Introduction

Writing reviews, especially of AV products, can be tricky. On the one hand, readers are looking to you -the reviewer -to answer their specific questions even though you have no Earthly idea what those questions are. The reader is also under the assumption that you -again, the reviewer -knows what he or she is talking about and will provide them with sage advice. On the other hand, as the review’s author, we often also assume that we too know what we’re talking about. That we have a “handle” on things, so that when we commit our findings to paper they’re absolute. But the truth is, it’s a crap shoot. I’ve been doing this for 10 years and I still don’t have it all figured out. Just being honest. The beauty of my current situation being that when I discover something after the fact, I can return to the subject in order to clarify, whereas in most mainstream AV publications such action(s) are frowned upon. Why? Because that would make the author fallible, and perhaps the publication on a whole wrong. Well, I’m wrong a lot, because, like you, I’m learning new things every day.

Case in point, Tekton Designs’ Pendragon Theater.

It’s not that my initial review of the Pendragon Theater was somehow wrong -it wasn’t -I just made a few statements regarding the system’s sound that I attributed to the system itself rather than to the component that was ultimately responsible. Confused? Allow me to explain.

Before I go any further, since this is an addendum to my original review of the Pendragon Theater, should you want to know more about the system’s specifications, makeup etc. please read my initial review here. Also, there will be no additional video accompaniment to this follow-up review.

Application

In my initial review I setup the Pendragon Theater speakers in my main reference theater using the Pendragon floorstanding speakers as right and left mains. I used a Pendragon Surround as a center channel and two Pendragon Center speakers as surrounds. For more info or detail on why I chose to setup my system in such a way please read my initial Pendragon Theater review. The setup of the speakers themselves were not the issue, but rather the components I used to drive them.

Initially my reference rig consisted of an Integra DHC 80.2 AV preamp, three Crown XLS 2000 DriveCore Amplifiers and a bevy of source components all used as transports -be it Blu-ray or media streaming. This has (largely) been my reference setup for the better part of the last three years, meaning I have grown very accustomed to what it sounds like and how new products introduced to it can sound as well. This is why we reviewers have “reference” systems. Well it appears that over time I have grown too accustomed to certain traits that my system has and mistakenly passed those same traits along to the Pendragon Theater speakers.

This was my mistake.

So while my initial Pendragon Theater review was arguably glowing, and I could’ve easily left well enough alone, I do feel it necessary to expand upon my initial findings in order to bring you an even clearer picture of just what we’re dealing with here. So if you’re now asking yourself, does it get better or worse for the Pendragon Theater? Don’t fret, it actually gets better – a lot better.

So what changed?

The Sherbourn PT-7030 Home Theater Preamp Processor. Image courtesy of Sherbourn.

Earlier in the week I received a new AV preamp in the form of Sherbourn’s PT-7030 ($1,619). Now, as many of you are well aware by now, I am the Director of Digital Content for Jade Designs -Sherbourn’s parent company. I received the PT-7030 for personal evaluation and for a video shoot, but that wasn’t about to stop me from enjoying it either. This is therefore not a review of the PT-7030, but rather a showcase of how we as reviewers can become a) complacent at times and b) the importance of proper system matching. I replaced my Integra DHC 80.2 with the Sherbourn PT-7030 AV preamp, keeping everything else in the system the same -including my Crown XLS 2000 DriveCore amplifiers.

What follows is the result of this week’s round of testing, specifically having to do with my earlier (slight) criticisms of the Pendragon Theater’s treble and upper midrange deficiencies.

Personal Impressions – Take 2

Since I noticed a change in the speakers’ sound almost immediately with the change to my AV preamp, I stripped the system down to the bare essentials -i.e. stereo. Listening only to the Pendragon floorstanding speakers and Pendragon Subwoofer (crossed over at 50Hz) I set out to pinpoint and identify the change(s). I started by listening to Alanis Morissette’s album, MTV Unplugged, and the track “Princes Familiar” (WEA). Straightaway the somewhat forward nature of the Pendragons -note I didn’t say aggressive – subsided and in its place a more relaxed, sultry sound, which fit the performance better in my humble opinion. There was still that “live” quality with which the Pendragon seems to render everything, but I got a greater sense of the venue’s physical space along with more texture and layering present on stage as well. The soundstage depth increased by several feet though width, which was already wall-to-wall seemed unchanged. While the overall vibe of the performance seemed a bit “laid back,” Morissette’s vocals remained front and center -though this time with even more weight and presence than before. The area hovering around the Pendragon’s crossover point(s), where the midrange “meets” the treble or high frequencies was much more resolved and nuanced now, something I held against the Pendragon in my initial review. The high frequencies themselves also took on a little extra sparkle throughout without at all becoming harsh. If anything, the added dimension and air made for a far more “organic” or dare I say “analog” sound than previously reported. Cymbals truly sounded like cymbals, only given the Pendragon’s natural proclivities they also sounded as if they were in the room. The delicate, and often overlooked, piano fill leading into the song’s final chorus was rendered with far more definition and fervor than before; making it not only more apparent, but a shining moment within the performance itself. This was most unexpected, and yet, there it was. The Pendragon hadn’t robbed the music of that special moment, my aging Integra did.

