Gold Star Award for unrivalled value and versatility. The Tekton Design Lore may be the best $1000 USD loudspeaker one can buy.
Recently my kids took over the basement as a playroom. Where would I put my basement-dwelling Magnepan 1.7 and Harbeth Super HL5+ loudspeakers? Upstairs in the living room? My Harbeths couldn’t go in the living room on a permanent basis–too many of my kids’ friends come in and out of the house who might knock them off their stands, and experience had told me that some adult guests would be tempted to use the ordinary-looking speakers as drinks holders. The Harbeths normally reside in our second floor den/study where they excel at low-volume playback.
Would the Maggies fit, both sonically and aesthetically into the new main listening room, a 15 by 16 foot living room with plaster walls that opens into a 16 by 13 foot dining room? The answer was yes and no: the Maggies sounded sublime but visually they dominated the room and the low Wife Acceptance Factor was obvious. And one morning, in the midst of a Rod Stewart listening binge, she said: “wake up Maggie, I think I’ve got something to say to you. You are such a splendour and baby we’ll remember you but Maggie we’re through.” So I prepared myself psychologically for the sale. Used 1.7s typically fetch $1500 to $1750 on the Canadian market. What could I get to replace the Maggies for that kind of coin?
Out with the old (Maggies in background), in with the new Tekton Lore.
I was sad in a way but part of me felt liberated: Maggies are less than ideal as a reviewer’s tool unless one has a few high powered amps on hand. The Tekton Design Lore, by contrast, will work with almost any amp. I used seven for this review: the Musical Paradise MP-301 mk3; the Coincident Dynamo SE; the Primaluna Dialogue Premium Integrated; the Line Magnetic 518ia; the Elekit TU8600; and an ARC LS-17 pre-amp paired with the First Watt F5 and the Wyred4Sound SX-1000 monos. I used at least a dozen different power tubes (300B, EL-34, KT-120, 5881/6L6 types) in the tube amps. Output ranged from 6 watts to 50 watts. I briefly used my 1100 watt W4S monos before I parted with them.
My chief sources were my Marantz SA 15-S2 Limited Edition CD/SACD player and my Pro-Ject RPM 10.1 turntable with a Dynavector DV 10x-5 and Graham Slee Era Gold Reflex phono preamp. I listened for three months before finishing the review. Most music sounded sublime. Some listeners in a near field setting might not accept the level of noise produced by my Musical Paradise amp. The highly-sensitive Lore (98dB / 8 Ohms) wants to see a slightly more quiet amp. Having said that, if you’re sitting more than 12 feet away from the speakers, you’d probably be just fine with a SET amp emitting low to moderate levels of hum.
There aren’t many new loudspeakers in the $1000 USD or $1750 CAD range that can compete with the $2100 USD Magnepan 1.7s. I suspect that the Tekton Lore might be one of a handful or perhaps the only one. Several months ago, I had foolishly sold my Tekton M-Lores to a good friend down the street who had finally accepted that his Bose system was not the final word in sound reproduction. I knew the Tekton house sound. I had read the rave reviews of the bigger brother Lore, with its 10 inch driver made by Eminence (USA) and its Audax (France) Gold tweeter, a device used in some loudspeakers costing over $10,000. I thought it was time to re-introduce a high sensitivity speaker to match with my various SET and SEP amps, some of whom were lonely for want of play time. I wasn’t really thinking of my First Watt F5 since it never had any trouble powering my Harbeths and was therefore getting ample play time. But as it turned out, the Lore revealed the sheer magic the F5 can produce–a perfect balance of uber-detail even at low listening levels, solid-state drive and SET-like warmth. The First Watt-Tekton pairing is world-class in every way and it speaks to Americans’ ability to produce wonderful products at real-world prices.
I bought the Lores straight from Eric Alexander of Tekton Design, Utah. The speakers arrived after a five-day train/truck journey and the inevitable weekend delay at customs where Canadian sales tax was assessed. I got the optional grilles. The boxing is label-less and basic, but robust and effective. Tekton sells directly to customers so if you have issues, you’ll likely have to ship the speakers back to Utah. That doesn’t bother me–if Tekton sold through a dealer network the MSRP would likely be $3000, not $1000 for these speakers. I had a good experience with the M-Lore in the house for about three years and after 12 weeks the Lore continues to dazzle me with its iron grip on the music, its warmth and fluidity, its rock-solid bass, and its soaring–but never searing–highs.
