Between Rockport Technologies’ Avior ($37,500 USD/pair) and Altair II ($103,500/pair) loudspeakers was a gap precisely $66,000 wide. To faithfully serve his Maine-based company’s eager market -- a market that wanted more than the Avior could offer, but that couldn’t afford the Altair II -- president and resident speaker guru Andy Payor knew he had to come up with something different. His huge challenge: what?
Arguably, in the last few years the most competitive segment of the ultra-high-end speaker market has been models retailing for $50,000 to $70,000/pair. This price range includes such prominent models as Wilson Audio Specialties’ Alexia ($52,000/pair), Magico’s S7 ($58,000/pair), and Vivid Audio’s Giya G1 ($68,000/pair), to name just a few. In short, there are lots of tough competitors.
But when I talked with Payor, it was clear that he found something more compelling than external competition: his own expectations and those of his customers, particularly those who’d heard the Avior. That huge challenge was to design a speaker to a price about twice the Avior’s, and with a much wider performance envelope than that successful model. In fact, Payor believed that his new speaker needed to be far closer in performance to the Altair II than to the Avior.
Meeting that challenge has taken a while. The Rockport Technologies Cygnus ($62,500/pair) was first shown in prototype form in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show. A year later, it’s in full production.
There are distinct design elements that differentiate the Cygnus not only from the Avior, but also from the Altair II -- and every other Rockport speaker. The Cygnus stands 50.5”H x 13.5”W x 27.5”D and weighs 285 pounds, and represents Payor’s best effort to produce a cabinet that approaches the Altair II in terms of lack of resonance, but without the expense entailed by its complex composite-sandwich construction. He describes it as follows:
The Cygnus features our new aluminum/MDF hybrid construction, where the baffle is machined from two 3/4"-thick, aircraft-grade aluminum plates that sandwich a viscoelastic polymer, forming a 1 1/2"-thick, constrained-mode damped composite sub-baffle. This aluminum sub-baffle assembly is in turn bolted and bonded onto the enclosure’s 3”-thick MDF inner baffle. All of the drive units are mounted to the aluminum sub-baffle assembly.
The result, Payor says, is an enclosure that is audibly and measurably quieter than the Avior’s, if not quite as quiet as the Altair II’s.
But while the Altair II’s cabinet construction is ultimately superior to the Cygnus’s in this regard, it could reasonably be argued that the Cygnus holds the advantage in drive-units. Like the Avior, and the Atria ($25,500/pair), the Cygnus uses Rockport-designed drivers for the bass and midrange frequencies. Payor describes the new 6” midrange driver:
The midrange unit for the Cygnus loudspeaker is a further refinement of the Avior midrange, and uses Rockport’s state-of-the-art, variable-section-thickness, carbon-fiber-sandwich composite cone matched to our enormously powerful, ultra-low-distortion motor system. With a usable bandwidth of nearly six octaves, distortion figures lower than some amplifiers (-60dB!), as well as linear excursion that rivals many midbass drivers, the midrange reproduction of the Cygnus is groundbreaking.
The mid hands off to a pair of newly designed bass drivers, also made from a carbon-fiber-sandwich composite. Payor claims that these twin 10” woofers have “enormous thermal and mechanical headroom” due in part to their large (3”-diameter) voice coils. These 10” units have 50% more surface area than the two 9” drivers used in the Avior. They can move a lot more air.
Although the Cygnus’s drivers do contain DNA passed down from the drivers used in the Avior and Atria -- and the Scan-Speak beryllium tweeter used in the Cygnus is the same as that used in all current Rockport models -- one element of the Cygnus is brand new for Rockport, and Payor says that it produces profound benefits: a waveguide for the tweeter. He explains:
The Cygnus’s beryllium tweeter is mounted into a custom, machined-aluminum waveguide which improves the acoustic impedance match of the tweeter at the low end of its range, allowing for lower distortion and greater dynamic expression from the tweeter itself, and improved dispersion characteristics at the midrange/tweeter crossover point. Numerous prototype waveguides were modeled and manufactured using the stereolithography process until the optimal waveguide profile was achieved.
Although the Scan-Speak tweeter’s specifications are quite good, Payor was adamant in telling me that high-frequency extension is not the primary determinant of a tweeter’s quality of sound: “I know that some manufacturers make a big deal about how awesome their tweeters are at 50kHz, but how a tweeter handles the low end of its range has always been a far more important nut to crack, and will generally have far greater contribution to the overall success of the loudspeaker than whether or not it’s flat to 50kHz.”
Many other aspects of the Cygnus are Rockport hallmarks: the chamfered front baffle with inset absorption blanket, designed to prevent diffraction and provide a clean acoustic platform for the drivers’ wavelaunches; the acoustic fourth-order crossover slopes; the single pair of Cardas binding posts at the bottom of the rear panel; and the grille of black fabric. Above the speaker connections is a 4”-diameter port with a wide-flared rim of machined aluminum.
