Volti Audio Rival loudspeaker

If, like me, you're a dues-paying audiophile who's circumnavigated the upgrade block a few times, you've seen a lot of gear and set up many systems. I've carried 80-lb line conditioners up the six knee-crunching flights to my bachelor's penthouse, managed 50-lb loudspeakers downstairs to a waiting van, and made more trips to FedEx than I can count. I've owned dozens of audio products and reviewed dozens more.

In hopes that with perseverance comes wisdom, I of course practice what I consider to be the skills of precisely executed system setup, even—or especially—in the case of unconventional turntables. My Kuzma Stabi turntable is a merciless machine to accurately level, align, balance, and tweak. This 'table—lovingly referred to as the "pipe bomb"—features a unipivot tonearm, its two counterweights acting as both balance weights and azimuth controls. The hollowed-out circular area (aka headshell) provided for affixing cartridge to arm is so small as to practically require a child's hand to navigate its miniature construction. Say you want to play a 45rpm record? You must first remove the Kuzma's heavy platter and the rubber belt from its subplatter, install a rubber grommet over the motor spindle, then reattach the belt and reaffix that finger-crunching platter—and push Play!

Coexisting with my kvetching is the smug satisfaction that—when properly fine-tuned with carpenter's level, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Geo-Disc alignment tool, the Hi-Fi News Analogue Test LP: The Producer's Cut, and various screwdrivers and Allen wrenches—my Kuzma produces topnotch analog sound. Or so I thought until New York City turntable guru Michael Trei—the man most likely to maintain turntable heaven—came calling.

One day, after we'd lunched together, Trei (a Sound & Vision contributor) and Steve Guttenberg (CNET's Audiophiliac) brought over to my place a Dr. Feickert Analogue NG Protractor, a Fozgometer Azimuth Range Meter, and a Winds ALM-01 stylus-pressure gauge. As Trei gently nudged here and prodded there, lifted the Stogi S tonearm out of its oil-filled well, and peered askance at my Goldring Elite cartridge, I was skeptical. But the differences I heard following Trei's maneuvers were far from subtle. Turned out my biggest error had been in aligning the cartridge: the Geo-Disc had failed (okay, I'd failed) to judge with precision the line from the tonearm's headshell to its pivot point. But when overhang and offset had been exactly dialed in, every LP—from Shelly Manne & His Men's At the Black Hawk 4 (Contemporary S7579) to a German pressing of the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour (Apple/EMI Electrola 1C 072-94 449)—gave up its secrets as I'd never heard before. Every voice and instrument was better focused and more coherent. Acoustic and electric bass notes were tighter, deeper, and more identifiably taut or loose. Resolution increased radically—not in degree of detail, but in sounding like instruments and voices fully fleshed out from stomach to backside, from head to toe. A shocker!

From our perch on Planet Ego, we audiophiles sometimes think we know everything about a given audio subject. But our staunch preferences, opinions, and volumes of hot air can be no more than signs of aging and/or closed minds. I thus approached this review of Volti Audio's Rival loudspeaker as one who knows little about horn-loaded speakers and had heard less, but who'd also heard that once you hear horns, you never go back. My curiosity was piqued.

Buzz Feed!
The Volti Audio Rival, which costs $7900/pair in satin-lacquered birch, was one of the biggest buzz products at the 2016 New York Audio Show. But as I was assigned to cover a different floor, I'd never made it to the Volti suite, and had never met Volti Audio's majordomo, designer, and engineer, Greg Roberts.

A former Maine resident who now lives in Baxter, Tennessee, Roberts built his own horn speakers when still a kid, as the rest of the neighborhood throng pieced together their Soap Box Derby cars. As Roberts told me in our e-mail correspondence, he turned his woodworking skills to the money-making custom-home industry:

My wife and I had a very good run building some of the most technically advanced homes in the U.S., the last of which, a "zero-energy" home in Belfast, Maine, was completed in 2014. After the economic slow-down in 2009, I picked up work doing speaker restorations, mostly with Klipsch KHorns. What had been a hobby became a way to put my shop to work and be creative again. I wanted to improve the sound of my KHorns, and so I developed/discovered upgrades that included a drop-in replacement midrange horn, crossovers, tweeters, and woofers.

Roberts eventually designed his own first loudspeaker, the Vittora. Praise was heaped on this horn-loaded beauty from far and wide. In his review of the Vittora in the September 2013 Stereophile, Art Dudley said: "listening to a speaker such as the Volti Vittora . . . 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."

"I am proud and humbled by how the Vittora has been received," Roberts wrote. "Many people have expressed an interest in a smaller and/or less costly speaker with the Vittora sound. The Rival is the answer to those requests." (The Volti Rival has the same drivers as the Vittora, in a somewhat less grand enclosure; the Vittora now costs $25,750/pair.)

