When I was a kid, my father would get Rolling Stone magazine, and I remember seeing an ad in one with some cool guy in a hi-fi store checking out tube gear – the tagline was “What Sort of Man Reads Playboy?” In another was a Tannoy ad with a little boy standing between two oversized speakers smiling at his father sitting on the chesterfield – the tagline reads “One day, my son, all this will be yours.”
I ended up developing a love for tube amps, reading Playboy in college, and while my dad never went for Tannoy loudspeakers, I did get a number of LPs from his sizeable collection before he sold it off, but that’s another story.
The idea that a pair of their loudspeakers could be handed down a generation isn’t far fetched. Vintage Tannoy are built like fine furniture and meant to last for decades. The company has been making large, some would say, oversized loudspeakers since they got their start in London, England in 1926 building public address systems as the Tulsemere Manufacturing Co. In 1936, they switched their name to Tannoy – a syllabic abbreviation of ‘tantalum alloy’ which they used in rectifiers – and as a result of supplying PA systems to the armed forces during WWII, became well known.
Most of the company’s designs look pretty much the same now as they did in the ‘50s – like massive freestanding prewar radios – thick wood veneers, sculptural wood piping and paneling details more akin to highboys or sideboards than hi-fi. But, the look was popular and remains niche to this day. They’re also famous for their ‘Dual Concentric’ driver design whereby the tweeter is situated behind the centre of the mid-bass driver. It’s this technical and sonic achievement that has garnered them lasting respect and cachet in the audiophile community with vintage ‘Monitor Gold’ and “Tannoy Red’ drivers fetching eye-watering prices on the used market.
Having spent time with several Tannoy models over the years, I’ve always enjoyed their dynamic, fast, well-timed sound when paired with appropriate amplification. The combination of the hybrid tube/solid state McIntosh MA-12000 integrated amp/DAC and Volumio network player was delivering enjoyable results through the Turnberry. Joni Mitchell’s “Car on a Hill,” off her 1974 outing Court and Spark showed well formed and present midrange heft, and noticeable body and weight to her notes on piano. Larry Carlton’s electric guitar had bite, and the drum work of John Guerin had realistic alloy tension and snap on high hat and cymbal crashes. Imaging wasn’t particularly deep, but it was wide and tall and had solidity of placement of performers.
Deciding to keep it Canadian, I followed up with “Don’t Let It Bring You Down” off Neil Young’s third studio album After the Gold Rush. Young’s voice came floating out between the speakers with such plaintive clarity that the intervening 50 years since this LP hit shelves disappeared. Young’s guitar body had believable weight and resonance, with open decay to notes off the top end and Nils Lofgren’s piano related pedal pressure convincingly. While I found the overall tilt of this combo lean towards resolution first, there was enough tube-related harmonic underpinnings to the sonic signature to balance that detail with dynamic impact and timbral warmth.
Read the next Virtual Audio Festival post covering Wolf Cinema, Golden Ear, Audio Control and Screen Innovations HERE.
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