The shock wave caused by the release of Tekton Design's Double Impact speaker is still rocking the world of high-end speaker aficionados. As I stated in my review of the $3,000/pair Double Impact, this speaker is a disruptive product because it snaps the ratio of cost to performance to the point of absurdity--completely outperforming my reference speakers, the $18,000/pair Lawrence Audio Cellos. I personally know three other professional reviewers who have put their reference speakers (which average $30,000/pair) in the closet and replaced them with Tekton Design Double Impacts.
In my Double Impact review, I mentioned that Tekton was coming out with a version of the Double Impact called the Special Edition, which would feature significant upgrades in all the drive units and internal parts. However, Tekton owner Eric Alexander had already conceptualized a totally new reference-level model that would allow him to implement his breakthrough design without any cost considerations, and he offered HomeTheaterReview.com the opportunity to be the first to professionally review his new creation. The name of this speaker is the Ulfberht, and it retails for $12,000/pair. The unusual moniker is taken from the name for legendary Viking medieval swords, famous for their strength and their ability to keep their sharp edge during battles.
The patented Ulfberht is a physically imposing speaker that weighs 200 pounds and measures 73 inches high by 16 inches long by 17 inches wide. The pair sent to me for review was finished in a beautiful black piano lacquer with imbedded silver flakes that subtly shine in the right light. The Ulfberht is a four-way design that uses a total of 21 drivers. Starting at the bottom of the front baffle is the highest quality 12-inch woofer that is manufactured by Eminence. Above the woofer is a pair of seven-inch mid-bass patented "overtone & harmonic" bass transducers of Italian origin. Next is a proprietary, patent-pending 15-dome radiating hybrid MTM high-frequency array of Scan-Speak drivers from Denmark. They are larger domes with extremely low resonance frequencies, and they are highly efficient. Flanking this array are four small vents. Another pair of mid-bass drivers followed by a 12-inch woofer takes you to the highest point of the front baffle.
On the back of the Ulfberht are two twin ports to vent the woofers and two pairs of high-quality speaker wire terminals for bi-wiring. Finally, there's a pair of terminals that accept differently rated resistors, if you want to change the performance of the highest frequencies when using a rather "hot" sounding amplifier. Because the high-end frequencies always sounded sweet and natural, I never had to use any resistors with the many solid-state and tube amplifiers I used while auditioning the Ulfberht. Its frequency range is 20 Hz to 30 kHz, with a sensitivity of 99 dB and an average impedance of four ohms. This means that virtually any amplifier can drive the Ulfberht Speakers to tremendously high volume levels in any sized acoustic space. All crossover parts are hand sourced by Eric, and he is very proud of the "pure minimum phase" crossover design throughout the entire midrange.
The pair of Ulfberht Speakers arrived strapped to a large, heavy wooden platform in a very intelligently designed double crate with internal padding to keep the speakers pristine during shipping. Because of the sheer bulk of these massive speakers, I strongly advise that at least two people unpack them (which is a relatively straightforward and easy task) and place them in their optimum position.
I placed the Ulfberhts exactly in the same position where the Double Impacts usually reside in my listening room, which has dimensions of 30 feet wide by 50 feet long by 24 feet high. I positioned the Ulfberhts seven feet apart with a slight toe-in, seven feet off the front wall, and four feet off the sidewalls. The Ulfberht speakers were mounted on Sistrum Apprentice Platforms.
The rest of my system consisted of an MBL 1621 CD transport, a Concert Fidelity-040 hybrid DAC, an Audio Tube Linear Micro-Zotl preamp, numerous power amplifiers (Pass Labs XA-60.8 mono blocks, ZOTL-40, Triode Lab SET 2A3S-MK2, Canary Audio SET 300b M-80 mono blocks, and Sophia Electric SET 300b 91-01 mono blocks), a Running Springs Dmitri power conditioner, MG Cable reference silver and copper wiring, and Harmonix Studio Master and Audio Archon power cords, all placed on a Tomo rack with footers by Krolo Design.
I made the decision that I would use the exact musical selections that I used when I auditioned the Double Impact speakers in order to have a clear baseline to evaluate what the Ulfberht speakers would do differently than their less expensive siblings in the Tekton line.
