At the other end of the dynamic scale, the Lyra resolved the finest nuances of dynamic shading. The speaker revealed even the slightest emphasis on certain beats or notes, and with that resolution came a greater connection to the musical expression. The threshold for resolving this dynamic shading was strikingly low. For example, very gently tapped ride cymbals varied slightly in volume, texture, and decay with each strike, just as they would in life.
A few select loudspeakers also exhibit excellent transient fidelity, but none to the Lyra’s degree. The difference in the Lyra, I believe, is that it delivers this transient performance linearly over the entire frequency spectrum, with no bands where the transient impact is slower or lacking in weight and impact relative to other frequencies. You can hear this difference immediately not only in the sense of horn-like life and vibrancy, but also in the communication of expression. I found that the Lyra was remarkably adept at conveying ethereal aspects of music reproduction, such as a pianist’s “touch” and the expression behind it. There was perhaps no greater example of this than Brad Mehldau’s stunningly beautiful nine-minute rendition of The Beatles’ “And I Love Her” on his recent album Blues and Ballads (available in MQA via Tidal streaming—hooray!). It’s hard to describe, but I could just feel more of his expression through the Lyra, as though this speaker revealed another layer of emotional depth to his performance.
Yet for all its incisive palpability, the Lyra is extremely relaxed, gentle, and beautiful-sounding. It has an unforced quality that encouraged me to unwind and settle down into the listening seat. This quality is directly related to the Lyra’s outstanding reproduction of timbre. This must be a very low distortion loudspeaker, because it is lower in grain, edge, and metallic sheen than any othe speaker I’ve heard. Timbres are utterly liquid, gorgeous as they are in life, organic, and devoid of the synthetic patina that overlays instrumental and vocal textures in even superb loudspeakers. Consequently, the impression of hearing a hi-fi system vanishes quickly, easily, and continuously over a long listening session. The Lyra is lush, voluptuous, and colorful in timbre, yet underlying this apparent easy-going sound is a foundation of precision and resolution. The Lyra doesn’t achieve its liquidity by rounding off the rough edges; it achieves this by not creating those rough edges in the first place. This is true, of course, if you drive the Lyra with very clean sources and amplification—it is highly revealing of upstream components. The Lyra is a speaker you can listen to at high playback levels for very long periods without listening fatigue. Most hi-fi systems have a trace (or more than a trace) of a metallic-sounding edge that keeps you at arm’s length from the music. This is the same characteristic that causes your ears to tighten up during loud passages, or in anticipation of them. The Lyra doesn’t do that. Instead, it feels as though the speaker wraps you in music’s warm embrace.
The Lyra’s treble, and its integration with the upper midrange, is as good as it gets in a multi-way dynamic loudspeaker. The sound had a seamlessness and coherence with no sense of the treble as a separate component riding on top of the music. The top end was finely filigreed, with tremendous inner detail and not a hint of the brightness or metallic sheen that can plague some beryllium domes. Vocal sibilance was utterly natural, with a full measure of energy but lacking any annoying sizzle. Cymbals were stunning in their transient fidelity, cleanliness of timbre, inner detailing, and long decays. Their notes seemed to hang in space forever by virtue of the Lyra’s ability to reach down and resolve the finest details at the decay’s tail. For a great example, check out Joe Morello’s work on the terrific Analogue Productions’ 45rpm reissue of Dave Brubeck’s Time Out.
The Lyra had an exceptional clarity that was the antithesis of confused, congealed, or homogenized. Every instrument was presented in vivid detail, even those buried in the mix. On the track “Somewhere, Somebody” from Jennifer Warnes’ The Hunter [Impex LP reissue] a male singer accompanies Warnes in a sparse arrangement, sometimes singing in unison with her and sometimes in counterpoint. The Lyra presented, to a greater degree than I’ve heard from any loudspeaker, the illusion of two distinctly different voices, rather than blending them together into a single sound. This characteristic may not sound that important, but it went a long way toward creating the feeling of hearing musicians actually performing rather than listening to them through a hi-fi system.
