Tannoy Churchill loudspeaker Page 3

The Tannoys turned this assumption upside-down. At volume levels from pianissimo to molto forte they always invited me in, rather than closing me out. Positioned a bit over 2½' out from the wall, about 7' apart at the inside corners, and toed-in just slightly, they cast an enormous soundstage that seemed to extend in all directions. After a bit of experimentation, I settled on the Nordost SPM cables and interconnects as the best choice for the Churchills. The incredible speed and detail of the SPM freed them from any lingering laboriousness that softer-sounding cables might have imparted.

The sounds from the coaxial ("Dual Concentric," in Tannoy's parlance) drivers seemed very well integrated, with smooth, wide dispersion. I didn't notice any frequency-response anomalies moving from a standing position to a seated one, or while moving about the room. Imaging was good but not exceptional, whether I was in the politically correct dead center or far off-axis.

Rated at 95dB sensitivity, the Churchills played effortlessly with modest amounts of amplifier power (20-35W), and could shake the walls when driven by more substantial gear—which I did with the Threshold, Sumo, and Parasound amps. Thank God for tolerant neighbors.

The Churchills offered unexpected low-end impact. They're rated by the manufacturer at ±1.5dB from 32Hz to 20kHz, with the -3dB point spec'd at 29Hz, but I swear they reached well into the visceral-massage region below 16Hz.

Case in point: One night, as I toiled away at my computer, my significant other cued up Erykah Badu's Baduizm at background level, and the first cut's subsonic foundation set my chair in motion—with me in it—in another room 40' away. Midday listening sessions, when most of the neighbors are away, allow me to push the SPLs higher than I can otherwise. On several occasions, with material ranging from the Allman Brothers' "One Way Out" to Michael Murray's masterful reading of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in d, I literally shook some windows and rattled some doors. It's part of the job, you understand—like a Motor Trend reviewer forcing a car to its limit.

The Tannoy's formidable bottom end endowed most music with a feeling of solidity and substance. The cabinets, despite the product literature's assertion that they're "acoustically inert," had a certain woody box resonance that gave some instruments an amazing sense of realism—Ofra Harnoy's cello, for example, or the lower registers of Diana Krall's piano. Gary Karr's double-bass recordings, which I have heard through many systems, never sounded more natural.

Unfortunately, this resonance added coloration to other instruments, too—including voices, an artifact that required some adaptation on my part. There is no such thing as a perfect loudspeaker—each one has strengths and weaknesses. Put another way, each food has its flavor. The Churchill's strengths were wide dispersion, high efficiency, explosive dynamics, and deep, taut bass. The speaker's weakness was its midrange, which I can only characterize as dark-sounding. Female vocals and upper-register string instruments, like Sarah Chang's violin, took on a moody, overcast quality that they haven't exhibited with other speakers.

Although I love deep, powerful bass, I prefer midrange clarity over all, and most of the speakers I've lived with recently—two models of PBN's Montana series, the System Audio 1070, even the modest Spica TC-60—offer it in abundance. B.B. King's call-and-response guitar duet with Eric Clapton ("Rock Me Baby") sounded distant through the Churchills, rather than upfront and immediate like it sounded through the others. I hypothesize that there was some combination of cabinet resonance and crossover-point suckout that gave the Churchill this dark quality. I'm eager to see what John Atkinson's measurements reveal.

A hint of grain in the lower treble is my only criticism of the upper-octave presentation, which overall was fairly neutral, without obvious peaks. The top end didn't call attention to itself with a too-showy display of shimmer, but neither was it of ultimate transparency. Treble characteristics were very well balanced against the loudspeaker's bottom octaves—something I believe was of primary concern to the Churchill's designers. The overall feeling was warm and very inviting. I enjoyed a wide range of music through these loudspeakers, and was very happy to spend the time with them.

I was also happy to listen to them again at HI-FI '98, where the same pair that had resided with me for weeks was on display in the Audio Unlimited suite. This was a rare treat. Seldom do we get to hear identical review products with completely different gear in a completely different room. In Los Angeles, the Churchills were driven by Air Tight ATM-3 amplifiers and fed by an ATC-2 preamp, in turn fed by an Accuphase DP-75 CD player.

Most significant was the Accuphase DG-28 Digital Voicing Equalizer, which Arturo Manzano said had been used to "smooth out the problematic room." It also brightened up the Churchills' midrange. I thought their performance in L.A. was superior to what I had heard at home—something I can attribute only to better electronics and tons of very sophisticated equalization. With the right combination of equipment, the Churchills are capable of world-class performance.

Based on a design now 50 years old, Tannoy's Churchill loudspeaker is a throwback to the stiff-cone, large-vented-cabinet designs that were popular in the 1950s and early 1960s. But its retro design belies a thoroughly modern performance, notable for its extended bottom end and enormous power handling. Like all speakers, it will benefit from the best possible electronics, but can perform quite convincingly and satisfyingly with less than cutting-edge support. Its imposing size and exquisite finish make a statement that is impossible to ignore. The soundstage it casts is enormous, all-enveloping, and warm as a well-tended hearth on a cold winter's night.

The $14,000/pair list price is not at all unreasonable in light of the extremely high craftsmanship and degree of engineering expertise behind the Churchills. This speaker is at its best in large environments, and should probably not be shoehorned into cramped townhouses, condominiums, or other less-than-capacious dwellings.

The ultimate question all reviewers face, of course, is: Would you buy a pair? The answer: Yes. I think they'd be perfect in a huge stone-and-open-beam-construction dream house overlooking a thousand-acre spread with trout stream somewhere in Montana. After this audition, the Churchills, supported by DG-28 EQ and Air Tight amplification, are on my wish list of items to fill that mythical place with music.

TGI North America
300 Gage Avenue, Unit 1
Kitchener, Ontario N2M 2C8, Canada
(519) 745-1158