Positive Feedback ISSUE 68
as reviewed by John Zurek
Tekton speakers have been in my periphery for a year or so, especially after reading a review of the Lore by PFO's Steve Lefkowitz. Steve was quite taken with the Lore, so after some further research I got in touch with Eric Alexander, Tekton's founder. Eric has been around the audio block a few times, paying his dues with Kimber/DiAural Labs and Edge/Aperion, among other audio and musical projects. From my point of view, anyone who designs speakers and plays drums has to be doing something right.
The subject of this review, the Tekton Pendragon, is a large floorstander with high sensitivity and very benign impedance that boasts full-range response and sells for $2500 USD shipped to your continental US location. A full-range high-end loudspeaker at a very reasonable price? Too good to be true?
Tekton has developed a bit of a cult following around the Lore models, and the Pendragon seems to be following in those footsteps. Pendragon, in Welsh means "head dragon" or "chief dragon". It is a fairly large, imposing speaker. Everyone who's seen them in my room first notices the three tweeters in the middle. First comment is usually something like “they must be so bright, can't really sound right with all those tweeters can they?” Interestingly, Lou Hinckley of Daedalus Audio, also known for his high efficiency designs, prefers multiple tweeters on his large floorstanders, and coincidentally uses the same bass drivers as the Pendragon in some of his models. Other than the tweeter array, the Pendragon looks relatively unremarkable. It measures 54" x 12" x 16" with no exotic shapes or surfaces, and no grilles. On the rear are two of the very largest ports I've ever seen, along with one simple set of binding posts. Rapping knuckles on the side of the cabinet produces the impression that the cabinet was braced well, but not totally inert.
The Pendragons features include dual 10" woofers, three 1" tweeters of a proprietary design, 200 watts power handling, 98dB 1W@1m sensitivity, 8 Ohm impedance and frequency response of 20Hz - 30kHz. At 98dB/8ohms most would conclude this is the perfect speaker for micro-powered single-ended amps or at least tubes of some sort. I used my current favorite amps, the Quicksilver 50 watt EL-34 based Mid-monos.
After I hooked up the splendid DanaCable 8-weave wires to the speakers I noticed immediately how the Pendragons just filled up the room. The soundstage they threw was impressive in all dimensions. Music played high, wide, and deep. Moving the speaker's position and toe-in easily changed the width and balance of the presentation.
Their personality was somewhat unlike most contemporary designs, and presents a bit of a quandary. Many current designs focus on detail, which usually manifests itself in a frequency balance that—to my ears—gets fatiguing quickly. That said, the Pendragons do not go as far in the other direction as say, the awesome Gingko ClaraVu 7 that I recently reviewed.
They are a design that has a natural sound, more musical than most. Not the ill-defined, but easy-listening presentation of many of vintage speakers, but certainly not the laser-sharp behavior that many current designs gravitate towards. I've had more than a few different speakers in my room. Most take me at least a week or more to get positioned properly and maybe a little longer before my ear adjusts to their personality. The Pendragons were no exception. They ended up being fairly easy to place, with more than one position that would work. I liked that.
When I listened to my reference recordings I found the elements of the music were intact. They were however, offered in a different fashion; one that I would argue was a more natural presentation than most, a unique way of communicating sophisticated immediacy. The treble was clean and clear, while vocals were rendered with a silky quality. The midrange was honest and open, and coherent. The 4-5kHz region that almost every voice and instrument lives in came across with a frank quality and seemed to live in its own layer of air.
Because of what I heard/felt when I rapped knuckles on the cabinet, I first suspected the bass character of these speakers might be a little tubby. I was so wrong. The bass was tight and very sophisticated with superb definition, delineation and impact. And yes, they do go low. Not dedicated subterranean subwoofer impact, but fully respectable down to 30Hz, and certainly present, but ~4.5dB down at 20Hz. Not overbearing, not fat at all, a very nice equilibrium. All things considered, some of the best bass performance I've ever heard from a floorstander without dedicated amplification for the low end.
The Pendragons included all the essential details. I found nothing missing from my favorite recordings. They did not gloss over inferior recordings, which still sounded bad. I would classify them as a music-lovers speaker as opposed to a system-lovers speaker. Use them to listen to your collection, not your electronics.
The Tektons have a bit of a dual personality, a pleasing character that makes them non-fatiguing, but they are also true dynamic monsters. I cannot emphasize the legitimate dynamic capabilities of these speakers enough. Among the finest I've ever heard, they work well with symphonic swings that go from whisper to explosion, but also can effortlessly render metal while never running out of steam. Soft musical passages work as well; their high efficiency coupled with very benign impedance curve makes it easy for almost any amp to get a good balance at low levels. Equally as important as the Tekton's dynamic prowess is its luxuriant tonal color. Natural and warm, the speaker rendered full textures of both voices and instruments projected in layers of gorgeous sound. They have the ability to convey colors of instruments and voices in a very pleasing style.
Let's talk scale. I abhor speakers that stretch or constrict the size of instruments or voices. My first test is always a drum set. First, is the orientation correct? Ride cymbal stage right, hi hat stage left (most drummers are righties). Bass drum center and down low, snare center, but further back and higher. Crashes higher and usually spread left and right. Width. Little jazz sets, 5ft wide. A really huge kit, lots of drums and cymbals? 8-9ft tops. You hear what I'm saying. If your speakers are set ~7ft apart you should rarely hear drum sounds outside that area unless the drums were recorded off-center (listen for the spot the bass drum is centered), or the engineer placed some drum sounds on the periphery for an effect. The Pendragons get scale so right. My reference recordings were very nicely scaled.
Most audiophiles enjoy a system that images well. If you listen to much live music you quickly realize live imaging is not that precisely placed point in space that you take pleasure in at home. Yet we prize a system for its faithful reproduction. Remember though; when we're watching live music there are visual cues. I think precise imaging in our systems can be used to bridge an aural/visual gap. Of course most of the music we listen to on our systems is not live, and the image has been carefully placed by a recording engineer. As far as the Pendragons are concerned, my impression is that they also bridge a gap. Not laser-sharp imagers, not mono-sounding. Their aural cues will surely give you scale and placement, but sound more like live music than most speakers in this respect.
If I had to guess the Pendragon's cost based on looks and performance I would have said ~$9K. If Eric had added a few accoutrements (grills, fancy logo, some really nice spikes, etc.) that figure could easily have been ~$12-15K. What really matters is that the Tektons' performance, like the Dude, abides. The Pendragon easily sets a new benchmark for performance at this price. I can't think of another speaker that can perform anywhere near this level for $2.5k. But, what if its personality is not your cup of tea? If that's the case Eric's got your back with a 30-day return policy.
I think the Pendragons fill an important niche. They are both bona-fide performers and affordable. A righteous product not made by girls in China. Because of the affordability, the Pendragons and other Tekton models could very well be one of the hooks that eventually pull the MP3 crowd towards the high end. On the other hand, extremely well-healed purchasers might wake up with that niggling doubt about not spending the big bucks to get the big names. Me? I could live with the Pendragons easily and sleep well. They will not please every audiophile, but I don't know of a single speaker that will. Natural sounding and so seriously dynamic, the Pendragons make my music enjoyable to listen to. Never mind the fact that they have seriously changed the bar as far as affordable high-end speakers go. Get over that doubt that you have when you see the incredibly low price of the Tektons. I've heard many other higher priced speakers that did not communicate the music nearly as well as the Pendragon. Highly recommended. John Zurek