8/12/2013 - NL23
Our Capital Audiofest 2013 Road Trip - By The Numbers:
How's it going?
A lot of people tell me they like the content of this newsletter, and the style in which it is written. Mine is a no-BS approach. I don't sugar-coat things, and I say it just the way it is. I'm also more candid than I ought to be, but isn't that what makes reading this newsletter so interesting? Yeah, much more so than spending four minutes reading fluff content with links to pages designed to sell you something and then hitting the delete button.
I really don't mind sharing the personal side of building this business, revealing the internal struggles and achievements, and reporting the ups and downs of our sales, because I know that those of you who may buy speakers from me someday will do so partly because you really know who you are buying from, and how your contribution will effect Volti Audio. For those of you who cannot buy speakers from me, your interest in Volti Audio will be beneficial to us in other ways just as important as the sales. I appreciate the support either way, and it's what keeps me clicking away at this keyboard for the ten hours or so it takes to produce each newsletter.
Sales have been so slow over the last few months that it's almost like I'm not in business. I know this industry is dead in the Summer, but geez! It's a little discouraging, but I'm not letting it get me down. I get so much support and encouragement from people who hear our speakers, and appreciate the workmanship that goes into them - everyone tells me that I just need to hang in there, that I'm on the right track, and that the sales will come. And I think they are right.
Even though we haven't had a speaker sale in a few months, we've got plenty of work to do, some of it in the Volti shop and some with the old business. End of the year promises to be much better for us as we head into a busier season starting in September. We expect some orders for speakers to come through in the fourth quarter, and we're well prepared for it. We're finishing up a new batch of Vittora cabinets that will be tucked away in a storage room at the shop, ready for veneer to be installed when an order is placed. Rocky Mountain Audiofest is coming up in October, and that show has proven to be a boon to our sales every year we've been there. The timing of that show is just right to jumpstart the sales season, and probably one of the reasons why that show has grown to be so huge.
But perhaps the biggest news of all coming up in the fourth quarter, is that we've got a full review of the Vittora speaker coming out in the September issue of Stereophile magazine! Yes that's right, Art Dudley really enjoyed his time with the Vittoras and he wrote a very nice review of them that will be published in the September issue. Volti has needed a major review to be published, and we're hoping that this will increase our name recognition and send people to our website for more information. The timing couldn't be better, just before RMAF, and I'm guessing that the review will bring a lot more visitors to our room this year. I also hope that Stereophile and Mr. Dudley's readers will enjoy the article, and that in some small way it helps the magazine sell some advertising.
It's a little intimidating to have a product reviewed in your industry's number one publication. But Art Dudley was great to work with, and he really made me feel comfortable with the process. He's a super nice guy, and someone I now consider a friend.
On the day I delivered the Vittoras to Art, I was tense and nervous. I was naturally concerned about his listening room and his gear and how it would integrate with the Vittoras. But after we hefted the Vittoras into his listening room and hooked them up, it only took thirty seconds of the first song we played and I knew we were making a great sound. No adjustments to the crossover were necessary, and only one small adjustment to the speaker location and that was it, we were enjoying some great music. Art's room is small for Vittoras, but very nice sounding; his electronics are smooth and mellow, and the turntable was perfectly set up. I left there feeling really good about the situation, and Art confirmed that with his review of the Vittoras. So stay tuned, the review that we've been waiting for will be published soon.
All things considered, Volti is moving forward step by step, and the future looks bright.
We were really hoping to sell a pair of speakers at this show, but there were no takers this time. So how do we measure the success of this show if not by sales? There are a number of things I look at other than sales these days to measure success. Volti Audio is still at that stage where we need to build name recognition, and we certainly did that. We gained new fans, made some new friends, caught up with some old friends, learned more about this business, and made one customer very happy.
The reason we do these shows is so that people can get out and hear our speakers and hopefully tell others about their experience. I could buy a lot of print advertising for what one of these shows costs us, but those ads would never convey the experience of sitting in a room with the Vittoras, a BorderPatrol amplifier, and some well-recorded music for a few minutes. So I'm counting on all you folks who heard the Volti speakers to get on a forum, blog, or Facebook and let others know about us!
Maybe not the easiest room to find at the show, but I wouldn't have traded this out of the way place for any other that weekend.
The accolades poured in over the weekend, and for good reason. We were making the best sound we have ever made, period - Not just at a show, but anywhere. We had a larger room this year, and the acoustics were fantastic. I've never had so many people come up to me and say, "this is the best sound at the show." We got a lot of compliments on the design and workmanship, and many people noticed that the Vittoras were even better sounding than the year before. This is true, with the V3 crossover network for the Vittora, they are sounding the best they ever have.
As I've said before, this is all a bit humbling, and really cool too!
The Venue change for this show to the city of Silver Spring had some nice perks, being within walking distance of nice restaurants, and with a location inside the Beltway near a Metro station. The big room we've got at this location is a very nice improvement over last year's. I liked the old venue in Rockville too, but I think this one is better for the show. I've been impressed with the efforts that Gary Gill has made over the last year to push CAF forward to be a better show, and CAF2013 was a big step forward from CAF2012. I'm going to support this show no matter what, because other than the NY Audio show (which I won't ever have a room at as long as the show is in Manhattan), CAF is the only major East Coast show for us to do.
