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Volti Audio Rival, Revisited | Review

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The Volti Audio Rival, Type 1, at AXPONA 2018

The Volti Audio Rival, Type 1 with “front veneer”, at AXPONA 2018

A date with Volti

Several years ago, I received delivery of a pair of deliciously fun loudspeakers, the Volti Audio Rival. Since that happy day, the Rivals have been in heavy rotation in my primary audio system here at chez moi. That’s kind of an odd thing to say, come to think about it, and saying that I have a pair of massive loudspeakers “in rotation” implies that I have many such. Which is pretty much the case. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but it did, and I’m really not sure what to do about it. On the plus side, it means I have a lot of things to compare. On the other side, my home could easily be mistaken for the lair of some kind of audio fetishist. Ahem. Anyway. I thought it time to revisit these guys.

My first-take on the Rivals never actually hit the website, which is another oddity. Instead, that “mini-review” hit the Part-Time Audiophile Newsletter. I think it makes sense to bring that out here, now, in a slightly expanded form. Part II, below, will take it from there and bring things up to here.

Ready?

The Volti Audio Rival, Type 2, at AXPONA 2019

The Volti Audio Rival, Type 2, at AXPONA 2019

Part I: Is there a “right” speaker? Some thoughts on the Volti Rival

Originally posted on The Occasional Newsletter, November 2017

How many of you have a long-term struggle with finding the “right” speaker?

I’ve been looking for years. I thought I’d found bliss with a pair of Totem Shaman. Then, maybe some Merlin VSM-Masters. Then, Magnepan 3.7s. Then, some Hørning Eufrodites. Then, some Tidal Contriva Diaceras.

At the time I acquired them, each of these speaker systems was magnificent. Each would have satisfied me. Should have, perhaps. Each one brought me closer to what I dreamed my audio system could or should be.

But I have to confess: I may have been fooling myself all along. I may not be a single-system kind of guy. As a reviewer, I like to think that this is okay. That my “collecting” is perfectly justified. You know. Because they’re tools and I’m working. Yeah.

And this is why I have the following speakers: Quad 67s lovingly restored by E-Stat Solutions (mentioned here), DeVore Fidelity Gibbon X (reviewed here), Living Voice OBX-RW3 (discussed here, and reviewed in the upcoming Occasional Magazine), and Tidal Audio Piano G2 Diaceras (shown here but not yet reviewed) … and I’m sure I’m forgetting some. All of these speakers are epic-class, and I am very much enamored with what I can do with each.

And this totally explains why I now have a pair of Volti Audio Rivals.

Yeah.

Volti Audio Rival, with Ludwig

The Rivals have been explored pretty thoroughly by Ken Micallef (now of Stereophile), and I’m unsure what I have to say beyond what Ken already offered, but I’ll try and do that now.

The Rival is a full-range horn speaker that is relatively easy to drive. It seems to match eerily well with my P20 amplifier from Border Patrol Electronics and wire-loom from Triode Wire Labs. The sound is luscious but not lush, fulsome but not loose, detailed but not analytical. They are dynamic. They pack a punch. They’re delightful to listen to. And the finish is spectacular (I got a highly-figured bosse cedar with a light tan grill cloth, and the combo is just lovely).

So, why did that happen? Was there some gap that those other speakers could not cross? The answer is, I think, “no”. Or rather, “not quite”. The Rival does do something different – the ease at low-volumes is something that’s easy to hear and difficult to describe. And then, there’s that sense of slam and swing that horns just seem to do so effortlessly. That really is addicting.

But the Quads have a transparency that’s unapproachable. The Tidals are, perhaps, the greatest hi-fi speaker that has ever been made – from fit and finish to the overall sound, there’s quite simply no other speaker that has managed to bridge the two audiophile extremes (tone vs detail) quite so gracefully. The DeVore’s are the most “full-range” speaker I’ve had in-house since the Hørnings, but are dramatically easier to make sound amazing. The Living Voice speakers have the best-sounding midrange I’ve ever heard, bar none.

Compared to these, the Rivals are unabashedly tone-speakers. You can tune them a bit, with the adjustable crossover that’s accessible via the back panel. I pulled the speakers about as far apart as I could, and let ‘em rip. You can listen to them all day, every day, with any type of music and the sound will be distractingly great. Hell, you might even be tempted to listen to music instead of listening to the sounds that your audio system plays. Well, one can hope.

They’re not as transparent as the Quads. They’re not as linear as the Tidals. They’re not as extended as the DeVores. And the midrange is not quite as in-your-lap as the Living Voice. But — so what? The Volti’s play deafeningly loud. They play quiet, too. And the swing from quiet to deafening sounds real. And the Rivals do so much so right that it was absurdly hard to say no to them. So I didn’t. And that’s how we got to now.

I really don’t know what I’m going to do with all these speakers except enjoy them — I’m in the process of distributing them around the house. Speakers, everywhere!

