If you get to the party late, you need to make a big entrance - and late entrances don't come much bigger than Tannoy's Arena speakers.
While the likes of Bose, KEF and Mordaunt Short have been sipping Moët and nibbling fine canapés at the higher end of the sub-sat market for ages, Tannoy's designers have clearly been putting in the overtime to create a system that wows the eyes and the ears - if not perhaps the pocket.
perhaps the pocket. From the outset the Arena is absolute first class eye candy. The sumptuously curved satellites are moulded from a heavy alloy with a soft textured baffle and detachable grilles that neatly stand-off a few millimetres.
You get the choice of silver, black, white or bronze (deep red) paint finish, sprayed on and buffed to a satin lustre. The baffle trim is changeable for any one of eight optional colour variations giving you a staggering 32 colour combinations. Bronze with mint anyone?
The matching stands are an optional extra but are sexy in their own right. The paintwork has a Bentley-class finish and the polished chrome ball joints ooze precision engineering. The package is by far the most holistically styled system on the market right down to the silver bullet speaker terminals matching the control knobs on the subwoofer.
Tannoy has gone to even greater design lengths on the inside. The satellites use the company's dual concentric driver that places the tweeter in the centre of the bass unit for better integration. This latest incarnation offers full wideband frequency response (up to 54kHz) and the centre channel gets a supplementary bass driver for additional power handling during home cinema.
A 300W amplifier and beefy looking 10-inch driver are packed into the equally well finished and flat-ish aspect subwoofer. You get controls for volume, frequency, phase and, rather more mysteriously, LF extension.
This is similar to REL's famous Slam and Depth switch but offers it on a fully variable basis between the 'music' and 'theatre' settings. Uniquely the Arena sub has spike mounts on five out of six sides so you can place it up, down, sideways, flat - wherever you like.
This variable aspect is however a doubleedged, neigh five-edged, sword. The bass response in markedly different depending which way the driver is facing so be prepared to experiment to find the sweetest orientation. Ironically, our test room favoured the sub's driver facing the floor - sadly negating the use of its gorgeous grill cover. We just hung that on the wall and passed it off as modern art.
Of course, all this technology and designer chic does not come cheap. At £1,200 the Arena is half as much again as Mordaunt Short's Genies. Add in the stands and brackets and you could buy both competitors for the same cost as one Arena system. So does the performance justify the outlay? Oh yes indeed.
Buffed to perfection
As if to mirror the precision build and fastidious attention to cosmetic detail the sound is polished, articulate and staggeringly detailed. Movie soundtracks and multichannel music get a wide-open soundstage that makes the competition sound woollier than a field of sheep.
The signature dynamics of Tannoy's DC drive units shine through, backed by one of the best packaged system subwoofers on the market today.
This unusually pretty box shifts a fair amount of air and does so with drum tight precision and subterranean depths. Put in the time and effort finding the best orientation in your room and it offers superb LF reproduction without any of the bass overhang and boom of ported designs. It hasn't quite got the muscle power of the Genie Sub for example but it simply sounds more sophisticated and goes a whole lot deeper.
Put on a moodier action DVD like Blade: Trinity and the system never fails to impress. Dialogue is clinically precise with every nuance exposed and the ambient effects create a perfectly dark and foreboding atmosphere. When the fight scenes start, the thumping score neatly underpins the effects and keeps you involved until the credits roll.
This tight and high-precision balance lends itself just as well to music. Martha Wainwright sounds every bit the sultry hippie chick on her eponymous debut CD and the Arena coveys everything from her natural sibilance to the complex acoustic guitar harmonics. Up the tempo with the likes of the Killers' Hot Fuss CD and you get indie rock portrayed with a rare grace. Okay, it's never going to simply let rip like a big box system but for sheer high-fidelity reproduction from a complete sub-sat package it can't be beaten.
The Arena has entered the sub-sat party in style, thrown down a glove and given the competition a damn good thrashing. It's polished, experienced, charmingly good looking and exudes true class. Of course, class comes at a price - near £1,600 in fact.