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


5/17/2013 - NL22

Wow, twenty two newsletters.  

Hello new subscribers.  You must have been wondering if there really were newsletters, as late as I am in posting this one.  It's been three months since the last one, and it has been very difficult to find the time to write.  It's not just finding the time that is difficult, but also clearing my mind enough to focus on this type of work, which is very different from what I do on a regular basis at the shop.

As usual we've got an awful lot going on right now.  I wish there were two of me.   We have quite a bit of paying work; some custom, some new speaker sales, and I continue to sell Klipsch upgrades on a regular basis, which helps with the business cash flow.  I'm also working on developing new products, and the ideas keep flowing faster than I can test or develop them.

Thank you to all the nice people who send me positive comments about the newsletters and about Volti Audio in general.  I try to make this newsletter different than the ones I get in my inbox from other audio companies.  You know the ones, that are short on content and big on sales, and usually very impersonal.  I try to make this newsletter a continuing story of my experience in building Volti Audio, and I know a lot of you really like following along.  I appreciate your support as always.

AXPONA Chicago 2013

AXPONA 2013 turned out to be a very good show.  Attendance was very good, the hotel was very good, our rooms sounded good, the food at the restaurants was surprisingly good, and we all just had a great time.  I shared my two rooms with Gary Dews from BorderPatrol Audio and Jonny Wilson of Snake River Audio, and I think we put together two really great sounding systems.

In one room we had the Vittora speakers with Gary's S10 amplifier, his preamp, and his DAC, and Jonny's cables.  In the second room, we introduced the new Alura speakers with Gary's P20 amplifier, his preamp, and his DAC, and Jonny's cables.  The feedback from attendies was great for both rooms, but I think the Alura room got the best comments from people.  That room really did sound special, and the Aluras really showed their stuff.  So much so that on Sunday, one lucky customer bought the Aluras!  The first pair sold.

Here's what our brochures looked like

Here's a nice letter from my customer who purchased the first pair of Alura speakers:


I've had a few days of extensive, enjoyable listening to music through the Aluras.   Prior to AXPONA 2013, I confess I was an audiophile in a rut.  I had been satisfied with my rig, but I was also becoming restless.   I sensed my speaker system was "trying" to sound live   -   sometimes with success, but mostly failing.   So I arrived at AXPONA, my first audio show, anticipating that I might be inspired by a revelatory sound.

As luck would have it, I ventured into the Volti Alura room early Friday afternoon.   It immediately became my benchmark for "best of show".   The typical audiophile terminologies apply - fast, articulate, dynamic with an encompassing sound field.   But there is much more which I have fully realized since I've had them home.   Suffice to say I became enchanted by the Alura.   Although I had some expectation to be "wowed" by a sound, I had no intention of making a major purchase as current life circumstances have been challenging.   But with the support and encouragement of my wife Jean, and easy negotiations with you, we took delivery of the well-crated and packed speakers. As you know, I had some concerns regarding placement and interaction with my equipment and critically, with my room.   My amps are not in the same league as what was used in the show  . What kind of first few watts quality would I be able to achieve?   By necessity, the Alura are positioned on the short wall of our living room.   Would the speakers be able to breathe?   Would that vast sound field I heard at the show be realized in this compromised set-up?

The answers have come quickly.   But let me describe the results by how I'm hearing and enjoying music.

  • I'm not getting that "live" sound. Rather, the performers are ALIVE! Alive in my living room. Transported.
  • Musicians are collaborating, creating. Performance art.
  • The nuance of swing is so easily involving. With smiles.
  • Beyond "gee I never heard that before", music is renewed, revitalized. I'm captured by the music once again.
  • There is a balance of the physical, fine cabinetry, and the sound, which creates a sense of rightness, peace.
  • Emotional presence and intensity without any anticipation or hint of fatigue.
  • And there are of course, the properties of the Alura make this revelatory experience possible. Effortlessness.   Ease.   Realism.   Scale.   Depth.   Impact.   Richness.

    I had no knowledge, preconceptions or expectations of the "horn" universe.   Honestly, the technology isn't very important to me except as an explanation of what the heck I'm hearing, especially the huge, encompassing sound field and spot-on tonality.

