At a certain phase in life, a modern man dwells in a space lesser in size than a three-door garage. So fitting big, booming speaker boxes in there is out of the question. One then tries something different – the “cozy and cool” approach – making the place worthy of the occasional wineglass and that not-so-shabby movie, or a few tracks from a new album. I think that a hardwood floor would work better than carpet.
Tannoy’s HTS (Home Theatre System) is designed with that sort of setting in mind. The series has gone with a different direction from its higher-end counterpart, the futuristic-looking Arena speakers that I’m familiar with, in terms of visual styling. By that I don’t mean that the HTS system contains dull, rigid wooden boxes packed into a big cardboard box. This 5.1 speaker system features a merry, cherry wood finish that’s contemporary yet classic. There’s an extra element to it that says sleek and slick; the satellite speakers have a contour that tapers towards the back. From atop, the satellites are like spades, the suit of suits. The centre channel is essentially a satellite stacked on top of another and placed sideways.
The HTS100 package contains four satellite speakers each with a 3-inch paper cone driver and a 3/4-inch tweeter, a centre channel which has a tweeter sandwiched by two woofers, and an 8-inch subwoofer. The manual indicated that there should also be a cradle for the centre channel, but it was missing from my evaluation set. The $899 HTS100 is one of two configurations in the HTS line. For an extra $350, the HTS200 version gives you two towers for the front and two satellites for the back, plus a centre and a sub to complete the 5.1 system. Both HTS packages come supplied with wall brackets for each satellite speaker, but if desired, floor stands are available separately for $139 for a pair. Tannoy provided the floor stands with my evaluation set.
The subwoofer was the only challenging piece of the HTS100 set to work with because like all subwoofers, it’s a large wooden box. Not that it’s bad-looking, as it’s wrapped in a fine cherry finish, but it’s not too sleek either, like the delicate satellites. There is a bit of a size difference I am afraid. Naturally then, placing the sub gave me a bit of consideration, especially because it wasn’t the smallest of subs and my space was rather limited. The set up guide suggests that the subwoofer crossover frequency be adjusted to around 100 Hz, as that’s about how low the satellites will play. After some experimentation with the placement of the sub, I finally found a spot that seemed like a good compromise between performance and positioning.
The rest of the setup – not that the subwoofer actually came first on my order list – was straight forward enough. The set up guide comes with instructions for assembling the satellites with stands. I wish the accompanying pictures were as clear as the rest of the guide, but even if you are to skip the instructions, intuition will pull you through. The setup is nothing out of the ordinary for a 5.1 speaker configuration. But make sure to have a wire-cutter/stripper ready, as a roll of speaker wire, enough for a compact space, has been provided to get you started.
I paired my HTS100 with a Cambridge Audio Azur 540R A/V receiver and a 540D DVD player, and to start my audition, I popped in a couple of blockbusters including the special extended edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Minority Report. My hi-fi furniture arrangement restricted me to placing the centre channel on the TV stand, on a shelf below the TV. At first there was a bit of a gap between the audio and the visuals, as the audio was not at exactly at my hearing level from where I was comfortably seated. I had to do something about that. Then it occurred to me that the centre channel was without a flat bottom, so there was flexibility in directing the sound towards me. Naturally I would have used the centre channel cradle but since it was missing, I grabbed a standard DVD case, not as thick as the LOTR case that housed 4 discs, and placed it under the speaker to raise its front. The opening narration, when Cate Blanchett tells the history of Middle-earth, immediately transformed into convincing storytelling. In fact it became quite fascinating. The DVD-as-a-stand solution wasn’t the prettiest, but the improvement in centre channel clarity was well worth it.
The surround effects were pleasant, especially having come from a few speakers slightly larger than your average-sized mugs. Again, I had to play with the subwoofer location to hide the boom, but it wasn’t a challenge to bring action sequences to life. Some of that spiteful howl from those dreadful dragons in LOTR ended up almost larger than life; of course, monitoring monster noises in motion pictures wasn’t this speaker set’s primary job. The HTS100 did its bit to ensure that whatever audio was fed to the speakers, came out adequately filling my smaller listening space.
