HOME THEATER & SOUND -- www.hometheatersound.com



April
2001

Reviewed by
John Potis
REVIEWERS' CHOICE 2001




Tannoy
Saturn
Home-Theater
Speaker System

Features SnapShot!

Description

Model: S8 speakers
Price: $1500 USD pair
Dimensions: 38.5"H x 9.5"W x 10.5"D
Weight: 44 pounds each

Model: S8C center-channel speaker
Price: $600 USD
Dimensions: 17.5"H x 9.5"W x 10.5"D
Weight: 27.5 pounds

Model: S8LR surround speakers
Price: $1200 USD pair
Dimensions: 17.5"H x 9.5"W x 10.5"D
Weight: 27.5 pounds each

Model: PS110 Active Corner Sub
Price: $700 USD each
Dimensions: 13.27"H x 30" W x 13" D
Weight: 42 pounds 

Warranty: Five years on all passive components, one year on electronic components


Features
  • S8 speaker comes finished in cherry with a champagne front baffle.
  • S8 and S8LR speakers finished in cherry with a champagne front baffle or black ash veneer with a pewter front baffle.
  • S8C is magnetically shielded.
  • 8" Dual Concentric drivers (except (PS110)
  • 8" Polypropylene bass drivers (S8)
  • Duralumin high-frequency driver
  • Integral plinth with spikes (S8)
  • Front-ported reflex enclosures (except PS110)
  • Adjustable low- and high-frequency filter (PS110)
  • EQ boost (PS110)
  • Phase and earth-lift switching (PS110)
  • Gain control (PS110)
  • 110W amplifier (PS110)
  • 10" woofer (PS110)

One of the oldest names in audio and a real player in Europe, Tannoy doesn’t seem to have made a big splash on the American high-end scene -- not in my area of the country, anyway. Why that is I can’t say. Probably best known for its large (and expensive) horn-loaded Prestige series of speakers, the company offers a large line extending well into the affordable realm. And with an equally extensive line of gear aimed at the professional market, they have proven their expertise over and over again. Tannoy products come in all shapes and sizes and thanks to true trickle-down technology, everything I’ve heard from the company has been pretty good and shares a familial sound.

Under review here are some speakers from Tannoy’s least expensive line of what some may consider "true Tannoys." The review system retails for $4000. While Tannoy has a less expensive (yet well-received) series of speakers, the Saturn series is the first up the ladder that utilizes Tannoy’s Dual Concentric drivers. This term refers to a mid-woofer with a tweeter mounted in the center of the driver, where the dust cap would normally seal the woofer’s voice coil. The theory is that the perfect driver would be a point source; all energy would propagate from a single point in space. In practice, with multiple drivers this is not an easy task. But Tannoy’s method of mounting the tweeter within the mid-woofer directly addresses this principle, and there are now numerous other high-end companies that do what Tannoy has been doing for decades.

Handling the anchor leg of the system under review is the Saturn S8. Utilizing an 8" Dual Concentric and a supplemental 8" bass driver, the S8 has a stated frequency response of 30Hz to 20kHz (+/-3dB), efficiency of 91dB, nominal impedance of 6 ohms, and peak power-handling capability of 280W. The rest of the speakers look to be basically the same design, the visual difference being the location of the 8" Dual Concentric driver. The S8C center-channel speaker places the driver in the center of the cabinet to allow for placement of the speaker on its side, while the S8LR places the same driver on one end of the cabinet, allowing for the more centralized placement of the bass-reflex port. With a manufacturer-supplied frequency response of 50Hz to 20kHz (+/-3dB), a sensitivity of 90dB, peak power handing of 220W, and a slightly easier-to-drive impedance of 8 ohms, all the speakers in the system are clearly cut from the same cloth, and my expectations of a system that sings with the same voice for utter coherence were high.