    So once again, I view our encounter as very serendipitous, a bit of audio fate!

    Thanks again for creating such a fine musical instrument and Jean and I look forward to many years of enjoying the Aluras.

    All the best,
    Dave Spella

    The first pair of Aluras in Dave's listening room

    So that was really cool to sell a pair of speakers during the weekend.  The sound I heard from the Aluras, the feedback from so many people, and THE SALE, validated how good I knew the Aluras were.  But that wasn't the only sale that weekend.  I had been running a show special on the Vittoras and I had two customers take advantage; one a week prior to the show and one that weekend.  So a flurry of sales happened around AXPONA, which is why we spend the money and take the time to do these shows.  

    It's exciting to realize that Volti Audio is gaining more traction, a little at a time.

    Press and Comments Found On The Internet

    Volti Audio Vittoria 3-way horn speakers powered by Border Patrol S10EXD and Pre, plus their wooden tubed DAC!   Rendered Jacqueline DuPre's performance of Elgar's Cello Concerto under Barbirolli with convincing passion and drama that I hadn't heard in her later recording with Barenboim.   EMI's analogue presence and warmth flowed.   Another favorite.

    One of the first rooms we visited was the Volti Audio room.   This is one of those rooms where it's best to be left alone with the designer, the speakers and nothing else.   Mr. Roberts selected a few tracks to play for us which I loved.   I wanted to see the speakers as much as I wanted to hear them but that is besides the point.   On my way out of the seat I tapped my girlfriend on the shoulder to exit the room.   I hadn't realized, at that time, she was close to falling asleep!  If you guys know anything about these Volti speakers you know they aren't played at low listening levels.   She was enjoying the music so much she collapsed under the sonic nirvana.   She was getting it; how music can sound so good.

    A speaker from Volti Audio, the ALURA, was also superb.   No fatigue - clarity, punch, great imaging and smooth.   And these things are 98dB.   I am probably a bit more partial to the ALURA over the Vittora for its lower end capabilities.   About $12k Room 827.   Digital source.   Tube electronics.

    If I could take any speakers home from the show, I would take these.

    I thought the Volti horn speakers were something special and had a very live sound.   Too bad they won't fit in my living room.

    104db sensitivity!!   Holy crap.   However, they sounded like horns.   Sorry, I'm not a big horn lover unless I hear a horn system that doesn't have that characteristic honk and cutoff FR.   These seemed to lack some deep bass and sparkly highs.   However, you can have tons of fun with a 2-watt tube amp and these speakers.   The vendor was using a 20-watt push-pull.   The veneer on these was sweet.

    The Aluras were a pleasant surprise.   Definitely NOT honky and NOT sounding like a horn system.   The high end was actually silky and the bass was nice and deep but not boomy.   Not sure if the corner-loading had anything to do with the perceived FR, but it was nice to my ears.  
    No WAF here though.

    In the Alura room - the finish and look of these cabinets was flat out gorgeous - the veneer used for this particular pair is Bosse Cedar.   When I first walked into the room, Metallica was playing which made a great first impression.   Of course, that also allowed me to hear the low end right away and it was TIGHT - very nice!   The midrange also had a great punch and the sound was just so warm and laid back - not at all forward like I am used to from a horn  . When the female vocal track started - it was a Cassandra Wilson track - the speakers just completely disappeared; they imaged so well.    Then, it happened - you could hear someone's foot tapping in the track!!   Just amazing detail - and the dynamic range was off the charts.

    Then, I went to the Vittora room - the finish on these was done in a Mappa Burl which was a bit too exotic for my tastes, but still very well done.   The experience with the Vittora was pretty much the same as the Alura except the low end impact was not quite as imposing.   It was these two rooms that really changed my mind permanently about horn speakers - done well, they put out utterly fantastic sound.

    From Scot Hull of The Absolute Sound

    The speakers were set along the long-wall in a typical Vittora arrangement, with a lot of space between them.    Sitting in the sweet spot, the soundstage was shockingly big and the effortless dynamics of the big speakers gave me goose bumps.   First room - and one of the best sounds at the show.    Sweet, right?   Score!

