Vol'ti - v. - to turn over a new leaf; to move forward


8/6/2012 - NL18

Capital Audiofest 2012

With a very full truck and trailer, Laurie and I headed down to the Capital Audiofest on July 10th; about a 600 mile trip from Benton Maine to Rockville Maryland.  So we split it into two days, staying at Larry Borden's house the first night.  Larry was a gracious host, as he always is, and we had a nice time visiting and listening to music that evening.

The next day we traveled nearly the whole length of the New Jersey Turnpike, and when we got to the end to pay the toll, they wanted $35.50!  I asked how much it would have been if I hadn't been pulling the single-axle trailer and they said $12.50.   At 12.6 miles per gallon, I paid more for tolls for that part of the trip than I did for fuel.  Don't you think something is wrong with the toll systems in this country?   I say we should abolish them, it's gotten completely out of hand.   NJ didn't get a dime of toll money from me on the way home, nor did any of the businesses along that route.  It's a route I will avoid in the future as well.  Just to really stick it to you, about half way down on the NJ turnpike, conspicuously located beside the highway with a huge sign on it, you get to see one of the enormous office buildings that the NJ Turnpike Authority has built for themselves, using toll money that didn't make it into the pockets of crooked exectives and politicians.

The old Chevy Tahoe once again came through with flying colors.  With nearly 270,000 miles on her, she hauled a lot of weight down and back with no serious troubles at all.  The only problem we had was on the way back, the door locks started locking themselves for no apparent reason!  Once back home that stopped, so I have no idea what that was about.  Overall, a successful journey.

I was so grateful to have my wife Laurie with me on this trip.  As it was, I'm sure I dropped a few pounds that weekend, from all the physical work of moving gear and not having time to eat three squares each day.  Without her I'm sure I would have starved!  Plus she helped so much with the room setup, moving gear, promotion etc...

The Show

The 2012 version of Capital Audiofest may have had fewer attendies than the 2011 version, but that didn't stop anyone who attended from having a great time enjoying the wonderful systems that were set up there.  There's a vibe to CAF, a relaxed atmosphere that I think has a lot to do with our host Gary Gill.   The Crowne Plaza hotel is terrific too.  The building is very nice and is just the right size for this show.  The restaraunt is good, the staff is great, and the rooms are very nice, especially the suites (like room 219) that have a kitchenette.

As always, a lot was said about the sound of the rooms.  I had a bit of bass drone in my system, but overall I think the rooms sound very nice.  I've been told that I need to add room treatments when I'm at a show, but I have mixed feelings about doing so.   There's something to be said for plunking a system down in a real room and playing real music for real people and having it sound real good.  If my system can do that, there's a real good chance it's going to sound as good or even better in my customers' home.

Volti Audio had two rooms there this year.  In Room 219 we had the same basic system as last year; Vittora speakers with my EMM Labs CD/SACD/Linestage front end, and my custom 2A3 SET monoblock amplifiers.  This system has great synergy, and of course a familiar sound.  But after the first day I opted to use the BorderPatrol Audio S20 amplifier in place of my SET's.  The BP just sounded better.  The 2A3's have wonderful midrange detail and high frequency delicacy, but the BP has more weight and fullness to the sound, not to mention ten times the power.  

The Vittora speakers this year were finished in Figured Cherry with Cane cloth.

We also had a very nice turntable generously supplied by Ming Su of Goto http://www.goto-unit.com/.  It was a large and heavy J.C. Verdier turntable with a superb "Telos" tonearm from Durand Tonearms and a Soundsmith Strain guage cartridge/preamp.  A beautiful setup indeed, and it sounded great.

In the second room, #221, right around the corner, we teamed up with two other vendors, Mojo Audio providing the Music Server, DAC, and Cabling, and Deja Vu Audio providing the preamplifier and amplifiers.

More on room 221 later.

Room 219

The Vittora speakers underwent a few changes during the last year, and as a result sounded even better in the room this year.  One major change is that we are now using a new tweeter that provides a much smoother and more extended high end than before.  There is a naturalness to instruments now that was lacking before.   As an example, it is much easier to envision a hi-hat cymbal being struck by a stick when listening to this tweeter.

