Tannoy Legacy Cheviot Speakers Review


The Cheviot is the highest summit in the Cheviot Hills, a range of rolling hills straddling the Anglo-Scottish border between Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. An ancient extinct volcano, its flat summit stands 815 metres (2674 ft) above sea level, making it England’s 35th highest mountain. Cheviot is also the name of a classic Tannoy loudspeaker, launched in 1974 by the prestigious British speaker company of more than 90 years in the business. Originating in 1926 in London as the Tulsemere Manufacturing Company, 1976 saw the company relocate to the Scottish town of Coatbridge where the company still manufacturers its higher-end speaker lines, with the Eclipse, Mercury and Revolution models being manufactured to rigorous standards in China.

One of the latest products to come from the Coatbridge facility is the three-strong Legacy range. These thoroughly modern reworks of three classic Tannoy models – the Eaton, Cheviot and Arden – were developed closely following the original design while cleverly incorporating the advancements in loudspeaker design accrued over the last 40 years. Hand made and finished to a high standard by skilled engineers in Scotland, each model features a walnut veneered cabinet of 19MM MDF with internal plywood bracing for structural rigidity. Removable, acoustically transparent cloth grills conceal adjustable crossovers, front-facing ports and the sizeable dual-concentric driver at the heart of each speaker.

History

The original Dual-Concentric speakers were introduced in 1947, invented by chief engineer Ronnie H Rackham who married a high-frequency compression drive unit with a 15” direct radiating bass driver. His design was such that the flare of the bass driver continued the flare rate of the high-frequency unit, providing a single point source with an inherently low crossover frequency, low levels of colouration and high levels of efficiency that were unheard of at the time. While the concept of the Dual-Concentric driver has remained the same, major technological advancements over the last 70 years have seen considerable improvements in design and performance. To cover the history and evolution of the dual-concentric driver would require several pages and is beyond the scope of this article, though this article gives an excellent rundown.

By the 1970s, Tannoy speakers were being used to record a significant majority of recorded music including output from EMI and Abbey Road and much of Decca’s classical output, many albums that we regard today as classics. Yet this was little known, and the consumer remained largely ignorant to the Dual-Concentric principle. The Monitor HPD (High-Performance Dual) drivers were introduced as a major re-design of the Monitor Gold, with power handling figures improved considerably thanks to new high-temperature adhesives, ‘Tannoplas’ surround material and cones reinforced by ‘Girdacoustic’ struts to reduce cone breakup.

A trio of drivers were developed to fit five cabinet models – the Arden, Berkeley, Cheviot, Devon and Eaton – and the drivers were sold also as kits complete with a crossover and terminal panel for the professional market or home constructor. The range was universally accepted worldwide but especially in Japan where it helped to establish Tannoy as a manufacturer of high-quality loudspeakers in the Far East. Lockwood Audio chose the HPD drivers for a range of studio monitors which found their way into many professional studios, continuing the legacy of the Monitor Gold.

The Legacy Trio

Reproducing the lowest bass notes requires that the driver move a large volume of air. Larger drivers are more efficient, requiring less excursion than a smaller driver to move a given volume of air. Larger drivers however require larger baffles and thus larger enclosures which can compromise the aesthetics of the speaker and hinder practical placement. Most modern speakers utilise smaller drivers in conjunction with a reflex-ported cabinet or transmission line, so as to allow for a slimmer cabinet design. While a larger driver is naturally capable of producing frequencies lower than a smaller counterpart, there is more to a speaker than a single driver and modern slim towers are quite capable of keeping up with their larger counterparts. However there is nothing quite like a big driver in a big cabinet where quantity and quality of bass, massive imaging and sheer volume and scale are concerned.

The Legacy trio certainly aren’t lacking in the size department. The Eaton is a substantial standmount while both the Cheviot and Arden are floor-standing models. The Eaton packs a 10” Dual-Concentric driver into a 538 x 376 x 250 mm (H x W x D) cabinet. Frequency response is rated at 40Hz-30kHz (±6dB) with continuous power handling of 100W, peak power handling at 400W, and sensitivity rated at 89dB (1Watt / 1 metre).

The Cheviot sports a 12” driver housed in a relatively compact 860 x 448 x 260 mm (H x W x D) cabinet. Its frequency response is rated at 38Hz-30kHz (±6 dB), continuous power handling rises to 125W and peak to 500W, and sensitivity rises to 91dB (1W / 1M). The Arden gets a 15” Dual-Concentric driver and measures a not insignificant 910 x 602 x 362 mm (H x W x D). Frequency response is 35Hz-30kHz (±6dB), power handling rises to 150W continuous / 600W peak and sensitivity rises to 93dB (1W /1M).

