Tannoy Fusion surround speaker system

Tannoy has been designing and manufacturing speakers in the United Kingdom for as long as anyone can recall. The word "Tannoy," in fact, is as generic in Britain as "Scotch tape" is here. If a Brit tells you that he just heard something on the "Tannoy," you're more likely to be in a train station than a hi-fi shop, and he's talking about an announcement on the PA system.

Times change, and Tannoy, like most speaker manufacturers around the world, is now outsourcing the manufacture of many of its products—particularly in the fiercely competitive lower price ranges—to China. While designed and engineered in the UK, the new Fusion range falls in that category.

There are six Fusion models. I chose a review system consisting of the next-to-largest, floorstanding Fusion 3 (left and right front), the Fusion C (center), the Fusion 1 (left and right surrounds), and Tannoy's TS10 subwoofer (not technically a Fusion model, but sent by Tannoy as a suitable match for the system). The three other models (not evaluated here) include the Fusion 4 (the largest in the line), the large bookshelf Fusion 2, and the tiny Fusion R surround.

All Fusion speakers employ paper-coned woofers (or, in Tannoy's words, "multi-fibre coated pulped paper") of various sizes. The enclosures are all ported, and come fitted with removable foam plugs. Tannoy recommends removing the plugs (the specs reflect the no-plug condition) unless you must position the speakers close to a wall. The plugs slightly reduce the low-frequency output and help compensate for the bass reinforcement that near-wall locations provide. Because I intended to do most of my listening with a subwoofer, I evaluated the speakers with the plugs in place.

The same tweeter also serves all the models in the Fusion line. It's a soft-dome design, or, to again quote Tannoy, a "nitro-urethane layer damped woven polyester dome." I dare you to say that fast, three times. The tweeter is fitted with a neodymium magnet; all of the models are magnetically shielded for placement next to a CRT television. They also all have a rated nominal impedance of 8ohms, and fourth-order acoustic Linkwitz-Riley crossovers at between 2.7kHz and 2.9kHz.

The cabinets are simple yet attractive, and are available in apple or dark oak vinyl finishes. They aren't at all massive, but while the old knuckle-rap test didn't risk a bruised hand, an ear to the cabinet didn't reveal any nasty ringing, either.

The TS10 subwoofer is the smallest I've ever used—barely larger on all sides than its 10-inch driver. For such a small, unassuming, relatively inexpensive unit, it has a lot of features: level control, single-ended and balanced inputs, a defeatable second-order lowpass filter (50–150Hz), selectable auto turn-on, auto mute (after 12 minutes of no signal), continuously variable phase control, soft limiting to prevent overload, and a 30–50Hz low-frequency extension control.

The owner's manual suggests that the 50Hz (Music) setting provides deeper bass extension—which seems counterintuitive—while the 30Hz (Theater) position will increase the impact of movie soundtracks. I made some quick nearfield measurements and found that the Music mode does indeed produce a little more output below 35Hz, though in either setting the response falls off rapidly below 30Hz.

I set up the Fusion system in my smaller (13 by 16.5 by 8.5 feet) listening room with the Fusion 3s flanking my Hitachi 50-inch RPTV, the Fusion C on top and tilted down slightly, and the Fusion 1s at the back of the room. The TS10 was located in the left front corner. The rest of the system consisted of a Panasonic DVD-RP56 DVD player and alternated between two receivers: the Sony STR-DA9000ES (reviewed in this issue) and the Outlaw 1050.

It's pretty amazing what speaker manufacturers are able to squeeze out of modestly priced products these days, and the Fusion system was no exception. On music, the Fusion 3s alone, auditioned in 2-channel mode with a subwoofer, presented a solid soundstage; what limitations I heard could easily be attributed to the large television between them. The midrange was very low in coloration and sounded just a little forward. Pop vocals, in particular, were positioned just in front of the plane of the speakers and compellingly "there," without being pushy or in my face.

The top end was just a little prominent. Percussion sparkled and strings sounded airy and open. While the Fusion 3s weren't quite flat and neutral through the treble, the Tannoy tweeter was well-controlled; the speakers never sounded bright or edgy.

The bass from the TS10 subwoofer won't win any prizes in a monster sub bakeoff, but I was shocked at the quantity—and quality—of bass that came from a cabinet not much larger than the proverbial breadbox. While limited in effective range to around 30Hz (the deepest notes of the pipe organ and synthesizer will go missing in action), it nevertheless did a fine job with most music, including the tight, percussive bass that dominates the soundtrack CD of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Decca B0001574-02).

The major weakness of the Fusion system showed up on soundtracks, when the Fusion C center-channel speaker assumed an important role. It sounded quite colored. While it varied with the program material—not all film soundtracks have cleanly recorded dialog—the Fusion C sounded boxy and closed-in through the lower midrange and upper bass and, at least on-axis, a little too bright on top. Surprisingly, the problems were more prominent off-axis than on-, but the Fusion C never sounded entirely natural on dialog. It did sound better with ordinary broadcast television than with many movie DVDs, but only with a few—Firefly leaps immediately to mind—did I find the coloration unacceptable. The likely cause in that case was a piling-up of colorations, the unevenness in the Fusion C's dialog performance combining with shortcomings in the sound mix.

Apart from that, however, the overall Fusion system worked well. It performed solidly with the music from Chicago, and while still a bit tipped-up on top, it was never fizzy or irritating in any way. In fact, the balance added just a little excitement, punch, and detail to the sound without overdoing it. The dynamics were fine up to quite high listening levels. Like all speakers, the Fusions have their limits, but those limits were plenty high enough for me in my medium-sized room. And both the bass (Chicago isn't that challenging in this respect) and soundstage were convincing.

Hellboy is a more active soundtrack, and despite that slightly overheated top end (most evident on vocal sibilants and breaking glass, of which there's plenty in this film) and the residual coloration, mainly from the center channel, both the dynamics and bass were convincing. The same was true of the more action-oriented scenes in Finding Nemo, particularly the sequence in which the wrecked submarine slides off the precipice.

The TS10 sub couldn't quite match the very-deep-bass performance of the Hsu Research STF-1 (not yet reviewed, $299, and about twice the size of the TS10, though still very small). In a direct A/B test, the Hsu won out with a slightly tighter midbass and a more extended bottom end, but in my room it took very careful listening to hear any difference, even with the most challenging material.

I like a lot about the Tannoy Fusions. For a price about as low as you'll find for any quality speaker system today, it offered good perfor-mance overall. If you thought your budget was too tight for a quality surround speaker system, I recommend you give these a listen.

The overall sound of the package we tested, however, was compromised by the Fusion C center speaker. I tried one of the Fusion 1s (used here as surrounds) in its place, and the sound did improve; a Fusion 2 might work even better as a center (upright, not on its side!). We didn't have one on hand to try, but it uses the same driver complement as the Fusion 3 and might well be a good sonic match.