- The HCE Video Series
A Brief History
In August of last year my proverbial world was rocked when I took delivery of a pair of Tekton Design Pendragon loudspeakers. It’s not that the Pendragon is the greatest loudspeaker ever built, nor the second. What the Pendragon represented for me, at the time and to this day, was the near perfect marriage of true high-end performance at a reasonable price. Note, I didn’t describe the Pendragon as good for the money. I look at them no differently than I would or do any high-end loudspeaker, the difference being that the Pendragon doesn’t cost what other high-end loudspeakers cost. And yes there is a difference.
Almost as soon as the Pendragons arrived at my home did I immediately begin to wonder what a full surround sound system comprised of Pendragons must sound like. I even went so far as to phone Eric Alexander, Tekton Designs’ owner and head loudspeaker designer, in order to ask him if it were possible to get a matching center speaker and a pair of surrounds. At the time the thought of a Pendragon center and surrounds hadn’t really taken hold in Eric’s mind, however after he and I got to talking he began to see the possibilities. The months quickly passed and in truth I had almost forgotten about our conversation and my dreams of possessing an all Pendragon theater system. Then, just before Christmas, my phone rang -it was Eric. He told me that he had finally settled on a design for the Pendragon center speaker and surrounds and asked if I’d be interested in auditioning them. Uh-um, does a bear s#!t in the woods? Of course I wanted to audition them. A few weeks went by, then a month, and soon I began to wonder if Eric had forgotten -again. Then one day, out of the blue, Eric phoned me, this time asking for my new mailing address for the remaining speakers needed to flesh out my Pendragon theater were now ready.
A week later five very large boxes landed on my doorstep.
The Pendragon Theater is exactly that; a complete home theater speaker system. While other manufacturers are content with selling you whatever a la carte, the Pendragon Theater is designed and sold as a complete 5.2 or 7.2 loudspeaker solution (a la carte pricing is now available). The Pendragon Theater is anchored by the mighty Pendragon loudspeakers, which serve as the system’s left and right mains. The Pendragon Center is essentially a single Pendragon tower laid on its side with its base lopped off and its tweeter array rotated 90-degrees. The matching Pendragon surrounds are but Pendragons, but in monitor form. The point being all of the various Pendragon loudspeakers that make up the system share similar construction and possess identical drivers. Having all five or seven Pendragon speakers comprised of (largely) the same construction as well as identical driver configurations helps to ensure your surround sound experience is one of absolute coherence.
The Pendragon Theater ships standard with a pair of Pendragon Subwoofers, which, like the rest of the Pendragon speakers, are large and in charge. Each Pendragon Subwoofer possesses two drivers, which sit atop one another in a forward firing configuration and are powered by an internal 300-Watt BASH amplifier.
The whole setup, all five speakers and both subwoofers sells for $6,500 direct via Tekton Design’s own website. You even get a 30-day, in-home trial period to decide for yourself if the Pendragon Theater is just right for you. Should the Pendragon Theater not work out, or simply be too much of a good thing, Tekton Designs will take it back -less a 15% restocking fee. A note about the 15% restocking fee; all Tekton Design loudspeakers are made by hand and to order. The 15% restocking fee is there to protect the workers at Tekton Design from “window shoppers” who just want to hear what everyone is talking about, but have no real intentions of becoming customers long term. A 15% restocking fee isn’t wholly uncommon among Internet direct companies in the specialty AV space, nor is it outrageously expensive should you need to return your loudspeakers for legitimate reasons.
Since the Pendragon Theater is comprised of four different loudspeakers, I thought it might be easier for me to break them down in terms of their specifications individually.