Alan Shaw of Harbeth maintains that his loudspeakers are unfussy about amplification. Like many others, I disagree. Harbeths will indeed benefit from the very best amplification money can buy. In light of their high sensitivity, perhaps, the Tektons are far less fussy about amplification but, as we’ll see below, they may be a bit fussy about your source. The Lore’s really do pair with just about every type of amplifier under the sun–solid state Class A, Class D, 845 tube-based SET, Chinese-made budget-priced Single Ended Pentode, and tubed ultra linear push-pull. Everything works. Having said that, I found the Wyred4Sound amps sounded the least interesting, being a bit too much on the cold or neutral side for my liking. But the bass they produced!
Un-boxing is simple, a one-person job. Lay down, cut the tape, slide off.
The basic black-finished Lore has a bit more polish compared with the M-Lore I had bought about 4 years ago. I like the look: it’s unpretentious and it blends in with the decor. I should qualify that: I like the look with the grilles on. Your mileage may vary, but I find the naked drivers are not the most attractive things to gaze at.
I got the sturdy optional grilles to protect this. They don’t degrade the sound.
The Lore tips the scales at about 58 pounds, twenty pounds heavier than the M-Lore. The Lore is a powerful, fast, fluid, rhythmic beast and a substantial improvement over the brilliant little M-Lore. It never breaks a sweat. The Lore can unleash massive reserves of power, ready to spring forth during a bombastic Beethoven symphony. It never gets congested or smeared at high volumes. But it can also play with such a fluidity and ease with simple music at low volumes–perhaps this is the same attribute speaking. The Lore is strong and sensitive. A pristine vinyl pressing of Christopher Parkening’s In the Spanish Style was mesmerizing: Parkening’s guitar was right there, between the speakers, throwing a life-sized image. The tone was spot-on. At low volumes the Lore was also perfectly matched with Hank Williams’ plaintive moaning on a lovely Doxa Label vinyl disc, Sing Me a Blue Song. There was enough lushness in the midrange to distract from the nasal shoutiness and tinniness inherent in most of Williams’ recordings.
The Primaluna Dialogue Premium Integrated throws a huge soundstage. A perfect amp!
Shortly after I installed the Lore’s spikes and began to listen, I got tired of lifting these beasts around to find an ideal placement. So I ripped a couple pieces of MDF to serve as bases, painted them black, and put felt underneath. I now had unobtrusive platforms to facilitate easy movement of the speakers. I did struggle a bit to find a good placement in my square-shaped room. To be sure, the Lore sounded just fine right up against the walls, perhaps a little muddled but nothing I couldn’t live with. I found they worked well sitting about 2 feet from the rear wall and within a foot of the side walls. But they did prove a bit more difficult than my Harbeths to dial in. That was probably a function of the Lores’ size.
At my old house I found that the presence of my piano could lead to ringing with certain frequencies. I stapled some acoustic foam to a thin solid foam board (the type my kids use for classroom presentations) then I placed it behind the piano. This worked wonders, especially to dampen the liveliness of the piano itself, when I played it. My plaster walls are not as forgiving as my old drywall-based walls.
The basic black finish is fine but several other colours and wood veneers are available.
I have tamed my piano’s potential to introduce ringing and I’ve placed as much acoustic foam (in 2 by 3 foot panels) in the corners, at floor level, behind the furniture, as my wife will allow, but my new listening room is still not very well damped. We haven’t even put any art on the walls, except for a painting sitting on the mantel. No matter: the Tektons did not seem bright or shouty. To me this is one of the Lore’s chief strengths: we get close to the sensitivity levels of the best single-driver loudspeakers, but with absolutely none of the ‘shout’ and certainly no deficiencies down below.
Indeed, the Lore goes down to 30 Hz. In my room there’s no need to use a subwoofer. The speaker is stable in every sense: play Beethoven’s Fifth loud, and she never breaks up. Play complicated rock music, like the oeuvre of Chicago, with its seven players, and the Tekton traces all band members with precision–there’s Peter Cetera’s brilliant but underrated bass line providing an anchor to the world class drumming and Terry Kath’s majestic guitar. Play some Pink Floyd and feast on the artificial sound delights as Richard Wright’s synthesizers bounce around the room or perform a slalom skier’s S-turns in the air. The Lore finds a way to raise up every voice. The bells in “Time”, from Dark Side of the Moon are richer, fuller, more lit up than I’ve ever heard them. The Lore’s ten-inch woofers will get you close to the Magnepans’ ability to throw forth large instrument-specific images. You’ll get a clear sense of where Benny Goodman was standing in relation to his orchestra. This is a very sure, composed loudspeaker.
