Rockport Technologies Avior II loudspeaker Page 2

Having found the approximately optimal positions for the speakers, McKee laid out a grid in blue tape for each, with markings every ½". Using familiar recordings and moving each speaker one marking at a time, from side to side and from front to back, he zeroed on a position for each that gave the most-even transition from the low bass through the upper bass and the most neutral reproduction of vocal vowels. He then made small adjustments to the positioning to bring out what he calls "that ineffable 'musical expression thing'— whether or not ensemble members seem to be listening to one another and actually making an ensemble, whether or not the music is moving, etc." Finally, McKee experimented with the speakers' angle of toe-in, to give the best balance between soundstage depth and imaging precision. Then and only then did we install the carpet-piercing cones. I experimented further with position and toe-in during the listening period, but ultimately returned to McKee's setup as getting the best sound from the Rockports.

I usually use a mix of balanced AudioQuest interconnects and Kubala-Sosna speaker cables. However, Andy Payor asked that I use Transparent Reference cables for my listening. The bulk of the following auditioning comments were made using Transparent cables.

Listening
The Avior IIs initially had a somewhat lean balance. Though the presentation of recorded detail was breathtaking with the Chord DAVE and Ayre QX-5 Twenty DACs I used during setup, without a preamp in the system, I then switched to the softer-sounding PS Audio PerfectWave DirectStream DAC, which sacrificed some detail in favor of a less-forward balance. The Rockport's tonal quality steadily improved over the next two weeks, but could never be described as "warm" or "rich"; instead, it remained resolutely neutral.

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Once they'd broken in, the Avior IIs excelled with voices. The contrast between Ella Fitzgerald's smoothly seductive instrument and Louis Armstrong's vocal gravel in "They Can't Take That Away from Me," from Ella & Louis (DSD64 files, Verve/Acoustic Sounds), was extreme, yet neither voice sounded exaggerated or forced. Similarly, the Aviors easily resolved Jerry Rafferty's and Joe Egan's head-cold-inflected vocal lines in "Star," from a reissue of Stealers Wheel's Ferguslie Park, the original album superbly engineered by the great Phill Brown (24-bit/192kHz needle drop from LP, A&M/Intervention INVLP 002).

The Rockports were less happy with modern, overcooked recordings, however. I hadn't heard of country star Chris Stapleton, but had been impressed when I saw him performing on CBS This Morning, so I checked out his new album, From a Room: Volume 1 (16/44.1 stream, Mercury Nashville/Tidal HiFi). The album was recorded in Nashville's RCA Studio A—you'd think it would have a decent chance of sounding good. But through the Aviors, every track sounded relentlessly loud and compressed to within an inch of its life. Even "Either Way," which features Stapleton backed by just his acoustic guitar, shouted at me. Yes, individual instruments in the mix, particularly the drums, sounded clean, and every inflection and ornament in Stapleton's singing stood out without any editorializing from the Rockports. But with recordings like this, more detail doesn't translate into more better.

But with a good recording, the Rockports' ability to step out of the way of what had been captured by the engineers was a thing of beauty. On our June "Recording of the Month," Dominic Miller's Silent Light (CD, ECM 2518), guitarist Miller paints impressionistic soundscapes either alone or with sparse accompaniment. In "Chaos Theory," Miller's acoustic guitar paints a wash of sound punctuated by subtle interjections from drums and overdubbed bass guitar. The Aviors opened a superbly clean window on the recorded space, with stable, precisely defined stereo imaging. With the dual-mono pink-noise track on Editor's Choice (ALAC file ripped from CD, Stereophile STPH016-2), the central image was very narrow and stable.

Bass extension was impressive. The 1/3-octave–spaced warble tones on Editor's Choice remained at full level down to the 40Hz band, with the 32Hz tone boosted by the lowest-frequency mode in my room. The 25Hz tone was audible at my normal listening level, but the 20Hz tone was not, suggesting low distortion.

