August 2002Tannoy Dimension TD10 Loudspeakers
by Jason Thorpe
It has come to the point where the words new and improved are almost synonymous in most people's minds, and this goes for hi-fi as well as hamburgers. But Tannoy doesn't subscribe to this philosophy. They've stuck to their design principles with the Dual Concentric driver, which was introduced shortly after World War II. With the Dual Concentric concept, the tweeter is mounted in the throat of the woofer, which, according to Tannoy, results in almost perfect time alignment and ideal dispersion while obviating the need for complicated crossover topologies and cabinet construction.
But dont think for a minute that Tannoy is content to just recycle the same products. The Dual Concentric driver has undergone significant revisions and refinements over the years and now shares little more than its original concept with its venerable ancestor. The Tannoy TD10 ($8000 USD per pair), the second-most-expensive speaker in Dimension series and as such near the top of Tannoy's substantial speaker line, uses a 10" Dual Concentric driver along with several other unique design features. The cone of the TD10's bass/midrange driver is made from a composite of several fibers, with the goal being an extremely light but stiff structure. The tweeter takes over from the woofer at 1.8kHz, and it sees the outside world via a tulip-shaped waveguide that, according to Tannoy, substantially decreases driver compression, thus allowing for greater excursion by the tweeter.
In a departure from tradition, an additional tweeter mounted in its own housing sits atop the speaker and supplements the TD10s Dual Concentric driver. This supertweeter is crossed over with a third-order slope so that it only plays above 14kHz and reportedly provides usable output to 100kHz. Tannoy says that the supertweeter corrects for phase anomalies below its effective range by moving the low-pass roll-off point of the entire speaker much higher up in frequency.
The TD10's cabinet is constructed of 1" birch plywood, while the front is 1 1/2" thick. There is significant cross bracing, which results in a very solid, inert box. The trapezoidal cabinet shape is said to help reduce standing waves. The two rear ports on each speaker can be plugged with open-cell foam inserts to change the speaker's bass output. The TD10 measures 40"H x 13 3/4"W x 14 1/2"D and weighs 71 pounds.
The TD10 is rated by Tannoy at 91dB sensitivity and nominal 6-ohm impedance. These specifications seem reasonable, as the 40-watt amplifier that I used for the majority of the review never ran out of steam, no matter how ridiculously loud the volume was. Quoted frequency response is 38Hz-54kHz (-6dB).
Maybe its my imagination, but the beautiful matched cherry wood with which the cabinets are veneered seems to have become darker and more lustrous over the last few months. Although the wood has a satin finish, its absolutely stunning, especially when it catches the direct sunlight. Even without the high-quality veneer, the Tannoys would still demand attention. The front and part of the top of the TD10s are covered in black velvet. Some people who saw the speakers in my room loved the look, while others didnt care for it. I think that youll have to make up your own mind about this design choice. Whether or not its to your taste, it does provide a relatively non-reflective surface above which to mount the supertweeter. The front sides are bolstered with the same polished alloy that the supertweeter is made from. All in all, these are boldly designed speakers that command attention.
The accessory kit that comes along with the TD10s is deluxe. It contains a microfiber cloth with which to polish the alloy parts, a velvet brush (can a chinchilla option be far behind?), and cups for the spikes so that you dont scratch your hardwood floors. Another nice touch is the teensy little velvet buttons that you can insert into the holes left on the front baffle should you remove the grilles.
Incidentally, those grilles should be removed for best sound, according to Tannoy. Theyre fairly substantial things, quite weighty and solid, with a chrome trim ring around the hole for the driver. Instead of a mesh covering, the grilles on the TD10 use lots of vertical strings to protect the drivers. The end result gives the TD10s a rather nautical look, as if youd expect to find them bolted to the deck of the Titanic making aa-oo-gah noises. I much preferred the look and sound without the grilles.
Ive always loved the integrity of WBT connectors, and on the TD10s Tannoy takes the concept to the extreme. The speakers come with terminals for biwiring and grounding purposes. Apparently Tannoy noticed an improvement in sound quality when the chassis of the drive unit is grounded, which they claim prevents RFI from being fed back to the amplifier. Jumpers (terminated with WBT spades!) are provided should you wish to single-wire the speakers (which I did).
For the most part I used my Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 preamp, which in turn drove an Audio Aero Transtrac power amplifier. I also swapped that combo out for a Musical Fidelity A3.2 integrated amplifier in order to hear how the TD10s would respond to more reasonably priced electronics. The source was a Rotel RCD975 CD player that fed an Audio Aero Prima DAC. Cables were Stealth Audio interconnects -- balanced from the preamp to amp and single-ended from the DAC to the preamp. Acoustic Zen Satori speaker cable was used exclusively. Speakers for comparison were my reference Hales Transcendence Fives.
