Tannoy TS2.12 powered subwoofer

Ten years ago, our family was joined by my son-in-law, who was raised in Dublin, and spent his university years in London. I was editing this review during a recent visit with our daughter and grandchildren, and Justin became interested in the fact that I was reviewing a subwoofer made by Tannoy. He reminded me that, in the UK and Ireland, Tannoy had long been a generic term for public-address systems, just as Hoover had come to describe any vacuum cleaner, regardless of manufacturer. Although Justin admitted that this usage was probably "old school," he teased me that I was reviewing a PA speaker for an audiophile magazine!

My son-in-law's familiarity with Tannoy's status in the British Isles underscored for me the company's long history in the speaker business: their founding in 1926, and the crucial role they played in the 1940s, supplying the British armed forces. Thus reminded, my experiences with the Tannoy TS2.12 subwoofer took on even more luster!

Compact and Light
At 17.2" high by 16.75" wide by 14.75" deep and weighing only 40 lbs, the TS2.12 ($921) is about the same size as my previous bantam subwoofer champ, SV Sound's SB13-Ultra, yet only half the weight—and a little more than half the cost. Like the Bowers & Wilkins DB-1 subwoofer, the TS2.12 has two opposing, 12" drive-units, their combined surface area equalling that of a single 18" cone. Yet in the TS2.12, only one of these is driven by the amplifier; the other drive-unit, which Tannoy calls an Auxiliary Bass Radiator (ABR), is passive, and is intended to balance the actively driven cone in order to minimize cabinet vibrations; both drive-units are made with multi-fiber cones and butyl rubber surrounds.

The internal, 500W amplifier is a bridged class-D design, controlled by what Tannoy calls their Tri-State Pulse Width Modulated digital-signal processor (DSP). The latter permits adjustment, in the digital domain, of crossover frequency, phase, and gain. Built-in equalization allows the system to reach below 30Hz.

The TS2.12's cabinet is made of two layers of 25mm MDF, to reduce colorations and add stabilizing mass. As Tannoys says on their website, "The pressure generated by twin drivers demanded that the TS2 subwoofers be constructed much heavier and more robustly [than] competing subwoofers as typical 18mm MDF cabinet construction would impart [an] unacceptable level of colouration." The TS2.12's combination of active and passive drivers and its carefully sealed enclosure have been configured to eliminate the chuffing noises associated with some ported subwoofers.

On the rear panel are all of the TS2.12's connections and set-and-forget user adjustments, including line-level RCA input and output jacks for the right and left channels, a power switch, an IEC jack for the detachable power cord, Volume and continuously variable Phase knobs (0–180°), and a crossover dial with settings of 50, 100, 150Hz, and Bypass. Once the TS2.12 is set up, its Auto On/Off feature eliminates the need to access the sub's controls.

Standard finish for the Tannoy TS2.12 is Dark Grey vinyl; add $103 for Black Gloss, which is reportedly hand-polished to a mirror finish.

Room, Setup, Measurement
Adding the Tannoy TS2.12 to my system was straightforward. I moved the sub into the front right corner of the room and ran RCA-terminated interconnects from it to the line-level outputs of either my Bryston BP-26 preamplifier or a Mark Levinson No.585 integrated amplifier. The inner edges of my Quad ESL-989 electrostatic speakers were 6' 8" apart; the left speaker was 18" from its sidewall, the right speaker 18" from a built-in wall unit; both were 5' 5" from the front wall. I heard the best imaging and soundstaging when I listened in the nearfield: 7' 8" from each Quad and 10' 8" from the TS2.12.