Reporting from Capital Audiofest 2016, our own Herb Reichert wrote of the Rivals: "The sound, while not quite as sweet and sophisticated as the Vittora, was 'oh my my' tight fast and textured. The box, the drivers and the music reproduced seemed properly scaled, utterly uncompressed. The new 99dB-sensitive Rival delivered a great portion of the bigger speaker's pleasures. Bravo Volti!"

So: The Rival is 100% handmade by a dedicated craftsman. Roberts has one US dealer—Fidelis Music Systems, in Nashua, New Hampshire—but otherwise sells his speakers direct from his factory. Would the Volti Audio Rivals fill me with a sense of wonder similar to what Art felt when he heard the Vittoras?

Design
Like the Vittora, the Rival is a three-way, horn-loaded design. Its cabinet measures 41.5" tall by 19" wide by 16" deep, is made entirely of 1"-thick Baltic birch plywood, and stands on four felt-lined blocks of solid maple measuring 2.75" square by 2.5" high. Each speaker takes up as much space as a potbellied stove, and throws off a similar sense of purposeful authority. And it's biwirable: two pairs of binding posts are snugged into the bottom of each Rival's rear panel.

The Rival employs the same drive-units as the Vittora, with slight modifications: The midrange horn is smaller, and while the Vittora's woofer has an intricately designed folded horn, the much smaller Rival is a bass-reflex design, with a front-mounted port. Roberts explained:

The Rival's tweeter consists of a 1" compression driver mounted to an elliptical tractrix-flare horn. The midrange driver has a 2" outlet, a 3.5" phenolic diaphragm, and a neodymium magnet. The midrange horn is a wooden horn built by me, it has a tractrix expansion and a 2" throat. The (pro audio–sourced) woofer is a 15" high-sensitivity driver with a paper cone. Crossovers are designed by me, and use 12-gauge open-core copper inductors for the woofer filter, Litz copper inductors for the midrange and tweeter filters, and Mills resistors.

The Rival's crossover network, located behind a small plate at the top of the rear panel, can be easily adjusted by the user by swapping out resistors that attenuate the treble and midrange output. From the Rival's webpage: "By simply moving a wire, you can choose a softer or sharper upper midrange tone. The tweeter capacitor is easily changed out to adjust the tone of the high frequencies."

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Not content to let owners merely swap out resistors, Roberts also lets you tweak the Rival's low-end response: "By removing a plate at the top of the port—easy to do, since the plate is held in place with magnets—the port becomes effectively shorter, and the user can hear a slightly different response in the lowest frequency range that may better suit their room or tastes."

Boasting a frequency range of 32Hz–20kHz and a sensitivity of 100dB, and a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, the statuesque Rival is designed, Roberts said, to work well in small (!) rooms:

The Rivals are [intended] to provide a big horn speaker sound in a smaller room. They work well pulled out from the walls, up against walls, or even in corners. I like to space them 10' apart center-to-center, and turn them almost 45° toe-in to the listening position. My goal is to replicate the characteristics of live music that make it so engaging to listen to. Not just the dynamic range and power, but I want to fool myself into believing that there really could be a saxophone player in the room with me. So the setup to produce this image of music in front of me is of prime importance. It allows me to visualize the music, while the equipment that is reproducing it disappears. The notion that horn speakers don't image well is a myth.

Setup
Greg Roberts delivered the Volti Rivals to my door, having already been briefed on the gasp-inducing climb to my seventh-floor apartment. To ease the lifting, he attached two straps to the back of each Rival. I then pulled on the straps from above as Roberts pushed the speaker from below. Getting two 125-lb speakers to the top of Mount Micallef turned out to be far easier than either of us had imagined.

COMPANY INFO
Volti Audio
6100 Nashville Highway
Baxter, TN 38544
(207) 314-1937
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
mvs4000's picture

Upon further reflection, post deleted by author.

es347's picture

..indeed. $3500 for different finishes is bad enough...$500 for grill cloths?

jonathan.fisk's picture

Superb sound, cabinet questions, numbers and pictures that don't add up...just like the sensitive, squat, celebrated DeVore Orangutan series. Or the O/96 at least, as Stereophile did not publish measurements with their latest O/93 coverage --an odd omission for a perennial Stereophile "Speaker of the Year." I hope Stereophile will conduct additional listening tests of the Volti Rival, as they've done with both Orangutan models. A relevant and reasonable expectation, given the similar storyline and respectfully recognizing DeVore and Volti are competing for the same ears and $$$.

blacktruffle's picture

Hi Ken,
great review, thank you!
I didn't understand completely the final setup of loudspeakers.
Could you explain a little more?
Best regards!

ken mac's picture

BlackTruffle, I thought the setup description was rather graphic:" After some trial and error, I lessened their degree of toe-in from 45° to where I could just see each inner side panel. In short, the Rivals ended up 66" from my listening chair, with the centers of their panels 32" from the front wall—a few inches back from the DeVores' positions."
Greg took a crack at setup, then I followed up, the results above. Trial and error....Thanks for your comment.