The Rivals start at about $8,000/pair. Finish and grills are extra, but I think they’re worth it. My pair price out at $11,900. The look is pure vintage, and yes, if you’re a Klipsch fan, you may see some Cornwall DNA in there, but believe me, your Dad’s Klipschs never sounded like this. This speaker is an heirloom, and my 10-year-old kids have already Rochambeaud over them (my daughter won, but she cheats). In the meantime, I’m gonna keep on loving them.

Type 1 Rival, with an alternative finish to cabinet

Part II: Volti Audio Rival, Revisited

Well, here we are, three years later. If anything, my “problem” has gotten worse. I now have a pair of KEF LS50W speakers — awesome for their flexibility, and I totally can see those going in any kind of space-constrained office — and I very recently acquired a pair of Harbeth 40.2 Anniversary Edition loudspeakers (review forthcoming … at some point), which I love for their immediacy, their near-field flexibility, and their deep bass impact.

Fine. I have issues. This is known.

And I also still have those Volti Audio Rival loudspeakers. And I still love them.

What do I love about them? They’re fun. This is something that designer Greg Roberts has been making a big deal of for almost as long as he’s been making speakers — there is something about a horn speaker that is different than a conventional speaker, and different from a panel speaker. What I mean is this — with many of my speakers, I listen to work. That is, they’re awesome, they do certain things really, really well, and it’s really enjoyable to use those speakers. Vocals through a Living Voice speaker? Eerie. Detail from a Quad, or a Tidal? Astonishing. Coherence from a Harbeth? Captivating.

But music through a Volti? That’s just fun. And I mean it like this:

The Most Interesting Man in the World, David Solomon (Brian Hunter interviewed David on The Occasional Podcast last month, you can check that out here), pointed me at a series of “audiophile quality” playlists of Qobuz, and while attempting to assemble my own, the 2018 remaster of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” popped up. And when it popped up, so did I. Literally.

Type 1, full veneer, on the Volti Audio Rival

Type 1, full veneer, on the Volti Audio Rival

Sometimes, when everything just clicks in your audio setup, it’s like being hit with a blowgun dart dipped in curare. The power of the reproduction playing out in front of you is so moving, so overwhelming, so convincing, that your motor cortex misfires, and until the moment passes, you’re frozen in place, pretty much snack food for passing monsters. That’s pretty awesome. Not the snackfood part, that’s not cool, I mean the audio-paralysis effect. Folks talk about “hair raising” or “total immersion” as another metric for this type of experience.

Sometimes, however, when everything just clicks, you stop being aware of the clicking, or aware of anything, really, and to hell with those pesky peckish passing monsters! Your motor cortex suddenly fires and then you’re up. Dancing. Or whatever it is that your particular brand of semi-synchronized seizure-thrashing might look like.

The Rival does this latter thing — it makes me move. Better: the Rival is an engine for movement. If I happen to put something infectious on — like Infected Mushroom, say, or that David Bowie track — bam, I’m up and moving. And that’s more than a little odd. You know, because I’m old and can’t really dance — not that anyone should be dancing to Infected Mushroom — but the point is, this is loudspeaker adrenaline. Any hope of multitasking during playback is simply gone.

The sound is focused, for lack of a better word. That is, you can hear very deeply into your recordings with these speakers. I’ve typically paired them with tube electronics from Border Patrol Electronicsin part because Greg Roberts does this at audio shows, and in part because I love BP tube amps. I also use Triode Wire Labs cables in this system, in part because Greg Roberts uses them at audio shows, and in part because they’re a great value. And the result that I get out of this? Synergized joy. The detail is excellent, the timbral character is compelling, and the jump factor is alarming. But if I had to sum it all up, well, they’re just fun to listen to! And that is pretty much the entire game, isn’t it?

Volti Rival, Type 1

Fit, Finish, and Options

Since the Volti Audio Rival were first released a few years ago, there have been some upgrade/options that you can now get. One, you can get a pair of Rivals with outboard crossovers. These come in a user-accessible “box” finished in the same veneer that the speakers come with, and so make a very nice-looking package. Talk to Greg about veneer options — he has lots of suggestions.

Pricing currently starts at $8,900/pair in the standard “Type 1” configuration (what I have here). That version has internal crossovers, and optional grill covers that snap onto the front. The base finish is “baltic birch” (see below) — the gorgeous veneers cost a little extra.

Type 1 Options

  • Front veneer – $750
  • Full veneer – $3,500
  • Birch edgebanding – $200
  • Stain on Birch – $850
  • Grills – $500
  • Clear Lexan covers – $150
  • Triode Wire Labs internal wiring – $500
  • Individual reusable crates – $300
  • Cloth covers – $300

The Type 2 configuration, which is newer, features outboard crossovers and a reworked front panel with optional grill covers that can set into the fascia, instead of being set on the fascia. The prices lift a bit, starting now at $9,600, but are still rather close to that low entry-level price.