On the wonderfully recorded big band album by Bill Holman called Brilliant Corners: The Music of Thelonious Monk (JVC), the Ulfberht speakers took the Double Impacts' transient speed and velocity of a horn speaker to another level. When the big band hit extreme crescendos, the transient speed of the Ulfberhts rendered the most spectacular macro-dynamics I've ever heard in my system. The inherent sense of the music being "live" was even higher than I got with the Double Impacts. It was also apparent that the noise floor of the Ulfberht is lower than that of the Double Impact, which led to an incredible resolution of micro-details--so I could more easily hear the timbres/color nuances of the different instruments.
The next selection was Bob Marley's Legend: The Best of Bob Marley and the Wailers (Island), which is a mixture of live recordings and studio sessions. Through a reference-level speaker, the size/shape, soundstage layering, and location of each individual player should be precisely projected in your room, leaving the speaker out of the equation by doing a magical disappearing act. The Double Impacts were excellent at pulling this off with Bob Marley's music. Depending on the venue where each song was recorded, you experienced either a "you are there" or "they are here" effect and could precisely locate each singer/player in that space. In the area of soundstaging, the Ulfberht offered a higher level of precision in re-creating the type of venue and an even more realistic illusion of three-dimensional musicians performing on a stage within that venue.
My next selection was Johnny Griffin's Tenor Scene (Prestige), which is a great album of hard-bop early 1960s jazz recorded live at a club in New York City. As I have stated in previous reviews, if a speaker cannot get the timbres/colors/tonality of the different instruments and the vocals to sound their best, it does not matter to me what else it can do correctly. I had the pleasure of hearing Johnny Griffin on many occasions at different clubs in Chicago, and I have a very good take on how his timbres/tonality sounded in person. The Ulfberht speakers came as close to what I experienced hearing Johnny Griffin play live than I've ever heard before in any stereo system. All of his tonality and the little changes in his blowing on the reed to get different sounds were easy to hear without a hint of being analytically cold or sterile in any way. This speaker has a special liquidity and ease that allows the music to effortlessly flow into your room, connecting you with the music in an emotional way.
The last selection was the heart-stirring album of Keith Jarrett's solo piano playing, The Melody at Night, with You (ECM), recorded at his home studio. As I listened to this music through the Ulfberht speakers, I was shocked by how Keith Jarrett's piano sounded in my acoustic space. With my eyes closed, I could have sworn that the Steinway Grand was in my house at that moment. These speakers pressurized my total room with low bass notes. I could clearly/easily hear the decays off the sounding board, and I could hear Jarrett's fingertips striking the keys as he played. This was the best I have ever heard piano portrayed on a system.
I only have two caveats/concerns regarding the Ulfberht speakers. This is a physically massive speaker that needs a large acoustic space to breathe and produce its magical lifelike presentation. In a small acoustic space, you could try to get maximum performance out of it with extensive room treatments, but that's where the other Tekton models (the Double Impact/Double Impact SE/Ulfberht Jr.) would really be a better fit, both physically and for ultimate sonic performance.
Because this speaker is the most transparent and incredibly resolving transducer I have ever had in my system, it was very easy to hear the difference when I changed the equipment (amplifiers, wires, tubes, or preamplifiers) in front of the Ulfberht speakers. You can drive this speaker with virtually any amplifier because of its 99-dB sensitivity; however, if you do not use high-quality sources or electronics, you will hear the shortcomings in what you are feeding the Ulfberht speakers.
Comparison and Competition
This section is tricky because these Tekton speakers aim to slay large dragons--i.e., lofty speakers that cost many times more than the Ulfberhts. I have been very fortunate over the years to hear some of the most highly regarded speakers at all price points--in home systems or audio salons, as well as at high-end stereo shows. After listening to scores of transducers, two speakers stand out for me because of their special performance: the $45,000/pair TAD Compact Reference 1 and the $58,000/pair Magico S7. I would put the Ulfberht's performance on the same level as these speakers in terms of macro-dynamics, total transparency/musical details, and overall musicality. You might want to have me checked into some form of institution by mentioning the Ulfberhts in the same breath as these uber-high-end speakers, but the comparison just highlights the stellar performance offered by the Tektons at $12,000/pair.