Minority Report fared even better than LOTR on the HTS100. The conversations were sharp and their separation from the ambience layer was clear. There were scenes with rain in the background and I was happy that it remained in the background. The soundtrack had a bit of boom in it, but since I am no time-traveler, it might very well be how stun guns will sound in the future – I can’t be sure about that. But one thing was certain to me; the Tannoy HTS100 was a good home entertainment system that packed a surprisingly powerful sound at times into small speakers.
Perhaps the advantage that the HTS100 set offers over other speaker packages is its musicality, something that is synonymous with Tannoy. I was to confirm this with a little bit of jazz and classical. My first album of choice was the re-mastered Bill Evans Trio 1962 album Exploration, which featured such timeless tracks as Israel, Beautiful Love and How Deep Is the Ocean. If you know your jazz, I need not rave about Bill Evans and his drummer and bassist friends, each a significant part of a great jazz trio. Israel started off the album with some nice solo moments of percussions and bass alike and that gave me serious material for dissecting the bass part for the audition. Particularly during the low, plucked bass line, the sub revealed a little overweight issue with some of the bass notes. I would have enjoyed slightly cleaner bass but this is not surprising from a complete speaker package, especially at this price point. Reducing the volume gave the bass relief, which I enjoyed – I often think basses are overplayed – but some people would no doubt prefer otherwise.
My second selection was Midnight Sugar by Yamamoto Trio on XRCD, a 1998 album with superior sound and superior engineering compared to the previous disc. I was fond of the musical personality of the HTS package with this album the most. The sound penetrated well and was exciting. The familiar “I’m a Fool to Want You” track promptly played with the soulful character that I sought. Even though I maintain that the bass tended to be slightly boomy, overall, in the music department Tannoy was in a class of its own.
Finally, owing to my belief that no good audition is complete without a sample of classical music, I decided to play a CD with the blast of a full pipe organ, just to hear a different kind of bass, the type with a massive amount of air only machines can displace through thick pipes, something that nothing else could give, except maybe the whistle of Titanic. The one and only Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor by Bach – played by the great Simon Preston on my Deustche Gramophone CD – operated the biggest pipe on an organ. The subwoofer did well with this non-percussive bass. Of course I need to keep things in perspective, this was a compact system and my space was limited. I didn’t exactly experience a full cathedral of an acoustic effect, but that’s something most stereo systems don’t achieve in much higher price ranges. The HTS100 system costs a small fraction of what one might expect to pay for serious hi-fi, but you get much more than fractional sound or fragmental music. You get the Tannoy-approved music, in a miniature package. To say the HTS100 is a speaker package of exceptional value is an understatement.
The best thing about these Tannoy speakers is that you can truly hide the hi-fi but still hear all that you need. So why not please yourself with the audio that doesn’t cram your space with unmanageably large speakers. The subwoofer is the only component that might require some love to finally comfortably settle somewhere. Just don’t put it in the doorway and you are halfway there. I was pleasantly satisfied with what I saw and heard, and I didn’t even need to utilize any wineglasses. But I’ll look into that, later, when there’s time.
Distributed in North America by TC|Group Americas (519) 745-1158
$899 MSRP (CAD)
$139/pair of optional speaker stands
Tannoy HTS100 Satellites and Centre Channel
• Recommended amplifier power: 25 – 100 Watts
• Sensitivity: 87 dB
• Frequency response (-6dB): 100Hz to 40kHz
• Crossover frequency: 3 kHz
• Satellite impedance: 6 ohms
• Center channel impedance: 6 ohms
• Power output: 100 Watts
• Frequency response (-6dB): 29 Hz – 200 Hz
• Crossover frequency: 50 Hz to 200 Hz variable control