The two matching Pendragon speakers that serve as the system’s left and right main channels are a floorstanding design measuring 54 inches tall by 12 inches wide and 16 inches deep. Standard finishes for the Pendragon include: satin black, white and red, though custom finishes are available at an added cost. Speaker grills are also an optional extra, which will run you $75 for the pair. Each Pendragon speaker features a pair of dual, 10-inch, full-range drivers complimented by three, one-inch tweeters that rest between the two larger drivers. The tweeters are unique (and proprietary) to the Pendragon speakers, whereas the 10-inch, full-range drivers are sourced from Eminence -a pro audio loudspeaker manufacturer. The Pendragon itself has a reported frequency response of 20Hz to 30kHz with a stated impedance of 8 Ohms and a sensitivity of 98dB 1 Watt at 1 meter. Max power handling is said to be 200 Watts. While the Pendragon can play plenty deep, thanks in no small part to its dual, rear facing ports; it still requires a sub to reach the basement despite its claimed 20Hz frequency response.
The Pendragon Center / Surrounds
The Pendragon Center measures 31.6 inches wide by 12 inches tall and 14 inches deep, and tips the scales at a hefty 54 pounds. Like its floorstanding sibling, the Pendragon, the Pendragon Center also has a pair of 10 inch, full-range drivers complimented by a trio of one-inch tweeters. Since the Pendragon Center lacks the Pendragon’s sheer volume -and rear facing ports -it’s reported frequency response is listed at 70Hz to 30kHz. No other specifications are given regarding its performance at this time.
The Pendragon Surrounds are actually the same as the Center, only rather than being designed to rest horizontally, they’re meant to stand on end. This means their dimensions are 31.6 inches tall by 12 inches wide and 14 inches deep. Weight is the same at 54 pounds as is their driver compliment and reported frequency response of 70Hz to 30kHz.
Like the Pendragon mains, both the center and surround speakers feature a single pair of binding posts and can accept all forms of speaker cable from bare wire to spade lugs.
The Pendragon Subwoofer
The Pendragon Subwoofer(s) measure 36 inches tall by 14 inches wide and 17 inches deep. Each subwoofer weighs a solid 78 pounds and features two, 12 inch woofers. The dual 12 inch woofers are driven by an internal 300-Watt BASH amplifier that is good for a reported frequency response of 30Hz to 200kHz. The bottom end of the subwoofer’s frequency response aided by the presence of two large, front firing ports located along the subwoofer’s bottom edge.
The BASH-sourced plate amplifier features both speaker level as well as RCA style inputs. There are a pair (left and right) of unbalanced line level inputs as well as a single, unbalanced, LFE input. Above the inputs you’ll find controls for the subwoofer’s crossover frequency, and above that its master volume knob. There is a small toggle switch for phase (0-degrees/180-degrees) as well as power (on/auto/standby). A master on/off switch and removable power cord round out the Pendragon Subwoofer’s list of features -at least as far as its BASH amp is concerned.
Obviously the Pendragon Theater was going into my reference theater space -in fact, my theater was built with the Pendragon Theater in mind. That being said, Eric did throw me a couple of curveballs that I couldn’t have anticipated. However, before I get to those, I should point out that my particular Pendragon Theater was sent to me slightly modified.
Rather than use a Pendragon Center as my center speaker, I instead chose to use a Pendragon Surround. I did this for two reasons; first, my front three speakers reside behind my projection screen therefore I have no need for a horizontal center and second, I wanted to keep the front three speakers as “equal” as possible. Without wasting too much time, did I try the Pendragon Center as an actual center speaker in my theater? Yes, yes I did, and had I not requested to use the Pendragon Surround as my center speaker, I would’ve been just as happy with the Pendragon Center itself.
I had a Pendragon Center on hand, two actually, because my theater’s layout dictates that my surround speakers be ceiling mounted. Rather than use the vertically aligned Pendragon Surrounds as surrounds, I opted for the Pendragon Center, which I could mount higher up towards my ceiling horizontally, and then later “aim” downward at my listening position.
But here is where that curveball comes into play.
Eric designed the Pendragon Surrounds with the intention that they would be mounted inside say a pillar or placed atop a sturdy stand or base. He did not design them for wall mounting, the same being true for the Pendragon Center. Because of their larger than normal size and intense weight, mounting either the Pendragon Surrounds or Center speaker is a task best left to a professional.
