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Tannoy Glenair Floorstanding Speaker Review

Doug Schroeder samples Tannoy's latest 15-inch Dual-Concentric? technology in its $10,000 pair of Glenair loudspeakers

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Listening Sessions

Do you recall as a child riding a teeter totter, otherwise known as a see-saw? If so, you may smile as you remember the simple joy of feeling the physics of movement, the simple application of a lever and fulcrum. First you went UP, and then you went DOWN, ad infinitum, or until you or your partner jumped off, sending the poor sap still seated crashing earthward!

My experience with the Glenair was somewhat akin to being on a reviewing teeter totter – more “up’s” and “down’s” than any other speaker I have ever used. I have had some frustrating listening sessions, relatively speaking, and some which have been marvelous. How can a speaker at times be disappointing and at other times be fulfilling? It took me a while to figure that one out, but indeed I have, and I am about to share the “Fulcrum” points of the Glenair with you.

These are the pivotal features and characteristics of the speaker that, if respected, will take you upward on a joyous ride, but if neglected, will keep your expectations grounded. The unique combination of concentric driver and sheer size make the Glenair a speaker that must be treated with care in setup, or else it will be reduced to something more of a curiosity rather than a classically good component.

After using the Glenair for several months with equipment ranging from 25 Wpc SET amps to 1,000 Wpc class D mono blocks, both tube and SS preamps, networked and non-networked cables, tube and SS cdp’s, and pieces costing several hundred to several thousand dollars, I have formulated what I consider the most advantageous conditions in which to use the Glenair speakers. There were conditions under which I felt the Glenair did not live up to its reputation, and others under which it completely warranted it. If there has ever been a speaker that needs to be matched with electronics, this one is it!

I will comment upon my three “Fulcrums” or balancing points, all of which have two extremes, two directions which can be pursued, much the way the see-saw has two seats at opposite ends. Here are the three Fulcrums of the Glenair, along with their opposite “seating positions” or opposite goals in attending components:

1. Clarity: Homogeneity vs. Detail

2. Power: Low Power vs. High Power

3. Listening Position: Normal vs. Near Field

All three of these are what I consider to be critical, pivotal points in usage of the Glenair. If one pursues the correct solution, or choice on each of these Fulcrums, then the overall satisfaction with the Glenair will most likely be increased. If one chooses correctly on all three, the trio of correct choices will result, much like three angles forming a triangle, in yielding a superior, symmetrical result. I have heard the Glenair in many different arrangements, from all the choices on the “wrong” side of the fulcrum, to all of them being on the “right” side.

Ayon CD-1 / Eastern Electric BBA / Jeff Rowland 501

The fulcrum of Clarity is related to two factors, how detailed one’s sources are, and the output level one uses in listening sessions. Typically with lower-end equipment, or equipment which has less clarity, the Glenair sounded convoluted if not enmeshed with increasing listening levels. This is a speaker which I would nearly say demands highly accurate equipment upstream. Because of the nature of the driver, it calls for as distinct a signal as can be achieved. This is, of course, a real trick to accomplish without introducing unwanted harshness. However, audiophiles know that manufacturers typically have a “house sound” and it does not take long to learn which ones are more in the vein of “warm” versus “detailed.” Assuming that the sense of detail is not the product of a low cost, inferior design, I would definitely tip the see-saw in the direction of clarity over warmth. My logic for this is that the Dual Concentric driver is inherently warm-sounding. Because one diver is producing all the frequencies from 1.1kHz through the low 30’s, it better have every bit of nuance made available to it!

The Rogue Perseus preamp is a warm, well blended sounding pre, but it did not give enough distinction to the Glenair. The SS output stage of the McIntosh MA6300 Integrated was a step up in resolution. Even more finely honed was the Monarchy M-24 tube DAC with level control. A huge surprise was the humble Eastern Electric BBA Buffer Amp, at a mere $850, which turned out to be among the most crystalline presentations through the Tannoy’s! The BBA had been a bit on the edgy side with some multi-way speakers, but made for a winning combination with the Dual Concentric driver.

TannoyGlenair-8Similarly, sources played a crucial role in determining the final acceptability of the Glenair sound. My two cdp’s on hand, the Rega Saturn, and the newly arrived Ayon CD-1, are both fine performers. The Saturn has become known in the audio community as having excellent detail retrieval. However, the CD-1, as a tube player, fairly ran rings around it in terms of nuance. The scintillating resolution produced by the Ayon was indispensable in allowing the Glenair to exhale clean music. I ended up conducting all my critical listening with the Ayon, since it simply parsed the digits so well that the Glenair began approaching the complexity of a three-way or four-way speaker.

