I first auditioned a pair of BBC LS- 3/5a mini-monitors in the 1970s and was shocked to find that they ran toeto- toe with a set of giant electrostatics. Duly chagrined, I’ve tried to be careful ever since about bringing too many assumptions to the reviewing table when it comes to small speakers.
The extensive debate on the AVguide.com forum about the MAGICO Mini illustrates the emotional problems created by small speakers. Some of our readers have argued that if there are speakers at similar prices that “do more,” then smaller speakers that “do less” should be rejected out of hand as bad values and poseurs. If this logic appeals, then this review is not for you. Consider the Tannoy Autograph Mini. As you can see, these look like a giant Tannoy floorstanding speaker from the 1950s, except that they’re only 13.5" tall. Very cool.
Of course, everything has a price, and the Autograph Minis are $1800 per pair. Fortunately, there is a real speaker backing up that price. The cabinet finish is impeccable. Rather than creating a fashion statement, Tannoy has taken the design seriously. It has loaded the Mini with the smallest dual-concentric (tweeter placed at the center of the woofer) driver ever. The tweeter is made of titanium and response goes out to 54kHz. The speakers and crossover are integrated in a way that reduces phase errors.
The sound from these little guys is plenty impressive. Tannoy has wisely decided not to try to make the Mini sound like a miniature Wilson MAXX II, i.e., seemingly flat from 20Hz to infinity. The Mini has a midrange-dominant sound that is lively and clear, but not harsh or brittle. Music really swings on the Mini, with a very natural dynamic flow for each instrument. This speaker gets the midrange right, both dynamically and harmonically. I think the Mini works musically for this reason, and also because it is so coherent.
In the bass, the Minis are an exercise in artful trade-offs. The upper bass is emphasized, leading to very good definition. Impressively, the bass roll-off of the Minis doesn’t result in a thin sound or bass-bloat at certain frequencies. However, let’s be clear—midbass is light and low bass non-existent. I simply didn’t find that these limitations got in the way of a lot of the music (though this is not the speaker for hip-hop or the White Stripes).
The Mini’s imaging is amazing, too, with the sound rarely seeming to be trapped in the boxes, though like most small speakers soundstage height is restricted. The high frequencies are smooth and naturally extended, again allowing each instrument to sound open and dynamically real. The tweeters are very revealing, though; so you’ll want to use a good front end.
These speakers are not going to fill a large room at 105dB (though maximum SPL is rated at 111dB at one meter). On the other hand, the dual-concentric driver arrangement makes them ideal as nearfield monitors. From 2 or 3 feet away they sound phenomenal, and I think this is partially because the distance from the tweeter and woofer to your ear is always the same no matter how far away you are. This is easily the best desktop monitor I’ve heard. So, sure, the Minis are expensive for their size and application, but how many other sub-$2000 audio products give you a solid glimpse of the state-of-the-art? TAS