I love the Bag End M-6 Time-Align monitors (Tape Op
#50) that I have in my living room for their accurate imaging; these were my first long-term experience with coaxial drivers featuring a tweeter mounted within the center of the woofer. So I was excited to demo Tannoy's top-of-the-line Ellipse powered monitors, which use the British company's trademarked Dual Concentric technology. The original coaxial speaker was the Altec Duplex, first available as a 12" version in 1941 followed soon thereafter by a 15" version in 1943. The latter is commonly known as the "604"-probably the most popular soffit-mounted studio speaker of all time. The Duplex featured a conventional horn tweeter with its compression driver mounted within the center of the woofer's magnet structure, and the outer flare of the horn in front of the woofer cone. Tannoy's first Dual Concentric, released in 1947, improved upon the coaxial principal by utilizing a specially-shaped (and expensive) 15" woofer cone that served as the outer flare of the horn tweeter. With this design change, not only was the whole woofer cone unobstructed, but the wider horn aperture meant a lower cut-off frequency for the tweeter. The crossover was set one octave above this natural cut-off, reducing distortion significantly. The biggest problem with Tannoy's original design was interaction between the woofer and the tweeter; as the woofer moved in and out, the shape of the outer horn was effectively changing, affecting the output of the tweeter. Modern Tannoy Dual Concentric speakers are unique in that they employ a precisely-shaped Tulip Waveguide for the tweeter within the woofer, and the molded polypropylene woofer is now shaped to stay out of the tweeter's way. The result? Time-aligned, point-source imaging with very little interaction between the two drivers and consistent dispersion throughout the whole frequency spectrum.
The pair of Ellipse 8 iDP monitors and a matching TS212 iDP subwoofer that Tannoy sent me arrived on a shipping pallet. Unpacking these heavyweights was quite a chore. Tannoy could take a cue from companies like Panasonic and Sony, who offer sturdy, multilayer, reusable boxes that disassemble around the product, leaving the unpacked product unencumbered and easy to lift. Even with two long-armed people, it was impossible to lift the subwoofer out of the box. Unfortunately, I didn't have the option of cutting apart the box, so we had to tip the box over, which meant the subwoofer would be sliding out on one of its fabric covers. (The speaker has fabric covers on three sides, while the uncovered rear side has protruding heat fins.) Notwithstanding a sub-par box, Tannoy could have designed the internal foam packing so that speaker and packaging could be slid out together without fear of damage. While not quite as difficult to unpack, the Ellipse monitor, because of its rounded form, required dry hands and extra care. Plus, I was tempted to use the top-mounted SuperTweeter pod as a handhold, but a big-lettered warning strategically placed inside the box warned me against it.
Once unpacked, I found the system easy-and quite fun-for a geek like me to set up. The iDP in each moniker refers to Interactive Digital Programming. In a multi-speaker configuration, one monitor is the master and sends digital audio and control information to all the other monitors via
CAT5 cables. (The master has both analog and digital audio inputs while the slaves have only CAT5 connectors. High-quality shielded CAT5 cables are included.) The manual has very clear diagrams and describes in detail how to configure iDP systems from 2.1 all the way up to 7.1, with up to three subwoofers. (A common misconception is that the .1 refers to the number of subwoofers when it actually corresponds to the LFE channel, which is a whole different channel of information much like L is different than R in a stereo signal. With bass management enabled in a three-sub system, the center sub would output the LFE channel together with the center channel's low-frequency content, while the left and right subs would handle the low-frequency content of the left and right channels.)