The response from those who sat and listened to the system in 219 was as humbling as ever.  I had at least 50 people tell me this room was the best sounding, or one of a few best sounding rooms at CAF2012.  Many of the listeners would end their session by shaking my hand in congratulations for a job well done.   At least one said this system was the surprise of the show for them.  There are still many people out there who don't believe a horn system can sound this good, and they are surprised when they discover that through good design, good packaging, and tuning with a good ear, we can have all the attributes that attract us to horn speakers, but with a polite enough sound to satisfy even the most high-end enthusiast.

It was late in the day on Saturday and we were just about to close up when John Atkinson of Stereophile Magazine strolled in.  After CAF2011, I sent John an email to say I was sorry that he didn't get a chance to hear the Vittoras and that I hoped he would find the time to catch us at CAF2012.  So I was kind of expecting him to pop in at some point.  I wanted to spend a little time talking to him, but being late in the day and knowing how busy he his, I just let him enjoy the system.  There wasn't anyone else in the room and I already had Steely Dan Gaucho in the transport, so it really was a good setup.  Here's what he wrote:

Stereophile Blog Post

"Finally, a retro speaker that attempted to sound modern while preserving the benefits of high sensitivity.   The title track on the SACD of Steely Dan's Gaucho was reproduced with a full-range balance, extended highs and lows, natural tonal quality in midrange, and excellent dynamics."

Succinct, and dead on as far as I'm concerned.  I only wish he'd stayed a bit longer to hear a few more tracks.  Maybe next year.  Why do I care so much?  Stereophile is the most often read online publication on high-end audio, that's why!

Later, John wrote this in an email to me:

"Your room was an island of good sound on the Crowne Plaza's second floor! - JA"

I remain a bit surprised at how much positive press we garner from these shows.   Not that I don't think we deserve it, but just that Volti is still a very young company, and we really haven't established a speaker product yet.  However, this is exactly how we will establish Volti Audio, by doing these shows to let people listen and report on what they've heard.  Here's a few quotes from things that were written about the Volti Vittora room at this year's CAF:

Scot Hull - Confessions Of A Part-Time Audiophile

Greg Roberts in on to something.   He's been chasing that Klipschorn sound and by God, he nailed it here with his Vittora.   The "three-way, fully horn-loaded" 104dB/W/m sensitive speaker has a brand-new 1" ring-radiator compression tweeter that sweetens up the top end considerably.   The styling is very retro - in the best possible way.   I sat there, with the two speakers set along the long wall a good 8' to either direction, and I couldn't help but be transported back to my childhood, hanging out with my grandfather and listening to his collection of classical LPs on his big speakers.   The sound, the stage, the effortless dynamics, and all that flood of memory, well, it made for an emotional visit.

These speakers are currently retailing for $12,600 and can be paired with the matching subwoofer for an additional $2400.   A sub is probably good idea with the Vittora, given that they will roll off at around 50 Hz because, well, because they're horns.   Bass out of a horn isn't hard, but it does need a large cabinet - far larger than a room-friendly enclosure like the Vittora.   My advice? Get the sub.   The tasteful, furniture-grade enclosures are all hand-made in Maine, constructed of Baltic Birch, and require approximately 240 hours of labor to build.   Hmmm, at $15,000 for furniture-grade heirloom quality horn speakers?   Sign me up.

Forum Member - Audio Circle

For me, the best sound of the show was around the corner from the first Volti room, in a slightly larger room - their bigger brothers the Volti Vittora's, w/a shape to remind you of klipsch offerings.   With or w/o the optional powered sub, these things simply sounded phenomenal, in all aspects.   They were on the long wall of the ~13x18 (i am guessing) room, and they still had excellent soundstaging, even if you were not directly centered.

Detail, tone, timbre, dynamics, extension - this speaker has it all.   I would have loved to hear them in the room that vpi/berning/surreal/dsa occupied.

