11 January, 2013

Overview: Tannoy (Prestige Series) Westminster Canterbury, Part I

Overview: Tannoy (Prestige Series) Westminster Canterbury, Part I

Note: This has been in draft form for a long time, but it is time to edit and publish (in a hurry) as an introduction to my next article, a Westminster Royal SE home visit!

Recently, while researching for an acquaintance, I came across several interesting articles on the Tannoy Prestige series, and I have collated them here in order to share with you, together with my impression of some of them.

Preface - Tannoy New vs Old
The Tannoy Prestige series is for the serious aficionado the only real Tannoy, continuation of their older monitors. In the official website, you can download manuals and brochure for everything in the Download section. On the web, the beautiful and informative official brochure is also available.

New vs Old A large contingent of vintage aficionados swear by the older monitors (named by the colors of the caps), and there are plenty of reading available on the net to "support" that claim, which I shall not go into in details, only touching on the important issues briefly. Is older better? I think not, not for the serious audiophile. In fact, my own opinion is the opposite.

Efficiency and Bandwidth The vintage drivers have the advantage of somewhat higher efficiency, but the disadvantage of narrower bandwidth. In fact, basically, Tannoy has continued to extend the bandwidth of their drivers, apparently at the expense of a little efficiency. Some like the sound of narrower bandwidth - it's usually a little richer in the midrange. But for the serious audiophile and listener of classical orchestral works, that just would not do. Tannoy always has superior bass, and even with the vintage drivers you can get away with no subwoofer there, but usually not so for the super-tweeter, which I consider almost a must on the older drivers.

Power Handling Many vintage Tannoy users listen to rather small combo music, but if you play large orchestral works, at high volume the vintage Tannoy drivers get into compression much quicker than the modern drivers.

Crossover condition Almost all the vintage Tannoy Golds and models from that point on sound wonderful, but I have heard too many older Tannoys that sound terrible. While I have heard some Reds that sound normal, most of the Silvers I heard sound awful. I think crossover condition is to blame for the underwhelming performance of many of the older units.

Alnico vs Ferrite The older "color" monitors are all alnico. Later, mostly ferrites were employed. But the top models in the current Prestige series use Alcomax.

The Surround Problem and Evolution of the Prestige series
Tannoy has kept the name of the models, but they have evolved certainly, and some of the changes are not well documented and even confusing. Most significantly, while the drivers have basically remained the same, the earlier foam surround, which eventually deteriorate (rather more quickly in humid Asia) have been sensibly replaced by the much more durable retro "hard-edge" (hence the designation HE) surround in more recent updates. For me, this is most important change, but it comes at a price: the hard-edge surrounds are MUCH harder to break in! Believe me, I know! And mind you, many second-hand models sold in Asia may not have been really run-in, having been listened to at too low a volume in a relatively small room. With the previous generation of HE, Tannoy had already introduced many of the current features, including use of exotic internal cables like Van den Hull cables (not the best choice in my opinion). The current SE generation basically used even more boutique component in the crossover. 2013 shall also see the newest "Gold" versions.

The Westminster (Royal)
The Westminster is awe-inspiring and in my opinion likely the best Tannoy ever, but it is absolutely not for everyone. There are few reviews, but here are some links:

2006 HiFi World review of Westminster Royal HE
2010 Positive Feedback review of Westminster Royal SE

The author of the Positive Feedback article, which is good in its coverage of the various editions of this iconic loudspeaker, is Jeff Day, who owns them and writes a lot about it in his Blog Jeff's Place. Although he is a likeable fellow and I have quite a few things he has, I have some reservations about his approach and associated gears. In my next article on the Westminster Royal SE, I am going to tell you what Jeff Day has not mentioned, things that are critical to Tannoy setup. Incidentally, Jeff Day had promised a long-term follow-up to the Westminster and his friend's Canterbury, and I await that with great interest.

For my own experience, before this article I have heard several pairs, and the sound range from awful to potentially (meaning not quite) awesome. The best was driven by Kondo gears, the worst in a room by far too small. But the next article will revise somewhat my opinion.

IMHO, the Westminster definitely needs:

1) a large space to breathe and preferably a long listening distance;
2) preferably (actually mandatory) corner placement. Certainly, as much wall reinforcement as possible for loading of the bass horn. This is much in conflict with modern hifi thinking, but then modern people are so trapped in the imaging game that they end up not knowing much about other aspects of music reproduction! Simply put, only naive and ill-informed people would approach the bass horn the way they approach Magnepan!
3) despite the higher efficiency I suspect the Westminster is best used with somewhat higher powered amps to avoid coloration of the low bass (by nature slower). Bass control is needed.

