Listening #129 Page 2

Thus it was with slight skepticism that I assented to hooking up the Vittora subwoofer, whose downfiring 18" driver is installed in an uncommonly solid enclosure measuring 27" tall by 24" wide at the front and 6" at the rear, and driven by an outboard Marchand MB42 300W amplifier ($1500). The Marchand, which works off a line-level signal (my Shindo Masseto has only one pair of outputs, so we used a pair of Y-connectors), includes adjustments for crossover, damping, and phase. The subwoofer is also available in a front-firing version.

Once it was dialed in, the Vittora sub did, in fact, enhance some recordings. It allowed the orchestral bass drum in Itzhak Perlman's recording of Berg's Violin Concerto, with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony (LP, Deutsche Grammophon 2531110), to sound a bit more menacing, and made the stage seem larger during the climaxes it punctuates. Precisely the same could be said of the Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten recording, with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius (LP, London OSA 1293). And piano LPs and CDs, in a general sense, gained in scale and presence. Roberts had brought with him a copy of Don Byron's Bug Music (CD, Nonesuch 79438-2)—a great album that I hadn't heard before—which was also suited by the sub.

That said, at the end of the day, literally and figuratively, I didn't feel as though I needed the Vittora subwoofer—I didn't really miss when it wasn't there. I thought the sound of the Vittoras alone was beautifully balanced, and more than eminently satisfying in terms of bass volume and power. Don't take the "50Hz" thing too literally: The Vittora had much more bass than that specification suggests.

Letting it bleed
On the evening of the Vittoras' first full day here, with the subwoofer removed from the mix for the time being, I played the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed (CD, ABKCO 80042) somewhat more loudly than my usual listening habits dictate—and, at a more moderate volume, Berlioz's Les nuits d'été, featuring the remarkably beautiful voice of Régine Crespin, accompanied by Ernest Ansermet and L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (LP, Decca/Speakers Corner SXL 6081). Both sounded, in their own ways, more compelling than usual. With the former, the Vittoras allowed Charlie Watts's drumming to sound as forceful as it should—in which regard the Vittoras were in a very small class of speakers I've had in this room, next to my Altecs and not a whole lot else—while also sounding utterly clean and free from harshness: a blessing. On the Berlioz, the Vittoras did nothing less than prove themselves the elusive ideal: loudspeakers with the musical strengths of horns—Crespin's dynamic nuances throughout "Sur les lagunes" were breathtaking, as were the plucked double-bass strings behind the second verse—that were both free of egregious colorations and capable of casting a beautifully deep, convincing stereo image.

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The next day, I remembered to try through the Vittoras an even better-sounding recording of a similar song cycle: Britten's Les Illuminations, with Heather Harper, Neville Marriner, and the Northern Sinfonia (LP, Angel S-36788). That, too, sounded wonderful, with the big Voltis doing a remarkable job of portraying the delicate manner in which Harper's voice traced line after challengingly chromatic line, and giving a very good sense of the positions of the string players behind her. The Vittoras did an equally good job with a very different record, one that I hadn't listened to in a very long time: the eponymous debut by the B-52's (LP, Warner Bros. BSK 3355). One could argue that only a horn—and only an LP—can honor the style of guitar playing found in this recording: heavy-gauge strings, generally set up with high action, struck with considerable force, and amplified with minimal distortion and maximal reverb. The Vittora also gave fine, impactful realism to other sounds in this recording (I'm thinking: bongos), but Ricky Wilson's decidedly electric guitar playing stood out.

These experiences reminded me that listening to a speaker such as the Volti Vittora—and the old Altec Valencias, too, of course—is like hearing your favorite musicians take off the three or four heavy overcoats that you didn't know they'd been wearing all that time: Suddenly, the music is unencumbered. Alive. The musicians drive, passionately, through the music; tempos aren't faster, of course, but they sound it, because there's more muscle behind each note. The Volti Vittora was like bugs without the amber.

Another isolated example: In "Lime-Tree Arbour," from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds' The Boatman's Call (WAV file ripped from CD, Mute/Reprise 46530), there are a couple of moments—most notably after the words "It flows through life like water"—when organist Cave switches from a steady fill to a brief rhythmic pattern of staccato chords. Listening through the Vittoras, that nuance caught my attention as never before—not as some superficial sonic detail that this product thrust at me louder than some other, but as an integral and ultimately exciting part of the musical landscape. A very small thing. But horn speakers find dozens of such small things every minute—so many that the music gains back a lot of the dynamic texture and interest that are otherwise lost.

Nor were such observations limited to popular music and jazz: The scherzo from Vaughan Williams's Symphony 5, with Sir John Barbirolli and the Philharmonia Orchestra (LP, EMI ASD 508), was also scooted along by the Voltis, the big speakers following the notes with all due briskness—and force, both subtle and unsubtle. And the sheer physical tension communicated by the timpani in the Herbert von Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic recording of Brahms's Ein deutsches Requiem (LP, Deutsche Grammophon 2832 006) was electrifying, especially at the climax of the second movement.

Value?
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. 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.)

And so to the first question: As a mere product, is the Volti Vittora a good value? Considered in the light of its cost of manufacture, the answer is an unambiguous and enthusiastic yes. Even though $17,500 is the highest price yet applied to this loudspeaker—which continues to evolve as a commercial product—it is still a bargain, given the time, materials, and techniques that have gone into it.

The other question remains: Relative to the competition, is the Vittora a good value on the basis of its sound? Considered as a music-playback device, I endure in thinking that the Vittora is an exceptional value. There are other excellent loudspeakers that perform in a similar manner and cost considerably less, chief among them DeVore's Orangutan O/96. But to find another new speaker that delivers this combination of scale, impact, openness, freedom from overt distortions, and sheer, consistent listenability, one must spend considerably more than $17,500—or so experience tells me.

I'm impressed with this loudspeaker. So have been any number of visitors to my home during the Vittoras' stay here. Though for the most part these have been garden-variety music lovers, one is a member of the audio industry who imports and distributes a number of expensive products, including high-sensitivity speakers. I know and like this man, and I know that he genuinely admired the Vittoras.

I first heard the Volti Vittora at an audio show. If nothing else, therefore, it seems we finally have an answer to a heretofore rhetorical question: Why do we need so many audio shows? Today, I'd say it's to give as many people as possible, in as many places as possible, a chance to hear products such as this, whose absence from my home I already mourn.

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MVBC's picture
Small production, big sound!

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
Follow Up

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
Then ask...

Lamm Industries.

andy_c's picture
Lamm

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

MVBC's picture
Good one!

Funny stuff cheeky

dalethorn's picture
I'd love to hear this

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
immodest

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

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/leica-on-high.html

 

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

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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