Tannoy Turnberry SE vs Kensington SE - Semi Review


     A little background - Several years ago I got interested in the Tannoy Prestige Line, and after reading everything I could find determined that the Kensington was the model that would best suit my needs on several levels. But there was nowhere to audition them. I was not going to spend that kind of money blind (even used), so I decided to try the Turnberry’s first. If I liked them, maybe I would keep them, or move up later. That’s where I am today, and fortunately I am currently able to have both in my system for comparison.

     Everything I could find (mostly snippets) on this subject went something like “…the AlNiCo/pepperpot models [Kensington and above] are superior to the lower models”, or “…the higher end Prestige models are more refined.” And often times there were just blanket statements that the Kensingtons and above were just ‘better.’ But otherwise there didn’t seem to be much available on what was behind those conclusions. The consensus of professional and online Reviews of the Turnberry seem to put it in the “great value for money speaker to get you close to the Kensington, but not quite to that level” (my paraphrase). So it has been of great interest to me to find out what the differences were between these two speakers firsthand.

 

BUILD

     I am going to skip most of the specs and details of these speakers, which are available online. A few things stuck out though that caught my attention. First, while the Kensington’s are only about 20 lbs. (~25%) heavier than the Turnberrys (and some of which is the driver), the overall “substantiality” of the speakers is much greater than 20 lbs would seem to offer. The knuckle test yields a much denser cabinet than the Turnberry.   Fit n’ finish is much better. The Turnberrys have to be waxed whereas the Kensington’s do not and the veneer/finish is nicer (both speakers are veneered on the bottoms of the cabinets, which I thought was interesting). The grill lock on the Turnberry is a key, whereas on the Kensington is pretty cool – it is a little knob (same that is used in the front-side treble adjustment terminals for both speakers) that screws in to the back of the speaker when not in use, and then when you want to unlock the grill you just take it out of the back and screw it in to the grill to extract it (I did not see this feature anywhere on reviews). You could misplace the keys for the Turnberry.  The jumpers for the Kensington are of a better quality.   Overall, you can see the greater expense in most facets of the Kensington. One potential downside, the Kensingtons (being taller, narrower, and having a higher placed and heavier driver) have a higher center of gravity and will tip over more easily (especially on carpets, to include spiked) – this was something that was important to me having small kids, and that I did not consider before I purchased the Kensington’s. If you get behind them and tip them forward about 20 degrees they start to fall. 

 

SOUND

     First test – Kensington out of the box (not broken in). Not a great “apples to apples” comparison but I thought it was very interesting, since not only could I compare them before and after break in, but get some way to measure how substantial the break in was (given the Turnberry was a control for the experiment, having already been used for over a year). Having gone through speaker break-in before, I expected (and got) the lack of bass, diffuse (or lack of) sound staging, and overall constipation.   I won’t go through each track for each speaker but give some overall impressions. Both speakers treble controls were set to “level”. Tracks used: Clapton “Unplugged: Malted Milk”, Jane Monheit Taking a Chance on Love: “In the Still of the Night”, Mel Torme A Vintage Year: “Out of this World”,  Jean Guillou (organ) “Pictures at an Exhibition: “”Gnomus”,  Jennifer Warnes Famous Blue Raincoat: “Ballad of the Runaway Horse” and a few others.  Equipment Sony Hap-1EZ feeding Luxman L-550AX, wires Audioquest and DH Labs (nothing fancy).   Room: 21 x 13.5 x 8 feet with one short (13.5’) end half open to another room. Position was about 3.5 feet from the back wall and 2-4 feet from the sidewalls, with each pair having an inside and an outside position (the pairs were staggered so each speaker was about the same distance from its twin and the listening chair). The only adjustment I had to make was to move the chair laterally about 1 foot when changing speakers. I would also lower my head for the Turnberrys to try to hear both speakers at the same level referenced to the center of the driver.   Since the Luxman has A&B speaker outputs, I was able to switch back and forth between each speaker during music playback.  