    From AV Showrooms

    Volti Audio Alura, BorderPatrol P20, Snake River Audio

    Volti Audio Vittora, BorderPatrol S10

    "Volti has a real sonic blockbuster on their hands with the new Alura"!
    Peter Breuninger

    BorderPatrol Audio Electronics

    Snake River Audio

    New York Audio Show 2013

    It was a last minute decision for Volti Audio to have a presence at the NYAS this year.  A few months earlier I contemplated getting a room, but the costs are quite high for this show, and I just didn't think I should do it.  But I did intend to attend regardless, because it gives me a chance to hang out with my friend Larry Borden, who graciously offers me a room to sleep in at his place, and also to listen to tons of great audio gear.

    I thought it would be the right thing to do to support the show in some small way, especially since it was unlikely that I would attend the show and not do any promotion for Volti Audio while there.  So I asked them about getting a small booth space, and they found a nice little spot right beside check-in for me to set up a small display.  Nothing too special, just a pull-up banner and some literature - what I could fit in my suitcase.  I think it was $500 well spent, as it really helped to get the Volti name out there, and it made it possible for me to wear my Volti shirts each day at the show, and to pass out business cards, and to generally promote the heck out of the company.  I got a nice compliment at the show from Peter Brueninger of AV Showrooms when he stopped me in the hall to congratulate me on doing such a great job of promoting Volti Audio.  He said that in a very short period of time, and mostly by myself, I've established Volti Audio as a serious company that builds very high quality speakers.  In an industry that is hard to break in to, and hard to remain sustainable in, I'm encouraged by what Peter had to say.  But I think we still have a long way to go.

    The show was right in the city, in an old elegant hotel, just like last year.  And just like last year, I was glad I didn't spend the money on a room.  The show promoters are obviously more enamored by being in the middle of Manhattan than I am, and they seem to be looking to create a sense of class, a sense of high-end exclusivity, and perhaps even a bit of snobbery around their show.  It's lost on me.  I would much prefer a larger, more modern, more convenient hotel, and a less costly show outside of the city, and I'm afraid I will probably never spring for a room at the NYAS as long as they stay in NYC proper.

    But after the $60 cab ride in from JFK, the $40 breakfast at the hotel, and after setting up my display, I did get to enjoy going from room to room and listening to some of the "world's finest" audio gear.   Here are some of my notables:

    Wilson Audio had speakers in two rooms, and both sounded very good, as they usually do.   I was suprised at how loud they had one of the systems cranked up.

    Like vanilla fudge.  I like vanilla fudge, but I like peanut butter fudge better.

    Sanders Sound Systems and Merrill Audio had a nice sound going on, with electrostatic panels (with sub) and high-power amplifiers in an active system, they had the most dynamic sound at the show, and surprisingly good tonal balance.

    Like really good salsa on room temperature chips.  Let's face it, chips that are straight out of the oven are much better.

    The big T.A.D. speakers sounded really good in one of the big rooms, with lots of room treatment.

    Like a very big chocolate chip cookie but with artificially flavored chocolate chips.  You'll eat it and like it.

    The YG Acoustics were pretty good sounding as long as they weren't turned up very loud.   At an audio show, there are many speakers that are being played near their limits of output, even when that is only a moderate listening level, and the YG's are a good example of this.   Three times now while listening to YG speakers I've heard distortion.  I'm talking about cone breakup, fuzzy distortion that is being caused by the drivers being over-driven.  We're not talking about high volume levels either.  

    Like eating a perfectly ripe banana with the last bite being the bitter end.

    Joseph Audio speakers sounded like they had the least problems of any other speaker at the show - soft and smooth sounding, neutral, completely middle of the road, and boring as hell.

    Lorna Doone's.

    Kondo had a very pleasant sounding system, and the equipment had great aesthetic appeal to me, especially the speakers.  I visited this room three times.

    Like eating ice cream on a cold day because you miss the summertime.

    I listened to dozens of speakers during that weekend, and in the end, there just wasn't anything there that came close to making me smile like a pair of Volti Audio Vittoras.  I heard nothing that could match the dynamic range, the effortlessness, the realism, the tonal balance, the bass extension or the musical involvement of the Vittora system.  I left that show feeling really good about the products I'm producing, and confident that in time, as Volti Audio becomes more known, I will "peel off" all the customers I need from the hum-drum, mundane world of high-end audio speakers.


