Rockport Technologies Merak II loudspeaker & Sheritan II subwoofer Page 3

There was so much bass that I called Andy Payor for an explanation. He just thought it was a function of my room's preference for side-firing woofers, and suggested positioning options that might yield a better balance. (Payor knows my room well.) I found spots that minimized the bass output, but still there was too much. I wrote a first draft of the review, which originally ended with my calling the Merak II/Sheritan II "kind of the Dockers of fine, full-range loudspeakers: an ample cut and a comfortable fit."

A few days later I got a slightly panicked call from Payor, who asked me if the serial numbers on the Sheritan II's rear-mounted crossover began with "99" or "04." He admitted that he might have shipped the speakers with crossovers designed for the original Merak-Sheritan combo, which was a 2½-way design, not a full-out three-way.

I don't question Payor's honesty, but I've played this game before. Rather than telling him the serial numbers, I said, "Tell me what the sound would be like with the wrong crossovers, and what the serial numbers would be." He told me that, if the serial numbers began with "99," it was the wrong crossover, and that there would be way too much bass, as well as a 2dB shelf through the midrange and treble that would make the speakers sound way too mellow.

He was right: that's how it sounded to me, and when I checked the serial number, "99" it was. I'd reviewed the combination speakers with the wrong crossovers installed in the Sheritans. Fortunately, swapping out the crossovers is easy—no wiring or soldering. Payor sent the right ones, and I listened again to my usual recorded suspects.

Now the Merak II/Sheritan IIs delivered the same "powerful, seamless musical experience" I'd written about in the original version of this review, but without that leaden bottom end, and without the soft, warm, almost suffocating overall balance. Like the Antares, the Merak II/Sheritan II was as free of obvious and annoying colorations as any speaker I've heard—which is not the same as saying they lacked "character."

Adding the bottom octaves only increased the volume of the already expansive soundstage, filling in the corners of the room behind the speakers and providing a three-dimensional wall of sound that I had not before experienced in this room. The improvements in midbass clarity and articulation were substantial, and the handoff to the midrange driver had clearly been effectively accomplished.

That said, the Merak II/Sheritan II was still on the rich, mellow side of the musical fence, though not at the expense of subjective harmonic accuracy. A violin didn't sound like a viola, an alto sax didn't sound like a tenor sax, and familiar recordings of female vocals hadn't sprouted chest hair.

Probably because of the Sheritan II's more conventional construction, the Merak-Sheritan combo didn't match the Antares' overall performance, particularly in the bass, where the Antares' cabinet never "sounded" to a degree I've yet to experience in any other speaker. But the Merak II/Sheritan II costs $12,000/pair less than the Antares. And if Andy Payor's goal for the Merak II/Sheritan II was to provide a big, vivid, rich, essentially seamless sonic picture, he has accomplished it.

Toward the end of the review period, Classic Records sent me their "you are there" boxed set of Bob Dylan's The Bootleg Series Vol.6: Live 1964: Concert at Philharmonic Hall (three LPs, Columbia Legacy/Classic C2K 86882). Sumptuously packaged and including a full-sized, perfect-bound booklet filled with fabulous black-and-white photos and mesmerizing annotation by Sean Wilentz, this set shows just what the LP can do in terms of tangibility and sound. The physical object itself is worth cherishing almost as much as the music in the grooves. There's even a photo of Dylan with John Sebastian and Ramblin' Jack Elliot, all three examining together the cover of the Rolling Stones' first album, which had just been released—a British Decca pressing, no less.

In those grooves are just Bob Dylan (with Joan Baez on a few tracks), his guitar and harmonica, and a full house of adoring fans—in other words, enough to set your hair on fire. The recording is perfectly simple stereo. You can imagine a cropped-haired Columbia Records engineer in black-rimmed glasses hovering over a pair of Ampex 350s or whatever they used, making sure the meters didn't peak.

The physical sensation of the 23-year-old Dylan standing before me, playing and singing, was palpable and believable through the Merak II/Sheritan II combo, the full weight of the hall's ambience anchoring the picture's background. Even during the day with the lights on, it was easy to imagine there were no speakers in the room—no sonic speaker seams were evident with that record, or with most of the LPs and CDs I played during the audition period.

Conclusions
While $19,500 is a lot of money to pay for a pair of two-way speakers, the Rockport Technologies Merak II is unlike any other two-way I've heard, in terms of both its construction and its sonic performance. It's a big-sounding speaker that offers Antares-like performance down to around 40Hz. For many listeners, especially those with smaller listening rooms, that will be enough bass extension without creating "room bump" problems.

The addition of the Sheritan II bass modules—with the proper crossover network—added more weight and extension than I'd ever gotten in my room from any other speaker, some of which clearly produced superb bass in other rooms (the Aerial 20Ts, in a Mirage hotel suite at the 2004 Consumer Electronics Show, were nothing short of astonishing). I can't explain why the Rockport combo produced such effective bass weight and extension in my room when so many others have failed.

I still preferred the quality of the Antares' bass, which, as I remember it, is tighter, a bit faster, more articulate, and more of an "out of the cabinet" experience, perhaps due to the Antares' higher-quality bass driver and resonance-free cabinet.

But overall, considering the greater quantity of bass the Merak II/Sheritan II delivered, and given the $12,000 price difference, the tradeoff was more than acceptable. While the Merak II/Sheritan II is not quite the Antares' sonic equal, it's in the family, it's a lot less expensive, and its narrower baffle makes it more attractive.

Like their Antares, which remains the finest loudspeaker I've heard in my room, Rockport Technologies' Merak II/Sheritan II is a superbly built system that offers remarkably coherent overall performance, an enormous sonic picture, exceptional dynamic clout, outstanding believability, and a sense of musical wholeness that has been matched by only a handful of other speakers in my experience.

As with any high-performance product, getting the most out of the Merak II/Sheritan II will require careful placement and component matching. Given my room's reaction, if yours has a serious bass bump, I'd consider getting only the Merak IIs, sans Sheritan IIs. Your associated gear should be fast, tight, and extremely well damped; warm, fuzzy phono cartridges and mellow cables need not apply. But with the right gear in the right rooms, the Merak II and the Merak II/Sheritan II have the potential to keep many music lovers happy for years to come.

Company Info
Rockport Technologies
229 Mill Street
Rockport, ME 04856
(207) 596-7151
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