Anton's picture

Questions!

1) "...once you hear horns, you never go back."

Now that you've gone horn, can you go back?

2) Did the speakers ever descend Mt. Micallef?

3) Did seeing JA's results change your interpretation of things you heard?

(The review, overall, made me want those speakers.)

4) In JA's Figure 4, the frequency response curve looks alot like those old "equalizer settings" I'd run into in people's car stereo set ups in the late 70's and early 80's. The "smiley face pattern!"

5) I would love to see on of JA's frequency response graphs in room like he does with some other speakers.

6) Is near field a problematic way to 'measure' horn speaker performance, in particular? I've always thought of multi-way horns as needing alot of 'intergration distance.'

ken mac's picture

2. The Rivals did descend and depart. 3. I see the results of JA's tests same time as everyone else: when I receive the issue, not before. Thank you.

Tesla one's picture

It's nice to see another of Volti Audio's speakers well reviewed (like the all-horn Vittora model before it, by Mr. Dudley), especially being they're a different type of speaker than the ones usually chosen for review by Stereophile; namely large radiation area, high sensitivity speakers that are (at least partially) horn-driven. Mr. Roberts (among others) is to be commended for his effort to make available this "genre" of speakers to a broader range of costumers for what appears to be very fair prices. Whether a sign of maturation of horn speakers in general or a more deliberate, careful voicing his speakers seem to appeal widely with less focus on any particular horn-sound imprinting and more on their unconstricted, musical nature.

Regarding the review in question of the model Rival there's no questioning the positive, even ecstatic nature of it, but sadly I find it's more about an elated state of mind than any descriptive, cool-headed exposition. Any speaker has something distinctive sounding about it, even though one might find it to possess no immediate "house sound," and trying to come about this is essential in getting a grasp of what we're dealing with. It's not that Mr. Micallef's review is devoid of description, but that I find it to lack a contrasting ground to be viewed against - be it in comparison to other speakers than the DeVore's, or a more firm, dispassioned approach to the core DNA of what makes these speakers sonically tick.

I'm not bashing Mr. Micallef for a very positive review, that's not my intention, but merely want to express that I walk away from it less keen about a product's sonic specifics and more aware of someone's exaltation.

ken mac's picture

Tesla, I am sorry my review didn't meet your needs. I can only compare products under review to what I have in house--my DeVore O/93s, and I did!

markotto's picture

Reticle I would like to have the chance to listen to them,however here on Vancouver Island that won't happen. I can't comment on the "sound", but based on the pictures they look quite ummm...... Ugly. Owners please don't freak,just my opinion. I happen to own probably the ugliest looking speakers ever,Infinity Reference Standard 2.5. I enjoy them still. Maybe we need an an article about the "least attractive "speakers we have ever owned. Should be entertaining. Oh..."recticle" ....stupid spellcheck!!

johnny p.'s picture

This speaker joins the Tellig-reviewed La Scala and Emerald Physics's models which violate (2) of John Atkinson's rules of horns:

(1) They need to be 5-way
(2) Due to this, they will be very expensive

(in his Auditorium 23 review, last year).

Joshnich's picture

I happen to own a pair - In fact I am pretty sure mine are the natural birch ones shown in the article. And I think your review is spot on. The realism and dynamics delivered by these speakers cannot be denied. If you don't like your music to sound live then these are not for you.
Greg has done a remarkable job. These speakers can fill the room with music you can feel and they can also deliver incredible detail and magic at lower listening levels. Thank you Ken Mac for the honest and detailed review!

Volti's picture

Regarding the cost of "upgrades" - There is such a thing as honest ignorance. People simply do not know the costs involved with doing the type of work that I do. As a society, we've become so used to $59 microwave ovens at Wal-Mart that we no longer know how to place value on designing and hand-building a complex product like the Volti Audio Rival.

Perhaps a better way to think of the "upgrades" is to think of them as deductions instead. The Rivals, with veneer and grills at $11,900 represent good value in the marketplace. I'm offering the option of ordering them without veneer and grills to help those who are on a tighter budget get the Volti Audio sound into their systems. Isn't that an option you'd like to see available from other manufacturers?

Greg Roberts

Joshnich's picture

Good Point Greg! That is exactly the way I looked at when purchasing these fantastic speakers. In today's market, seeing what other speaker manufacturers are charging, the Rivals at 12K represent an incredible value.

Josh

Cosaxi's picture

Visit the Volti website. Can't help but think of Klipsch. Would be interesting to compare the Cornerhorn or the LaScala side by side with the Vittora.

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