The wide range of preamps introduced an exasperating variable, that of cost to performance; it could not be conclusively determined that with increase in price the Glenair would increase in compatibility. I have heard delightful things from the Perseus and the McIntosh, but they are not the right match for the Glenair, unless you want warmth and cozy, “Siamese sound” (like the twins, with details enjoined) without regard to the intricacies of the music.

While the shotgun pattern of products (and attendant prices) held true largely for the fulcrum of detail, it did not apply to the fulcrum of power. Suffice it to say that with rising cost came clean power. Here, the more costly components outshone the more cost effective, and the sonic result was an obvious improvement in the character of the Glenair. Moving up the line from the sweet but reserved offerings to the gutsy, punishingly powerful offerings: Audion Silver Night 300B SET, Monarchy SM-70 Pro mono blocks, Pathos Classic One MkIII integrateds in mono mode, and finally the Jeff Rowland 501 class D monos.

The reader can begin to get an appreciation of the variety of preamps and amps employed in seeking bliss with the Glenair! I had tremendous fun trying all these combinations, and this does not even touch the cabling! I also tested networked cables (M.I.T.), and non-networked (Wire World). The Wire World Equinox series had cleaner delivery to the Dual Concentric driver and was a crucial in presenting an uncluttered signal. The reader will begin to see that I ended up pursuing a detailed cdp, preamp, and cables, driven by punishing solid state power.

There is a new trend in Asia – pairing high efficiency speakers with high power amps. I can see why! I mentally put a two-ton boulder on the High power-end of the see-saw! Every increase in wattage was a boon to performance. Hearing what the power did for this speaker, I would not be able to return so easily to low power amps. In fact, with such a highly efficient speaker as the Glenair, one might get so spoiled that they might never again look at a speaker under 92dB sensitivity.

Pausing for a moment to consider these two fulcrum points together, I will discuss two pairings of preamp and amp in order to show the two sides of the “Detail” and “Power” Fulcrums. First, the Rogue Perseus and the Monarchy SM-70 Pro mono amps.

On low listening levels all was well, but as the volume ramped up, the Glenair began to meld the musical field. One of my test discs for this speaker, Narada Jazz Night Grooves Party Jams, was a bit unfair as it contained prodigious amounts of low frequency electronic bass. My reasoning for testing it in such a fashion was simple; any speaker that wields a 15” bass driver had better be able to make some bass! Down to the Bone’s “Little Smile” was too skeletal, needing more meat on the low-end, and Euge Groove’s “Thank You Falletin’ Me Be Mice Elf Again” (Gotta love that title!) was not huge enough to suit me. The problem was warmth and low power.

Warmth and low-power played better on the Legacy Audio Focus HD’s, as they are, as a four-way, 1 dB more sensitive than the Glenair. With all the dedicated driver acreage, they had a much easier time opening up the soundstage and recovering detail than the Glenair. However, once the teeter totter moved to the high detail, high power zone, the Glenair began to show its beauty.

The High Detail, High Power Zone

In my mind, I spent a lot of time jumping back and forth (or up and down) on the performance of the Glenair. When it seemed on the wrong end of the Detail and Power see-saw, I wondered, “What’s wrong with these speakers?” When on the correct side of the equation, I thought, “How can these things all of a sudden sound so good?” I ended up formulating the Great Question in my mind: Does this speaker ultimately blend the music in a superior fashion, or does it blur it in a detrimental way?

My honest answer is, a bit of both. By its very nature, it will enjoin lows and highs, blending them into a seamless stream. However, that stream begins to become a rushing torrent which threatens to surge beyond the banks if one does not employ the proper precision in the signal and power in the amps.

In addition to the above, I sensed the Dual Concentric driver to be a bit like a see-saw in that the low and high frequencies balance on an invisible fulcrum – that fulcrum being the listening level. At lower volume, the bass presents itself meticulously, almost fastidiously. Nuances are clear and distortion is kept well at bay. As the listening level increases, there comes a tipping point at which the precision begins to give way to power, but with an attendant diminishment of clarity and increase of convolution. The closer to tactile the bass becomes, the less precise it becomes. Meanwhile, the treble follows a similar pattern in regard to level. It is light and airy in the planar ribbon tradition, but once past the pivot point, it takes on more edge and harshness.