Moving on to something a bit more aggressive musically, I cued up Audioslave’s “Show Me How To Live” off their self titled album (Epic). Right off the bat, the entire performance felt as if it had slowed (it hadn’t) and as a result my ears were given that “extra time” to hear the minutest of details that previously went unnoticed. The Pendragon’s speed and agility as a result of its supreme efficiency was still in full effect, however, the added lead-in and decay to almost every note was incredible. The guitars, which I’ve described on multiple occasions as “crunchy,” were now that, plus articulate. The grunge was ever so slightly wiped away, and in its stead came the unmistakable sounds of fingers against strings, the vibrations of the strings themselves and even the “clicks” of the strings occasionally bouncing off the frets and body of the guitars.  The track was still raucous and at times violent, only now there was more justification behind it all. Dynamically there was little if any change to the Pendragon’s overall sound, though the leading and trailing edges of notes and hits, such as those of a snare drum or cymbal, rang true in space a lot longer putting to rest my earlier criticism that the Pendragon’s tweeter wasn’t as “textured” or “extended” as some. In truth the Pendragon’s tweeters can hang with the big dogs so don’t fret there. Bass and low-bass didn’t change much from my earlier demo(s), though there did seem to be just a touch more detail present near the crossover point in the low mid-bass. Not as night and day as with the upper midrange and treble, but audible none the less.

So what does all this mean for the Pendragon Theater on a whole? To find out I cued up Iron Man on Blu-ray disc (Paramount) and chaptered ahead to Iron Man’s attack on the terrorist base camp followed by his dog fight with two F-22s. This scene or sequence is one that Harman uses in their Synthesis demos at their offices in Southern California; a demo I’ve been fortunate enough to sit in on. Since experiencing the Harman demo of this particular scene it has served as my reference point for all home theater speaker systems going forward. With the Synthesis system as my benchmark, the Pendragon Theater with the change in AV preamp got much, much closer to the reference standard -again in my humble opinion. The same added characteristics described above were present and in full effect resulting in more audible detail of Stark’s Iron Man suit, atmospheric cues and soundtrack definition. The soundstage between the five speakers opened up slightly, with more depth present across the front three. Sound is mixed using layers or stems that sounded -via the new setup -as if the stems themselves had been “boosted” and in the case of the upper midrange and treble, turned on anew. Dialog via the Pendragon Center and/or Surround was true to life in its scale and weight; possessing incredible intelligibility in the face of chaos. Its tone however was ever so slightly different than the Pendragon mains due to speaker’s smaller stature and sealed design. This subtle shift in tone wasn’t distracting -hell, it wasn’t even noticeable in my earlier tests -but on certain occasions, if I listened closely, I could discern a slight difference.  Outside of that, the presentation was flawless.

So it would appear that I’ve now heaped two scoops of goodness upon a speaker or speaker system that was already well off. True, but I felt it important for I didn’t want you to get the wrong impression of the Pendragon Theater, specifically as it related to its upper midrange and treble performance, for my earlier findings or criticisms were not the fault of the speakers themselves. It was really my error, and I wanted to be sure and clarify. I did say that “the Pendragon Theater is neutral to the source” and I would still agree with that statement. Just be careful not to attribute another component’s sound to the speakers -good or bad. While not revealing in the negative sense, the Pendragon Theater system will embody what comes before it, rather than alter the sound it’s fed. These are speakers that are not “voiced” but rather arrived at via simple math and science. In truth, there are several other speaker manufacturers that take this approach and wouldn’t you know it, I tend to gravitate towards how they sound. Hmm. The Pendragons or better yet the Pendragon Theater isn’t perfect, but they’re pretty damn close. So close that you have to go WAY up market before the difference is, again in my opinion, justifiable. Assuming of course you like the way the Pendragon Theater sounds straightaway.

Things to Consider

Because the Pendragon Theater system is so neutral to the source, it can be easy to mistake say your amplifier or preamp’s sound for the speakers’. If you purchase the Pendragon Theater system for yourself and find a part of its performance objectionable, or not in line with any of the descriptions you’ve read here, experiment (if possible) with your components before passing final judgment. Granted your room and setup will play a large role in how the Pendragon Theater speakers sound too, which is true of all speakers.

Conclusion

So after making a few changes to my setup how has my opinion of the Pendragon Theater system changed? It has changed for the better, for I was already a fan and lover of the system’s sound, and today I’m even more so. The three minor “faults” that I found with the Pendragon Theater have all but been remedied and proven to have been not the fault of the Pendragon speakers at all. Therefore I still recommend the Pendragon Theater to anyone looking to achieve true cinema-like performance in their home, provided they can accommodate the system’s larger size and sound.

  • greenkiwi2000

    @Andrew I noticed that you felt that the center didn’t have quite the same voicing as the L&R, which you’ve attributed to the sealed v. ported.

    Which actually brought me back to my first thought when you were describing the system, which is why didn’t you just get a third main speaker for your center. Given your nice system layout, where they are behind the screen, you’d definitely be able to pull the setup off. It would be interesting to see whether or not a main speaker instead of the center remedied the slight voicing change you say that you’ve noticed. (Or if maybe it’s something to do with the recordings or the processing.)

