I know it’s a question of personal taste, but I love the look of Tannoy speakers. But, their design philosophy dictates, to some extent, their final design approach. Still, I wholeheartedly support their decision not to ‘go thin’ like every other sheep-like, scared-of-their-own-shadow loudspeaker manufacturer. And so how do the Tannoy Eaton loudspeakers fare?
I often wonder if the hi-fi industry is sacrificing itself on the altar of interior design. A PR man’s dream that speaker manufacturers have to please, what they call, the ‘little woman’ back home (you know, the one who stands in the middle of the front room wearing a pinny, holding a feather duster and permanently lives in 1956.)
Tannoy Eaton Loudspeakers
The entire raison d’être of so much loudspeaker design often starts from a design perspective. And loudspeakers are packed with enough compromises as it is. Also, it’s impossible to produce the perfect speaker given all the tools you need. Never mind adding to the problems because you must satisfy Homes & Garden magazine. Tannoy Eaton loudspeakers
The meaty-looking Eaton speaker is a prime example of what Tannoy is about. More so because the Eaton has direct links to the original, 70s-era HPD (High-Performance Duel) Series. And now under new ownership, Tannoy has looked again at the Eaton design.
The new Eaton incorporates changes, as you might expect. Each Eaton loudspeaker cabinet is hand-made at the Coatbridge, Scotland workshop from 19mm MDF with internal plywood bracing plus damping. The base has 12mm rubber pads and twin front-firing ports on the upper front fascia, which will aid room positioning. And you will also find heavy-duty 24-carat multi-layer gold-plated WBT bi-writeable binding posts on the rear, plus a fifth critical post to “…reduce RF interference and improve mid-range clarity.” Bridging connectors (included if you want) to connect single wires to your amplifier.
I’ll add a necessary caveat. I’ve offered a view from my ears. You might like the solid state-backed sound with the Eatons. And all the more reason, when looking to buy, to try your best to arrange a thorough demo to ensure that your proposed chain ‘feels’ right.
A front-mounted 2-band “energy control panel” allows you to boost or cut the lows and highs to suit your taste. This beautifully designed area is almost Victorian in its finish. And with an 89db sensitivity, the speakers span 538 x 376 x 250mm and weigh 20kg. The speakers arrived with a nylon grill cover, but I removed them for testing. The speakers finished to a high standard. And mounted on low and wide speaker stands. And terms of component matching, I lean towards valves. I gave the speakers a quick, solid-state amplifier test using a Leema Tucana II, but I didn’t feel the match worked. Lots of precision and focus but no soul. Ouch!
I began by spinning a beautifully mastered and pressed vinyl version of The Fall’s Frightened from the first pressing of Live At The Witch Trials. For a few seconds, I was motionless and a bit dumbfounded. The nature of the stereo imaging was just staggering. I had never heard anything like it before. So many speakers take the soundstage and present it to you in a reasonably balanced manner.
Then some good examples push the stereo image back and provide depth and a slice of 3D to add a firming image. And the Eatons picked up the lead singer, Mark E. Smith, and dragged him forward into new space. Then they placed air and spread it around him. I felt I could have risen from my chair and walked around him. That was how crafted the image was. More 3D than hologrammatic!
You’ve also heard bass accurate bass once you’ve heard it from a large cone surface. And I don’t mean the floppy, Jamaican reggae DJ rig-style of large coned bass, either. Tannoy does bass like no other. The drums dominate the track, so the bass is not just important here. It is absolutely critical. The Eatons take the bass but don’t add that irritating artificiality that many speakers give you: the punchy thwack that pretends to sound powerful.
No, the Eatons bring bass from the basement of hell, and it rumbles up from that space, from where Beelzebub keeps his ladders, bikes and leaf blower. It slowly bubbles to the surface like a lower-frequency tidal wave and booms at you quietly, slowly, and with a threat. Tannoy’s bass does not need to shout. No need to be ‘punchy’. You know that ‘Ooooo’ exclamation that the Minions use in the film, Despicable Me? That’s what I did when I first heard Eaton’s bass. Yet, the bass was never sluggish. Instead, it was mobile, swift and fleeting when required.
So much for the soundstage and bass. What of the ever-critical upper frequencies? I found the treble, from the cymbals, informative, slightly warm, but wholly informative. I had a feeling that the treble was emanating from a big piece of metal, which it did. Hence, treble also had substance and weight. Upper mids offered a similar response, with the manic lead guitar offering plenty of clarity and detail to provide insight and awareness of precisely what the player was up to in terms of application and effort.
I tested the Treble Energy plug and was impressed with how it affected the sound. And no gimmick-like EQ that you might find on a DAC. Adding +1.5db on the Roll opens up the upper frequencies, adding air in the upper mids and emphasising this region. Great to push well-recorded LPs, but too much for a slightly compressed fare. Nice to have the option, though.
Similarly, lowering the Roll Off by 2db added a touch of bite to the upper mids but in subtle terms, enough to enhance detail and lift the lead guitar to exciting levels. What I like about these switches is that they are real-world and practical options. The sonic change is real, but the steps are manageable.
I then changed the music to jazz and Gogi Grant’s version of the standard, By Myself. This LP has been mastered with evident compression and needs careful handling. Grant performs in front of a relatively complex jazz-tinged orchestra.
What impressed me from the off on this track wasn’t the expected bass but how the Eatons handled the lead vocal. Grant has one of those vibrato-rich voices thrown about to express emotion. Some speakers fail to control it, though, making it sound like a windsock in a hurricane. The Eatons grabbed Grant’s voice and gave it the freedom to manoeuvre but never allowed it to lose its form or character. And it meant that Grant ‘owned’ the song. She commanded it, took the lead in directing where and when it moved here and there and, thus, made the entire performance far more palatable and enjoyable.
We now know all about the Eaton’s bass, but here, there was an accurate character-lead upright bass in which resonances played an important part. The brass, meanwhile, occupied an airy bubble of their own. The added space applied to the brass gave them their reverb tails, adding a sense of dynamism when the brass pitched in. A splendid track, made so by Eaton’s handling of the disparate frequencies.
Highlights include the Sylvian signature delivery, which, via the Eatons, sounded as if it emerged from his diaphragm. Detail and insight were such that the harmonies behind his lead vocal were delightfully detailed, sweet-sounding and tuneful. Meanwhile, secondary percussion, such as the simple wooden block, was open, transparent and concise.
Before you even connect the Tannoy Eaton speakers, they look big, bold, meaty and robust. Which, it has to be said, will not appeal to those looking for a more aesthetic streamlining. And if all you care about is music though – and if you are buying hi-fi of any sort, you really should.
Then the Tannoys will not only please, they will delight and, quite often, shock (in a friendly way, of course). They present music in a structured and organic fashion. While you can tweak the sonic edges with its excellent front fascia switches. And the basic ‘level’ sound quality is superb, balanced, and informative. Also, if you have forgotten how music can amaze you, try demoing a pair of Tannoy Eatons.
Author: Paul Rigby, editor, the ‘audiophile man‘
Tannoy Website: www.tannoy.com
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