Blast Of The Past

Lockwood loudspeakers – monitors with a storied history

By Roy Gregory

There are few real constants in audio. If you think products or components, you could cite the Linn LP12 (launched in 1972) or the EL34 vacuum tube (first seen in 1947). You could stretch a point to include the Quad ESL 57 (launched in 1957 and remaining in production until 1985, but with direct siblings still around – in modified form – today). But none of these can hold a candle to the Tannoy Dual-Concentric driver. Along with the venerable Lowther PM1A, it was introduced in 1947 – and it’s still going strong today! In fact, Tannoy dual-concentric drivers have been constantly evolving and in constant production for all of 76-years.

The Lowther units found their niche in horn-loaded domestic loudspeaker designs and had largely faded from view by the 1980’s (although the recent resurgence in interest in high-efficiency speakers has seen the brand re-launched). Tannoy trod a different path. Although they produced large and well-regarded domestic systems not dissimilar to the Lowther horns, their products persisted far longer and enjoyed a more enduring profile in the domestic market – in no small part down to their widespread use for monitoring duties in recording studios. It was this widespread acceptance throughout the pro community that maintained Tannoy’s credibility in the public eye, long after it might have faded, and saw their drivers widely employed in third-party monitor systems.

Like any really long-term product, the Tannoy speakers suffered the vagaries and vicissitudes of fashion and market forces. They maintained their popularity in the Far East, long after their domestic star had faded in Europe and the USA, to the extent that vintage speakers often attract astonishingly high prices from Far Eastern buyers. That and their lop-sided market distribution led the company to fall back on what might be termed ‘heritage’ models. Declining sales led to financial difficulties, the sale of the company, the relocation of production to China and ultimately to a messy and rather public divorce, with those designers and engineers who wanted to push ahead with development (rather than churning historical designs) setting up on their own, under the Fyne Audio brand-name. Developing their own series of dual-concentric drivers and innovative cabinets, their decision was quickly vindicated as the nascent brand attracted plenty of attention and support. Which in one sense makes it even more ironic that Fyne Audio too, have turned to the ‘heritage’ market – although one should probably ask, “Why wouldn’t they?”

Lockwood Majors – in all their glory!

All of which makes a recent sale at auction house Bonhams, of more than passing interest. Headline item on the sale list was the famed EMI TG12345 Mk1 mixing desk, installed at Abbey Road studios in 1968 and used to produce many of the studio’s most famous recordings, including the Beatles own Abbey Road. And alongside the EMI desk? A pair of Lockwood Major floorstanding monitors, equipped with (you guessed it) 15” Tannoy dual-concentric drivers – standard issue throughout Abbey Road studios, who acquired more than 30 pairs of Lockwoods over the years. But impressive as that is, Abbey Road is only the tip of the Lockwood iceberg. The company’s monitors were widely used throughout the hay-days of the UK recording industry (and still are) with a list of artist and album credits that reads like a Who’s Who of great rock and pop recordings. I’m not going to even attempt a highlights list – there’s simply too many albums and too many of them are too important to leave out! Instead, take a look at these truly staggering lists of the albums recorded on Lockwood monitors and the studios that used them: