After all the hype, can Tannoy’s first serious sub/sat system sound as good as it looks? And it looks seriously good…

Tannoy Arena | $3499 |

For: Strikingly good looking and well-constructed; doesn’t disappoint with multichannel audio or movies; impressively revealing performer.

Against: Better than most of the competition, but  still some compromises – full-size speakers will serve you better sonically, if not visually.

Verdict: Fantastic looks and very decent sound. However, treading the thin line between style and sound may have resulted in a sytem that appeals to neither space-conscious fashionistas or audiophiles.

The Arena isn’t Tannoy’s debut sub/sat package, but it is without doubt one of the most eagerly awaited multichannel speaker systems yet. Beyond the fact that Tannoy has a rich history of producing top-notch speakers, it ran an eye-catching ad campaign well in advance of launch, and Arena made numerous special guest appearances at hi-fi shows around the world. 

Against a wealth of ‘me too’ speakers, Tannoy has built one of the most original looking systems around. That’s not to say that the technology has been ignored. The system comprises four identical satellites, which feature a brand new 100mm version of Tannoy’s Dual Concentric driver, where a 19mm titanium dome is mounted inside a bass driver. This makes it appear as though all frequencies come from a single source, expanding the sweet spot.

The highlight of this new DC implementation is the addition of a super-tweeter, which extends the bandwidth, allowing the system to perform better with high-resolution audio. The centre unit features the same configuration, but with the addition of an extra 100mm bass driver to help give weight and impact to movie dialogue.

The rectangular subwoofer boasts a 300W BASH amplifier driving a side-firing 250mm paper cone woofer. Our review samples were finished in stunning bronze – we also had the elegant matching stands for the front satellites, which adds $799 per pair to the price. These speakers are no shrinking violets when it comes to making their presence known, and that goes for sound quality as well as the sizeable cabinets.

The overwhelming feeling the Arena leaves you with is of passion and solidity of sound. There’s bags of detail on offer with DVD soundtracks, and the system images very well when positioned correctly, but the sense of being enveloped by an exciting, articulate sound is what really wins us over – and that goes for music and well as movies. The DVD-Audio disc of Ryan Adams’ Gold comes across with enough guts to start a retro tennis racket factory, and the centre speaker’s bonus bass driver pays real dividends – the extra weight helps localise vocals to dramatic effect. The satellites also perform pretty well when used in 2.1 mode with CD (although not available to buy in this configuration). Okay, so listening to the Eels’ Blinking Lights And Other Revelations set isn’t quite the exhilarating experience it is on a dedicated two-channel system, but there’s plenty on offer in terms of richness and detail – something that can’t be said for most style-led sub/sat packages.

If there is a downside, it’s the subwoofer. It offers trouser-flapping bass for the movie viewer, but lacks the agility required of a music bass bin. It’s very happy with the fire and brimstone rampage that is the DVD-Audio disc of Led Zeppelin’s How The West Was One, but is less impressive with Donald Runnicles/Atlanta Symphony and Chorus’ belting rendition of Orff’s Carmina Burana on SACD.

Tannoy’s Arena system is another step in the right sonic direction for the compact and stylish sub/sat breed. Although not all things to all people, it shows Tannoy is thinking about those whose passionate love of music and movies is only constrained by room size.

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