It’s safe to say that if your company name has made it in to the Oxford English Dictionary as a noun, you can consider yourself near the top of the pile of established manufacturers of any sort, never mind hi-fi. As a result of winning a contract to design a public address system for British military camps in the 1930’s, the company’s name was cemented into the English language in 1948 and, whilst such products have long since disappeared from the Tannoy catalogue, the horn loading Tannoy employed to deliver loud sound over a wide area off not a lot of power, remains one of it’s core features in all but it’s most budget products.
And, as ranges go, it covers a depth and breadth of products few other manufactures can claim to come close to. At the bottom of the scale are tiny sub/sat packages that will fit in the palm of your hand, with the opposite extreme being the leviathan Westminster Royals, that are such large pieces of furniture, upon first acquaintance it’s actually quite possible to dismiss them a slightly odd looking wardrobes and wonder where the speakers are.
The subject of this review, the DC8 (£2500) from the Definition range, is by no means on such a scale, although by modern standards it would actually count as a ‘large’ stand mounted speaker. It is, in fact, the smallest of the three models in the avowedly stereo range, with no centres or surround speakers either available or intended. The other models are the DC8T, which shares the 8” Dual Concentric main driver - but adds an additional 8” bass driver in cabinet that reaches all the way to the floor (hence ‘T’ for Tower, and Americanized term for floor stander) and the DC10T, which follows the recipe of the DC8T but scales the package up to incorporate a pair of 10” drivers.
With dimensions of 470x271x238mm, or approximately 18x10x10”, the DC8 is certainly a fair bit larger that what the modern ‘lifestyle’ market tends to consider the norm. Regardless, the DC8 carries it’s size in an extremely elegant manner due to it’s truncated tear-drop cross section that tapers gracefully toward the rear and because, quite frankly dear reader, it is quite stunningly gorgeous in terms of the design’s detail and standard of finish. The depth and clarity of lacquer is so deep as to look almost liquid and drew compliments, even from my non-AV enthusiast friends.
Handsome good looks only run skin deep - it’s the engineering and materials beneath that determine sound quality and the former doesn’t matter one jot if the latter is lacking, so onto the substance of the DC8s. Peel away the skin and the shapely cabinet is formed from Baltic Birch plywood, a material that is denser and inherently less resonant than MDF, as the colder climate of the source wood promotes a slower, denser grained growth. Coupled with the stiffness of the curved profile, the result is a cabinet that weighs less than you might expect (although I wouldn’t say they were light), as its rigidity is gained through quality of construction rather than sheer mass. It sounds reassuringly inert to a knuckle ‘test’ and is reasonably dead to the touch when music is playing.
Looking to the rear and we see the reflex port, beneath which is the speaker cable terminal panel. The use of WBT terminals is very nice, as they really do bite on bare wire very tightly indeed but, more unusual, is the inclusion of a fifth terminal for earthing the drive unit chassis. The idea is that the chassis, which you connect via this terminal to your amplifiers grounding connection (if it has one), is then less prone to picking up unwanted RF and mains induced noise. In an attempt at completeness, I did indeed earth the drivers (how long before you see boutique speaker earthing cables?) using some spare wire and could detect no difference what-so-ever. Your mileage may vary.
Turning to the business end and you’re greeted by what must be one of the longest running and evolving drive unit arrays in the history of audio – The Tannoy Dual Concentric drive unit. Essentially, it’s a ‘normal’ mid-bass driver, but there is no central dust cap and, where you might expect to see the central pole piece, or phase plug attached thereto, there is a ring of concentric metal tubes that extend right through the pole piece to where the tweeter is bolted to the rear of the main driver’s magnet. The tweeter, therefore, fires through the centre of the mid/bass driver creating a point source. It’s obviously a bit more complex than that; the tubes, which increase in diameter as you move away from the tweeter, form what Tannoy call the Tulip Wave-guide and the length, shape, rate of flare and indeed the profile of the main driver’s cone, which forms an extension of the wave-guide, shape a system that has been refined over many decades of development.
In essence, the main benefits are one of source coherence and a controlled dispersion pattern. The angles over which sound, particularly the upper frequencies, radiate are relatively constrained compared to a traditional speaker with separate drivers, although the important detail is that this radiation pattern is far from 'sweet spot' and very consistent in all directions – the difference in rates at which upper frequencies roll off as you move away from the centre are more consistent. Thus, not only is a certain amount of the rooms influence removed by not spraying the lower end of the tweeter's output over a wide angle, but those listening will receive a consistent tonal delivery over a wide listening area in both width and height. A happy side effect of this controlled dispersion is that less energy from the tweeter is wasted by the effective horn loading of its output, it is running less ‘hot' than a normal two way and so it is able to be crossed over at a very low 1.5kHz (with only a 1st order high pass filter at that) that shifts the crossover anomalies out of the area where your hearing is most sensitive to them. Throw in the efficiency of the large 8” main driver and seat of the pants measurement, I see no reason to doubt the quoted efficiency of 88dB/W. I know there are parameters, often not stated by the manufactures, that can vary how you arrive at such figures but I've had two claimed 87dB/W speakers in situ recently and neither came within 3dB(SPL) of the output of the Tannoys for a given gain setting.