     Overall the Turnberry was much more open and had better soundstaging and bass, which I assumed was mostly attributable to being broken in as compared to the Kensington. But, withstanding the break-in, the Kensington seemed more natural (for example, in the Torme and Warnes the voices seemed chestier and more nasally, respectively, with the Turnberry; the Kensington sounded more natural (having heard these recordings many times in different systems), and Warnes’ voice had more inner-textures noticeable). I also came away with a very convincing difference in overall tonality. The Turnberrys seemed drier sounding, and had a more pronounced lower-midrange. Also, the Kensingtons seemed more natural, and tighter, or more of a piece top to bottom (of the frequency range).   On the Guillou “Pictures”, the weight of the pedal notes was about the same between the two speakers but the Turnberry had more pitch definition.   On the Monheit, there is a part where she sings a note on the “oo” syllable very loudly and the Turnberry had a little ringing (shoutiness?) as compared to the Kensington.  I had heard people refer to the Kensington midrange as “sweet” and I definitely started hearing it here in the portrayal of her voice via the Kensingtons. For the highs (I wanted to see if there was much to say about the two different tweeters) I picked a good piano recording (Reference Recordings/Joel Fan) as well as a Vivaldi Four Seasons (Gil Shaham/Orpheus, DG) recording that is otherwise great but has somewhat hot treble. There was noticeable difference between the two speakers in this area. With the piano recording on the Turnberrys the high notes (and high frequencies) seemed slightly truncated, whereas the Kensington again sounded more natural. The violin on the Vivaldi was even more enlightening. This recording can be irritating with poor electronics or speakers.  With the Turnberry the aggressive highs were less noticeable, and there was the portion of the hot treble that was noticeable in the lower frequencies of that range. Whereas the Kensington’s highlighted the whole sonic picture that I was familiar with in that recording.    On the Torme a slight sibilance (‘s’ or ‘t’ words) was noticeable on the Turnberry that was absent in the Kensington.

      Second Test – 1 Month Later. At this point the Kensington’s had a good 25-30 hours (not just listening but brown noise pumped through them at louder levels some days when I left the house). Also, for this test I set both speakers up using the “Golden ratio” distances (available on Cardas’ website), putting the speakers about 6’ from the front wall. Instead of staggering the pairs, I listened to one (with all the same tracks), moved them out and then put in the other pair and listened again.  The effect of break-in on the Kensington was very apparent, although I think they still have a way to go. The Turnberrys were still a bit more open than the Kensingtons but were now about equal on bass quality and soundstaging. On the Clapton, whereas in test one the Kensington had a more natural quality and was more balanced top to bottom (the lower midrange on the Turnberry was prominent), now after having broke in the Kensington emerged as an even much more natural sounding speaker, with nothing sticking out, and having fantastic detail. The Turnberry sounded good but not as balanced or detailed (and still drier).   On the Torme the difference in sibilance remained the same. On the Warnes, the Bass (fiddle) notes sounded more realistic on the Kensingtons than I ever remembered hearing them before, so much so that it surprised me. Now the inner textures on the Kensington were even that much more noticeable, and they had more natural timbre. Instruments and voices were prettier. In test one my notes on the Torme (get this recording if you don’t have it!) said “very natural but not as pretty as I have heard it.” (The “prettiest” I had ever heard it (and subsequently became a favorite recording) was when I had the Harbeth SHL5 paired with a Rowland Concerto – Magic!).   On this second test I was now hearing something very close to what I remembered.  The “sweet” midrange was evident again, especially as compared to the drier Turnberry, but it was nothing that seemed unnatural or out of place. On Dianna Krall’s rendition of “’S Wonderful” I happened to being playing I was surprised to hear the cymbal work and other percussion throughout the piece much more natural than I had recalled ever hearing it, to include in timbre but also detail and making sense of all of it. Bass quantity remained about the same but bass quality had improved in the Kensington.           

 

TUBES vs SOLID STATE

     On another post I will compare the Luxman with my Vintage McIntosh C22/MC240 combo. For these tests it was much easier to use the solid state equipment. But I did make some interesting observations while playing with the tubes here and there over the last couple months.   This is a very subjective and non-scientific conclusion, but it seemed to me that the Turnberry’s overall worked better with the Solid State, and the McIntosh when played through the Turnberrys did not seem to sound much different or much better in any way (and in all cases the bass in the Luxman is far superior to the McIntosh).   But for whatever reason the Kensingtons sounded great with each, and in some ways seemed to prefer the tubes. Not sure how to describe it, but perhaps a better holographic soundstage and presentation/delineation of inner textures.

 

CONCLUSIONS

      Obviously I had some expectation bias going in to this (i.e., that the Kensington would best the Turnberry), and I confirmed it with these tests. So you can take some of these conclusions with that grain of salt.