Each model features a crossover panel fitted with energy and roll-off controls, allowing the speaker to be tailored to suit the environment or listener’s taste. Adjustments are made by moving a pair of gold-plated finger bolts to the respective holes in the panel. The ENERGY control allows the high-frequency output to be increased or decreased from the linear ‘flat’ position over a frequency band from 1kHz to 30kHz. The roll-off control has five settings (+2, level, -2, -4 and -6dB per octave) and 
provides adjustment from 5kHz to 30kHz. The speakers are delivered with the controls set at the level position, in which the flattest, most linear response will be obtained.

The crossover frequency of 1.2kHz remains the same for all models, as does the use of Tannoy’s DMT (Differential Materials Technology) in driver coupling. Gone are the Girdacoustic struts, the cones instead made from Tannoy’s rigid and lightweight paper-pulp material. The three models share the same panel of 24K gold-plated terminals, including a fifth ground terminal designed to reduce RF interference and improve midrange clarity. The remainder of this review will focus on the Cheviots, rather than the Legacy range as a whole.

Out Of The Box

The packaging is nothing out of the ordinary though it does present a great first impression, the speakers wrapped in cloth bags and supported by substantial foam blocks on each corner. Some documentation (including a certificate of authenticity) and an owners kit are supplied with each pair. This package includes a pot of wax for wood upkeep, along with a set of bridging cables, carpet spikes and a set of screw-in feet for hard floors as opposed to the traditional spike cups.

It’s safe to say the Cheviots are every bit as heavy as they look. Having heaved them up several stairs, liberated them from the boxes, fitted the feet and wrestled them into position, I dropped into the listening seat, thankful that I hadn’t in fact asked to review the much larger Ardens. I did in fact hear the Ardens at a private viewing in February when Tannoy invited me along for a listen and to offer some feedback. While the amplification (a Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista model if memory serves) wouldn’t have been my first choice, the speakers were punchy and powerful yet poised and expressive, female vocals in particular delivered with a breathtaking sense of realism and piano, atmospheric and electronic music delivered with massive scale. They were a friendly bunch too with great musical taste, conversation and even whiskey samples. Later appointments prevented me indulging in the latter, though it was a nice nod to the companies Scottish heritage.

Like the rest of the Legacy range, the Cheviots are unfussy when it comes to positioning though a bit of breathing space is highly recommended and the floor-standing models in particular are best suited to medium-sized rooms. Mine is on the small side for such sizeable speakers, though I was still able to achieve a position that eliminated any unwelcome resonance and allowed for optimal performance.

I did experiment with various positions. A 1976 Cheviot manual described a position in which the axes of the speakers were set to cross at a point a “few feet” in front of the listening position. That produced a very focused image, though the soundstage was somewhat narrow owing probably to the fact that I was unable to achieve enough distance between the speakers, and there was some furniture in the way which the Cheviots weren’t quite tall enough to overcome. I lessened the angle considerably and the sound stage opened up, losing a little of the pin-point focus but presenting a far more pleasing, and larger, stereo image. A few weeks of run-in time followed during which the Cheviots loosened up considerably, the mid range relaxing and the low end improving as I also became accustomed to their sound.

The Cheviots were tested with my Marantz PM-11S3 amplifier, Technics SL-1210 MK2 turntable with modified tonearm and Audio-Technica AT33PTG/II cartridge, and Cambridge Audio’s 851N DAC / streamer. While the streamer would certainly be out of place in a period-correct system, the turntable was introduced just three years after the original Cheviots and I’d be willing to bet that plenty of Cheviot owners had a Technics fronting their system. The amp is very much a traditional design too with a powerful class AB circuit driven by a massive power supply and fully discrete analogue pre amplification stages. Were it not for the fact that the value of vintage kit has skyrocketed in the last couple of years, I might have opted for something a little older but such a venture would have been aesthetic more than anything and my system turned out to be a great match for the Cheviots.

Cables were Van Damme UPLC-OFC 6MM and I didn’t bi-wire, instead using the provided bridging cables. I receive a surprising number of complaints concerning my choice of cabling in recent reviews. This quote from the manual for the original Cheviots sums up my view on the matter – “A loudspeaker should be connected to the amplifier with suitable low-resistance twin-cable. Ordinary lighting flex is suitable for distances of up to 50 feet. For greater distances heavier gauge wire is recommended”. Simply put, cables get a signal from A to B and resistance, inductance and capacitance are the only parameters that matter, marketing hype, inflated prices and audiophile nonsense get you nowhere. Choose a correctly specified cable and it should perform as well as any other.

