September 6, 2009

The Great North American Loudspeaker Tour: Rockport Technologies

The Rockport Technologies facility in Rockport, Maine, USA.

Main designer: Andrew Payor

Product auditioned: Arrakis loudspeaker ($165,000 USD per pair; active version TBA)

Associated Equipment

  • Amplifiers: Gryphon Colosseum (2), Gryphon Antileon Signature Mono (2)
  • Preamplifiers: Gryphon Sonata Allegro, Gryphon Legato
  • Sources: Blue Smoke Black Box music server, MSB Platinum DAC III, Rockport Technologies System III Sirius turntable
  • Cables: Transparent Audio

Setup details: The Arrakis, in active form, is a "work in progress," as designer Andrew Payor continues to determine if "higher performance potential is available." Payor says he’s satisfied with the Arrakis in passive form, "but thought the active approach was worth exploring."

Listening room: Rockport Technologies’ main listening room is approximately 30’6"L x 22’9"W x 11’H. Thirty-eight RPG Binary Amplitude Diffsorbor (BAD) panels are mounted on angled soffits, along with integral, tuneable, custom-made quarter-wave bass traps. The wall construction is a triple-layered, constrained-mode-damped sheathing system built on a stud-grid matrix power-nailed to 10"-thick, steel-reinforced concrete walls that themselves sit on 36"-wide, 6’-deep footings.

A pair of active Arrakises set up in Rockport Technologies’ largest listening room.

Andrew Payor’s vision for the Arrakis: To "convey the artists’ intent with music." Payor takes what he calls a "balanced approach," asserting that "designers can be myopic in pushing one, two, or five performance attributes, but unwittingly at the expense of 20 others." He says that "balance is optimizing as many performance attributes simultaneously as possible," and that you shouldn’t "create a design that improves on one or more areas" and "let it negatively impact another. Everything must be better to stay balanced." Of the design of the Arrakis, he says that, "due to the enormous size of the enclosure required, the utmost care had to be taken to minimize its contribution to the overall sound of the loudspeaker, to the vanishing point." He had to ensure that "the enclosure design’s acoustic profile causes no destructive diffraction." He then stated that, "ultimately, after the enclosure, drive-units, and all other aspects have been attended to, the singular element that will either crown or damn the entire creation is the crossover."

According to Andrew Payor, the Arrakis is best suited to: The Arrakis is "designed and built for those passionate about music and who have the necessary space and resources. Unapologetically, it is what it needs to be. The Laws of Similitude demand that, to attain wide bandwidth, high sensitivity, and low distortion, you’re gonna need a big-ass speaker."

Jeff Fritz on the Rockport listening sofa.

Listening impressions

Music listened to included high-resolution tracks from the Who, and CD-resolution cuts from such artists as Pete Seeger, Eden Atwood, Alison Krauss, the Bruce Katz Band, and many others.

There is no separating a loudspeaker from its listening environment, and in this respect Rockport Technologies has an invaluable tool in evaluating the Arrakis: a listening room built from the ground up to structurally and acoustically support a speaker of the magnitude of the Arrakis. So it was no surprise to me that the Arrakises could create the illusion of massive performance spaces. For instance, the sense of scale when they reproduced a full chorus was remarkable in its breadth. The Arrakises could make the recording sound almost lifelike because they were able to reproduce the massive vocal power and physical dimensions of a large chorus while staying linear and neutral. However, they could also scale back to replicate a single instrument or singer -- not unlike the best minimonitors. The Arrakises’ ability to track all types of music, in terms of both scale and accuracy of imaging, with lightning-quick micro- or macrodynamic swing, seemed virtually unlimited.

Jeff Fritz holds an Arrakis midrange driver.

Still, the most striking aspect of the active Arrakis loudspeaker is one based in the combination of its groundbreaking transparency, linearity, and high resolution. It wasn’t only its precisely defined, pinpoint soundstaging, but also that its clarity made the images within that soundstage almost perfectly formed approximations of the real things: no fuzzy outlines, no image wander, no super-size-me bloating or honey-I-shrunk-the-performers miniaturization. Alison Krauss’s "When You Say Nothing at All" was reproduced with such transparency and high resolution that it was as if a three-dimensional image was standing right there. Stringed instruments sounded so transparent that I kept pondering the question: Are we reaching the limitations of the recording or of the speaker?

Andy Payor shows the massive woofer used in the Arrakis.

Company impressions

Rockport Technologies is defined by the ideals of Andy Payor. His deep, multidisciplined knowledge of engineering seems to guide him in many areas of design at once, with success in a broad array of parameters that leads to balanced yet crazy-ambitious final products. But it is Payor’s obsessive requirement to do things beyond what might be considered normal and practical -- evidenced in the Arrakis and in the construction of his listening room -- that fundamentally shape Rockport products. The result of all this is an almost fanatical commitment to create a flagship product that can reproduce music with absolute fidelity to the original recorded event.

Rockport Technologies loudspeakers ready to be packed and shipped.


I concluded my visit to Rockport Technologies at Andy Payor’s lakeside cabin, just outside Rockport, Maine. He took me there after the listening session at the factory because he said that it’s often the place that provides him with the creative inspiration that fuels his development of his products. In its beauty, it was spectacular.

As the sun shone through the trees and ospreys flew high over the lake, I wondered just how such beauty could be aspired to in the creation of a mere audio product. Then I realized that such beauty should be aspired to, if the goal is to transcend audio and create something truly special.

. . . Jeff Fritz


footer.jpg (5527 bytes)