80+ years of innovation

There’s one company that’s been a part of the professional audio scene for so long, that in many places its company name is a byword for public address systems. Chris Fitzsimmons caught up with Managing Director Andrzej Sosna at a recent visit to the company’s Glasgow factory to talk about the company’s past, present and future.

Tannoy traces its roots back to 1926 and the heady days of valve radio sets running on lead acid ‘wet batteries’. Founder Guy Fountain developed an innovative and reliable rectifier, which opened these batteries up to home recharging. The rectifier was produced using tantalum and a lead alloy and the name Tannoy was born. In the ‘30s the company moved into the public address market, supplying the famous Bertram Mills Circus with a sound reinforcement system and developing a complete range of two way loudspeakers and microphones. By the outbreak of WWII in 1939 Tannoy was established as one of Europe’s leading audio engineering specialists and all of the company’s facilities were concentrated on the nation’s defence efforts. Communications systems for airfields, submarines and tanks were developed and it was during this time that the word Tannoy became synonymous with PA systems in the UK. Indeed, a glance through the Oxford English Dictionary will yield the Tannoy defined as “a loud speaker system”.

Andrzej, how did you first come to join Tannoy?

I joined the company back in 2000 as Sales & Marketing director of the residential division. Prior to that I’d actually started out life as an optics engineer designing optics and optical systems for the military. Between now and then I’ve been in sales and marketing for various electronics companies, and even a company selling kitchen sinks!
In 2002, during the T.C. Electronics buy in, we combined the Professional and Residential divisions and I become Product Development Director. Finally in 2006 I was appointed Managing Director.

What’s the process been since you took on the role of MD?

Well we’ve spent a lot of the last year strategising, talking to the market and to consultants and generally doing our homework to identify areas where we can grow the company. I think it would be fair to say that over the last ten years our growth has been a little disappointing and we’re looking to put that right.

What are those areas?

The commercial area is the key one that we’ve identified. With some market leading products we think there is plenty of scope for growth. Our installation products such as the Designer Install (Di) loudspeaker range, the Eyeball ceiling speakers and the rest of our CMS ceiling speakers can help here. Also the Dual Concentric technology that is present in a large number of our products can give us an edge going forwards.

Explain briefly the Dual Concentric technology and its main benefits.

Well the Dual Concentric technology’s main feature is that it behaves like a true point source. Normally with a two-way product there is a degree of separation between the high/medium frequency driver and the low or sub driver. This means that when you’re “off-axis” from the speaker you get degraded frequency response and phase differences.
The Dual Concentric design effectively removes that physical separation between drivers so the speakers behave more like a point source. This improves the off-axis performance quite significantly. The upshot of this is that Dual Concentric products interact with other speakers in a much more predictable way. We can therefore engineer smoother, more homogeneous sound fields in multi-speaker environments and in many cases reduce the total required speaker count to satisfactorily do the job compared to using a traditional 2-way product.

What is Tannoy’s approach to the digital age?

Our current digital offering is VNET, which is our speaker control and monitoring system. At the moment it is based around a range of self-powered loudspeakers that can be controlled individually via a windows interface. The speakers are connected via standard twisted pair cabling, but it’s important to note that this is a control not a delivery system. The audio transport is still over standard low impedance cabling.
The traction of digital audio is still relatively small in the commercial installation sector, outside of performance venues and such. It’s limited at the moment by the general acceptance amongst contractors and consultants and before we can take further steps along this path we need to bring the market along with us a little. It’s all very well existing on the bleeding edge of technology but there needs to be acceptance from the customer.
We’re really concentrating on developing the VNET control concept further at the moment. We’ve introduced a hub product that will allow us to control our other active speakers that don’t have VNET technology built into them directly. It will also enable more complex VNET networks to be formed. The natural progression then will be a VNET combined amplifier and DSP product, which will allow us to control our passive products in line.
Of course the end game is a fully digital audio distribution and control system. But there’s a fair way to go before I think we even need that. Whilst there are some technical barriers to that happening, the technology is there or there about. There’s no technical reason why you can’t put a small amplifier in the ceiling speaker can. The real reason not to go straight into it now is that we’re waiting for the time to be right in the market.

What is Tannoy doing to help the installer?

I think the most important thing is developing products that are as contractor friendly as possible. Simple things like reducing as much as possible the time spent installing each loudspeaker through intelligent mounting solutions. The new Di range builds all the cabling and connectors into the wall mounting so it’s just a matter of coming along and attaching the speaker when you’re ready. Reducing the overall loudspeaker count via things like our Dual Concentric technology is another contractor-friendly innovation.

Finally there are unique products such as the CMS401 Eyeball. Its value is in allowing engineers to direct sound into awkward corners and areas that you can’t easily mount a speaker in.

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