What is your ultimate goal when listening to music on the hifi? It’s OK, there isn’t just one. Mine is twofold—to be completely captivated by the music being made, and to be hungry for more.
Sounds simple, right? And it is, and isn’t, depending on intent. When I say completely captivated, I mean in every way including the sound of the music in play, the musicianship on display, the mood and/or meaning(s) conveyed, and other factors that transcend words. After all, if we could say everything that needs to be said about music and its appreciation by typing, we wouldn’t need the music. All of these things are nourishing on a human level, for me a wholly human level that involves the entire me, not just my brain, and I find this nourishment addictive and necessary.
But listening to and enjoying music isn’t difficult, nor does it take a fancy hifi to appreciate. That being said, for people like us, people who care about the quality of the experience for whatever reason(s) we’ve come to, living with a hifi that connects us to our music in a one-to-one relationship with seemingly nothing in between—nothing to get in the way and nothing lost—can be a life affirming, life altering thing. I know it is for me.
Which brings me to the Rockport Atria II, speakers that brought music to life in Barn to a degree greater than any other speaker I’ve reviewed. By a significant margin.
The Atria II is a three-way design using a 9” carbon fiber sandwich composite woofer, 6” carbon fiber sandwich composite midrange, and waveguide-mounted 1” beryllium dome tweeter. The Atria II’s gently curved and chamfered cabinets, measuring 43.5″ tall and 20″ deep, hide layers of refined structure.
The Atria II’s triple laminated, constrained mode damped enclosure boasts a solid 4 inch thick front baffle and variable section thickness (up to 2½ inches thick), curved side panels which not only create an elegant form, but also endow the enclosure with immense stiffness and minimum resonant signature. The Atria II’s enclosure also features large sweeping chamfers and ever changing baffle dimensions that virtually eliminate diffraction anomalies.
Frequency response is rated at 28 – 30 KHz (-3dB) with a 4 Ohm nominal impedance and 87.5 dB (SPL/2.83 v) sensitivity and Rockport recommends a minimum of 50 Watts to drive ’em.
If you want to learn more about Rockport speakers, I recommend a visit to their website and have a read through my trip to Goodwin’s High End, which I visited so I could listen to, and learn about, Rockport speakers back in December of 2021. One example of one of the things I learned from Jon Zimmer, Rockport’s Director of Sales, and company President Josh Clark is that the drivers in every Rockport speaker are designed in-house from the ground up using materials sourced from companies around the globe. Rockport’s driver design process includes experimenting, testing, and finalizing raw material composition for things like the exact makeup of the rubber surrounds (rigidity vs. elasticity), the composition of the glue that fixes these surrounds to the layered/sandwiched diaphragms (the carbon fiber material that forms the outer and inner layer of the diaphragm arrives in rolls), the epoxy that bonds these layers together, the binding process, and so on.
The diaphragms for our latest generation of drivers continue to utilize state of the art, variable section thickness profile (which we pioneered in 2005 for the Arrakis), ultra-high modulus carbon fiber fabric skins which are pre-impregnated with a custom formulated, toughened epoxy resin system and consolidated to a Rohacell core under high pressure and heat (265F) in our aluminum tooling.
Even with what strikes me as a fanatical level of attention to detail in design and manufacture—countless hours over decades of R&D, measuring, listening, refining, measuring, listening, refining—every pair of Rockport speakers is measured, listened to, and the crossovers optimized for even the slightest deviation from spec in the finished speakers before they go out the door with exacting performance-to-spec precision. In terms of fit and finish, I’ve never seen better and the Atria II have a lovely subtle visual complexity with not a single right angle in sight.
I often wonder why it’s the case that some people think they can reverse engineer a loudspeaker just by looking at a photograph. OK, I admit I do the same thing when I see photos of elephants but my point here is that if you, and I mean any of you, think you can reverse engineer a Rockport speaker just by looking at one, you may be surprised to learn that elephants are actually filled with nothing but gumballs. And if you think you can gauge a speaker’s performance from a set of measurements, I want you to imagine the difference between reading that the largest male elephants can weigh up to 15,000 pounds and having one sit on your head.
When I was a kid, all of my relatives of Italian descent, which amounted to about 3/4s of ‘em, had two living rooms and two kitchens—the ones you used every day which were always in the basement, and another set upstairs where every piece of furniture and lamp shade was covered in plastic. You also never, ever, entered one of their homes through the front door, not even on holidays. The idea being, everyday life wasn’t good enough to use up the good stuff.
