Rockport has since its inception been a proponent of reflex-loaded designs over sealed enclosures. Payor notes the advantages of reflex loading: greater sensitivity, deeper extension for the enclosure size, and lower distortion by virtue of the woofers’ lower excursion (above port resonance) compared to the amount of woofer excursion in sealed cabinets. The downside of reflex enclosures is that the bass rolls off more steeply than sealed enclosures (24dB per octave vs. 12dB per octave) and the transient performance is not as good. Payor believes that he has maximized the benefits of reflex loading while minimizing the drawbacks. Specifically, the Lyra, like other Rockport speakers, has a proprietary tuning that results in a roll-off of 12dB per octave in the first octave (20–40Hz) despite being a reflex design. Payor says that his high-efficiency woofers, along with careful port tuning and crossover design, allow him to realize this more gradual bass roll-off of 12dB per octave. Moreover, he says that the way Rockport speakers integrate with a room is more like that of sealed designs. He thinks that it’s a mistake for listeners to hold prejudices about a particular product based on whether or not it’s a reflex or sealed design, and they should instead focus on how well the alignment is executed.
The Lyra introduces so many innovative techniques that rather than describe them myself, I’ll let Andy Payor explain them in the accompanying interview. In addition to recording what turned into essentially a 75-minute monologue on the Lyra’s design, Payor sent to me 3-D CAD files of each of the drivers and of the enclosure. In another hour-long phone call with the CAD drawings open on my computer, Payor walked me through the drawings, pointing out the design details. I could rotate the drawings, section them at any point, and zoom in on details. He shared these with me not so that I could include such details in the review (they are proprietary techniques), but rather so that I would have an appreciation for just how much original thought and engineering went into the Lyra. From the outside, all speakers look roughly similar—a box with cones. But the Lyra is very different from other speakers that are superficially similar.
I’ll give you just a couple of examples. The baskets are massive, cast-aluminum structures that are unlike any others I’ve seen. The motor structure and suspension are equally innovative. The cones, made from carbon-fiber sandwiches of varying thickness, are created from a type of carbon-fiber that is exclusive to Rockport Technologies drivers. Payor had me zoom in on the CAD drawing to tiny details in a section view of each driver and of the enclosure to explain to me the engineering purpose behind even the smallest aspect of the design. Even details such as the angle of the taper of the surround where it meets the basket and cone have been optimized. Nothing was left to chance or included without a solid technical reason for its existence. Payor is as techno-geeky as it gets—and I mean that as the highest praise. Make no mistake: The Lyra is a monumental effort.
Rockport hired industry veteran and set-up expert extraordinaire Stirling Trayle to install the Lyra (see sidebar below). The setup was a long and exacting process, but one that I believe realized the Lyra’s performance potential.
I drove the Lyra with a spectrum of amplifiers: the output-transformerless Berning 211/845 with 60W of Class A triode power; a pair of Constellation Hercules II monoblocks (1100W each); and the Absolare Passion integrated amplifier with a vacuum tube input stage and a solid-state output stage delivering 200W into the Lyra’s 4-ohm impedance. The Berning drove the 90dB-sensitive Lyra with ease.
As I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t take long to hear what a breakthrough the Lyra represents. I don’t know how much of the sound quality to attribute to what must be the lowest-resonance enclosure extant. But I can say that the Lyra establishes a new benchmark of performance in the sonic characteristics that are related to enclosure vibration (or lack of it).
Perhaps the most salient, and musically significant, of these qualities is the Lyra’s stunning rendering of dynamics. This speaker is unbelievably fast and clean; a transient pops up seemingly from nowhere, and is over just as quickly. There’s no diminution of the force and impact of the leading edge, and no smearing of the decay. The Lyra is so fast that it laid bare differences in amplifier speed that I had never experienced before.
I heard this dynamic agility on both a micro level and a macro level. Well-recorded snare drum (Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature streamed in MQA via Tidal, for example) had a pop and dynamism that were simply sensational, locking in this album’s powerful grooves. The tuttis of the brass and woodwinds in big band music were brought to thrilling life. Entrances by solo brass instruments, such as the trombone on “Soft Winds” from Dick Hyman’s From the Age of Swing [Reference Recordings] had a “suddenness” that was startling. It wasn’t just transient attacks that were reproduced with realism, but the entire dynamic envelopes of instruments and voices. In the trombone solo just mentioned, the Lyra presented, with lifelike realism, the elusive quality of air expanding and contracting around the instrument’s dynamic changes. The Lyra made this quality visceral and palpable with a vivid dynamism. Moreover, the Lyra had tremendous dynamic clarity; the intricate overlapping cadences of the guitars, drums, and percussion instruments on the CD African Guitar Summit II were crisp, tight, and coherent in a way that revealed each musician’s contribution as well as how the disparate parts gelled into the whole.