Setup and listening
When I first received the Tannoys, I set them up in my smaller room, which measures 14' by 19'. The significant bass output of these speakers required that I pull them three feet out from the front wall, and in this configuration they ended up nine feet from my listening position. While this setup has worked well for me in the past, the Tannoys just didnt sound right in that location. There was a fairly large dip in the midrange, right in the tenor range, and this robbed piano, voice and orchestra of all of their power.
Room interactions can be like dealing with sorcery in that sometimes you just cant predict what will correct a given problem. So I dragged the Tannoys up to my larger room where I could sit a greater distance from these beasties. I eventually ended up with them about 15 feet way, and with only about nine feet between them and just a hair of toe-in. This is a much narrower angle than I normally use, but when I got the speakers set up this way, any urge to move them evaporated. Sometimes you just know when youve got it right, and I knew it this time. From here on in, any comments refer to the TD10s in the larger room.
Also, as I mentioned, the speakers' ports can be stuffed with foam plugs, which I did to both ports on each speaker. Otherwise, the bass was just a touch loose and plummy for either of my rooms and my tastes. Even with the plugs in place, the bass was just a touch loose, although still satisfying. The difference was quite small as the plugs are made from open-cell foam.
Once I got the speakers sited correctly, the TD10s jumped out at me with their startling dynamics and almost supernatural retrieval of detail. Before I listened to the speakers, I was somewhat skeptical about how well a 10" driver could cover a large chunk of the midrange. But now I have to hand it to Tannoy -- they have the use of their Dual Concentric driver figured out.
On "Pale Sun" from Cowboy Junkies Pale Sun, Crescent Moon [RCA 07863], theres some guitar feedback at the beginning before the vocals come in that I swear Ive never noticed before. The guitar comes in from a black background and builds from almost below the threshold of audibility, and the Tannoys resolved it as a soft but discrete tone. This detail isnt thrust at you courtesy of an elevated treble or upper midrange. Instead its delicately extracted and presented in a totally relaxed manner. Everyone for whom I played this track was absolutely transfixed; even those who dont care about stereos and tend to jabber on over the top of the music were silenced by the experience.
When theres depth or hall ambience in the recording, the TD10s present it in an almost supernatural manner. The Cowboy Junkies track mentioned above has a sense of artificial reverb that the Tannoys latched onto with dramatic effect, and the guitar sounded like it was 30 feet back from the speakers. This enveloping acoustic is part of the reason why this track in particular sounds as startling as it does.
The Tannoys dont exaggerate soundstage depth, however. When the recording is dry, the environment that they portray is similarly sterile. In cases like this, though, the depth magic manifests itself as a subtle increase in the realism of instruments. Take Vladimir Horowitzs The Last Recording [Sony SK 45818]. The studio in which this album is recorded is reasonably dead, and the Tannoys make this plain. However, I still got the sense that I was hearing deeply into the piano, as if it were floating before me.
Part of the reason why piano sounded so good through the Tannoys is that they throw a loose image that blooms in much the same manner as does a live instrument. The TD10's imaging isnt of the pinpoint type thats presented by the typical precision minimonitor. Those audiophile hijinks are a sort of consensual suspension of reality that makes up for some of the shortfalls of recorded music. With the Tannoys, the depth and width of the soundstage are as they should be, but the images are coherent -- larger and more diffuse, yet less artificial at the same time.
The cabinet no doubt contributes to the TD10s tight rein over the midrange. No matter how loudly I played the music, the cabinet itself remained silent and essentially vibration-free. Ive felt significantly more vibration from much heavier boxes. Theres absolutely no smear of midrange detail on string or wind instruments, which are projected with snap and power. Combine the silent cabinet with the incredibly agile paper-coned woofer and youve got a speaker thats made to measure for solo piano.
The upper midrange through the lower treble of the Tannoys seems slightly recessed, which results in very low ear strain when listening at high levels. So no matter how loudly I played the speakers (and they can go very loud indeed), I never got the itch to turn the volume down. The dynamics never compress; what was once microdynamic becomes dynamic, and the dynamic passages become macrodynamic. Everything stays in proportion, and concert levels become an exciting possibility. The piano in the Horowitz recording had a gigantic sound, as the large dynamic swings infused each chord with weight and meaning.
That same recessed midrange/treble region can make vocals sound a touch thin, however. On Buena Vista Social Club [World Circuit/Nonesuch 79478-2], for example, the singers were robbed of a small amount of their size and power. I very quickly adjusted to this tonal balance, though, and found it a very small price to pay for the ease that it imparts to the range just above it.
Up top, the Tannoys work wonders. The detailed, precise treble is truly sweet. Theres absolutely no trace of sharpness, grain or irritation, yet the highest highs are present and unforced. While we mere humans are unable to confirm or deny the uppermost limits of the TD10's supertweeter, what I could hear from these speakers was world-class. According to the TD10s design brief, part of the supertweeters mandate is to aid in the presentation of frequencies below its low-pass cutoff. This I can believe, as the crystalline and extended treble does seem to be a natural continuation of the mid-treble just below it. As such, theres a buttery-smooth ease to the entire treble presentation that results in the TD10s seamless sense of detail and complete lack of strain.
