Tannoy Legacy Eaton Standmount Speaker Review
When men were men and bass was felt rather than heard
What is the Tannoy Legacy Eaton?The Tannoy Legacy Eaton is a two-way standmount speaker. Even a cursory glance at the accompanying photos though should be enough to establish that there is a little more going on here with those statements than might normally be the case. The word ‘Legacy’ is a big clue that this is not an entirely normal new arrival. The Eaton is in fact a reimagining of a model that Tannoy produced in the seventies. It and two other members of the HPD range have returned to production and currently form part of Tannoy’s range between £4,400 and £6,400.
On the face of it, this seems decidedly odd. In technical terms, a great deal has happened since the 1970s and simply resurrecting a product from the past seems a peculiar way of pushing forwards. With specific reference to Tannoy though, things are not so clear cut. The company is one of the longest running of all HiFi companies and many of their key technologies have been present in an evolving but visibly familiar form for over fifty years. Bringing back an older speaker and breathing a little modernity into it isn’t such a nonsensical idea in this particular case.
There is also another factor at work here. The Tannoy – as we shall cover – has dimensions and design practices that have almost vanished from more modern designs but Tannoy has long argued that this is not because they were improved on but because styling fashion made them unsuitable. With a little fettling, the argument goes, this speaker should have advantages that push it clear of more conventional designs. The challenge is considerable though. This is the most expensive speaker we’ve ever reviewed – a full £400 more than the objectively perfect Q Acoustics Concept 500. Does this remarkable looking device have what it takes to deliver in the modern world?
SpecificationsIronically, while it might look a world away from the clean sheet modernity of the KEF Q350 that has also passed through the review process this month (and costs nearly nine times as much), the Tannoy has one key feature in common. The Eaton is built around a driver that works around similar basic principles. The Dual Concentric in the Eaton is older than the ‘Uni Q’ used in the KEF and works on slightly different principles. The tweeter is a 33mm device made out of aluminium and magnesium that uses an edge wound voice coil – a slightly rare practice in this day and age. The driver that this sits inside is not made out of the same material as the tweeter. The driver is made from doped paper as has been the case for a very long time.
The operating process for this driver is also a little different. Look into the centre of the driver and you’ll see that the tweeter is mounted fairly deeply in the throat of the driver. This gives the mounting some of the qualities of a horn loaded design and provides a natural break point for the main driver to be centred. The other key area of differentiation is the size. While KEF Uni Q units tend to be in the 4 to 6.5 inch range the Eaton sports a ten inch unit. This is an altogether heftier unit although a mere baby compared to the largest variant that Tannoy produces that is no less than 15 inches in size. Tannoy has tended toward the use of these larger drivers because they feel that they are the only correct way of reproducing low frequencies while at the same time presenting benign impedance and sensitivity measurements.
Lurking underneath the driver is something that is at once classic and very of the moment. The Eaton has the option of adjusting the treble output and roll off of the driver via a control plate. Unscrew the small knob from the plate and rescrew it in a different hole to make the relevant adjustment. This looks a bit old school but Q Acoustics uses a similar (if simpler) system on the Concept 500. The adjustment range for both increments is a fairly considerable -6/+2dB which should allow the Eaton to be ‘dialled in’ to most rooms you choose to place it or for you to correct an overly ‘toppy’ signal. Bass output can also be adjusted via supplied foam bungs. The crossover connects to the outside world via biwire terminals that also includes a fifth grounding terminal which is something of a Tannoy speciality.
The cabinet is in keeping with the original design premise of the HPD series. It is made of 19mm MDF with bracing and damping applied at specific points to impart the required rigidity. A pair of front ports help that hefty driver reach 40Hz at a claimed +/-6dB. Notionally, the way that the Tannoy has been constructed would qualify as ‘lightweight’ in comparison to modern design practices but given that each Eaton weighs 20 kilos, this is still a fairly hefty object.
DesignI am fairly sure that even before we reach this point of discussion, the majority of you reading will already have largely made your mind up about the Eaton as a piece of industrial design. What is extremely important to stress when discussing the Tannoy – in fact discussing any speaker from this range or the Prestige line – is that this isn’t a homage or pastiche. In technical terms, everything on the Eaton is pretty much as it was the first time around – only the addition of the biwire terminals, removal of the tweeter dust cap and the move from a single front port to two smaller ones are readily identifiable as being different.