Funny that this person mentions the Vpi/Berning/Surreal/DSA room, which by the way sounded fantastic.  I was offered this large room on the first level at a very attractive price, in place of my usual quiet corner suite on the second floor.   I decided not to do it because I was told there was too much interference from other rooms.  I sure would like to try it some year though.  I think the Vittoras would really open up in there.

Larry Borden - Dagogo

The room could have benefitted from some room treatments but despite that, the sound was most impressive, with all the traits that horn lovers lust after.   The horn-loaded bass has a distinctive character, wherein the bass seems to have more of a billowy nature than front-firing woofers, which seem to have more of the sock-you-in-the-chest sort of presentation.   The Vittoras are $12,600 for the pair, and the matching subwoofer is $2,400.00.   A fully horn-loaded speaker with such excellent workmanship, at this price, is an amazing deal, all the moreso as there are very few competitors in this niche.   Well done, Greg!

Larry Borden interviewed me recently.  : Here's the article.

I'm happy to report that the new subwoofer and Marchand sub amp worked flawlessly.   I had it hooked up through a passive attenuator so I could control volume level and mute from my chair, which was very handy.

I'd like to thank the folks that brought such great music along to listen to the system with.  One group in particular showed up late on Sunday and had the best stuff.  They also told me not to be shy with the volume!   They didn't have to tell me twice, and we used a good portion of the 18 watts that Gary's amplifier had in it with impressive results.  

There are a few things you'll notice about my room; should you ever come to hear one of my systems at a show.  I like to let people play their own music, and choose the volume level they like it at, even if that is a high volume level.  If someone does ask me to turn the system up, and there are other people in the room, I'll ask everyone if it's ok to crank it up.  This at least gives people some notice.  We don't go ridiculously loud anyway, but these are small rooms, and the Vittoras have a lot of gears they can wind through!   You'll notice I don't talk a lot during the demos.  I think it's important to let people listen to music, and that's hard to do when the owner of the room is yakking the whole time.  I'll defer questions until the music is done playing, even 'shushing' someone if necessary.  I also try to get people to switch seats and let everyone get a chance at the sweet spot for listening.  This is especially true if you ask me to play a track from one of your CD's, because you should be listening to it in the sweet spot.  The soundstage is so large, and the imaging spot on in that sweet spot.  Plus I have tuned the system and balanced the sub from that position.

So when are going to come to a show and hear the Vittora speakers?

I did get a chance to hear some other rooms at CAF.  I had limited time so I was selective.  The big Deja Vu horns sounded really good:

as did the Surreal Sound speakers

But I did hear some problems with other systems, namely boomy bass from subwoofers that were improperly balanced to the rest of the system, strained midrange from bass drivers being asked to produce upper midrange, and most glaring of all, sloppy/boxy/colored mid-bass from bass reflex speakers.  This is something that really sticks out to me, when the sound of vocals is colored to the point where it sounds like the vocalist is singing through a large cardboard box.  I'm afraid this is what you get when you ask a woofer to produce low bass notes down to 45Hz, and also to produce the frequencies up to 600hz.  I'm talking about some pretty expensive speakers here too.  This is where the Vittora really shines, competing against these other designs, and I hear the difference very clearly.  It's always nice when others hear it too.  This is when the Vittoras are described as having good tonal balance, or tonal accuracy.  It's all about the mid-bass coming from the bass horn of the Vittora.  Inside is a driver that is "moving" very little compared to a bass reflex driver.  "Working" a lot less, and effortlessly re-producing very real sounding music; without coloration, without strain, and in the most natural way.  It's natural to think that the strength of horn bass is in the low bass, but it's actually the upper bass or mid-bass that benefits the most from horn loading.

Room 221

Surprise - Relief - So Now We Keep Moving Forward  .  .  .  .

I think Room 221 received even better feedback than 219.  Deja Vu Audio provided tube amplifiers and a tube preamplifier with vintage iron.  Ben Zwickel of Mojo Audio provided cables, a music server, and DAC.  The great Source, along with the warmth of the amps/preamp worked perfectly with the Veretta speakers.