  • http://twitter.com/ARobinsonOnline Andrew Robinson

    I agree, I could easily accommodate 3 Pendragon floorstanding speakers up front, however, I wanted to give as accurate assessment of the Theater system on a whole as possible. This meant using the Pendragon Center and Surrounds too -for that is how the typical or average consumer will utilize the setup. Thanks for reading!

  • greenkiwi2000

    That definitely makes sense. It would be interesting to know if it is the porting that is causing the sound difference. And then it might be something the Eric might update for future versions.

  • http://twitter.com/ARobinsonOnline Andrew Robinson

    The difference is subtle at best, as the Pendragon Center if far more on par with the Pendragon towers vs. most center speakers compared to their floorstanding counterparts. But yes, I agree, it would be interesting to hear an all Pendragon floorstanding front three.

  • Darsy1234

    Cant wait for part III !

  • Darsy1234

    Oh btw Andrew , your 2nd review spoke to me because .. You know what i told you about my Studio 100s souding so bad in comparisson of my Grado’s ps1000 headphones. Well , of course they wont sound the same ever , but i noticed that my Yamaha was on double bass and the sub Crossed over too high , so there was too much bass in there , so i lost sound quality and clarity. I still have things to tweek , but im more satisfied with them in comparisson to my ” Music Perfection” i achieved with the Headphones.

  • Mike in SC

    So, the difference is …the Sherbourn PT-7030. Did you use the parametric equalizer? The Integra DHC 80.2 does have automatic room correction so I am curious if you employed either during your eval.

    This was a stereo-only eval; do you think you might try the Sherbourn’s 7.1 analog inputs? Seems like a full-on review of the Sherbourn PT-7030 might be in order. :)

  • Mike in SC

    Oops. I am being somewhat forgetful that you have embraced digital and streaming and that things like analog inputs are OK for some people ; )

  • http://twitter.com/ARobinsonOnline Andrew Robinson

    Often times we’re too quick to blame a piece of equipment rather than sort out our setup issues. I’m guilty of this from time to time as well, hell, it happened to me just today with regards to my Dune HD Max. A friend helped sort me out and now all is right with the world. More often then not the answer isn’t new gear or spending more money, it’s maximizing what we already have.

  • http://twitter.com/ARobinsonOnline Andrew Robinson

    I don’t like what Audyssey does to the sound of my speakers/room so I rarely ever use it. I only use it in review situations so that I can comment -good or bad – on its implementation. For day-to-day listening I typically have it deactivated. So, no, my Integra nor any of my resulting listening tests were carried out with Audyssey engaged. The Sherbourn lacks auto room EQ but it has independent parametric EQ, which I use on the subwoofer channel to much success. Since the Integra lacks a PEQ, I introduce one via my Behringer BFD, though the Sherbourn saves me a few steps and helps free up some much needed rack space.

    A full blown Sherbourn PT-7030 review is in the works! It’s hard keeping up with you guys! Yes, I will test the analog section too.

  • The Good Reverend

    You said that you’d don’t particularly care for what Audyssey does. What does the frquency response look like at the listening position pre and post Audyssey using the Integra and how does that compare when the Sherbourne is in the system?

  • http://twitter.com/ARobinsonOnline Andrew Robinson

    Unfortunately, Audyssey doesn’t show you what it does to your speakers’ frequency response unless you pop for the Pro Installer Kit, which I believe is $500 extra. You can run Audyssey and measure using a 3rd party software such as Room EQ Wizard -both pre and post -and arrive at some data that way, which I’m thinking of doing. Audyssey definitely isn’t neutral, but rather applies certain “house” curves based on their research. Not saying Audyssey is wrong or bad -they’re not -I just personally don’t care for the Audyssey “sound.” However, in lieu of nothing or a troublesome room, I feel Audyssey is better than nothing – a lot better.

    On the flip side, the Sherbourn lacks any sort of auto room correction software, though it possesses a full manual parametric EQ for all of its 7.1 channels. When I do use EQ, this is what I prefer and have since putting to the test with Classe’s CP-800 preamp. This also means that you must use programs like Room EQ Wizard and 3rd party microphones in order to take proper measurements with which to create your PEQ filters from.

    For the above review (and typically in my system) I only EQ from 80Hz down to 20Hz as I feel that if you can get the bass “right” everything above 80Hz seems to clear up quite a bit. This isn’t a hard fast rule, but one that has served me well.

    Hope this helps.

  • The Good Reverend

    Since measurement packages can be bought for considerably less, do you see yourself picking one up and incorporating this into future reviews? I would think this would be of great help in determining and addressing room issues especially when it comes to sub/speaker integration. As it stands now, there may be nulls and other anomalies which can affect your subjective assessment, don’t you think?

    WRT the Sherbourn, that’s pretty much geared to the installer crowd, isn’t it?

  • http://twitter.com/ARobinsonOnline Andrew Robinson

    I’m already working on a measurement package for another project I’ll be sharing with you all shortly! Thanks for reading!