Speaker Review: Tekton Model 4.5
“It’s the crossover, stupid!”
Before I explain my reasons for the subtitle I’ll cut to the chase: The Model 4.5s are truly impressive speakers and have ended an epic speaker audition that began in October, 2009, an attempt to replace a my wife’s all time favorite cherry Linn Tukans.
Unsolicited advice: If you have a pair of speakers that your Spousal Unit (SU) enjoys, plays several hours each day, cause said SU to hum and bounce to and fro in microspasms of musical enjoyment, and which match the custom, Amish made cherry furniture to a tee, resist any urge to improve upon the theoretically aging technology by selling it on Ebay. (I’m still referring to speakers.) Nothing good will come of succumbing to upgradeitis.
The Model 4.5s followed the following:
Amphion Helium2 – Exquisite; expensive; darn near impossible to find a legitimate U.S. dealer with a pair in cherry. Para me this speaker set the standard: neutral with a capital N, transparent and absolutely, positively, unfailingly musical; very easy to drive and apparently able to defy the laws of audio physics and produce a scale of sound that bely their size.
Aperion Audio 5B’s – Musical and communicative but so inefficient they never would get up and boogie; little output below 100Hz and absolutely nothing – zero, zip, nada — below 75Hz.
Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 – Near equal of the Helium2; not as efficient, won’t play as loud or with the same sense of scale; breathy, expansive tweeter; bass heavy and struggled with mid-range clarity at low volume. Innovative, rock solid bamboo cabinet was also its undoing.
Axiom M22 – Extremely forward, bright, glaring and unyielding.
B&W 685 – Yet another vaunted B&W transducer that sounded like a heavy beige quilt was draped between us and the music. Why are people so crazy about B&W speakers? To us they always sound lifeless, flat, uninvolving and harsh when pushed.
Hsu Research HB-1 Mk2 – Scary good at low-to-mid volume; piercing and easy to localize when pushed. That and the “agricultural” finish sent them packing.
Magnepan MMG and 1.7 – “Tizzy and grating,” said SU about the MMG; “How tall?” asked SU about the 1.7s which, in the book of marriageese transliterates as, “Not in my living room, ribbon breath.”
Monitor Audio GS-10, RS-1, RS-6 – Enjoyable, well made and as nice to look at as to listen to; trademark Monitor Audio presence and efficiency with that audible, inescapable MA metallic tang that colors the sound.
NHT Classic 3 – Inefficient, yet so good in so many ways; more compelling now that NHT has resurfaced as a buy direct company and offers this model for $700/pair.
Paradigm Studio 20 – Typically Paradigm bright and coupled with an audibly muddy midrange.
Phase Technology Premier PC3.5 – Jeesuslawdgawd, those puppies could play but $1,800 was deemed too pricey and the unusual, ungainly cabinet design qualified them as tweeners, neither bookshelf nor floorstander, and they received the dreaded crinkled nose/shrugged shoulder assessment from SU.
Revel Concerta F12 — Tall, musical monoliths that were constrained when pushed and restrained at low volumes. The specific coloration caused by the ceramic composite driver formulation, while initially interesting, became uninvolving.
The set-up in our great room (approximately 27’x30’, living/dining/kitchen), the space is divided by a short wall creating, in effect, two open rectangles. Sitting atop 24” sand-filled stands there was 65” between the driver cones and they flanked a 50” plasma TV; 10” from the back of the cabinets to the wall; main listening seat was 13’ from the front of the cabinets. Components at work were an ATI AT-1502 amp, B&K Reference 5 preamp, Pioneer Elite A-35R integrated amp, Yamaha DVD-S1800 Universal player, Canare and Beldon cables, and an Energy S10.2 subwoofer called into action during bang-zoom movies.
Location, location, location. In addition to having worked in a few A/V production suites, I’ve been an audio dweeb since the 70’s, long enough to know placing a pair of speakers on both sides of a 50” sheet of glass and expecting the ultimate in undistorted, dimensional audio reproduction is an exercise in futility. Nevertheless, that’s the lay of the land here in our casa and the speakers chosen have to make the best of the challenging environment. For example, the arrangement made the Monitor Audio RS-6s so unrelentingly boomy they had to go. That and the rosewood finish was very red and clashed with every piece of furniture in the room.
Back to the Tektons. The first word out of my mouth came during unboxing when I saw the woodwork. “Mamasita!” The cherry wood was without question the finest I’ve seen on any speaker over the past four decades — gorgeous, natural flaming grain covered by a thin sheen of lacquer. Frankly, the speakers look nicer than our friggin’ furniture. Turnabout kicks fair plays ass.
