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Klipsch KG1
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Mogami/Canare RCAs
Nakamichi CM-300
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VOX Pathfinder 15







TANNOY 603
vintage UK sound






  • In 1992 I read a stellar review in the magazine "Stereo Review" about the tiny Tannoy 603. The reviewer claimed it had some of the best imaging heard in their listening room and gave it top marks. I was looking for something fun to buy so I mail ordered a pair from the closest dealer in Kitchner, Ontario. They arrived along with a pair of metal 24" Tannoy speaker stands to match the 603s. Nice. But during this period I was seduced by large floor standing speakers and surround sound...and given their small size (13" or 33cm high) and low efficiency (86db/1 watt) the Tannoys seemed a little out of place. I used them in my bedroom for a while but that was about it.

     


    The original box
     

    Interesting faux marble inlay on top
    and on the speaker stand.
     

    Fast forward to 2017: my winter project was to revamp my smaller salon system which is made up of a Dynaco ST-70 some other fun equipment. I was updating the circuitry in my amp and also changing to new interconnects. Until then I had been been using a modest pair of small Klipsch KG1s on the Tannoy stands with nice results. In fact I had previously tried the 603s but something never clicked, they didn't have the detail and dynamics I had expected and I had packed them away. Then...I stumbled across an old 603 speaker review that recommended to not only take off the cloth speaker grill...but also the mesh cover over the tweeter. This never occurred to me as I thought the mesh on the tweeter was integral...but it popped right off...surprisingly held in place by the magnetism of the tweeter. See the Conclusion for the results.

     


    Mesh grill in place
     

    BELOW:
    Tannoy designed the 603 for "bi-wiring" using a slide-out jumper to separate the tweeter and woofer.
    Bi-wiring is an interesting concept in which two sets of speaker wires are run from the same amp output to the speaker.
    The concept is to reduce resistance along the speaker wires and allow the drivers to respond without interacting with each other.
    Sharp eyes will spot that I've mixed up the colored posts.

       

      BELOW: I took a look at the crossover to see if anything needed to be upgraded. Tannoy calls it a "High-quality minimalist crossover network". This is an understatement.

    Van Den Hul wiring is used according to Tannoy and the yellow "PW" capacitor is a quality polypropylene made by ICW of North Wales which is welcome on an entry level speaker. Using a single cap gives the tweeter only a 6 db slope...and the ported woofer has no crossover at all. This is not a bad design...but the crossover is sloppy with the leads twisted together, soldered and hot-glue slathered on. Considering the attention Tannoy spent on every aspect of this speaker including the bi-wiring feature...I find it puzzling that the crossover construction is so haphazard. It was advertised as a 'minimalist' crossover so I guess I cant complain.

    I may clean things up and resolder the parts at some point but see no need to replace anything.
     





     


    BELOW: a resurrected 603 in 2017 with newly revealed tweeter.

       

    Without the mesh grill the tweeter is exposed of course. And after only a couple of weeks of moving things around I noticed I had somehow nudged one of the domes and created a small dent(!) This is easily fixed by very lightly pressing duct tape into the dent using a fingernail..and ripping it out sideways. After several attempts I was able to pull the dent back out leaving a light mark. But this creates a whole extra layer of anxiety about loss of response, imaging, and sonic aberrations that may not even be audible. Online comments about whether or not a creased/repaired metal tweeter is OK are very conflicting. So rather than obsess I emailed Tannoy support and here was their response: "That dome is what reproduces the sound but a small crease or mark will not affect it. It will only be the look that would be any reason to replace it. If it was me I wouldn't worry about it. It will not affect its performance." So there you have it...the vendor says not to worry about it.

    Still not satisfied I did an evening of critical listening and determined that yes, the frequency response seemed unchanged. But at some frequencies such as on acoustic guitar I could detect moments where the imaging on that side seemed to drift for an instant, especially if I moved my head. This was barely perceptible and likely inaudible to anyone else...or maybe I was fooling myself. But I decided the fixed crease on the tweeter was causing some frequencies to 'beam' differently...if almost imperceptibly. For normal listening this is fine but in a system designed for purity-of-soundstage having one tweeter less than 100% bothered me.

    On a whim I contacted Tannoy again who replied that their NJ warehouse actually had one replacement 603 Tweeter still in stock. I ordered it and a few days later I was the proud owner of what may be the last new 603/605/607 MK1 tweeter on the planet...or at least in North America. The box was undated and dust free.

       

    BELOW: the tweeter looked new, no dents. But the rear foam gasket was stretched from sitting against the cardboard for who-knows-how-long. It went in with no issues and my speakers are now 'correct' again.

       

    CONCLUSION
    Tannoy rates this speaker as 60-30khz which is unusual in terms of treble response. Anything above 18khz is going to be inaudible and many CD players have filters in place above 20khz to block infrasonic noise created by its circuits. But knowing that Tannoy designed their tweeters to exceed the old 20khz standard is welcome.

    The result is that Tannoy's asymmetrical cabinet design, solid construction, and quality parts pays off. Even with such a simple crossover Tannoy appears to have tuned the cabinet response properly...with the grill and tweeter mesh off I found this speaker transformed from what I remembered. The treble has an open crystalline quality but with no etching or hyper detail. Imaging and subtle details in the music are pinpoint and surprisingly musical and realistic. The air in the sound-stage feels correct and airy. Because of its low efficiency loud or dynamic music doesn't result in leaping dynamics, its strength is more in creating a palpable musical tapestry between the speakers. The ported bass is pleasantly musical at moderate levels but not deep or strong...making this a nice speaker for critical low-volume listening but not the best choice as a forward speaker. A quality subwoofer is my next step.

    This pair of uncommon 25 year old Tannoys are now the speaker of choice in my listening system. The bi-wiring, polypropylene caps, and factory spikes add a fun bit of tweakiness and make listening to this inexpensive speaker a lot of fun. I'm glad I held onto them.



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