Product Name:Tannoy GRF 90
Price: $ 0
To celebrate their 90th Anniversary, Tannoy have launched the new GRF90 into their Prestige range. Noel Keywood lifts and listens.
Only Tannoy make loudspeakers like this – and what a shame. Their new GRF90 is a massive room mover quite unlike anything else – except for their larger models! Big loudspeakers produce a big sound – Tannoys especially so. All the same you do need a big house and big pockets to go with them, partly explaining why the new GRF90 is a rare beast on this planet. The GRF90 exploits fundamentals by placing one enormous Dual-Concentric drive unit in a suitably enormous cabinet – simple stuff in basic outline.
It reminded me of the Yorkminsters I lived with and loved long ago (review, April 2006). That was a loudspeaker of cathedral dimensions with the power and majesty to fill such a place. The new GRF90 alludes not to a building but to Tannoy’s founder Guy R Fountain and the age of the company – 90 years. But like the Yorky it aims to deliver music at a scale other loudspeakers can only dream about. Think massive dynamics, brutal bass power, deep subsonics and the ability to move a room with effortless ease. OK, so you ideally need a castle to enjoy them – and withstand them – or a home similarly well removed from other homes for acoustic rather than defence reasons. Then there’s the price tag of £17,100 a pair. What you don’t need – as some recompense – is a big amplifier. As I explained in my column last month, getting big Tannoys in for review is a feat in itself. Each GRF90 in its carton weighs 95kgs, as the carton warns in big print. It takes many hands and goods trucks to move them. Removing cabinet from carton is a significant task especially as the oiled walnut veneered cabinets are easily damaged. Standing 1240mm high (4ft approx 20% higher than most floors tanders), 550mm wide and 465mm deep, the cabinets have a big presence but they can be moved back fairly close to a rear wall, so don’t necessarily occupy more floor space than other floorstanders. However, to hear what the GRF90s can do, a big room is necessary, so space is unlikely to be an issue. I would say 20ft was a lower limit for the GRF90s. Yorkminsters in my 17ft long lounge did not work at all, where they thundered in our 24ft long office of the time; the contrast could not have been greater. Room size is critical then; you will only understand what a GRF90 can do in a large room. In the cabinet lies just one 12in Tannoy Dual-Concentric drive unit. In fact there are two units here, a tweeter firing out through the throat of a woofer. The aluminiumalloy dome tweeter lies at the base of an attractive brass coloured horn that you can see placed centrally in the throat of the big bass cone. A pepperpot waveguide smooths treble. Firing out through the centre eliminates time and phase matching issues and also gives the same sound balance at all listening angles so wherever you are in front of the speaker it sounds the same. Reflected sound from ceiling and walls is the same too, where it is not in multi-driver loudspeakers, and this is quite important in the brain’s ability to compose a cohesive and believable sound picture. And finally, the deep bass cone radiates forwards strongly, but less so sideways, forcing sound at listeners partly explaining the punchy quality of a big Tannoy. All of which is to say that although the big GRF90 looks old-fashioned and technologically backward, it is not. The underlying principles work well even today, which is why big Tannoys sound so good – and remain unique. The 12in paper bass cone can move massive amounts of air and generate huge bass power. It is aided by a huge 7.4 cu ft cabinet, this being two to three times larger in volume than other floorstanders. At rear sit two huge ports, making this a bass reflex design. The front panel carries a large, solid hewn brass front adjustment plate. On it are thumb screws that set Treble Energy and Treble Roll Off. Think of Treble Energy as the loudness of the treble unit relative to the bass unit. Treble Roll Off alters upper treble output only, boost or cut. I had a discussion with Tannoy about all this, explained further in Sound Quality and Measured Performance. The rear terminal panel carries large bi-wire terminals and an earth terminal. The latter earths all internal metalwork back to the amplifier and screened cables are recommended, to minimise radio pickup. The units are coupled by provided bi-wire links, so can be mono or bi-wired or biamped. The cabinets are heavily built and very sturdy, of castle-like strength in fact. They sit firm of their own accord, so there are no spikes, only feet. Big cloth covered grilles can be put into place easily and quickly. A box with wood polish, instruction manual and bi-wire links is supplied. These speakers exude quality of the old-fashioned kind, explaining why they are so popular in the Far East. Brits may not get it but Chinese and Japanese do and buy it. And finally we also received a box with a pair of Super Tweeters that proved fascinating. See our box out on these.
