AXPONA 2016: Volti, Triode, BorderPatrol produce high-voltage sound

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John’s Take

axponaBefore I started hanging around with the motley crew that makes up the Part-Time Audiophile staff, I hadn’t heard much about Volti Audio. But it seemed evening conversations at many shows ultimately led to one or another of the team raving about the company’s loudspeakers.

I finally got the chance for an extended demo of my own on the final day of AXPONA 2016. Volti Audio, Triode Wire Labs and BorderPatrol had taken a large room on the lobby level and I wandered in just as the crowd was thinning before closing time.

First of all, know this: If you’re going to go Volti, you’re going to go big. The company’s Vittora speakers are 40 inches tall, 32 inches wide (tapering to 15 inches in the rear) and 27 inches deep. The cabinets are sturdy birch plywood, including the 1-inch-thick curved sides, which owner/builder Greg Roberts makes using a laminating process in a vacuum bag.

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The Vittora is a three-way design, with each driver horn-loaded. The entire system actually consists of five pieces, with two bass units, two mid/tweeter top horn cabinets and a separate extended-low-frequency cabinet (essentially a separate, matching subwoofer).

Roberts says the bass horn provides useful output to about 50 hz. The subwoofer picks up there and travels down to 25 hz. The midrange and tweeter are custom-made to offer low distortion and 104 db sensitivity. Power handling is 200 watts.

Driving the Vittoras in Chicago was a trio of Border Patrol units: the 18-watt S20 EXD+EXS dual-mono amplifier ($27,500), EXT1 preamplifier ($12,250) and DAC2 ($9,750). TWL cables included American speaker wire ($599 per set), Spirit interconnects ($349 a pair) and Seven Plus power cords ($549 each).

When I entered the room, the speakers were playing John Hiatt’s “Feels Like Rain.” The cut featured a driving rhythm section and Hiatt’s patented howl, the latter of which can be a bit edgy on some systems. But with the Voltis, Hiatt sounded better than I’ve ever heard him, including on several live concert PA systems, and each instrument in the mix had good tone and separation.

I followed up with my Japanese import CD of the first Dire Straits album. I asked for “In the Gallery,” which features some of guitarist Mark Knopfler’s longest workouts. Like Hiatt, Knopfler’s voice can grate when he pushes it too hard, but on the Voltis he sounded great throughout his three-note range, The Voltis also proved to have wonderful pace and timing, as the closing exchange between Knopfler and underappreciated original drummer Pick Withers was thrilling.
Both songs also showed the Voltis could throw a very wide and deep soundstage. Indeed, the system was almost surround-sound-like in its presentation, but vocals were properly focused in the center of the mix.

The price of the Vittoras is $25,750 a pair, but Roberts says he’d have to charge $45,000 or more if he didn’t sell direct. So, if you have the space — and the pocketbook — give the Voltis a listen. You may decide to go big and go home.

by John Stancavage

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Scot’s Take

award-sighting-smUnfortunately tucked away behind a wall, the Volti Crew had a tough job ahead of them. The problem wasn’t the room itself, not per se; the room was actually pretty incredible — tall ceilings, long walls, lots and lots and lots of interior space. Acoustics, liberally attacked at strategic points by room treatments from GIK Acoustics, were stellar — sonically, this was a room to kill for. The equipment, sourced from some of my favorite high-end vendors currently operating, was — at least in theory — adequate to the task. Assuming things like power and ambient noises, this should have been the best slate upon which to draw a majestic, world-shaking, symphony. The fact that this team actually over-accomplished their tasks, however, did not entail devastating audio-show victory. Sadly. No, instead, they fell victim to the hotel.

The problem, at least as far as I was able to untangle it without inserting myself, was that there simply wasn’t a clean and straightforward way to rope these straggler-rooms into the rest of AXPONA. This room, and a couple of others besides (including those unfortunates over by the auditorium), were out-of-the-way, sacrificed (if you will) to the packed tower. Attendees, perhaps naturally, took one look at the book that JD Events was handing out, and perhaps wisely, decided to tackle their time at the show strategically. Which meant “top-down”. Which meant that — without big, neon signs and a better sense of flow to the layout of the show — certain rooms were invariably and inevitably … lost.