      Like most comparisons in audio, once some kind of difference can be identified (for better or worse) between similar components there is always the lingering question of magnitude, which brings up the law of diminishing returns, etc. I have extensively A-B’d CD players in various systems and found those differences to be very slight, even between pricier and cheaper models. If that represented an otherwise arbitrary 1% difference in my world, then to put the differences between these two speakers in perspective I would say it is about 15%. That does not mean the Kensingtons are 15% better by my way of thinking, just that the magnitude of how noticeable the differences are is somewhat significant, but not earth shaking. Overall, the Turnberry’s have a drier tonality (I never previously used the term “Wet” in my thinking about a speaker, but somehow it seems appropriate for the Kensington, though it’s hard to describe what that means other than it is the opposite of dry (!), but without any unnatural or annoying facets to it). The Kensingtons offer slightly better detail. Right now they are rolling off right at 40 Hz (using the Radio Shack SPL meter and Stereophile Test CD 2) at 6’ from the front wall, so given the published measurements they may offer a bit more bass as they break in more; but right now the two speakers are about equal in the bass department. Both speakers are fantastic for listening to heavy classical music without strain, but like everything else the Kensington offered even more impressive performance on that level too (my test on that aspect was the Telarc SACD of Vaughan Williams “Sea Symphony”). Both are also great at low listening levels. The Turnberrys are still more open (less congested) at this point in the Kensington’s break in. My conclusions are based on the assumption that at some point the Kensingtons will at least match them in this regard. If that wasn’t true, then I would be very disappointed, because the Turnberrys are great in that regard. (I’ll follow up on that point in the future).   

      The Turnberrys are great speakers and I could live with them without much regret. The musicality of both speakers is very high. The superior attributes of the Kensington do offer perhaps some additional enjoyment.  I have no doubt they will continue to break in and perhaps yield some more favorable characteristics once they have fully opened up.   I would definitely recommend either speaker to anyone and further, one or the other, based on their tastes, budget, electronics, and room. I labeled this as a ‘partial’ review because I was only going to compare the two against each other and not go on about how they sound or how great they are (you can read the available reviews for that). But I did want to mention two pluses for prospective owners that may not be obvious, both based on room placement. Unlike a lot of speakers, if you can not have an ideal room set up (getting the speakers far away from the walls), these are very easy to place and really don’t sound bad anywhere, being front ported and having excellent dispersion. The second aspect of placement is that, given the dual concentric design, while not –the- sweet spot, you can listen from any angle or anywhere in the room and they still sound great, sometimes even having a central image while sitting well outside the lateral edge of the pair.  Lastly, while amplification is important, these are pretty ‘unfussy’ speakers. 

     I’m a fan. For me for quite a long time my destination speakers were either the Harbeth Monitor 40s or the Tannoy Kensington. I plan to stay here for a while.

jimmy2615
Now there is a review that was waiting to be written! I have been very curious about this very comparison for a long time. Thanks for your sensible and detailed comparison Jimmy. Much appreciated.
Excellent review and quite enjoyable to read.  I had Tannoy Definition DC8 and certainly got a taste of what Tannoys are capable of.  I regret selling them now as the music that emanated from them just seemed right to me.  Interesting as I've often felt the Turnberrys or Kensingtons would be my "destination" speaker.  I've heard the Prestige series with Accuphase and Leben and it was jaw dropping.  Never heard a piano sound so real and lifelike.

Enjoy jimmy2515!  Regards......

Jimmy,
That was an  interesting and well written comparison of  the two Tannoys.  I appreciate your time and effort to accomplish this. I believe that you effectively conveyed the essential character of each speaker. 
Charles 
So...are the Kensington worth the extra cost?
Thanks all, hope it has been informative.  Noromance, for me, all things being equal, yes.  As always it is a subjective and personal choice, especially based on budget.  Generally the K's seem to be about double the T's cost.  At retail, here in the States I think it was about $6k and $13k (and more for the new GR series).  In my opinion, it would be a much more palatable and justifiable expense if it were about a 60% increase, say 6k and 10k.  And then I would only get the better speaker if I had a good room to put it in and good electronics (that's part of the 'all things being equal' caveat).  In my case, I know I am not getting everything out of them I can until I treat the room (acoustics) better. 
Follow up.  Since my first post I have about doubled the hours on the Kensington's.  As far as hoping they would "open up" like the Turnberry's, it seemed like one day (at about 60 solid hours to include more full frequency burn in tracks, not just brown noise, and lots of listening) a switch was thrown and the constipation was gone.  This improved facet just lets everything else good about them shine through.  Bass quality has continued to improve steadily at a small but even pace.  A note on room size - these put out a big sonic picture.  I feel like my 13.5 x 21 foot room is about the smallest you would want to use (unless you are doing a lot of near-field listening - which is fantastic through the Tannoys).  I mentioned previously they do very well at low levels.  At night when I have to listen at low levels, I can sit in a 7' equilateral triangle with the speakers near the wall, at very low levels, and the presentation is quite enjoyable.  It does help to engaging the 'loudness' feature on either the McIntosh C22 or the Luxman, which yields excellent results.