View Full Version : Vintage Tannoys compared to the Harbeth Sound (recording v. broadcast speakers)

Don Sawall
11-02-2010, 07:53 AM
I'm curious as both Tannoy and Harbeth are famous speaker manufacturers from England, how you would describe the differences between their "house sounds".

Thank you.

11-02-2010, 09:11 AM
Please have a look at the following link:


Then, big differences arise in manufacturing and sound/driving characteristics. Of course, the biggest is their time gap... Tannoys were a 60's-70's speaker design, so, if found today, their age should be a very big issue. Tannoy has become a more "commercialy oriented" company lately, moving on to home theater. They do make some low budget speakers. Their top class ones cost a lot and need quite some room to be positioned, so it becomes almost useless to compare with Harbeths. As a musician, you would need some true -yet comfortably listening- monitors, ideal for near field fatigue free listening I guess. Couldn't do better than Harbeths IMHO.

Hope this helps a little,


11-02-2010, 10:05 AM
Of course, these days the Tannoy company is owned by the Danish. I'm not sure if that has any influence on the sound of the latest ones.

I have heard the big Tannoys over the years and they are certainly impressive. But I also vividly recall about six years ago delivering a pair of M40s to a TV studio (that makes the programme Countdown) where they had a pair of huge Tannoys as commercial TV sometimes installed in the 1970s. Before we switched over to the 40s I was curious to hear how the panellists voices sounded on their existing speakers. Interesting. When we switched over, a blanket was lifted off the sound: not only could you hear the lip sounds and clear high frequencies on the 40s, but you could place the performers across the stereo sound stage with precision. It was a shock for all. I left them there, they raised the PO the following week and they're in use every day.

This really should be no surprise: huge paper cones drives cannot, obviously, resolve fine detail. Papier mache (pulped paper fibres in glue) from which paper cones are made cannot be considered an engineering material. Take a look here (http://www.papiermache.co.uk/tutorials/getting-started-with-papier-mache/) and here (http://www.papiermache.co.uk/tutorials/some-advanced-papier-mache-recipes/) and here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaLmdRBvGG4) to see why. The first rule of speaker cones is ... 'it must be completely repeatable, batch after batch, year after year and be non-hygroscopic'.

Don Sawall
12-02-2010, 12:25 AM
Thank you both, gentlemen for sharing your comments with me. I myself have never heard any of the vintage Tannoys yet, in fact I still haven't been able to hear any Harbeth's as of yet either. There are no dealers nearby and I haven't been able to get enough time off to make a weekend roadtrip to visit a dealer. I'm a patient man and I will be able to make the trip at some point. Considering the history of vintage Tannoys being used in recording studios as well as the Harbeths being well known for that and both being from England....I was just curious how their sounds compared to one another.

Thank you for your observations.

12-02-2010, 09:36 AM
...Considering the history of vintage Tannoys being used in recording studios as well as the Harbeths being well known for that ...Not quite correct. Harbeth's are not found (often) in recording studios. We've explained here why that is (it's to do with our optimised replay level which happens to be about 85dB, the same as you listen at home). Our market is broadcast studios, which is a fundamentally different market to recording studios where they play at ear shattering levels. Harbeths are definitely not designed for that!

Links to this discussion about recording studios and broadcast studio application here (http://www.harbeth.co.uk/usergroup/showthread.php?265-Which-is-most-suitable-for-my-room#post2920).

12-02-2010, 04:10 PM
N.... Our market is broadcast studios, which is a fundamentally different market to recording studios where they play at ear shattering levels. Harbeths are definitely not designed for that!..[/URL].

I am unable to understand the underlying difference between the two from the link provided. Could you explain why a recording speakers played at moderate level cannot be used for broadcasting?



12-02-2010, 05:19 PM
I know that I've covered this in great detail here, but I can't find it. A better understanding may be here (http://www.harbeth.co.uk/usergroup/showthread.php?623-My-existing-speakers-sound-thin-when-I-turn-down-the-volume-can-Harbeth-help-me). We discussed it within the last eyar - can anyone help me out with the link? I think we talked about 85dB in the broadcast studio v. 120dB in the recording studio.

Could explain why a recording speakers played at moderate level be used for broadcasting?That's not what I'm saying directly although it may well be true. The essential point is that the way the ear perceives loudness is not flat. That's covered in the (shocking?) ISO226 here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal-loudness_contour#Recent_revision_aimed_at_more_pre cise_determination_-_ISO_226:2003). Now, if you look at that graph on the right you'll see a number of red wiggly curves running left to right, from low frequencies to high frequencies. None of those red lines are flat - right? Yet we're indoctrinated to think that our audio equipment must be ruler flat from low to high frequencies, and whether played quietly (red lines the bottom of the graph) or loud (red lines further up the graph. But as you can quiet clearly see, the average healthy ear's characteristics sensitivity shown by the red line is neither flat across the band at any particular loudness (i.e any one red line) nor is it flat as the loudness increases. In fact.,the shape changes markedly as loudness increases. The ear is extremely non-linear - but the variation in non-linearity from one listener to another is very small. In other words, the ear is predictably non-linear. This is hugely advantageous to audio designers.

What does this mean?

A speaker designer should have in mind a particular loudness that his customers will listen at ...
that means, he should be sensitive to which red line is applicable to the loudness that his targetcustomer will be listening at
He should not expect his speaker to sound as well balanced when played much louder or much quieter because ...
his listener will be listening 'along' another red curve and his hearing will be somewhat different.

So, a speaker intentionally designed to be 'hammered' at 120dB will be sonically (and mechanically) optimised for a completely different red curve to one designed to be used at home, or in a broadcast studio where the levels are typically around 85dB. Does this help? If you trace along the lines at 100 and at the threshold of hearing you'll see that the biggest variation in shape between the curves is towards the left side of the graph i.e. in the bass frequencies.

13-02-2010, 02:26 AM
Thank you, Alan. Now I understand the main difference between broadcast and recording speakers. But...why would the recording studio want to use a loudspeaker designed to be played at much louder level than we normally listen to? Or is it most current recording meant to be played at insanely loud level?

I listen to songs mainly recorded to be played in cinema (you can they are part of the soundtrack) and I have noticed when these songs played in a discotheque or hall their sound balance is different from what I hear at home which now I understand better why that is so with your explanation.


13-02-2010, 09:30 AM
I'm going to create a new thread for my response. This is such an interesting subject to me. Continued here (http://www.harbeth.co.uk/usergroup/showthread.php?777).

Don Sawall
18-02-2010, 08:03 PM
Hi Alan,

Thank you for going into such excellent detail explaining the differences between the recording studios and broadcast studios. You provided some wonderful reasoning and I enjoyed the links that you shared as well.