Review: Tannoy VX/VXP Series Speakers
Tannoy has paired its Dual Concentric driver design with amplification powerhouse Lab.gruppen, giving a fresh boost to a household name in PA.
Tannoy has a long history that speaks for itself. The name itself outgrew the brand as early as World War II when public address systems colloquially became ‘tannoys’ even though the name is actually an abbreviation of the Tantalum-lead alloy company founder Guy Fountain invented and used to make a solid-state rectifier. Tannoy has done a lot since its inception in 1926, including the long-term development of speakers using the trademarked Dual Concentric driver.
In 2002 Tannoy became part of the TC Group of companies that includes TC Electronic and Swedish amplifier manufacturer Lab.gruppen. A lot of companies are buying up brands to create natural synergies, and with plenty of competing products powered by Lab.gruppen, it makes sense to combine the Swedish company’s amplification dominance with Tannoy’s household name status in PA. Hence the development of the VX/VXP range of professional loudspeakers designed for live sound or installations.
TWO WAYS ABOUT IT
Two-way speaker systems work by allowing the low and high frequencies to be reproduced by drivers that are optimised for the different ends of the frequency spectrum. Woofers move lots of air at relatively low frequencies so they need to be a fair size. Tweeters move less air but they work at higher frequencies where speed and accuracy are more important, so they can be smaller. In most conventional speaker designs the tweeter is placed above or beside the woofer leading to the sound from the two different drivers to arrive at the listener at slightly different times (a distributed source). This produces time-smear where frequencies overlap each other with different amounts of addition and cancellation depending on where the listener is in relation to the drivers. Nasty. The Dual Concentric design sees the tweeter on the back of the woofer with the high frequencies emanating from the centre of the woofer. This solves the time alignment problem by providing a point source that delivers a spherical wavefront that is consistent across the listening area. Simple and effective. Tannoy has a patent over the Dual Concentric design, but other manufacturers use somewhat similar co-axial designs and I’m surprised this concept is not used more widely.
The VX Series has evolved from the companies now 10-year-old V Series speakers and it’s aimed at the professional portable/installation market. The range consists of 10 passive speakers, with Dual Concentric drivers, ranging from five-inch through to 15-inch. Three models (VX5.2, VX8.2, VX12.2) incorporate an extra driver for added low frequency performance. Three models (VX12Q, VX12.2Q, VX15Q) have Tannoy’s new Q-Centric Waveguide that acts like a horn flare and changes the usual conical dispersion pattern to a 75° x 40° pattern. The Q-Centric Waveguide can be rotated for either vertical or horizontal orientation.
The VXP Series is aimed more specifically at small to medium sound-reinforcement applications and consists of nine models, ranging from six-inch through to 15-inch. The VXP8.2 and VXP12.2Q get an extra driver while the VXP12.2Q and VXP15Q have the Q-Centric Waveguide. The VXP12HP and VXP15HP models have extended power handling abilities. All speakers in the VXP range contain an in-built IDEEA (IntelliDrive Energy Efficient Amplifier) amplifier supplied by Lab.gruppen. These amps feature universal voltage, regulated switch-mode power supply, Class D output stage, protective DSP and claim near 90% efficiency.
I’ve been trying the VX12.2Q from the VX series and the VXP8 and VXP12 from the powered VXP series. Manufactured in the UK, both series feature enclosures made from 15mm birch plywood finished in textured black or white paint, with custom colours available on request. This is a good feature, not only could Pink have pink speakers, but clubs could order colours to match their décor, or installations in churches, galleries etc, could get colours that blend in with the surrounds. Black boxes are practical and unobtrusive in night-time venues but, like some middle-aged performers I know, they can be pretty ugly in the harsh light of day.
NEED TO KNOW
The Dual Concentric driver design is a winner and differentiates these speakers from the competition
Starting with the smallest speaker I got to try, the VXP8 presents as a conveniently-sized (388x280x275mm), conventionally-shaped cabinet with a rounded, perforated steel grille, with Airnet cloth behind it for protection from flying drinks. At 10kg it’s not heavy but without any handles whatsoever it’s still a two-handed exercise to pick it up. The rear of the cabinet has 30° angled panels and if another VXP8 is placed so the angled panels are touching it creates an array with minimal overlap between speakers — handy if you’re using the speakers in an array but it means the speaker can’t be used as a floor monitor (unless the performers are far enough away for the 30° angle to work). Most portable speakers have a 40-45° angle on at least one side for floor use. So it makes the VXP8 a speaker that is either pole-mounted or mounted using the four M10 yoke bracket inserts, and that restricts it to small FOH duties, possibly sidefills, or installations.