When I heard what I perceived to be the “blur effect,” my mind would think, “This technology has been eclipsed…” However, when I heard material which showcased the “blend effect,” I would conversely determine, “These speakers do something that other designs cannot; there is a legitimate case to be made for this design.”

Was I ever going to dismount the teeter totter? At quieter levels, almost any moment spent with them was magical, but if I pushed the envelope, the magic seemed to lessen. In an effort to ameliorate this problem, I began experimenting with the arrangement of the speakers and the listening chair. This led me to my last, and possibly most crucial Fulcrum, that of listening position. The options were two, far or near, and they influenced the Power fulcrum in that the closer to the speakers I sat, the lower the level became. A significant breakthrough had occurred, as it kept the speaker on the proper side of the power fulcrum.

Let’s depart from the technical analysis for a moment and concentrate on some notes from listening sessions to highlight these points.

I spent quite a bit of time playing GRP’s 10th anniversary collection disc. This was a good sampler to judge the abilities of the Glenair to handle the dynamics and complexity of big band music. At conservative listening levels, uncomplicated Pop or Jazz, as well as solo voice or instrumentals, presented no large challenge to the Glenair. British phenomenon Josh Stone on her ­Mind, Body & Soul disc sounded, of course, phenomenal; her huge alto voice matched oh-so-well with the huge 15” Dual Concentric! I love to use at least 7” midrange drivers, as I feel smaller ones have a difficult time handling vocals properly. So, imagine my delight when using such a monstrous driver to portray sultry singers! I can very easily see why some audiophiles don’t care about deep bass or N’th degree of detail when such warmth and humanity can be drawn out by single-driver speakers.

“…if I had a choice of a single driver design as my sole speaker, hands down it would be along the lines of the Tannoy, since its design allows it to capture so many of those difficult extremes of density and detail in the music at high listening levels.

However, turn up the level on her songs with inadequate definition or power and suddenly the “see-saw” starts tipping. Not so much with less complex accompaniments as “Sleep Like a Child”, but rather on dense pieces like “Torn and Tattered”. On that particular song, a doubly difficult task is given to the Dual Coaxial as it must attempt to pump out punishing synth bass as well as fill in a multitude of midrange. It seems the more the complex the material, the more likely increasing level tends to push the driver to its limits in terms of absolute definition and detail. This has to be expected to some degree since from 1.1kH down it’s a single driver trying to cover the entire range. I will say that if I had a choice of a single driver design as my sole speaker, hands down it would be along the lines of the Tannoy, since its design allows it to capture so many of those difficult extremes of density and detail in the music at high listening levels.

TannoyGlenair-5

On the GRP disc, I critically listened to Glen Miller’s “In the Mood” on the Glenair, and I was surprised at just how much detail retrieval the Glenair had – much more than might be expected, as only much finer details escaped its grasp. While the Legacy Audio speaker revealed that there is a piano accompaniment lying coyly in the background of the piece, no other speaker I had used revealed that detail. The Glenair’s approach instead was toward piercing in character to bring such a fine detail forth. I would rather for any speaker to miss a slight sliver of background detail than to mount an assault in the attempt to retrieve it. Ideally, I want a speaker to give me everything in detail and definition, but if it cannot, I do not want it to sound harsh in the attempt!

Some speakers can handle detail to the N’th degree. I would be disappointed if the Focus HD, with its 4” planar mid and 1” neo-ribbon tweeter, didn’t grab the utmost details of the music. In comparison, the Glenair wants to blend seamlessly the presentation.

When listening at conservative levels I never had a sense of the music lacking, nor of smearing or blending of details, only of a benign refinement, a well tempered subtlety. “In the Mood” was plenty crisp and snappy. The only time trouble appeared was when things got too loud. Would it be fair to say that on those occasions the bass driver “overwhelmed” the top-end driver? I’m not sure, but I knew when I had reached that point. It reminded me of times in the past when using the Vandersteen 2Ce I had thought, “Yes, plenty of power, but I’d like a smidgen more crispness.”

