Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Tannoy Mercury 7.2

Tannoy Mercury 7.2

David Price auditions the latest in a long line of extra terrestrial Tannoys, the Mercury 7.2 stand-mounting speaker

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Britain’s most long-established speaker company launched a range of affordable, high-performance boxes called the Planet Series. This proved a big hit in the early eighties, especially the entry-level Tannoy Mercury, which offered an unexpectedly big sound from a medium-sized box. Despite its low cost and modest construction, it had an uncanny ability to get to the heart of the music – I should know, I owned a pair.

The original Mercury of 1982 had a distinctly unlovely vinyl wrap over its large, thin MDF cabinet, but the new ones are obviously better turned out and come in a choice of walnut, light oak or black oak wood grain effect finishes, with dark cloth grilles. The 7.2 here is the larger of the two stand-mounters, but is still tiny in comparison with the original.

Tannoy’s Dr Paul Mills was the main driving force behind the 7.2, but he credits “signifi cant input from our rising star engineer Ryan Sheen and tuning input from Tannoy’s pro-audio director of engineering, Phillipe Robinaeau”. The boys have been busy, because it’s touted as the most significant overhaul of the Mercury since the original, back when New Romantics roamed the earth.

Interestingly, it has a larger mid/bass driver than you’d expect for its cabinet size and it’s wider than many rivals, countering the ‘small footprint’ philosophy so beloved of 21st century speaker designers. Either way, it’s a win-win situation because the larger the drive unit and greater the internal volume of the cabinet, the more chance it has to sound good. The 9.4 litre cabinet is connected to the outside world by a single rearmounted bass port with the option of using the (supplied) foam bung. It also sports a new 28mm soft dome tweeter, with a high-tech dome lamination process and powerful neodymium motor.

The good doctor says the mid/bass unit features a stiff, lightweight cone and new roll surround – a proprietary multi-fibre cone material with a smoothly sculpted profile is used. The tweeter employs soft woven polyester with a micro layer of nitro-urethane internal vibrations.

The result is a quoted efficiency of 89dB, which is good for a smallish speaker but not outstanding. Just about usable with low-powered tube amps, it also works with muscular solid-staters and has a 200W peak power handling capacity. Quoted frequency response is 42Hz-32kHz at -6dB. I find it fairly easy to drive by a solid-state amplifier, and it also works very well close to a rear wall if you fit the supplied bass port bungs. It’s at its best about 30cm from the back wall on 24in stands, slightly toed-in, without bungs.

Sound quality

In absolute terms this isn’t a strictly neutral loudspeaker. There’s a subtle upper bass warmth – due in part to cabinet coloration – and the treble is well lit where it  meets the upper midband. The speaker gives a bright, upfront sort of sound – one that’s bound to attract your attention. Cleverly though, Tannoy has avoided the temptation to overdo it, and the Mercury isn’t a wildly unbalanced design. Instead, you might call it a characterful one, which brings a little extra zest to the proceedings, – this doesn’t obstruct the music, but rather makes it seem a little more dramatic.

This speaker is more than just a fulsome upper bass and lively lower treble though; it’s fast, thanks to what are obviously a very agile pair of drive units. It has excellent transient response, and it makes for a wonderfully snappy sound that renders any music you play dramatic and involving. This, allied to its best-in-class dynamics makes for a great baby box. That larger mid-bass driver, with the slightly bigger enclosure, means it doesn’t compress peaks quite as much as most rivals. It’s still a small box with a modestly sized mid/bass unit, but it certainly feels less constrained than many. This useful trait makes for a bigger, ballsier and more expansive sound.

Cue up Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ King Of New York, and you’re instantly greeted with a sound that is far bigger than you’d expect. Punchy, bouncy and uplifting, you can almost forgive the lack of low bass, because the upper bass is wonderfully fluid and gives the song a great sense of motion. It’s also surprisingly weighty for such a small box. Move up the frequency spectrum and it throws out plenty of detail, although by the standards of more expensive speakers it’s rather opaque. The point is that there is just enough to work with, and I’m drawn into the recording.

Unsurprising for a Tannoy is the excellent soundstage. It images wide, throwing elements of the mix far left and right, giving an immersive feel that belies its size. True, it doesn’t hang instruments back as accurately as some, but it still has a good stab at recreating the recorded acoustic or studio mix. Factor in its obvious transient speed, and this makes it great for pop, dance or rap music.

Moving to something that’s far better recorded – I drop Steely Dan’s Aja into my CD spinner. All of the Mercury’s fine qualities continue to impress on the superb title track, but I begin to get the measure of the speaker better. The tweeter begins to announce its presence – Tannoy has obviously voiced the speaker for bite and speed with pop, but with the deliciously subtle and sonorous hi-hat work on this classic rock album, it sounds slightly coarse. Admittedly, its price rivals aren’t obviously any better, but you’re definitely reminded that you’re listening to an entry-level model. Even though it’s highly musical, you’ll need to spend more for the last word in refinement. The lack of air and space right at the top end of the treble is another reminder of the Mercury 7.2’s mortality.

Overall, this speaker’s excellent breeding gives it an instinctively musical gait. Even with far less well recorded sixties rock music – such as The Kinks’ Arthur – it proves a joy to listen to. It gives a big-hearted performance, full of life and happiness. It captures rhythmic nuances brilliantly, and again proves dynamic and unconstrained considering its size. It’s a little speaker with a big sound, if it is anything. Ray Davies’ voice is beautifully carried, with a very emotional rendition of Victoria, complete with soaring guitar work and drums.

Most small speakers give a rather downsized, diminished and partial account of the music they’re asked to play. So often when buying a budget box, it’s a case of trying to find the least bad compromise. Not so with Tannoy’s Mercury 7.2, which is an enjoyable and engaging little loudspeaker in its own right. Indeed, it’s the sort of thing you could happily live with after spending time with substantially more expensive transducers. Of course it’s not perfect, but Tannoy has cleverly ensured that its sins are those of omission – it doesn’t add anything unpleasant that gets in the way of enjoying the music. Heartily recommended.

● 28mm polyester dome tweeter
● 152mm multi-fibre mid/bass unit
● Quoted sensitivity 89dB/1W/1m

DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 193 x 292 x 266mm