Listening #129

Volti Audio's Vittora, a borrowed pair of which now sit at the far end of my listening room, is a great loudspeaker and, at $17,500/pair, a seriously great value. After a few weeks with the Vittora, I find myself convinced by the naturalness, momentum, and force that it found in every record I played: This is surely one of the finest horn-loaded speakers made in the US.

The Vittora is designed and built by Greg Roberts (footnote 1), a longtime audio enthusiast who bought his first pair of Klipsch La Scala loudspeakers when he was 14. (He has owned a number of pairs of Klipschorns in the years since, having settled on an especially nice-looking set from 1967.) A woodworker by training and a homebuilder by trade, Roberts began, in 2001, to offer his services as a commercial restorer of Klipsch's "heritage" products: the Klipschorn, the Belle Klipsch, the La Scala, and the Heresy. In time, restoration turned to modification, as Roberts developed a midrange horn and other components to improve the performance of classic Klipsches that hadn't always been built to perfectionist standards. Not long after that, Roberts decided to incorporate what he'd learned into a completely new, if unabashedly Klipschian, loudspeaker of his own design. Thus, over several years, did Volti Audio and the Vittora loudspeaker come into being.

The Vittora is a three-way, fully horn-loaded loudspeaker in two enclosures per channel, both made entirely of Baltic birch plywood. The bass cabinet is a single-fold bifurcated horn in which a rear-facing woofer fires into a splitter that, according to Roberts, took considerable time to develop—as did the shape of the bass horn: "The size of the mouth is a big determinant for lower bass: It is what it is," he says. "But I found that upper bass was something I had control over, and I used cheap OSB [oriented-strand board] to build multiple prototypes." The result is a design in which the sides of the enclosure—and thus one surface along each of two paths—are curved. The high-sensitivity, 15" bass driver has a stiffly suspended paper cone—Roberts estimates its Q as approximately 0.3—with a free-air resonance in the neighborhood of 40Hz.

The cabinet's curve is repeated in the sides of the upper enclosure, which houses the Vittora's midrange and treble horns, both of which are derived from Roberts's modifications of Klipschorns. The rectangular midrange horn, made of plywood and bendable hardwood, has a tractrix flare, and is driven by a 2" compression driver (a BMS 4592) with a phenolic diaphragm. The elliptical treble horn is made of composite and is driven by a 1" compression driver with an aluminum diaphragm. The two horns fit side by side, the latter secured in an opening that Roberts designed into the former.

The upper enclosure also contains the Vittora's crossover network, which is user-adjustable for treble output: By substituting different preassembled resistor modules—which work within the Vittora's capacitor- and autoformer-based network to create different L-pad configurations—the owner can suit room or taste by raising or lowering the tweeter's output across its operating range, from 6kHz up. The crossover network is accessed through a panel on the back of the upper cabinet, and the resistor modules are connected with integral gold-plated spade lugs, making soldering unnecessary. Roberts says that the bass portion of the crossover also includes an adjustable contour filter—a notch filter, really—that helps flatten out a known response peak.

913listen.bac.jpg

The Volti Vittora is built in a shop—as opposed to a garage, a driveway, or somebody's mother's basement—solely dedicated to the production of loudspeakers and loudspeaker components, and which Roberts has equipped with state-of-the-art power tools and an air-filtration system. Cutting and shaping are done with high-tech European table saws and bandsaws. Wooden parts are bent to shape in a vacuum-bag system—also used to apply veneer—and catalyzed polymer finishes are applied in a separate, room-sized spraybooth. The build quality of my review pair, finished in bosse cedar, equals that of the finest American loudspeaker cabinetry I've seen, DeVore Fidelity and Thiel Audio included. Roberts makes his own wooden cabinet feet, and even irons and applies his own vintage-style grillework—it all contributes to one of the best-built audio products I've had in my home. Forgive the ham-fisted cliché, but even my wife, who was at first put off by the idea of a speaker that takes up more space than a front-loading clothes-dryer, was impressed.

It rained. Of course.
Janet was also impressed with Vittora's sound, going so far as to call it the best horn speaker she's heard. But that's getting ahead of myself—before any listening got done, Greg Roberts and I had to get the Vittoras through the door, which meant that we uncrated them in my driveway. It rained. Of course.

The crates themselves were well made, each containing a single channel's bottom and top enclosures, separated from one another with sheets of sturdy foam. Carrying inside the 60-lb top enclosures wasn't too terrible, but the 127-lb bottom enclosures gave us a spot of trouble on the way up to my porch, especially as the enclosed stairway is 31" wide and the uncrated enclosure's depth (its smallest dimension) is 29". A few knuckles were scraped that day, a few curses cursed.

Once inside, the setting-up was fairly easy. Roberts shares my preference for using felt pads on the bottoms of his loudspeaker feet (provisions exist for those who endure in preferring spikes), so the heavy lower enclosures were easy to slide on my hardwood floors. The upper enclosures are fitted with spikes, the points of which correspond with dimpled discs atop the bottom cabinets; fitting together the two enclosures is a two-person job, but neither person need be terribly clever or strong, merely possessed of good depth perception. (I scarcely filled the bill.) In order for me to have the complete Vittora experience, Roberts also brought a matching sample of its optional subwoofer ($2900 without its corresponding Marchand amplifier/crossover), beautifully finished in the same bosse-cedar veneer. That said, we began our fine-tuning and our first few hours of listening without it.

