Few audio companies can claim 90 years in the business, nor their name in the Oxford English dictionary synonymous with sound. 2016 However marks the 90th anniversary of Tannoy, a brand who have achieved both along with a heritage of revolutionary technologies and numerous awards.
Founded in 1926 as the Tulsemere Manufacturing Company, founder Guy R. Fountain developed a new type of electrolytic rectifier for use in ‘home friendly’ chargers for radio sets. Fountain founded Tannoy, the trademark first seen in 1928, named after the 2 metals (Tantalum and Lead Alloy) used in his rectifiers. The Tannoy name quickly became associated with public address systems, used during World War II by the ministry of defence, RAF, and during the victory celebration at Buckingham Palace where Tannoy speakers were used to announce the end of the war.
In 1947, Tannoy launched the Dual Concentric driver at the London Radio Show. The design places a high frequency driver deep within the centre of a mid/bass driver, resulting in optimal time alignment. Initially developed for microphone measurement, Dual Concentric drivers quickly gained popularity in the professional audio industry first at Decca’s FFRR studios and later at Abbey Road, where Monitor Gold drivers in Lancaster cabinets were used to record Pink Floyd’s iconic album ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. Dual Concentric drivers gained popularity in the domestic market too, thanks to the trend toward large speakers putting sound quality first that continued through to the 80s.
Initially founded in London, the company moved to a facility in Coatbridge, Scotland in 1976. 2015 saw the acquisition of TC Group and with it Tannoy by Music Group, who suggested that the Coatbridge facility would be closed with manufacturing relocated to factories in China and all other activities to Manchester. Later announcements however confirmed plans to continue manufacture in Scotland, with plans for an updated facility.
Like most Tannoy fans, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t somewhat disheartened by the possibility of their manufacture being relocated to the Far East. Building audio products in the Far East, the USA and Eastern Europe is becoming the norm thanks to rising labour and material costs. Overseas investment has seen many an iconic British audio brand move production overseas and it’s commendable that despite several of their lower ranges being manufactured in China, Tannoy have managed to keep production of many of their more upmarket models in Scotland. The news still came as something of a disappointment however, though I can’t deny that the brand were due a refresh.
However, having recontacted the company after some time since my last Tannoy review I was delighted to hear of plans to invest in British manufacturing, news that had been somewhat overshadowed and ignored by the hi-fi press. It transpires that Tannoy will in fact keep manufacture of both the Prestige and other high-end loudspeakers in Scotland. With their proud heritage safe, and impressed by the enthusiasm Music Group are showing for the brand, I am excited to see what the future holds.
With the initial pleasantries out of the way, I was offered a sample of the companies Eclipse Three floor standers which I gladly accepted. The Eclipse name has been around for some time, 1987s Eclipse model being the earliest reference to the name I can find. The latest additions to the range take the place of the Mercury line at the bottom of Tannoy’s lineup, with the Mercury models moving slightly up the price ladder to sit below the Revolution XT series.
The Eclipse Range
The current Eclipse range includes 5 models, most featuring the same 5” (127MM) bass / mid driver and a 1.1” (28MM) Nitro-urethane damped woven polyester dome tweeter. The eclipse drivers are newly designed, the LF drivers featuring stiff, light cones for superb transient attack and the high frequency drivers fitted with high efficiency neodymium magnets extending their frequency response to 32kHz. The Eclipse crossovers use low loss laminated core inductors and polypropylene capacitors damped by Tannoy’s DMT (differential materials technology which dampens micro vibrations and enhances musicality. The entire range is available in a satin black oak finish.
The Eclipse One is a 2-way, rear ported bookshelf model with a single mid/bass driver and dome tweeter in an 8 litre, 170 x 300 x 255 mm (W x H x D) heavyweight fibreboard cabinet. It is rated with a frequency response of 55Hz – 32kHz with a crossover frequency of 3.2kHz. Recommended amplifier power is 15 – 70W, with power handling specified at 35W continuous and 140W peak. Sensitivity (rated at 2.83 Volts @ 1m) is relatively high at 87dB.
