Tannoy Kensington SE Review

Tannoy's Prestige Kensington SE doesn't sound like any other high-end speaker; it's something else again.


I may have written hundreds and hundreds of speaker reviews, but I can pretty much guarantee that if someone asks me about the Tannoy Prestige Kensington SE speaker in 10 years I won’t have a problem recounting this review.

Sure, I might get fuzzy about certain details, like the fact that the Kensington SE has a 10-inch, Dual Concentric driver, and a mahogany veneered, high-density birch wood cabinet. But I will remember the sound. The Kensington SE is one of the most musical speakers I’ve heard.

Tannoy, founded in 1926, today manufactures a vast range of speakers for audiophiles and recording studios. The company started out building sound reinforcement systems and is still a major player in that business: the Hong Kong Convention Center, Sydney Opera House, London Palladium, Coca Cola Headquarters in Atlanta and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas all use Tannoy speakers.

The Prestige line dates back to 1982 when Tannoy introduced the mighty Westminster speaker, which was upgraded and renamed Westminster Royal in 1987. It’s still in production and goes for $35,000 a pair.

The Kensington SE is one of the newer Prestige models. It’s just seven years old, and the entire line was upgraded to SE status with newly designed crossovers and internal wiring in 2007.

Interestingly, the Prestige’s prime market is Japan, where the audiophile cognoscenti know no limits. Prestige is also popular in other Asian countries. North America? Not so much, but now that I’ve listened to the Kensington SE I’m a true believer.

Tannoy claims the Kensington SE’s 10-inch, Dual Concentric driver is an inherently time-coherent design. The woofer is a treated paper cone, and the tweeter is a 2-inch aluminum alloy dome, sitting within a “PepperPot” WaveGuide at the throat of the woofer.

The woofer cone’s shape was designed to provide optimal dispersion for the tweeter. The technology is old—Tannoy pioneered the Dual Concentric technology in 1947—but it still sounds amazing today.

The Dual Concentric’s Alnico (Aluminum-Nickel-Cobalt) magnet system is sure to woo more than a few old school audiophiles and guitarists (Alnico magnets can be found in sought-after “humbucking” electric guitar pickups from the 1950s). The alloy produces a stronger magnetic field than comparable ceramic (Strontium Ferrite) magnets, and gauss strength within the gap is also very high, which increases the speaker’s efficiency. Translation: Distortion is lower at a given volume level for drivers using Alnico magnets.

The Kensington SE’s front panel hosts a conspicuous set of tone controls for the tweeter labeled “Treble Energy” and “Treble Roll Off.”

That sort of tweak-ability is rare in high-end speakers so you can dial-in exactly the right treble balance to accommodate your room’s acoustics.

Internal crossover parts reflect the Kensington SE’s heritage: The low-loss laminated iron-core inductors inline with the woofer minimize resistance between the amplifier and Dual Concentric driver, which Tannoy claims produces superior bass control.

Crossover components include highly regarded Hovland Musicaps capacitors and Vishay resistors. Internal wiring is 99.99% silver.

The Kensington SE’s rear panel hosts a rather unusual speaker connector array. Most speakers have either a single pair of binding posts or two sets for bi-wiring, but the Kensington SE has a total of five heavy-duty WBT connectors in a circular bay.

The first four connectors are available for bi-wire duty and the fifth connector provides superior grounding between the amplifier and speaker.

I didn’t get to hear it, but Tannoy offers a separate Prestige ST 200 super tweeter ($2,728 a pair) for use with the Kensington SE that “enhances soundstage depth and “air.” The ST 200′s frequency response extends out to 50 kilohertz.

Measuring 43.5 inches high, 16 wide and 13.3 deep, the 83-pound speaker is a fairly compact design, at least by high-end standards. I conducted all of my listening tests at Tannoy’s New York City dealer, In Living Stereo, and the Kensington SE impressed from the get-go because it’s a remarkably visceral and emotionally engaging performer. What can I say? Music feels more alive when played over Kensington SEs than most other speakers.

The Bad Plus is a jazz trio that plays standards, standards like Nirvana’s “Lithium,” Wilco’s “Radio Cure” and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.” It’s jazz, played with hard rock intensity. On the band’s new CD, For All I Care, they’ve added singer Wendy Lewis to the mix. I’ve played this CD to death on countless systems, but Lewis’ vocals never sounded as fully present and alive before. Reid Anderson’s stand-up bass just about knocked me over; it’s the biggest and baddest acoustic bass ever on a jazz CD.

Old school jazz, courtesy of Milt Jackson and Wes Montgomery’s Bags Meet Wes! CD was a very different trip. Jackson’s shimmering vibes were remarkably three-dimensional. The vibes’ burnished tone was all there, and each mallet strike against the aluminum bars produced a little metallic explosion, just like vibes sound in real life.

The stereo soundstage was tremendous, stretching wall to wall in the listening room. Sam Jones’ bass was more in proportion to the rest of the instruments than what I heard from the Bad Plus, but that was just the Kensington SE telling the truth about what was encoded in the music. This time the bass had the woody texture and believability of the real thing. Low-level detail and resolution were awfully good, and I could hear the sound of the instruments filling the space in the recording studio. Amazing!

The recently remastered Rolling Stones CDs didn’t sound much different than the old versions, but the Kensington SEs brought out the best in their music. If you’re into rock, the Kensington SE’s tonal sock will floor you. These speakers are nothing if not visceral.

But is it accurate? Probably not. The Kensington SE might be too much of a good thing. It’s Technicolor rich, contrastier and flat out more delicious sounding than any box or panel speaker I’ve heard in ages. If I’ve made you curious, here’s my advice: Listen to your favorite music first on other speakers, and then audition the Kensington SE. I’m betting you won’t want to go back.

Kensington SE: $13,120/pair

519.745.1158, tannoy.com


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