Magic with Triode Wire Labs, BorderPatrol, Volti Audio, Innuos | AXPONA 2022







One sure-fire way to make a great room better? Make things more affordable — which is not something you see every day. Yet that is precisely what the Volti Audio Razz (reviewed here and here) tries to do — same Volti sound, smaller and more affordable package. Starting at $5,900/pair, the Razz is $8,000 less expensive than the next-up-the-line loudspeaker, the Rival. Full disclosure: I own a pair of Rivals and really like them (reviewed here). So the Jazz has been a curious outlier for me — can they do that magical thing their big brother Rivals do?

The answer is, at least for me, was a surprise. There seem to be more dynamics with the Rival, more resolution, and consequently, a bigger and more detailed sound stage. But offering so close a sound for less than half the money? You have got to be kidding me. I have long thought that Greg Roberts, owner, and designer for the Volti Audio brand, was completely nuts, but I’m wondering if his audio pals really ought to just lock him up. (More details on the Razz are here.)

Of course, my experience had to take into account the unfamiliar room … but not the unfamiliar gear. Maybe I ought to just say, right here, that I am a totally biased fanboy of this room, these brands, and this sound. Like a good Pokémon collector, I am quite content to say that I’ve now collected the entire set.

Shown here at AXPONA were the BorderPatrol P21 EXD and the S20 EXD. The ‘EXD’ part of the name refers to the monster power supplies lurking under the Volti-made audio rack — these dual-mono PSUs are a substantial upgrade over the “stock” power supplies. Specifically, what transforms a BP PSU into an ‘EXD’ is the “use of copper chassis parts and inter-stage and output transformers that have undergone deep cryogenic treatment” (more details are here). It’s worth noting that this isn’t the only PSU upgrade available. Because, yes, these EXD supplies are the modest versions of the power supply made available for the weak. For the Asgardians living among us, there are even bigger ones that have apparently been forged in the heart of a dying star — the EXS. As designer Gary Dews had to explain it to me, “EXS” = “excess”. Get it? And now we both do.

Okay, so more amp details: the difference between the ‘S’ and the ‘P’ product lines with the BorderPatrol amplifiers has to do with the amp technology/circuit topology; the P-series is a push-pull — think: “linear muscularity” — and the S-series is single-ended — think: “sexy midrange”. I say that, but now need to immediately follow that up with the following caveat: you’ll be surprised that the S20 shown at AXPONA has a startling dose of “linear muscularity” just as the P21 (on the room list, but didn’t actually make it out of the box into the demo) has oodles of “sexy mids”. For me, the most obvious sonic difference between the two approaches has to do with the bass — the push-pull has more grunt. And yes, I know, we’re only talking (at most) 16-20 watts — but, as we’ve said before, these amps sound much more powerful than those numbers would seem to indicate. Quite seriously, these are the best-sounding amps I’ve ever heard, and that is why I own them. Check out a team review here.

Shown here with a quartet of the brand-new new-production 300b tubes from Western Electric ($1,500/pair). A few months back, I grabbed a quartet of these new fellas, and while they are clearly different from my NOS Western Electric 300b tubes from 20+ years ago, I am delighted to report that these new tubes are not good, they are excellent. My bet? let them age 20 years, and these new kids will be every bit as competitive as those vastly overpriced tubes you can find on eBay. My money says these are the very best new-stock 300b tubes on the market today. Get ’em while you can, folks.

Also shown here was my DAC. And yes, I say “mine” because I love this little thing and I’m more than a little annoyed that you can have one too. Like the amps, the BorderPatrol DAC SE-I (reviewed here and here) is an unapologetically nostalgic design. Here, we have NOS chips, Redbook-only sampling, and a tube choke input filter power supply. There are no filters and no upsampling. And the sound? Like music. Full immersion. Yes, there are more linear chips. Yes, there are DACs that do high-res. Me? Could not care less. Paired (as it was here) with an Innuos ZENith server, and the Innuos PhoenixUSB, you cannot get better sound out of a DAC. Different sound, sure. Better? Nope. Do you disagree? Don’t care! Moving on.

There is a new product in the mix here, and yes, it comes from all-around fan-favorite Pete Grizz of Triode Wire Labs. Seriously, folks, this cable maker’s entire loom is the bee’s knees (check out the review, here). I reviewed TWL a long time back and the brand has only gotten better over time. Shown here was the newly-minted Passion USB cable. According to the sheet, the new cable has a “proprietary power filter, with twice the inductance and 2.5 times the filtering capacitance, with a new innovative method of winding the coils”. Does any of that matter? Do cables matter? Can cables even be said to have a “sound” to them? Lean in so I can smack you. I’ve had the pleasure of playing with the prototypes and I’m a believer. In this system and with this gear, the synergy between speakers, electronics, and cables was undeniable. Believe me — I have denied it. But then I tried it. And I have ever since lamented how long it took me to “get it” and then go get me some. Love this brand!

Also also shown here was a Pi Audio Uberbuss. With regret, I have to tell you that they no longer make these magical little power distribution boxes. I have no idea why these are so effective, but I have to simply confess that they are. So, if you were wise enough to grab one, you lucky dog, you can now feel free to lord it over everyone you meet. In my humble attempt to recreate, at home, the sound of the systems that the Three Amigos have put together now at more audio shows than I can count (AXPONA 2019 AXPONA 2018 AXPONA 2017 CAF 2021 CAF 2019 CAF 2019 again CAF 2018, &c), this was the last piece on my collector’s list. I’m slow, what can I say?

Okay, so back to the room sound. I never did catch the room with the “New Rival” set up and blasting, but I did hear the Razz and it totally lives up to the design goal of the brand — it’s fun. It’s really fun. The team had a ball showing off all manner of truly awful music that show attendees made them play (OMG, what on earth is wrong with you people), and the room was hopping every time I visited. What better endorsement is there than the joy of all involved? To be perfectly honest, I am routinely surprised by how good these BorderPatrol-Triode-Wire-Labs-Volti-Audio rooms sound. It’s almost unfair. But the answer is yes, I had a great time and the room was lively, exciting, and engaging … but I am adamantly not buying any more loudspeakers … If I was, though, I have to say that the Razz is sitting at a very compelling intersection of cost and performance.

Great work, gents. Thanks for continuing your winning streak. Rock on!

  • Volti Audio Razz: from $5,900/pair (as shown in Rosewood veneer, $6,900/pair)
  • Volti Audio Rival: from $14,000/pair (as shown in Bubinga veneer ($14,000/pair)
  • BorderPatrol Audio Electronics S20 EXD amplifier: from $19,500 (volume control adds $500)
  • BorderPatrol Audio Electronics P21 EXD amplifier: from $14,150
  • BorderPatrol Audio Electronics DAC SE-I: from $1,225
  • Innuos ZENith Music Server: starting at $4,699
  • Innuos PhoenixUSB Reclocker: $3,499
  • Western Electric 300b vacuum tubes: $1,500/pair
  • Triode Wire Labs Obession power cables: $1,399 each
  • Triode Wire Labs Digital American power cables: $499 each
  • Triode Wire Labs American Speaker Cables: starting at $699/set
  • Triode Wire Labs Spirit II interconnects: starting at $399/set
  • Triode Wire Labs Passion USB: starting at $399 each
  • Pi Audio Uberbuss: no longer available!

If you would like to hear even more coverage from AXPONA 2022, check out our recap report and highlights from our audiophile-oriented show The Occasional Podcast. You can stream the show direct from the embed below, or from your favorite podcast platform including iTunesAndroidGoogle, Deezer, SpotifyiHeartRadio and more.