The Rockport Atria II turn everyday listening into the good stuff in every meaningful way to such an extent I nearly felt guilty using them every day during their 8 week stay. I enjoyed every last minute of time I got to spend in their presence and in terms of speakers I’ve reviewed, they are both the second most expensive pair and the speakers that have spoken to me most completely and directly. It took real time to calm my reaction/excitement when listening to familiar and new music through them, to get beyond their sound and fully immersed in music. And these music interruptus moments had nothing to do with some flaw in the Atria II and everything to do with my inability to relax into their level of performance that suited my tastes perfectly. Scratch that, performance that informed my tastes beautifully.
And I can think of no higher praise than a pair of speakers that introduces us to heretofore unheard aspects of refinement. I can remember, vividly, the first day and into the night the Atria II were playing music in Barn and hearing a flute, among other instruments, so completely defined, so accurately reproduced in air that I could hear inside its tubular body and feel the air pressure filling that form and thinking, Damn! Now that’s a flute. Of course the danger in sharing this level of detail, this deep burrow highlighting a micro aspect of reproduction runs the risk of making the experience appear to be about sound(s) not music. But nothing could be further from the truth unless you think hearing a flute played from a few feet away offers too much non-musical information.
Of course no speaker stands alone so you’ll want to fix the Rockports up with equally compelling partners. While I paired the Atria II with a number of amps, the Soulution 330 integrated amplifier (more info) was by far my favorite as it can dig as deeply and musically rightly as the Rockports. As I mentioned in my review of the Grimm MU1, it was an essential piece of this system’s ultra-performance puzzle when paired with the totaldac d1-unity (review) or Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC (review). And let’s not leave AudioQuest out of this system picture including their FireBird Interconnects, ThunderBird speaker cables, and Niagara 3000 power conditioner (complete system and Barn details). All that being said, I’ll say this again—the Ayre KX-8/VX-8 pre/power combo (review) also did a wonderful job driving the Atria II.
It’s common in audiophile circles to read that hifi’s goal is about being faithful to the recording and I’ve never supported this point of view. I’d rather cozy up to the musicians and what they’re doing as opposed to the recording engineer, producer, or microphones. And with this system in play, the listening experience connected me to the music and the people behind it as directly and completely as I’ve experienced in Barn. The express pass, no local stops, stay as long as you like.
Are You Experienced from the Jimi Hendrix Experience was the first record I bought with my own money and it resides in a very special place inside. I don’t listen to it often, preferring to save and savor it, keeping the strongest listening links to my 1970s self in tact. But listening through this system proved to be a special occasion and the Soulution 330 review sample arrived with the phono stage option and the recently arrived EMT HSD 006 MC cartridge (more info) begged me, begged me, to let it ride the grooves of Are You Experienced, seemingly thankful that it wasn’t being asked to play some audiophile lute and feather music. So I pulled my two-tone orange-top Reprise copy from its protective plastic sleeve, you can take the boy out of the basement…, and let it rip on the Michell Gyro SE ‘table, that also seemed pleased as punch to be playing some Hendrix.
And Purple Haze was all in my eyes, all in my brain in all of its rainbow colored acid tinged trippiness and I felt that old still familiar feeling of being introduced to something foreign new and completely seductive—a way out. Hendrix coaxed a universe of sounds, textures, moods and colors from his Fender Stratocaster turning it into some sort of synesthesia inducing transporter and this system, all in with the Rockports letting Jimi & Co flow out into the Barn turned time on its head, dropping the curtain on the concerns of the day replaced by music-induced remembrance of things past while being wholly present.
Marina Herlop’s Nekkuja, released on PAN last week, seems to pick up where Lucrecia Dalt’s ¡Ay! left off. Densely layered Latin-inspired loveliness with sounds emerging from heavy old growth, Nekkuja sparkles, throbs, ticks and quivers with delight in sound. This system with the Rockport’s moving air in Barn made this music come to life as big and bold as love (wink). Piano sprang out and rang out with real-life force, Herlop’s layered vocals cooing and wooing on top, with subterranean bass reminding us that there’s still mystery in the world. The Atria II are full-range performers that can excavate down to micro-level detail, part archaeologist part earth mover. Stunning. They also nail scale as well as any speaker I’ve heard anywhere. The tiniest electronic flicker to the largest crush of menace and every single thing in between are presented in perfect proportion without ever losing control of even the tiniest morsel or biggest baddest wave of brute force noise. There was a very vivid sense, listening through the Atria II in this system, that I could hear everything. All I had to do was listen.