    Like going to Charley's Steak House for one of their perfectly prepared steaks, with all the fantastic side dishes.  Expensive yes, but an experience you don't soon forget.   But realize this; had I brought Vittoras to the NYAS, they would have been the only horn speakers there, and they would have been among the lower priced speakers at the show.

    Capital Audiofest 2013

    Mark your calendars; July 26 - 28th is when the Capital Audiofest is being held at a new location, the Sheraton Hotel in Silver Spring Maryland.  Volti Audio will be there in the Hawthorn room, a fairly large and out of the way room that should give us some space to let the big Volti speakers breathe, and the privacy necessary to really crank them up once in a while.

    Capital Audiofest 2011 was the first audio show that Volti Audio was involved in, and the vibe created at this intimate show is really special.  If any of you really wants to hear what the Volti speakers sound like, I can't think of a better place.  I'll be bringing the Vittora system of course, but I'll also have a pair of Alura speakers as well.   We'll be switching off between the two systems every few hours each day.

    I will continue to work with Gary Dews of BorderPatrol Audio, and I'm fortunate to be able to borrow one of his fantastic S20 amplifiers for the show.  I'll also be bringing a new addition to my own personal gear, a Wells Audio Innamorata amplifier.   With 120 watts per channel, heavily biased into Class A, we will really be able to open up the Volti speakers for those people who want to experience what true high-end, high-power acoustic output is all about.   Very few speakers in the world can claim 104db sensitivity with one watt input and a 200 watt continuous maximum power input, along with carefully voiced components that provide proper tonal balance and accurate reproduction.  It's a combination that is exciting and moving, and I will be cranking the Volti speakers up to very high levels at times during the show, as long as the people in the room are ok with that.

    The IRSV's Have Left The Building

    The Infinity restoration project finally left the shop, much to my relief but also disappointment in how I handled this project.  Apparently the owner got tired of waiting for me to get them done and decided he wanted them back regardless of their condition.  We managed to get to the point where the veneer was all installed, but that's where we left off, and there was a lot of work still left to do on these speakers.

    One of the most difficult jobs I've ever taken on, and one that I will not do again.  Had I known then what I know now, I would have declined to take the job.  I keep telling myself that not every project I take on will go perfectly smooth, but there is still a pit in my stomach as I write about this.

    More than anything else that caused this project to go badly was my inability to focus on it for long enough to make good progress.  When the Infinity's were delivered to me, I had yet to complete the Vittora design, or do even one show.  As Volti Audio, the business, unfolded in front of me, doing the most difficult veneer job on an old pair of speakers was something I just couldn't bring myself to do.  So I subcontracted the work out to one of the most respected, high-end finish shops in Maine.  That didn't go well either, as even that shop struggled with the job.

    I'm thankful that the Owner doesn't seem too upset, and he's said that he will finish sanding the cabinets and put an oil finish on them, and then load them up with the rebuilt drivers and hopefully make music with them again.  I wish him all the best with them.

    What they should look like all finished
    Photo courtesy of Bill LeGall of Millersound

    Email Schmeemail

    What a pain in the ass.  Friggen emails.  I've had so much trouble lately with emails it's not funny.  I mean it, it's not funny!   My whole business is built on the internet, and communication via email is critical for Volti Audio to succeed.

    It really started getting bad about three months ago, right after sending my last newsletter out.  I began to notice that about half of my emails were not being replied to.  I mean the audio-related sales emails.  I had customers asking about buying the Verettas, inquiring about Vittoras, and wanting quotes for Klipsch upgrades.  I was literally losing sales because my emails were not getting through to my customers.

    So I began setting up a new folder system, and a new way to track customer communication.   I also hired my computer guy to come to my office and help me figure out what I could do to make this better.

    The problems seem to be caused by three things - links in the body of the email, attachments, and/or copied and pasted text in the body of the email.  Every email provider has filters built into their servers to filter out spam content, and recently they have been tweaking the filters so much that it is causing many emails to be lost in cyberspace.  Do you think you're getting all the emails that are being sent to you?  Based on my experience over the last few months, you probably are not.  I'm sure there are hundreds of people who won't get this newsletter because of email server filters.