Connections are made towards the bottom of the non-recessed rear panel and the plugs do stick out, inviting accidental damage in some situations. In keeping with its professional focus there is only one line-level XLR input socket, an XLR link socket, a level pot, and a 90Hz HPF for situations where a sub is being used. LEDs indicate power, signal present and limit/protect. Operating power is supplied via a PowerCon lead and while these make good lockable connections, you’re in trouble if you don’t have one or leave it behind… there’s something to be said for good old IEC kettle leads, and they can be lockable. A handy feature is the universal power supply that will operate with power between 70-250V, 50/60Hz. Beside the power on switch there’s a choice between manual and auto power modes. In the power-saving auto mode the speaker switches itself to standby mode after 20 minutes of no signal.
The sound is the important thing though, and when you fire the VXP8 up you very soon forget that it’s got no handles. The voicing is great; warm and inviting with a surprisingly generous low mid-range for an eight-inch woofer. The specs claim -3dB points at 80Hz and a dog-calling 35kHz. The mids are smooth, detailed and pleasantly subdued between 2-4kHz, so SM58s don’t bite too much. Compared to the high-mids, the high frequencies are relatively forward and the overall result is a speaker that is firm and crisp on vocals, without harshness. Music playback sounds full-bodied and clear. The VXP8 is also very resistant to feedback; a testament to its smooth frequency response, especially off-axis. I liked the amp too; it’s quiet at idle, delivers plenty of clean power and even at high levels it sounds like it’s operating well within its limits. Interestingly, no figures are quoted for amplifier power for any active speakers in the range, which reminds me of how Rolls Royce used to respond to questions about how much power their engines developed: “sufficient”.
A lot of the credit for the sound of these speakers goes to the dual-concentric horn, and in many ways it defines the sound of the whole VX/VXP range. The point-source driver delivers a sound that is natural and coherent, with excellent intelligibility. The conical 90° dispersion pattern ensures a listening area that is wide and even through both vertical and horizontal planes. Even the off-axis response is well-controlled and they sound okay right around the cabinet; unlike some powered boxes of this size that want to take off in the low-mids if you walk around the back of the cabinet with a live mic in hand.
Next up is the VXP12 and the good vibes continue with a speaker that shares much with its little brother but is bigger and louder. Physically it’s about twice as big (486 x 370 x 360mm) and almost twice as heavy at 19kg. Most of the cabinet is made from the same 15mm birch plywood but the front panel has been strengthened with 18mm plywood. It’s almost the same shape as the VXP8 but with two important improvements: it’s got a handle on the top of the rear panel and a 40° angled panel on one side so it can be used as a wedge. The handle is comfortable and makes it quite easy to carry the speaker in one hand, despite its weight. The angled panel and size of the speaker make it a natural for a foldback wedge. Looking from FOH it’s not as low profile as some wedges but appears just right from the performer’s side, and because of the dual-concentric horn you don’t have to worry about which side the horn is on when you place it on stage. A pole mount is provided for FOH or club use, as are eight M10 flying inserts and eight M10 yoke brackets inserts. The rear panel offers the same controls and connections as the VXP8 but this time they are half recessed.
The VXP12 voicing is similar to the VXP8 with the difference being a little more bite to the horn and low-end that reaches further down, with -3dB for the low end quoted at 70Hz. It’s about 6dB louder too and combined with the floor wedge angle it’s more versatile. I used it as the centre wedge at a medium-level show featuring local performers John Trager and Chooka Parker (of AGT fame) and found it to be clean and stable, even with condenser mics for vocals, and I was able to get good levels without any external EQ. At higher levels it seemed to get unstable right in the middle slightly more readily then the VXP8, and for full rock some external EQ might be needed to extract maximum level. Again it was impressive how the dual concentric design created an even listening area. Moving around in front of the speaker the sound was very consistent; most speakers are beamier on-axis with a noticeable change to the sound when you move slightly off-axis. The next weekend it was treated to a drive in the country, all the way to Beechworth for the annual Kelly Country Pick, where I used it as a delay speaker for the Friday and Saturday night concerts. These acoustic music events demand nothing but pure vocal/instrumental sounds and the VXP12’s warmth, accurate detail and even coverage was ideal for the event. The VXP12 could be confidently used as a FOH speaker in small venues or as part of a high-powered music playback system in clubs, cinemas or other installs.