Unusually for a speaker with reflex-loaded woofers, the transparency extended to the low frequencies. The weave of double bass and bass guitar Brian Wilson had used in the verses of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds (24/192 AIFF files, Capitol/HDtracks), particularly in "Sloop John B," was unwound, but without the mix losing its coherence. The Rockport was definitely a bass guitarist's speaker, offering definition without boom. I recently bought Truth, Liberty & Soul, the newly rediscovered and remixed NPR recording of a live concert in 1982 featuring bass genius Jaco Pastorius leading a big band (24/192 AIFF files, Resonance/HDtracks). In his solo-tuba intro to "Donna Lee," David Bargeron duets with himself, singing into the instrument's mouthpiece. Through lesser speakers this would become intermoddy mud, but with the Rockports the two lines remained distinct.

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The Avior II's treble was silky smooth, except that that implies that there was an identifiable character to the high frequencies, and the Rockports had no sound of their own in this region. Cymbals sounded maximally different from each other, and violins were neither too rosiny nor too dull.

But after a while, with recordings of solo piano, I noticed a narrowband coloration. I wasn't aware of this with my new favorite performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Sonata 2, by Evelina Vorontsova (CD, STH Quality Classics 1416092), which was reproduced with weight and power in the bass register; nor was it particularly noticeable with superbly engineered recordings of piano with orchestra, such as Dejan Lazic's live performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto 2, with the London Philharmonic conducted by Kirill Petrenko (DSD64 files, Channel Classics CCS SA26308). But when the writing for piano was more open, as in Haydn's Piano Sonata 32 in g, Hob.16 No.44, from András Schiff's Encores After Beethoven (CD, ECM New Series 1950), the more obvious it was that some notes were unnaturally accentuated.

This is, in absolute terms, a minor flaw, but it surprised me, considering how well the Avior II performed in every other area.

Summing Up
The Rockport Technologies Avior II is a neutral, uncolored, full-range loudspeaker capable of both rocking-out loudness and the presentation of subtle sonic differences. It's not entirely without character—the slight coloration I noted with solo-piano recordings will be a problem for some. But that aside, its superb transparency doesn't get in the way of the music. As I described in one of the first reviews I wrote for Stereophile, a frequent problem with speakers that excel in the presentation of recorded detail is that, among all the dramatically revealed trees, the listener loses sight of the musical forest. This was not the case with the Avior II; whichever recording I played, I was compelled to listen though to the end, even when I had other things to attend to, other places to be. That is the sign of greatness.

COMPANY INFO
Rockport Technologies
586 Spruce Head Road
South Thomaston, ME 04858
(207) 596-7151
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COMMENTS
kanew's picture

I was always under the impression that the specified frequency response of a loudspeaker is under anechoic conditions. Here the specified -3db point is 25Hz but the anechoic mesurements shows -10 dB at 25Hz w.r.t. 100Hz. Apparently the manufacturer has considered 7dB of room gain.

To the reviewers, is there any industry standard of room gain amount to be added to the measured anechoic (/quasi-) measurements of a speaker, Or any standard room size based on which they draw their -3dB response?

Secondly, regarding the rising low frequency in your anechoic measurements due to stated artifact of nearfield measurement techniques, what would be the order of the error that your readers may safely assume?

Dan Moroboshi's picture

Hello JA, it was mentioned that some colloration could be noticed on some piano recording that was reproduced in a real listening room. I was quite anxious to see in the measurements plot the reasons for that, but only a suspect of the ressonance in the side pannels was commented to be a possible cause. However, in the frequency response in the JA room (figure 6), I could notice some peaks and valleys between 500-800Hz and on 2.5-3.0KHz. Could they be indications for these collorations?

Alberello's picture

Unfortunately you can't measure coloration, than regarding the room response curve you are looking, is normal to see this peaks and valley in every room and can't be considered as an instrument to evaluate a loudspeaker because the changes from one room to another are huge.

Jason P Jackson's picture

Andy has the crossover point between the midrange and woofer fairly low. A higher crossover point at around 250hz to 350hz to would somewhat side-step the floor bounce cancellation in the lower-midrange we see in the measurements.
In fact, this design is no different from a pair of standmount speakers with a pair of passive subs underneath. And how much does it cost again?

ArmyStrong's picture

In your humble and professional opinion, which of the following full range loudspeakers would you say are the best in this price range:
1) Rockport Technologies Avior II
2) Magico S5 Mk.II
3) Wilson Sasha DAW
4) EgglestonWorks Viginti

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