Another competitor is the Wilson Audio Sasha W/P in the $30,000/pair range. Wilsons come with a denser cabinet and comparable custom car paint finishes. Today's Wilsons aren't nearly as efficient as Tektons, nor can Sasha W/Ps produce the sheer volume. Wilson does have speakers that are capable of more output--it's just that they cost a lot more money.
Focal's Sopra line of speakers--including the Sopra N°2s at $14,999/pair that Jerry Del Colliano reviewed and ultimately bought and the Sopra N°3s at $20,000/pair that Dr. Ken Taraszka has reviewed and purchased--are worthy competitors. Their French industrial design is a notch or two above the monstrous Tektons. The Focal's Beryllium tweeters are as smooth as silk, offering a different sound, while Focal's mid and bass drivers are as good as any that one could invest in. The Focals aren't quite as efficient as the Tekton Ulfberht speakers, but they are up there for a non-horn speaker.
Other speakers that might pique your interest in this space include the $22,000/pair Bowers & Wilkins Diamond 802 D3s, which use the new, super-high-tech Diamond tweeter and a new Kevlar-replacing midrange composite material that is very slick. The 802 D3 and $30,000/pair 800 D3 have the build quality you'd expect from a Boeing Dreamliner more than a speaker. Sonically the Bowers & Wilkins have a much more conservative and staid sound than the Tektons.
Paradigm's partially powered Persona Series speakers might also catch your attention. With these striking-looking and fantastic-sounding speakers, you can select very low-powered amps (think: First Watt) to power the Beryllium tweeter and midrange drivers while the Paradigm speakers cover the power for the lower registers.
We've already established that the Tekton Design Double Impact speaker is a shockingly great speaker that will compete with speakers costing thousands of dollars more than its $3,000/pair price tag. Does the Ulfberht speaker deserve, based solely on its performance, the much higher price of admission? The answer is unquestionably yes for the following reasons:
First, the Ulfberht Speaker takes to an even higher level the Double Impact's sense of aliveness and adds more transient speed and overall dynamics to its presentation. Second, the Ulfberht speaker scales a large musical event as if it has no limit in terms of macro-dynamics, never losing its composure or resolution. This leads to an effortlessness that you only find in large, high-efficiency, horn-loaded speakers, without the colorations found in those designs. Also, the Ulfberht has the lowest noise floor of any speaker I've ever listened to, which means that it delivers incredible resolution of the smallest details/nuances without sounding analytical or mechanical. The proprietary, patent-pending 15-dome radiating hybrid MTM frequency array delivers the music with the clarity, coherence, and resolution of a large electrostatic panel design. It makes other cone-based speakers sound slightly veiled and muffled in the treble and midrange regions. Not only does it provide more accurate low-bass frequencies than the Double Impact, but the power foundation (upper bass/lower midrange) is rendered more realistically to support the rest of the music's sense of aliveness. There is a wonderful liquidity and sense of ease to the Ulfberht speaker's performance--as if it's loping along, never being stressed or pushed to its limits. It creates a soundstage with great dimensionality and dense image palpability, then it physically vanishes into that soundstage like a great small two-way monitor. Finally, the Ulfberht speaker delivers beautiful, natural timbres/tonality at a level that gives you a virtual window on the emotional experience of live music.
In terms of value, the Tekton Design Ulfberht falls in an odd place: $12,000 isn't cheap by any measure, and the key technology in the speakers can be had in the Double Impact for $3,000/pair. Where the five-star ranking comes from is how these speakers compete with the finest engineered and built speakers from the world's most lauded speaker companies. Simply put, the Tekton Ulfberht is now in the conversation at $12,000/pair when the competition is often many times more money.
If you have enough physical space for this massive-sized speaker to breathe and deliver its magical presentation and can drive it with first-rate electronics, then you owe it to yourself to audition the Ulfberht before purchasing your next pair of speakers. The demo pair of Ulfberht speakers will not be leaving my reference system. I will be purchasing them for all the reasons stated in my review.
• Visit the Tekton Design website for more product information.
• Check out our Floorstanding Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
• Tekton Design Double Impact Floorstanding Speaker Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.