The Vittoras
Bass extension with the Vittoras alone (Greg Roberts says they reach down to 50Hz, in-room) was superb from the get-go: The bass horn loaded the room exceptionally well, with no egregious dead zones. Our work was confined to selecting the optimal distances between the speakers and the front and side walls; we noted, without surprise, that when those two dimensions were too similar, bass notes lost some of their distinctness of pitch and clarity. Our best results were had with the cabinets only a few inches from their respective sidewalls, and with about 26" between the back of each cabinet and the wall behind it. A gentle to moderate amount of toe-in was preferred, the handed enclosures arranged so that their treble horns were on the outside edges of the midrange horns.

At the far end of my room, driven by the 25W Shindo Corton-Charlemagne amplifiers, the Vittoras sounded nothing short of wonderful. Their trebles were smoother and altogether softer than those of my metal-horned Altec Valencias, while their bass range had the same touchtone, vintage magic: a little less sharp and a little more colorful than the Altecs, and just as big, just as full of impact and nuance and feeling.



Footnote 1: Volti Audio, PO Box 544, Fairfield, ME 04937. Web: www.voltiaudio.com.
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MVBC's picture

The Volti Vittora is built in a shop—as opposed to a garage, a driveway, or somebody's mother's basement—solely dedicated to the production of loudspeakers and loudspeaker components, and which Roberts has equipped with state-of-the-art power tools and an air-filtration system.

Obviously Greg Roberts has invested in a professional limited production facility in order to improve quality and make a living. Yet, if one reads his own website:

I do the design and construction of the crossovers myself, using very high quality parts, and I have spent countless hours tuning the crossovers by ear, and confirmed with testing.

Nothing wrong of course with this statement but truly, this is the perfect example of DIY audio applied to speakers. That the article is trying so hard to distance itself from that is puzzling:

Thus, if, from the technological sanctuary of his parents' house, an audiophile has outwitted every professional manufacturer by transforming a spool of RadioShack wire and an empty Quaker Oats carton into the cheapest and best-sounding loudspeaker of his own experience, I offer both my congratulations and my assurance that that is an opinion to which he is entitled. But I'll endure in reserving the right to remain uninterested in hearing the thing, if only to avoid stealing from that modern-day Tesla the pleasure of sniveling that he is underappreciated, only because the press is too corrupt to declare his genius. (I'm very considerate that way.)

Yet, in the value rant there is exactly the answer to the question I asked about the Lamm:

Which finally brings us back to the subject of value. I suppose I'm qualified, if not obliged, to make two sorts of comments: general observations regarding the ratio between a product's asking price and the apparent cost of its design and manufacture, and personal observations on the ratio between that price and the quality of its sound. In fields—woodworking among them—in which I have useful experience, I can say whether a thing is priced fairly or not, relative to the cost of its making; but when it comes to sound quality, my value judgments are restricted to personal opinion—as are yours.

In order to bring this value, Roberts does not skip on quality drivers. His midrange 2" compression retails around $700 for DIYers. Sure he could get a discount but this is not some little basket powered by a fridge magnet. His other model, the Alura is even less expensive and yet features serious professional drivers. As the article points out, woodworking is outstanding.

This is the perfect example of small series DIY artisanal production that provides value and deserves respect. Other DIYers have not chosen to make a living of their interest, yet it does not mean their achievement is less respectable, and certainly they do not deserve scorn. If anything, they're the one laughing all the way to their bank...cool

MVBC's picture

Here is what Greg Roberts says in another occasion about his speaker:

It takes 240 man-hours of labor to complete a pair of Vittora speakers, and more than $6,000 in materials cost.  My shop labor rate is $60 per hour.  That means we should be figuring $14,400 for labor cost and $6,000 in materials cost just to break even on building each pair of Vittora speakers.  Total of $20,400. With a small profit, the selling price should be around $22k-ish.

That's candid and better than the silence of the Lamm...

ChrisS's picture

Lamm Industries.

andy_c's picture

The best information about Lamm that I've read so far is this interview of Vladimir Lamm.

MVBC's picture

Funny stuff cheeky

dalethorn's picture

I'd love to hear this speaker, but unless someone along the Interstate has one on display I probably won't. I did hear the Klipschorns in Cleveland in the late 1970's, not intending to buy but curious anyway, having had Advents, LS3/5a's, Dahlquist DQ10's - all those wonderful products recommended by Stereophile. The Klipschorns sounded neutral and clean, and clean was easy I suppose given the efficiency. Gordon Holt was not a fan of horns at that time if memory serves correctly, so I was expecting a 'horn' sound from the Klipschorns, and was surprised at how much they sounded like a good neutral loudspeaker. At today's prices for anything, and looking at the modest little camera I purchased for $19k recently, the Vittora sounds like a bargain at less than $18k.

Bill B's picture

glad you like the camera, but for $19k it better not be a "modest little" one.

dalethorn's picture

I am sometimes surprised in a good way at some of the results I get, but most of the hype you read exaggerates the capabilities. Now if you up that to $30k or so you can get the camera that did this(to prevent a large image displaying I linked the page, and clicking "a larger version" shows the entire stadium and surrounds from the Packers game).

http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2013/09...

 

Not meaning to go off topic, but I really don't see much difference in audio - people scream about the prices, but the sheer variety of choices is amazing, so you really can get what you want.

LogicAudio's picture

Greg wood working and craftsmanship is just fantaboulus. I wish I could attend in one of the shows to hear them.

I live in Iran and I'm among the few people who had the chance to owe Klipsch Heritage speaker, so not much wonder I love to hear Vittora speaker. I also wrote an article in my own website, in my language for the visitors to get familiar with these nice speaker: link

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