By Eric Peterson | Feb 20, 2023
Speakers and audio gear
Growing up in the 1970s, Alexander says he was drawn to hi-fi audio about 30 years before founding Tekton Design. "I built my first pair of speakers at 14, and I was obsessed with music," he says.
That same timeframe, the budding audiophile became friends with a neighbor who was the nation's first mobile DJ and was exposed to hi-fi. "I was instantly smitten," says Alexander. "This was big, visceral, dynamic, energetic stuff, and I loved it."
Alexander started off in car audio and worked as a contractor for other speaker manufacturers before conceiving Tekton's multi-tweeter design. "I went through about 20 years of plumbing the depths of everything imaginable in loudspeaker design," he says. "I tried about every cabinet design that's out there. Those were the things I was pursuing for about 20 to 25 solid years."
Alexander built a speaker with several tweeters that he felt more closely mimicked a live performance and brought a pair to the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. But it didn't take. "I never sold a pair of speakers. I didn't sign a dealer," says Alexander. "I circled the wagons: 'Let's make speakers that we know people will buy.'"
For about five years, Tekton focused on more conventional speakers. "Then, once I had gotten the products some traction, I slowly introduced the products that I wanted to introduce and offered the products that I had faith in that were innovative and forward-thinking."
In 2011, Tekton launched the flagship Pendragon, now selling for $2,300 a pair featuring three to seven tweeters per speaker. "It instantly garnered the product of the year award," says Alexander. "Still today, that's a fantastic speaker that punches so far above its weight."
The differentiator is in the sound, which stems from the design. "We literally have the secret sauce," says Alexander. "I've got a bunch of loudspeaker patents. When a patent costs $60,000 to $100,000, I certainly wouldn't waste my time and money on a patent that was a P.T. Barnum or a tomfoolery-type patent."
"Everything has a tradeoff. It's about evaluating and monitoring all of your tradeoffs to come up with a solid design," he adds. "When you really start studying the physics of acoustics -- and I'll get a little preachy here for a minute -- everybody wants to pigeonhole loudspeakers into a branch of consumer electronics."
"When that music travels through the voice coil, from that point on, it's acoustical physics. . . . From that point on, it's a musical instrument. I make musical instruments."
It's all about acoustical physics, as Alexander considers Tekton's speakers musical instruments, noting, "I'm going to offer products that visually, on the surface when you look at them, you're going to go, 'Well, that's unorthodox,' but they're going to sound good."
He also strives for an "attainable" price tag: "That's why we sell things for $2,500 for a pair and not $25,000."
Tekton manufactures in a 8,000-square-foot space in Orem, Utah. All nine employees, including three full-time cabinetmakers, are involved in production. "It's really entirely handmade. The process is very hands-on from start to finish. The cabinets are CNC-machined."
Most components are sourced from within the U.S. "We don't use a lot of parts from Asia," says Alexander. "We have a great relationship with Eminence and Jerry McNutt, the transducer engineer there."
Growth has been "very, very consistent," says Alexander. "We've never had a non-growth year. . . . During COVID, we just blew up. It was like drinking from a fire hose, so many orders it was daunting."
That pace has dropped off a bit in 2023, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. "I've got a lot of engineering projects that are happening in real time," says Alexander. "I'm immersed in what I do. I work my fingers to the bone, and I love it."
Challenges: "Our biggest challenge by a mile last year was labor," says Alexander. "A year ago, I was begging for people to come work for us and we just could not find anybody who was qualified."
In 2023, the dynamic has changed, he adds. "We've had a big shift from a year ago."
While the supply chain is largely domestic, Tekton has had some trouble sourcing neodymium motors from China. "We had a few models we couldn't produce for upwards of six to nine months," says Alexander.
Opportunities: New products. Alexander is bullish about Tekton's new-for-2023 IRL audio system that encompasses speakers, headphones, and microphones.
Alexander muses about "the holy grail -- the unifying theory of audio," or technology that would replicate the listening experience of live music. "We have got it figured out, the unifying theory of audio, and it's absolutely the coolest thing you've ever heard," he says. "I think we're going to blow some people away."
Needs: Space. Alexander would like to find a single 20,000- to 30,000-square-foot facility with room for offices, manufacturing, and an anechoic chamber for demos. "We are not under one roof," he says.
Another: "I need vendors that can produce a custom part that meets parameters and performance that we need to hit."
Alexander is also exploring taking lower-priced speakers to offshore manufacturers. "There's no sense manufacturing them in America. As dyed-in-the-wool patriotic as I can be, it makes no sense to make this stuff here."