The Rockport Technologies Aquila Loudspeaker

The Rockport Technologies Aquila Loudspeaker
The Ultimate Reconciliation of Head and Heart


 August 2009


Life Lessons and the Ethics of Favoritism

When I was sixteen I worked as a cook in a small restaurant my father owned. With dad as my boss, you might think I had an unfair advantage over the other employees. Quite the contrary. My father was much tougher on me than on my co-workers. Years later I would come to understand his logic. Because of our relationship, he expected more from me. He also knew if he treated me favorably, it would it adversely affect the morale of the other employees or even turn them against me. 

That lesson stuck with me and is particularly applicable in audio reviews. While I’ve read the countless audio-forum posts lambasting reviewers for their alleged bias toward manufacturers that advertise in the rag or provide the biggest accommodation discount, in my experience most of the reviewers I know are ethical and as objective as possible. While I’m human and subject to all the flaws associated therewith, when it comes to reviewing products from manufacturers I know, respect or admire, I do as my father did with me and try to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. With audio reviews as in life, I also apply the old adage: Of those to whom much is given, much is expected. The more I know and respect a designer or manufacturer whose product is in for review, the higher my expectations and, therefore, the higher the potential for disappointment.

I know and like Andy Payor, the owner of Rockport Technologies, and I have the utmost respect for his design capabilities. For those who have been in this hobby a while, you may initially and instinctively associate the name Rockport with state of the art turntables. Today, Rockport’s line of loudspeakers is almost equally distinctive. So, when Andy called me asking if I’d like to review his Aquila loudspeakers, I jumped at the opportunity. My initial excitement, however, was counter-balanced by my huge expectations. Of those to whom much is given, much is expected. God blessed Mr. Payor with a boatload of talent so I had a boatload of expectations. Rather than a preconceived favorable bias, my increased expectations more likely put the Aquila at an almost unfair disadvantage.

Arrival and Set-Up

When the Aquilas arrived, I was surprised at the sheer mass of the wooden crates standing in my driveway. Thank God for the friendly freight-truck driver who helped me get 1,100 pounds of refrigerator-sized crates into my foyer. While removing them is a two-person job, once safely removed, one person can, with the aid of Teflon furniture movers, maneuver these 300 pound beauties into place – albeit with a bit of effort.

My listening room is 14′ x 18′ x 8′ and heavily treated with a combination of ASC Super Tube Traps, Echo Busters and Michael Green acoustic products. I was either lucky, smart (unlikely) or a bit of both but it didn’t take too much trial and error to get the Aquilas dialed in to where the image, soundstage and frequency response all clicked. That final position ended up with the Aquilas sitting 60″ from the rear wall (measured to the front baffle), 33″ from the side wall and 96″ apart (measured from the center of the tweeter), with a moderate degree of toe-in (the point of convergence being slightly behind my listening chair).

Born of Technology, Fueled by Passion.

I don’t claim to be Andy Payor’s best friend or know everything about him. What I do know is that Andy is a gifted and highly talented engineer whose designs are grounded in science but not applied in a vacuum. I also know Andy as a music lover. To me, this aspect of his personality also contributes to the success of his technical designs. For anyone who has seen (or heard) the technical implementation of a Rockport Sirius III Turntable, you have witnessed Andy Payor’s fanatical attention to detail and his dedication to build quality. Ditto the Rockport loudspeakers. 

The Rockport Aquila, at $45,500.00, is the third from the top in the Rockport hierarchy of loudspeakers (behind the Altair and the top of the line Arrakis). The Aquila is a floor-standing three-way design incorporating a 13″ side-firing woofer, a 6″ midrange driver and 1″ modified ring radiator tweeter. The woofer and midrange drivers are custom-built for Rockport Technologies using Rockport’s proprietary, variable section thickness, carbon-fiber sandwich composite cones. These custom cones (designed and tooled by Rockport) are then coupled to custom designed motor systems built by Audiotechnology of Denmark. Rockport’s latest generation of drive units combines ultra stiff, light, well damped composite cones with motor systems renowned for their exceptional linearity, headroom (both mechanically and thermally) and low noise floor (the ability to remain linear and continue to resolve at very low volume). According to Payor, this construction allows the woofer and midrange drivers to maintain virtually perfect pistonic behavior well beyond their intended operating ranges. This reportedly translates into highly textured, ultra high resolution sound with a very natural (and wide) dynamic continuum that extends from the very first octave throughout the entire frequency range. My listening experiences confirmed Payor’s claims.

The Scanspeak D30 tweeter used in the Aquila features a modified ring radiator motor system coupled to a soft dome. Payor asserts that the tweeter’s off-axis response is superior to other tweeters in its range, helping the Aquila to provide excellent imaging due to the loudspeaker’s linearity. This tweeter is also stated to have a very low resonant frequency and robust construction that allows it to be crossed over quite low while retaining enormous power handling and dynamic range.

Frequency response is listed at 25Hz – 20k KHz with nominal 4 ohm impedance and a sensitivity of 89dB (SPL/2.83v). Frequency division for the Aquila is handled by a 24dB/octave acoustic slope network featuring point to point wiring, custom inductors and custom film/foil capacitors designed by Rockport and built to its specifications. Each individual loudspeaker’s crossover is tested and fine-tuned to optimize frequency response and proper phase summation before being fully encapsulated in Rockport’s proprietary, high hysteresis loss epoxy (stated to provide mechanical stability while minimizing both microphonic and magnetostrictive effects). Internal wiring is provided by Transparent Audio.

The Aquila’s cabinet is a constrained-mode damped, multi-layer MDF enclosure with variable section thickness, (up to 3″ for the side walls and 5″ for the front baffle) featuring ten internal braces purported to give the enclosure incredible stiffness and minimum resonant signature. While the Aquila is not a monocoque design constructed from the same acoustically inert resin material found in the Altair or Arrakis, if you were to touch, lift or rap your knuckles on the Aquila’s cabinet, you certainly would never know it (rapping the cabinet feels like hitting a bowling ball). Unlike the former Antares (the speaker the Aquila basically replaces in the Rockport line), the Aquila has a slimmer front profile due to the side mounting of its 13″ bass driver. Finished in flawless and beautiful piano gloss black, the Aquila stands 47″ high and approximately 32″ deep and, at it widest point (the base), is 18″ wide (although the enclosure is only about 13″ wide). Four (4) substantial 2” diameter spikes are threaded into each base. When viewed from my listening seat, the Aquila appears sleek and unobtrusive. Only when you walk up and view it from the side, do you realize how deep the cabinet is and appreciate its required volume. As I’ve heard Andy Payor state on more than one occasion, There’s no replacement for displacement. 

Finally, I don’t know what it says about the sanity or the social life of those of us who can be smitten with the visual pulchritude of a piece of audio equipment, but I find the raked-back, sleek, yet powerful appearance of the Aquila visually stunning. 




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