Tekton Pendragon Loudspeaker
These things should come with a warning label. Several, actually and as expected looking at the size of them they can and do play extremely loud extremely effortlessly with ANY genre of music. Period. Testosterone aside, the true story of the flagship mono-pole speaker from Tekton design is a gentle giant of sorts with far more capability than their arena-ready looks portray. After having the pleasure of doing the world’s first review of the M-Lore that Eric Alexander (the veteran design guru and owner of Tekton), I was excited that he wanted to put one of his upper-end priced products in our hands. Eric makes only one higher priced model, the OBSigma at $5000/pr.
When the Pendragons showed up, these monolithic monsters were flat-out intimidating. Warning one: At 80+ lbs. each and 54” high x 12” wide x 16” deep, you might need a hand moving them, though the Styrofoam and cardboard packaging made them manageable to unload. The units I received were in a handsome black lacquer that was of very high quality. They are available from Tekton in just about any finish you would like, but grills are optional. My pair did not come with grills, for which I am thankful as I enjoy listening without them. Take some care and attach the spikes as they do pass through the cabinet and will act as a vent if not blocked.
The three-tweeter array in proportion with the two 10” paper cone woofers makes them far more handsome than the M-lore. Since they take up little more floor space than a large bookshelf speaker on a stand, the Pendragons are not imposing once in-room, rather a statement to the owners commitment to good sound.
Just how do you keep a monster of a loudspeaker affordable and still perform? A conversation with Eric around the ‘dragons confirmed quickly that the attention to detail found in the M-lore was only the tip of the iceberg and the innovations present are almost obvious, yet many companies just do not seem to get it. It’s all in the details.
First there is the cabinet. It takes a good deal of large panels to create such a large and powerful speaker easily driving up the cost. Tekton overcame this by careful bracing schemes including support the woofers press against to eliminate and equalize vibration transferred to the cabinet. They also employed a sort of constrained layering of the material making a surprisingly quiet thump when knuckle-testing the side and rear panels.
The cabinet is not without fault however as there is tactical evidence these are speakers while playing. Loudspeaker design, unless you’re designing a cost-no-issue statement product, is a game of compromises and it seems to keep the value some vibration was acceptable, just at low levels which will not interfere with the end result. I never once “heard” the cabinets.
Second, there is the driver compliment. An amazing array of two 10” drivers and three 1” tweeters in at 2-way design, affirming Tektons belief in melding HIFI and pro loudspeaker design as the woofers are right from Eminence’s catalog with the tweeters from the HIFI driver company SB Acoustics. The woofers are fairly standard pro audio drivers and being such, perform well with a soft roll off at their upper pass-band which is needed to mate a 10” woofer to a 1” tweeter.
The tweeters are concentric radiators which allow for healthy linear excursion, outstanding 98 dB sensitivity while maintaining top end extension. Place them all in a D’Appolito design with the three tweeters sandwiched vertically between the two mid/bass drivers, controlling vertical response while offering smooth off-axis performance and acoustic power distribution in-room, and the sonic result shows this Jedi Master of Loudspeaker Design sees the forest through the trees.
Note to Do-It-Yourselfers: While I would never recommend altering a product for safety and warrantee reasons, there is much to-do in this world for bigger, stronger, faster and “better”, just look at reality shows. These things are a tweaker’s dream and while I was very happy to see quality crossover components, a beefed up crossover and wiring scheme could really make them breathe even more fire.
I had to fight every instinct NOT to immediately throw in some arena rock and crank them until my head exploded, and I am glad I did. I threw on some of the usual smaller tracks I like to start with like Diana Krall, Miles Davis and Bach’s Cello Suites. The immediate impression was how damn gentle and sweet the sound was. Unlike monster line arrays of similar stature, or even large speakers with open baffle mids, the aural representation of the physical size of instruments was very accurate. Nothing worse than the feeling you are listening to a seven foot tall tenor sax. The Pendragons got it right and the distinction between trumpets, trombones, tubas in their proper presence and girth was very enjoyable. Same rules apply for cellos, violins, even drums. I believe a great deal of this was tied to their dynamic capability which is prodigious.
The Pendragons are stated to have a 98dB sensitivity. This is extremely high for even a large speaker. I can tell you my normal listening volume on the dial was about halved, indicating the high-sensitivity figure is not an exaggeration; something we’ve found is sometimes the case. 98 dB sensitivity gives you almost unlimited latitude on the low-wattage amp parade. Five watts per channel? Probably doable even in a fairly large room!