Outboard crossover for the Rival Type 2

Outboard crossover for the Rival Type 2

Type 2 Options

  • Full veneer – $3,500
  • Clear Lexan covers – $150
  • Triode Wire Labs internal wiring – $500
  • Individual reusable crates – $300
  • Cloth covers – $300
  • All Triode Wire Labs wiring in crossovers: $200

2020 Special Edition

Introduced at the 2020 Florida Audio Show, the Volti Audio Rivals got a “Special Edition” makeover. The price for the beautiful new Rival SE is $19,600/pair, features an all-new curved “boat tail” cabinet design (and matching design for the outboard crossovers), and an “all the toppings” options package, which includes:

  • Premium veneers like Bubinga and Rosewood
  • External Crossovers with full veneer and ‘Volti’ clear Lexan covers
  • Cloth covers for shipping or storage
  • Triode Wire Labs internal wiring
  • Woven cloth grills
  • Individual reusable crates

I want to say that the difference between the Volti Audio Rival Type 1 and the Rival SE are small, but I don’t think that’s quite accurate. While both do get voiced (more or less) the same way, the product has evolved quite a bit over the last 4 years and the new SE is just a more refined package — both in looks and in sound. You can check out our latest thinking on the SE evolution, here.

Were it me and I had the money to get either, I’d be opting for the SE no question at all. But I am hardly giving up my Type 1 in figured bosse cedar. My “old” speakers are still smokin’ and still jumpin’, and my daughter is just gonna have to wait till she has her own place before she can steal ’em.

Volti Audio Rival Special Edition

Volti Audio Rival SE, with boat-tail cabinet shape

Volit Audio Rival SE

Volti Audio Rival: Details

  • 15” high-power and high-sensitivity woofer – bass-reflex configuration, front-ported
  • Wooden midrange horn with a known Tractrix flare, 2” throat, designed and built by Volti Audio
  • High quality 2” outlet midrange compression driver with a 3-1/2” phenolic diaphragm
  • Elliptical tweeter horn with a known Tractrix flare
  • High quality 1” compression tweeter driver
  • Custom made crossovers, high-quality components, hand-wired, adjustable, final voicing done while comparing directly to a Vittora speaker
  • Bi-wire or Bi-amp at the input terminals

Rival Specifications

  • Sensitivity: 100db
  • Recommended amplifier power: 3wpc (min.), 100wpc continuous (max.)
  • Bandwidth: 32Hz – 20kHz
  • Impedance: 6ohm
  • Dimensions/Weight:
  • Type I, 41-1/2” tall, 19” wide, 16” deep, 125lbs
  • Type II, 41-1/2″ tall, 19″ wide, 16-3/4″ deep, 135lbs

Conclusions

There is something magical about horn speakers. They may be colored, they may reveal all the upstream noise in your system, they may take up a lot of space — but there really is nothing quite like the sound you get out them. Maybe it’s just what you get with a truly dynamic playback, but I believe that horns can get me closer to the original performance for less money than most other speaker design approaches. And they’re fun.

The Volti Audio Rival is a horn speaker in the best sense of that genre. They are wildly, thoroughly, and unabashedly fun to listen to — so much so, that Stereophile has had them in their coveted Class A loudspeaker category for the last 4 years. Personally, I like to think that this is a fantastic corroboration since we’ve endorsed the product since the first prototypes were first shown at the 2016 Capital Audiofest. And yes, the Rival has been on Part-Time Audiophile‘s “Editor’s Choice” award list since they hit production and in our Occasional Buyer’s Guide since we started publishing it. You could say that we’re fans.

I love the idea that I can use whatever amp I want and get sound that can swing from breathtakingly quiet to thunderously loud fast enough to induce arrhythmia. I love the fact that these speakers are so easy to place — being front-ported, I have a lot of flexibility in how close I can get them to my sidewalls, and with some toe-in, I can get a soundstage that is as detailed and as textured as I’ve ever heard here at home.

Best of all, with the Rivals in place, I want to listen to music. And that really is the name of the game, isn’t it? Even if it may cause unexpected bouts of semi-conscious spasmodic physical outbursts, err, dancing.

Beautiful to look at, fun to listen to, and fought over as heirlooms — that’s Volti Audio.

For more information, check out Volti Audio online at http://voltiaudio.com.

Prototype Rival at CAF 2016

Greg Roberts showing off the prototype of the Volti Audio Rival, in the “standard” Baltic birch finish. The production-version of the horns are black.

Down the face of the Rival

Volti Audio Rival Type 1, down the face

Have Fun with Volti Audio Rival

Have Fun with the Volti Audio Rival

Volti Rival at AXPONA 2017

Volti Audio Rival at AXPONA 2017

Greg Roberts of Volti Audio

Greg Roberts of Volti Audio






About Scot Hull (1025 Articles)
Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.

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