The materials used in the drivers are actually fairly normal, although clearly the attention to the quality of fit and finish is a cut above. The tweeter is a 25mm titanium dome, the mid bass driver a nominal 200mm treated paper cone with rubber roll surround. The former boasts a response up to 35kHz, the claimed benefit of which is the accurate reproduction of harmonics well above the threshold of even the most cosseted schoolgirls hearing. The theory goes is that you can’t hear them, but they’re there and your body knows it, plus, the potential nasties generated by not reproducing them cleanly can extend down into audibility, affecting the sounds you can hear. Bottom end extension is quoted as 42Hz, with both of the quoted figures claimed at -6dB. The lower figure certainly proved comfortably realistic once in my room.
The only other feature of note is the DCT (Deep Cryogenic Treatment) of the entire assembled crossover. Apparently, it is super cooled to circa -190˚C and then gradually allowed to warm up to room temperature which is claimed to reduce stresses within the micro structure of the crossover's materials, especially solder joints. As a pair of non Cryo DC8s weren't to hand, I have to assume that this, in concert with Audiophile grade components and silver plated internal wiring, all total to a sum that delivers the attention to detail on the inside, that is clear to see on the outside.
That's a lot of unique features and high quality components wrapped up in a package that dare I say it possesses a modern, but British, understated charm. They don't shout 'TECH' when you look at them, which this reviewer liked.
For the duration of their stay, I reconfigured my system to run in pure stereo, using four of my amplifiers six channels to passively bi-amp the DC8s and this allowed my to remove one centre speaker and stand, plus an entire equipment rack from the front of the room. The DC8s were to have room to breath. An evening was also spent at a friend’s house where a Naim CD/Pre/Power system provided the motive force and, as it's a room I'm becoming increasingly familiar with, it was quite educational in terms of what didn't change, even when everything else had. In my room, I ran the DC8s in accordance with Tannoy’s instructions, with 60cm clear air to the rear and 100cm to the sides and a modest amount of toe in. I tried moving things about a bit but always seemed to end up gravitating back toward approximately that modus operandi. The Naim room enforces a lot more space behind the speakers and less to the sides and provided a far less happy result in the bottom octave. Clearly, Tannoy didn't end up with their recommendations by accident.
These are a speaker that don't put a brake on music. Rhythmically, they're bang on the money and if you judge your enjoyment using the foot tap-o-meter, you'll probably like the DC8s. Rodrigo y Gabriella's eponymous CD is a superb recording that's lodged itself in my trusted demo disk shelf and it's a recording not exactly shy of pace or dynamic attack. It actually makes most gear sound good, but great gear makes it sound exceptional and the DC8s did exactly that. The lack of smearing to transient leading edges delivered a startling immediacy to the forceful plucking of strings and striking of the guitar that allowed the music to fairly rocket along, all of the performers’ energy rushing headlong toward you.
All quite exhilarating and it lead to me searching out anything with a strong rhythmic content as the DC8s clearly enjoy such fayre as much as I do. '80s favourites such as Peter Gabriel's 'So' with Tony Levin's monumental stick bass guitar and (he says quietly) Level 42's 'Hot Water' with Mark King's slapped bass being easy meat, but it also brought to the fore another of the DC8s qualities. Although I decided that they have not so much a forward balance, as a very slightly spot lit quality to the upper mid and treble, this part of the frequency range is delivered in an extremely crisp, clean and refined fashion. Gabriel's 'So' is a rather variable production that can sound a touch forward in parts and on some tracks, downright harsh and busy, but it never grated via the Tannoys, the temptation resulting in the volume slowly sneaking north as the session went on. A point could be reached where the sound would start to harden in the mid range and loose its coherence but, by this point, you would be far beyond what most would consider normal volume levels and frankly, if that's your bag, you should probably consider larger speakers – these are only a two way stand mount after all.
Donning the sensible hat once again, I turned to female vocal and spun up Angélique Kidjo's 'Keep On Moving' (A Best Of compilation and a good place to start if you've always suspected you might like an Afropop Jazz Rumba Caribbean Zouk Gospel fusion sung by a singer from Benin who lives in France) and the opening of Gershwin's 'Summertime' near raised the hair on the back of my neck as Kidjo's breathy humming of the melody started, appearing solidly between and about two feet in front of, the speakers. Crikey. She has a voice that moves from a having a husky smouldering quality that moves up through the gears to a powerful, open mouthed wail of real power and projection and can sound shouty, but the Tannoys delivered the power without stridency, all the while delivering insight into the vocal tricks and character of a song sung in another language, all with a natural, uncoloured warmth. When you haven't a blind clue what the words of a song are, it's easy for your attention to wander unless the performance is holding your attention and, as I was about five tracks into the album before remembering that I was supposed to be rattling through my play list, it dawned on me that communication was clearly a strong point of the DC8s.