Bringing up the rear (the bottom?) was the PS110 powered subwoofer. This little workhorse matches a single 10" driver with a 110W amplifier. But don’t be fooled by the specs; this little monster-in-a-box is rated to produce 110dB peaks with a frequency response extending to 31Hz. The amplifier features limiting overload protection, an auto on/off sleep feature and the full compliment of high-and low-level inputs. Ignoring the sound for a moment, the most unique feature of the PS 110 is the subwoofer’s geometry, which is designed to optimize corner-of-the-room placement. Everybody knows that to optimize maximum SPL, the subwoofer should be placed in a corner, but those with small rooms may not have the room for a subwoofer behind the front right or left speaker. Well, the diagonal configuration of the PS110 is more likely to allow corner placement in tight situations than any sub I’ve seen and it still allows for an enclosure only a bit over 13" tall -- all the while allowing the internal cabinet volume to let the driver do its job. Pretty cool. Equally cool is the fact that all connections and controls are accessible through a removable lid on the top of the cabinet! No more bending over the subwoofer and squinting to make out the small and upside-down print trying to tweak adjustments. Anyway you slice it the PS110 gets an A in human and room ergonomics.

Setup

Setup and installation were as easy as it gets. All speakers have dual pairs of gold five-way binding posts, which were joined by the usual gold-plated jumpers. Ranging in weight from 44 pounds to under 27 pounds, none of these speakers are likely to break your back or dominate a room. The S8s did involve the attaching of a plinth to the bottom of the speaker. The carpet-piercing spikes are attached to the plinth.

The speakers didn’t require much break-in. Bass was quite good and tight right out of the box, and the treble was smooth and extended. The only glitch I came across was in the midrange. This anomaly had the effect of emphasizing the "click" of the pick as it attacked the string on an acoustic guitar. Eventually, the emphasis completely vanished and I observed no other problems.

Given that I had no speakers with a woofer less than 8", I chose the "large" settings all around when setting up the surround processor. I don’t have all that large a room and I was confident that I could go this route without stressing any one speaker too much. I’m glad I did. In general, small satellites and a single subwoofer work well in the home theater, but there is much to be said by surrounding yourself with speakers capable of a modicum of bass performance on their own. I’ll talk about that more later.

Let there be music...and theater!

I usually like to initiate home-theater speakers with music. It’s the easiest way for me to get a handle on what a speaker is doing. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of several other audio projects and didn’t want to interrupt either of my music systems. So the Tannoy Saturn system went right for the home-theater room. After a short break-in period for the speakers, I became impressed by the system’s smoothness and listenability. The Tannoys rival some of the most neutral speakers I’ve ever had here, most notably a Dynaudio-based system, for sheer musicality with nary a sharp edge to be found. Detail was also very good as was soundstaging and what I’ll call "surround coherence" -- that ability of a system to embrace the listener from all sides with a single voice.

But what eventually became the most overriding impression was that of speed. This is one dynamically fast-sounding system. Transient speed is the result of several factors, but one thing that will destroy it in a heartbeat is poor bass. Poorly produced or poorly integrated bass will have the effect of dragging down any system to a snail’s pace. The more I listened to the Tannoys, the more I realized that I was hearing some excellent bass. While on paper the PS110 is only rated to 31Hz, it sounds considerably bigger and deeper than that. But more importantly, it’s an exceptionally articulate sub.

Some of the fastest and most visceral systems I’ve heard utilized multiple subwoofers or at least multiple full-range speakers. Some will caution about comb-filtering effects and problems with unequal bass distribution, but the fact is that there is nothing like being bombarded by bass from all sides simultaneously. It is not a matter of ultimate SPL, and the bass does not need to sound any louder than that coming from a single sub. As a matter of fact, I’m pleased when it doesn’t sound any louder at all, but it has increased visceral impact on the body. You can feel the bass as well as hear it. And when you can feel the bass, you don’t (necessarily) experience the need to turn the bass up so loudly that you threaten your hearing. This is my ideal kind of bass performance; it just sounds more real and less distracting during the performance.

True, I’m hardly surrounded by subwoofers with this Tannoy system, but I will share credit between the PS110 and the 8" Dual Concentric drivers that I was surrounded by. They may not be able to bombard me with infrasonic bass, but they can work in tandem to hit me with a good amount of midbass punch and I think it makes an important difference.

Take, for instance, the scenes from U-571 where the German destroyer is dropping depth charge after depth charge at our heroes. Oh, when it’s supposed to be loud, the PS110 can make the depth charges sound loud! But even the explosions from the distance consistently had the effect of creating an impact on my body, even if sometimes only on my pant legs, all without having to turn the bass up so loudly that it hurt my ears. Or try T-2: Ultimate Edition. The shotgun blasts exhibit the same feel, as does the roar of the Harley or the landing of cyber-punch after cyber-punch as the two futuristic androids duke it out. And when called upon to do so, such as the closing of the gate at the beginning of the movie, the system can shake the room with impressive SPLs.

