A funny thing happened on the way to finding the perfect 2-way bookshelf monitor. When I first had the opportunity to review the new Volti Audio Razz (announcement, website), I imagined this 3-way floorstanding horn loudspeaker would act as sort of the sherbet between the courses, and chance to re-calibrate my ears before the next tiny yet precious speaker arrived.
I knew I was going to like the Volti Audio Razz, the new entry-level speaker in the line—right underneath the $8,900 to $20,000 Rival/Rival SE family and the massive flagship Vittora, which starts just under $30K per pair. I always go out of my way to visit the Volti Audio and BorderPatrol rooms at high-end audio shows because I’m going to hear a HUGE, ballsy and dynamic presentation that’s just so…well, FUN.
That’s the de facto slogan for Volti. It’s not some catchphrase that some advertising executive pitched to Greg Roberts, designer and owner of Volti Audio—poor Greg didn’t have to pay five figures per word for that one. (Or maybe he did, I don’t know. I’m wingin’ it here.) Nope, Greg Roberts’ designs are all about excitement, tapping your foot, bobbing your head up and down to the beat, all the things you used to do when you were younger. Much, much younger. YEAH. Like when your older brother met some guy whose father actually had a pair of K-horns and you go over to his house after school and listen to Aqualung for the very first time in your life.
Here’s what I thought was going to happen with the Volti Audio Razz. I was minding my own business, listening to a winning streak of premium two-ways in the $6000 to $15,000 range, zeroing in on the qualities I really desire and which designer is going to bring them to me on a silver platter. I was going to shake off the sound of all those loudspeakers, the “pinpoint image and the coherence and all those things little speakers bring to the table” and try to listen to the Razz with a modicum of objectivity. You know, be open-minded. Switch gears.
The Volti Audio Razz are lots of fun, which sounds kind of tepid. “OH yeah, those are fun, but I really need a little more tautness in the bass and a more prominent outline of the foundations in the low frequencies and…”
…and just stop. In this hobby, having fun should be a little more meaningful than it is. Having fun should be enlivening and exhilarating and exciting. Having fun should be the reason why you’re in this hobby, and why you love music. If you agree with that, then I have a hot tip for you. Listen up.
Inside and Outside the Razz
The Volti Audio website describes the Razz as “a three-way, hybrid horn/bass reflex loudspeaker, with high sensitivity, wide bandwidth, superb build quality and captivating sound.” The driver complement includes a 12” high-power and high-sensitivity woofer ported in a bass-reflex configuration, a 2” midrange compression driver fitted with a large horn and a neodymium horn tweeter. The crossovers are handmade, custom designs from Greg Roberts, all wired by hand. This is packed into a tall, somewhat shallow enclosure with old-school dimensions of 40” tall, 15” wide and 12” deep.
The Volti Audio Razz is, of course, a high-efficiency design: 97db with a nominal 6 ohm impedance. The frequency response is 35Hz-20kHz, which again seems a little conservative considering how powerful they sound. That was one of the most exciting things about getting the Razz in for review—I was reminded of all the fun I was having a dozen years ago during my SET/high-efficiency speaker phase, and I couldn’t wait to hook up some flea-powered amp I’ve had packed away for years…
…and, unfortunately, those are gone. I had some unusual choices for amplification with the Razz including my Pureaudio Duo2 power amplifier (25wpc in pure Class A mode), the Rotel A14 integrated amplifier (80wpc) and the 400 wpc Jeff Rowland Design Group Continuum S2 integrated amp. Just before the Razz departed, the LFD NCSE Mk. 3 integrated amplifier (70wpc) showed up on my doorstep and the pairing made beautiful music for a couple of weeks.
At first I balked at hooking up a 400wpc amp like the Continuum to a loudspeaker with such high efficiency. I mentioned the Rowland to Greg Roberts, and to my surprise he told me to go for it. “Go ahead, you’re not going to hurt anything, especially if you start low and work your way up. The Razz woofers will tell you when to stop. It’s scary loud before anything decides to go pop.”