Plonk the Lore down on your floor, and she may weeble and wobble but she won’t fall down. At 58 pounds, 12 inches wide, 13 inches deep and 39 inches high, the Lore is stable, firmly rooted to the floor, very kid and klutz-friendly. Should you ever scratch it, touch up with black paint or marker would surely be simple. This is a no-fuss, down-to-earth speaker. The bass produced by these basic black boxes boggles the mind. It’s literally floor-shaking but it doesn’t boom. It’s tight and fine-toothed, dry as a crackling log split under the force of an axe. Electronic bass rips the air; it crunches across the soundstage. Rap and techno? This speaker was made for it. Classic rock from the 60s, soft rock from the 70s? Ditto. All the disco-hall energy, the boogie factor, is there. This speaker has a bit of the Naim sound to it: strong on PRaT, but with more fluidity, less edge. As for the treble: how does Roy Hargrove’s trumpet soar so high without inducing ear-bleed? Why do the guitars and the mandolin on Rod Stewart’s “Mandolin Wind” sound listenable (this song is horrible, almost unlistenable with my Harbeths)? Could it be a clever but simple crossover, a perfect integration of the Eminence and Audax driver and tweeter?
Without a doubt, this is the best $1000 (USD) product I have bought over the course of my two decades of audiophile ramblings. If you’re in eastern Canada you’ll have to add about $200 CAD in shipping and $200 CAD in sales tax and brokerage but even with those added costs, the Lore is a steal, a slayer of blinged-out high-priced boxes. (All told, with the unfavourable exchange rate of late 2017 I paid about $1750 CAD). Americans are more lucky: they pay just the $1000, shipping included! But there is no question; no other product has delivered to me so much pleasure for so little financial pain.
With the Coincident Dynamo SE amp: sweet, tonally rich, punchy with ample bass.
The Tekton Design Lore makes my Harbeth Super HL5+ speakers, which are slightly better in a couple categories (a richer midrange, better imaging) but slightly worse in others (PRaT, bass), seem substantially overpriced and far less versatile. Along with the Magnepan MMG, the Tekton Lore may be one of the very best buys in all of audio, all product categories considered.
The Lore commits no sins. It is either excellent or very good in every category. At first, I thought the Lore may be merely average in one category (soundstaging), but, as we’ll see below, this might be my sparsely furnished 15 by 16 foot room speaking, or it may be my CD player.
With the Elekit amp it was purity and clarity with ethereal voices and crunchy bass.
The Lore seems to play well at low volumes, not quite as well as my Harbeths, but better than average. Bass, in particular, is well-articulated, and seems just righ – not too loud or dominant, not too faint. You’re not going to get exceptionally well-defined bass at low listening levels with too many $1000 USD loudspeakers!
During my first month of listening, I found that the soundstage did seem rather average at low to moderate volumes–with my Marantz disc spinner, it turned out. I concluded that with redbook CD, the Lore likes to be played loud in my listening room. Your mileage may vary. The sweet spot is average-sized–nothing like my Harbeths, which can throw an immense soundstage. Images are precise but at low volumes I am often aware of two speakers in my room. I found that with redbook CD I needed about 60 to 70 dB at the back wall to attain a large soundstage.
Or, I needed an amazing amplifier like the Primaluna Dialogue Premium integrated, which turned the Tektons into Maggie-like imaging machines. Vinyl had the same effect. This may speak to the shortcomings of my Marantz SACD player. In any case, there was a noticeable difference with my vinyl rig: the soundstage increased dramatically. I wonder if the Lore does indeed prefer to see as good of a source as possible. Don’t be fooled by the price: this loudspeaker is worthy of being paired with equipment worth several times its modest $1000 sticker price.
The Lore sounded best with vinyl. The soundstage was utterly massive, Magnepan-like.
With its ten inch driver, I doubt you’d want to put this speaker in a room smaller than 12 by 14 feet. I suspect that my 15 by 16 foot room is minimally adequate. When I crank the volume pot to 11 and sit at the dining room table, perhaps 25 feet from the speakers, I get a sense of how great this speaker must sound when it has more room to breathe.
In the dining room, 20-30 feet away with a 5.5 foot wide opening, sounding mighty fine.