I had done some listening to the Verettas in my living room system, using my custom 2A3 SET monoblock amplifiers and they sounded pretty good.  But hooked up to the electronics and cabling in room 221 really brought the Verettas to life.   I was very impressed with how nice this system sounded.  It was a relief, because I worried about how they would sound and how they would be received by the attendies at the show, as well as the press.  People just loved them, both aesthetically and sonically.

Here's a link to the Volti Veretta webpage

Volti Veretta

The ability to tune the Verettas with the different port grill inserts worked out really well as Ben and I set up the system and tuned everything in.

Ben did an excellent job of running the room.  He worked hard that weekend without a single break during the show hours.  There's a real interest in music servers right now, and people have a lot of questions about them, so Ben was pretty busy going out in the hall to answer questions, yet still watching over the room.

Here's some of things people had to say about Room 221:

Larry Borden - Dagogo

CAF was the inauguration for a brand new speaker from Volti Audio, the single driver Veretta.   The Veretta uses a 5" Feastrex wide-band driver (such drivers are commonly, though incorrectly, referred to as "full-range") in beautiful cabinet made from laminated Baltic Birch, with a beautiful and functional base plinth.   The Veretta also allows one to change the port, thus tailoring the sound to one's room and/or taste.   At 94 dB sensitivity, the Verettta is easy to drive with SET amps.   Greg partnered with Ben Zwickel of Mojo Audio, who provided interconnects and power cords, his Mac Mini music server with external power supply, and his new prototype DAC.   (Stay tuned to dagogo for more about Mojo Audio's product.)   The preamp and amp were from Deja Vu audio, who designs and builds them.

Though obviously somewhat frequency-limited, the system did all the things one expects from a single driver speaker/SET amp combination, and did so quite beautifully.   While not the best speaker for rock or symphonic music, it was lovely with acoustic music, be it a string quartet or folk-style music.   A very enjoyable room, and another likely success for Volti Audio.

Forum Member - Audio Circle

Third favorite was the Volti Audio Veretta speakers driven by Deja Vu tube amps and a tube DAC of some type.   Limited in bass extension and dynamics, but for what it did produce it was wonderful.   Immediate, detailed, yet completely sweet and tranquil at the same time.   Tonal balance was dead on, it sounded like music.

Forum Member - Audio Circle

I really liked the little Volti Veretta's - They'd be perfect w/a pair of subs, me-thinks.   Nice soundstaging, nice detail, and these did draw you in and make you wanna listen.

Audiogon Forum Member

One of the Volti rooms used a 5" Feastrix driver in a beautifully made boat-tail cabinet.   That was a terrific sounding use of a single driver--full and rich sounding and dynamic.   The low-powered electronics from Deja Vu Audio probably had a lot to do with the great sound too.

Room 221 received a Silver Sound Award from AV Showrooms

Here's what Peter Breuninger had to say:

In the Mojo/Volti room the beautiful Volti loudpeakers sounded as good as they looked.   Hat's off to the Deja Vu amplifiers and Mojo cables and digital front end that made the Volti's sound breathtakingly believable.

Here's the Volti Veretta pamphlet we were handing out at the show.

After the show, I sat down with John Gatski of Everything Audio Network  and talked about having him do a full review of the Veretta speakers.  I ended up leaving the show Verettas with him and he completed his review of them just the other day.  As of this writing the review has not been published, but will be soon.  John told me that Volti would be getting a VERY good review on the Veretta, and in fact will receive a "Stellar Sound Award" for 2012.   So we're looking forward to reading what John has to say about the Veretta.

The price for a pair of Veretta speakers, including the drivers and all accessories, is $10,750.  However, I have two demo pairs available at a discounted price of $7,999.

All in all, the Capital Audiofest was another successful marketing campaign for Volti Audio.  With a direct cost of about $4,000, and about two weeks of my time, I'd say it was well worth it.  Plus we had a great time at the show, and met some very nice people.  I will continue my relationship with Mojo Audio at Rocky Mountain Audiofest this October.  The next newsletter, published sometime in early October will preview that show.

Thank you for your support, and until next time, I hope it all sounds good!

Greg Roberts

Volti Audio - Klipsch Upgrades - New Horn Speakers