Tannoy Autograph Mini Loudspeakers Reviewed

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There it was, all creamy-coloured grille and 1950s-look woodwork. It was photographed against a white background, another model in the Tannoy Prestige series of classic coaxial speakers. Then I clicked opened the second image. Only this time, it was sitting on a table. What the f-?!!? It couldn't be much more than a foot high! Why would Tannoy produce a scale model of the 1954 Guy R. Fountain Autograph? I mean, I'd seen cute, miniature point-of-sale material before, including a Quad ESL the size of a paperback novel, and a Magnepan panel not much bigger than an LP sleeve. But they didn't send out press releases.

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Nuh-uh: this was a real loudspeaker. A genuine, Tannoy Dual Concentric driver, in a pointed-back cabinet ... but with dimensions of only 13 9/16in tall and a footprint of 8 1/4in wide by 5 1/8in deep - not much larger than an LS3/5A. There were few precedents I could think of other than the 1990s Minox reissues of classic Leica and Contax cameras - 1/3rd scale reductions - that actually worked with the film for Minox's 'spy' cameras. They, too, were gorgeous and covetable. But the Tannoy Autograph Mini isn't just for collectors with a penchant for miniaturisation. No, the Autograph Mini is a real-world speaker that just happens to look like it was stolen from a Lilliputian listening room.

Tannoy describes the Autograph Mini as 'a hugely scaled-down but authentic version of a loudspeaker that was famous throughout the audio world fifty years ago. Reduced to a fraction of the size of the immense and revered original Tannoy Autograph, this exquisite replica is the ultimate modern retro audio product.' I second that. Even if you don't need a pair, you'll want these if you're of the vintage audio collector/Tannoy Fetishist mien. They'll tug at your heartstrings, like a cute little kitten. And that lust will affect a few gazillion audiophiles in Japan. With their limited room size, the world's leading Tannoy wannabees, from Kagoshima to Sapporo, must be staining their futons.

It's as if CNC and MDF never sullied the art of speaker cabinet making. The cabinet build and finish ooze the sort of craftsmanship that marked vintage Tannoys, though I wouldn't be surprised if the enclosures were made in China. Even at £1250 or so per pair, the woodwork seems too expensive for the price tag. And inside is no crappy $2-per-unit driver but a genuine, bona fide Dual Concentric; as the literature puts it so cogently, 'the unique engineering statement that makes this speaker a "real" Tannoy.'

Because Tannoy never stopped making Dual Concentrics, and because so much has happened in terms of materials, the quality of sources and amplification, listening habits and other determinants since the days of Mr. Fountain, the new 4in unit is not a pint-sized surrogate of a Red or a Gold. It doesn't have Alnico magnets or cones made from recycled Penguin paperbacks. We're beyond mere nostalgia, and recent Tannoy Dual Concentrics have been marvellous. (Oh, to have the space for the Churchills!) But, for the record, yes, this is the smallest Dual Concentric ever manufactured.

Size is the only difference, for Tannoy wouldn't compromise on anything else. It's built upon a heavy cast alloy frame, containing a 'multi-fibre paper pulp' cone to cover midrange and bass. Tannoy regards the material as 'traditional but high tech' and able to ensure 'subtlety with stunning detail and expansive imaging.' They're not kidding: The most immediate impression you'll get of the Mini, especially if you go into the room blindfolded, is that of a huge speaker, for both scale and bass delivery. The new Tannoy is 'mini' in name and dimensions only.

What differentiates it most from Dual Concentrics of yore is the titanium domed high frequency compression horn driver, a development of Tannoy's extensive work with super-tweeters. In fact, Tannoy's Tim Lount told me that I would find the company's add-on super-tweeter superfluous, and he was 100 percent correct: if anything, the Autograph Mini has an abundance of treble energy. It is breathtakingly fast and crisp, with the sort of attack that will having you pulling out Alvin Lee LPs to test their speed with his guitar licks. And what it does for trumpet ... wow!

As with all Dual Concentrics, the tweeter is positioned on precisely the same axis as the bass section. It's fitted with a neodymium magnet system, also unavailable to GRF way back when, and is said to deliver a smooth response up to an 'incredible' 54kHz. Suffice it to say, the Mini never sounds dull. 99.99% high purity van den Hul silver cable is used to wire the tweeter to the system's 'minimalist' crossover network, which features audiophile-grade ingredients, including low-loss inductors and specially-damped audio-grade capacitors. At the back are solid, gilded, multi-way binding posts.

High-density birch ply of 10mm and 13mm thicknesses with hardwood veneers and solid hardwood mouldings make up the aforementioned, hand-finished enclosure, and the Mini conveys an aura of fine furniture. This is not a speaker you'd want to hide. However, Tannoy is mooting a version of the Mini in contemporary trappings, with identical performance and dimensions, for the sort of cold, heartless, glass'n'chrome 'lofts' beloved of those who only read fashion mags and still listen to Sade.

For matte grey or cream or whatever constitutes this year's 'black', they will be sacrificing the authentic oatmeal-coloured grille, set into a wooden frame held in place by magnets. Those who go retro will be torn between playing the speaker without the grille - to see that nifty driver and the design fillips recalling the original's baffle - or to leave the grille in place, which tames the treble by a tiny amount.

What the Autograph Mini cannot do is be positioned in a corner like its bigger granddaddy. That's because the size and shape demanded a rear port, so the Mini ought to be sited away from walls, either on stands or shelves. I used the 24in tall IF stands, optimised for LS3/5As, and the top plate's size was ideal. [Note: There seems to be some difficulty at present acquiring IF stands, so I would suggest any stand suitable for LS3/5A-sized speakers, including Partington Dreadnaughts, Foundations if you have a pair, etc.]

Read more about the Autograph on Page 2.

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