The Tannoy Highline Arena 500 5.1-Channel Speaker System Page 2
Surprisingly, the supplied system, with a pair of satellites in the rear on integrated stands retails for $5,438, or $28 more ($18 more not including the $10 mystery system discount). That's because while the satellites cost $180 less per speaker, the stands cost $189 each. In other words, if you want this Tannoy system and can accommodate rear towers, go for them!
In terms of the "thing" itself, the NHT Classic system provides far more for the money and better value in terms of sheer mass, driver power, electronic flexibility and the ability to move huge amounts of air and produce prodigious bass. But that doesn't necessarily translate into better overall sonic performance, as I quickly found out!
The Sound of Five Tiny Dual Concentric Drivers
Directly out of the box the Tannoy system surprised with its pristine, well-organized and timbrally ideal sonic performance. I don't use the word "ideal" lightly- this system was voiced by a genius or a committee of geniuses.
This was before knowing the cost and thinking it was a far less expensive system, mind you, but even after learning the relatively hefty price tag (thanks no doubt to the weak $ relative to the £—about 2:1), this system remained impressive, particularly in terms of its freedom from mid-band congestion and its sweet, yet airy top end and open, spacious presentation.
To these ears, the Arena 500 system epitomized transparency and subjective neutrality. The presentation was free of glaze, grain, glare, harshness, metallic shinola, and all else that can be objectionable between the midrange and top end. Yet it was airy, open, graceful and crystalline-fast, backed by black backdrops and fast settling time.
How many times have I heard A3's "Woke Up This Morning" opening to The Sopranos? A hundred or more? Probably. And through every system reviewed over the past six years. Yet despite its small size, the Tannoy system's presented the song's percussion with greater clarity and transparency, and it resolved inner detail better than I can recall from any system that's been here. The cleanliness and speed of transients were most obvious as was a sense of overall musical organization. No doubt the "point source" approach contributed to the sensation of focus, clarity and overall organization.
Also impressive was the seamless, almost effortless satellite/subwoofer integration. It was surprisingly easy to achieve, without a "hole" developing between the two. Deep bass was there when called for, and the subwoofer never gave away its location, nor did it produce thumpy or "one note" bass. It was good down to around 30Hz in my room, which was good for everything but the deepest gut shaking sound effects and the lowest organ stops.
Equally satisfying was the center speaker's performance. It's the most difficult to get right in my experience. Most centers I've heard suffer from a discontinuity caused by a stuffy bottom or a spotlit top. The Arena 500 produced voices that had shape, weight and that rare center channel commodity, believability—as if the actor was standing in the room just behind the speaker. There was weight without chestiness, and articulation and clarity without edge or etch. The coaxial driver's dispersion pattern made the presentation equally effective off-axis as on horizontally, and its tilting cradle-stand also kept vertical dispersion from being an issue.
Having five small, impressively capable point sources produced an acoustic bubble the equal of any heard in my room and better than most, with the location of all five main speakers never intruding upon the sonic picture. Pans in all directions happened with seamless, non-mechanical precision.
Tannoy made its reputation designing and building studio monitors for music production and from everything written so far you might think the system's musical reproduction was equally satisfying, especially timbrally. And it was—at all SPLs. This was a system that didn't sound shut down when played at low, late night levels. When it needed to, it also managed to play louder than I ever would have imagined based upon its baffle size. And that's the reaction I had before finding out the miniscule size of the actual driver hidden behind the non-removable grilles.
But more remarkable was the system's microdynamic performance, probably a result of both small, fast drivers, and well-braced enclosures. It was possible to hear way into the soundstage and retrieve the lowest level small shifts in dynamic information that distinguishes cardboard cutouts from seemingly living entities.
Nothing is perfect and that goes for this excellent assemblage. Five 4" point sources, even "aided" by additional 4" "woofers," simply can't move huge volumes of air. While the drivers are robust and can play surprisingly loud without strain or compression, no matter how loud they get, their dynamic abilities are somewhat limited, especially compared to bigger speakers that push around large volumes of air with almost alarming ease, like the NHT Classics.
However, the Arena 500 system never sounded wimpy or dynamically challenged—at least when used in a typical large living room environment, placed around ten feet from the listener, and driven with sufficient power. In fact, the system sounded far larger than its modest size would suggest.
A rated efficiency of 88dB is about average these days. But if you're considering this system, don't hold back on the power. The recommended power is a puny 25-100W. Go for more. One additional caveat: the towers are tall and not particularly stable, so consider that if you have small children or large, rambunctious dogs, particularly if you need to place the speakers in heavily trafficked areas.
Many systems have passed through here over the past eight years. Some large, some small, some expensive, some not. I'm not suggesting this Tannoy system begins to approach the audacious, overpowering scale of something like the big Aerial Acoustics system I reviewed a few years ago. The Tannoy package isn't a "blow you away" system as in the famous Maxell ad. But it is a system that consistently and reliably draws you into the sonic picture produced both by movies and music, while at the same time managing to produce sufficient scale and dynamics to push you back into your seat when required. Especially notable was the center speaker's ability to produce believable dialog.
Add an attractive, beautifully finished package that's compact and complimentary to a variety of settings and you have an easy to recommend system that will provide musical and cinematic satisfaction without physically imposing upon a room. It's too bad the feeble dollar pushes the price up so high, but even as priced this is a system many discerning listeners will be happy to have. Overall, Tannoy's Arena 500 system is among the handful of the most satisfying 5.1-channel systems that I've reviewed.
Exceptionally well-balanced, articulate sound
Versatile placement possibilities
Attractive, well finished compact design
Towers can tip over