The Eclipse Two is a small floor-standing model incorporating the same driver arrangement into an 18.9 litre, 269.6 x 909 x 287 mm (W x H x D) cabinet with a rear reflex port and extensive bracing. The larger cabinet allows for better low frequency performance and greater power handling figures – 45W continuous and 200W peak. Recommended amplifier power is 15 – 90W, and the frequency response is rated at 44Hz – 32kHz with a crossover frequency of 3.2kHz and a sensitivity rating of 88dB.
The Eclipse Three is the largest of the 3 models with a 26.8 litre, 269.6 x 959 x 287 mm (W x H x D) rear ported cabinet. It contains a pair of mid/bass drivers, positioned above and below the 1.1” dome tweeter, the driver placement designed to smooth dispersion through the crossover region. Their cabinets are also rear ported and extensively braced for minimal cabinet colouration. Again the power handling figures are up from the smaller model at 60W continuous and 240W peak, with the frequency response rated at 38Hz – 32kHz. Recommended amplifier power is 15 – 120W, with the sensitivity rated at 90dB.
The range also includes 2 models primarily intended for use in home theatre applications. The Eclipse Mini is a truly tiny (145 x 225 x 75 mm bookshelf model incorporating a 100 mm (4”) multi-fibre pulp coated paper cone mid/bass driver and the same 1.1” Eclipse high frequency driver as found in the models above. It achieves a frequency response of 58Hz – 32kHz (surprisingly close to that of the Eclipse One), with continuous power handling of 30W, peak power handling of 140W and a recommended amplifier power between 15 – 60W. Sensitivity is slightly lower than the Eclipse One owing to the smaller design, though not significantly so at 86dB. The crossover frequency is lower however at 2.2kHz.
The Eclipse Centre incorporates 2 of the same 4” drivers and a single 1.1” high frequency driver into a 400 x 150 x 160 mm cabinet, and is acoustically voiced to match the rest of the range. Rated at 67Hz – 32kHz (crossed over at 2.4 kHz), with continuous and peak power handling figures of 45W and 180W respectively. Sensitivity is rated at 90dB, and recommended amplifier power is rated between 15 – 90W.
All speakers in the range are rated with a nominal impedance of 8 ohms. All accept the peak power handling figures quoted are RMS values.
The Eclipse Three
Upon unpacking the review sample, I was immediately struck by their physical resemblance to my old Mercury V4s, though close examination shows the speakers to have little in common. They’re supplied with carpet spikes with protector cups for hard floors and a pair of plastic stabilising feet, one of which with a Tannoy nameplate. The feet are installed onto the underside of the speaker via 2 Philips screws each, though I did note that it is possible to install the spikes directly into the base of the speaker should you wish to do so, though using the feet is highly recommended. Supplied with both floorstanding models, these feet form a plinth which not only aids stability but also improves the low frequency performance of the speaker.
On the back, a single pair of gold plated speaker terminals will accept bare wire, banana plugs or small spade connectors. The rear panel is otherwise featureless aside from the bass port. On the front, the driver arrangement is installed behind a cloth-covered, plastic-framed grille which can be removed. Each of the mid/bass drivers is secured with 8 bolts and mounted using Tannoy’s DMT (differential materials technology)
Build quality and finish are better than I had expected. Though a little lighter than I had expected, the cabinets and terminals are solid and stable when mounted on their plinths using the carpet spikes. Setup was simple too, owing to the excellent performance of the Eclipse Threes both on and off axis. After a little trial and error I settled on a position roughly 40CM from the rear wall pointed straight toward the sofa forming an equilateral triangle between them and my seated position, with the tweeters roughly at ear height. In larger rooms, a slight toe in toward the listening position may be necessary to optimise the stereo image. They benefit from being placed at least 40CM or so off of the rear wall, and placing them in a corner may result in bass bloat so should be avoided.