I’m not so worried about blowing things up since I tend to listen at reasonable levels, but I’ve been seldom impressed with those types of amp-speaker combos. For years, I thought I hated the sound of the Klipsch Heritage line, but that because I always heard them hooked up to some ‘70s receiver with 100 watts per channel. I didn’t know how special a buddy’s pair of old Cornwalls were until I hooked them up to a 2wpc SET.
The Volti Audio Razz played well with the Continuum, with nothing sounding out of whack. The Rotel A14 with the Razz, however, turned out to be an unrivaled fun machine—read my review of the Rotel for greater detail. But for me, the hi-fi magic was achieved with the Pureaudio amp. That’s what I stuck with for the majority of the review.
Black Is the New Black
Volti Audio is known for some of the exquisite and exotic finishes on their cabinet. When I first discussed reviewing the Volti Audio Razz with Greg Roberts, I quietly thought to myself, “Wow, I wonder which gorgeous wooden veneer I’ll get with the review pair?” Greg offered me either a pair in rosewood, or a pair in something called “dyed” black. When it comes to choosing speaker finishes, that “black ash” finish is always last on my list. I had a pair of Spendor SP100s for many years, and I loved them. Got a great price on them, too, but they were a demo pair in, you guessed it, black ash. I loved every single aspect of that speaker, except for that boring finish.
Greg started telling me about the fact they were dyed black in a new type of process, which gave them more of a shine and a depth. He described the finish as stunning, so I agreed. When I unpacked them, I immediately noticed that the dyed black finish played with reflected light in a beautiful way, bringing out different colors I didn’t expect. These are no ordinary black speakers.
In fact, if I was going to order a custom pair of Razz from Greg and I considered all of the possibilities and looked at examples in person, I have no doubt that I would pick the dyed black. Greg has more info on this finish on the Volti Audio website.
Here’s what kind of guy Greg Roberts is. Usually, he’s there when a pair of Volti Audio speakers are delivered. He likes having a beer with the customer and talking about proper set-up. With Covid, he couldn’t fly out to Portland and visit me and ensure everything was sounding as it should. So he asked me if we could have a virtual beer together once the Volti Audio Razz were set up and running.
So we did, on Zoom. We had a blast once I figured out how to create a Zoom account and get it to work properly, but that’s just me.
He did make a couple of solid recommendations concerning the set-up of the Razz. First, he instructed me to push them apart as far as possible, as far as the room boundaries would allow. My new listening room is quite large and wide—it’s basically a part of a so-called “great room,” and there are no real side wall issues. Plenty of space.
In fact, I already had the Volti Audio Razz set further apart from usual. I’ll tell you a completely true story. When I first walked into our new place in Portland back in July, I was pleased with how big the listening room would be, and how it would be more logical to place the system against the long wall—something I rarely do. But here’s the magic part: I took one look at that empty space and my first thought was “this will work—it’s about the same size and dimensions as one of those Volti Audio/BorderPatrol/Triode Wire Labs exhibit rooms that always sound so awesome.”
I had to have known that I was getting the Volti Audio Razz for review back then, in early summer, but I’m not sure. I like telling it the other way, where it was a complete coincidence that I thought of Greg Roberts’ speakers when I walked into my new place for the first time.
In other words, I thought I had carefully emulated a Volti/BP set-up in the room, but Greg looked at my room through his computer monitor and said no. Further apart. Further. There, that’s good.
Then he gave me an excellent tip on toe-in. In over 90% of the cases, I wind up toeing in my loudspeakers so they fire and cross somewhere slightly behind my sitting position. I think I estimated 15 degrees once. I always know when I’m there because I’m accustomed to seeing the insides of the cabinets at a certain angle. As I’ve mentioned, I always play around with speaker positioning, and I usually wind up back at the same spot as before, give or take a few millimeters. Greg told me to toe them in further so that the baffles cross in front of me, not behind me.
After employing Greg’s tips for speaker placement, I have to admit he was spot on—I was now hearing that splendiferous and dynamic presentation, augmented by a soundstage that might be the most immersive out there. This position also served to tame the bass somewhat—with a speaker like the Razz on hand, it’s easy to overdo it, so I also brought them out a little further into the room. It didn’t take long before I felt the Razz were doing exactly what they were supposed to do.
