Rockport Technologies System III Sirius turntable and tonearm Page 5
Every record I played—records I thought I knew backwards, forwards, and inside out—yielded new, useful musical information. But, more important, the big stuff—the vocalist or solo pianist you can hear on your bedroom radio or poolside boombox—was presented with a focus, solidity, and "thereness" I've never before experienced. No other turntable in my experience has been able to present a piano as pitch-perfect and timbrally coherent as the Rockport. Not even close.
The most familiar music demanded rediscovery, and every record I played was a revelation. No exaggeration. I had this 'table for a month, and for a month I barely slept. The Rockport's high-frequency transient performance, clarity, extension, and freedom from edge or grain were absolutely breathtaking.
I kept challenging the System III Sirius to stoop to the mundane by feeding it what I thought was unexceptional material. I played an original ABC pressing of Royal Scam, which I'd never considered one of Steely Dan's better sonic efforts. But from the first note of "Kid Charlemagne" (one of the most evocative, accurate drug-scene songs ever written), it was clear that the Rockport could dig compelling stuff out of any production. The ride and splash cymbals on that tune exploded, dynamically and spatially, as I'd never heard them or imagined they could. The timbral and textural differentiation between the two cymbals, and the detail in each stroke's shimmer, were revealed with musical, not clinical, precision.
The ride had a soft, cushy sound, the splash a brash, aggressive tone. Of course, that's how they sound, and that's how they've always sounded, but not like this—not with this degree of appropriate disparity on each stroke. And background stuff that I could barely make out before was now clearly delineated. I could now tell what these events were, and "see" them clearly, even as they remained way back in the mix, where they'd always been—farther back, even—while sounding more fully formed and focused than ever.
Rockport designs have been criticized as being "analytical," "clinical," and "amusical." Not the System III Sirius. No way. This 'table lacked any kind of mechanical signature. By an overwhelming margin, it was the most liquid, seamless, and natural-sounding 'table I'd ever heard. Its absolutely neutral and incredibly transparent midrange presentation stunned a number of industry veterans who stopped by during that month—as it did me every time I listened. Its performance at the frequency extremes was equally exceptional: much better extension, clarity, and detail on top than I've ever heard. And on bottom, too, as I've described.
There were times, early in the review process, when I thought the System III Sirius reduced stereo separation and bunched things up in the middle, but what was really happening was a gigantic improvement in low-level resolution that filled in holes behind what I had erroneously thought was "image focus." The images I was used to were still "focused" and solid—in fact, more so—but the system's incredible background quiet was revealing low-level ambient fill that helped create a seamless curtain instead of disconnected images across the stage.
I used two unfamiliar cartridges for this review: the Lyra Helikon and the van den Hul Black Beauty Colibri. The latter is a lightweight design weighing an incredible 3gm, but the Sirius III's tonearm had no trouble with it. When the Sirius went home, I ran the Helikon on the Immedia RPM2 and the Colibri on the Graham 2.0, both on the Simon Yorke 'table so I could study the Rockport's influence on the two.
The Yorke/Immedia/Graham combo is my reference, and it's really great, but I'm afraid the results were not even close. In fact, I made two demo CD-Rs of various tracks using the Rockport, to A/B with the LPs in real time. Of course, the "live" LPs creamed the CD-R, which sounded slightly brighter and edgier but less immediate. Nonetheless, the CD-Rs did capture the Rockport's essence.
When I A/B'd the CD-R with the "live" LPs on the Yorke, the CD-R topped the LPs in overall presentation, dynamics, and especially solidity. Whatever bad you can say about CD transfers, loss of speed stability ain't it. The rock-solid Rockport's performance shone through, as did its freedom from "mechanicalness" and its total lack of grain and unnatural edge. I wish I could legally dupe these CD-Rs and send them to you; five minutes of listening to them would tell you more about the greatness of this 'table than my +3000 words possibly can. And because neither I nor, probably, you will ever be able to afford the System III Sirius, wouldn't it be nice to have a taste? Take it from me—it would be.