What has changed is that the Legacy range has borrowed cosmetic elements from the Prestige models. The crossover adjustment is via a brass plate with a crew fitting rather than a pair of trim pots, there is a bronze finisher to the driver surround and the walnut cabinet is supplied with a pot of wood wax to keep it looking good and to help it age correctly. This is combined with a shape that is gloriously, almost wilfully at odds with what a speaker ‘should’ look like in 2017. The Eaton’s dimensions are so far outside the accepted wisdom for what a £4,000 speaker should look like, it defies easy comparison to anything else.
And do you know what? I love it. Almost every cosmetic element of the Eaton is so joyously out of time that it has you treating it like an antique even though it is absolutely brand new. This is helped by the detailing being absolutely exquisite. The crossover adjustment panel is a minor work of art, the quality of the veneering – while entirely understated – reminds you of what the differences are between cheaper commercial veneers and more bespoke ones and even the grilles feel like they are – quite literally – cut from a different cloth. The pot of wood wax and the heavy duty cable links for using a single set of speaker cables with the terminals are not strictly speaking necessary but they help you feel like you have bought something bespoke. It almost goes without saying that the build quality is absolutely superb.
I’m not blind to some of the more obvious shortcomings of the Eaton though. The die off in the market for remotely similarly sized speakers means that the Eaton requires speaker stands of a height that is hardly mass market. While the search I was able to perform wasn’t exhaustive, only Atacama makes a stand that is really suitable for the Eaton – indeed it was one of their older designs (out of production for nearly twenty years) that provided the support for the review samples. The speaker also needs a level of floorspace beyond pretty much any rival, any benefits from its relative shallowness being offset by its considerable width. Put simply, you are going to notice the Eaton in most spaces you put it.
Almost every cosmetic element of the Eaton is so joyously out of time that it has you treating it like an antique even though it is absolutely brand new
How was the Tannoy Eaton tested?Having broken out my short Atacama stands and fitted the cables to link the terminals for single wiring, the Tannoys were tested on the end of my resident system. This comprises a Naim Supernait 2 integrated amp with Naim ND5XS network streamer and XP5 XS power supply. Some vinyl testing has been carried out via a Rega Planar 6 using a Dynavector DV20X cartridge running into a Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage. All electronics have been connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Sigmas Mains conditioner. Material therefore has included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF as well as DSD with some Tidal, Spotify and vinyl use thrown in too.
Sound QualityPsychologically, there is the expectation on connecting up the Tannoys that the sound that comes out of them will be as nostalgic as their appearance – half Pathe news bulletin, half Enigma Variations – but this isn’t the case. The reason that the HPD models were selected for this reinvigoration is that the originals are still fairly sought after decades after they ceased production. To be entirely clear, the Eaton can cut it in the context of similarly priced modern rivals. At the same time, their physical design impacts on their performance in distinctive, and at times fascinating, ways.
First up, the shape and design of the Eaton grants them a soundstage that is, at times, simply extraordinary. Listening to London Grammar’s Truth is a Beautiful Thing on vinyl is the audio equivalent of widescreen. The sound manages the uncanny and almost contradictory achievement of being almost diffuse in terms of how it opens out in front of you but within this vast space, the positioning of performers and instruments is utterly self-explanatory. After any length of time listening to them, the Eaton tends to make most other speakers sound like headphones.
The tonality of the Eaton is also absolutely exceptional. The crossover between the mid-range driver and the tweeter is low at 1.2kHz giving it a lot of work to do but it never seems under any strain. Voices and instruments sound natural and are smooth and free of any signs of harshness or aggression. The Naim Supernait2 I use for the bulk of test work is a far cry from Naim amps of old but it can still be provoked with some speakers. This is utterly unlikely to happen with the Eaton which is completely unflappable even when you throw a poor recording at it and dial up the volume. This is an exceptionally composed speaker under pretty much any condition – and even if you did dial up the volume, you have the option of rolling off the HF output slightly.