Rockport’s typical superlative build quality is present in spades. The paint is flawless, with no hint of orange peel or waviness of any kind, and I find the Cygnus’s lines aesthetically elegant. In fact, the speaker’s footprint, which traces the edges of the cabinet proper, gives it a more streamlined look than Rockport models past. At 27.5”, the cabinet is substantially less deep than the Altair II’s 35”, which will allow the Cygnus to fit into a greater range of rooms.
The Cygnus is specified as having a sensitivity of 90dB/2.83V and a frequency response of 20Hz-30kHz, -3dB, and as presenting an amplifier with a 4-ohm load. At least 30Wpc of amplification is required.
I’ve followed the evolution of the sound of Rockport Technologies speakers since my first trip to Maine, almost a decade ago. From that trip I arranged a review of the company’s then entry-level speaker, the original Mira ($13,500/pair in 2007), and from there ascended the line -- my listening room, the Music Vault, has seen the Altair, the mighty Arrakis, and Rockport’s current entry-level model, the Atria. In addition to long stints with each of those speakers in my home, I’ve heard the Rockport Aquila and Mira Monitor (both discontinued) in Andy Payor’s extravagant listening room, appended to his factory, and still others at various CESes: the Avior and Alya, and the discontinued Hyperion, Merak, and Antares. Throughout all of these models, Rockport’s house sound has consistently been characterized by deep, authoritative bass; highs that never create listening fatigue; and a textured midrange that reveals every ounce of a singer’s delivery.
The Cygnus preserves these strengths, but in several important ways has broken with the traditions of its forebears. I’ll start with the most pronounced of those breaks: in the highs. When Rockport moved from a soft- to a beryllium-dome tweeter, in 2009, the high frequencies of its speakers expectedly became more revealing, quick, and incisive. Nonetheless, the strong bass counteracted any notion that the speaker would sound bright -- it was just a touch more there in the treble. It would be weird if the addition of a waveguide in the Cygnus didn’t change the highs once again. It did. Remember, not only does the waveguide make the tweeter more efficient, it also enables changes in the crossover point. This allows the tweeter to more seamlessly meet the midrange at the top of the latter’s passband. What this means is a more open, lifelike sound, particularly in the lower treble, than I’d heard before from a Rockport speaker. In some ways, this modernizes Rockport’s house sound -- there’s no question that high-end speakers in general have gotten more resolving in the highs over the past decade, and the Cygnus was no exception. But the Cygnus managed something more difficult: Not only did it sound more open than past Rockports, it simultaneously retained that nonfatiguing character that Rockport owners adore and that you don’t get with most other detail-centric speakers. It’s a balancing act expertly performed.
Playing “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind,” from Lyle Lovett’s Joshua Judges Ruth (16-bit/44.1kHz AIFF, Curb/MCA), amply displayed this more open, lively sound. The acoustic guitar in the opening bars was supercrisp and superdetailed, and Lovett’s voice, at the top of his range, was clearly illuminated. The acoustic piano had a tangible presence in my room: its tone was beautiful, its scale realistic. These combined with the guitar to create an altogether realistic sound that breathed life into the music. The overall result was a terrifically balanced performance that faithfully mimicked the music’s nature, but that never intruded with editorializing of its own. My ears weren’t drawn to the highs -- or to the bass or the mids -- but when I concentrated on dissecting the sound, I could easily perceive the ease with which the Cygnus reproduced a more illuminated upper register.
The Cygnus had that elusive jump factor that makes music come alive before my ears. Pianist Carol Rosenberger’s Water Music of the Impressionists (16/44.1 AIFF, Delos), given to me five years ago by my good friend Simeon Sandiford, exploded into my room and made me immediately sit up straight. The Bösendorfer concert grand Rosenberger plays on this album, recorded in Bridges Auditorium in Claremont, California, had the effect of feeling on my face a cool, stiff, early-morning breeze. It awakened my senses and swept away any aural cobwebs. The scale was that of a real piano being played just a few feet away. The dynamic range displayed by the Cygnus was impressive; with this music, it demanded my full attention. I couldn’t ask for a more genuine reproduction of a piano, from the highest notes to the lowest.
The Allegro of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.4, K.218, performed by violinist Marianne Thorsen and the Trondheim Soloists on the 2L-TWBAS 2012 Sampler (24/176.4 FLAC, 2L/SoundStageRecordings.com), energized my room. It was as if the Cygnus was moving huge amounts of air in the highs, with no apparent dynamic compression and no offensive sizzle. Yes, the sound was effortless and, when called for, huge. Speaking of huge, Enya’s Dark Sky Island (16/44.1 Tidal, Warner Bros.) was magnificent through the Cygnuses. “The Forge of the Angels” engulfed my entire room in a wall-expanding soundstage, excellent weight to the keys, and with a forceful yet neutral midrange. Not only did I feel that I could hear deep into the recording, but such was the size of the sound that I felt completely immersed in the recording.