Photos by Scot Hull, Parttimeaudiophile.com
Read Scot's CAF2013 writeup on Volti Audio HERE
In the months leading up to CAF2013, what started as a six-day road trip to the show and back, turned into an eight-day road trip that included a delivery of speakers to a customer and a trip to Art's place to pick up the review Vittoras. On the Monday after the show we drove down to Virginia to deliver the Red Gum Vittoras that our customer graciously let us use at the show. It's the first time I've delivered and set up a pair of speakers at a customers home, and Gary Dews came down to help out. My customer was a BorderPatrol customer before he was a Volti customer, and he had a full compliment of BP stuff to go with his new speakers. It was a good experience for me to see the work that my customers have to do to get the speakers set up and working properly in their rooms. It was instructive for me to watch Gary interact with the customer, make tweaks to the system, and demo music; building the customers confidence in the system track by track.
We left one very happy customer behind as we headed for upper New York State that evening. We arrived at Art's place
Tuesday afternoon to load the review speakers into the trailer. I moved so much equipment over this trip that it really
took a toll on me physically. I'm all done moving crates into and out of the show rooms. From now on, I'll be
using a shipping company to get my stuff from my shop to my show room and back again. Many thanks to Gary D, Paul, Gary G, Jeff C,
Leslie, Joe, Madeline, Mike, and Lisa for all the help loading out of CAF on Sunday night. I didn't know I could
sweat that much. Kinda funny though as the
onlookers doubtingly watched as we packed all the crates and stuff strewn all over the sidewalk into our little trailer, and gave us an
ovation as I tucked the last of it into the back and slammed the door. I have found that people in the audio business
are generally considerate, compassionate, and helpful beyond what I ever expected.
Read Art Dudley's coverage of CAF 2013
I've learned a lot about the audio business over the last couple of years. One of the most important things is to play good music at the shows. The first show I went to I played all the usual audiophile stuff, including Diana Krall. Poor Ms. Krall. She did such a great job of producing music that is clean and well-recorded that vendors played it at shows until we were all sick of it! A couple of shows ago I was told that I should never play Diana Krall.
Ok, so no big deal, there's lot's of great music out there to play at shows. At AXPONA Chicago earlier this year I shared a room with Gary Dews, using Gary's front end gear with my speakers. Gary plunked himself down in the drivers seat and started playing music for the people strolling into our room. Good stuff, I thought, and he played it louder than I ever would. Hmmmm, I wondered if he knew what he was doing. Gary kept the butts in the seats, and everyone seemed to be enjoying Morcheeba and Leonard Cohen, and many other recordings that I was not familiar with. Then Gary needed a break, so I sat down and started playing my music, which I thought was also very good demo music. Within ten minutes the room was empty! Apparently I drove them out. Great - now I had developed a COMPLEX!
Prior to the next show, CAF2013, I decided to overcome this Complex, and I plowed through hundreds of CD's over a two week period listening for great music that was nicely recorded. I went to CAF with about a hundred CD's, with particular songs and notes written on Post-It notes inside the CD covers, and a renewed confidence that I could play great music for my listeners and keep the butts in the seats.
It worked! Gary told me that it took him years to collect the music that he uses at shows, and I now have a good base to start with as I grow my show music collection. We got a lot of nice comments on our music choices, and I think I did a pretty good job of looking at the faces in the crowd and picking the right music to play for them. Of course I mixed in the requests from people who brought their own discs - one track and then back to my music. I was comfortable, never bored, always had another great track or two ready to go, and that Complex is now a thing of the past.
We had a printed list of music for people to look at and make requests from:
Volti Audio Music List - CAF 2013
We have a few old Folk and Bluegrass tunes
We also have a dozen or so Classical music CD's
Late Sunday, as the show was winding down, a couple of young guys who were very excited about the sounds coming from the Vittoras, told me they were going to bring Michael Fremer into my room because he "just had to hear these speakers". I didn't know who Michael Fremer was, but they told me he wrote for Stereophile magazine, and had been in the business for quite a long time.
Mr. Fremer came into the room a few minutes later, and asked if I would put a CD on for him, which I did of course. Then he asked me for the remote control, and for the next 45 minutes, he sat there, scrolling from one song to another, adjusting the volume level tapping his foot and seemingly enjoying the system.
If it had not been late on Sunday, with barely anyone coming into our room, I would have put a stop to it after a couple of songs. But I figured, what the heck, he's enjoying himself and who knows, he may even write something nice about the Vittoras.
The music he had on the disc was great music. Classic rock from Neal Young, Springsteen, Rod Stewart, and even Mettalica; but at best, only one song was of acceptable recording quality, with all the rest ranging from poor to excruciatingly bad recording quality.