The VX12.2Q is a big, heavy speaker at 370 x 780 x 360mm and 33.5kg with an internal volume of 59 litres. Inside there are two 12-inch woofers, the top one has the dual-concentric horn, the bottom one is crossed over at 300Hz to provide extra punch in the low end. The VX12.2Q is supplied as a passive speaker with an internal crossover and recommended amp power of 1kW program. If greater headroom is required it can be re-wired for bi-amped operation. For greater control, or use with sub speakers, the optional Tannoy TX1/TDX2 controller/crossovers provide high-pass filtering, parametric EQ and a sub-crossover. The TDX2 also includes limiting and delay.
The size and weight of the VX12.2Q means some planning is required to move it around. There are handles on the top and bottom of the rear of the cabinet and they’re well placed for a dead lift and carry. For short distances it can be picked up by the top handle and shuffled along. Construction is the same as the powered speakers from the VXP line but I suspect it has more internal bracing as its feels dense and resonance free. On the rear there’s a recessed panel housing two Speakon NL4MP sockets and a barrier strip for connecting the speaker lead.
Designed as either a FOH or foldback speaker the VX12.2Q has a 40° angled panel for wedge use, as well as a pole-mount, eight M10 flying points and eight M10 yoke bracket inserts. It’s too heavy to put on a crappy speaker stand, and I’d hate to drop one of these on a punter, but the larger, heavy-duty stands should be safe enough. I think these are really too big and heavy to be considered for portable, speakers-on-sticks systems and they’re better suited to equipment-supply professionals or permanent installations. The VX12.2Q is fitted with the Tannoy’s newly developed Q-Centric waveguide that gives a dispersion pattern of 75° x 40°. By removing the front grille and loosening the bolts the whole speaker can be rotated so the 75° x 40° pattern is either in the horizontal or vertical plane.
In use, the VX12.2Q is loud and powerful. The voicing is similar to the powered versions; surprisingly so considering the powered speakers in the range have in-built amps and DSP. The Q-Centric waveguide effectively controls the dispersion pattern without noticeably changing the sound quality and the smoothness across the listening area remains. The bass response is strong and even, though it’s -3dB point is listed at 70Hz (the same as the VXP12) it sounds like there’s more low-end grunt at higher levels. It also responds well to added low frequency EQ, eliminating the need for a sub-woofer in many situations. I used the VX12.2Q as a floor wedge for Renee Geyer at the Castlemaine Theatre Royal recently and combined it with an Audio-Technica AE5400 handheld condenser microphone. Renee wasn’t at the soundcheck, and she has a reputation for being demanding, so I set it up to my ear and hoped she would like it. Before the show we worked out hand signals for more or less volume and more or less reverb in the wedge. The show started and she was singing as if she liked the sound. No signals were received through the first song and none at the end either, so I was hopeful it was good for her. Half-way through the second song I got a smile, the thumbs-up and a mouthed, “Don’t change it.” Chalk one up to the Tannoy VX12.2Q, another happy customer.
There are more speakers from the series that I didn’t try but hearing these three models left me confident the sound quality would be consistent across the range. The Dual Concentric driver design is a winner and differentiates these speakers from the competition. The Lab.gruppen amps in the active models provide plenty of clean power, and because the rear panel acts as a heat disperser, they don’t have cooling fans. So at idle they are quiet both electrically and physically. The cooling seems effective, in normal use they only get warm to the touch, but I didn’t have them sitting outside all day in the full Australian sunshine. The VX/VXP series are not designed for performers supplying their own sound reinforcement at shows; it’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying the fidelity but they are probably too expensive (except for cover bands, who always seem to have expensive gear), too heavy and they don’t even have mic level inputs or RCA sockets for iPods etc. They are designed for professional users and installations and for these purposes they will deliver very high-quality sound in demanding situations. Though with the custom finish choices, an all-weather spec available, and five year warranty, many bases are well and truly covered. The frequency response and ‘British’ voicing will ensure great results for live music, voice amplification and music playback without the necessity of extra EQ or processing. Nice one, Mr Tannoy.