Left Brain, Meet Right Brain and What a Wonderful Match it Is!

Some people are born romantics. Right-brain driven, their emotions rule, their hearts always lead the way. Others are mainly analytical thinkers, left-brain driven where logic and science rule and emotions are largely disregarded. Many of us, however, have a bit of an internal war going on - an ongoing battle between what we feel and what we think. If, like me, you are in the latter category, read on as the Rockport Aquila may be just the loudspeaker for you.

Right out of the box, the Aquila acquitted itself as a loudspeaker with exceptional linearity, balance, coherence and natural tonal color. However, after a couple hundred hours of burn-in, what was initially a very capable and technically proficient loudspeaker transformed into an exceptional state of the art music maker.

After burn-in, while its linearity and balance were still evident, the Aquila's outstanding individual characteristics really came to life. The upper frequencies were very good - sweet, extended and crystal clear with no hint of glare, strain or edginess. One of my favorite albums is Lost and Found [Courgette Records 30010-2] by female vocalist extraordinaire, Judith Owens. The first cut "Smoke on the Water" contains some close-mic'd passages with a degree of sibilance noticeable regardless of the quality of the playback system. However, through an analytical loudspeaker, this sibilance can be intolerable. Because the Aquila's leading edge transients and upper frequencies are so natural (being neither tipped up or rolled off), while the sibilance on this cut was still evident, it wasn't exaggerated or distracting to the point of irritation. This allowed the rest of this beautifully recorded and performed song and album to really shine. In this regard, the Aquila reminded me of my reference speaker (with a superb ribbon tweeter). However, many people may prefer the Aquila's treble response as its soft dome tweeter has a wider dispersion and doesn't beam like a ribbon tweeter. Personally, I do not enjoy music with a tilted up treble response. Not only is it unnatural sounding, but it quickly leads to listener fatigue - which I don't get from live music. Rest assured, you'll get all the musical goods with the Aquila's treble performance without any fatigue.

It may sound cliché but for me, the heart of the music is in the midrange. If you ascribe to that theory, the Aquila will infuse enough heart, soul and emotion into your music to satisfy the most demanding midrange-obsessed music lover. If a component cannot get timbre or tonal color right it will never get the midrange or, for that matter, the music right. Most audiophiles are capable of hearing and appreciating small variations in timbre. Obviously, most people can hear the difference between a trumpet and a trombone. However, with a well designed playback system we should also be able to hear the difference between two different trombones, two different trumpets or even two different trumpet players. Through the Aquila, hearing these differences was both easy and musically fulfilling. The trombone is an instrument with a certain amount of blat, growl and body that's difficult to reproduce well. I've had the privilege of hearing trombonists Ozzie Melendez, Mike Bogart and Mic Gillette live on numerous occasions - the former with Funk Filharmonik the latter two with Tower of Power [TOP]. On "We've Got the Notion" off Funk Filharmonk's fabulous, high-energy, 2008 release Everybody Get Down [31220 Music], Melendez's tone was perfectly rendered with the requisite blat and body. Turning to Mike Bogart's solo on Could've Done It Better from TOP's Oakland Zone CD [JVC Victor 62375], I could easily distinguish between Bogart's and Melendez's tone. I can also attest that what I was hearing through the Aquila was eerily similar to hearing Mike Bogart perform live (which I did two nights ago). The Aquila easily reproduced the unique sound that makes this instrument so special.

It wasn't just the sound of a trombone that showcased the Aquila's midrange capabilities. Trumpet, piano, male and female voices, violins, guitar, drums all were reproduced with aplomb and full bodied richness without any hint of lethargy or coloration. On Rachelle Ferrell's Individuality CD [Capitol 7243 4 949820 0], this underappreciated jazz/soul singer's gritty, soulful voice was more emotionally expressive than ever. On this album, Ferrell uses her voice like a finely honed instrument with great dynamic range and tonal changes up and down the musical scale. I can't think of a loudspeaker more suitably matched to reveal what Ferrell brings to the table on this CD, a heart versus head roller coaster ride! Similarly, Herbie Hancock's piano and Joni Mitchell's and Tina Turner's voices on Hancock's 2007 Joni Mitchell tribute CD, River [Verve B0009791-02], have never been reproduced in my room with such presence, realism and emotion and without any hint of stridency.