Tannoy Canterbury (official literature)
As readers know, there are now several of us using this. From previous articles: Although outwardly it has remained the same, Canterbury has gone through several iterations. I believe the concentric driver, an (alnico) Alcomax 3 magnet system with Pepperpot Waveguide, has remained mostly the same. (1) The first generation (which Danz has) has foam surrounds. (2) Next in time is my HE version, which stands for "hard-edge", the retro-styled accordion-like cloth surround. I am not sure what else the HE "improved" over the first version. I think they both use Van den Hull cabling. Speaker connection panel on the back is rectangular, bi-wire posts and a ground post. I have no details on other cables and components used in the crossover. (3) The current SE version has the same surrounds as the HE and has a circular plate for WBT binding posts (which I don't like). Cabling and crossover components have some changes. The change from VdH to Acrolink cabling is likely an improvement (having personally a low opinion of VdH), but I am not sure which of the other crossover components, if any, is new. Official description (bold type by editor):

"...The Canterbury SE benefits from Acrolink cable right through from terminal panel to crossover, crossover to drivers and the LF board wiring itself; not forgetting the bi-wire links. Cables produced by Acrolink use self-stipulated 6N copper, constructed using the same process as is used with wires for semiconductor devices, which require a guarantee of high quality. More precisely, the purity of the copper needs to be over 99.9999% and the total of any impurity metals must be less than 1 part per million. The quality of this cable ensures that a powerful yet delicate and natural, fast response is accomplished throughout the signal path.
Very low loss laminated iron core inductors on the LF ensure that there is less resistance between the amplifier and driver, resulting in superior bass control. High purity silver (99.99%) link wires maintain signal path integrity on the separate HF crossover board and for the HF feed capacitor Hovland Musicaps are used with a special Tannoy DMT™ (Differential Material Technology) isolation sleeve. Hovland Musicaps are renowned for their exceptional dynamics, speed, focus, correct timbre and depth of field, and true inter-transient silence. Separate layers of polypropylene film and conductive foil deliver superior clarity of reproduction that metalised capacitors cannot match.
High quality ICW Musicaps are used in other areas. Vishay thick film non-inductive resistors are used in critical areas, with extensive heat sinking where necessary. The stable component temperature provided by the heat-sinking feature ensures maximum reliability and an even and consistent sound quality..."

I am not sure either how much of the current Canterbury Spec's differ from the previous ones. I'd think very little:

Recommended amplifier power50 - 275 Watts
Continuous power handling140 Watts RMS
Frequency response28Hz - 22kHz -6dB
Sensitivity96dB (2.83 Volts @ 1 metre)
Nominal impedance8 Ohms
Dual Concentric™ high frequency51mm (2.00") with aluminium alloy dome, Alnico magnet system with Pepperpot Waveguide™
Dual Concentric™ low frequency380mm (15.00") treated paper pulp cone with HE twin roll fabric surround. 52mm (2.00") round wire wound voice coil
Dispersion90 degrees conical
TypeBi-wired, hard wired passive, low loss time compensated 2nd order LF, 2nd order compensated HF.
Adjustment+/- 3dB over 1kHz to 22kHz shelving,
+2dB to -6dB per octave over 5kHz to
22kHz slope
Enclosure typeDual variable distributed port system
Volume235L (8.3 cu.ft)
Dimensions1100 x 680 x 480mm
(43.50 x 26.75 x 19.00”)
Weight63kg (139 lbs)
FinishWalnut veneer with solid

Tannoy Yorkminster (official info)
Although I have heard these perform reasonably at the dealer's, I personally would instantly dismiss these for their twin rear ports, which is a hazard in terms of placement, and quite unlike Tannoy! That is too bad, as this has the only 12" driver in the Prestige series.

Tannoy Kensington (official info)
This is the only 10" model and the lowest model to have alnico driver. I'd be very curious to hear these in comparison to the lower models Turnberry and Stirling, which have ferrite magnets. Here are some reviews I have found:

2004 HiFi News review of Kensington (HE)
2010 Home Entertainment review of Kensington SE

Tannoy Glenair (official info)
Although the Glenair and Glenair 10 are in the Prestige series, the styling is completely different. These are ferrite. I have never heard these but I personally would instantly dismiss these for their twin rear ports for the same reason as for Yorkminster.

Tannoy Autograph Mini (official info)(6moons review)
I have heard these several times, and they are marvelous, but has too many serious competitions at this price point, KEF LS50 and TAD TSM-2201, to name just two (actually these two are cheaper, and more well rounded).

Tannoy ST200
These so-called "super-tweeters" are quite expensive for what are basically metal tweeter units. There are many excellent and much cheaper super-tweeters (like Aurum Cantus and Fostex) out there for these to be competitive. They look great though.


  1. AnonymousJuly 15, 2013

    Hello doctorjohn,

    I'm from Toronto, Canada, like your site, coverage of the Tannoys and interested in the Canterbury SE's. Having listened to a brand new pair on an analogue system, it sounded so SMOOTH(some call smoothness "High End luxury") , since that was only my first experience with the Canterbury, is that the "Real" sound!!..cause I was expecting lifelike as what was recorded.
    Also, is gzhifi a legit site as I won an Ebay auction for a pair of Canterbury, item #221246918203 for <$5,000us but upon further investigation, I found the same Ebay pictures from a China site gzhifi (all chinese writing & no translation available).

    Finally, how would you rate the Coincident Pure Reference Extreme speakers / and or the Legacy Aeris speakers to the Canterbury's.

    Kind regards,

    1. Tannoy of the caliber of Canterbury and Westminster should sound awesome, and indeed life-like, but I have heard many systems where this did not happen. It's all down to the taste of the individual afterall.

      I think Tannoy's are very different animals from the other speakers you mention.