Rockport Technologies Antares loudspeaker Page 3
So what was the Antares' tonal balance? In my room, compared to my reference Audio Physic Avanti III, the Antares was somewhat more lush and rich in the midband, and more crystalline and articulate on top. Not everyone is a fan of the Esotar tweeter, but of the two speakers I've heard it in in my room—the Rockport and the Merlin VSM—I've appreciated both for their resolution, extension, airiness, superb dispersion, and transient "snap," with no added grain or "etch." The $8000/pair Merlin VSM won't play as loud as the $41,500/pair Antares, or offer the same dynamic authority or low-end weight, but at less than a fifth the price and a fraction of the size and weight, it's an impressive accomplishment: highly resolving and equally "musical."
Though the Antares was among the best-balanced speakers I've heard at home, if it tended in any tonal direction it was toward a minor elevation in the lower mids (the "lush" thing), and perhaps a slight rising trend on top—though the very top was not strident or edgy unless the recording was. But overall, the speaker was as free of coloration as the Infinity Prelude MTS. After two months of listening, I felt that it was more adept at revealing tonal and spatial differences among recordings than any speaker I've auditioned. When I listened to my own voice, as recorded on The Ultimate Test CD (out of print), I was taken by surprise at how the Antares put me—not just my voice—in my own room, nasal twang and all, without added colorations. It was an out-of-body experience.
The Big Picture
When I put on some favorite LPs and CDs and sat down, what I heard first was the scale of the Antares' presentation. It was big. I don't think you'd want to put these things in a room smaller than mine, though they'd fit. The Antares should be more than adequate in a far larger room. In mine, the pair presented a breathtakingly big picture that was seamless both horizontally and vertically. I know I've written that you can "stare down" the Avantis and not "see" the music coming from them, but the Antares did an even better job of creating a sonic aura that was as far removed from the front baffle as I've experienced, even with treble-heavy material. Lateral image delineation was also as good as I've heard in my room, and, when I played mono recordings, the illusion of a center-channel speaker had never been stronger or more solid.
Having the $29,000 Boulder 2008 phono section in my system during the review period certainly gave the Antares an unfair advantage, but when that left to be measured, I spent a few weeks with the Manley Steelhead and a few other less ambitious phono sections currently under review. While the sound suffered, I'm confident that I was hearing the speaker's quality, not that of the phono section.
With lights out, Classic's 45rpm edition of Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water was rendered with breathtaking spatial, tonal, and dynamic assurance. Though recorded multitrack, the coherence of the mix produced an enormous picture, with heretofore buried or obscured instruments revealed with a surprising clarity free of spotlighting. I loved playing "The Boxer" for S&G fans, who would literally jump when the bass harmonica thundered in like a freight train, each puff of the player's breath creating an airy, eerie three-dimensional eruption. "You don't hear that on the radio," stammered one friend. "You don't hear that on most stereos," I yammered back.
I played "The Only Living Boy in New York" at least 10 times during the course of this review, with and without the Boulder, and the soaring chorus, located way back in space in Viewlex-like 3-D, never failed to bring chills as it ebbed and flowed up and down the dynamic scale.
That was one of the hallmarks of the Antares' performance: dynamic scaling. It could play loud without strain or compression while maintaining its tonal and harmonic characters, and it could play softly, maintaining its ability to resolve detail and without collapsing harmonically—but what it did in between, in conveying and controlling subtle shifts in volume, was one of the attributes that separated it from other speakers I've auditioned.
The other night—my final night of serious auditioning after weeks of staying up past 2am listening and marveling—I played an original Parlophone pressing of Beatles For Sale (PCS 3062). I'd bought it back in 1965 and have played it hundreds of times. What more could I learn from listening to this record? Through the Antares-Boulder combo, or even using the Steelhead, the answer was "A great deal!" On "No Reply," John Lennon's double-tracked voices have never exhibited such three-dimensional clarity or focus, with a very long and subtle reverb trail way in the background I'd not heard before. But also revealed—and more important—were the tonal character of his voice and subtle event cues that made the performance come alive in my room as never before.