The Tetra 120U is a small, relatively inexpensive speaker that was designed for home theater, but it’s so good that many clients purchase it for their two-channel systems, often replacing much larger, more expensive speakers. The Tetra 120U sells for $1800/pair ($900 each). The 120U is Tetra’s first truly universal speaker, one that delivers great sound on any type of music or soundtrack. It can be used in two-channel or for a surround system. You may use the 120U for just the rears, for the fronts and rears (perhaps with a Tetra 505C center) or for every speaker in a 5.1, 6.1, or 7.1 configuration.
Tetra Speakers, Inc. is an Ottawa, Canada-based company with long roots in the music industry. They have been designing and manufacturing speakers for the past twelve years, and the President / Designer worked in the audio industry for many years before that. Although Tetra has spent very little money on marketing over the years, they have managed to get their name in every major audio publication and web site with many positive reviews, awards, and other accolades. The Tetra 120U won the Audiophilia Best of Show award. It is also our choice for the best speaker for the money of every speaker in every line we sell (which is several hundred). In fact, it’s the best speaker we’ve ever heard for the money, and we’re not the only ones who think so…
Musicians Who Have Fallen for Tetra
Over the years a number of professional musicians, producers, and recording and mastering engineers have fallen in love with the Tetra sound. The reason they all give? Because it really sounds like music. When Benny Golson first heard the Tetra 506 speakers he was literally jumping up and down exclaiming, “I’ve played with Coltrane hundreds of times, and that is what he sounds like! THAT is what he sounds like!”
Herbie Hancock fell in love with Tetra speakers several years ago and has a complete 7.1 Tetra setup in his home theater and a 5.1 setup in his recording studio. He recently upgraded his recording studio from the 506 mains to the new flagship 606 mains. He used the 506s in his studio for the making of his Possibilities CD, and he has donated that speaker back to us to help raise money for cystic fibrosis research. (If you are interested in purchasing this unique, signed pair of speakers, see our web site for more information.)
Ron Carter also purchased the 506s and recently upgraded to the new ($33.3K) 606 speakers. When Ron, the most recorded bass player of all time, with over 2500 albums and CDs to his credit, first heard these speakers in his home, he remarked not only on the sound of the speakers, but how well they reproduced the hall he recorded in. He couldn’t believe that they reproduced not only the instruments but everything that was going on in the room so perfectly. He was astonished.
“All Tetra speakers are voiced by ear with great care and with no rush to market. The Tetra 120U, for example, took over two years to perfect.”
Other musicians with Tetra speakers include Keith Richards, Wynton Marsalis, Robert Silverman, Buster Williams, Lenny White, DD Jackson, Dave Holland, and many others.
On September 9 of this year we produced a jazz benefit concert featuring Buster Williams, Kenny Barron, and Lenny White (watch for the CD soon on our web site). Buster had already bought a pair of the Tetra 120U speakers before the concert. He brought Kenny and Lenny to our store to hear them, and they were wowed by them. We also listened to many other speakers varying greatly in price (we have speakers on the floor that range from under $200 up to $70,000). Lenny came back into the area for a gig two weeks later and found his way back to our store to purchase a pair. Kenny is flying us out to NY to dress his whole studio with the Tetra sound.
Why do all of these people get so excited over Tetra’s modest little speakers?
All Tetra speakers are voiced by ear with great care and with no rush to market. The Tetra 120U, for example, took over two years to perfect. We had the privilege of hearing many of the prototypes, and along the way we would say, “That sounds great!” And Tetra would say, “Nope. We can do better.” And they did.
Tetra uses the best-quality drivers and other parts, and they pay lots of money for them. Most speaker manufacturers (including the most famous and best marketed) have gone to China to get inexpensive drivers to improve their profit margins. Tetra refuses to do that. And it shows in the quality of their products.
The 120U uses high-quality, fully-shielded drivers from SEAS and Morel, chosen for their neutral tonal balance, excellent dynamics, and compact size. Specifically, these speakers each sport a 1″ Morel soft-dome tweeter and a 5″ SEAS polyproylene woofer. Internally you’ll find Cardas and Litz wiring and an ultra-high-quality capacitor on the tweeter. The design is deceptively simple, but the result is stunning.
The enclosure design on the 120U minimizes internal standing wave colorations, resulting in a startling lifelike soundstage projected well out into the room. The 120U’s trademark sloping front baffle is an essential part of this design.
Standing waves are out-of-phase acoustic energy that builds up at high signal pressure levels behind the drivers as they work. Unless controlled, they can interfere with the forward-radiating sound. The result may be muddy, distorted, bright, grainy, or all of the above. That’s why you find so much stuffing in some box speakers. But Tetra goes the extra mile in design for the ultimate in pitch, clarity, definition, and soundstage.
In the end, it all comes down to the music. And there’s a reason I dropped all those names early on in the article. Musicians love these speakers. Why? Because they spend their lives performing, and they know what live music sounds like. And when they hear it reproduced on an audio system, they get excited.
We have a few tracks we love to play for people on these speakers. “Money,” by Pink Floyd, really shows them off well. As does “Little Waltz” by Ron Carter on his Piccolo CD (a great track that everyone should know, this track demonstrates not only the remarkable bass on these speakers, but the wonderful warmth and sensitivity of microdynamics these speakers produce). Of course the best test music is the one you’ve heard a hundred times already. People are always amazed at how much they hear that they never heard before.
The Tetra 120U is available in Natural Cherry, Red Cherry, Black, White, and Silver. Other colors (including custom paint) are available by request at additional cost.
Where to Buy
Audio High is the only nationally authorized Tetra dealer. However, there are many excellent Tetra dealers in other areas of the US and Canada. Ask your local dealer if they sell Tetra speakers, and if not, you may purchase directly from us.
Michael Silver is Audio High’s resident audiophile and home theater expert. Before founding Audio High, he was involved with a number of technology companies in the Bay Area. For seven years, he was a development manager at Apple Computer, overseeing three groups concurrently. During his tenure at Apple, he wrote and published a programming book; wrote the telecommunications code that sent the first e-mail from space and supported the astronauts during that mission; and re-architected America Online to support other languages, cultures, and writing systems. In addition, he co-designed the telecommunications language used by AOL, Apple, CompuServe, GE, and others; and designed the Unicode compression algorithm used by Apple and AOL. He also designed the user interfaces for several Apple products, wrote a suite of online content publishing tools, and was the technical editor for numerous publications. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief of On Sound and Music, an online journal for professionals in the music industry and music enthusiasts.