Above all these things is a sense of weight and presence with everything you play. This needs to be qualified as slightly different to outright bass extension. Make no mistake, the Eaton has no shortage of bass under pretty much any condition – that 40Hz figure is effortlessly bettered in this room – but where the Tannoy truly excels is with the point where the lower mid-range becomes bass. Without sacrificing control or integration, the Eaton has a level of grunt here that makes most rivals seem anaemic. The string section in Flynn Lives on the TRON: Legacy soundtrack swells with an energy and sheer heft that really can only be achieved by a large driver in a large cabinet.
If you take this to its logical conclusion, break out the ballistic dance music and wind up the levels… you uncover what is perhaps the only real weakness of the Eaton. Pinning down what is happening when you decide to give Leftfield’s Space Shanty the beans is tricky because, at least superficially, nothing changes. The Eaton never sounds sluggish or lacking in control but it also never truly delivers the innate joy of this sort of material. That’s not to say it can’t have fun but it’s happier with the rock based energy of Best of you from the Foo Fighters than it is with electronica. I’m not entirely clear why this is the case – I don’t believe it’s the design of the Eaton as many more conventionally designed and constructed speakers can come across in the same way – but this simply isn’t the most ballistic speaker going. I need to stress that with more considered electronic music like Kraftwerk’s ‘3D’ rework of Autobahn the Tannoy is simply outstanding. Ultimately, it might be best to consider the Eaton like a Rolls Royce Phantom. You can do a burnout in one but it isn’t strictly what it is designed to do and it does other things rather better.
Those better things perhaps most importantly include the ability to be entertaining and engrossing over extended listening sessions. The Tannoy is the sort of speaker you can stick on come a weekend morning and – the distractions of modern life not withstanding – keep listening to them until you go to bed. If that bedtime happens to be rather later than other people in the house, the Eaton is a superb performer at low levels – helped in no small part by that effortless sense of low end weight. Of course, if you have the means to play it loud, the Tannoy has no trouble delivering and, thanks to its impressive sensitivity, it doesn’t need a huge amount of power to do so.
And the treble adjustment? The boost and cut functions are entirely effective although in my room, I found that the default 0dB setting was the more effective. The roll off was a slightly different case. Switching to a -2dB roll off seemed to have a – presumably psychological – effect on the perceived ‘speed’ of the Eaton’s performance that was beneficial with higher tempo material. Ultimately, the accessibility of the panel and the ease with which you can adjust it means you can tweak away to your heart’s content knowing that reverting ‘back to factory’ is utterly straightforward.
After any length of time listening to them, the Eaton tends to make most other speakers sound like headphones
- Spacious and effortless sound
- Superb build quality
- Fabulous appearance
- Fractional lack of excitement
- Slightly impractical shape
- Fairly pricey
Tannoy Legacy Eaton Standmount Speaker ReviewAVForums prides itself on an objective and cerebral approach to the review of products so I shall begin summing up by being objective and cerebral. The Tannoy Legacy Eaton is not better than the Q Acoustics Concept 500 that wears its perfect score and Reference Badge. The Concept 500 is a truly outstanding device that is pretty much all things to all people boasting a performance that is simply astounding at the price. It’s also cheaper than the Tannoy and needs less room in real world terms while it does so. If you choose equipment based on absolute accuracy and performance – and all power to you if you do – that is still where your money should go.
The thing is that two-channel audio is not quite the same as AV. I can’t quote you how close the Tannoy gets to a measured ideal in room and the result in another room would be completely different anyway and again, judged dispassionately, it isn’t quite the all-rounder that the Q Acoustics is. I can tell you though that interacting with the Tannoy makes me feel happy. I love the ridiculous attention to detail and craftsmanship that is evident throughout them and that people who care deeply have made something that isn’t simply a box of electronics. They also have skills that are beyond any other speaker I’ve ever tested near this price – namely a scale and naturalness that can make most rivals sound like the congested little boxes that Tannoy believes them to be. Objectively, you should choose the Concept 500 but I’d understand completely why these might win out for you. For this reason, this magnificent blast from the past earns our affection and comes Highly Recommended.
Ease of Use8
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.