SMR logoTannoy Mercury Series M4 Loudspeaker Review

John R. Potis Jr., is a loudspeaker junkie, constantly searching for a design to suit his mood, listening room and budget.  Sometimes the quest proves to be fuitless, but there are times when all the hard work pays off and a design gains favour.  The Tannoy M4 loudspeakers are such a design...  only a few years too late for John.

Many thanks go to Mr. Ian Gellatly for his help and for providing the review sample.

Tannoy Mercury Series M4 Loudspeaker Specifications
Recommended Amplifier Power: 10-100 watts per channel
Sensitivity: (1 watt/1 meter) 90dB
Nominal Impedance: 6 ohms
Tweeter: 1 inch soft dome
Mid-range Driver: 6˝ inch
Bass Driver: 6˝ inch
Enclosure Type: Front Ported Reflex
Frequency Response (no tolerance given): 32 Hz- 20 kHz
Dimensions (H × W × D): 33˝" × 8" × 10.6"
Weight: 23.1 lb. each.
Finish: Black with grey birds-eye or cherry front finish
MSRP: $700/pr
(All specifications as per manufacturer)

Tannoy Mercury Series m4 Loudspeakers

 

Short Story:

Tannoy Mercury Series M4About 4 years ago I was in the market for a pair of speakers.  At the time I was listening to a pair of ribbons which were very nice, but not very "gutsy".  I decided that I would give myself a budget of $1,000 and go find a pair of speakers that would play loud, have powerful bass and would sound good on Rock and Roll.  They didnt have to be the most transparent or detailed speaker around, but they had to have a punchy sound and avoid large sonic errors.   In other words, they didnt have to be perfect transducers, but they had to avoid major sonic transgressions.  I couldnt find such a pair.

Everything I found suffered some kind of fatal flaw that would make enjoyable ownership impossible.  Terribly bright or brittle upper-midrange/treble, loose and flabby bass (or worse: no bass!) or a midrange that became congested when things got raucous.  I wish I had been able to find a pair of Tannoy m4s back then.

The Tannoy m4 is exactly what I was looking for and it would have brought me in way under budget.  At $700 for the pair, it is by no means a "flawless" speaker.  Nothing at three times the price is.  The flaws are for the most part subtractive, which is to say that the Tannoys err by not doing something rather than by actively doing something wrong.  In this price class, all speakers are colored and the Tannoy is by no means an exception.   But what is different about the Tannoy is that I was thoroughly able to enjoy its coloration!  More on this later, though.

 

General Description:

My review pair came in black with the grey birds eye fascia.  With the Grills on or off, I think they are a smart looking pair of speakers.  Crisp lines, fairly tall and a very small footprint making them a generally acceptable addition to just about any décor.  They also come with spikes, as do many speakers in the m4s class.  But other speakers dont come with the cool brass discs for insertion between the spikes and your hard wood floor - its a real class touch, if you ask me!  Overall fit and finish was very nice for such a budget priced speaker.

 

Lets pick some nits!

Tannoy Mercury Series M4I like to pick my nits and get them out of the way.  Fortunately, my list is short.  The first flaw, if you want to call it a flaw, is that these speakers are very warm. Very warm.  Notice my choice of words here.  I didnt say "boomy"- they are not.  I didnt say "bass heavy"- they are not.  What we have is a speaker that is very warm from the lower- mids up through the midrange while avoiding both bloat and boom.   While I cant say its neutral or perfectly accurate, it is extraordinarily pleasant- particularly given its asking price.  Quite the opposite of boomy and shrill, which characterized many of the speakers I looked at during my search.

Amazingly, this "warmth" is pulled off without sounding congested in the midrange.  On the contrary, I found the speakers to have excellent detail through the midrange.  Pleasantly, Tannoy resisted the temptation to balance the warm lower registers with a bright and sizzle prone top end, on the contrary, the treble is exceptionally neutral.  Bravo Tannoy!  At first the m4 sounded as if there was some detail sacrificed, but time and time again unexpected details came shining through for me.

The second "flaw" was one of omission, so to speak.  I refer to the m4s ability to articulate bass.   While the speakers did a profoundly good job supporting their upper registers with good weight and punch, they did not possess the ability to articulate it as sharply as better and usually more expensive speakers.  They just didnt have the detail in the bass that I could have hopped for.  I have to quickly point out that the Tannoy only suffered in comparison to the very best in and around their class and Ive heard more expensive speakers that did a much worse job.

 

On The Up Side!

While I list the warm balance as a flaw, based on the fact that tonality did deviate from neutrality and given the price class, I have to list it as one of the speakers strengths too.  Sorry if that confuses you, but the fact is that so many of the Tannoys competitors just sound cold and shrill by comparison.  I found the tonal balance to make the m4s thoroughly comfortable and enjoyable speakers to listen to.  I would go on to say that they lacked the cold sterile nature of many so -called "accurate" speakers.  It was at once engaging, musical and fun.

The midrange, as Ive already pointed out, was surpassingly good for a speaker in this class.  Also possessing pretty good dynamics, the m4 needed to be turned up pretty darned loud before the sound started to deteriorate.  Even then the speaker politely "compressed" rather than getting out of hand with acts of barbarism.

Tannoy Mercury Series M4As I stated earlier, the treble was exceptionally neutral and well behaved for a speaker in this price class.  While it didnt project the sense of "air" that the more expensive monitors do, it was always free of the pitfalls afflicting similarly priced products.  It never sounded "spitty", "brittle" or "hard".  Again, excellent behavior for a speaker in this class.

