The Sound of Music
To partake of the cornucopia of timbres it offers, I put on an SACD of Babatunde Olatunje's Circle of Drums [Chesky]. One of the odd things about Chesky-produced multichannel SACDs, however, is that they don't utilize the center channel—and this can present imaging challenges even to the best surround systems. In the 21- minute "Cosmic Rhythm Vibrations," the Arenas were given the daunting task of rendering every timbre of drum sound, from large-head low-frequency floor toms, to higher pitched djembes, ngomas, and ashikos, to subtler shekeres and talking drums in 4.1 rather than 5.1 channels. The Arenas reproduced every attack, from a highpitched slap, to a low-frequency palm thud, to the musical-saw-like wavering sounds of the talking drum, so faithfully I felt I was part of the drum circle myself. That edginess on the attack at the highest timbres, however, was still noticeable.
To test the Arenas with a 5.1-channel recording to see how the center speaker integrated with the rest of the system, I chose the SACD version of James Taylor's Hourglass [Columbia]. I especially like track four, "Gaia," which showcases Taylor's distinctive voice counterpoised against some fine bass playing by Jimmy Johnson and percussion by Carlos Vega. The Arenas faithfully reproduced Taylor's characteristic smooth voice, in 3D, with Johnson's bass placed forward, but not too much so. His low bass runs did not have the energetic force I've heard on more expensive systems, however. Vega's percussion break about three-fourths of the way through came off with distinctive attack and bone-rattling detail. The middle frequency range seems to be the Arenas’ area of greatest strength.
You don't spend 75 years as an industry leader or have your company name become a household word without being sensitive to changing trends. Tannoy's Arenas address a current lifestyle preference for surround- sound speaker systems that are small, elegant, powerful, and affordable. If you have a small apartment or flat, or a living room that while spacious still calls out for minimalism, the Arenas deserve your attention.
If you're into the floorrattling special effects in action-packed car-crashing thrillers or subterranean rock concert monitorblasters, these may not be the speakers for you—but they certainly deserve an audition before you make that decision. To many folks, the Arenas will represent beauty, proven technology, and superb surround sound, at an easy-tohandle price.