Tekton Moab Floorstanding Speaker
For virtually everyone on the planet, this past calendar year brought a range of challenges and sorrows; 10/10 would not recommend. Hooray for 2021, with its promise of health, actual instead of virtual hugs, and a return to normalcy.
When looking back on our collective annus horribilis (Latin for dumpster fire), I consider the arrival of a pair of Tekton Moab speakers in my listening room a welcome ray of light. Like many audiophiles confined to home by the pandemic, I've found much meaning and comfort in music these past nine months. With my photography business on the skids, there was suddenly occasion to burrow into a couple of thousand standout tracks, old and new. I almost didn't miss the roughly two dozen concerts I would've attended in a normal year. I think that's in part because, well, if any stereo speakers I've ever heard sound just like live music, it's the Moabs.
Tekton's third-priciest offerings (after the Ulfberht and Encore flagship models) stand a plump 5 feet 10 inches tall with spiked feet installed. Unlike panel-based or open-baffle speakers, the Moabs, at 13.5 inches wide and almost 18 inches deep counting the grilles, have almost no shot at visually disappearing. They look imposing, if somehow composed and unapologetic. No bespoke veneers here, no exotic-wood inlays, and no fancy swooping lines. The Moabs are lumbering MDF boxes that, despite their nice paint job, would hardly merit a second look if it wasn't for the 30 (that's right, 30!) tweeters that take up the center of the speakers' fascias. There are 15 of these soft-domed 1.2-inch drivers on both the left and right channel, positioned in two circles of seven, with a single tweeter in the middle — all complemented by 12-inch woofers above and below.
It inspires incredulity. What's the point of 17 drivers per side, even in a smart-on-paper quasi-D'Appolito array? Won't that result in severe comb filter effects? What about phase-accuracy problems? Also, was the Tekton team trying to trigger my trypophobia?
Quit yer fretting, my brain told me seconds after I'd connected a source, preamp, and amp to the Moabs (to wit, a 16'' MacBook Pro running Catalina and Audirvana; a PureAudio Lotus DAC5; and a Krell FPB 200c). In my 300-square-feet, moderately dampened listening room, the combo sounded... good. Solid. Musical. I detected no strange sonic artifacts coming from the almost unnerving multitude of drivers, but it wasn't yet time for critical listening. The Moabs would first have to clock 50-plus hours of break-in. Then, as with any speaker pair, additional time was needed to move them inches, and nudge them millimeters, until the imaging "clicked." In the end, I had the Tektons a little over seven feet apart (measured from the center of the left woofers to the right ones); a good three feet from the front wall; and three and a half feet from the side walls. My seating position was 11 feet away. I found I liked the Moabs best when they were toed in considerably more than most speakers I've had in my room (such that the left speaker pointed straight at my right shoulder and the right speaker pointed at my left one).
When all that was done, I selected a few favorite tracks, sat down, and let the music wash over me. The Moabs had already shown more than a little promise before, but now, they just... Blew. Me. Away. These speakers sound more like live music than anything I've ever heard in my room.
Like Tekton's founder and designer Eric Alexander, I've been in bands for much of my life (he's a very accomplished drummer; I'm a middling guitarist and singer). From thousands of hours of playing and recording, I've learned exactly what a snare drum and a ride cymbal sound like up close; just how the E string on a resonator guitar drones distinctly in a drop-D tuning; how vacuum tubes add fine gravelly distortion and rich overtones when you drive them hard in a Vox AC-30 or a Marshall head. Most of all, I appreciate the dynamics and scale of real instruments, and enjoy the immense contrast between pianissimo and fortissimo, between gossamer mandolin licks and the most forceful of percussive pianos, taiko, or timpani.
It's one thing — though no easy feat — for a speaker designer to get instruments' timbres right. It's another to build a product that also does justice to the dynamic range of a symphony orchestra. But that's just what I got in my listening room with the Moabs. On a whim, via Qobuz, I cued up Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden: Dance of the Tumblers, performed by the Minnesota Orchestra. The Krell, and later my Electrocompaniet ECI6 integrated amp, drove the never-flinching, 98dB-sensitive speakers from a whisper to a rollicking roar and back again. The Moabs sounded in their element, and in control, at any decibel level, including peaks of 108dB at my listening position. The floor shook. My jaw dropped. I've heard speakers this effortless and convincing only on a few occasions, and each time they cost the price of a new car. Tekton, which uses no middlemen, will sell you a pair of Moabs for $4500, shipping included. If there's a better bargain in all of high-end audio, I'm not aware of it. (I am aware of seasoned listeners, including at least a few professional reviewers, who've traded in five-figure Wilsons or Magicos for a pair of Moabs or Ulfberhts costing only a fraction.)