I used a number of different configurations of main loudspeakers and amplifier for this review. After trying several higher settings, I left the TS2.12's low-pass filter at 50Hz. At first I drove the Quads full-range with a Mark Levinson No.334 dual-mono amplifier. Later, I used the ML No.585 integrated, with its 80Hz, second-order, high-pass main-out filter set to 80Hz and the TS2.12's crossover set to Bypass. This relieved the Quads from trying to reproduce the deepest bass, allowing them to play louder without distortion. I also compared the Quad-Tannoy system to a pair of Revel Ultima Salon2s: dynamic, full-range, floorstanding speakers that produce outstanding bass, comparable to that of several small subwoofers I've reviewed.

Before I switched on the TS2.12 or enabled the No.585's high-pass filter, I measured the Quad ESL-989s' full-range room response, using Studio Six Digital's iTestMic and the RTA (real-time analyzer) module of their AudioTools app to measure the bandwidth of 25Hz–200kHz. For test tones, I played a digital file, supplied by Revel's Kevin Voecks, of uncorrelated pink noise. The in-room frequency response measured 25Hz–20kHz, with room-mode peaks at 80 and 40Hz. From 40 down to 25Hz, the Quads' response fell by 15dB (fig.1; the blue line is Audio Tools' audibility marker).

Fig.1 Quad ESL-989s, no subwoofer, in-room response (5dB/vertical division).

I then switched in the TS2.12. At first I set the system volume so that the Quads alone played the pink noise at a level that, at my listening seat, registered as 75dB on the SPL Meter module of the AudioTools app. After setting the TS2.12's low-pass filter to 50Hz, I adjusted its level control until the sub's output matched the Quads': 75dB at 100 and 40Hz, as displayed by the AudioTools RTA module. I fine-tuned the sub's volume using Stevie Nicks's voice in "Landslide," from Fleetwood Mac's Fleetwood Mac (CD, Reprise 46702-2), and found that setting this knob to 7:45 o'clock eliminated any chesty colorations from Nicks's voice, while retaining the punch, drive, and coherence of John McVie's bass line.

With the TS2.12 now integrated into my system, I repeated the room-response RTA measurements. Fig.2 shows a flatter response between 40 and 60Hz and slightly higher output at 31.5Hz, just over the blue "Audibility Limit" line superimposed by Audio Tools on the RTA graph.

Fig.2 Quad ESL-989s with Tannoy TS2.12, in-room response (5dB/vertical division).

With both the Tannoy and Quads active, I played the lowest-frequency tones of the Chromatic Scale track on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2). I heard all the tones clearly, as I did the 40 and 32Hz tones from the Bass Decade Warble Tones track on that disc. Also from the latter track, the 31.5Hz tone played softly without doubling; the 25Hz tone was inaudible.

All that done, I sat down to listen to the Tannoy and Quads. At first, the deep-bass response, drive, and dynamics of the Revel Ultima Salon2 loudspeakers greatly exceeded what the Quad-Tannoy combo could produce. So I threw caution to the wind and readjusted the TS2.12's output by ear, using a wide range of recordings, vocal and otherwise. I used John Atkinson's digital recording (24-bit/88.2kHz AIFF) of the Toccata of Widor's Organ Symphony 5, performed by Jonas Nordwall at Portland's First United Methodist Church, to adjust the Tannoy's output to produce room lock—ie, when the subwoofer and room work together to create a sense of non-directional pressure when notes in the lowest octaves are played. I trimmed the volume back a touch so that the sound of Michael Arnopol's double bass, which opens "Too Rich for My Blood," from Patricia Barber's Café Blue (CD, Premonition 90760-1), was dense and solid, not overfull or bloated. This required resetting the Tannoy's output control, racing back to my seat to listen, and then repeating the procedure. After several rounds, I'd increased the TS2.12's volume control from 7:45 to 9 o'clock.

Tannoy, MUSIC Group Innovation SC Ltd.
US distributor: TC Group Americas
335 Gage Avenue, Suite 1
Kitchener, Ontario N2M 5E1, Canada
(519) 745-1158

Chet Roe's picture

Well....how do you think the Tannoy would do/integrate ie SOUND? with a pair of KEF LS50 speakers in moderate size room? thanks, Chet