Tetra 505LTD loudspeaker

Tetra Speakers may not be a familiar name to many US audiophiles. Based in Ottawa, Ontario, the company has been around for a decade, but has taken a slow and steady approach to building its visibility in the insanely competitive and trend-conscious world of high-end loudspeakers.

Tetra was the brainchild of cabinetmaker Wayne Prince and musician and speaker designer Adrian Butts. While Butts had determined that the standard rectangular loudspeaker cabinet was absolutely the wrong shape for minimizing internal standing waves, he had not yet been able to figure out how to solve the problem. Meanwhile, Prince was trying to attract interest in his new approach to building speaker enclosures using tetrahedral geometry, to no avail—until a chance meeting with Butts brought all of the necessary elements together. Butts realized that at last he had met a kindred audio spirit looking to solve the same problems he'd been wrestling with, and Prince recognized in Butts a guy whose knowledge of loudspeaker and crossover design would take the best advantage of his cabinetry. That meeting, more than 10 years ago, was the cornerstone of Tetra.

Stylish substance
Though of only moderate size, the 505LTD is Tetra's largest model, and comes in two levels of finish. The standard level ($8000/pair) offers satin or high-gloss black with wood accents. The visually snazzier Custom features solid-cherrywood front and rear baffles in a variety of colors. The Custom finishes add $3000/pair, and if looks alone can justify such an expenditure, the 505LTD Customs' do. The cherry baffles were glowingly finished, and the art deco detailing on the front of the lower box popped vividly into three dimensions even when seen from the listening chair. I can't imagine what environment the Tetra would not fit into—its moderate footprint, manageable size, and beautiful Custom finishes should sit well in just about any modern décor.

The tetrahedral head unit—think a three-sided equilateral pyramid sitting on a three-sided bottom—is claimed to eliminate standing waves because there are no parallel surfaces to reinforce any frequencies. The head unit is attached to the medium-sized box that provides loading for the woofer, which vents through a large port on the rear. The only parallel surfaces in the entire package are the front and rear of this pedestal. The black grillecloths magnetically adhere to the front of the pyramid—a cool and elegant touch.

The drivers are from highly reputable audiophile suppliers: a 1" treated fabric-dome tweeter from ScanSpeak and an 8" damped polymer-composite woofer from Morel. Top-quality internal parts feature Chateauroux Fast Caps, Hepta-Litz air-core inductors, and Cardas internal wiring and binding posts. The Tetra is spec'd at 91dB/W/m sensitivity and presents an amplifier-friendly load of 8 ohms that never drops below 7 ohms. Any respectable amp should be able to drive the 505 to room-filling levels. Each 505 weighs a sturdy and solid 95 lbs; uncrating and setting up the pair of them was a reasonable one-man proposition, particularly when compared to the hulking brutes that have recently dominated my listening room.

Setup surprise
I was a little surprised and skeptical about Tetra's claim of extension to 29Hz (though no down point is specified), so I initially set up the 505LTDs closer to the front wall than usual, simply assuming that they would need bass reinforcement to make with the satisfying low-end boogity-woogity. They sounded lumpy, buzzy, and bass-heavy; there was also some nasty and very audible doubling of organ pedals. Evidently something was not right, and it turned out to be my assumptions about the speakers. The lower section of the cabinet is quite deep, and its port fires to the rear. There was just too much bass energy being pumped into the corners of my room, so I began moving the speakers nearer to the sidewalls and farther out into the room. By the time I'd gotten them 28" from the sidewalls and 40.5" from the front wall (as measured from the tops of the pyramids), things had improved, with plenty of bass, a broad stage, and no unpleasant room interactions.

Pyramid power?
Properly set up, the Tetra 505s were a bit on the unforgiving and aggressive side at first, though what struck me even more was their openness and spaciousness. I suspected that newness was the probable cause of the leanness and lower-treble forwardness and let them break in for a couple weeks of general, nonevaluative listening. That turned out to be a good idea—they needed some hours to settle in.

Coming to them with renewed focus, I was again caught up in the 505s' big, open soundstaging. They consistently put large spaces in my listening room with ease. The 505s did a wonderful job of "disappearing," and their center-fill was very good. Soundstage breadth was genuinely excellent, and depth retrieval was better than average. "Telegraph Road," Mark Knopfler's epic rumination on the rise and fall of Rust Belt America from Love Over Gold (LP, Warner Bros. 23728-1), is a sonic stunner. The 505s let it spread to all the corners of my room and beyond with superior focus. Moreover, they got the song's dark, bitter sense of sadness and loss—even more relevant now, some 20-plus years (!) after its release—with precisely the right touch.

In terms of timbre the Tetra, once broken in, proved itself generally well-balanced. Deep bass, as mentioned, went a lot deeper than I'd expected from a single 8" woofer. Large-scaled electronic bass had ear-opening depth. My all-time favorite insane power-bass workout is Kruder & Dorfmeister's dub remix of Bomb the Bass's "Bug Powder Dust," from The K&D Sessions (EU CD, K7 K7073). Its room-rattling shots pressurized my listening room with surprising force. The monster sampled kick drum on Majestic 12's remix of Kelis' "Milkshake," from Ultra Trance: 3 (CD, Ultra UL1180-2), was rather loose, as were K&D's fireworks, but low the Tetra did go.