I haven’t actually figured out how I plan on mounting my two Pendragon Centers (used as surrounds) yet, suffice to say I’m actually contemplating using articulated mounts intended for mid-sized HDTVs. For the purposes of this review however, I placed the Pendragon Centers (again, used as surrounds) atop two large Sanus stands that put them -or should I say the tweeters -approximately 3.5 feet off the ground -or at about ear height. After some initial listening, I raised the surrounds up an additional 18 inches by placing cinderblocks under the base of my two Sanus Steel Series stands. As a temporary evaluation-style setup it worked brilliantly, however for long term livability (and safety) I do not recommend following my lead here. Granted, if you choose to purchase the Pendragon Theater and use the actual Pendragon Surrounds, they’ll be much better suited atop stands than the Pendragon Center due to their smaller footprint. Regardless, if you intend on wall mounting your Pendragon Surrounds, plan on using some not so orthodox mounting methods. Also, because the speakers’ rear mounted binding posts are not recessed, you’ll have to “float” any of the Pendragon speakers -be it Center or Surround -out from the wall a fair distance to accommodate their extra depth.
With the Pendragon Surround situation sorted, the rest of the Pendragon Theater setup went like clockwork. I already had my Pendragon mains placed behind my 120 inch Elite Screens’ Lunette AcousticPro 4K screen, so placing the center -I mean Pendragon Surround -in the middle was no problem. I placed the speaker atop a foundation comprised of four cinderblocks, with an Auralex Sub Dude capping off the “structure.” The speaker fit perfectly and when all was said and done, it’s drivers were in near perfect horizontal alignment with my Pendragon mains, which was the goal.
All of the Pendragon speakers -minus the Pendragon Subwoofer -were connected via appropriate lengths of 12-gauge speaker cable to my reference Crown XLS 2000 DriveCore amplifiers. Because the Pendragon speakers are so efficient I didn’t feel the need to run my Crowns in their Bridge Mono mode, opting instead for Stereo Bypass, which meant each speaker was being fed a healthy 375 Watts. The Crown amps were then connected to my Integra DHC 80.2 AV preamp via balanced cables from Monoprice. Source components included a Dune-HD Max, Pioneer Elite BDP-62FD Blu-ray player and a Roku 2 XS media streamer -all connected via HDMI courtesy of Monoprice.
As far as integrating the Pendragon Subwoofer, that took a bit more experimentation. I started with the subwoofer placed along my left side wall where my reference RBH SX-1212P/R subwoofer typically lives, however it wasn’t a good fit. It’s not that the Pendragon Subwoofer sounded decidedly worse than the RBH -it didn’t -it just isn’t a true subwoofer in the home theater sense of the term -meaning I would ultimately need to employ both it and my RBH at the same time. Because of this I decided to treat the Pendragon Subwoofer not as a true subwoofer but rather as a sort of low-bass “modifier.” Since I wanted to augment the Pendragon mains’ already stellar bass response I placed the Pendragon Subwoofer as close to my front three speakers as possible. Due to the layout of my room and the size of my projection screen this also meant I had to lay the Pendragon Subwoofer on its side.
Once positioned dead center of my room below my screen I was able to level match it to the other five speakers using a Radio Shack SPL meter and my Integra’s internal test tones. I adjusted the Pendragon Subwoofer’s level on the BASH plate amp itself until it (the sub) was outputting a constant 75dB at my primary listening position. Since the Pendragon Subwoofer rolls off naturally at around 30Hz, that is where I chose to cross over the RBH, which I also EQ’ed using a combination of the free software Room EQ Wizard and a Behringer Feedback Destroyer Pro.
It should be noted that Eric was most intrigued by my setup choices but also asked that I include this update; that as a result of my tests he is now working on a true, home theater style subwoofer that will be available soon. It’s not that Eric has anything against subwoofers, it’s just that the Pendragon Subwoofer was designed to reproduce the lowest frequencies many musical instruments are capable of hitting, and not the sub sonic frequencies that are found in many of today’s modern movie soundtracks. Suffice to say it’s no secret which camp -audiophile or home theater – Eric falls into despite his products’ growing popularity among home theater enthusiasts. It should also be noted that while today I employ both the Pendragon Subwoofer and my reference RBH SX-1212P/R, I did test the Pendragon Theater on its own, without the RBH.
