You are reading the older HTML site

Positive Feedback ISSUE 38
july/august 2008


More on Tonian Labs - An all-too brief audition of the 12.1 S loudspeakers
by Francisco Duran


I was privileged to have a listen in my home to the next level in speaker design from Tonian Labs this past Memorial Day weekend. Well actually I had twenty-four hours with their model Classic 12.1S. The speakers were on their way to a scheduled appointment but Tony Minasian was kind enough to drop them off for me for a little while. And let me tell you, it was like a hot, fast and furious date with a super model. Yeah, like I know how that feels! You may recall my recent and very positive review of the Tonian Labs TL-D1. When I first contacted Tony about a possible review or purchase, I was mainly interested in their designs with the French PHY drivers. The TL-D1's sport an 8-inch Fostex driver along with a modified ribbon tweeter. The Classic 12.1S employs a 12-inch PHY driver along with a Tonian modified ribbon tweeter. The Classic 12.1S resembles the classic look of British loudspeakers of the late 60's and 70's a la Spendor and Rogers. Add to the fact that this particular pair was clad in a dark walnut and I had a pretty imposing pair of speakers in my den. Believe me, The PHY driver is a thing of beauty that inspires awe. With its solid ring of thick bronze and black drivers, they look like they mean business and can deliver the musical goods.

And deliver they did. Since my time with these speakers was limited, I got down to business. Again Tony brought along his trusty amp, the 90's vintage Audiolab 8000a integrated. We hooked up my sources to the 8000a and set up the Classic 12.1S's in just about the same spot that my recently departed Dali Euphonia MS-4's used to stand. You remember my Dali's. They were the ones the Tonian Labs TL-D1's ($1750) gave a good thrashing to when I had them in for review. Tonian speakers take a few hours to acclimatize themselves to the room and the Classic 12.1S pair was no different. After a short while they went from kind of hard and sharp to sounding a breath away from glorious.

First of all the Classic 12.1S's are very detailed and highly resolving speakers. Their ability to unravel complex musical passages is second to none. But without and I stress without any brightness, etch or glare whatsoever. In fact these are one of the most natural sounding speakers that I have heard. Being of the same family lineage as the TL-D1's they are also fast as lighting when handling dynamics, dynamic contrasts and shadings. Put the detail, speed, and that large degree of natural, realistic and slightly warm sound together and you have a musical speaker of the highest caliber. There is not a hi-fi sounding bone in these speakers music-making abilities.

About a week before the Classic 12.1S's arrived, I was privileged to listen to a very expensive pair of speakers (over $100,000 plus a pair) along with a very expensive and impressive system to drive it. These speakers had incredible frequency extension, clarity and a sound stage that one could literally walk into. Impressive as this demonstration was, there was something missing. That something was musicality. The Tonian Labs 12.1S speakers on the other hand have the magic quality of musicality in huge spades. Yet they deliver all of the audiophile qualities to satisfy any gear lover. Although the Classic 12.1S's might not have rock solid bass to 15Hz, they convey the music's essence to a great degree. Yes I could have lived with them a little longer to get a better handle of their sound. One thing that popped up in my audition was that in my system (I did change my electronics) I detected that the 12.1S's were more revealing of upstream electronics and wire and cables than the TL-D1's. Although we got great sound from the 12.1S speakers with just a few minutes set up, one could only imagine the possibilities with more set up time and gear.

When I reviewed the Tonian Labs TL-D1 speakers, I thought to myself how much better could things get in this kind of speaker design. Tony Minasian answered that question the day he dropped off the Classic 12.1S speakers at my house. Tony Minasian has seemed to hit on a magical formula of high efficiency, fantastic sonics and musicality with his two-way designs. They leave not only high efficiency single driver speakers in the dust but many other multi-way designs sounding lacking. In fact since then I have been agonizing as to which speaker to buy from this extraordinary speaker company. Well tonight I placed my order for a pair of Tonian Labs speakers. Tonian Labs does have a floor standing speaker with a smaller PHY driver and a few other very interesting designs. If you are in the market for a new pair of speakers, I urge you to have a listen to a pair of Tonian Labs speakers. Before you do though, please drop your audiophile preconceptions at the door and just bring your ears and that musical heart that got you started in this hobby in the first place. I guarantee that you will save yourself a lot of money and frustration. 

Tonian Labs
web address: