In October of last year, my world was rocked after I learned and listened to a speaker from a little-known American manufacturer, Tekton Design. The speaker in question was the M-Lore, a $649 per pair floorstander. At the time I walked away from it, I thought it could legitimately be all the loudspeaker any real enthusiast would ever need and among the best (if not the best) loudspeaker I'd ever heard under $1,000. High praise, but still I didn't buy. I didn't buy it, not because the M-Lore wasn't worth it (it is, and then some) but because, upon the M-Lore's arrival, I was informed by its designer that "something even better" was in the works. Well, dear readers, that something better has finally arrived in the form of a dragon - a Pendragon, to be exact.
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Truth be told, the Pendragon actually arrived earlier in the year, which some of you may or may not have been aware of, depending on whether you follow the conversations on our forum, HomeTheaterEquipment.com. The reason for the delay in my review is simple: I wasn't sure how exactly to write it, for some of my conclusions and final thoughts were difficult to wrap my head around, not to mention that they might ruffle a few feathers within the industry. That said, let's begin.
The Pendragon is Tekton Design's current flagship effort, retailing for $2,499 per pair and sold direct via the company's website. The Pendragon is a physically imposing loudspeaker, measuring 54 inches tall by 12 inches wide and 16 inches deep. Tekton doesn't specify an official weight, but I'd venture to guess it is somewhere in the vicinity of 80-plus pounds. Standard finish options include satin black, white and red, though automotive paint finishes are available at an extra cost, which hovers around $350 per speaker, give or take - not bad. My review pair was finished in BMW's Cyber Grey Metallic, which looked stunning and was of a quality you'd expect (and frankly demand) from a company such as Wilson Audio or Focal, and yet here I had it on a sub-$3,000 pair of loudspeakers. To suggest that Wilson is the only manufacturer with the ability to effectively pull off automotive paint schemes in the audiophile world is a falsehood. This also won't be the last time I compare the two manufacturers, but I'm getting ahead of myself. A staple among all of Tekton's designs is the apparent lack of grilles. This isn't to say they can't be had - they can, for an added $75 up-charge for the pair.
With no grilles blocking my view of the Pendragon's driver array, I took a moment to marvel at not only its scale, but also its unique construction. At first glance, one might think the Pendragon employs a D'Appolito-style array. It doesn't, for the five drivers are more or less arranged in a time-aligned line array with two ten-inch drivers resting above and below three one-inch tweeters. The full-range ten-inch drivers are sourced from Eminence (an American pro audio company), whereas the one-inch tweeters are of a proprietary design unique to the Pendragon, courtesy of one of the lead designers at ScanSpeak. There isn't much known about the tweeters themselves (unless you're willing to sign an NDA), because Eric Alexander, the Pendragon's designer, wants to keep the proprietary process just that. They're unique in their look, possessing a flexible ring around the dome with a pronounced dimple resting dead center, hence the tweeters' name: dimple-dome. I mistakenly took the dimple for driver damage upon unboxing the speakers for the first time. According to Alexander, the spacing and arrangement of the drivers is also unique to Tekton and the Pendragon, and is another secret one must sign an NDA in order to learn more about. To suggest that Alexander takes his craft seriously is an understatement. Then again, I'd be protective of "my baby" if it had been in development for over ten years. Minus the five drivers, which rest toward the top of the Pendragon's 54-inch-tall frame, the rest of the front baffle is used, more or less, to show off the beautiful paint job, which is okay by me.
Around back, you won't find much in the way of bells and whistles, except for a pair of rear-facing bass ports and a single pair of very robust five-way binding posts that can accept everything from bare wire to spade lug adaptors. The center post is a little on the wide side, so you may have to use wider than average spade terminations if that is your end of choice in your system. I use banana terminations, so this was less of an issue, but one still worth mentioning.
The Pendragon itself has a reported frequency response of 20Hz to 30kHz, with a sensitivity rating of 98dB into a stable eight-ohm load. Due to its super-high efficiency, the Pendragon is near ideal for virtually every type of amplifier, tube or solid state and AV receiver on the market today. Tekton states that the maximum power handling of the Pendragon is 200 watts, though Alexander says you can definitely put more power to it, a lot more, up to 1000 watts in fact. Also, the Pendragon was designed to be able to recreate the scale and dynamics of a live recording or event. Because of this, it is capable of very high output, in excess of 120dB, without so much as breaking a sweat.
The Pendragons arrived at my home via FedEx in two very unassuming boxes. Unboxing the Pendragon is easy enough, so long as you don't get too overzealous with your box knife, for removing the cardboard protection requires you to cut the packaging in the middle. Removing the top first exposes several thick pieces of foam surrounding the speaker itself. Laying the speaker back on its side allows you to remove the bottom cardboard box. From there, you can gently remove the side and front foam pieces, exposing the speaker inside its thin plastic shroud. Removing enough of the shroud so that you can get at the bottom of the speaker's cabinet is all you're going to want to do for now, for I recommend installing the heavy carpet-piercing spikes first before going any farther. The spikes screw into four pre-drilled holes and, when installed, raise the Pendragon off the floor a good half-inch or so. Once the spikes are in place, you can gently tip the large speaker onto its feet and remove the rest of the foam pieces and the bag itself. It was at this point that I got my first full look at the Pendragon. Despite being of a simple shape, it is bite-the-back-of-your-hand pretty. Never in a million years did I imagine a large monolithic object could be deemed as pretty, let alone sleek, but in its custom BMW Cyber Grey Metallic paint, the Pendragon is absolutely stunning.
Once I had both speakers unboxed and on their spikes, I walked them into position, roughly where I had kept my reference Bowers & Wilkins 800 Series Diamonds. This put them approximately eight-and-a-half feet apart and three feet off my front wall, with four-and-a-half feet separating each speaker from my side walls. The room itself measures nearly 17 feet wide by 25 feet long and has nine-foot ceilings. The Pendragon has very good horizontal dispersion, so toe-in was not a huge issue. This was good, because between the speakers rested my 50-inch Panasonic plasma, which sometimes can cause problems with speakers that require more toe-in. I ended up toeing in the Pendragons maybe an inch to an inch-and-a-half, but nothing more.
As for the rest of my associated equipment, I used an array of new items that I'd become familiar with prior to the Pendragon's arrival. Chief among these were my new reference amplifiers from Crown. Crown makes professional amplifiers for studios and stage, so they're not well known in the consumer world, even though they can also be found powering many of the JBL speakers we enjoy at our local cinemas. They're Class-D amps, featuring Harman's own DriveCore technology, which makes them efficient on multiple levels, not to mention hugely powerful. I ran two Crown XLS 2000 amplifiers in bridged mono mode to each Pendragon, feeding them a staggering 1,300 watts apiece. The XLS 2000 represents the most powerful amp I've ever had in my system and, at $899 retail (street price is much lower), among the more affordable.
A note about the XLS amplifier: this is a pro audio product, so there are going to be some drawbacks, such as physical appearance, which is entirely utilitarian. While the amp has what appears to be five-way binding posts, it can only accept bare or banana terminated speaker wire. It has an internal fan that is very loud under load. However, the point at which that load is reached is very difficult to achieve - I know this because my fans have never kicked on, even after hours of 100dB-plus listening. Still, should they ever do so, I've been told they'll sound like a small aircraft trying to take off from your rack. Lastly, pro gear tends to have slightly lower signal to noise ratios than consumer products, including the Crown XLS Series of amps. The 2000 and 2500 models have a signal to noise ratio that is acceptable (in my opinion) for consumer use, but it may be too loud for you. For the record, the XLS 2000's signal to noise ratio is 103dB, which isn't as good as, say, a Krell 402e at 108dB, but passable for my tastes. I connected the XLS 2000s to the Pendragons via fifteen-foot runs of DIY speaker cable made from parts ordered from SnapAV, which included gold-plated banana adaptors.
My XLS 2000s were connected to my Integra DHC 80.2 preamp processor via one-meter runs of balanced (XLR) Monoprice analog interconnects. For source components, I used my newly constructed home theater PC for both music and movies, which I connected to the Integra via a one-meter high-speed HDMI cable, also from Monoprice. I don't normally make a big deal about the total system price of either my system or the system under review, but in this case, I feel it's important, for it will help give perspective later in the review. This said, the total system price (full retail) was roughly $6,000 total. Obviously, the street price is lower and I'm not including my JL Fathom f110 subwoofers at $2,100 apiece for I don't believe that a) the Pendragons require as robust a subwoofer and b) a typical Pendragon customer isn't going to spend nearly double on subwoofers than they spent on the Pendragons themselves.
Speaking of subs, the Pendragon does such a good job with its bass performance that I ended up crossing over my JL Audio subs at the lowest possible setting my Integra would allow, which was 40Hz. In truth, the Pendragon did a better job in the low mid/bass than the JL subs, so the JL subs were used purely to augment the lowest of registers. Also, I only applied equalization to the subs themselves via the free software Room EQ Wizard and a Behringer Feedback Destroyer Pro.
I let the entire system play together for a while before doing any critical listening, not because I put a great deal of stock in break-in, but because I was just enjoying the system as a whole and didn't much care to evaluate it straight away.
I began my official evaluation of the Pendragon with techno, a genre of music I listen to a lot but don't really use in my evaluations. Starting with Bassnectar's "Lights (Remix)" off their album Divergent Spectrum (Amorphous Music), the first thing that struck me about the Pendragon's performance was its ability to create a truly three-dimensional sound experience. The synthesized bells and bell-like tones that are littered throughout the track, especially the opening few seconds, surrounded me in a completely natural and wholly convincing way, as if there were rear channels present in the mix. The motion and agility the bells possessed was also remarkable; they danced to the sides and even above, much like fireflies in the night sky.
Read more about the performance of the Tekton Design Pendragon on Page 2.