Volti Audio Rival loudspeaker Page 2

After kitty-cornering each speaker into my listening room, Roberts handled setup duties, aiming the Rivals at roughly the same listening position that John DeVore had carved out for his Orangutan O/93s. I wasn't satisfied. Placing the Rivals too deep in their corners cheated the sound of punch and definition; too close to my listening seat and the bass response diminished. 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. I did all of my listening with the grilles removed. (If you want grilles, they cost $500/pair extra.)

Although Roberts's directions were easy to follow, I wasn't really interested in swapping out resistors. Nonetheless, I felt that the Rivals' bass response was weak, considering those 15" woofers. Roberts suggested that I switch a midrange resistor, and that created a slightly deeper tone overall. LPs now produced reasonably tight bass notes, while acoustic and electric basses from CDs sounded absolutely stupendous!

Driven by my Shindo Laboratory Haut-Brion, a 25Wpc tubed amplifier, the Rivals startled me from Note One. Once their installation and setup were finalized, I was treated to aural images of every size and shape, in every frequency range, dancing before me completely free of the enclosures, which managed the sort of "disappearing" act I've heard only from electrostatic panels. And the clarity! The Rivals exhibited an utter lack of congestion and of tonal coloration, and absences of grain and treble glare that were revelatory. Played on my newly set-up Kuzma turntable and tonearm and Goldring cartridge, familiar LPs came newly alive—a word that pops up repeatedly in my notes.

One disadvantage of the Rivals' immaculate transparency was their tendency to emphasize every pop, tick, and surface-noise goblin on less-than-perfect LPs. Records whose well-played surfaces had barely troubled me before now bit my ears like sonic vampires. But undamaged vinyl uniformly revealed clarity and dynamics, without anything resembling analytical, hard, or sterile sound.


As for CDs, one of my go-to discs is Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Mojo (Reprise 523971-2). Well-recorded, natural-sounding, and broad in frequency range, Mojo packs wallops of steamin' rock'n'roll from start to finish. The Rivals beautifully reproduced what sounds like a large, live recording studio—color me floored. Not only did the Voltis re-create the huge depth and height of that venue, they did so with great resolution, naturalness, and transparency aided by musicality—pure joy. In "Running Man's Bible," Steve Ferrone's drums and Mike Campbell's electric bass were delivered with freshness, neutral (in the best sense of that word) tonality, powerful force, and air. Typically, I hear in this song the ping of Ferrone's ride cymbal and the deep, low growl of Campbell's bass. The Rivals re-created the cymbal pings, but now joined to them varying dynamic levels, changes in Ferrone's sticking patterns and stick pressure, and the barely perceivable ebb and flow and wash of his ride cymbal as it released overtones, stick definition, cymbal swell, and ambience. The Rivals placed me in front of the Heartbreakers, every note mine for the listening!

For music of orchestral-like complexity, I enjoy the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra's Up from the Skies: Music of Jim McNeely (CD, Planet Arts 100454). Via the Rivals, the late Dennis Irwin's double bass solo in "Don't Even Ask" was a treatise in transparency and dynamics. Certainly benefiting from the rich tonality of my Shindo separates, Irwin's instrument sounded refined and effortless, and so revealing that the image presented was 3D. I could "see" Irwin's hands moving on the neck and clasping the strings, hear the minuscule changes in string pressure against the fingerboard, the pacing of fingers on strings in walking passages. The Rivals presented every note as if it had emerged from black space, not a pair of box speakers. Time and again, the Rivals made me forget "hi-fi" and peer deep into the music.

That the Rivals had no "sound" of their own was proven repeatedly. As I played various CDs of acoustic jazz, different bass drums sounded different: some boomy, some dry, some low-down and boxy. The Rivals were the most neutral, transparent, dynamic speakers I've heard, all while consistently "disappearing" in service to the music, producing images that were astonishingly and consistently free of the speaker enclosures.

I'd never heard the character of the late drummer Paul Motian's stumbling percussion reveries reproduced so accurately as they were through the Rivals. On Motian's Time and Time Again (CD, ECM 1992), Bill Frisell's enveloping guitar fog and Joe Lovano's woeful tenor-saxophone calls are prodded, at times bullied, by the drummer's irregular cymbal patterns, huffing snare-drum ruffles, and juggling bass-drum patter. The Rivals put me first row in the Village Vanguard, Motian and company playing live, for me alone. I don't cotton to the notion that hi-fi should replicate the aura and ambience of a concert performance, but the Rivals made that a real possibility. Hearing Motian dropping bombs, raising hell, and playfully attacking his toms was like joyfully raising the dead.


At the opposite end of the jazz spectrum, Italian saxophonist Francesco Cafiso's Happy Time (CD, Cam Jazz CAM 5014) is all hard-bop wailing and straight-ahead jazz jubilation, the joyous young musician leading a quartet that seems barely able to contain itself. As Cafiso scorches every register of his horn, drummer Stefano Bagnoli surges through, playing a drum set overwhelmed by his booming, boisterous bass drum. Aldo Zunino's double bass is equally woolly, but the grand piano, played by Riccardo Arrighini, is miked to create a stereo effect that permeates the music. The Rivals unleashed Cafiso's swing message and unharnessed his quartet's sounds, bouncing them off the walls of my small listening room like a drunken, partying army.

As I said, the Rivals had no house sound; their treble was smooth, wide open, and grain-free, their midrange transparent and revealing, their bass performance as riveting, powerful, and forceful, and as full of tone, texture, and energy, as I've ever heard. The perfect speaker? My DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93s are more colored than the Rivals, but thereby perhaps add to the music a greater sense of drama and warmth; colorations can be good things. The Rivals suspended images entirely free of their cabinets—an amazing feat, considering the combination of their large size and my small room (12' by 10' by 12'). They revealed the true nature of every recording, warts, beauty, and all.

At a base price of $7900/pair, the Volti Audio Rival, like the Vittora before it, is a true bargain. Adding a snazzy veneer increases the price by a wallet-crunching $3500: not so much of a bargain. But the Rivals played music with supreme fidelity, openness, lifelike images, transparency, impact, touch, timing, dynamics, and flat-out musical fun. They sang with tubed amplification, and worked equally well with solid-state (as I discovered when I drove them with the Heed Elixir integrated amp). They gloried with both LPs and CDs. The Volti Audio Rivals are inspirational music-makers. Magnifico!

Volti Audio
6100 Nashville Highway
Baxter, TN 38544
(207) 314-1937

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


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.


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.

Nagrapex's picture

I also have a strong preference for high-efficiency designs because of their great dynamics and freedom from strain. However, these clearly need more crossover design work. That top end emphasis might create the impression of clarity, but it would be fatiguing. Voices would sound a bit thin, and the upper bass likely boomy. I wonder if the designer is measuring them.

MikeP's picture

Some of the very best speakers ever made period !!

New Stage Accompany Master M57 or M59 with bamboo cabinets..

Stereophile will never review them though...