When PTA Editor-in-Chief Marc Phillips asked me to co-review the Volti Audio Razz loudspeakers, of course I said I was interested. This would be my first official review for Part-Time Audiophile, and I’d be fulfilling an aspect of the hobby I’ve fantasized about since reading Audio and other review magazines while I was in college.
Excited, I looked up the Volti Audio website and read up on the Razz. My excitement turned into consternation as I read the description. You see, I’ve had bad experiences with high-efficiency horns in the past. In my experience they are shouty, bright, uneven and can drill right into my ears. I can count on one hand how many horn-based systems I’ve heard that I considered listenable. And I can use just one or two fingers to indicate how many horn systems I’ve actually liked.
But I decided to keep a firmly open mind. Marc was very favorable towards the Volti Audio Razz in his review, giving it his Editor’s Choice Award. Besides, I heard the Avantgarde Acoustics room at AXPONA a few years ago and their products were definitely one of those “fingers” I just mentioned. In other words, I knew a horn-based system could sound good. Could the Volti Audio Razz be yet another finger?
Volti Audio Razz
Marc’s review has a great description of the Volti Audio Razz and its physical parameters. (After looking through his article I discovered that I had taken nearly identical photos!) Looking at the Volti Audio website, I discovered that they have some gorgeous wood finishes that I personally would have selected over this dyed black finish, but it is unique and glossy. Paired with the beige cloth grilles, the Razz has a very retro look that reminds me of speaker systems from as far back as the ‘50s and ‘60s–which recalls Volti Audio’s Greg Roberts and his years servicing and restoring Klipsch speakers.
Personally, I would have a tough choice between the wood finishes. The Bosse cedar, rosewood, and red gum would look amazing with a black cloth grille. All of the wood finishes look spectacular and I think Volti Audio has picked a very nice selection as options. In other words, I don’t believe you can go wrong with any of them.
The Volti Audio Razz is a little shorter and slightly smaller than my reference Vandersteen Model 3s, but it’s still what I would consider a medium-sized floor-stander. The binding posts accept bi-wire, but come with tinned copper-stranded wire jumpers. I happened to have bi-wire ready speaker wire, so I removed the jumpers and did all my listening this way.
The cloth grills are really slick. They are held on magnetically and aren’t too hard to remove if you start at the bottom. Reattachment is a “snap,” literally. The only issue I did have was when you want to walk the speakers more than a few inches, make sure to remove the grilles. They can get caught up the in the carpet. No damage done here in my listening room, but I could see how this could happen. No provisions for spiked feet were supplied, and there are felt feet on the bottom for placing and positioning on hard surface floors.
With the grilles off, the Volti Audio Razz reveals its 12” coated paper cone woofer, a front bass port, a horn-loaded midrange and a tweeter. Greg Roberts didn’t want to give away any secrets of his crossover, but did say that crossover points were 500-ish and 5000-ish Hz. So, the tweeter is really almost a super tweeter. This is interesting since the “voice” of the Razz is mostly in the midrange, which I found is really the showcase of the speaker. But before I fired it up, I had a windmill I needed to tilt.
Set-Up and Listening
With the high efficiency of the Volti Audio Razz, I felt a lower watt tube amp was needed for review. With an Audio Space Reference 3.1 integrated amplifier in my listening room, I plugged in the Razz, biased the tubes and powered everything up. With the 20wpc tube amp I was prepared for some sexy midrange action, and I was not disappointed. The ability of the Volti Audio Razz midrange to bring female vocals into the room was stunning. I’ve only heard this level of spatial imaging on a handful of systems.
At first the bass integration wasn’t right. I thought it might be the fault of the speaker, so I moved the speakers around to several locations. But I just couldn’t get the sound that I felt the Razz was capable of giving. Fortunately, it was a quick repair issue with the Audio Space.
While the Audio Space was out, I plugged in my Schiit Audio Ragnarök 2 to see how it handled the treble and the bass. The bass did get tighter (something this integrated amp does well) and treble energy increased, but the midrange magic was gone. No surprises there. The bass integration was still not right, and the center image was about two feet to the right. With my Vandersteens I’ve been able to accommodate this with some minor changes to toe-in and placement, but I regardless of whatever I did the Razz would not sound the way I suspected it could.
The Volti Audio website says this about the Razz:
“The Razz is room-friendly and can be positioned against a wall, in a corner, or pulled out into the room. It is front-ported which allows the greatest flexibility in placement since the port does not rely on, nor is affected by, walls behind or beside the speaker.”
While I agree with this assessment, I think that optimal speaker placement is room-dependent and the Volti Audio Razz, while flexible, does have an optimal position in a room to squeeze out its best performance. I kept at it.
