The Tannoy Westminster / PBN-DN308 Turntable / Audio Research System of Jimford

Ron Resnick

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Jan 24, 2015
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Yesterday I heard for the first time the system of WBF member Jimford. Jim has Westminster Royal - Gold Reference loudspeakers. This is a giant 300 pound box loudspeaker with a dual concentric tweeter/15" woofer combination which is horn loaded. The speaker has a 99 dB/watt sensitivity specification.

Each cabinet has a volume of 18.72 cubic feet (530 liters), and dimensions of approximately 55" x 39" x 22."

The speaker can be adjusted +/- 3dB over 1.0 kHz to 27 kHz for shelving, and +2dB to -6dB per octave over 5 kHz to 27 kHz for slope.


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Importantly, Jim has sitting on top of each speaker a vintage rebuilt Dukane DUK10 plasma tweeter. These tweeters receive a high pass signal at 7,500Hz.


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The turntable is a Denon DN308 which been reconditioned by Peter Noerbaek, proprietor of PBN Audio, into the PBN-DN308 Groovemaster Vintage Direct Drive turntable. The PBN website states:

Dubbed the DN308, it was created through the unique partnership of Denon and the Nippon Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) – and audio history was made.​

PBN?Audio has searched out and acquired several of these rare players, and has transformed them from their original commercial console mode into unique works of audio art: The PBN-DN308.​
Key components of the original electronics – most notably the unsurpassed motor – have been refurbished and reconfigured. Details, such as the speed selection switch and power toggle, have been retained. The model number plate and authenticating documents are provided as well. All original parts are from the same unit. A special LCD display shows the precise rpm, to 1/1000 per revolution, in real time. The start/stop backlit buttons showcase its lightning-quick response.​
The turntable sits on a steel plate with a gorgeous custom walnut top and sides. The turntable and the table top both sit on a pneumatic auto-leveling Vibraplane system modified by Peter Noerbaek for this purpose.

This turntable is amazing sonically, and gorgeous aesthetically. Anyone who is interested in direct drive turntables, in vintage turntables, or both, should seriously consider purchasing this turntable and custom table top and customized Vibraplane support stand.

On the PBN's tonearm rides a Hana cartridge.

Jim uses an Audio Research phono stage, line stage and stereo amplifier.

I think the sound from this system is very organic and natural and coherent. There is natural, smooth detail without anything being emphasized or etched. Bass is very strong but natural. The system is very dynamic.

I think many people would make the mistake of driving these 99dB sensitive speakers with five or 10 or 20 watts of flea power. I think Jim is very smart to drive them with 100 all-tube watts.

The center of gravity of the frequency balance of the speakers is in the lower frequencies, which is what I personally like. (I consider the center of gravity of the frequency balance of the vdH cartridges to be located in the treble range. This speaker is the opposite of that.)

Jazz instruments were extremely convincing. My test track "Great Gate of Kiev" from Chesky's Pictures at an Exhibition sounded fantastic!

My overriding sensation from the table set-up is "drive." I guess "drive" is what direct drive turntable aficionados want from their turntables, and I can hear why. The sound was alive, and propulsive.

Jim wants to put a second tonearm with a top-of-the-line cartridge on the PBN, and I think that a vdH Colibri Stradivarius or Master Signature cartridge on a 3012R might be amazing in this system.

I think the organic-ness and the coherence and the musicality comes from a single dual concentric driver in a gigantic cabinet horn loaded for high sensitivity prodigious bass and warmth-up frequency balance.

This vintage plasma tweeter was very cool. Without it I think the Westminster may have a more vintage sound with inadequate detail and too-soft high frequencies, but this is mere speculation. With these plasma tweeters the high frequencies sounded perfect to me. I can't really imagine the speakers without them. (Audiophiles who enjoy Soulution electronics on Magico speakers or MBL Reference electronics on MBL 101E Mk. II speakers will find this entire system unacceptably rolled-off in the high frequencies).

It helped a lot that Jim has a big room of 24 feet long, 20 feet wode and a 10 foot tall ceiling The speakers are located on the long side of the room. With a smaller room these speakers would not have been able to breathe and develop the wonderful soundstage I heard yesterday. Truly, the room is the single most important component of our systems.