Tannoys need a decent run-in of around 40 hours minimum, although a dealer once told me Westminster’s need months for the woods to settle. We didn’t have months, so put 48 hours on ours, only to find Tannoy had already run them in for us. Ta! And now to the adjustment panel. I asked others at Hi-Fi World towers not to listen and judge before I had measured and adjusted, but they did of course and their reaction wasn’t overly enthusiastic: they were bright and forward, a tad challenging, I was told. We had two problems here: set flat as delivered (‘Level’ on the adjustment panel) they were not flat in frequency response terms when measured, tweeter output being high too high in my opinion. And the drive amplifier at the time was our McIntosh MC152 a fabulous device with deep detailing and a grip of steel, but also quite forceful up top. What was needed was our currently resident Icon Audio Stereo 30 SE single-ended valve amplifier with its silky treble a perfect match for any big Tannoy. I spoke to Tannoy and they said ‘Level’ had been set subjectively by their own listeners a bit surprising because Tannoy have an anechoic chamber that supports accurate measurement and it had been overruled. Hi-Fi World listeners are exposed to a stream of loudspeakers of all sorts, on review, most of which measure near flat so their ears are calibrated by experience; our subjective view of Level was different to theirs. I mention all this just to explain the background details that affect manufacturer’s views and our views, reminded in this instance that it was Alex Garner (ex-MD, Tannoy) who told me loudspeaker manufacturers live in their own cocoon a source of both uniqueness and insularity. Sources were an Oppo BDP- 105D Universal player to spin CD, with an Astell&Kern AK-120 portable player connected optically to provide high-resolution digital. Cables were Tellurium Q. Our listening room is 25ft long, 18ft wide and 6500 cuft in volume due to a high, sloped industrial ceiling; it suits Tannoys. With Treble Energy set to -3 for flat frequency response (see Measured Performance) and the Stereo 30 SE warmed up, we were off! As always these Tannoys put up a huge soundstage, and delivered instruments and vocalists with force; Josefine Cronholm took up a big and strong presence in front of me, standing centre singing 'In Your Wild Garden'. The GRF90s put even more weight and substance into images, of people and instruments, than other Prestige Tannoys, I fancy their cryogenically treated crossovers being the reason. Also, I find Tannoy’s 12in Dual is sonically more appealing than the 10in in the Kensington and the 15in in the Westminster which is likely why I liked the Yorkminster so much, and the GRF90 had a similar sense of grip on events, allied to massive scale, of the Yorky. But even with Treble Energy pulled back to minimum the tweeter was still obvious and at times forceful, but not intolerably so. It is ruthlessly revealing and this is why a super smooth Single-Ended valve amplifier free of crossover distortion like the Icon Audio Stereo 30 SE is the best match; you otherwise get the blemishes of the amplifier thrown at you. Whilst bass was massively powerful it was also clean, easy going and seemingly expansive, not being dogged by colour or internal cabinet reflections. So the bass line behind Skunk Aanasie’s Skin singing 'Hedonism' strode along in a nice easy manner, each note having well defined pitch and a fleshed out sense of form. By comparison smaller speakers give a more generalized sound, a vague event pattern, whereas the GRF90s had no difficulty in finding detail and timbral richness in strong bass lines. Hearing Willy DeVille on stage singing 'Spanish Harlem' live was a superb experience. The GRF90s put him above and in front of me, with the audience whooping in the background. His slow, gravelly drawl had a spine chilling presence in the room and the 12in Dual showed what it could do by expressing the dynamic contrasts within this live performance: “In” had emphasis I had not heard before, as he sang “In my garden”. Other ‘speakers flatten dynamic contrasts like this, I realised. To check out the GRF90s at high volume I had to go into our London offices on Sunday when the building is empty, to avoid complaint. They generate enough power to pass through the structure of the building – ours once being a bus garage! Spinning Safri Duo’s ‘Samb Adagio’ at high volume showed how clean and relaxed these speakers are with the wick turned right up to as loud as I could stand (97dB at the listening position). This is a synth fest of explosive drum beats with a floating organ drawing out a fluid backline. It’s a test of power and dynamics, one the GRF90s shrugged off: they delivered thunderous bass power from the drum beats, whilst the organ work drifted along unperturbed. Again, the ‘speakers showed total composure. The GRF90s image high, putting a sound stage in a rainbow arc between the cabinets that, when seated, beamed singers down at me, giving them elevation. Images are large, not pinpoint, but succinctly outlined. Here, the phase consistency of the Dual-Concentrics showed through, making conventional multidriver speakers seem a tad disjointed in comparison; these ‘speakers have focus. With classical music the large but densely textured images had a big impact, especially on Nigel Kennedy’s Stradivarius that was less diaphanous and fuller bodied than other loudspeakers giving his playing in Massenet’s 'Meditation' great aural impact. It was like moving from a middle row to the font row the violin was big and I could hear much more. The instrument was brightly lit, but pleasantly so I felt. Accompanying strings swelled behind him with unrestrained intensity. Orchestras had scale of course, especially in 'The Planets' where kettle drum strikes were momentous occasions and string sections stretched wide across the sound stage. The piano of Arcadi Volodos, a Steinway Grand, took massive form in the room while he worked through 'Vallee d’Obermann', individual notes sounding solid and pure as he played with slow deliberation, whilst chords had crashing power when his left hand assaulted the keyboard. The Steinway had a rich density to its sound, as well as scale, the Tannoys giving a very close up view. What are the weaknesses of the GRF90? One commonly mentioned with Dual-Concentrics is that instruments and singers seem to come from a megaphone. Or as one person put it: “she’s singing inside a phone booth”. I uppose so and spending most of my time with Martin Logan electrostatics this should worry me especially, yet it doesn’t; I seem to have acclimatised. Jon Myles mentioned that the Super Tweeters alleviated this effect. The horn tweeter is not especially smooth and has a hard quality. The big Dual moves from a 12in paper cone to a metallic alloy dome within a brass horn – and disparity is there in the sound. All the same, the horn inserts the pushiness of a Tannoy Dual – explaining why it is a ‘take no prisoners’ loudspeaker that delivers with force. The adjustment panel needs a slow roll-off option that current miscalibration doesn’t allow, so a softer sound balance is available.
The GRF90 is a fabulously wellengineered big loudspeaker. Not only that, it has unique strengths like total phase consistency that make its sound unique. Superbly engineered, it is no boring academic wonder, nor an anachronism as it might appear, so much as one of the most powerful and impressive loudspeakers I’ve ever encountered. Tannoys are all about the big loudspeaker sound: big soundstage, big dynamics and endless bass depth. I fell for this sound long ago with Yorkminsters and coming back it in the form of GRF90s reminds me why I think it is one of the most exciting and impressive loudspeakers I have ever heard. If my lounge was bigger, I’d buy them.
Post Date : 02/08/2017