Definitely one of the speakers greatest strengths was its ability to image and throw a sound stage.  Imaging freak that I am, I particularly enjoyed this facet of the m4s performance.  The sound stage was always wide and expansive with fairly good specificity.  What was completely unexpected was the depth of the m4s sound stage.  Hands down, the m4 throws the deepest sound stage Ive ever heard from a speaker in and around its price class, and one of the deepest Ive ever heard period.  Some may argue, but for me, a speaker with this kind of imaging portrayal goes as far or farther toward producing a convincing experience than a speaker with a more accurate tonal balance and/or perfect timbre.  Of course, if you can find me a speaker in this class that has perfect timbre, Ill be glad to have a listen.  I dont think its going to happen- not at $700 a pair.

 

Listening:

In the mood for some hard driving heavy metal good ol "All American" Rock and Roll (even if much it was originally performed by British artists!) I reached for Dream Theaters "A Change Of Seasons" (EastWest 61842-2).  Track #2, their cover of Elton Johns "Funeral For A Friend" greeted me with wall to wall audience applause extending well behind and beyond the lateral placement of the m4s.  The lone opening cymbal was both clean and clear with no hint of unwanted splash-again: outstanding performance in this class.  Opening guitars were articulate without being shrill and bass lines were strong and powerful if a bit "muddled" and lacking the nth degree of articulation.  Dont get me wrong, we are not talking loose and flabby here, not at all, but the m4s were just not giving me the articulation that lived up to the level of other aspects of their performance.  All in all the Tannoys were rhythmic and driving& Driving me to crank up the volume that is!  Track #3 "Perfect Strangers" will give you somewhat of a cardiac massage!  It doesnt pound you in the chest, but its deep and penetrating bass lines are like an infrasonic rubdown!   The guitars on the opening and title cut "A Change Of Seasons" sounded excellent.  Interestingly, the aforementioned warmness of the m4s never intruded here.  Bass strings never sounded over-ripe and thus allowed the guitar to sound completely cohesive with no mismatching of timbre between low and high "E" strings.  Track #5 "The Big Medley", demonstrated the excellent sense of sound stage depth and width, if not the greatest specificity Ive ever experienced.   Keyboards were a little reticent but again, bass guitar and drums were strong and driving.  Vocals were completely free of the congestion one may have expected of a speaker this warm.  Again, lower registers of the guitars were completely free of overhang or bloat-always remaining clean and articulate.  These speakers can boogie, let me tell you!

The Big PictureStill in the mood for something to shake the walls, I next reached for Telarcs "The Big Picture" (CD-80437).   Im no music critic, but the arrangement on the opening track "Mission Impossible" could do with a bit more brass and "bite".  Being a basically honest speaker, the Tannoy m4 gave me exactly what I expected from the disc- like it or not.  Not to fret though, by Track #2, the suite from "Batman Forever", the speakers were shaking it again.  Even when taken to my smaller listening- room, the speakers exhibited excellent spatial perspective and the bass never overpowered the room.  The Apollo 13 space launch (track #6) proved too much for the limited bass capabilities of the m4 and the bottom octave of bass rumble was completely MIA, but what did you expect!?  That being said, I have to hastily add that the speakers never misbehaved in anyway throughout the fireworks.  Not slamming of woofers against their stops, no sparks or other pyrotechnics of any kind!  Hey, particularly in this price class, no speaker can reproduce 5Hz so the best thing you can hope for is one that doesnt self-destruct trying!

By the time Track #7 cued up, the speakers had completely regained their composure and handled "Re-entry and Splash Down" with musical aplomb.  Strings sounded sweet if a bit congealed- ie, a giant mass rather than a group of individual violins.  While the m4s are surprisingly detailed, they do have their dynamic limits.  When things get complex, they do homogenize things a bit -most speakers in and around this price class will.

"Suits Are Picking Up the Bill" with its opening trombone from The Squirrel Nut Zippers "Perennial Favorites" showed just how detailed the m4s could sound on simpler material.   It was exceptionally clean with lots of texture and showed that the little Tannoys upper-midrange could "dig in" when asked to!  Track #4 "Pallin With Al" was an excellent demo showcasing the speakers ability to get electric guitar as right as it does violin and coronet while maintaining a strong sense of rhythm.  The imaging on rack #6 "Trou Macacq" will have you checking speaker phasing and the Tannoys did an excellent job of providing no center-fill at all.  Vocals were completely contained to the outside and slightly to the rear of the right speaker, where they seem to have been meant to be!  The rest of the instruments come from in and around and mostly to the outside, of the left speaker.   This is a very clean recording and the Tannoys held up their part of the bargain admirably.

 

Summation:

Putting things in perspective, the Tannoys are one of the least expensive speakers Ive reviewed here to date, the last two pairs being 13 and 5 times the price.  The very fact that I enjoyed these speakers as much as I did speaks volumes.  My minor caveats aside, quite literally: speakers of the m4s performance capabilities were not to be found for under and around a kilo-buck a few short years ago.  Their weaknesses are few and far from fatal and greatly out-weighed by their strengths.  With one of the smoothest non-fatiguing trebles in their class, a clean and detailed midrange, surprising bass punch combined with one of the warmest and most inviting tonal presentations Ive ever heard in this class, the Tannoy m4 is recommended for audition in a very major way.

Good luck and listening,

© 1998.

 

More information about Tannoy loudspeakers can be found within the Official Tannoy Web Site.

Text © John R. Potis Jr.; HTML © SMR Home Theatre and Images © Telarc, John R. Potis & SMR Home Theatre cannot be reproduced without permission.  The images on this page are digitally watermarked: Digimarc http://www.digimarc.com/

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Last updated 04 October, 1998

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