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Tannoy's old-school speaker tech wows audiophiles

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

The Tannoy Prestige Kensingston SE without grille Tannoy

I've reviewed or listened to a lot of speakers over the years. Hundreds and hundreds of them, and I instantly forget most of them, but I guarantee that if someone asks me about the Tannoy Prestige Kensington SE speaker in 10 years, I won't have a problem remembering what it sounded like.

Tannoy, founded in 1926, currently 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. Tannoy is based in North Lanarkshire, Scotland.

The Kensington SE has a 10-inch, dual-concentric driver and a mahogany-veneered, high-density birch wood cabinet. 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 ($13,120 a pair) is one of the newer Prestige models, just 7 years old, and the entire line was upgraded to SE status with newly designed crossovers and internal wiring in 2007. Tannoy also sells speakers for under $1,000 a pair.

The speaker's front panel hosts a conspicuous set of tone controls for the tweeter labeled "Treble Energy" and "Treble Roll Off." That sort of tweakability is rare in high-end speakers, but it lets you dial in exactly the right treble balance to accommodate your room's acoustics.

Measuring 43.5 inches high, 16 inches wide, and 13.3 inches 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.

Old-school jazz, courtesy of Milt Jackson and Wes Montgomery's "Bags Meet Wes!" CD was startlingly realistic-sounding. Jackson's shimmering vibes were fully 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 from wall-to-wall in the listening room.

The recently remastered Rolling Stones CDs didn't sound much different from the old versions, but the Kensington SEs brought out the best in their music. If you're into rock, the Kensington SE's sock will blow you away; 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 more delicious-sounding than any box or panel speaker I've heard in ages.

The complete Kensington SE review is available on the Home Entertainment magazine Web site.