Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
Tannoy’s history in audio is so long, illustrious, and well known that I’ll keep this introduction short: The company was founded in 1926, in London, as the Tulsemere Manufacturing Company, and trademarked the brand name Tannoy in 1932. Since the 1970s Tannoy has been based in Coatbridge, Scotland, and in 2002 became part of the TC Group, which has offices in China, Denmark, Canada, and Japan. In its 87 years, Tannoy has developed many products for the professional and consumer markets, and is known for its pioneering Dual Concentric drive-unit, in which a high-frequency driver is positioned at the center of a lower-frequency driver, to create a true point-source radiator.
But despite that long history, and Tannoy’s legendary status among professionals and consumers, when their Definition DC10A loudspeakers entered my room, I eyed them with suspicion. I’m all for Dual Concentric drivers -- I’ve heard their benefits in other companies’ speakers -- but the one perched high on the DC10A’s baffle looked old for a new speaker that sells for $16,000 USD per pair. So I let them sit idle at the back of the room for almost a month, all the while thinking, “By today’s standards, can these actually be any good?” I wonder how many of you might be wondering the same.
The DC10A is the largest and most expensive speaker in Tannoy’s Definition series, and they make no bones about the fact that the driver technology that took me aback is decades old. However, that driver -- and the rest of this speaker -- has been created by implementing that tried-and-true technology with modern-day knowhow.
The DC10A’s tweeter, which has a 2” aluminum-alloy dome, nests very deeply inside a 10” midrange-woofer with a paper-pulp cone. The tweeter is aided by what Tannoy calls a Pepperpot Waveguide. This has small holes at its base, the part closest to the tweeter diaphragm, followed by a fairly long tapered tube that transitions into the midrange-woofer’s cone. The midrange-woofer itself has a double surround, presumably for greater linear excursion, and is augmented by two large-diameter ports on the rear panel, which can be stopped with foam plugs (provided) should there be too much bass for your room. Tannoy claims for the DC10A a -6dB low-frequency limit of 28Hz, which is deep, and an upper-frequency limit of 22kHz.
Both the tweeter and the midrange-woofer have alnico magnet systems, which Tannoy makes quite a to-do about. Alnico magnets are made primarily from aluminum (Al), nickel (Ni), and cobalt (Co), hence the name. Supposedly, only rare-earth magnetic materials such as neodymium create stronger magnets (out of commonly available materials). Alnico makes for a powerful motor system that, in combination with the large midrange-woofer cone and some serious horn loading on the tweeter, results in a claimed sensitivity of 93dB/2.83V/m, which is pretty high -- the DC10A will play superloud on very few watts. Furthermore, the DC10A’s impedance is said to be a moderate 8 ohms, which will make it pretty easy to drive, and is likely why Tannoy specifies a minimum amplification of just 30W. However, they also spec a maximum amplification of 300W, with a peak-power rating of 600W. If an amp can deliver the juice, this speaker can take it.
The DC10A’s tweeter and midrange-woofer hand off to each other at a very low 1.1kHz, with second-order slopes on each. That low crossover point was likely chosen to ensure that the big midrange-woofer doesn’t beam (i.e., narrow its dispersion) too much. According to Tannoy’s literature, in designing the crossover the designers took a “simple, straight” approach of fewer parts for the highest fidelity. To reduce resonances and further improve performance, they’ve damped the crossover components with what Tannoy calls DMT, and have gone a step further by cooling the assembled crossover to -190°C, then slowly thawing it over a specified period of time. This cryogenic treatment supposedly “permanently reduces internal stresses in the microstructure of the crossover’s components, joints and conductors, leading to further improved signal transfer and greater resolution of fine detail.”
Of course, there’s also what the DC driver is bolted to: the cabinet, which is over 40” tall, almost 14” wide, and nearly 18” deep. At first I thought it was made from layered MDF, as are most cabinets these days that have similarly curved sidewalls, but it’s actually layered birch, chosen for its acoustic properties. The supplied grilles are magnetically attached and cover about two-thirds of the front baffles, starting at the top, but should be left off for critical listening.
Not outwardly visible but accessible from the cabinet’s bottom is an empty space. Tannoy calls this a Mass Loading Cavity, and says that it “can be fully or partly filled with a range of particle materials from fine mineral aggregates to dedicated loudspeaker ballast.” When filled, this cavity is said to improve the tightness, detail, and control of the DC10A’s bass.