Headphones On Steroids

I had previously stated that the Glenair is similar to a pair of headphones on steroids. I thought why not go ahead and use them as such? I gave it a shot, positioning myself about five feet in front of the plane of the speakers (they were six feet apart). This placed the speakers more to my sides as with earphones, only a larger scale approximation. The effect was delightful – though technically the room remained in play, it sounded like it had recessed to the point of diminishment. The “headphone effect” I spoke of earlier was being implemented stunningly!

This close positioning allowed me to completely absorb the delicacy of the dual concentric drivers. It was relaxing listening at lower levels and I could feel myself become immersed into the program material. This arrangement should be a serious consideration for those aspiring to a very high-end sound while in cramped quarters. I’ve seen plenty of set ups where monitors have been employed due to room constraints. The Glenair, or an appropriately sized Tannoy model, would work not just as well, but far better! At lower levels one would not encounter dramatic room effects from placement closer to the walls, and with the enormity of the drivers the sense of being into the soundstage is manifest. Several times I switched positions from the rear of the room to the near-field position, and each time the music shifted upward and into my head, much the way one hears it centered in the brain when headphones are utilized.

If it is your experience that you do not want to settle only for cans, but are discontent with a three way speaker, and want more of everything than a monitor gives, then do consider the Tannoy near-field suggestion. An added bonus to this listening position was that if you must abide on the low-power side of the Power fulcrum, SET amps with modest power sounded far more robust to my ears when seated closer to the Glenair. I attribute this in part to my feeling the waves of bass frequencies more than in the far listening position. A speaker with diminutive full range drivers on the order of 5-6” could never accomplish such a feat so effortlessly, but the big bodied Glenair slipped right into this role admirably!

As I was nearing the end of the review period for the Glenair, I ran across mention of the current trend in Asian audio, that of pairing high efficiency speakers with extremely high powered amps. Since I had just received a set of Jeff Rowland 501 mono’s with 1000Wpc, the stage was set! With a range of well over 900 watts difference between the Audion and the Rowland’s, I could judge whether power transformed the Glenair.

The added power was a blessing since it drove the speakers with an ease I’ve not often heard. No matter the program material, the feeling was utterly effortlessness. From the back listening position, the raw power of the 501’s put a pop and pounce in the full range driver as I had not heard previously. I am now determined to combine the near field listening position with the overkill power. It was with this scheme that the most satisfying results were obtained. The Dual Concentric driver was well within its range of competency and had more than enough juice to keep it tight. Sting’s Brand New Day was as enjoyable at lower levels while sitting in the “big cans” position as any time I have heard it.

The new paradigm for high efficiency speakers, of overkill oomph, caught my emotions much more than the standard low-power setup. There was a vibrancy and intensity to the music that I could sense, even at moderate volume. There is an entire world of audiophiles out there who swear by low-power, single-driver (often very small) speakers without crossovers. The Glenair with high-power amplification is a more mainstream application of that thinking which would satisfy a great number of listeners. As odd as it seems, pairing the unconventional Tannoy driver with an unconventionally powerful amp is, from my experience, the way to go with the Glenair. If you situate them with revealing source and cables, explosive power and a near-field position, you’re in for a treat!

5 Responses to Tannoy Glenair Floorstanding Speaker Review


  1. York says:

    How would you rate the pathos mk3 in mono mode paired with the glenair? I am about to upgrade my pathos.. Cheers

  2. York,
    God’s Peace to you,

    I believe the twin Classic One MkIII would sound very smooth, utterly non-fatiguing, and tonally quite rich with the Gleaner. There would be a trade off for sheer resolution and dynamic impact as opposed to a powerful SS amp, but the ease of sound would be terrific. If you are a person not after the Nth degree of detail, I think you would find it a good combination.

    Blessings,
    Douglas schroeder

  3. Marcin says:

    Would you think Tannoy Glenair 15 will go along with my Musical Fidelity M6500i ?
    There will be no shortage of current, but I also like bass. Would that deliver ?
    Regards
    Marcin

  4. Marcin,
    God’s Joy,

    The MF should work fine with the Glenair; I put up to 1kWatt of SS on them. 🙂
    Familiarize yourself with the specs regarding bass output. Note that they are listed at -6dB,
    so raise the low end output by about 5dB to get to the usual +/-3dB rating. Probably realistically
    about 40Hz on the low end. Know whether that is enough depth for you or not. It would not
    give subwoofer-like performance, but the 15″ will give you much more dynamic presence than a
    smallish driver.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder
    Dagogo.com

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