My Volti Audio/BorderPatrol room experience at RMAF wasn’t exactly new as I’ve previously had most of this gear in my home. At the same time, even. Which may not entirely explain why my eyes nearly popped out of their sockets at the sound I was hearing coming from the RMAF setup.
Holy [expletive deleted]!
First off, if you haven’t been following along, the Volti Vittora is a horn speaker that looks remarkably like what a Klipschorn always wanted to look like, but never managed to because it never did find its own personal Fairy God Monster. It’s also climbed a good distance up the audiophile ladder from what those guys (vintage or otherwise) ever managed on their own.
More specs: a 3-way fully horn-loaded system with a 15″ bass driver in a single folded-horn enclosure, a 2″ outlet midrange compression driver in a wooden Tractrix midrange horn, and a 1″ high-frequency compression driver in an elliptical Tractrix horn with hand-wired cross-over networks. Cabinets are all Baltic Birch ply and 1″ thick, and then veneered; the one shown was in a classy Bosse Cedar.
Anyway, set up along the long-wall of the room with the matching subwoofer off to the side, the Vittoras pretty much unzipped my ears and stuffed awesome inside. Yep, that was me, a Part-Time Doll, stuffed full of audio awesome. Tone? Check. Dynamics? Check-check. Coherence? Check. Grab you by the balls until you squeal like a little girl? Check. Bass that can crush your rib cage like Oddjob with too many billiards balls? Check! Remember, the Volti’s come with a monster matching sub!
What was different from the (many) other observations I’ve had? Well, pretty much everything … and nothing. Weird, right? I mean, it was (pretty much) the same gear as I’d had those 6 weeks with, but there was just a lot more to the presentation. More air, more separation, more tonal depth … these were clearly not the speakers that left my home and headed up to Stereophile’s Art Dudley for their rave review. Those speakers were great, but these were great.
(See what I did there? That’s a wordsmith for you. Parsimony! Why do with more words when one, when proper emphasis … but I digress.)
Part of the change, I was later told, had to do with the bass contour filter now being finalized, properly voiced and fully integrated — I had been fiddling with only the prototype late last year. The finalized version (hidden behind the panel that now sports the terminals) makes a big difference (not surprisingly), and the presentation here in Denver, from top-to-bottom, was just effortless and completely seamless. Yes, whatever it was, Greg Roberts seems to have taken his loudspeakers yet another giant step forward and for that, I must doff my cap. Well done sir!
But … that’s not all. In fact, it might not even be the most. No, I’m going to have to lay more than a few Wreaths of Glory and Fame on BorderPatrol’s Gary Dews. As an owner of Gary’s dual-mono SET amplifier, the S10, I’m more than a little familiar with the brand, but I was a rather alarmed to see the parallel-SET version of that amp (called the P20, prices start at $13,750) with some hulkingly huge power supplies flanking them. Now, no one has ever called the “regular” BorderPatrol external PSU anything remotely like “tiny”, but these new guys are crazy.
Okay, fine, I had been warned — Gary has been tinkering with this new PSU design for almost a year now and I got to see the early prototypes last year. He said he started thinking about going this route years and years ago when tinkering with his pre-amplifier’s PSU design. He loved what this “new topology” did there … and, naturally, he wondered what it would do to the amps. It wasn’t until many years, and a trans-Atlantic relocation, later that he finally got around to trying it out. Amps, you see, are a “somewhat bigger deal” than a preamp.
Big is right. The new approach dictated a higher inductance choke and two massive power trannies (wired up in a “novel way”), and all that got wrapped up in a heavy-gauge copper chassis. The result? Ultra-low distortion. Oh, and about 80lbs worth of metal. Each.
Does it matter? Yeah. I’d say so. With that much power on tap, the amp can track a speaker load pretty closely, and as a speaker deviates from flat & easy, this new PSU has more than enough to make up the gap already to hand. 20wpc have never sounded this flat, linear, and endless. Let me rephrase — no BorderPatrol amp, which I’ve already said elsewhere are some of the best-sounding tube amps being made, have ever sounded this good.
Of course, there’s a catch. The new PSUs add $9,000 to the cost of a new BorderPatrol amplifier. Happily, they can be fitted to any of the three major design platforms, SET, Parallel SET and Push-Pull. And yes, I’m now in queue for a pair. Egads.