Lastly, in my testing of the Pendragon Subwoofer I quickly discovered that it possessed even greater speed and impact than the Pendragon mains’ already stellar bass response. This discovery lead me to experiment with the Pendragon Subwoofer’s crossover point in my system. I ultimately ended up setting the Pendragon mains’ crossover point at THX’s customary 80Hz, for the Pendragon Subwoofer was just that good from 30Hz on up. Because the Pendragon Center and Surrounds naturally roll off at 70Hz I went ahead and set their crossover point to 80Hz as well. While 80Hz may seem a bit pedestrian for a speaker with a full-range pedigree such as the Pendragon, it proved to be an ideal setting in my tests.
Since the Pendragon Theater is precisely that, a home theater speaker system, I won’t be focusing any attention on it as a music system -two channel or multi-channel. Straightaway the resulting sound was one of complete envelopment and seamlessness edge to edge and floor to ceiling. It was like being cocooned in an orb of sound, an orb that was brilliantly spacious and exquisitely defined. For a speaker system comprised of such physically large loudspeakers, the Pendragon Theater managed to aurally disappear from my “field of view.” It was if sound “appeared” as if from nowhere and never felt at all tied to any single loudspeaker. The boundaries of my room were of little concern as was my choice of electronics, as neither seemed to cause the Pendragon Theater speakers any worry or trouble.
Listening more closely to the finer points revealed a performance that was both transparent to the source material as well as incredibly nuanced. Film scores were rendered with such fervor via the Pendragon Theater speakers that they felt at times less of an accompaniment and more the main event. Moreover, due to the speakers’ inherent efficiency, their control and balance throughout, regardless of what was unfolding on screen, was equally incredible. Dynamics were among the best I’ve heard from any loudspeaker to date, with palpable attack and decay. The sheer scale of the Pendragon Theater speakers’ performance was also addictive, as even dialog felt as if it was stemming from actual human beings rather than facsimiles projected upon a screen.
The front three Pendragon speakers’ midrange was largely neutral and natural in its timbre, though I’ve heard a bit better upper midrange articulation and extension -admittedly through speakers costing more than the entire Pendragon Theater system. The speakers’ high frequency performance was open and airy, though like the upper midrange it lacked that last ounce of extension and shimmer at the extremes. I’m not suggesting the Pendragon speakers’ high frequencies are in some way rolled off, they just don’t “hang” in space nor travel as far as some. But again, I’m talking differences of single digits (if there were such a thing to describe sound) and not broad generalities. Had I not had better on hand during my time spent with the Pendragon Theater I may not have noticed their minor deficiencies in these two areas. Needless to say, I wasn’t aware of what I was “missing” until it was later presented to me. Even knowing where the Pendragon speakers fall just short of ideal, I’m not sure I care. For everything else about their performance, be it midrange or treble, is infectious.
One area where the Pendragon Theater didn’t fall just short was in its low, mid-bass and bass performance -both of which were incredible. A lot of folks lean on subwoofers pretty heavily to deliver the low frequency info they crave. This is fine, however part of what makes an explosion or dynamic sequence more convincing is a loudspeaker’s ability to flesh out the mid-bass properly. Believe it or not a lot of subwoofers aren’t as resolute or fast up around the customary 80Hz (THX) crossover point, so you end up with a performance that possesses all the necessary low bass information but that seems to fall short in “excitement”. The Pendragon Subwoofer delivers the latter in spades. While I did get it to bottom out on a few occasions -it does only play to 30Hz -within its wheel house the Pendragon Subwoofer is among the best I’ve heard. Moreover, it complements the rest of the Pendragon Theater speakers brilliantly, providing that added “punch” throughout the low mid-bass region that a lot of subwoofers lack.