I didn’t really like the shape of the DC10A, even with its curved sidewalls -- it looked less than elegant in my room -- but I did admire the color and quality of the High Gloss Cherry real-wood veneer the review pair was finished in. (High Gloss Black and Dark Walnut, also of real wood, are available.) I also liked the metal trim around the midrange-woofer and on the bottom of the baffle, as well as the two-piece plinth of solid aluminum that bolts securely to the cabinet’s base, and holds the superthick spikes, which gave the DC10A a sure footing on my carpeted floor.
I don’t usually fuss much over binding posts, but the DC10A’s pairs of WBT NextGen connectors, which permit biamping or biwiring, are doozies -- of excellent quality, they tighten securely over spades, but also make a firm connection with banana plugs. If, like me, you’re not into biwiring or biamping, Tannoy also supplies good jumpers. There’s also a fifth connector; connected to an amplifier, it grounds the speaker’s driver frame through the amp “to reduce potential RF interference in the audio system.” I have no RF problems in my system, so I didn’t feel the need to connect it, but it may come in handy with some systems.
I often review a set of speakers using just one amplifier that drives them sufficiently well, but with the Definition DC10As I tried a number of different amps. The sound varied considerably with each amp, which isn’t usually the case with the speakers I review. I can’t explain why there were such variances, but I accepted that there were, and in the end I settled on the two that sounded best with the Tannoys. One was the Simaudio Moon Evolution 870A ($20,000), a top-grade, solid-state stereo amplifier capable of delivering 300Wpc into 8 ohms. The other was actually two amps: a pair of JE Audio VM60 monoblocks ($6400/pair), an all-tube design that outputs only 60W into 8 ohms. The VM60s couldn’t make the DC10As play as loudly as the Simaudio 870A could, but they were still loud enough in my room, and the sound was astonishingly good. The DC10A is, indeed, an easy speaker to drive.
The rest of my review gear was the same as I’ve been using for my other recent reviews: EMM Labs PRE2-SE preamplifier, Meitner Audio MA-1 DAC, Samsung Laptop running JRiver Media Center 18, AudioQuest Carbon USB cable, Nordost Valhalla balanced interconnects, and Siltech Classic Anniversary 330L speakers cables.
I positioned the DC10As a little differently from how I’ve placed most of the speakers that have been here recently, in order to get the best combination of tonal balance, bass, and soundstaging: 8’ apart (or 1’ more than usual), and 10’ from my listening chair (or 1.5’ more than usual). I toed in both speakers by just under 10°, which put my ears 10-15° off the tweeter axes.
I was pleased to find that the Definition DC10As had a generally neutral tonal balance, which made every type of music I played through them sound natural, but they were definitely not ruthlessly neutral -- which is why I had to tweak their positions more than I do with most speakers, to get the balance to my liking, particularly in the bass. The result was a midrange that was very smooth but a touch forward, which made voices sound present and alive; highs that were clean, very extended, and quite lively; and bass that was full, forceful, and remarkably deep. In fact, the bass was so deep and enveloping when I played “Mining for Gold” and “Misguided Angel,” from the Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, RCA), and weighty and thunderous when I played the title track of Sade’s Soldier of Love (16/44.1 FLAC, Epic), that it was easy to understand why Tannoy supplies port plugs -- these speakers could easily overload smaller rooms. The only speaker in recent years that reached deeper more forcefully in my room were Vivid Audio’s Giya G2 ($50,000/pair).
The DC10As’ soundstage greatly exceeded my expectations, with awesome width, surprisingly good image specificity, and 3D solidity, particularly when driven by the JE Audio VM60 monos, which have a more palpable sound than typical solid-state amps. There was a decent sense of depth, even if it wasn’t the deepest stage I’ve attained in my room. (That may have had something do with the fact that I was listening to the Tannoys from farther away than I usually do.) Suffice it to say that it was invigorating to hear such an old-school-looking speaker reproducing Margo Timmins’s angelic voice as solidly and tangibly on the stage as had Grand Cru Audio’s Essentiels, which are two-way, stand-mounted minimonitors ($8200/pair). I was even more pleased to hear the stage extend past the outer edges of the DC10As, not only with The Trinity Session, but with every recording I played that has a soundstage that’s intended to stretch that far.
Another thing about the DC10A’s sound was not only noteworthy but, in my experience, unique to this model: an expressiveness in the way it presented each type of music. That might seem a strange word to use. Basically, the pair propelled a bold, incisive, powerful sound that leapt out at me in a visceral, incisive, exciting, and pleasing way that made them an absolute joy to listen to, and the opposite of speakers that are tight-fisted to the point of sounding closed-in and restrained. I’m not necessarily talking about “forwardness” or “punch”; rather, I experienced an immediacy and presence even with the simplest recordings. The Tannoys projected the music into the room and drew me into the music.
