New maxim for the Recession of '92: When the going gets tough, the tough go down-market. Unbelievably, the flood of beer-budget killers continues, when a year ago all feared that the hi-fi makers could produce only rhino-bucks hardware. The AR-M1 and Monitor Audio Monitor One loudspeakers, Musical Fidelity's Preamp/Typhoon, Analogue Experience's coax -- all respond to a dearth of disposable income. And now Tannoy's in on the act with the 603, the smallest in the company's newest model range.
Cynics could argue that the Six Series, the name denoting the number of sides to the cabinets, is merely another flash range designed to part dollars from Americans. So slick are these speakers that they wouldn't look out of place in the Innovations catalogue. I say that despite the sane reasoning behind the chosen shape. The cabinet is designed to bestow a number of benefits on the user, including improved standing-wave behaviour through an absence of parallel reflective panels, increased rigidity, better self-damping and an improved diffraction pattern.
On the manufacturing side, you're looking at a product which could only come from a company with the money needed to tool up the myriad plastic components, like the top and bottom frames. Even the minor details smack of Japanese prowess, with inset brass threads at the bottom to fix the speaker to dedicated stands and a bi-wiring link better than any I've ever seen (including Sonus Faber's new clips).
Competition and Comparison
To compare the Tannoy 603 loudspeakers against the competition read our reviews for the Definitive Technology Powermonitor 900 system and the Sonus faber Musical loudspeaker. You can find more information about different products by visiting our Bookshelf Speaker Section.
Tannoy placed the multi-way binding posts one pair above the other. An upside-down U-shaped metal link connects the gold-plated terminals for single wiring. Raise it (the 'handle' is a Tannoy logo), then tighten the nuts and the terminals are ready for bi-wiring or bi-amping. And you won't lose the link because it stays in the speaker terminal recess.
The sides are finished in the ubiquitous black ash beloved of budget audiences, with a 'marble' insert at the top. It's a dark blue-green affair reminiscent of the patterns in a circa '67 light show.
Remove the cloth-on-a-plastic-frame grille (recommended) to view a 25mm aluminium dome tweeter with a protective mesh cover. Removal of this cover is recommended, too, if you have neither pets nor children and a craving for the maximum performance available. Cleverly, it's held in place by the speaker's magnetic field, so you don't risk damaging anything. The tweeter is mounted on a 'minimum diffraction plate' which raises the assembly a millimetre or so above the main baffle board. The dome is fitted to a high-temperature, polyamide insulated coil wound onto a Kapton former and the driver benefits from ferro-fluid cooling. Below the tweeter is a 5in mid/bass driver also fitted with an anti-diffraction ring. Its cone is injection moulded, with an inverted dust cap.
The two drivers do a good job of filling the front panel -- 160x295mm (WxH) not counting the end-caps -- reflecting a trend I call the 'Disappearing Baffle'. Whatever a massive baffle does for bass reinforcement, the penalty is imaging. Along with the Monitor One, the AR-M1 and other minis, the Tannoy 603 produces dead-accurate imaging in all three dimensions. (The most extreme example of the Disappearing Baffle is B&W's giant escargot prototype: no baffle at all.)
At the back, the terminals are fitted into a recess with just enough space to allow you to get a grip on the binding post caps. Above this is the port which allows this speaker to produce some semblance of bass.
Tannoy didn't supply the 603 with the dedicated stands, so I popped 'em onto my cherished Foundation stands, first with Blu-tack but then with Isopods, which worked much better. I also tried some real world, under #50 stands, the sort likely to be used with this speaker. (Note that the floor in my listening room is poured concrete, so what works for me might not work for you.) The price of the 603s led me to budget gear, with which they worked admirably, but it wasn't until I decided to rock out with the big stuff that I learned what a little treasure I was assessing. So, with gear ranging from the Acurus electronics, a venerable 35W Radford valve amp, the Dynaco Stereo 70 MkII and monsters from Aragon, Beard, Classe and Raymond Lumley, I learned that #119 is the bucket-shop ticket price to heaven.
No kidding. This seemingly kitsch product (marble inlay? six sides? gobs of plastic? a weight of 4 kilos each?) defies all reason. Those prone to rapping cabinets and measuring a speaker enclosure by its heft are in for a shock. Regardless of the lack of weight and the loud sound produced when it's subjected to the knuckle test, the speaker suffers no smearing or unwanted resonances traditionally associated with featherwieght construction. Which speaks volumes for the internal bracing and the physical properties of the multi-sided enclosure.
Given that there's no shortage of mini speakers with wonderful imaging capabilities, the true measure of the 603 had to be found in its sonic accuracy, smoothness, coherence, dynamic capabilities -- hell, just about everything else which separates good from bad. And despite touches of metal-tweeteritis, the Tannoy is a kick-butt design which goes louder and sounds bigger than any of its major rivals, and without needing high-end amplification.
Take the scale of the AR-M1, the imaging of the LS3/5A and the zip of the Monitor One and you're part way there. What separates it from all of the other minis --- and the 603 stands only 333mm tall with a footprint of 221x152mm -- is a far more convincing sensation of bass, despite a certain 'one note' quality when the going gets complicated.
Music with bags of bass won't upset the 603; it merely acts like a filter a la the Wilson WATT rather than attempt to deliver what it cannot. But heavily overlayed multi-part performances can cause mild confusion, especially if your stands are lightweight or less that rigid.
The top-to-bottom consistency was marvellous, indicative of the familiarity manufacturers now have with metal domes; rare are the hybrids which sound like plastic below and metal above. But the Tannoy extracts a price for its finest performance: Remove the fabric grille and the tweeter protector and you get clean, extended highs with lightning transients. At the same time, you'll hear slight traces of sibilance which seem to be filtered by the two grilles. Of the two, the tweeter cover is more of an interference, so keep the cloth in place for the best compromise.
Did I say compromise? My mistake. The Tannoy 603 is the least compromised, sub-#150 speaker on the market.