And when I say “punch” I do mean punch. Because I also utilized RBH SX-1212P/R subwoofer I didn’t need the Pendragon Subwoofer to play to its full 30Hz potential. This meant I was able to plug the sub’s two ports in order to gain a bit more speed and impact. Tekton doesn’t supply port plugs for the Pendragon Subwoofer so I had to craft my own, which I did out of foam cones purchased from a local hobby store. While watching the rogue wave sequence in the Wolfgang Peterson film, Poseidon (Warner Bros. ) I managed to launch one of my makeshift port plugs out of the Pendragon Subwoofer and into my shins, which happened to be roughly 9 feet from the subwoofer at the time. That is a great deal of energy, and a nice anecdotal way of saying the Pendragon Subwoofer is quite capable of charging a room all on its own. Then of course there is the second Pendragon Subwoofer.
Why two subwoofers? Well two is almost always better than one, for it allows you some measure of placement flexibility for smoother, more accurate bass response. Though care needs to be taken to ensure you’re setting them up properly and not using them against one another. Because I was already employing the RBH in my system as well as the Pendragon Subwoofer I opted not to use the second Pendragon Subwoofer. I did however test the Pendragon Subwoofer’s low mid-bass effectiveness in my buddy’s system, which already has four HSU Research subs in it. The difference in his system’s overall coherence and impact top to bottom was dramatic, thanks to the addition of the Pendragon Subwoofer. So while the Pendragon Subwoofer may not play to 20Hz or below, it’s ability to positively impact the Pendragon Theater system’s overall performance should not be underestimated.
Overall the Pendragon Theater system’s performance is one poise and neutrality. Because all of the speakers are so efficient they just don’t seem to possess a sound that can be attributed to anything other than the source material you’re listening to. In my experience that makes them neutral, as everything sounds as it should and is presented in an engaging manner. To say the Pendragon Theater can deliver a true, cinema-like experience in one’s own home is an understatement, for in my tests I’d say they can and more. While massive in size, the Pendragon Theater system is equally “massive” in terms of its overall performance.
Things To Consider
The Pendragon Theater is one massive loudspeaker system, one that has been designed to recreate the cinema or live musical event to its fullest extent. This means if you don’t have the requisite real estate to accommodate the system’s sheer size don’t bother, for you’re only going to be doing yourself and the Pendragons a disservice. I believe a lot of folks read the copious accolades that get heaped upon many of Tekton’s products, specifically the Pendragons, and think that they (the Pendragons) are going to be “right” for them -only to be disappointed. I don’t mean disappointed in that the Pendragon Theater is somehow bad, it isn’t. I mean disappointed in that it’s simply not right for everyone or every occasion. If your room is on the smaller to medium size, may I suggest you take a peek at either Tekton Design’s new Enzo loudspeaker or the brand’s smaller Lore and M-Lore speakers.
If you can accommodate the Pendragon Theater and all its various components than be sure to pay careful mind to how you plan on integrating the larger surround speakers into your theater environment. The Pendragon Surrounds can be wall mounted, provided you come up with a workable solution for you and your setup.
Also, the Pendragon Center and Surround speakers come with threaded inserts that are to be used with the speakers’ included spikes. Should you not use the spikes you must still plug the inserts with either a screw or a piece of tape. If left “open” they will emit a “chirping” sound when listening at higher volumes.
The Pendragon Subwoofer, while plenty powerful and supremely agile, isn’t capable of reaching the depths present in many action movie soundtracks. It’s not that it, nor its performance, leaves you wanting more, it doesn’t, it just can’t quite get there with what it’s got. This means that for true full-range playback of any source material you’re either going to have to augment the Pendragon Subwoofer’s bottom end with another third party subwoofer, or wait for the updated home theater Pendragon Subwoofer to come available. However, where the Pendragon Subwoofer comes up short, it more than makes up for it in its speed and raw, unbridled impact -two things I thought I had experienced with other subs until I was exposed to the Pendragon Subwoofer.