Finding a Solution
Listening to The Occasional Podcast, Scot Hull was talking about how he was having success changing speaker placement from the short wall to the long wall. Being the crazed audiophile in pursuit of perfect sound that I am, I decided to completely rearrange my listening room. This was no small task and involved moving several bookshelves and assorted furniture, which took several days, but once complete the Razz was ready to be fired back up. Reconnecting the Ragnarök 2, I settled on the mid-gain setting for my critical listening. Greg Roberts’ recommendations on speaker placement were spot on.
The Volti Audio Razz is a bit different than conventional cone speakers. I tend to have my speakers further apart than a traditional setup, and Greg recommended a slight variation to this premise. In a more traditional setup, the listener tends to sit further back in the room with the speakers closer together. Greg recommended the distance between the speakers be greater than the distance to the listener. Ultimately, I ended up with the speakers nearly 12 feet apart and my distance to the speaker centerline about nine and a half feet away. Distance to each
speaker was just over 10 feet.
With those midrange horns the Volti Audio Razz speakers need a LOT of toe-in, somewhere near 45 degrees. Greg Roberts recommends aiming the centerline just in front of the listening position, about six inches. These placement recommendations helped immensely and gave me the best imaging.
At Last, the Sound
My first impression of the Volti Audio Razz was “This ain’t one of those shouty horn speakers!” The Razz is lively, very lively, with lots of energy. It is just short of “hot” though and I did have extended listening sessions without fatigue at moderate to moderately loud levels, and the Razz will play as loud as anyone would want in a reasonably-sized room.
The imaging of the Volti Audio Razz was superb. Instruments were placed very clearly in space from right to left and you could follow along on several piano recordings as the musician went from the low keys to the high keys. I will say that the soundstage presentation was more
forward than I have heard with most speakers. On most speakers the soundstage starts somewhere near the front line of the speakers and then goes back towards the wall. The Razz is the opposite. The soundstage starts at the front of the speakers and goes forwards into the room, three feet or so.
It’s just a different presentation than I’m used to. Instead of sitting a few rows back on orchestral music, you are sitting at the conductor’s podium. On certain pop music tracks, like Cowboy Junkies’ “Black Eyed Man” or Paul Simon’s “Graceland” the presentation transports you into a cozy pub with a great sound system, and you are in the front row.
Bass integration with the long wall setup was great. I had some concerns about integration of a sizable paper cone woofer with a compression horn midrange, but once setup properly the integration was seamless, and the tweeter-midrange integration is completely inaudible. If you didn’t see the tweeter you would think this is a two-way system. Pulled about 18 inches from the wall, the bass was taut, maybe a bit too full, but deep. Timpani had great attack and authority. Double bass was reproduced faithfully.
It’s not “fast” bass, but it was tighter than I am used to on my Vandersteen Model 3s. I would characterize the Volti Audio Razz’s bass as phat. I am a bass head, so if the system has too much bass for you I would recommend pulling it out maybe another six inches from the wall. Be careful–when pulled out too far I started losing image resolution. I think that the phat bass also supports the amazing imaging.
The midrange is really the show stopper, though. With its wide frequency range its ability to present female vocals was something special. The singers voice was tight into a fairly narrow point, probably no larger than a six-inch spread. Triangle, snare drums and other percussion instruments had a pizzazz that was welcome and engaging. The clarity was noteworthy and notes seemed to leap into the soundstage
with an immediacy that I really don’t hear from conventional cone drivers.
The Volti Audio Razz was also able to produce height spatial cues as well as horizontal cues. On Rhiannon Giddens’ “Ruby, Are You Mad At Your Man,” you should hear into the recording studio when listening on a great system. This album is minimally processed, which gives it an intimate and almost amateurish quality to the recording. The Razz let me hear some of that presentation.
Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man was suitably EPIC through the Volti Audio Razz. It did a solid job of captivating the larger-than-life orchestral sound of that composition. The only shred of evidence of midrange-bass integration was on male vocals. In the lowest registers of deep male voices, the spatial cues became omni-directional. Male voice will never have the razor-sharp precision of soprano vocals, but as the lower notes hit the imaging became more difficult to pinpoint. I only noticed it because the Razz was so good at imaging cues that as vocals went from high to low, the spatial cue would go from that six-inch spot to six feet. I’m not even sure I could point my finger at the Razz as the culprit, but it is something I noticed on several recordings and it could be that the Razz is clear and revealing enough that I noticed it for the first time in my system.
Greg Roberts considers the Razz a fun and exciting speaker; it says so right on the box! Others also regard Volti Audio highly and I can see why. With the lively sound, forward presentation, and high efficiency, this speaker can get your toes tapping. They can play louder than any sane person should ever want, but they’re also refined. The Razz would never be characterized as polite, warm, or soft, but it is certainly much more than just a party speaker.
