Photos: Mark Ewing
Tannoy have earned a good reputation for their range of active nearfield monitors with the well-proven Precision series, and the range was augmented last year by the Precision iDP model. It is available in two sizes, one with a six-inch and the other with an eight-inch bass driver. It's the latter model, the Precision 8iDP, that is reviewed here.
The iDP is really an amalgamation of two pre-existing products: the iDP system (borrowed from parent company TC Electronic, and first introduced by Tannoy in their Ellipse monitors); and the original Precision 8 monitor, which employs Tannoy's Wideband and Dual-Concentric technologies. The Precision monitor was first seen as long ago as 2005, with the passive Precision 6 being reviewed in the pages of SOS in August of that year.
The iDP acronym stands for 'Interactive Digital Programming', which is a digital technology that provides digital inputs and easy interconnection of multiple monitors, with facilities for accurate level-matching and remote control, as well as accommodating a host of EQ functionality for general tonal tweaking, room alignment and bass management purposes. More of that later; I'll turn first to the more conventional aspects of these monitors.
Tannoy's Precision monitors are very solidly built from MDF, with stable tongue-and-groove joints and a 40mm-thick sculpted front baffle (which helps reduce cabinet-edge diffraction). The overall size is 440 x 272 x 369mm and each cabinet weighs a sturdy 17kg. The baffle supports three drivers on a brushed-aluminium panel, and the cabinet is ported to the rear. Magnetic compensation for the drivers is included as standard (so you can place these monitors near 'legacy' CRT displays without problems).
The main driver is an eight-inch dual-concentric design with paper cones, the claimed advantage of the dual-concentric approach being more accurate stereo imaging and a wider 'sweet spot'. The idea is that the majority of the spectrum is reproduced from the same small source area — the HF emerges from the centre of the LF driver — rather than from two spatially separated drivers, as with most speaker designs.
The upper driver on the baffle is referred to as a wideband 'super-tweeter' and is a one-inch titanium-dome device. Tannoy are not alone in producing wideband monitors, and while the reproduction of audio content to 50kHz may seem unwarranted in many cases, there are valid technical benefits, including more accurate phase and transient responses. It seems incongruous to combine a separate and spatially removed super-tweeter with a system that trumpets the sonic advantages of its dual-concentric design, but in practice the system does retain very stable imaging, so separating the super-tweeter appears not to be detrimental.
The two crossover points are given in the specifications as a DSP-performed crossover at 1.7kHz for the dual-concentric unit, and a passive analogue crossover at 16kHz for the super-tweeter. The complete system boasts an overall response (within a commendable ±2dB margin) of 43Hz to 51kHz, and the maximum continuous SPL is stated as 120dB. Interestingly, both the frequency-response margin and the SPL figures appear to have improved slightly on the original active Precision 8D model.
The built-in amplification comprises two 200W Class-D amps, one driving the bass unit and the other driving both the dual-concentric tweeter and the super-tweeter. Class D is a very power-efficient topology, and this design consumes a mere 45W on average. The power supply is a switch-mode type, able to accommodate mains voltages between 100V and 240V AC.
The iDP system is in use on a wide range of monitors now, both from Tannoy and TC Electronic's other studio speaker manufacturer, Dynaudio Acoustics (in the Air series). It is a well-thought-out system that is reasonably intuitive to use and immensely powerful, and works with pairs of master and slave speakers, plus optional subwoofer(s). Only the master monitor carries the audio inputs (analogue and digital), with the signal reaching the slave via a 'TC-link' Cat 5 cable. More Cat 5 sockets provide a daisy-chain link to other speakers in larger systems (for example, 2.1 or 5.1 arrays), as well as to the supplied remote control unit.
The Cat 5 networking interface carries more than just audio to the slave speakers — there is also real-time control data, including volume control and mute/solo for each speaker, and static control data used to configure each speaker's DSP facilities for alignment and room-correction purposes. Although it is technically feasible to set up the entire system from the small display on the master unit, it is infinitely easier and faster to use the supplied iDP Soft configuration software. A far more comprehensive 'Installer's' software suite (PC-iP) is also optionally available. This includes much more sophisticated alignment facilities, as well as providing access to the room-correction EQs and delays.
In the Tannoy iDP implementation, the standard master speaker can accept stereo digital audio via an AES3 (XLR) input, with sample rates between 32 and 96 kHz (an option caters for 192kHz, if this is required). The default internal sample rate is 96kHz, and a BNC word-clock input is also provided. A removable panel accepts analogue inputs, again on a pair of XLRs. Four selectable operating levels are provided to set the DSP full-scale point to +9, +15, +21 or +27dBu. The converters are 128x oversampling, dual-bit delta-sigma types, with a dynamic range of 113dB (unweighted, 20kHz bandwidth).
If required, the analogue input card can be swapped out for a dual digital-input card, so that all six channels of a 5.1 signal can be connected to the one master monitor and distributed from that to the other speakers via Cat 5 cables. If multiple master monitors are in use (for example, in a 5.1 array using analogue inputs), then one master monitor has to be configured as the system master controller, and this is done with a simple push-button on the rear panel.