    On two separate occasions, I had my computer guy here at the office, I was on the phone with a customer who was not receiving some of my emails, and I was sending test emails to this customer.   I would send one email with just text and it would go through in seconds.  Then I would send another with pasted text in the body of the email and it would not go through.  With one customer we got no notices that the email had been refused, and with the other customer we did get an email back saying the email had been refused by their server.  My computer guy researched and found that both times this was caused by the server at their end refusing the emails and treating them as spam.

    I have a customer who's emailed me several times over the last six months asking for pricing on horns and each time I've replied back to him but he's not getting my replies.  His last email to me said that this would be the last time he asked me for pricing.  If you're reading this, please send me your phone number.

    Another potential customer just in the last week is receiving emails from me that are simple text, typed into the body of the email.  But whenever I send an email with a link in it, he doesn't receive it, and there is no notice that the emails have been blocked.  I know the problem is with the server on his end, because it's Roadrunner, and I spent a couple hundred bucks for my computer guy to figure out what was going on with another Roadrunner email problem a couple of months ago.   Just today, he sent me a gmail email address and I sent an email there with a link in it and it went through no problem.  So gmail to roadrunner, problem - gmail to gmail, no problem.  If we just all got gmail accounts, we wouldn't have any problems!

    I don't know what I'm supposed to do.  I cannot afford to lose sales because I am not able to communicate with my customers.  Seriously, if it gets any worse, and continues, I may be forced to close down the business at some point because of it.  It's very frustrating because I can't be the only business person who's having this problem.

    But I AM coping.  I've changed all of my audio related correspondence over to a gmail account, which has far fewer filters on it than my old Roadrunner account did.  I'm also requesting return receipts for all emails sent, although I only get about half of them back.   I'm paying attention to those customers that I send emails to and do not get a reply back from (even the return receipts) and emailing them again, with the plainest text email I can possibly write in an attempt to establish the most basic communication link.

    To me, this is just another example of the failure of computers to make things easier for us, and it is another of the hundreds of disappointing experiences that I have had with computers since I began using them in 1990.   My life would be much better if I didn't have to own a computer, but I would obviously not be able to operate Volti Audio without one, so I'm stuck in computer hell.

    So if you send an email to me and you don't get a reply, it's not because I didn't send one.   I always reply to emails promptly, and usually quite thoughtfully.  I would urge you to try again, and provide your phone number in the email, or find a way to get a message to me through a third party like Gary Dews of BorderPatrol Audio.

    Serious Subwoofage

    I still have this subwoofer for sale.  Pictured below between two Vittoras.

    It's a leftover from the early Vittora days.   You know, those days SOOO long ago.  LOL  I'm ready to make a great deal on it.   It's got a kickin 18" driver inside the typical Volti rock-solid cabinet, veneered in Bosse Cedar and finished with satin lacquer.  The crate is all built for it and it's ready to ship out immediately.

    Pictured below with a pair of Volti V1's.

    Price is only $1,500!  That's a great price on a serious beast of a subwoofer.   Somebody please buy this, I need the space in my storage room!

    Latest Vittoras In Stock

    Stock Bosse Cedar Vittoras

    First time I've done Bosse Cedar with Cane grill cloth.  These and all future Vittoras will have the new "Volti" feet, custom made by hand in my shop from solid hardwood and then painted with various colors of lacquer paint.

    These are heading to Art Dudley of Stereophile magazine in another week or so, and will be available to purchase sometime in July.


    What is it?

    Back in the days when I was doing live sound production and running large PA systems, we always called mid-bass the group of frequencies between the bass and the midrange.   I think this stems from the cabinets we called mid-bass cabinets, which in my own PA system at the time was a 10" driver in a wooden horn that sat between the lower bass cabinets and the midrange horn cabinet.  

    The low bass cabinets handled from the lowest frequencies up to about 250Hz, the mid-bass cabinet handled from 250Hz to about 500Hz, the midrange horn took over at 500Hz and extended to about 6000Hz, and the tweeter bank took over from there on up.