Sound

My immediate impression of the Cheviots was of a warm relaxed tone and a laid back presentation that certainly wasn’t unpleasant. Massive scale and vast imaging met with an articulate low end and an expressive midrange. These are characteristics of many a Tannoy, old and new; though nothing prepares you for the sheer dynamic slam of a large speaker. The Cheviots are quite capable of shifting some air and very little power can raise the roof, but to achieve both while remaining so articulate, expressive and natural is an area where few, if any, can truly equal a Dual-Concentric Tannoy. Vocals in particular are a delight, as is early rock n’ roll – a discovery that sent me into a record-spinning frenzy.

It just so happened that delivery of the Cheviots coincided with a Sound of Vinyl summer sale and delivery of Little Richard’s “Mono Box”, a set including the five studio albums recorded for the Specialty and Vee-Jay labels each in their original mono mixes. These were as good a starting point as any, and the Cheviots did not disappoint. The Technics turntable is known for its somewhat energetic delivery and exceptional timing and the Cheviots conveyed that with the kind of nimble low-end agility one would expect from a smaller driver, yet with the depth and texture that only a big driver can deliver. It’s difficult to describe without veering dangerously toward audiophile cliches, but my was it good. So, so good.

How low can they go? Don’t read too much into the numbers. The Cheviots produced quantities of low end during “Breakaway” from George Ezra’s “Wanted on Voyage” album that were enough to cause shelving and the items upon to join in the fun, adding various inharmonious rattles to what was otherwise a stellar performance. Admittedly the volume had far exceeded my usual level by this point, in preparation for my latest obsession – “In Our Bones”, the debut album from “Against The Current”. Released on the Fuelled by Ramen label, this is a largely upbeat alternative album though one with plenty of variation in style and some depth lyrical content should you care to listen with analytical intent. It really rocks though, and hearing it on the Cheviots only served to reiterate why it is by far one of my favourite discoveries of 2017 (though it was in fact a 2016 release).

I had some concerns regarding the height of the Cheviots. While no doubt a large speaker, their short, stocky cabinets place the high-frequency driver below ear height for most people when seated on an average height sofa. At over 6FT tall this was even more of a concern for me, as I typically prefer a dual-concentric speaker when it’s level with, or even slightly above my ear. My concerns were unfounded however as imaging was excellent, the Cheviots producing sound stages of massive proportion with width, height and depth of equal degree. Were I to own a pair I would perhaps consider building some plinths to raise them up a bit more, but this is a matter of personal preference, not necessity.

Initial listening over, I experimented with the crossover adjustments. I was very much enjoying the Cheviots ‘flat’ presentation, but I’m used to a much livelier sound and was interested to see how much scope the adjustments offered to tune the speaker to a less than perfect room. The carpeted room contains a bed and a sofa, as well as a number of shelving units and other pieces of ‘hard’ furniture, all of which can play havoc with the sound if the speakers are unsuitable or the system is not correctly setup.

Turning the energy control up a notch produced a sound that that was somewhere between the ‘flat’ presentation and the sound to which I am accustomed. It was the sound on which I ultimately settled, as I found that maxing the energy control caused the highs to overshadow the Cheviots glorious midrange. I experimented with roll-off and though I felt that the +2 position offered a slight increase in high-frequency detail, I ultimately settled on the level position, sacrificing that minimal improvement again to avoid compromising on the midrange performance.

Summary

These are big speakers with a huge sound. If you like audiophile cliches, they offer a warm, luscious presentation with a relaxed tonal nature and plenty of ‘oomf’ when required. They’ll make your music sound like a pleasant evening in front of a blazing fire, perhaps with a Scottish whisky or two to help the night along. They paint a vast sonic soundscape with massive dynamics and bags of power, not that you’ll need much of the latter to reach truly unsociable levels.

Audiophile nonsense aside, these are truly terrific speakers, from which music flows with apparent ease. If you’ve got a little space and don’t mind the retro looks, these big Tannoys are truly deserving of their fine heritage and pride of place in your music system. Highly recommended.


About Ashley

I founded Audio Appraisal a few years ago and continue to regularly update it with fresh content. An avid vinyl collector and coffee addict, I can often be found at a workbench tinkering with a faulty electronic device, tweaking a turntable to extract the last bit of detail from those tiny grooves in the plastic stuff, or relaxing in front of the Tannoys with a good album. A musician, occasional producer and sound engineer, other hobbies include software programming, web development, long walks and occasional DIY. Follow @ashleycox2

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