Lastly, and this is arguably the biggest gripe many would be and/or existing Tekton customers complain about, which is the company’s lead times. If you were to order a complete Pendragon Theater tomorrow do not expect it next week nor the week after. At present lead times are reported to be somewhere in the vicinity of 6 to 8 weeks. That’s up to two months from initial order to delivery. Why so long? Like I said earlier, every Tekton Design product, including the Pendragon Theater, is made by hand – a lot of times by Eric himself -right here in the good ‘ol US of A. Good things come to those who wait, and in my opinion the Pendragon Theater is worth waiting for, you just have to know going in that if you’re seeking immediate gratification and need a home theater speaker system today, it isn’t going to be the Pendragon Theater. Sorry.
There is no shortage of speakers available to consumers these days. Suffice to say I believe the Pendragon Theater speakers to be something truly special. I went out on a limb in my initial Pendragon speaker review, saying I felt they competed favorably (note, I didn’t say bested) with speakers such as the Wilson Audio MAXX and other large format speakers. I feel the same can be said here. Where the Pendragon Theater speakers compete favorably with speakers such as the MAXX is in their ability to get the scale, dynamics and palpability of the live event “right.”
I found the Pendragon Theater to be every bit as “cinematic” as my JBL Cinema 3677 Screen Channel Loudspeakers, which are true cinema loudspeakers -only I found the Pendragon Theater speakers far easier to integrate and live with day-to-day. So while I gushed over the JBL 3677s for home theater use, the Pendragon Theater speakers are all the 3677s are and more.
Now, I was able to better the Pendragon Theater speakers in my room, however it took having to go up-market to the tune of $7,000 to do it. That’s $7,000 per loudspeaker. The loudspeaker in question you ask? Bowers & Wilkins’ CT8.2 LCR, which like the Pendragon Theater speakers, is tailor made to serve as a true home theater or small cinema loudspeaker. That being said, while the CT8.2 had better upper midrange and extreme high frequency detail and extension, it couldn’t match the Pendragon Theater’s dynamics and impact. If you’re one who likes to physically feel a part of the action, you’ll be hard pressed to do better than the Pendragon Theater speakers.
Of course there are other options more in line with the Pendragon Theater’s price point of $6,500. Options such as; Triad’s InRoom Gold LCR loudspeakers, Bowers & Wilkins’ CT 700 Series of loudspeakers, Zu Audio OMEN DEF and perhaps Definitive Technology’s SuperTower series of loudspeakers. All of the before mentioned options excel at recreating the true cinema experience both in scale and engagement, but all do it in their own unique ways. No two loudspeakers are going to be alike so your best bet is going to be to audition as many as you can until you find out what works best for you. The nice thing about the above options is they, like the Pendragon Theater speakers, don’t cost an arm and a leg for the level of sheer performance they afford you.
I suppose at this point I can go ahead and skip the pleasantries and just cut to the chase; the chase being that the Pendragon Theater speaker system flat out kicks ass. The Pendragon Theater possesses everything I loved about the Pendragon when I first heard it, only now I’m surrounded by its wonderful sound, which takes the whole experience to 11. While the Pendragon Theater is billed as a complete home theater speaker system, its included subwoofers do let the overall system down just a bit -at least when it comes to movies. However, I still maintain that no subwoofer -at least none that I’ve heard to date -can match the Pendragon Subwoofer in terms of its raw impact and speed from 30Hz to 80Hz. Still, if you want to hear, better yet feel, those sub sonic frequencies you will need to look elsewhere than the Pendragon Subwoofer.
While it is possible to piece together a custom Pendragon Theater from its individually priced pieces, I’m going to choose rate it as a complete system. The Pendragon Theater, at $6,500 for a complete 5.2 home theater system, earns my seal of approval for product -or in this case system -priced between $5,000 and $10,000. At $6,500 the Pendragon Theater isn’t so cheap that you can buy it on a whim, but it’s not outrageous as to put it out of reach for us mere mortals.
The Pendragon Theater therefore is a terrific value; one that is capable of incredible performance and epic levels of enjoyment. Highly recommended? You betcha.
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