While Ive always been a fan of the music on Miles Davis Miles Ahead [Sony SRCS 9106], Ive never been able to warm up to the sterile sound on the Sony Japanese CD. Via the Tannoys, however, the very highest frequencies took on a most appealing silkiness without any loss of detail or extension. The TD10s took all of the brittleness out of this recording, but left the detail and meaning behind. Dont think for a minute that the Tannoys simply smoothed over a rough-sounding CD. Rather, the brass had a realistic, biting blat that pushed me back in my seat. The difference here was that I could listen to Miles Ahead without strain.
Although it may be related to the high-calorie tube diet with which I fed them, Id have to say that the Tannoys add their own slight euphonic sweetness to the upper midrange and treble. Either that or every other speaker that Ive heard presents that frequency range with a layer of grit to which Ive become accustomed. While I like to think that the former explanation is the correct one, the natural, unforced nature of the Tannoys makes the latter a distinct possibility.
The TD10s bass is strong, full and rich, and as such, keeps up with the sweet and extended top end. From a different speaker, the Tannoys bass might be considered a touch loose, but here it fits right in with the slightly larger-than-life sound that these speakers project. However, the bass is notable more for its weight than its depth. The TD10s didnt go much below 40Hz in my room, and as such arent the right choice for organ nuts. In my book, this is a sensible design choice, as these speakers are about music rather than pyrotechnics. I must say, though, that unless I specifically listened for 20Hz extension, I never felt any lack of deep bass, as every instrument, with the exception of synthesized subterranean electronica and the deepest organ notes, was reproduced with clarity and authority. Orchestra, kick drum, bass guitar and tympani never lacked for power and extension.
While listening to Mighty Sam McClains Sledgehammer Soul and Down Home Blues [AudioQuest AQ-CD1042], I felt that the depth and strength of the bass line really drove the music home, especially on "If You Could See." Here, the power of the bass perfectly complements the snap and dynamic intensity with which this speaker presents the rest of the frequency range. I know that this is heresy, but if the bass were tighter or deeper, it would probably be overwhelmed by the rest of the music. By all rights, bass this deep and rich should wreck a touchy piano recording. But no -- Vladimir Horowitzs piano had no excess bloat or boom, even on hard left-hand passages.
The Tannoys are also revealing enough to show acute differences between upstream components. When I replaced the Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 preamp and Audio Aero Transtrac amp with the Musical Fidelity A3.2 integrated amplifier, the depth, richness and intimacy took a back seat to a more precise, slightly dry sound. The A3.2 didnt actually seem to be a good match for the Tannoys, as it also brought out a hooty, megaphone-like prominence in the midrange. I swapped back to tube amplification for the balance of the review period.
The Tannoys make my Hales Transcendence Fives seem anemic in the bass. The chugging, driving bass on the Mighty Sam disc was much less prominent via the Hales speakers, which are flatter and more extended than the TD10s. Even so, I couldnt help but feel that the Tannoys' bass weight was just right.
The Hales are the more laid-back of the two speakers. In comparison to the Tannoys, the Transcendence Fives do little to call attention to themselves; the Hales are crisp, precise, extended and neutral at the top and bottom ends. They also image superbly. The Tannoys, on the other hand, are larger than life. The bass is stronger and more authoritative, and the sense of depth with which they portray the original acoustic verges on magical.
It seems contradictory, then, that the Tannoys actually transmit the meaning of the music in a more convincing fashion than do the Hales. With more prominent bass, distinctive treble and startling dynamics, youd think that the TD10s would be the more audible speaker, but this isnt the case. They serve the music in a way that you really do need to experience for yourself. In comparison to the Tannoys, the Hales speakers lack feeling and soul. The Transcendence Fives could very well be considered the more neutral speaker, but I just dont care. Id rather listen to the Tannoys when I want to enjoy music for its own sake.
Although not inexpensive, the Tannoy Dimension TD10s do some things better than any other speaker Ive heard. With their superb dynamics, retrieval of detail and world-class treble, they infuse life into music. Add in rich, slamming bass and youre off to the races with a distinctive musical experience. They do need to be fed from a high-quality amplifier, but perhaps their high claimed sensitivity means that you can feel free to concentrate on the quality of the watts rather than the quantity. And while the listening distance needed for proper integration caused me a bit of grief, I suspect that anyone who can plunk down the funds required for these speakers and matching associated equipment can afford a dedicated room thats the right size.
So if youre dizzy with cash from shorting Internet stocks and want to listen to music rather than speakers, check out the Tannoy TD10s. I loved 'em.
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