This speaker sounds conceptually similar to JeffreyT's PBN M2!5 Jeff Tyo Special Edition speaker. I think Jeff's PBNs are slightly more neutral and more extended in the high frequencies, with less of a low frequency foundation type of sound.

My only criticism of the Tannoy is I feel that they are not the last word in transparency like I like and like I'm used to with electrostatic loudspeakers. I think these Tannoys are absolutely amazing on jazz and classical, and rock, but they would not be my first choice for solo vocals because of a slight diminution in transparency compared to ribbon speakers and to electrostatic speakers. But in fairness I think the transparency will go up a notch with a vdH cartridge.

I could sit and listen to this system all day. It sounds very analog, very musical!

Bravo, Jim, on an amazing system in a wonderful room!
 
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Drool.....
 
 
Nice review.

A couple of points. Tannoy is a 70 year old company, and the old drivers like blacks, silvers, and red, were 16 ohms, sensitivity dropped from black to red but was still high. At gold and HPD sensitivity dropped further and impedance further dropped to 8. Those colors of the drivers are also how tannoys chronologically evolved, HPD being the start of the rock era of the 70s.

The tannoys after that are the modem tannoys. The tunberry and Canterbury as well as the new kingdom Royale sound nowhere as good as the vintage ones. The Westminster I still need to listen in a proper set up, it sounded very promising at a dealer's that Gian introduced me to in Italy but we couldn't listen much at that time.

Tannoys see not meant for transparency and are different from electrostats. That is always their compromise if one wants that transparency. And adding VDH won't help that. Tannoy is about the coherence. They do equally good vocals to ribbons. When you go in to the room you feel it is colored and slow and then get lost in the musicality and feel like listening to it all day, as you mentioned.

It is like expecting fine dining but instead getting an earthy dish of rice or pasta and loving it.

A tannoy HPD 315a like Montesquieu owns or tannoy 15 inch gold is a very low priced set up by WBF standards but much more musical than 95 percent of the systems I have heard, and that can be beaten only by spending loads of money and time on an immaculate system, but very few systems are this room friendly and easy to listen to. We listened loud to a tannoy gold for 8 hours, rock and jazz, without fatigue

All the good tannoys I heard had updated crossovers. Tannoys were known for drivers not crossovers
 
I have never been able to bond with Tannoy speakers at shows, which is less a comment on Tannoy than the difficulty of assessing anything at shows and my lack of proper diversification. They look like they have the grits: not quite horns but full range with a bit of horn loading.

The ozone bat zappers are amongst the best tweeters ever. Enhanced high frequencies are a derivative of audiophilia more than nature. High frequencies should be folded in naturally rather than calling attention to themselves, which is a character that the Acapella tweeters have as well. Ion tweeters do a good job of blending rather than calling attention to themselves, which seems to be a characteristic of Acapella tweeters as well.
 
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. . .

Enhanced high frequencies are a derivative of audiophilia more than nature. High frequencies should be folded in naturally rather than calling attention to themselves, which is a character that the Acapella tweeters have as well.


I did not feel that these plasma tweeters called attention to themselves in anyway whatsoever.

Sean Casey taught me that the reproduction of information above the range of human hearing is about phase information which we don’t hear directly but somehow perceive.
 
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I misworded. My apologies. I meant to say that the ion tweeters are very natural sounding in the installations in which I have heard them and don't draw undue attention to themselves. i'll edit.
 
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I have never been able to bond with Tannoy speakers at shows, which is less a comment on Tannoy than the difficulty of assessing anything at shows and my lack of proper diversification. They look like they have the grits: not quite horns but full range with a bit of horn loading.

The ozone bat zappers are amongst the best tweeters ever. Enhanced high frequencies are a derivative of audiophilia more than nature. High frequencies should be folded in naturally rather than calling attention to themselves, which is a character that the Acapella tweeters have as well. Ion tweeters do a good job of blending rather than calling attention to themselves, which seems to be a characteristic of Acapella tweeters as well.