I was noticing harshness in the upper midrange from the second I fired them up. A nervousness to the sound that I have heard before and I was convinced from the go that it was a miss-match somewhere. I checked everything: All connections, phase, etc. It was not until I bypassed my pre-amp and went straight out of the Eastern Electric Mini-max that everything settled. I plugged my Pre-amp back in and noticed it was gone! What changed? The volume on my DAC. I found when I got past about 3 o’clock I began to overdrive the input stage on my pre-amp. I never noticed this on any other speakers I have had in my system from Wal-Mart specials to the exotic. I am convinced the Pendragons sensitivity (which if you look at sensitivity as a magnifying glass for the input signal) was allowing the low level distortion to be heard. Very cool.
Continuing in this vein, the dynamic capability of the Pendragons is outstanding, due in large part to being a highly sensitive speaker as well as the overall surface area of the drivers involved. I am not just talking about large scale booms of concert bass drums but the feeling of a performer’s hand-weight on the piano keys and fingering on acoustic guitars. There is no replacement for displacement and from my own study I believe this applies not only to bass, but midrange and treble. The surface area of three tweeters, while it can create more issues than it solves, provides some serious radiated acoustic energy into the room. Usually you are stuck with a horn loaded tweeter, a ribbon, or a planar type-high frequency driver in a powerful high efficiency speaker each of which had disadvantages! Forgive me: Ribbons do have weaknesses. For what I believe Tekton sacrificed in extreme extension they gained just about everywhere else and created a large speaker that acts like a true high-end rig while maintaining the normalcy of audio we all know and love. Leader of the innovative pack for the price and a unique, yet positive quality that followed in everything I listened to.
To touch a little more about their recess of resolution, the Pendragons had adequate resolution to hang out at the $2500 price-point. Tonally they were very well balanced and nothing was missing from top to bottom, but when listening to some media, they can be like looking at a painting in a room with low light. The faces are easily recognizable, everything is where it should be, and all the details present yet the true color is missing a little bit. For some people, this could be a deal breaker. For others, nothing you would give two thoughts to if you were not an art collector paying attention to these things. While instruments were placed amazingly well in a large, dimensional soundstage, they never exhibited the amount of separation from the background that we’ve heard elsewhere. Do not let this undermine the Pendragon’s capability to sort out complex details or generate realism, because when it came to just shutting up and enjoying the music, they were one of my personal favorite large speakers I have come across since the PSB Stratus Gold I.
Speaking of which Reference Recording’s “Pomp and Pipes” was a very fun listen. Some larger speakers, at ten times the cost of the Pendragons, can drive me to air conduct to the music but the Pendragons offered an interesting perspective: I was in the audience. They presented the VERY large Dallas Wind Symphony backed up by a Fisk Opus 100 pipe organ (a symphony in of itself with 84 ranks, 4,000+ pipes, and 65 stops) in a way where I was immersed in realistic dynamic capability and staging while not able to pinpoint the lace thong ruffling that the 3rd seated flute was wearing. It was nice to be in the audience too. Honestly, I listened as loud as I could take it with peaks hitting over 105dB at times (unweighted) and they never missed a single pomp. The tonality did not change either. From top to bottom it was well balanced, laid back, and while there is no way measure in-room bass below 200Hz very accurately I feel confident in saying the Pendragons hold true to their claim of 20Hz, at least in my room. Talking specific tracks with this recording is difficult because they all are reference worthy with huge dynamics and full range but I will note I enjoyed the following the most: Track 2, “Alleujah! Laudamus Te”, Track 4 “The Vikings”, and Track 8 “Lord Save Thy People”. Sadly, this recording stays shelved most times just because so few speakers can do it justice. The Pendragons were able to handle all of the glory with poise.
Peter Gabriel has been one of my favorite artists since his work with Phil Collins in Genesis. His strange, often quirky blend of new-world instruments, electronic, and hair-raisingly haunting vocals border a music genre on their own. In his latest album “New Blood”, he took a step back and did what can be interpreted as a self-tribute/retrospective album of his personal favorite songs with nothing but a small orchestra. The recording is extremely well done and if the wispy strings and winds are not enough, and Peter Gabriel’s voice does not make your hair stand up, Ane Brun will seal the deal with her back up on two of my favorite tracks: “Don’t give up”, and “Mercy Street”. Both originals are off my favorite album by him, “So”. I mentioned above where the Pendragons were able to scale instruments size properly and this is where it shined. Also, their gentile and non-imposing nature truly brought out the deep emotional value in Peter Gabriel’s music. It was spine-tingling and haunting to just hear the music preserved as it was. I did actually miss a little resolution on this album, but it was made up for in every other imaginable way.
In-room response of the Pendragon is amazingly flat with no major aberrations. There is a small margin of error, however I would estimate they are about 95dB sensitive, which is very close to the claimed 98dB. Off axis performance is smooth with a gentle roll-off showing no major acoustic phase issues.
