are comfortable with it.

COMPANY INFO
Tannoy
335 Gage Avenue, Suite 1
Kitchener, Ontario N2M 2C8
Canada
(519) 745-1158
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