Field Test: Tannoy Precision 8D Studio MonitorsACTIVE NEAR-FIELDS WITH SUPERTWEETER AND DIGITAL INPUT 2/01/2006 7:00 AM Eastern
The new Tannoy Precision line of studio monitors offers two passive and two active products. All four units are three-way and use the signature Tannoy SuperTweeter and Dual Concentric bass and high-frequency drivers. The Precision 6 and Precision 8 are nonpowered units, one offering a 6-inch bass driver and the other an 8-inch. The Precision 6D and 8D, reviewed here, are top-of-the-line monitors and carry some serious firepower.
YOU LOOK MAH-VELOUS
The Precision 8D's fresh look is easy on the eyes. The silver 8-inch cone is set into an oblong, brushed-aluminum baffle on a granite-colored faceplate — striking. A green power switch sits next to the Tannoy logo. This logo serves as a clandestine mute switch, hidden to all but the daring souls who actually read a manual. The SuperTweeter is housed separately above the primary drivers. This device is, as Tannoy puts it, “…to correct the time or phase response at the upper end of audibility, resulting in enhanced accuracy and ‘air.’” I can attest to this much: These monitors image beautifully. More on that later.
NOTHING BUT THE SPECS
The 8D is a rear-ported, bass reflex — loaded design, using an 8-inch, dual-concentric, constant-directivity driver with a multifiber paper-pulp cone. Being rear-ported, they lack some percussion, as proven in the listening tests. Be careful when putting them against a wall; the bass can build up inaccurately. (The LF EQ DIP switches should take care of this.) Tannoy's solution for accurate phase coherency is to embed the HF driver inside the LF driver (a coaxial design). The HF driver is a 1-inch titanium dome. The SuperTweeter is a separate 1-inch titanium dome, with an extended frequency response out to 51 kHz. The 8Ds are rated at 43 to 51k Hz, reproducing high frequencies above 20 kHz that the brain can “hear” and process. These boxes get loud; 119dB maximum SPL should be plenty, even for the hardcore aficionado.
The power amplifier gives you some headroom: 120-watt RMS on the low end and 60W RMS on the top — plenty of juice in a near-field monitoring environment. The crossover frequency is 2.2 kHz, with no spec given between the HF and SuperTweeter. Whatever flavor you're sending, a handy XLR/TRS combo connector provides a 600-ohm balanced input; no adapters are necessary. A coaxial S/PDIF input is onboard with an associated loop output to send signal to your next speaker. A corresponding switch selects which channel (left or right) you would like the 8D to reproduce. Be careful, though; your analog and digital send levels may not match. A single volume control for both the digital and analog inputs is provided with a range of +6 dB/-12 dB, reference 0 dBV (0.775V), with the digital gain trim being post-DAC. Video shielding is standard.
The back contains a bank of 20 DIP switches to equalize the speaker to account for placement in a given environment. Optimization can be preset for far/mid/near/close positions, as well as free/half/quarter/eighth acoustical spaces. The DIP switches address the LF (boost/cut between 45 to 65 Hz), low mids (cut-only shelf at 800, 400 or 200 Hz), high mids (cut/boost between 1 and 3 kHz) and a HF cut/boost shelf at 5 kHz. The manual includes good charts that cover the range of these curves, along with examples of settings for various spaces (free space, against a wall, on the console bridge, etc.). An 80Hz HPF is also available when the 8Ds are used with a subwoofer.
BE ACTIV, GET ACTIV
Tannoy offers an optional automated acoustic measurement and calibration software package called ActivAssist. Insert the CD into your computer and follow the instructions with the included cabling and mic. A cable sends the headphone output back into the mic input on your computer. Not exactly standard operating procedure, but it is necessary for the software to internally calibrate levels and frequency response. After the calibration, the software prompts you to plug the mic into your sound card and then set the microphone precisely 50 cm from the speaker baffle, directly on-axis. Plug the supplied 1/8-inch TRS to XLRM cable into your headphone output and then to one of the 8Ds. You are now ready to set levels with your computer preferences and ActivAssist.
Not knowing what was going to come out of the speaker, I popped in a set of linear earplugs, just in case. I'm glad I did. The initial sweep was extremely loud due to the settings of the internal G5 sound preferences. Once the levels are set via a series of software meters, you're ready to take the actual measurements.
The sweep only takes a few seconds. You then get a graph of what the speaker is doing in your room. My first measurements were taken in a “half-space” environment: The speakers were on the meter bridge with the console in the middle of the room. Click again on Optimize and you get an overlay of what will happen once you make the recommended DIP switch settings. I ran these tests again with identical results each time.
After making the recommended adjustments, I couldn't help but notice a marked decrease in bass response from the initial “anechoic flat” settings. On checking the new settings against the EQ charts, the recommendation was for maximum decrease in the 45 to 65Hz region, a drop of 7.5 dB at 50 Hz, with the downward roll-off beginning at 150 Hz. Lo mids where unchanged. Upper mids were cut 1 dB between 1 and 3 kHz, a noted improvement. (On first listen, this area was too far forward in my listening environment.) The highs were boosted 3 dB, starting at 5 kHz and rising to 12 kHz, where it remained flat out to 51 kHz.
Honestly, I wasn't very happy with the results. The speaker sounded thin. From these adjustments, I can understand why. The top-end boost revealed some self-noise in the amplification system. Time to reconnoiter. I adjusted the LF for a 3dB boost and set the highs back to flat. I left that dip in the upper mids. For my environment, this was much better. My reference material began to sound like what I was used to hearing, but perhaps with a tad bit more of that classic Tannoy clarity in the midrange, which, on some of the company's models, is just too accentuated for my taste. Thanks to a well-thought-out EQ system, this model can adjust to your listening position, acoustic anomalies and listening preferences.
IN MY EAR
I must reiterate that the imaging provided by the 8D is absolutely stellar. I found the optimum distance for precise imaging to be between 3 and 4 feet across. Even at 5 feet across, on a large console, not much was lost. From the very first listen (with EQ set to anechoic flat), the 8Ds exuded that 3-D quality we mix for. Clarity in the vocal range is superb.
Tannoy cites myriad advanced techniques in these speakers' design, and they seem to be working. Definition among instruments truly puts each part in its own space. I did a mix of an alt-country act and took it to another studio. The song played out well on four different speaker systems — price points from $150 to $2,500 per speaker.
However, this speaker is not an end-all for all production requirements, as I feel it lacks punch in the low end. The harmonic structure of bass instrumentation is represented, but the “in your chest” percussion was lacking. The 8D would be well-served with the addition of a sub, an absolute necessity if producing any style of popular dance music. I found this lack of bottom to be true in three different control rooms. In each instance, I was pulling the top end down, 1 to 3 kHz, and boosting the low end. [Eds. note: Since sending out this review unit, Tannoy's analysis of production samples revealed that a tweeter trim control was being set too high during manufacture, resulting in excessive treble energy. Tannoy says this problem was corrected before units were released to the public.]
One small complaint on the DIP switches: The low EQ would have benefited from +1dB increments instead of the +3dB option only. The S/PDIF input is a nice added touch, but I felt the high end to be somewhat sibilant as compared to another converter I used. Given the price range of the speakers, I expected more. However, the bottom line is that the critical midrange and imaging have been taken care of; Tannoy got the hard part right.
Tannoy Precision 8Ds list at $2,058/pair. ActivAssist can be downloaded from the company's Website, free of charge, but you must provide a mic and the necessary cables. As a kit, it lists for $115.
Tannoy North America, 519/745-1158, www.tannoy.tc.
Bobby Frasier is a pro audio consultant and educator in Phoenix.