Of course, you don't have to be into symphony recordings to fall bigly for these speakers. Blues, rock, pop, indie, Americana, and jazz are typically more my bag. On all of these, the Moabs were superior performers, starting with how they render the midrange. For that, thank the plethora of diminutive drivers. Only a single one, in the center of the array, actually handles the highest frequencies. The other 14 are mounted in two 10'' circles, each receiving a 400-to-6000 Hz signal that would normally go to a midrange driver. The first advantage of this approach is that the very low mass of the soft-dome tweeters — jointly masquerading as a couple of midrange transducers — allows for a lightning-quick transient response that rivals the speed of electrostatic and magnetostatic speakers (like MartinLogans and Magnepans). The second, related boon is that the reproduction of an instrument's delicate overtones and harmonics isn't dampened by the weight of a traditional midrange cone.
Want a real-world example of why this matters? Nils Lofgren's guitar on Keith Don't Go (from the album Acoustic Live) is exhilarating on the Moabs. There's a three-minute instrumental passage in the middle of the track that reaches its apex with Lofgren's playing of incredible-sounding string harmonics — bell-like, fast, real, with rarely equalled purity.
Speaking of string harmonics: courtesy of the same artist's rhythm section, we get the matter-of-factly-named Bass & Drum Intro (Nils Lofgren Band Live). Wade Matthews' electric bass guitar's overtones, true to life, almost sound like small gongs. Then drummer Timm Biery, on a big kit, kicks off a jam; and as the duo's interplay swells and wanes, the recording's dynamic representation via the Moabs is just as forceful, natural, and alive as it was during the Snow Maiden track.
Over and over, these proved to be giddiness-inducing speakers.
As for the bass region, after initial setup I had a room resonance somewhere in the 30-50Hz band. At first I rolled off the bass three or four dBs via Audirvana's equalizer, until I discovered that plugging up the speakers' rear bass ports with a short section of a five-inch-diameter pool noodle yielded a similar result. Eric Alexander told me that a towel would also do the trick. OK, but for the best sound, should we use a bath towel or a tea towel? Microfiber or Egyptian cotton? What thread count yields superior sonics? (Folks, I kid. If low-bass pruning is called for, stuff those ports with old washcloths or burlap sacks for all anyone cares, and call it good.)
The boominess thus tamed, the bass reproduction in my room became wicked impressive — tight and tuneful, without drama or exaggeration. The Moabs are full-range musical instruments that play down to 20Hz without a complaint (however, the neighbors may grouse instead). For three and a half months, I listened to these superlative speakers without my subwoofers connected, simply never feeling the need. When I got curious and finally switched them into the system, I did hear just a little more heft on tracks like Two Feet's delightfully bluesy Love Is a Bitch (gotta love that subterranean synthesizer), and on Chris Jones' affecting, deep-slammin' No Sanctuary Here. I dug it, but it's unlikely you'll miss anything vital without external subs.
I'd wager that one reason the Moabs' on-board bass is so satisfying is that the woofers in each channel are some four feet apart (one at knee level, one at ear height), an arrangement that surely helps cancel room nulls, and boosts cohesion.
As for the Moabs' treble presentation, I love it for what it doesn't do. It doesn't ever go screechy. It doesn't call attention to itself, the way horn tweeters can do. It doesn't make you fatigued or leave you longing for Aspirin — not even during five-hour listening sessions, and not even on early-digital or sibilant recordings.
Imaging-wise, too, these speakers shine. For instance, on Om Sweet Om, performed by Keb' Mo', Taj Mahal, and Lizz Wright, the soundstage is wide and clear, with the acoustic guitar appearing a foot or two on the outside of the left tower — very 3D, almost as if there were surround speakers in the picture.
Is there anything the Moabs don't do perfectly? Well, maybe. Depending on the recording, they can project music with an enthusiasm and force that paints some instruments as larger than they are. While the speakers reproduce subtleties like nobody's business, inner detail — delicateness — falls a bit short of absolute world class. The Tektons' overall signature tends always toward big and meaty.