Equally notable was the transparency of the sound and the details that the DC10As could reveal -- these were comparable to some electrostatic designs I’ve heard over the years. Leonard Cohen’s voice in “Going Home,” from his Old Ideas (16/44.1 FLAC, Columbia), was positioned vividly in the center of the stage, with every inflection clearly audible and with a razor-sharp distinction between his voice and the voices of the backing singers spread out behind him. On Soldier of Love, Sade’s voice in “Morning Bird” was just as clearly rendered, and with the same kind of delineation between her voice and what the other musicians are doing around her. What’s more, the high level of detail was as audible at the lowest listening levels as at the highest, something that isn’t always the case with speakers that need above-average power before they get up and go and start revealing the small stuff. The DC10As seemed to jump with only a hint of power.
The Tannoys could also re-create the authentic sound of an acoustic piano as if there were no tomorrow, a notoriously difficult thing for any speaker to do -- the piano’s tonality, weight, detail, dynamics, and, most important, richness were reproduced in my room in a shockingly realistic manner. The only speaker that has impressed me more in this regard is, again, Vivid’s Giya G2. It was interesting to rediscover some of my favorite piano recordings through the DC10As, including Ola Gjeilo’s Stone Rose (16/44.1 FLAC, 2L), Glenn Gould’s A State of Wonder: The Complete Goldberg Variations of J.S. Bach 1955 & 1981 (16/44.1 FLAC, Sony Classical), and Leon Russell’s self-titled debut, from 1970 (16/44.1 FLAC, DCC/The Right Stuff).
The Gjeilo and Gould recordings showed me how clearly and accurately the piano could be reproduced, but it was Leon Russell that really captivated me. The DC10As reproduced the ferocity of Russell’s playing at low and high volumes with uncanny realism and emotion. The sound remained clear at higher volume levels, with a lack compression that only a handful of speakers I’ve heard can approach. Furthermore, that expressiveness that I noted before was in full cry here -- the piano had a full, forceful, vivid, highly present sound that had me believing it might actually be in the room.
The DC10A had a unique sonic character that had plenty of strengths and a few weaknesses. One of the latter was its not entirely neutral tonal balance. Although I played with the positioning to compensate for this, there were a few things I just couldn’t iron out. One was a slight cupped-hands coloration, particularly with male voices, but also a bit with female voices and some instruments. This is typical of Dual Concentric drivers, largely because of the proximity of and interaction between the high- and low-frequency drivers. It wasn’t noticeable all the time, but I could highlight it with specific recordings, usually simpler in nature, which seemed to exacerbate it. My best guess is an anomaly somewhere between 400 and 600Hz. Likewise, the highs, while generally clean and quite lively, didn’t sound as refined as they do from the best conventional metal- and soft-dome tweeters I’ve heard recently, including the one used in my reference speakers, Revel’s Ultima Salon2s ($21,998/pair). I suspect not so much the DC10A’s tweeter but, again, the interaction of its output with that of midrange-woofer surrounding it. Whatever the case, sticking a tweeter inside a midrange-woofer conveys benefits along with the disadvantages, and the DC10A amply illustrated both.
Tannoy’s Definition DC10A not only surprised me, it impressed me -- partly because it allayed my initial misgivings about it, but mostly because its strengths have changed some of my preconceptions of what a truly great loudspeaker should sound like. The DC10A does things that few other speakers do. Most notable were its expressive sound -- bold, incisive, and powerful, it grabbed hold and drew me into the music in an uncanny way; the high level of detail, which remained consistent from very low to extremely high volume levels; its prodigious bass capabilities; and the composure and effortlessness of its sound as the volume levels were ratcheted up. In addition to those strengths, the DC10A had a few weaknesses that I highlighted above. I also had to work with the setup a little more than normal to get the balance just right, and take more care with amplifier matching because different amps yielded different sounds.
But when I critically assessed the pros and the cons, it was obvious that the Definition DC10A’s strengths so far outnumbered and outweighed its weaknesses that it’s not only an easy speaker for me to recommend, it’s one that I encourage listeners to seek out if they’re looking for this type of sound -- few, if any, speakers sound quite like this one. It’s a speaker that taught me a valuable lesson: Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, it’s important never to judge a speaker by the look of its drivers.
. . . Doug Schneider
Tannoy Definition DC10A Loudspeakers
Price: $16,000 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Tannoy Ltd. UK
North Lanarkshire ML5 4TF
Phone: +44 (0)1236-420199
Fax: +44 (0)1236-428230
North American Distributor:
TC Group Americas
335 Gage Avenue, Suite 1
Kitchener, Ontario N2M 5E1
Phone: (519) 745-1158
Fax: (519) 745-2364