    So I have always referred to the frequency range from about 250Hz to 500Hz as mid-bass.  Seems logical right?

    However, I have recently learned that mid-bass means something different to the audiophile world.  It seems that what an audiophile calls mid-bass is the middle of the bass range.  If we define the bass range as being frequencies between 20Hz and 500Hz, the low bass would be something like 20Hz - 80Hz, the mid bass would be 80Hz to 200Hz, and the upper bass would be 200Hz - 500Hz.

    Of course the exact frequencies of low, mid, and upper bass are subjectively chosen, and people will have their own ideas of where those cutoffs should be, but obviously, what I have been calling mid-bass is not what audiophiles generally think of as mid-bass.

    So I am slowly changing the wording on my webpages to describe that frequency range that I consider to be the most important for accurate sound reproduction of music.  I now refer to that range of 200Hz to 500Hz as upper bass or lower midrange.

    Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

    What do you think?

    Where Does Volti Audio Go From Here?

    There is a routine developing at the shop.  Much of the work we do there now has been done many times over, and the process of building the Vittora, for instance, has become standardized.  Even with the small details, we are not learning anymore, we are just doing, and for the first time, I now feel that the Vittora is a completed product.

    A new work station set up for veneering

    I've been thinking about my business model lately.  At AXPONA during an interview, I was asked when the Alura will go into production.  This almost made me laugh, and the question took me by surprise.  Later when I thought about it, I realized that most of the companies selling high end speakers are producing a lot more of their speakers than I am of mine, and the word "production" definitely applies to their business model.  Some of the companies that Volti competes against have incredible shop spaces and manufacturing facilities.

    I've not thought about what "production" means at Volti until recently.  I guess I've been too busy just getting a few speakers out the door to think about that part of the business.   But it seems that "production" does apply to Volti, but in a smaller scale.   We have been building the cabinets for our speakers in small batches instead of one pair at a time, and without even thinking about it, I've been setting up my shop spaces, supply stations, and procedures to finish the speakers (per order) in a production kind of way.  We don't have a line per say, but the procedures that we use to veneer, spray finishes, apply hardware, do final assembly, and test are almost the same as what the big guys do.

    I've done some more thinking about selling through dealers, and I do think I'm going to try and develop a line of speakers that I can sell this way.  

    I work constantly.  I take little bits of time off here and there to spend a little time with my wife, but basically if I'm awake, I'm working.  I often eat my meals while at the computer answering emails, and if I'm not back at the shop each night after dinner working, I'm at home on the computer working on the website, answering emails, ordering materials, researching things, writing production notes, etc...   It is true that if you love your work it really doesn't seem like work, and that is the case with most of my work with Volti, but it's still a burden and it's getting a little tiring lately.

    I've realized that I can average about 30 hours a week of billable shop time if I work overall on average about 60 hours per week.  When I log a billable shop hour, it is only for work done directly on a project.   The list of things that I'm responsible for that I don't charge shop time for is quite long.    Emails, phone conversations, cleaning the shop, maintaining tools, purchasing materials, driving to get materials or to bring cabinets to the finish shop, preparing for shows, the time at the shows, the time after the shows to put everything away and clean up, development of new product, testing, teaching the subcontractors how to do things, keeping the manufacturing journal up to date, typing in notes about production details into the "build books", and writing newsletters.  I'm sure there are many other things I'm not thinking of at the moment.  Also my wife puts in a fair amount of hours each week cleaning the shop, taking care of scrap wood, ordering materials, running to get items, book-keeping, banking, taking care of insurances, etc... and her time is not paid for by charging for shop hours.

    When I think about all this time that we spend on the business that is not directly tied to billable shop work, I realize how important it is for us to be able to increase those shop hours with subcontracted labor for Volti Audio to be sustainable.

    I'd like to know what you think.  Please send me an email and let me know.

    I'd like to, but somehow I just don't think I'm going to get another newsletter out before Capital Audiofest in late July, so my guess is you'll see the next newsletter sometime after CAF and sometime before RMAF.

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

    Greg Roberts

    Volti Audio - Klipsch Upgrades - New Horn Speakers