This leads me to an experience I had over and over again during this review. You've read the multitude of reviews, I'm sure, where a reviewer claims a component revealed a wealth of new information never heard before. It wasn't the new detail I heard through the Aquila as much as how the existing detail was presented with such clarity that struck me. On CD after CD, where the liner notes didn't contain lyrics, I could easily understand lyrics I had not been able to decipher for years! I attribute this to the difference between what I'll call pseudo-resolution and real resolution. Pseudo-resolution (often the rage with newbies, gear hounds and 15-minute dealer demos) is analogous to what you get with entry level 720p, 63" large screen LCD TVs on display at big-box electronic stores with the contrast, brightness and color settings all turned up to give potential customers the illusion of a clearer, more vivid picture. Sure, that ultra sharp image of deep, vivid, Kelly-green grass on that college football field may look impressive, but is it realistic? Not really. Now check out the 50" plasma running an HD signal or, better yet, the 63" 1080p LCD TV driven by a Blu-Ray player where the TV has been professionally calibrated to produce an accurate color scale - now you have witnessed what increased real resolution looks like.

The Aquila delivers real resolution in spades - the kind of resolution that imparts the true essence of music. This unparalleled retrieval of macro and low-level harmonic detail produced such life-like timbre and tonal color it suspended disbelief of real instruments and real voices in my room. No speaker I've ever heard and I've heard some of the best did this better than the Rockport Aquila. Returning to the LCD analogy above, the Aquilas simply provided more sonic pixels than other speakers allowing Rockport to refrain from manipulating the sonic contrast and brightness buttons to generate musical involvement. This is a prime example of Rockport's superb technical implementation (left-brain inspired) translating into an emotional connection with the music (right-brain connection).

At the lower end of the spectrum, in my listening room the Aquila's bass response was world class and in every way better than any other loudspeaker I've ever heard, any where at any price. No brag, just fact. Before the Aquilas arrived, I was generally leery of side firing woofer designs as my previous experience (in my room) with such a design was less than stellar. Again, my higher expectations from Rockport designs came into play. Having heard and been impressed with the Rockport Antares with its front-firing 13" woofer, I was expecting good bass response from the Aquila since it basically replaces the Antares in the Rockport hierarchy (and I don't expect Andy to go backward with a new design). That said, however, because of the Antares’ more inert (and heavier and more costly) monocoque, resin cabinet design, I was not expecting the Aquila's bass performance to better the Antares but to probably equal it. However, better it, it did and by a noticeable margin. I don't know if this is attributable to the new custom-designed carbon fiber cones, the new crossover or something else. What I do know is that the Aquila's bass was linear and physically powerful yet delicate and beautifully textured.

When evaluating the Aquila's bottom end performance, I was again drawn to its uncanny reproduction of realistic timbre of a musical instrument. The timbre of a sound is greatly influenced by certain aspects of its musical envelope such as attack time and characteristics, decay, sustain, release and transients. Returning to Rachelle Ferrell's Individuality CD, this album has some of the deepest, most difficult to reproduce bass of any CD I've ever heard. Between George Duke's synthesizer bass and Bryan Miller's ponderously deep electric bass, most speakers cannot reproduce these bass lines without impeding on Ferrell's vocals and the other instruments - to the point of distraction. The Aquila delivered all of the visceral impact of the bass - allowing its weight and heft to shine though - while simultaneously preventing it from overtaking Ferrell's voice or the balance of the music. Transient attack, whether from acoustic, electric or synthesized bass, was accurate, fast and finely nuanced neither blunted or unduly sharp. Sustain, decay and bloom were eerily lifelike, and the timbre full-bodied. However, at the same time, what set the Aquila apart was it ability to contain the musical envelope of bass notes while simultaneously allowing them to fully develop with no bloat, overhang or smearing. I again attribute this to the Aquila's ultra high real resolution that made music come more alive than I've heard it though any other loudspeaker. Note that I purposely refrained from describing the Aquila as a lively loudspeaker since, to me, that denotes a certain brightness - an adjective I would not use to describe the Aquila.