They’re not particularly fussy when it comes to the partnering equipment, though they’re certainly deserving of a good source and amplification. Being so sensitive a little power will go a long way. A Marantz PM-44SE (a mid 90s £200 favourite) measuring 50W per channel was more than enough to drive them to uncomfortable levels, and the combination sounded surprisingly good too. Any quality modern amplification should be up to the job.
Sound wise the Eclipse Threes serve up a musical treat. I’ve always found great satisfaction in listening to a budget speaker that is just ‘right’ and the Eclipse Threes certainly deliver. Initially I felt they had a slight low mid boost, though that lessened as they ran in and the drivers loosened up. Like every other Tannoy I’ve heard, their ability to portray both the human voice and acoustic instruments is astoundingly good. This is one of the qualities that has kept Tannoys at the heart of my system for years despite increasingly tough competition, and the Eclipse Threes have it in spades. Their rendition of ‘Fall’ from Ed Sheeran’s ‘Live at the Bedford’ was simply beautiful. The vocals hung in the air between the speakers in a way I rarely hear from a budget speaker, with Ed’s guitar beautifully portrayed along with the acoustics of the venue itself.
Highs are articulate and can be somewhat sharp though never fatiguing. The Eclipse Threes display an overall warm tonality though a little brighter than other Tannoys I’ve auditioned, with effortless musicality. Music flows from them in an easy, laid back fashion though that’s not to say they can’t rock out. Quite the opposite in fact. Though great at low volumes, the louder they played the more musical they became. Their low frequency performance is also exceptional. I played the introduction to Anavae’s ‘Exit Stage Left’ from their debut ‘Into the Aether’ EP, which has a beautiful atmospheric and guitar solo underpinned by a ferocious growl which the Eclipse Threes reproduced with a ferocity that I hadn’t expected given their small stature and drivers. Their performance reminded me very much of my old Mercurys, one of my lasting memories of which was playing Shinedown’s cover of ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ from the acoustic disc of ‘Somewhere in the Stratosphere’, a brilliantly recorded live set that I’ve used for many a review. Those speakers were extraordinarily agile and just great fun, both traits which the Eclipse Threes appear to have directly inherited.
Detail levels are also outstanding. Doug Macleod’s ‘Bad Magic’ from ‘Where I Been’ is a simple track comprising a heavy bass line, a couple of hand percussion instruments, some beautiful guitar playing and Doug’s vocal. It’s well recorded too, though the bass line does have a tendency to overshadow the other layers of the track on the wrong system. The Eclipse Three rendered this track in glorious detail with an articulate and taught low end making for a truly wonderful performance. Detail is great with busier tracks too, and those that are less well produced or mastered such that they have minimal dynamic range, tracks for example from Sam Smith (‘Like I Can’), and Guns N’ Roses cover of ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ which contains numerous overlaid guitars. While the Eclipse’ can’t quite pick apart each layer, they do an admirable job of offering a decent amount of insight into the latter recording.
Their emotional delivery is another strength. I played ‘Don’t Try So Hard’ from Queen’s ‘Innuendo’ album, a track that should have the hairs on the back of your neck on end on any good system. The Eclipse Threes didn’t disappoint, delivering a stellar rendition with a grand sense of scale and dimensionality.
The Eclipse Threes have been sitting in my system for just shy of a month. THey’re playing Pat Benatar as I write, fed by a Technics 1210 and some cheap Marantz amplification, and I can honestly say I’m enjoying them as much as I did the day they arrived. Sometimes budget components sound like, well, budget components. It’s rare to hear a budget floorstander that doesn’t suffer from bloated bass, overpowering shrill highs, not to mention poor quality materials and workmanship. Standmount speakers are usually favoured at this price, as their smaller simpler cabinets reduce the material costs, resulting in better components across the board and thus more often than not a better speaker. Thankfully the Eclipse Three suffers from neither issue and is a truly talented budget class-leader with outstanding performance and representing exceptional value for money. Fun, musical, easy to partner and engaging across the board, these Eclipse Three speakers are something of a bargain in quality audio. Highly recommended.