It’s strange how a particular component can change the way you listen to your audio system.
The Volti Audio Razz, with their deeply ingrained sense of fun, were ideal partners for streaming Qobuz and playing DJ and just listening to everything. I’ve told you about the fun I had with the Rotel A14 integrated amplifier and its inboard DAC when used with the Razz. I got so lost with this configuration that hours just melted away. It’s a very intriguing system for less than $10K complete.
So much fun, like it’s Southern California in the late ‘70s and I’m driving around in my car and blaring Led Zeppelin and Boston’s first album on cassette. We’re not talking pre-recorded cassettes, either, but Maxell UD-XLIIs and a Nakamichi BX-300. That sort of fun.
I could go on and on about the Volti Audio Razz’ superb sense of fun, but there’s another side to this speaker, one that really won my heart. Yes, the Razz is one of the best party speakers out there, heads above all those JBLs and Klipsches and whatever else you think rawks, but hook the Voltis up to some sophisticated components and be prepared for all those hi-fi qualities you’ve come to expect from this hobby—precise imaging, a huge soundstage (this is where Voltis, in general, pass everyone else by), midrange purity, tonality and coherence. That last one, by the way, is particularly interesting for a horn speaker system.
I noticed this for the first time with the Volti Audio Rival SEs I heard at the 2020 Florida Audio Expo—all that power and excitement mated to a speaker that can provide delicacy and detail along with the best, including all those premium two-way monitor designs I adore. What’s interesting is that the Razz does this as well, which seems to suggest that whatever Greg Roberts learned when he designed the $20K/pair Rival SEs was also applied to the $4995/pair Volti Audio Razz. Solo piano recordings still yielded a tremendous amount of inner detail, the sound of all those parts working together to produce a single note with utter honesty and precision.
When I thought about hearing those Rival SEs in Florida, I remembered that this was the system that won the grand prize at the “Chocolate Chip Trip” Competition. A year ago I was still obsessing about Tool’s Fear Inoculum, their first album in 13 years and one of their best. I was trying to find rooms that would play “Chocolate Chip Trip,” basically a drum solo from one of the most amazing rock drummers of the last 30 years, Danny Carey. The Rival SEs did an amazing job of putting me in the room with Carey, just a few feet in front of him, with all of the face-peeling carnage that entails.
Of course! I need to listen to “Chocolate Chip Trip” with the Volti Audio Razz! Why did I not think of this right away? The Razzes, with just 25 watts per channel of pure Class A from the Pureaudio, got me so close to that stupendous ass-kicking I received in Tampa. The Rival SEs reached far deeper into the bass, but the Razz still managed a visceral assault that was pure Goosebump City.
Two more two-way monitors have arrived in the wake of the Volti Audio Razz. Life returns to normal.
But I learned a few things while listening to the Razz. First of all, I’ve always been one of those audiophiles who can listen to all types of audio systems—vinyl or hi-rez digital, low-wattage tubes and high-wattage solid-state, two-ways or high-efficiency horn speakers—and still appreciate what each product does. I don’t believe in a One True Sound, and that all of us have to aspire to it as we build our systems and go on our journeys.
I’d forgotten that while searching for intriguing two-way monitors, I became so focused on a particular skill set that I’d forgotten about all the fun I used to have. That’s not to suggest two-ways aren’t exciting—one afternoon with something like the Vimberg Ameas or the Acora Acoustics SRB will set you straight.
But no, I love playing “and now for something completely different” when it comes to high-end audio. The Volti Audio Razzes were that, but so much more. They can charm both camps—the people who want to listen critically in a quiet room alone, or those who want to invite a few people over for a memorable evening of music. Best of all, Volti Audio does it at a price that’s designed to make you say “Huh? That’s all? For all this?”
I’m giving the Volti Audio Razz my Editor’s Choice Award. Since they are so different to me, I’ve decided to send them to our newest reviewer, Graig Neville, for a Part Two. He has a very different system and possibly has completely different priorities than I do.
And hopefully, he has a lot of fun. I certainly did.