The Lyra sounds “big” in every sense of that word—bass extension and power, dynamic impact, and soundstaging. If you walked into a room blindfolded and heard the Lyra you’d be shocked when you removed the blindfold and saw its relatively diminutive size. The bottom end was punchy and fast, seemingly keeping up with the dynamic agility over the rest of the spectrum. Abraham Laboriel’s percussive bass playing on the Nautilus direct-to-disc of Victor Feldman’s Secret of the Andes had tremendous snap and power, along with good solidity in the extreme bottom end. Compared with Rockport’s Altair and its side-firing 15" woofer, the Lyra’s bass is faster, tighter, and more precise. The Lyra may give up just a little in overall weight and extension, but its superior transient performance, pitch definition, and harmonic resolution give it the more satisfying bottom end. Don’t let the Lyra’s relatively small size and use of two 10" woofers prejudice your opinion of how low the Lyra will go, or how much heft it can muster. It’s competitive with many larger, similarly priced speakers in bass extension and power, but for the same money you can find speakers that move more air and have greater low-octave impact—albeit from a much larger enclosures. I should add that the Lyra exhibited no audible trace of its reflex design—no premature roll-off, no overhang or “slowness,” and no port artifacts or bloat. If I heard the Lyra without knowing whether it was a reflex or sealed design I would not be able to determine that by listening.
The Rockport Lyra pushes forward the state of the art in loudspeaker design in its elaborate and innovative construction as well as in sound quality. The Lyra delivers a horn-like visceral immediacy with its absolutely stunning dynamic performance. The musical effect cannot be overstated; the Lyra sounds “alive” in a way that other speakers do not. Yet for all its verve and panache, this is a speaker of great delicacy, capable of conveying the subtlest nuance of texture and shading. It’s also the most beautiful in timbre that I’ve heard, combining high resolution with lush textural liquidity. The icing on the cake is the Lyra’s small size—for a world-class reference, which it certainly is—that allows it to fit in many more rooms than other speakers of this price.
Andy Payor has put into the Lyra everything he’s learned about loudspeaker design over the past 35 years—and then some. It is truly as much a masterpiece of art as it is of cutting-edge engineering.
Setup by Stirling Trayle
Rockport hired industry veteran Stirling Trayle to set up the Lyra in my room.
Stirling visited the Rockport factory the week before my setup to work with and learn about the speaker alongside Andy Payor.
After 40 years working in the audio industry in various capacities, Trayle started a one-man business, called Audio Systems Optimized, to address the need for expert system setup for customers in their homes and for manufacturers at trade shows. So often the best path to better sound isn’t a component upgrade, but optimizing the setup of equipment you already own. Trayle is well suited to the job; he’s widely known for his set-up skills including specific expertise with turntables.
Trayle did for me what he would do for any client. Using a proscribed and exacting method, Trayle found the best locations for the speakers. Unusually, he spent the first few hours working with just one speaker; only after he was satisfied with the single speaker’s location did he turn his attention to the stereo pair. Over the past 28 years as a full-time reviewer I’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand the world’s greatest set-up experts at work in my home. As you can imagine, manufacturers are highly motivated to get the best possible performance out of the product. Even by that standard, Trayle was not only highly skilled, but was dogged in pursuing every last ounce of performance from the system. He’s an exceptionally skilled listener, and has developed precise techniques for getting the best sound from a given set of components. The result of his e ort is the sound quality I’ve described in the review.
If you think that your system isn’t delivering the full performance of which it is capable, it may be worth investing in a day or two of expert setup.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Three-and-a-half-way, dynamic driver, floorstanding loudspeaker
Driver complement: 10" carbon-fiber sandwich composite woofer (x2); 6" carbon-fiber sandwich composite midrange (x2); 1" beryllium dome tweeter
Frequency response: 20Hz–30kHz at –3dB
Nominal impedance: 4 ohms
Dimensions: 14.1" x 53.5" x 26.5"
Weight: 560 lbs. each (net)
Price: $169,500 per pair
586 Spruce Head Rd.
South Thomaston, ME 04858
Loudspeakers: Magico Q7 Mk II, Rockport Lyra, EnigmAcoustics Sopranino self-biasing electrostatic super-tweeters (with the Q7 Mk II)
Amplification: Constellation Altair II linestage, Constellation Hercules II and Berning 211/845 power amplifiers, Absolare Passion integrated amplifier
Digital sources: Aurender W20 music server, Berkeley Alpha USB USB-to-SPDIF converter, Berkeley Alpha Reference DAC, Brinkmann Nyquist DAC (with MQA)
Support: Critical Mass Systems Maxxum equipment racks (x2), Maxxum amplifier stands (x2)
Digital interconnects: Audience Au24 USB, AudioQuest Wild Digital AES/EBU, AudioQuest BNC, MIT AC: Four dedicated AC lines; Shunyata Denali conditioners, Shunyata Sigma power cords
Acoustics: ASC 16" Full-Round TubeTraps, ASC TowerTrap, Stillpoints Aperture Panels (x12)
Accessories: Shunyata Research cable lifters, Stillpoints Ultra SS and Ultra 6 isolation