Inner War Delirium from French DIY outsider Jonathan Katsav as Crave is the kind of record you need to play disquietingly loud. Nearly every sound, including vocals, have been run through the grunge mill coming out hard and fierce as if strapped to the mast during a hurricane tsunami rogue wave assault. Refreshing! Layers of field recordings, electronic haze, crackle and earth-shaking brute force noise move along at an anxiety inducing pace, as if leading to some grand finale until the realization hits it’s all one big one. With the Barn lights out and night creeping in, Inner War Delirium as played through the Rockport Atria II opened a giant gateway into this void without even a fleeting hint that what I was experiencing was a reproduction.
When music reproduction gets to a certain level of quality, and the Atria II introduced me to new heights, there is no real sense that this experience differs in any meaningful way from some “real thing”. And that’s the ultimate goal of hifi, at least according to my way of thinking and experiencing.
Lados B from drummer Daniel Villarreal, guitarist Jeff Parker, and bassist Anna Butterss landed on International Anthem earlier this month like a last reminder of warmer climes. Villarreal plays more than drums with richly varied percussive voices and tropical flair acting as runway for Parker and Butterss to jaunt along for the journey. The more I hear of guitarist Jeff Parker the more I hear to love and his inspired meandering here brings to mind a host of favorite guitarists like welcome guests. This music lives and breathes by Villarreal’s super tight funk and Fania inspired precision beats and the Atria II proved to be expert in portraying every micro-movement with equal precision and stunning physicality, as if every sound was being made before my ears.
I want to stress the in-room solidity and precision of the Rockport speakers way with music because this is one real stand-out take notice quality that never failed to grab my attention and delight, making music sound and feel so damned present and alive I could not ask for anything more. Stunningly real, shockingly present. And the Atria II can play louder than you’d ever care to go, I know I tried, and even at the loudest levels I’ll listen they remain the same without even the slightest hint of strain. As a matter of fact, I found myself listening at higher than normal volume levels with this system because it sounded so unforced, so effortless, and so natural.
I’m going to screw down my reviewer’s cap as tightly as possible, and I admit mine didn’t come with a propellor on top, to say that the Atria II need to be played above a hushed volume level to sound alive. I’m not saying they need to be played loud, but what I am saying is if you like to use music as subtle background for other things, the Atria II may not be for you. Music played through the Atria II, even at what are for me ‘normal’ listening levels, i.e. nowhere near loud, created a kind of sonic black hole I fell into as easily as tripping in zero gravity. Music, all of the music that played through the Atria II during their 8 week Barn stay, acted as invitation to a voyage. While I could have spent more time with them, I also could have written this review after a few weeks because the quality of reproduction offered by the Atria II was clearly and obviously outstanding and apart from every other speaker I’ve reviewed.
Imagine you wake up naked and alone in an unfamiliar windowless coal black room with no idea how long you’ve been there or where in the world you are. You feel your way to the door, grope your hand to the handle, shove the door open and get hit by white hot light as you fall chest deep into icey blue snow. If you could pick out one thing you know for certain at this very moment, you’d know it’s cold. That’s how clearly and obviously the Rockport Atria II’s performance stood apart.
From a pure performance perspective, the Rockport Atria II leave nothing to be desired and offer nothing but everything your music has to offer, seemingly re-made before your very ears. They dig as deeply, convincingly, and completely into the heart and soul of music as I’ve heard from a loudspeaker, delivering a level of quality that consistently transformed reproduction into completely captivating music-inspired experience that always lead to the desire for more—more music, more time, and more pure goodness.
Rockport Atria II Loudspeakers
Company Website: Rockport Technologies
Woofers: 9” carbon fiber sandwich composite
Midrange: 6” carbon fiber sandwich composite
Tweeter: Waveguide mounted 1” beryllium dome
Width: 12.5″ (base)
Depth: 20.00″ (base)
Weight: 150 lbs. each
Frequency Response: 28 – 30 KHz, -3dB
Nominal impedance: 4 ohms
Sensitivity: 87.5 dB SPL/2.83 v
Min. amplifier power: 50 watts