Sadly, High End Munich 2023 has come to an end – but that doesn't mean TechRadar's coverage on the 800-or-so hi-fi brands I met in the Bavarian capital has to!
In the UK, Tannoy has been used as a generic term for PA loudspeaker systems in studios, malls and theaters for 70 years – think Hoover, Band-Aid, Chapstick… you get the idea. Throughout my career as a professional dancer, "Listen for your call on the Tannoy!" or "The Tannoy wasn't on in the dressing room, so I missed a cue" were commonplace whispered conversations in the wings of regional theaters.
So imagine my surprise upon seeing the heritage audio specialist, founded in 1926 in London, UK, at this progressive and cutting-edge trade show, alongside the newest in Dirac home theater innovations, quick and pain-free 3D ear-mapping for custom eartips and Dali's delicious-looking high-end wireless over-ears, to name but a few.
What I want you to know is that the music from that room, being played by the new Tannoy Stirling III LZ Special Edition speakers sounded very good indeed.
Opinion: Tannoy speakers are expensive, but not outrageously so in high-end circles – and they sound great
The speaker above is not the Stirling III LZ Special Edition, it is the Tannoy Autograph Mini-OW, and is the closest iteration to the Tannoys of my youth. I hugged it, dear reader. I burped one of these two-way walnut speakers like a baby, noting that the place-me-in-a-corner, non-parallel enclosure (but still with a rear-firing reflex port) lives on to this day. I spoke of how broad and rich I remember their sound; I was assured it's still the case. And these little beauties cost around $2,000 / £1,800 per pair (which is around AU$3,700) – small fry to certain High End Munich attendees.
But the product the Autograph Mini-OW led me to is the Tannoy Stirling III LZ Special Edition floorstanding pair. And it's these speakers I want to focus on.
It has been a few years since TechRadar covered Tannoy's products, but the direct link here is the company’s III LZ (Monitor Red), which has been cherished in homes since the 1960s. Epic albums by artists such as Peter Gabriel, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Pink Floyd, The Beatles and many more have been mixed and mastered on Tannoy studio monitors.
The Stirling III LZ Special Edition utilizes Tannoy's pepperpot waveguide Dual Concentric Alnico Magnet design, with the high-frequency driver merged into the center of the main driver's cone. This Dual Concentric design was invented by Tannoy in 1947 and it was also used in the classic III LZ. The benefit of this true point-source concept is that the entire frequency spectrum originates from a single point, with both drivers are on the exact same axis. The claim, of course, is pristine phase coherence.
But it's not all heritage driver concepts. In order to compensate for acoustically challenged spaces, a two-way energy control system is located on the front of the speakers. With regards to placement, the Stirling III LZ Special Edition also has front-firing bass ports (like vertical letterboxes along the sides of the grille) so they can be placed against walls or in corners without fussy sonic compromises.
The enclosure is made following some of the original III LZ design characteristics but benefits from new high-density materials that weren’t available back in the 1960s. The resulting cabinet boasts extreme rigidity to control low frequency performance and extensive bracing incorporating DMT (Differential Materials Technology) for proper driver coupling.
Sound is paramount in any speakers – but if you can make them look good to boot, I see no reason to avoid doing so. And that is what I think Tannoy has achieved here. Huge orchestral mixes were vivid, engaging and expansive. Voices were textured and beautifully fleshed out. Sonic articles through the treble and upper mids jumped out like facets of a jewel, catching the light, but never at the expense of fastidious timing across the frequencies and a resoundingly engaging, musical mix.
Each Stirling III LZ Special Edition is handcrafted in the UK and will be available from Summer 2023, priced at $12,500 / £11,995 (which is around £22,400).
That is of course a substantial fee, but in high-end circles (where Wilson Audio speakers sell for the price of a new Lexus LC500 and Magico's splendid mid-range S3 series retail for nearly five times that amount) it's not as eye-watering as it is to most people.
During my limited time with them – and remember, I was lucky enough to hear scores of speakers that day in Munich, some of which feature in our best stereo speakers roundup – I liked them a lot. And not just for the purposes of nostalgia either.