Once I'd finished interconnecting the Ellipse 8 iDP monitors and the TS212 iDP subwoofer, I used the side-mounted control panel on the master 8 iDP to align the system. Although the panel is limited to a two-line LCD display and four buttons, I had no problem navigating the hierarchical menu system. I especially liked the fact that all tweakable parameters throughout the hierarchy are highlighted with an asterisk; simple consistencies like this really do make for a better user-experience. From the master panel, I turned on the built-in pink-noise generator and proceeded to take measurements with my Terrasonde ATB-1. Long story short, I didn't have to employ any of the Ellipse's filters because the response was very flat out-of-the-box in my carefully-treated control room, but I did spend a number of days trying out different settings. All filtering (including the primary crossover) is done digitally (except for the SuperTweeter's crossover, which is passive and post-amplification). I found that both the high and low filters sound quite smooth, and their slope seems to vary as you increase or decrease energy; maximum change is 6 dB up or down. Keep in mind that the filters are not there to fix extreme anomalies in your room's acoustics, and without the optional PC-iP installer software, there are no sharp filters to get you in trouble. Predefined scenes are available for situations like "Console", "Wall", "Corner", etc.; but there's no explanation of how these change the filters. Presets allow you to store up to fifteen setups; saved parameters include filter and relative-level settings, as well as bass management, mute status, and X-Curve. The latter refers to an ANSI/SMTPE specification for mixing in a small room. Also, seventeen factory presets are included. I'm glad that I had my hearing protectors on when I employed the pink-noise generator for the first time-very loud at its default setting. Turning it down was more difficult than it had to be because you have to navigate to a different area of the menu structure to change level; a level control should be placed right next to on/off. And without either the optional hardware or software remote, it's laborious to make changes using the speaker's side-mounted control panel, especially if there's a recording console in the way between your listening position and the speaker! Also, effective subwoofer placement requires moving the subwoofer around to find its optimal spot. Unlike handle-equipped Genelec subs, which are obviously designed for professional environments, the Tannoy is meant to look pretty-in a contemporary furniture kind of way-so it's almost as hard to move as it is to unpack; there's nothing to grab hold of. The TS212 iDP does have both a polarity switch and a variable phase control, alleviating some of the pain of placing it. To phase-align the subwoofer to the main
monitors, you can flip the sub's polarity (knowing that the digital signal feeding it can't be accidentally polarity-reversed), then vary the phase until you get full cancellation of the crossover frequency at the listening position, then flip the polarity back to normal.
Once set up, I spent months listening to and using these speakers, and I was quite impressed. Fantastic imaging, and exceptionally smooth across the whole spectrum! In fact, the first time I sat down for an extended time in front of these speakers, I was a bit confused because there seemed to be a bit of "scooping" going on-maybe a dip in the upper mids or lower highs? But a second set of measurements with my audio analyzer confirmed that the response was flat at mix position-very close to the response I was getting with my ADAM S3-As in the mids and highs. But over time, I realized that what I initially perceived as a loss of energy was actually a function of the Dual Concentric system exhibiting very little distortion and inter-driver interference in the crossover region, with its near-perfect alignment of the drivers. If you haven't spent some time with a modern Tannoy Dual Concentric monitor, I think you'll also be amazed that the crossover is no longer discernable the first time you give it a good long listen-especially if you listen to anything with well-recorded vocals. Also, I was at first doubting of the SuperTweeter because you can't really hear it by itself when you're sitting behind the console. I wish that there were a way to turn it on/off remotely-as this kind of A/B'ing might make the benefits clearer. Switching between 96 kHz and 44.1 kHz mixes of the same song, I felt that I could hear the interaction between certain tracks at 96 kHz-especially ride-cymbal bleed-better with the Tannoys than with my ADAMs. But honestly, I can't tell you if this was a result of the SuperTweeter or the Dual Concentric design-or both. In any case, it's clear that the system as a whole works extremely well.
I should note that I tried both the analog and digital inputs to the master Ellipse 8 iDP. Obviously, there's an A-D converter inside since all the processing and distribution is in the digital domain. I started with the analog inputs, and of course, the benefits of Dual Concentric made for a great listening experience. Next I tried the digital output of my DMX-R100 console, and the soundstage actually collapsed a bit! But I'll conjecture that the DMX-R100's digital outs suffer from a poorly-shaped signal just like its WC output does (as noted in my review of the Drawmer M-Clock in Tape Op #51). I then tried locking the 8 iDP to its WC input (using the M-Clock that was also clocking the console). Woah! Huge difference! And that's what I stuck with.
These are definitely the smoothest-sounding speakers I've had in my studio, especially in the upper mids, in and near the crossover region. Plus, the subwoofer's variable phase control and 4th-order low-pass filter made certain that the transition to the sub was also seamless. Everything about the iDP monitors and subwoofer-even down to the well-written setup guides in the manual-make for an extremely coherent system, and the result is extremely coherent tonality and imaging. These speakers even prompted me to pull out my Rega turntable and listen to some old vinyl (via my Apogee AD-16X at 96 kHz), and wow, what a soundstage. (Ellipse 8 iDP Master $2500 MSRP, Slave $2200; TS212 iDP $3095; www.tannoy.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.