Eric states on his web site the 4.5s are “The greatest bargain in all of hi-fi.” I submit the 4.5s are one of two of the greatest hi-fi bargains, the other being my Yamaha DVD-S1800 Universal player ($500 list) found brand spanking new on Amazon for $79 shipped, the best bit bouncer in all the land (and, as of this writing, a few more are still available). If finer crafted speakers exist for what the 4.5s cost, I’d love to get my ears around them. And to think I almost laid out a grand more for Amphions. Silly me.
The sound. You know how most bass reflex speakers have a “love hump” tuned into the port to make them sound bigger and bassier than they really are? How they make Johnny Cash sound like his chest is filled with tar-coated phlegm? Not these. Listening to “Spiritual” on Unchained the man in black sounded like he was sitting on the component stand in front of the TV, picking and growling his dark angst mano-e-mano. Inspired to dig a little deeper I played The Fairfield Four, Standing In The Safety Zone. Isaac Freeman, possibly the finest gospel bass singer ever, made earthworms tremble in “My God Called Me This Morning.” Again, nothing exaggerated, just pure, clean, throat shaking notes.
Speaking of shaking throats, next came the Holly Cole Trio, Don’t Smoke In Bed. It didn’t matter which song – “I Can See Clearly Now,” “The Tennessee Waltz,” “Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday” – Coles smokey, sensuous rasp made my neck hair straighten. And while the torch was lit I played a little Michael Buble, It’s Time. Recorded to sound big, bright and vibrant, the horns in the band had plenty of what the venerable J. Gordon Holt once labled “that blatty brassiness.” And Buble sounded every bit the charismatic standards and swing singer he is, complete with his natural tendency to sound slightly nasal when he works the mic with his left hand, a sonic affect not evident on lesser speakers.
You know how a lot of two and three-way speakers ruin bluegrass with glassy tweeters and wrongly placed crossover frequencies? Not these. Alison Krauss’ Forget About It was mixed to offer an up-close-and-personal, one-on-one kind of listening experience and when “Maybe” began it seemed as if the only thing between me and the bluegrass goddess was the pop screen on her ribbon mic. There is an urgent, sensual frailty to Krauss’ tight vibrato and the 4.5s were as effective as the Amphions in recreating the intimate recorded presence, but didn’t sound as breathy as the Sierras. Nasal-driven high harmonies blended with banjos, mandolins and fiddles need room to breathe to sound anything near a live, acoustic performance and the 4.5s provided a strain-free field for The Grascals, High Country, Red Molly, Ricky Skaggs, et al.
SU wanted to hear cuts from Iz Kamakawiwo’ole’s Facing Future. The “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” medley caused tears to well. Iz sounded so pure, so right, so vulnerable and alone in the recording studio that I wanted to believe in something, anything, as he sang. Plucks on his ukulele sounded like fingers on nylon, correct, rather than erring toward the metallic, such as the Hsu and the Monitor Audio speakers replayed.
They rocked and they rolled, too, pretty much replaying discs as they were recorded. CDs compressed to the stops like Ozomatlis Street Signs sounded big-n-busy; older 70’s work like Paul Simon and James Taylor sounded calm and well sorted out; heavy rock like AC-DC was never hurt for scale in our room.
I did find an Achilles heel on the speakers in our setting – action flicks. Star Trek, The Bourne Trilogy, Batman, all needed reinforcement from a subwoofer to make bombastic special effects big-n-boomy. But dialogue driven flicks like Crazy Heart, which has some well recorded concert scenes, hurt for nothing.
What makes these puppies work so well? Besides a smarty boots engineer/designer/craftsman? Here’s the tie in to my review subtitle. Shove a stick up my butt, dip me in batter and call me a corndog, but I suspect a major ingredient in the successful recipe that makes the 4.5s is what isn’t in the pan – a crossover. To oversimplify, no matter how well designed, crossovers monkey with the sound because the capacitors and resistors and windings and epoxy boards and fairy dust comprise one more signal-distorting kludge between you and the original recording venue. No monkey bid’nes with the 4.5s, just really good sound.
My initial reservations about the 4.5s – small, single cone, banana pulp drivers, high efficiency and an easy load to drive, somewhat “kit” looking on the company web site, a designer I’d never heard of, the too good to be true pricing – proved baseless. Spool up some jazz, swing, bluegrass, country, gospel, pop, rock, movies, you name it, they bring it. Everything I’ve played through them sounds right and without any specific defining acoustic signature courtesy of metallic or hybrid ceramic driver materials, ala Monitor Audio, Revel, et al., weirdo cabinet geometry and materials, or oddly located crossover freqencies. And I was wrong thinking SU would zero them because the uncovered drivers make them look like a set piece in a Jonny Quest cartoon. In fact, after her first listen she gave one a casual grope, then patted the top of the speaker and proclaimed, “I can live with them.”
My work here is done.
MW, Garden City, MO