Rockport Technologies Antares loudspeaker Page 4

Of course, I and most other reviewers say similar things whenever a piece of gear improves the listening experience, but for me, after being a reviewer for 16 years, this was not yet another incremental step toward believability, but an enormous leap. When Paul and George join the chorus, each was easy to discern as a three-dimensional image standing before the microphone. The dynamic power of Ringo simultaneously hitting the splash cymbal and the kick drum to punctuate Lennon's singing "No reply!" had never been expressed as I heard it that night. And other subtleties were revealed—like the sense of air moving on the handclaps during the bridge—that made this "primitive" four-track recording come physically to life as I'd never heard it before. Was it "in-the-studio" real? As close as I've come.

I continued that late-night session with original RCA Living Stereo and Classic reissue LPs of Heifetz's rendering of Bruch's Scottish Fantasy (LSC-2603). This will be read as heresy in some circles, but I preferred the reissue, which sounded more detailed and three-dimensional, less boxy and honky, yet suffered from none of the stridency and flat-footedness that some Classic Living Stereo editions exhibit. The tone and texture of Heifetz's violin was plain old thrilling, and broke free of the grip of an artificial, recorded experience.

Finally, I played René Leibowitz and the Royal Philharmonic's recording of Beethoven's Symphony 3, from a newly acquired mint edition of the famous Reader's Digest boxed set, taped at Walthamstow Town Hall in north London and engineered, I believe, by Kenneth Wilkinson. Mastered from the session tapes, it's a fabulous-sounding set, and the performance is quite fine. The system sounded magnificently full-bodied, with the harmonic structure and colors of strings, brass, and woodwinds delivered, if not faultlessly, then at least as believably as I've heard from a stereo system. And behind the ensemble lurked the Walthamstow's acoustic (I once attended a recording session there), which, at the end, just about shouted "Who the hell needs surround sound?"

I listened to the Rockport Antares later into more evenings than I have to any other audio product I've ever reviewed. Ask my wife. ("When the hell are you coming to bed?") But despite the speaker's many strengths, what impressed my most during those months was its lack of obvious faults. I couldn't find any—and that's just what I'm paid the big, big bux to do. I never felt the Antares was too analytical or, on the other side of the audio fence, covered up too many recording problems in an attempt to provide "listenability." It never sounded strident or harsh unless the recording did, never added grain or etch, never sounded soft, veiled, or uninvolving. I heard no frequency lumps or bumps, nor did I feel the speaker's response was contoured to provide "audiophile thrills" or anything like that.

I'm not saying the Antares sounded like "live" music—no speaker does—but it came closest to doing that than any other speaker in my experience. Whatever flaws it had were so well-concealed that I never heard them, no matter what music I played. I don't know what more one can ask from a pair of speakers.

After two months with the Rockport Antares, I have no troubling news to report, no nits to pick, and can't imagine that John Atkinson's measurements will hold any surprises. My own primitive measurements only confirmed the smooth, well-behaved response I heard. I tried to find fault with the Antares' performance in the parameters of frequency extension and balance, driver integration, soundstaging, image focus, dynamic authority, and harmonic integrity, but if there were any faults, I didn't hear them. What I heard was a speaker that was revealing without sounding medicinal or antiseptic, a speaker that communicated both information and emotion. If the measurements do show "faults," I'm convinced that they will have been purposefully placed there so that the art would complement the science.

When I visited Andy Payor a few years ago to write a story about the turntables he was building for Sony Music's archival project, he played me some speakers he was selling at the time. They were absolutely and categorically underwhelming—dry and dead. If the science was right, the art was not; I heard some drivers in a box, but little music. To this day there are those who, when they think of Rockport, think "dry," "analytical," and "dead." I know, because when I told some people what I was reviewing, those were the words I heard. But in the past few months with the Antares, I never wished for "wetter," "more fanciful," more "lively" sound than what I heard from the speakers sitting in my listening room as I write this.

Yes, the Antares are expensive—and not half what Rockport charges for the triple-decker Hyperions, which are designed for much larger spaces. But when I consider what goes into building them and when I listen to what that fanatical attention to detail has yielded, I have to shrug my shoulders and say, "They're worth it."

Andy Payor has done it again. No cabinet is better than any cabinet at all, and sometimes you have to build a helluva cabinet to get no cabinet at all. That's what Payor seems to have accomplished. When or if others figure out a way to build something this inert for much less money, we'll all be better off, and you'll hear what I'm talking about. In the meantime, I can confidently say that, with every kind of music imaginable, the Antares produced sound that was as good as I've ever heard, and probably as good as I ever will hear in my room...though I look forward to eating those words.

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