Well, enough about bass. The smooth, detailed and well-behaved speakers comprising the rest of the system did their job so well as to be almost unremarkable during movies. They did everything well enough and nothing wrong enough to be distracting throughout the multiple movies I watched. So it was time to find some music. With apologies to those who are tired of reading about the James Taylor’s Live At Beacon Theater DVD, I had to go for it. Until I find a concert DVD as well recorded and as tastefully mixed as this one, it will continue to be my reference. Anyway, once I threw J.T. into the transport, I became as enamored with the rest of the Tannoy system’s performance as I was with its bass performance. At once I was swept away with the system’s neutrality and musicality. James Taylor’s voice was as clean and articulate as anytime that I’ve heard it. Cymbals had shimmer and air with no sibilant emphasis or overly metallic splash. I guess one of the most notable characteristics of this system is that there isn’t a rough edge to be found and I can’t say that about many systems in this price range.

Eventually Peter Frampton’s DTS release Live in Detroit on DVD was playing, which was equally impressive on the Tannoys. This DVD does not make use of a center-channel speaker. It is recorded using only the front right and left speakers along with the surrounds. After an afternoon of concert videos, I like to throw it on to see if I’m bothered (or encouraged!) by the lack of a hard center channel. With the Tannoys I didn’t miss the center channel one bit. The center image was strong and focused. And while on the subject of center channels, off-axis listening to either music or movies involved none of the shifts of timbre that other speakers can exhibit. This is a side benefit (or is it central?) to the Dual Concentric drivers. There are no phase or timing shifts between the drivers and no comb-filtering effects of multiple drivers either. Obviously turning on and off the center channel while in use had as little effect on the sound as you would expect speakers using the exact same drivers would.

Comparison

Finding a system in the house to compare the Tannoys to was easy. They shared a lot in common with my reference Silverline system. As a matter of fact, the S8C performed excellently as a center-channel between the Silverline Sonatas. Using setup pink noise and cycling it through the Tannoy system with the Sonatas in the main right and left positions demonstrated just how much in common with the Silverlines the Tannoy S8LRs had. The timbre changed little as it traveled from speaker to speaker. In direct comparisons the Tannoys couldn’t quite match the delicacy of the much more expensive Silverlines, particularly in the highs, but overall system balance and smoothness was remarkably similar between the two brands. This is high praise for the modestly priced Tannoys.

Conclusion

I realize that this review is conspicuously absent of the copious listening notes that I usually include in system reviews. But as space here is limited and my goal in any review is to try to convey what it is that sets a system apart from the pack (if anything at all), I’ve worked hard to communicate the fact that I think that for the aforementioned reasons of bass performance, system coherence, neutrality and listenability, this Tannoy system is a real winner. If you are bothered by the harshness associated with many home-theater systems, you owe it to yourself to seek out this system of components.

Perhaps the component most deserving of being singled out for its merit would be the PS110 subwoofer. I’d like to own this subwoofer, which is a testament to its performance. I didn’t mention it earlier, but prior to placing the PS110 into the theater, it spent several weeks accompanying a pair of JMlab Mini Utopias (which list for ten times the price of the PS110). This actually made an excellent combination on music.

In the end, the PS110 failed to outshine the other components in the system and that speaks volumes about the rest of the speakers. Yes, you can find other systems that play louder, will shake the foundation of your home better and will impress with the razor-sharp incisiveness that comes along with a more aggressive sound, but you will likely have to spend much more money for the Tannoy’s level of sophistication. And that it serves music and movies as well as it does makes it all the better a choice. I could live happily ever after with this system, and I surmise someone looking for a cohesive music and theater system could as well.

Review System
Receivers - Yamaha DSP-A1, Onkyo TX-DS989
Source - Pioneer DV525 DVD player
Cables - DH Labs BL-1 interconnects, D-75 digital interconnect, Monster Cable speaker cables
Monitor - Proscan PS36700 direct-view
 

Manufacturer contact information:

Tannoy
335 Gage Avenue, Suite 1
Kitchener, Ontario
Canada. N2M 5E1
Tel: (519) 745-1158
Fax: (519) 745-2364

E-mail: litplease@tgina.com
Website: www.tannoy.com

 


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