Just for the fun of it, for a few days I placed my sofa between the speakers–how would that affect the soundstage? Would it collapse entirely? Surprisingly, it didn’t deteriorate noticeably. Like Harbeths, Tektons can perform well in real living room conditions. You don’t need a dedicated sound room to make them shine. That’s especially true if you use a world-class amplifier like the Primaluna Dialogue Premium Integrated ($3300 USD). This amp seems like it was made for the Tektons.
The Tekton Lore doesn’t mind a crowded house. The sound was not bad with the sofa.
The Primaluna imparted a muscularity, an elasticity, a fluid musicality to the Lore that was utterly addictive. I found myself playing all sorts of upbeat 70s rock, soul and funk. The Lore seemed to love this sort of music, from Bowie and King Crimson to Pink Floyd, The Temptations, Rick James, Parliament and Isaac Hayes. I played it loud and the Lores played it fast and fluid.
Listening with my Audio Research LS-17, my First Watt F5 and a Marantz SA-8003, I was struck with some of the most extended but sweet treble I’ve heard in the house. Treble was never grating but it was often shocking in its extension. This was particularly the case with techno music like Tosca’s Chocolate Elvis. That album’s siren-like synthesized signals were spellbinding. I had to check my decibel meters: they never surpassed 80 dB but I had the sensation of being transported up a sonic elevator at lightning speed.
Bass is generally taut, always fast, but sometimes, with low-wattage tube amplification, not the final word in refinement. The Primaluna Dialogue Premium Integrated, however, provided all the cojones these speakers need–I don’t yearn for solid state with this wonderful amp. The Tektons don’t need it do deliver thunderous bass. Even using my little Musical Paradise MP-301 mk3 with 6L6 tubes, John Entwistle’s bass lines throughout Tommy are sufficiently menacing to be convincing. The Lore does not need much juice to run fast and strong. You’ll get a slower and ever-so-slightly congested soundstage using a small Chinese SEP amp, but feed these speakers a Canadian Coincident Dynamo Mk1 and things speed up considerably. With the First Watt F5, bass is arrestingly deep and dry. And lightning fast. Steve Swallow’s electric bass is piercing. I noticed that Paul Bley’s left hand on the piano had endless sustain. One thing leads to another: Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand was hypnotic. I love Louis Lortie’s recording on the Chandos label. The Lore can convey the scale of orchestral music in a more convincing manner than my Harbeths, which cost six times as much.
The Lore is, however, less mid-range centric than my Harbeths; I prefer the pluck of a banjo or guitar with my Harbeths. Voices are more eerily present with the Harbeths. But the Audax Gold tweeter on the Lore is, in comparison with the Harbeths’ ScanSpeak tweeter, magnificent. It’s revealing but not grating. The crunch of electric guitar is exquisite; I hear undertones, I see two or three undulating waves instead of the smear of just one.
The Tekton Lore is a versatile speaker. There’s nothing it cannot do very well. It digs deep and it soars to the heavens with its fabulous tweeter. As a result, it can occasionally seem a tiny bit scooped out in the mids, just like the M-Lore. But that’s in relation to my Harbeths, with their ravishing mids. My Harbeths don’t go as low and in comparison they’re slow. They aren’t perfect. Likewise, the Lore is not perfect. But for the price, it’s as close to perfection as you’ll likely find. The Lore is certainly the best all-around speaker I’ve known, regardless of price. The smoothness of the speaker, the utter sense of flow, of elasticity, is beguiling. Disco emerges effortlessly. Bombastic classical recordings are transmitted with ease, like a walk in the park. Low-volume solo guitar–from Brouwer or Peter Maxwell Davies–was exquisitely tonally dense, moist, full. Amped up Telecasters were crunchy. Ray Brown’s double-bass was sublime, with pluck, a touch of ripeness, and crunchy, twangy decay as he bent notes on “America the Beautiful.” And that’s how I’d describe this speaker–it makes music of all kinds sound beautiful, never strident, never obviously deficient in this way or in that. When you can pull a CD or an LP off the shelf without looking at the title, confident that your loudspeaker will play it in a listenable, fatigue-free, rhythmic, propulsive, powerful fashion, you’ve got a winner. My Harbeths cost six times more than my Tekton Lores. Perhaps with 20% of the music I listen to, the Harbeths win in a head-to-head contest. With jazz, vocals and simple acoustic music I’d give the nod to the Harbeths. With everything else, including soft rock, hard rock, rap, techno and classical, the Tekton Lore wins. One speaker costs $1000; the other costs $6300. The Tekton Lore is my new reference.
Gold Star Award