My old standby for assessing bass punch is the title track of Donald Fagen’s Morph the Cat (16/44.1 AIFF, Reprise). It expanded on the theme of huge: this time, the bass came to the fore. The first time I played “Morph the Cat,” I cranked the sound-pressure level right up, until it hit peaks of about 93dB at my listening position. At this volume, the Cygnuses punched like heavyweight champs, making the drums feel downright visceral. It was while playing this track that I realized that the Cygnus had a springier midbass than I’m used to hearing from Rockport speakers. I guess you could say it sounded faster and more immediate, while retaining all the weight and physicality demanded by well-recorded music infused with kick drums. The Cygnus was superstrong in the bass, and should satisfy those who crave prominent power in the lowest octave.
My standby for deep bass is “Norbu,” from Bruno Coulais’s music for the film Himalaya (16/44.1 AIFF, Virgin), and I wasn’t disappointed in its reproduction by the Rockports. The Cygnus played lower in the bass than 95% of today’s speakers costing over $25,000/pair. The low frequencies in “Norbu” rolled from the front of my room to the rear, in the process moving right through me. Although I don’t believe this track energized my room in the lowest lows quite as much as it did through the original Altairs oh, so many years ago, it was a close call.
“Norbu” has always helped me assess any dropouts in the lowest three octaves of the audioband, and the Cygnuses loaded my room with bass in a way that seemed very linear. They reproduced this track with superb definition in the upper bass, and with smooth power and weight in the lowest register. I was easily getting feelable response in the area of 20Hz in my room. With a pair of Rockport Cygnuses, you won’t need a subwoofer.
It’s always helpful to know where a particular product fits into the marketplace. After all, no speaker -- no product of any kind -- exists in a vacuum. Here’s what I can tell you about the Rockport Technologies Cygnus.
First, it could fully and accurately reproduce first-octave bass. It could play low, and play those lows with authority -- i.e., loud enough that I could actually feel it. And I felt it more as I raised the volume level, meaning it had headroom to spare. It produced an altogether more substantial sound than does the Rockport model below it, the Avior, and this showed up in the scale with which it could reproduce symphonic music, or any program material that demands it. With most of the superspeakers out there -- i.e., those costing into six figures -- you won’t get more dynamic range. In that sense, the Cygnus sounds bigger than it is.
Second, this is a speaker for high-resolution recordings. If someone said that the Rockports of old -- say, the Antares through the first-generation Altair -- couldn’t give the listener every last drop of detail encoded on hi-rez recordings, particularly in the highs, I wouldn’t argue. In fact, after listening to the Cygnus, I can confidently say that it was altogether more revealing in the highs than any other Rockport speaker I’ve heard. I’ve always described the Rockport house sound as having a tonal balance that slanted down from left to right, as shown on a frequency-response graph: i.e., the bass is a couple dB higher in level than the highs. The Cygnus sounded more neutral. That line, if still not perfectly level across the audioband, would still be closer to flat. The bass is still quite strong, but now it’s more closely matched by the highs. The Cygnus will reveal everything on your best recordings -- likely more than you’ve heard with the speakers you’re listening to now, whatever they are.
The Rockport Technologies Cygnus is one of the best loudspeakers ever to emerge from Andy Payor’s lair in Maine, and that’s saying something -- he’s produced a long string of winners. I’d wager that, in terms of price vs. performance, it might be a new high-water mark for the brand. I can think of several highly regarded speakers costing circa $100,000/pair that can’t produce the Cygnus’s level of sound quality. It’ll do 20Hz bass with power and articulation; most speakers, even expensive ones, can’t. Its highs are open, effortless, and revealing, but never grate, unlike many detail-centric speakers. Its midrange is simply there, with no coloration or veiling. The soundstage can be huge, the imaging precise but not miniaturized. And the Cygnus does all this from a cabinet far smaller than you’d ever predict from its sound alone.
The Cygnus comes with other tangible benefits: the fit’n’finish is superb, reflecting Payor’s fanatical attention to detail; you’ll experience true pride of ownership as you enjoy your music for hours on end. Heck, even the shipping crates are nice -- beveled edges on the plywood, and a coat of varnish over that!
In the end, of course, what most counts is the sound, and the Rockport Cygnus is one of the finest-sounding speakers I’ve had in the Music Vault. You have only to look back at my many reviews of the past ten years to see that that’s about the highest praise I could give it. You can buy these and never look back.
. . . Jeff Fritz
- Speakers -- Magico Q7 Mk II
- Amplifier -- Soulution 711
- Sources -- Apple MacBook Air running OS X 10.10.5, iTunes, Tidal streaming service; Wadia di322 DAC; Oppo Digital BDP-103 Blu-ray player
- Cables -- Nordost Valhalla interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords
Rockport Technologies Cygnus Loudspeakers
Price: $62,500 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
586 Spruce Head Rd.
South Thomaston, ME 04858
Phone: (207) 596-7151