Those are neither vintage nor Westminster. The other modern models are not good
 
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I have never been able to bond with Tannoy speakers at shows, which is less a comment on Tannoy than the difficulty of assessing anything at shows and my lack of proper diversification. They look like they have the grits: not quite horns but full range with a bit of horn loading.

The ozone bat zappers are amongst the best tweeters ever. Enhanced high frequencies are a derivative of audiophilia more than nature. High frequencies should be folded in naturally rather than calling attention to themselves, which is a character that the Acapella tweeters have as well. Ion tweeters do a good job of blending rather than calling attention to themselves, which seems to be a characteristic of Acapella tweeters as well.
I agree with you 100%. I think that there are two issues with the show set ups I’ve heard:

1. There is a tendency to under drive the Tannoy a. They need power to really come alive.
2. The horn loaded Tannoys are best sounding Tannoys. The original Autograph Professionals are some of the best speakers I’ve ever heard.

Jim’s Tannoy system is well thought out and is indeed spectacular.
 
My only criticism of the Tannoy is I feel that they are not the last word in transparency like I like and like I'm used to with electrostatic loudspeakers. I think these Tannoys are absolutely amazing on jazz and classical, and rock, but they would not be my first choice for solo vocals because of a slight diminution in transparency compared to ribbon speakers and to electrostatic speakers. But in fairness I think the transparency will go up a notch with a vdH cartridge.

Nice write up, Ron. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts about this wonderful system. I'm curious why you think solo vocals are better served by a transparent speaker (system) than is classical music. To me, the more complex and large scale the music, the more important transparency is to get the full gestalt of the music. Of course, I agree that transparency is also important for solo vocals but perhaps even more so for choral music.

Also, you refer to the speakers as "...not the last word in transparency..." and then add that replacing the Hana cartridge with a vdH cartridge would take transparency up a notch. On the one hand you seem to think the speakers are responsible for the lack of transparency, and on the other hand you suggest replacing the cartridge. Could you clarify this?
 
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Nice write up, Ron. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts about this wonderful system. I'm curious why you think solo vocals are better served by a transparent speaker (system) than is classical music. To me, the more complex and large scale the music, the more important transparency is to get the full gestalt of the music. Of course, I agree that transparency is also important for solo vocals but perhaps even more so for choral music.

. . .

Thank you, Peter. I am not sure why I think solo vocals are better served by a transparent speaker (system) than is classical music. Maybe it is because when I listen to solo vocals I focus on transparency, and maybe when I listen to classical music I focus on tone and soundstage and dynamics. Maybe it's as simple as that for whatever reason I don't think about transparency when I listen to classical music. Maybe it's because I think that a voice is a more unique sound than is a classical music instrument. These are just theories, as I am not sure of the answer to your question.

Each of us is particularly sensitive to certain sonic attributes. I love vocals, and, I guess, with the passage of time and experience and listening to systems, I feel that I focus on, and that I am good at parsing and assessing, subtle differences in vocals transparency among different speakers. In my mind I feel that I have a database of how vocals on my test tracks sound on Martin-Logan electrostatic speakers (which I had for over 20 years) and Magnepan speakers (which I had for about three years and now hear fairly regularly at the house of a friend who has MG-20.7s). Maybe it's that I have not spent nearly as much time listening to classical music as I have spent listening to vocals.

Conversely, I apparently am poor at hearing driver discontinuity, and I am not good at hearing ambient cues which delineate the physical boundaries of a venue.
 
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. . .

Also, you refer to the speakers as "...not the last word in transparency..." and then add that replacing the Hana cartridge with a vdH cartridge would take transparency up a notch. On the one hand you seem to think the speakers are responsible for the lack of transparency, and on the other hand you suggest replacing the cartridge. Could you clarify this?

I understand the confusion, and I should have been more clear -- disaggregating the question of transparency of the speakers from the question of transparency of the cartridge.

In this hobby the price of a component often is not highly correlated with the sound quality of a component. However, Jim's Hana cartridge is quite modest in terms of cost, and I assume that replacing it with almost any one of the top-of-the-line cartridges we often talk about on the forum would improve the transparency of the system overall.