When the system is plugged up and turned on for the first time, the master monitor scans all the connected speakers (identified by their serial numbers) to identify what is connected, and then the user can program the appropriate role of each monitor (front right, rear left, or whatever).
The discreet backlit display on the front of the master monitor is surrounded by four buttons: Exit, Enter, Up and Down. These enable the configuration menu to be navigated and the appropriate system parameters established. The high-level menus are divided into bass management, setup, recall preset, and utility options. Pressing 'Enter' at the desired menu then opens the appropriate submenu in a very intuitive way.
The bass-management menu provides options for crossovers of 50, 80 or 120 Hz, and for no crossover. The setup menu enables the speaker array to be defined with modes for analogue, digital or the 192kHz digital input options, and in stereo or 5.1 surround configurations. The necessary arrangement of monitors is specific for each mode, but the manual makes everything very clear, with good diagrams and descriptions of how everything has to be wired up — although, once you grasp the basic premise, it's really not rocket science.
Once the system knows what kind of setup it is working as, you can allocate the required channel function of each speaker. Further options allow you to select the external word-clock reference, set the analogue input levels and enter the calibration mode. This last setting allows the position of the speaker to be defined (wall, corner, console, and so on) and the DSP to generate pink noise for room measurements to be made. The calibration level can then be set, along with simple ±6dB bass and treble equalisation.
The remaining menu options allow specific configurations to be stored or recalled from memory (with 15 factory and 15 user locations), and for the standby and power-save time durations to be established. The monitors will go into standby mode after between 15 and 90 minutes (although there is also an 'off' mode), and power-save after between one and five hours.
The monitors are supplied with the iDP Remote panel, which is a neat handheld or desktop panel (see photo on previous page) with 12 push-buttons and a rotary control. It connects via any spare RJ45 socket on any speaker, using another standard TC-link cable. The main function is to provide volume control for the entire system (stereo, 2.1 or 5.1) and, to make life easier, the top three buttons provide access to a trio of configurable reference listening levels, while the second row of buttons accesses four system presets.
At the bottom of the panel, six more buttons serve as mute or solo buttons for each speaker in a 5.1 channel configuration. Although arguably a luxury in a simple stereo system, this iDP Remote really comes into its own in a surround setup.
The supplied iDP Soft is a configuration editor that makes setting up an iDP array much easier and quicker than all that front-panel button pressing! I ran it on a PC laptop, but it will also work on a Mac running OS X. A serial-port-to-TC-link cable is provided as standard, although a USB serial-port adaptor is also available.
The graphical interface is, once again, very intuitive and easy to use, with just three sub-pages from the main page. The latter allows the volume of the system to be controlled, the reference listening level buttons to be programmed, the presets to be edited, and each individual speaker's parameters to be accessed (through separate sub-pages). The other main sub-pages cover system configuration, speaker calibration and network setup.
In conjunction with a sound-level meter positioned at the listening position, I was able to configure, control and align the level of each speaker in a stereo pair within a few minutes, and a full 5.1 system wouldn't take much longer. The iDP Soft editor also made it easy to experiment with the overall EQ, and I ended up turning the treble down by 1dB to tame a perceived tendency to brightness in my room.
The Precision 8 has always been a good-sounding monitor, with a reasonably neutral and detailed sound, possibly tending a little towards a bright or forward character. The bottom end is smooth and well controlled, but I found it tended to sound a little shy on some material. After some extended listening I came to the conclusion that, in fact, the bass is quite accurate and well extended for a box of this size, but the slightly bright tonal balance tends to give a misleading impression. Trimming the built-in equalisation by -1dB to tame the upper end fractionally seemed to produce a more balanced sound (to my ears), and removed my earlier concerns about a weak bass response. In my case, the monitors were also sited well away from walls in a fairly large room — and in a smaller room with closer wall proximity the bass would tend to fill out more anyway.
However, a monitor of this size will never be able to deliver the 'liver quiver' experience, so for those who like having their internal organs gently massaged by low bass it would be sensible to budget for one of the matching subwoofers — the TS212 iDP or the TS112 iDP — which can be integrated very well, thanks to the DSP alignment facilities.
The Precision 8iDP is quite a powerful performer, and it can certainly handle big transient peaks without difficulty. At normal, modest listening levels the resolution is very good. Cranking them up to big-room levels tended to undo all the good work, though, as the sound started to get messy and more veiled the harder I pushed it. But, of course, this is unlikely to be an issue in the average home studio, with the speakers working in their intended nearfield role.
The Precision 8iDP is based on a well-established and capable performer, and the application of the iDP technology extends its flexibility further. In a simple stereo setup, the additional cost of the iDP version over the standard active 8D model probably outweighs the benefits. However, in a more complex 2.1 system — and especially in a 5.1 array — the iDP technology really comes into its own, and the more so if your room acoustics are sufficiently good to warrant a full digital response alignment.
There are plenty of active monitors around, and a growing number are using DSP facilities to enhance sonic performance — such as the Digidesign RM-series monitors we reviewed last year. However, at present only Tannoy and Dynaudio Acoustics can offer the kind of integration and remote control/configuration facilities provided in the iDP system. Consequently, the only speakers that can be compared directly to the Precision 8iDPs are Dynaudio's Air series.
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