Now just think about this scenario for just a minute. We've got a writer from a major publication who has taken over our room for 45 minutes, in control of the music and the volume level, and he's playing some of the crappiest sounding sounds I've ever heard, and seemingly liking it! Is it just me, or does this seem a little odd?
After he was done, he gathered his stuff, took his CD and headed for the door with barely a word to me. I stopped him and said "you know, I liked the music you were playing, but I don't think that I could bring myself to use any of it to demo my system at a show." He said, "why not?" I said, "because the recording quality was mostly horrible, and I feel that my number one job here at this show is to make a good sound." To which he replied, "well I disagree. I think your job is to play music that people are familiar with and normally listen to as a reference to evaluate your system. When they hear their music on a great system like this, they will hear how good it can sound, regardless of how poorly it is recorded." I thanked him for coming in and he left.
I WAS playing music people were familiar with, depending on who was in the room listening. But the music I played was well recorded, with good tonal balance, and a musically believable presentation. I played music that you could really evaluate the system with. How in the world is anyone supposed to evaluate a system with a recording that is so messed up that you can't even identify individual instruments, or with a snare drum sound that sounds as if someone is hitting a mousepad with a stick, or a kickdrum sound that sounds as though the pedal is hitting a cardboard box, or a singer who sounds like they are singing through a cell phone speaker, or an electric guitar that sounds like there are no frequencies below 1000Hz? Seriously!?
Here's another part of this. I don't think you need an expensive stereo system to enjoy listening to music with crappy recording quality. Go buy an old pair of Klipsch Forte speakers and I guarantee that Bruce Springsteen will sound better on those than on a high-resolution system like the Vittoras. I don't believe that a great system like the Vittoras will allow people to enjoy their crappily recorded music at a higher level. I think it's just the opposite - the Vittoras will really show you exactly how crappily recorded that music is. Why would anyone want to spend $50K on a system and sit down in front of it and listen to old Allman Brothers music? That would be pure hell for me. On the stock system in my 1998 Chevy Tahoe, I'll crank the Allman Brothers anytime, but not when I shut the door to my listening room, turn off my cell phone, pour a short glass of Oban, set the lighting just so, and sink into my sweet spot.
Is it just me? I could be wrong about some of this. What do you think?
As you can see in the pictures, the Aluras were set up closer together and the Vittoras farther apart - advantage Vittora.
Larger room - advantage Vittora.
Two subs with the Vittoras with an extra 10hz bass extension over the Aluras - advantage Vittora.
Musicality and definition of a bass horn versus bass-reflex - advantage Vittora.
So it's no wonder that most people, myself included, preferred the sound of the Vittoras at CAF. But I'd guess that at least six people told me they liked the sound of the Alura better, which means that many others did too and just didn't have the opportunity to tell me.
I noticed that the Aluras didn't sound quite as nice at CAF as they did in my living room in the weeks prior to the show. And I spent many hours listening to them in my living room. I think they just had a little bit of difficulty filling that larger space. Had they not been positioned next to Vittoras, I'm not sure anyone would have noticed.
That cheeseburger looks and smells really good until someone plunks down a plate with a big, juicy T-Bone on it!
I have a Vittora customer who asked me if I could build him a custom center channel speaker that was voiced to match his speakers. After some thought, I realized I could use twin 10" drivers of the same series as the 15" woofer driver I use in the Vittora, in a compact bass-reflex design, and make a speaker with fairly high sensitivity and a bass voice that is similar to the Vittora. I figured that if I mated those woofers to the same midrange horn, midrange driver, tweeter, and crossover that I used in the Vittora, it would be possible to make a fairly compact cabinet that would work well as a center channel between two Vittoras.
As I worked on the design, I realized that the Vittora midrange horn was going to be too large, and would make the cabinet too large to fit in my customers space. My customer, who owns a large machine shop, decided to make a midrange horn from a solid piece of aluminum for me to use in the center channel speaker. He chose an elliptical Tractrix expansion, and had one of his programmers "draw" it up on the computer. Days later, it arrived at my shop, and the result was beautiful. My testing showed that the frequency response matched almost perfectly with the Vittora midrange horn, although just a bit more rolled off on the low-mids due to the smaller size.
I came up with a cabinet design that has the curved sides, and built him a center channel speaker with the typical Volti robustness and beautiful veneer and finish. The components include two 10" high-sensitivity woofers, a 2" outlet midrange compression driver, a 2" throat solid aluminum midrange horn, a 1" outlet tweeter compression driver, and a custom crossover network. With 98db sensitivity and a maximum of 200 watts continuous input power, the sound quality is incredible, with the capability of having very high output.
This center channel speaker is quite expensive, but it is built to match the quality level of the Vittora, it is voiced to perfectly blend with the Vittora, and it is compact enough to fit under a big screen or on a shelf.
I have all the jigs and templates to be able to make more of these. If you are interested
please contact me for pricing.
Next Newsletter will be a preview of Rocky Mountain Audiofest coming up in October, with details of our room/s and the equipment we'll be showing.
Thank you for your support, and until next time, I hope it all sounds good!