For example, I am confident that whatever is the level of transparency offered by the Tannoy speakers, switching from the Hanna cartridge to a vdH Colibri would improve the overall transparency of Jim's system. Nothing is going to make the Tannoys manifest the transparency of electrostatic speakers, but I think that changing to a cartridge renowned for transparency and presence and "aliveness," such as the Colibri, would incrementally improve the transparency of the system overall.
 
I used to own westminster royal se.
They did certain things very well such as scale and snare drum. But they were no match for my monitor golds (10” and 15”) in terms of openess, speed and musicality. In direct comparison even the 10” mgs murdered the westminsters. A lot of people were very surprised when they heard it.

So I sold the westminsters.

Jesper
 
I used to own westminster royal se.
They did certain things very well such as scale and snare drum. But they were no match for my monitor golds (10” and 15”) in terms of openess, speed and musicality. In direct comparison even the 10” mgs murdered the westminsters. A lot of people were very surprised when they heard it.

So I sold the westminsters.

Jesper
With what type of enclosure? With Tannoys, the secret to their success is in the implementation.
 
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I have not heard other Tannoys so I should not be writing this as it is pure speculation, but my instinct strongly tells me that it is the unique combination of the concentric driver + the back-loaded horn that gives the Westminster its high sensitivity and horn-like sonics.

Hey here's an idea: is there a way to meld in a giant cabinet a back-loaded horn design to an electrostatic panel or a ribbon driver in front? :D
 
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Those interested in Tannoy will be happy to know that the out of print The Tannoy Story was updated and reprinted:

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/192980824953

Long ago I was offered a pair of used Westminster TW at a very nice price - unfortunately they were too large and heavy for me. Today I would love to know how it sounds with the Marantz Project T1!

I bought this reprint after hunting for an original copy for years, but was disapponted when reading it. It's got very little really on the hifi side of the business, and in particular not much at all on the evolution of the Monitor Series speakers which is what I was interested in. Much more about PA systems, international expansion, wartime innovation, and Tannoy founder G.R Fountain being a naughty boy with successive personal assistants.

I think the definitive history of Tannoy as a hifi company still needs to be written.
 
Thank you, Peter. I am not sure why I think solo vocals are better served by a transparent speaker (system) than is classical music. Maybe it is because when I listen to solo vocals I focus on transparency, and maybe when I listen to classical music I focus on tone and soundstage and dynamics. Maybe it's as simple as that for whatever reason I don't think about transparency when I listen to classical music. Maybe it's because I think that a voice is a more unique sound than is a classical music instrument. These are just theories, as I am not sure of the answer to your question.

Each of us is particularly sensitive to certain sonic attributes. I love vocals, and, I guess, with the passage of time and experience and listening to systems, I feel that I focus on, and that I am good at parsing and assessing, subtle differences in vocals transparency among different speakers. In my mind I feel that I have a database of how vocals on my test tracks sound on Martin-Logan electrostatic speakers (which I had for over 20 years) and Magnepan speakers (which I had for about three years and now hear fairly regularly at the house of a friend who has MG-20.7s). Maybe it's that I have not spent nearly as much time listening to classical music as I have spent listening to vocals.

Conversely, I apparently am poor at hearing driver discontinuity, and I am not good at hearing ambient cues which delineate the physical boundaries of a venue.

As you said 20 years on Martin-Logan or Soundlab electrostatic speakers spoils us on transparency. But listening to speakers such as ESL63, the Sonus Faber Aida, the XLF or the fabulous WAMM on voices made me see that the Martin-Logan or Soundlab are not the champions on transparency on vocals - although they are uniformly driven by a large thin diaphragm they have a panel coloration, may be due to the ragged frequency response due to interference between the sound coming from different areas of the large panel. I must say that listening to girl on guitar music or Belafonte did not make me aware of this issue - listening to voices in classical music, particularly female soprano's in ancient music, recitals or opera shows it much more clearly.

Listening to Decca recordings of opera in the WAMM's was a traumatic experience - although it was just CDs that were being played, it surpassed by far the best I have listened in top systems using tape or vinyl concerning voice transparency and realism. To the point that at some moment we fear that our analysis of single pieces of equipment is mostly an analysis of the limitations of the speaker ...
 

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