Stanley Clarke’s ‘Soldier’ and ‘Fulani’ from The Stanley Clarke Band [Heads Up] was fast, dynamic and exciting on the XT 8F, with much of the speed and impact his bass playing has live. Lots of loudspeakers impress with a deep and powerful bass, but to properly appreciate Stanley Clarke you need a loudspeaker which can also do fast and tuneful bass, with oodles of attack. The XT 8Fs don’t disappoint in this area, and I suspect it is the integration with the high frequency output that contributes much to its success in this particular regard. Bass is certainly full, rich, and satisfying, with none of that wooliness or flabbiness you can get when a loudspeaker has perhaps been voiced to keep a lid on things. The overall effect, in terms of impact and scale, is considerably more engaging and entertaining than some of its peers.
Piano is rich in tone and powerful in effect, too: ‘I wish I knew how it would feel to be free’ by the Billy Taylor Trio, Music Keeps Us Young [Arkadia Jazz], had a sonorous and expansive piano, with agile and tuneful bass registers, and a strong sense of mass without being ponderous or heavy. That said, the piece just ‘is what it is’, enjoyable but without much sense of a musical journey to a destination. If it has a fault, the Tannoy probably lacks a little of the ability to convey the subtlest messages in the music. But then, it gives you much more than many others do of the big picture, in terms of space, freedom, and dynamics.
In some respects, the Tannoy comes across as the antithesis to something like the, broadly similarly-priced, Monitor Audio Silver 8s that I reviewed a few issues back. The MAs are very good loudspeakers that rarely put a foot far out of line. In comparison, the Tannoys are somewhat more bullish and, perhaps, a little uncouth, but they sure know how to have a good time. If the MAs are a well-trained Labrador, honest, reliable, and solid, then the Tannoys might be a Springer Spaniel, loads of energy, fun, and boundless enthusiasm, but prone to knocking over the occasional vase. Neither speaker has the monopoly on rightness, nor any fatal flaws, but you’d be unlikely to find that both will float your boat equally, and much will depend on personal taste and preference.
The downside to the Tannoys’ ebullience is a certain lack of finesse. I have a number of ‘system-killer’ tracks, one of which - Jack de Johnette’s ‘Ahmad the Terrible’ from Album Album [ECM] – I tried with the Tannoys in place. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t inflict this track on a modestly-priced component, it just feels unfair, but there was something about the Tannoys which hinted that they might not, in fact, fall apart at the seams. True, the presentation was a little shrill and slightly disjointed, compared to my regular Focal 1028Bes (which, let us not forget, are over four times the price), it didn’t really settle into its groove, and the band didn’t gel together quite the way I know they can. All that said, it did exhibit very good dynamics and got a lot closer to the essence of the music than many a loudspeaker I’ve tried it on, much to its credit. It probably serves to highlight what I’d categorise as the compromise in the Tannoy design; a mild lack of polish and subtlety (if Downton Abbey had a pair, they would probably remain below stairs). In a similar way, Melody Gardot’s ‘Amalia’ from The Absence [Decca] flowed in a very natural way, but lacked the ultimate sense of intimacy I was looking for. All that said, I’d rather have something come over as a little larger than life, than as halfway to the grave.
It’s not a high-end giant-killer, but it more than hints at what is possible, which is more than I can say for a fair few of its peers. It may seem as though I’ve focussed on the flaws rather than the good points, and it is important to keep in mind that any flaws are mostly shown in relief because most of the other stuff is entirely natural and doesn’t draw attention to itself. So, you perceive the really good stuff, the dynamics, the scale, and the ability to paint a big and interesting picture, and you get to know the niggles too, but the stuff which just quietly gets on with things doesn’t merit discussion. Me? I’ll take fun and a bit wayward over safe and secure every time, unless we’re talking brain surgery.