It’s easy to dismiss Tannoy’s Prestige series for being old fashioned. While the range’s traditional appearance may not suit the decor in many UK homes, it’s a firm favourite in the Far East where the fine craftsmanship, retro details and sonic talent have brought huge success.
We have one of the mid-sized models on test here, the Kensington GR, and even a quick listen proves there’s more at work here than just nostalgia.
Build and design
When we say mid-sized, it’s only in the context of the range. It’s still a huge cabinet that’s 105 litres in volume and 110 cm tall. Packaged, these speakers weigh in at a hefty 49kg each, so make sure you have a willing (and strong) friend to help unpack them.
Once you do that you’ll find that the Kensington GRs are beautifully made, wider than they are deep and covered with loads of retro design details. The cabinets are solid too, using a mixture of high-density birch ply for the front baffle and rear panel, combined with particle board and solid wood for other sections.
There are two standard finishes; the traditional-looking Walnut most Tannoy Prestige speakers come in, or the Black Oak of our review sample.
There are loads of neat cosmetic touches. We love the GR (Gold Reference) emblem on the front baffle and the engraved thick metal plate used for the treble adjustment section. The surprisingly heavy grille actually locks into place and there’s a chunky key that unlocks it for removal. Our inner nerd loves such things.
Items such as the beautifully finished wooden box that houses the biwire links, spikes and the nicely produced manual help promote pride of ownership. Details like this really boost the feel-good factor.
Despite all the fancy woodwork, the heart of these speakers is Tannoy’s trademark Dual Concentric drive unit. The one used in the Kensington GR builds on decades of development. It has a 25-cm paper pulp mid/bass cone with an impregnated twin roll fabric surround.
The tweeter – positioned in the heart of the mid/bass to help integration – is a 52mm aluminium/magnesium dome. It fires through a ‘pepper pot’ grating into a stainless steel horn – an arrangement said to help sensitivity and control directivity.
We don’t normally mention the magnet material used in a drive unit, but here we’ll make an exception. The Dual Concentric driver uses an Alnico magnet to provide the driving force for both the low- and high-frequency drivers.
Tannoy claims the use of Alnico (an iron/nickel alloy, with cobalt, aluminium and other rare metals) helps give the drive unit array a cleaner transient response and increased sensitivity.
The sheer size of the Kensingtons means you’ll need a big room – around 20 square metres as a minimum, we’d say. Make sure you can place these floorstanders at least a metre out into the room to make the most of their stereo imaging.
In our listening room, any closer to the rear or sidewalls resulted in an un-natural bloom at low frequencies. It isn’t particularly severe, but enough to adversely affect the overall performance.
Tannoy provides a good degree of flexibility in the treble. On the front baffle you’ll find adjustments for treble energy and roll-off. These are subtle enough to be useful, so it’s well worth experimenting to optimise performance.
The Kensington GRs can be biwired, and they benefit from that, sounding more precise and lucid when used this way. As with other Tannoys there’s an additional terminal next to the two pairs of signal inputs, the use of which (wired to the ground-pin on your amplifier) results in a cleaner, crisper presentation.
The large dynamic shifts of the track are rendered with impressive force and the scale of sound is just huge. Yet, there’s it’s all done with an astonishing sense of ease. At no point do these speakers sound strained or close to their limits, even at high volumes.
There’s none of the hardness of lesser speakers when pushed, nor the restrained dynamics that go with small drive units and compact cabinets.
Then, there’s the bass. While it comes as no surprise a speaker this size produces lots of it, we’re impressed by the Tannoy’s quality. They’re subtle, textured and articulate.
Rivals from the likes of B&W and Focal deliver more punch and grip, but sacrifice a little grace in the process. It’s a trade-off we’re happy to accept.
We’re impressed with the Tannoy’s stereo imaging too. Positioned with care these speakers set up a wide and deep sound stage populated by securely focused instruments. The stability is impressive, with the precision unspoiled even when louder elements come into play.
With Nina Simone’s Feeling Good, the Kensingtons continue to shine. That Dual Concentric driver gives a seamless and direct delivery, rendering Simone’s vocals with real passion and drive. Along with the power, we’re reminded just how subtle and insightful these speakers are.
We give alt-J’s Hunger of the Pine a listen and are struck by the Tannoy’s rhythmic skill. The overall presentation is a little gentler than we’re used to, but there’s still enough energy to satisfy. The combination of fine timing, strong dynamics and clarity are more than enough to win us over.
The Kensington GRs are speakers to love. Their retro appearance may not be to all tastes but there’s enough sonic quality to place them on the top rung of speakers at this price.
They’re gentle giants, balancing finesse with force in a mighty appealing way. Consider us tempted.
MORE: Best hi-fi speakers 2015