Certain brand names become so entwined with a particular item, that the brand enters into our lexicon. For example, one does the cleaning with a Hoover, an off-road vehicle is a Jeep. If two things need sticking together one uses Sellotape, and if a permanent marker’s required, reach for a Sharpie.
Thanks to the pioneering efforts of a historic British Brand, the subject of today’s blog, we have come to refer to a powerful, intelligible audio system as a TANNOY.
TANNOY – The Early Years
Tannoy’s history goes back as far as 1926 when Guy R Fountain founded the Tulsemere manufacturing company in London. It took another two years, however, until the famous name TANNOY appeared. The name itself was a cunning contraction of TANtalum/allOY – the two materials used in the company’s rectifiers.
Very quickly, TANNOY became associated with portable, mobile public address systems; so much so the word ‘Tannoy’ is now listed in the English dictionary as a generic term for a PA system. Mobile vans with ornate horns labelled TANNOY with the now famous ‘lightning flash’ design feature became prominent fixtures at outdoor events.
With the onset of war, Tannoy PA systems were purchased in great numbers by the Ministry of Defence and used extensively for important public speeches by figures such as Winston Churchill. TANNOY’s prominent branding and ubiquity ensured that the TANNOY legend had been firmly established.
The Mighty Monitor
In 1947 Tannoy displayed a new product at the London Radio show, one which was to revolutionise audio reproduction and invent a whole new market sector. That revolutionary product was the now legendary TANNOY Monitor loudspeaker.
The key to the Monitor’s incredibly clean, wide, and transparent response was the introduction of TANNOYs famous ‘Dual Concentric’ technology. Two-way speakers, whilst for the time being a high-end feature, were not in themselves a wholly new idea. Wharfedale had released a gargantuan two driver loudspeaker in the 1930s for example. What WAS revolutionary, however, was TANNOY’s arrangement and positioning of the drivers.
Dual Concentric Driver
Placing two separate loudspeaker drivers in an enclosure can result in some inherent issues: sound emanating from the two drivers may arrive at the listening position at different times, creating phase issues and, in turn, mild comb filtering. By placing the HF driver at the centre of the main driver, as per TANNOY’s Dual Concentric design, time alignment is outstanding and phase issues virtually eliminated.
The new loudspeaker driver had a frequency response so wide, and so flat, that the very first units sold went to AKG of Austria, where they were used as laboratory reference speakers for developing AKG’s prestigious range of microphones. AKG weren’t the only ones to recognise the outstanding qualities of the TANNOY monitor speaker, however.
Back in the UK, studios began fitting the monitor drivers in cabinets and using them for critical listening purposes in recording studios; possibly the most famous of which being EMI’s Abbey Road studios. At Abbey Road, TANNOY monitors were used in the recording of many famous artists such as The Beatles and Pink Floyd. It seems fitting then, that today we refer to studio loudspeakers as ‘Monitor Speakers’.
Tannoy’s professional loudspeakers had, by the 1970s, earned a supportive fan-base amongst professional users. Vangelis’ hugely influential score for Blade Runner, was composed with the help of Tannoy Dreadnaught speakers. Legendary producer Martin Hannett is also reputed to have had numerous pairs of Tannoy Monitors, custom ordered to suit his requirements.
The 1980s saw a big shift in the Hi-Fi market; the ‘gimcrack’ offerings of the far east, specifically Japan, had suddenly become very serious contenders. No longer was ‘made in Japan’ a sign of a cheap product – offerings from Denon, Yamaha, Pioneer, Technics et al made people sit up and take notice. The age of affordable Hi-Fi had arrived.
Tannoy had built an enviable reputation for building ‘no compromise’ loudspeaker units, featuring the finest materials and construction methods; values at odds with the new ‘budget’ Hi-FI market. Additionally, consumers were demanding ever more compact loudspeakers to fit into modern interiors.
The Tannoy Mercury
Tannoy’s answer, in 1983, was the Mercury range of loudspeakers; the new Mercury range made use of vinyl wrapped, particle board enclosures, and multiple drivers in a conventional ‘book-shelf’ format. Quite a departure for Tannoy, but one which received highly favourable reviews from the press of the time.
The Mercury range has continued to be a strong seller for Tannoy; 33 years on, the Mercury range is now in its seventh iteration, and still going strong. Currently comprising bookshelf, floor standing and A/V speakers, the Mercury range offers the same qualities it did back in 1983: Affordability, compact size and great value and performance.
Approaching The Millenium
The tail end of the 1980s, moving into the 1990s, saw the world of large corporations, and globalisation, change many businesses forever. In 1987, Tannoy merged with another famous loudspeaker manufacturer, Goodmans, to form Tannoy Goodmans International (TGI). A later management buyout followed, only for TANNOY to become absorbed into TC International in 2002.
TC International comprised highly respected pro-audio companies TC Electronic, TC Helion, and Lab Gruppen. With TANNOY’s history as a professional loudspeaker manufacturer, it’s perhaps not surprising that TANNOY was an attractive purchase. At the time of writing, TANNOY has recently changed hands again. This time it’s the acquisition of TC International by Pro-Audio leviathan, Music Group International.
Meanwhile – TANNOY’s traditional range of Dual Concentric designs and Prestige cabinets continued to attract a loyal enthusiast following. Ironically, whilst TANNOY’s answer to the Japanese Hi-Fi boom of the 1980s was to make small, affordable speakers, the Japanese market fell in love with Tannoy’s traditional range of loudspeakers. Japan and China continuing to be a strong export market for the Prestige Range.
The Present Day
TANNOY’S Hi-Fi Range comprises of loudspeakers for every requirement and budget. TANNOY’S new ‘Eclipse’ Range aims to take the budget speaker bracket by storm. Sitting above it, the latest iteration of the ever successful Mercury Range and above that, the Revolution XT range, which brings true, dual concentric performance to an audience which may never have previously considered its price and packaging within their requirements.
At the top of the tree, sits the TANNOY Prestige Range; evolutionary, rather than revolutionary products, the current Prestige GR series upholds the traditional TANNOY values of quality and transparency. Cabinetry is both highly functional and designed with the utmost performance in mind, whilst also showcasing the skills of the finest furniture building.
At the heart of every Prestige speaker sits the famed and original Dual Concentric driver. Consistently refined over 60 years, the Dual Concentric driver still delivers the famed values of accuracy and transparency. Quality and good design always endure – so it is with TANNOY.