The Volti-BorderPatrol-TWL room fell into this latter category. That, my friends, was a crime.

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While I find it hard to blame anyone — aside from the hotel, who were apparently very persnickity about what signage could be hung where — someone really ought to wake up and realize that hotels absolutely suck for audio shows. Given that the High End Society show coming up next month in Munich is projected to draw about five times (or near enough, going by numbers from last year) the foot traffic that we saw in Chicago, making total mockery of what the US-based shows are currently doing, I am at a loss as to why no one is seriously attempting to shake up how shows in the US are done. At the very least, we can do better mapping out trajectories through the shows so that gems like this room run by Gary Dews (BorderPatrol), Greg Roberts (Volti Audio), Pete Grzybowski (Triode Wire Labs), don’t get lost.

Rant aside, I will also offer that while one of the very best sounding rooms at the show was not mobbed, that also meant that I had almost zero issues snagging that sweet spot whenever I damn well pleased. So I did.

What struck me particularly about this room may seem odd. But. Well — lemme put it this way. We audio press folks seem to wax paroxysmic to the notion of the ‘width’ and most especially the ‘depth’ of the soundstage being constructed, but we rarely if ever mention that other dimension: height. Part of this is due to the fact that when height gets mentioned, it’s usually a bad thing — we’re talking about s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g — think 10′ tall guitars, for an example. Big panels tend to err this way. By contrast, vintage speakers (especially those designed for theater-use, and not of the “home” variety), do this much better than modern ones, where the trick was to not bring the singer into your room, but instead, to insert you into the concert. You know, with the stage “up there”, up where Mick Jagger and crew are cavorting around like gods. You know. Like the live performance. When this is done well, this is insane stuff, and I can’t get enough.

Which brings me to the Volti-BorderPatrol-TWL room.

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These speakers, as John mentions, are 40″ tall. That’s not even 4 feet tall. My kids, at 9, are taller than these. Lemme re-emphasize the fact that they’re not tall. Okay? Cool. But that image that they threw was definitely not 40″ tall!

The Vittoras are wide, however (32″), so they do take up a little room. But they are also horns — so think: dynamic-as-all-hell. And yes, there were two monster subs in that room — so think: cannon-shot percussiveness.

I heard quite a lot of random stuff in that room over the weekend. Morcheeba, classical music, Cassandra Wilson. What always caught my attention is that, almost no matter where I was in the room, that front part of the room was not really there. It was just somewhere “out there”. And “out there”, there was music. It was as if I was on some viewing platform, gazing out into the Grand Canyon of Sound. Whoa. Insert images of me with a big, round, white-around-the-eyes look of semi-startled terror. Gary Dews, the man behind the tube amplifier driving this experience, is a bit droll, and generally manages to have this look on his face as if to say, “What, you don’t have this at home?”

Well, oddly enough, I do. I have his S10 amplifier (the non-paralleled version of the S20 driving this room), and I’ve heard a similar sonic tapestry expansion using that amplifier (even on my non-Volti speakers — but some day, I will own a set of those Vittoras!), so I’m pretty sure that this stunning trick is due in no small part to his gear. And when I say expansion, let me assure you — it’s not because the guitars were 10′ tall. No, all the images were life-sized, but again — believe me when I tell you — that while the room was large, cramming an entire orchestra in there was no mean trick. That was a holy-crap kind of experience. Whoa whoa whoa!

TWL’s “Triode Pete” has offered to lend me a complete set of his nifty new value-priced cables in the near future, so expect to hear more from me on that front. I’m psyched because I’ve been using Pete’s power cords for years now, and I think they’re incredible. The sound, when lashed to my BorderPatrol amp (as a completely random example) also tends to go like tossing fresh red meat to a lion at the Zoo — but without all the leaping, gnashing, and mauling of bystanders. I don’t really like to talk about it, but I will admit that many fancy cables tend to go all wrong attempting to fix problems that they themselves introduce, but Pete’s just don’t. No restrictions, no hesitations; just good clean, effortless fun.

All in all, a fantastic sounding room from some of my favorite audio conspirators, and easily one of the very best sounds at AXPONA this year. Again.