Looking at the impedance you have to do some investigating to see the typical double bump of a vented enclosure. It looks as if the tuning frequency of the box was pushed below 20Hz as you can see by the rise around 20Hz, otherwise the driver Fs shows about 52Hz. Reminds me of a true SBB4 alignment. The impedance/phase the knee is harmless and easy to drive. This accounts for why tubes like them so much. Around 2k, which seems to be the back end of the crossover point (I have to guess it is 1K-1.2K), or something going on the phase reaches a minima of -65 deg which is extremely difficult to drive. Luckily there is not a lot of current required at such a high frequency so for any quality amp this should never pose a problem at any wattage. The rest of the treble is an easy load/should not pose a problem.
Distortion is very acceptable through the passband of the woofers and it is easy to see the drop-off once you hit the HIFI tweeters. High order distortion is fairly low, and 3rd is well tamed where it counts above 1K which the distortion becomes primarily 2nd order dominant. Remember: this low distortion is occurring at a 90dB to 95dB level! Very impressive for any speaker.
The only two concerns are at 2K and 5K. The 2K may be interaction between the tweeters, or energy storage in the woofer, however something is ringing there. It may also be what is seen in the impedance plot. 5K is again something with the tweeters, however it is at a very low magnitude. 5K is a critical range, however and may have contributed to the perceived recess in resolution. Either way they are at acceptably low quantities and not a reason to worry.
The mirrored polar response shows why they were a little finicky to toe-in, and why placement was less critical. Overall they exhibit very wide dispersion. Can you guess where I will comment? 2K, you are right! I will say the dispersion becomes narrow in this range which may account for why toe-in is critical to balance the acoustic power you are hearing. The narrowing around 13K is normal for a 1 or 1.2” tweeter.
I am always glad I measure as the last step not to bias what I am hearing, but it certainly is nice when the science reveals exactly what is heard. Even better when it confirms objectively the subjective observations made are correct. The Pendragons are a great speaker!
Just when I was ready to pack 'em up and call it a day I found I was lucky enough to have the Bogdan Audio Creations 70’s tube monoblocks coming my way. Being the kind gentleman that he is, Eric allowed me to hold on to the Pendragons to hear the amp/speaker duet they created. The Bogdan 70 tube mono-blocks are a no-holds-barred tetrode tube amp right down to the tube rectification. They are a little heavy handed at $3995/pr., but the closest thing I have heard to them is an Audio Research VT 100 MKIII which was (I believe) nearly $2500 more at retail when new.
My latest tube exposure before the Bogdan's was the Luxman MQ-88 and if it was better than the 70’s it was not $3,000 better. In other words, the Bogdan 70’s are solid sonic performers… More details to come in their own web-space! Ahem! Where was I? Yes! The pairing was superb. The Pendragons enjoyed the ultra-classic tube tones as shown in the Eagles “Hell Freezes Over”. 70 watts of tube power was more than enough to reach realistic levels without a hint of stress during “Hotel California”. The drums had weight and presence with that touch of 6L6 sweet. Some bloom in the guitar and fleshy vocals showed the Pendragons truly transcend their price in ability to reproduce what they are given. In some ways, I did not expect to hear such a vast difference between my amp and the 70’s with such a modest speaker.
I will close with “Desperado”. It was one of the very few times I felt actually there when listening to a live recording and the blend between the sweetness of the tubes and the Pendragons ability to reproduce music faithfully had me grinning from ear to ear.
These are as close as I have heard in the $2K-$3K price bracket to earning a Maximum Mojo Award. It is such a difficult price point to assign this coveted moniker in HIFI loudspeakers due to the diversity available. For me, they have to be an absolute 10 on the value scale and the Pendragons where a 9.8. No matter, because the Pendragons are about the art of music reproduction. You buy these for music and music alone. Not specifications, impressive exotic features, or absolute resolution, you buy these to love your music collection.
Do not buy these if you are looking for ultimate resolution where you can obsess over whether you can hear if Diana Krall was wearing panties or not when she recorded “The Girl in the Other Room”. Buy these for the music.
They will work with flea-watt amps and handle just about anything you realistically want to throw at them from big solid-state monsters. You do not need a big room, just the footprint of a bookshelf on a stand.
These are for music lovers. No other way for me to say it. Egotistical audiophiles looking for high resolution in sacrifice of everything else will have to look elsewhere but if you have an extremely diverse music collection and looking for one speaker to be able to enjoy everything on, the Pendragon will not let you down. Another shining star from Tekton.
Dual 10" transducers
3 x 1" tweeter
Frequency Response 20Hz-30kHz
Height 54" x Width 12" x Depth 16"
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