Yes, She's Gorgeous. Smart and Sweet - So What's the Catch?

Finally, I must broach two unpopular topics. First, I know I'll be sticking my head on the chopping block but I could not find any area of the Aquila's performance that could be improved upon - given what I believe a loudspeaker is realistically supposed to do. Namely, maximize enjoyment of the music by accurately reproducing the timbre of instruments and voices while, to the extent possible, suspending disbelief. No loudspeaker will ever be able to recapture and reproduce the actual physicality of the live event in space and time. As such, while I'll not debate which component in an audio system is most crucial, I will assert that the loudspeaker has the most difficult task. I listen to many different genres of music ranging from chamber music to folk and jazz to bombastic horn-driven funk. As a result, I've always preferred a loudspeaker that, while not the absolute best at any one musical genre, is at least second or third best with most genres - the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. What floored me was that the Aquila was better at almost all genres of music than every other loudspeaker I've heard.

Second, as a resident of the Detroit metropolitan area, I can relate to unprecedented economic problems we’re experiencing. I realize that the reviewed component costs more than many homes in Motown. Yet, that sad reality does not diminish the Aquila's true value to a music lover. While spending tons of money on a component doesn't necessarily guaranty good sound, in this case, assuming the rest of your system is up to the task, it does. Considering the number of ridiculously overpriced audio components these days including cables, tweaks and electronic components, the Aquila actually represents good value if you can afford its price of admission. You rarely see a Rockport loudspeaker for sale on the used market - and for good reason. Like its turntables, Rockport's Aquila loudspeaker is an heirloom quality purchase that will provide world class performance for years to come.

Conclusion


In 35 years of pursuing audio Nirvana, the Rockport Aquila stands alone at as the single most musically and technically impressive audio component I've had the privilege to experience. No, I haven't heard every loudspeaker on the planet but I've had some impressive and equally expensive designs grace my room - the Kharma Midi-Grand Ceramique ($47,000) and Kharma Exquisite 1.D ($100,000+) and the Verity Audio Sarastro II ($40,000) to name a few. While these are all very capable and excellent sounding loudspeakers, it wasn't until I heard something better that I could understand their respective limitations. Accordingly, unless and until I hear something better (the Altair?), the Aquila stands at pinnacle of loudspeaker design and represents the embodiment of what music is all about - the application of learned scientific techniques with artistry and passion to communicate an emotional message. Head meets heart, left brain meets right brain and form meets function. Bravo Rockport!!





Rockport Technologies Aquila Specifications:

Drivers:
High Frequency: 1 Scanspeak D30 modified ring radiator Mid-range: 6" custom-manufactured carbon fiber composite by Audiotechnology Low Frequency: 13" custom-manufactured carbon fiber composite by Audiotechnology
Frequency Response: 25Hz - 20k KHzSensitivity: 89db SPL/2.83v Minimum Recommended Power: 50 wattsNominal Impedance: 4 ohmsEnclosure Material: Constrained-mode damped, multi-layer MDF with variable section thickness, (up to 3" thick - side walls and 5 thick - front baffle)
Cabinet Finish: Piano Gloss Black (standard)
Internal Wiring: Transparent AudioDimensions (H"xW"xD"): 49.37" x 18.46" x 32.18"
Weight: 300 lbs. each (net) 550 lbs. each (shipped)
Retail price/pr: $45,500.00


Manufacturer contact information:
Rockport Technologies229 Mill StreetRockport, ME 04856Phone: (207) 596-7151
Website:
www.rockporttechnologies.com