The Tetra wasn't exactly sloppy or underdamped, but there are limits to how much authority an 8" woofer can bring to the game. When it was asked to play a lot of low and midbass frequencies at fairly fervent loudness levels, things could get a little ragged. That I am ape-crazy for deep bass made this more apparent to me than it will be to those who don't share my predilections for large-scale techno/chill music. With less extreme bass, the Tetras had good presence and bloominess. The woody, thonking bark of the Fender Precision bass guitar on Ozric Tentacles' "Oolite Groove," from Curious Corn (UK LP, Snapper Music SMALP 502), had the right balance of string and wood, while John Entwistle's majestic rumble on the new vinyl reissue of Who's Next (LP, Track/Classic DC 79182) was well served. Acoustic bass instruments, such as Jimmy Woode's bass on Duke Ellington's Indigos ("six-eye" LP, Columbia CS 8053), sounded naturally expansive, with good pitch definition.

The 505LTD's midrange was generally very good. Give it something like Paul Gonsalves' breathy, honeyed tenor sax on "Where or When," from Indigos, or Ben Webster and "Sweets" Edison (LP, Columbia/Classic CS 8691), and all you'll be doing will be grooving on the music. The 505 had a wonderful affinity for voices. Pete Seeger has seldom sounded better on "Guantanamera," from The Weavers' Reunion at Carnegie Hall (LP, Vanguard VSD 2150), and Eleanor McAvoy was a palpable presence on Small Hours (UK SACD, Market Square MSM51SACD128). Frank Sinatra's sibilants on Only for the Lonely (LP, Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1-137) were spot on, neither blunted nor unduly emphasized. The sense of space around both Sinatra and the orchestra contributed nicely to the music's melancholy.

Once the tweeter had some time on it, the aggressiveness faded away and the Tetra's top octaves sounded relaxed and atmospheric. Only a hint—just a hint—of lower-treble emphasis remained. It wasn't quite a "glamor bump," but it did add a bit of liveliness to flatter-sounding recordings and made the top end sound somewhat laidback. There was admirable resolution of internal orchestral voices and the little things buried deep in pop and rock mixes. Listening to various tracks from the Beach Boys' Good Vibrations boxed set was a gas. The Tetras let me hear deeply into Brian Wilson's still-remarkable vocal arrangements. They sounded their best with Cardas Golden Reference biwires and Harmonic Technology's new Magic Reference (footnote 1).

The magic of a good two-way speaker lies in its coherence—it's so much easier to preserve the essence of music when it doesn't have to be routed in three, four, or more directions. That's where the Tetra delivered the biggest. A densely layered, atmospheric piece such as "Unfinished," from Can's Landed (UK LP, Virgin V 2041), which ranges from industrial chaos to music that sounds like a haunted ballroom and concludes with an upward spiral of keyboards and guitar that cannot but remind me of Messiaen, had a great sense of what I think of as sonic "scenery."

Different pieces of music bring different pictures into my head—not necessarily transliterations of the music itself, but more mental atmospheres. The concluding guitar solo of Mark Knopfler's "Telegraph Road" is a good example. To me it has always called to mind a burst of the kind of controlled anger that comes only from disenfranchisement. The Tetras let Knopfler communicate that sense directly. The stark and appalling bleakness of Air's soundtrack to The Virgin Suicides (CD, Astralwerks ASW 48848-2) was almost too much to take. This music makes Roger Waters at his most pessimistic sound like Hilary Duff.

Compared to the brutes that have lived in my listening room for most of the last three years, the Tetra definitely had less ultimate range at the edge of the macrodynamic envelope. It could play very loud, but there came a point at very high SPLs where things stopped getting bigger and just got louder. Its relative shortcomings against larger, more expensive speakers were most evident on great orchestral material, such as Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony's Rapsodie Espagnol (LP, RCA Living Stereo/Classic LSC-2183) and the titanic performance by Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra of Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man (CD, Reference RR-93CD).

The Tetra handled microdynamics well. Gentle inflections of voices and instruments never eluded it, and it was a joy to listen to at moderate volume levels. Turning down the gain never turned down the detail and fullness. Listening to Artur Rubinstein play the Grieg Piano Concerto (LP, RCA Victor LSC-2566), I could relax and enjoy all of the nuanced refinement of his playing—was there ever a better interpreter of the romantic piano literature? Well-recorded acoustic jazz suited the Tetras exceptionally well—their speed and spaciousness were a perfect match of their virtues with the music.

Neon Tetra
A concise summary of the Tetra 505LTDs is easy: they were a lot of fun to listen to. Their big, open soundstage, liveliness, and outstanding coherence might have been expected, but their surprisingly deep bass response was a pleasant shock. I've spent the last few years with huge, heavy behemoths: the Focal-JMlab Nova Utopia Be, the Calix Phoenix Grand Signature, the EgglestonWorks Andra II, and the Legacy Audio Focus 20/20 and Whisper. The Tetra 505s opened my eyes and ears to the fact that it's not only the Andre the Giant–sized speakers that can provide an enjoyable listening experience.

The 505LTD does have limits—an 8" woofer can do only so much, even when packaged as cleverly as is the 505's—but the speaker's compromises were chosen sensibly, and it spread plenty of musical happiness around my house. As I write this on a Friday night, I'm sitting in my office, which is directly behind my listening room, the door between the two rooms wide open. Russell Malone's Heartstrings is spinning in the CD player, and I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. The Tetra has some genuine strong points, but in LTD dress it finds itself at a highly competitive price point where there are strong alternatives, including the Wilson Sophia. Careful auditioning is therefore recommended.

Footnote 1: (The Magic Reference incorporates Magic Woofer and Magic Tweeter cables into one very chunky biwire cable.)
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