Piano, be it jazz or classical, combines requires a blend of many of the qualities mentioned above so it was no surprise that the DC8s again excelled here. The leading edge of the percussive impact and the dynamic contrasts between each note were beautifully rendered, with the harmonics and the final decay of the body of the note easily heard behind the notes that followed. Such concisely delivered dynamics are a sure sign of a well fettled crossover and the attention it pays to phase coherence. The ebb and flow of the piece (I think it was a Haydn concerto, but even note taking had slipped by now) was utterly captivating and even this classical philistine just sat and enjoyed the performance for what it was, rather than trying to be audiophile about it. That said, It was now clear that the bottom end lacked the extra half octave of extension to give the full body and weight required by a full concert grand, your brain filling in the gaps beneath the upper harmonics of the lower notes. Indeed, much the same was true of double bass and kick drum, but the effect was more of a slight softening in the lower registers and all above was tight and well pitch defined and if yours truly weren't such a subwoofer fiend, it probably wouldn't have passed note. Certainly, none of the others present commented and I didn't notice any unwarranted chestiness or bloom to the bass to suggest that there was any overblown 'tuning' of the bass to compensate for what wasn't there. That's a trick often employed to make speakers sound big and impress on a quick listen, but living with it long term just seems to drag the music backwards with a tuneless, plodding delivery.
What I haven't mentioned is the stereo imaging. With a coincident source driver, in a stand mounted box, this should be, and is, a strong point of the DC8s. With their light and airy upper frequencies, hall acoustics are portrayed with an almost tangible amount of space around the speakers. Stage width and the positioning of performers ,both fore and aft, was striking with vocals projected right out front, whilst other performers seemed to take their natural place between or behind the speakers; where the recording/mixing was sufficiently finessed to do so that is. Best of all was simply the way in which, stare as hard as you like (and I know you can't actually see sound before the pedants write in), it was impossible to convince yourself that the sound was coming from, rather than around the speakers. I'll give an example; unless a sound is mixed purely to one channel, the presence of any information in the other channel should 'pull' that sound away from the dominant channel. Many less capable speakers simply don't do this. Dave Brubeck's 'Take Five' has the cymbals way out to one side of the mix and they can easily sound like they are coming from just that speaker, but this is a 50's recording without such trickery and the rest of the drum kit extends across the sound-stage with the kick drum dead centre as you might expect. Through the DC8s, the cymbals ring clearly from just inside of and behind the left speaker, which sounds altogether more natural and less like the 'Is my right ear blocked?' effect lesser speakers can deliver.
I did, for the sake of those who can't make do with less than 5 speakers, run a film or two through the DC8s (with and without my subwoofers in tow) and found dialogue in particular to be extremely intelligible. In some ways, simpler non-über effects movies worked really well because of the natural depth to the sound stage and the way voices in it, seemed less prone to being locked to dead centre. Dynamically, all of that talent is brought to bear with the tinkling of cutlery and cups in the background etched in superb detail and, of course, with the efficiency on offer, they go mighty loud off not a lot of watts. In some ways it's a shame, because there is a large gap in Tannoys’ multichannel range. You jump from the still capable, but definitely more cost conscious, Revolution Signature range with maximum driver sizes of 150mm, straight to the Dimension range where, by comparison, the Dimension TDC centre speaker is north of £3000 by itself. There's nothing to stop you buying three pairs of DC8s though.....
- Attention to build detail
- Lack of colouration
- Balanced sound with all musical genres
- Work very well at low levels
- Some will call them large
- Need good stands
- Not the deepest bass for the money
- No light wood finish? How English can oak be?
- No AV options
Tannoy DC8 Loudspeakers review
Well it's fair to say that I was somewhat enamoured with the DC8s. I'd heard the larger DC10Ts at a show a couple of years ago, thought they made comfortably one of the nicest sounds of the day, in what are always less than ideal circumstances, and I was hoping that the DC8s would deliver much of that same sound I remembered from their larger brethren, that wouldn't have worked in my current room at any rate. In a more relaxed and familiar environment, and in spite of the expectations that the £2.5k price tag brings, I'm still very impressed with the whole DC8 experience.
Yes, you have to factor in the price of good stands (although that lets you get the mounting height bang on – try that with a floor stander), and you could get any number of floor standers that would dig out that extra 10Hz of depth, but that would be to miss out on what a really good stand mount brings to bare, namely incredible imaging, an entirely convincing sonic disappearing act and last, but not least, less colouration. Smaller panels resonate less and add less unwanted colour to the sound and, if you like vocal and/or acoustic instruments, that is a very, very big plus. The DC8s, in the two rooms I tried them in, bass aside, gave a very consistent presentation which backs the positive strengths of the controlled directivity design, so assuming you can let the bass breath with a little space, they'll tolerate less than ideal circumstances better than most and I should reiterate, the bass is very good for the size. The immediacy of the delivery grabs your attention and makes you listen, so for all the British heritage and all of that guff, these are definitely not a pipe and slippers speaker for the background, even if the super smooth attention to the fine aesthetics would allow them to sit unobtrusively in a well appointed drawing room.
So, a bang up to date revision of the longest tradition in British loudspeakers, delivered with a balance of qualities that will go down well in any musical genre, décor or continent. Did I say what they can do with Metallica?
Value For Money
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