RMAF12: Seductive sound and vintage looks from Volti Audio and BorderPatrol

I saw a brief write-up of this room on Stereophile where Art Dudley said to Volti Audio designer Greg Roberts: “My first question to Mr. Roberts was, “Who do I have to kill to borrow a review pair?”; we’re still working out the details”. Ahem. It gives me no end of delight to say that this pair, shown here, is currently trundling its way here, to Chez Moi, courtesy of Panther Shipping. In fact, all 900lbs of that shipment should be here tomorrow. Yep, that’s right. I scooped Stereophile. Huzzah!

Okay, all silliness aside (which is an altogether awful thing to say), I can’t really tell you how pyched I am about these loudspeakers. They’re big, they’re extraordinarily sensitive (104dB), and they are one of a very few who’s aesthetic has met with even tentative approval of my resident art critic of a wife. In fact, in a momentary lapse of judgment she recalls but is entirely grudging in admitting, she has graciously granted permission to install this pair in the main room. Yep, that’s right bitches, I’m headed out of the basement! Daylight! Wha — oww! It hurts my eyes! It burns … ahhhhhh …. [Cough] Gary Dews of BorderPatrol, a short 90 minutes on the other side of DC from yours truly, will be bringing by a few of his rip-snortingly good 300b amps to play with, too, and a great time will be had by all.

Anyway, back to the show. From my eyes and ears Mal & Kirstin:

The Vittoras do tone in a way that Klipsch can only dream of. They’re also stunning lookers. Border Patrol seems like the perfect match. This was an easy room to listen to.

Greg was showing off the latest improvements to his Vittora loudspeakers, a design that is a very deliberate nod to the Klipsch of old but shares nothing with that legacy except that nod. As Greg says, “just about every loudspeaker out there shares a debt with speakers that came before, and as for the Vittora, I’m clearly standing on the shoulders of Paul Klipsch — and I’m totally okay with that.”  He has a point, I mean, folded horns do share a look, now don’t they? That said, though, everything else is new, better, and to my ear, full of awesome.

So, what’s new (since last year’s showing)? Tweaking, mainly. That, and a new tweeter and a crossover design that now features a bass contour filter. More on the effectiveness of this shortly … but this is something Greg feels strongly about and can retrofit existing Vittoras to support this feature (all future will have it), and Greg is willing to come visit customers, do the setup and tweak the filters. If you’re curious, ask the man.

Progress! The price has also moved along, so for those of you slackers that were interested, be aware that Greg has caught on. Demand has started to come in and with it, some additional costs required to meet that demand. New prices are $15,000 for a pair, though Rocky Mountain Audio Fest show-goers were given one last crack at this past year’s $12,800 offer. You snooze, you lose …

Greg got his start, in speakers at least, with Klipsch rebuilds and since has taken that classic design a few steps farther down the road. Fully horn loaded means some compromises — to get the mid-bass “right” meant that there had to be a trade off in ultimate bass reach, if he still wanted to keep the cabinet in room-friendly dimensions. When I asked him what room-unfriendly dimensions would need to be to get that last octave or so, he raised his hands up in the air, not surrendering, but sketching something that would be quite a bit taller than he. Physics is physics and if you want horn-loaded bass, that means big boxes. It was far simpler and far more aesthetically uncomplicated to split the deep bass off and offer that in a subwoofer, which he’s done. But that doesn’t preclude a towering monster: “I have some ideas about that,” says he, with a wink-wink, know-what-I-mean grin.

Fit and finish here are all furniture grade, with an elegance and chic that would have been much more of a piece in the Ayre demo room than those Giyas from Vivid, or maybe that’s just me. But then, I keep picturing Jon Hamm and a decanter of bourbon every time I look at these pictures. Yeah, okay — and in a ham-handed segue, here’s a description from the brochure:

Volti Audio Vittora, 3-way fully horn-loaded with a 15″ bass driver in a single folded horn enclosure, 2″ outlet midrange compression driver, wooden Tractrix midrange horn, 1″ high-frequency compression driver, elliptical Tractrix tweeter horn, passive crossover networks (second and fourth order, 350Hz and 4,500Hz), stepped attenuators for midrange and tweeter output.

Cabinets are all Baltic Birch plywood, mostly 1″ thick, including the 1″ thick laminated curved sides. Veneer is a figured cherry. Finish is a crystallized lacquer, medium-rubbed. Cloth is faux-cane.

The speakers are made entirely in-house by Volti Audio in Benton, Maine. It takes 240 man-hours of labor and over $6,000 in materials to build each pair….

Frequency response is given as 50Hz-20KHz, and as I mentioned, is supplemented on the low-end by the $2,400 Volti Audio Vittora Subwoofer, an 18″ down-firing unit with the same finish as the mains. A $1,500 outboard sub amp/crossover came from Marchand Electronics, an MB42, providing 300wpc and a 24dB slope set to 50Hz.

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Volti at several audio shows now, and I’ve been very impressed. The look, the better-than-vintage sound — and those specs! 104dB? Say hello to my little (flea-powered SET amp) friend!

The sound I heard in here was even better than what I heard at CAF, where the only real difference was a change to the S10EXD amp from Border Patrol (a SET design), trading from the S20 (a parallel design) that Greg used at CAF (even though the S20 was listed on the room handout here at RMAF). Tone was reach-out-and-pluck-it rich, and the extension was full, tuneful, and engaging. The Vittora sub does do wonders for overall reach, not surprisingly, but perhaps oddly, this is one of the very few long-wall setups I found at the show that did not have wild bass problems (hello, bass contour filter!). Just thought I’d throw that out there. No, instead of “hot mess” the bass here was pretty seamless and thoroughly enjoyable.

Wrap it up — it’s coming home, baby! Oh yeah!

Greg’s personal EMM Labs gear, used as a source and preamp

BorderPatrol S10EXD dual mono 300b SET with Sophia Electric Royal Princess tubes
Dual mono choke-regulated tube-rectified PSU for BorderPatrol S10EXD stereo amplifier

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