Some speakers are good at stressing what happens inside a singer's mouth, rendering lip smacks and other saliva sounds as if you're mere inches away. That's a "no thanks" from me. By comparison, the Moabs sound less sssilvery, and more, well, holistic. Rather than chase clinical precision, they err on the side of warmth. I believe that's as it should be; but I can easily see some listeners preferring a more scrupulously objective truth, which would require speakers with less "bigness" and a mite more restraint.
As long as I'm picking nits, I should note here that one of the towers arrived with its fiberglass damping material spilling out of a bass port; and that one of the spikes was impossible to screw in straight due to a poorly installed thread insert in the bottom. These lapses in workmanship perhaps betray hurriedness and a stressed production schedule. It must be a mixed blessing when you're an increasingly sought-out small manufacturer like Tekton, and you're trying to keep up with orders for almost 50 (!) different products.
But the quality-control demerits were instantly bygones when I heard what the mighty Moabs do sonically. With apologies to my beloved MartinLogan Odysseys, the towering Tektons are my new reference speakers for 2021. It's going to be a good year.
P.S. #1: I made a Tidal playlist called "Showing off the Moabs," and have been using it to share the sound of these extraordinary speakers with whichever masked visitor dared enter my listening room. Of course, my picks will give any audio product a good workout. Enjoy!
P.S. #2: Having heard neither the Encores nor the Ulfberhts, I asked Eric Alexander how those speakers differ sonically from the Moabs (the Tekton website, with its very pithy product descriptions, doesn't do much to explain it). This was his reply:
"Compared to the Moab, the Encore is a bit more laidback. The Encore has the same wonderful midrange and treble — the exact same domes on the tweeters by the way. I'd say the main difference is in the bass. The Encore's bass section is tilted a bit more towards the classic audiophile bass sound. I'd describe it as slightly warmer, smoother, richer. In other words...a bit less energetic and dynamic than the Moab. The Encore mid-bass drivers give it a bit more speed and punch in the mid-bass.
The main difference between the Moab and the Ulfberht is in the mid-bass. The Ulfberht has a lightning-fast mid-bass punch that can only be had through its four lightweight Italian mid-bass drivers. We also switch all of the tweeters over to a ScanSpeak model. This increases the overall system cost but probably doesn't extrapolate to much better sound, as the Moab tweeters are really very good."
P.S. #3: During the extended review period, the goal was obviously to coax the best possible sound picture from the Moabs. To that end, I used everything from a recently-recapped vintage Holman Apt preamp to the brand new NAD Masters 33 integrated amplifier and streamer (review upcoming). One of the sweetest and most unexpected boosts in sonic performance came when I hooked up a couple of products from Core Power Technologies A/V: the twelve-outlet Equi=core 1800 MkII, and the two-outlet Deep=Core 1800. MSRP is $2195 and $1295, respectively, but Underwood Hifi seems to always offer them at an attractive discount.
Either product will work on its own, but they operate in conjunction when you plug the former into the latter. The Deep=Core is designed to shield the transformer in the 1800-Watt, 15-Ampère, 54-pound Equi=Core (or other upstream power conditioners) from direct current, electromagnetic interference, and radio-frequency gremlins. An adjustable contour control on the back allows you to match the current coming from the wall to your gear's power supplies. Both units also act as high-quality surge suppressors.
Outfitted with hospital-grade pure copper duplexes and detachable Core Diamond power cords, the duo quickly made a mockery of the $850 Furman Elite-15 PFi that I'd used up to that point. The noise floor in my system fell just a smidge, transformer hum was reduced, the midbass sounded cleaner, and I had the distinct impression of an increased effortlessness. It all made for an elevated listening experience.
To be honest, I've never been a big believer in the sonic benefits of power conditioning, but the improvements from the Core Power Technology products were pleasingly real. While I wouldn't say they made a night-and-day difference, the CPT offerings cranked up my enjoyment of my favorite music by a few percentage points. If the rest of your chain is endgame gear, or close to it, the Equi=Core and Deep=Core can be counted on to provide a damn nice finishing touch.
Drivers, per speaker: Two 12" woofers; one 1.2" center tweeter; dual seven-tweeter poly-cell midrange array.
Crossover type: Claimed "absolute minimum phase" design; crossover points at approximately 400 and 6000 Hz.
Nominal impedance: 4 Ohms
Frequency response: 20Hz to 30kHz
Dimensions: 69" x 13.5" x 17.5" (HxWxD)
Weight: 135 lbs per speaker
Price: $4500 including shipping; $4979 after pending price increase.