There’s a Lang Lang version of Rhapsody in Blue that is an amazing recording. It is by far my favorite arrangement and performance of the Gershwin piece. On the Volti Audio Razz, Lang Lang’s piano was now holographic. It didn’t quite cross the barrier of sounding like a real piano, but it sounded like an amazingly well-recorded piano. The soundstage was now more centered between the speakers, maybe just a hint in front and projected back towards the wall. The music hall of the recording could also be heard clearly giving a good sense of the spaciousness of the venue. Lang Lang’s use of the piano stops sounded real.
My son plays piano so I have a good memory of what the sound of the pedal sounds like as the strings are damped and the decay is cut off. The Razz played this clearly. Bass loading of the timpani was also very good and impressive. The Razz won’t hit the deepest 20Hz notes, but it’s deep enough that you might not even notice on the vast majority of music.
Playing Poi Dog Pondering’s “Complicated” from Pomegranate, the vocals were stunning. It was like Frank Oral was singing in my room. I have never heard Poi sound like that outside of the concert I attended. The Volti Audio Razz impressively pressurized the room as well. I have a house with an open floor plan, so many speakers can struggle with this.
My final review piece was Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain. This isn’t a typical Miles album, and not really jazz and not really classical. It has an ethereal quality to the recording that I find draws me into the music. The Volti Audio Razz transformed this piece that I’m intimately familiar with into the most life-like presentation I’ve yet heard of this recording. The trumpet had a wonderful brass resonance, the music
leapt from the speakers. I don’t get goosebumps from recordings, but it certainly provided an emotional connection.
The Art of Horns and Tube Rolling
The Audio Space integrated tube amplifier ultimately paired very well with the Volti Audio Razz once it returned. Could bass have been a bit tighter? Yes, but the Razz’s midrange woke up and strutted its stuff with the gooey 300b tubes. It was revelatory and prompted further listening.
Greg Roberts followed up with a phone call to discuss how the Volti Audio Razz was working and my impressions. Greg is very knowledgeable on the history of the horn transducer and the work of Paul Klipsch and the various iterations of Klipsch speakers. Historically, Greg was firmly a Klipsch guy and started his audio journey looking for better sound out of his K-horns. Having the skills to do so, he found, installed and made his own upgrades. (Volti still makes upgrades for K-horns and Belle speakers for all you horn lovers out there.) He also explained to me why so many horns have that shouty quality–it’s all in the throat. History lesson over.
Scot Hull had provided a few extra sets of 300b tubes for the Audio Space–he wanted to get my impressions. I only had time to install the Psvane, but before I was done with burn-in the Volti Razz sounded even more spacious than before. Improvements to soundstage, both in ambiance and focus, were noticeable. I am really liking these Psvanes! It’s too bad, I think they are discontinued.
The Volti Audio Razz is quite resolving on good recordings and even at low to moderate levels create an impressive and immersive soundstage. For all you tube rollers out there the Volti Razz will help discern the subtle and not so subtle differences between various tubes.
Sometimes you don’t realize how good something is until it’s gone. After packing the Volti Audio Razz up I sat down to listen to the Living Voice OBX-RW3 and realized the Razz had some special things that I was going to miss. That’s saying a lot about speakers that start at just $4999/pair. Since Volti Audio works directly with clients, you get a loudspeaker of incredible quality with world-class parts and construction. As Greg puts it:
“The Razz has the highest quality damping material you can buy (No Rez), the highest quality polyurethane adhesives to hold all the plywood together for a VERY long time, the best gasket material, machine screws instead of wood screws, a very durable paint that won’t look like crap after a few years, the best quality lacquer finishes, etc. The Razz uses Pro Audio grade components that are as durable as they come, so my customers don’t have to worry about pushing their speakers a bit too hard and blowing tweeters as happens with many high-end expensive hi-fi speakers. I don’t know of any other speaker on the market that has this quality level at anywhere near the price for a pair of Razz. When you factor in the quality of the product along with the sound, it’s a LOT of speaker for the money.”
I will say that I was very impressed with the Volti Audio Razz. Solid-state amplification was good, but I think the tube sound is where the Volti Razz really shines. Like so many great speakers the selection of electronics will alter the experience and possibly show shortcomings of other components.
The Volti Audio Razz is certainly a speaker worthy of building a system around. The Razz has changed my opinion towards horns and has been added to my list of horn speakers that are listenable and I like. Greg Roberts has created a solid performer in the Razz and the speaker has really opened my ears to what an excellent horn system can do.
A good friend of mine is constantly waxing lyrical on how a tube amp with horn speakers is the ultimate system, and with the Volti Razz and the Audio Space Reference 3.1 I finally get what he means. If you are at all interested in lower-watt tube amplification and horn speakers, the Volti Audio Razz should be a major consideration. I concur with Marc Phillips and I can highly recommend them.
Don’t forget to check out the Volti Audio Razz PART ONE review!