Vittora Design Notes

By Greg Roberts

I am an audiophile and I like horn speakers, and those two things often do not mesh well with one another.   Traditionally, audiophiles tended to look down upon horn speakers and most wouldn't take them seriously - somewhat deservingly so, due to the issues that have plagued horn speaker designs for decades.  Horn speaker lovers have always tolerated vices like edginess and sharpness in the midrange, limited bandwidth, horn colorations, and disintegration between components, so that they could also enjoy the power, dynamics, and excitement that only horn speakers can deliver.

The Vittora sets a new bar for audiophiles, and when folks come into our room at the Audio Shows to listen to them, most of them leave with a new-found respect for what a modern horn speaker design can offer in terms of pure musical enjoyment - without the vices.

The Vittora speakers provide all of the wonderful attributes of horn-loading throughout the entire musical spectrum, in a relatively compact package, and they do so with all the dynamic range and life-like realism that we expect from a horn speaker.   The Vittoras also can be described as smooth, uncolored, tonally accurate, and sweet, which are words that are often not associated with horn speakers.   In fact, after listening to the Vittoras, many people comment to me that if I hadn't told them, they would never have guessed these were horn speakers.   But of course they had to be, because what other topology can reach out and demand your attention the way an all-horn system can?   What other system, playing in another room, can make it sound like there is a real band playing in there?

This unique combination of dynamic realism and smoothness is a result of hundreds of hours of design, prototyping, and building to develop this speaker.  There are relatively few speakers with bass horns available for sale, probably because of the difficulty in producing one that can go deep enough and also sound good through the upper-bass/lower-midrange.   Also, bass horns tend to be very large and complicated to build, which drives up cost and limits the marketability.  As a result, most horn speakers are built with bass-reflex cabinets, with the only horns being the midrange and/or tweeters.   While this type of format (horns for the upper end and vented bass for the low end) is fine for some people, and designers (including myself sometimes) feel comfortable calling them horn speakers (even though they should be called hybrid horn speakers), for me it's a compromise that I didn't want to make with the Vittora.   I wanted fully horn-loaded sound for this speaker.  Not even a back-loaded horn would do, it had to be a front-loaded folded horn.

The overall size of the Vittora folded bass horn is relatively small, compared to other folded bass horns, and the size does limit the low-end extension of the Vittora to about 50Hz (in-room measurements with room gain).   This was a known compromise that was accepted early in the development.   There's a balance here, between the size of the cabinet and the low-end extension that was considered during the design phase, as it relates to the sound quality of the upper-bass/lower-midrange, the desire to have the system be fully horn-loaded, and the marketability of the system.   It's a balance that is rare in this industry.

Do you need the Extended Low Frequency (ELF) cabinet with your Vittoras?   Well . . . Yes, you do.   While not particularly musical, frequencies below 50Hz provide an energy and extension to music that is very important, and the Vittora was designed with this ELF cabinet right from the start. The combination of the Vittora bass and the ELF is the perfect way to have the characteristic sound of a bass horn, along with low end extension, in a compact format.  The alternative would be to have a VERY large bass horn.  Problem there is that very large bass horns don't sound as good in the upper bass, and bass definition and bass to midrange integration suffers.   Not to mention that most people will not buy speakers larger than a refrigerator, or that the marketability of such a product is nil.   The Vittora bass horn can be hefted by two guys and fit through most doorways with ease.  Same with the ELF cabinet. This combination is marketable, and reasonable.

100Hz won't work - but 50Hz does.  At 50Hz and below (in combination with the Vittora bass horn), we can't really tell if the low bass energy from the ELF cabinet is being produced by a very large horn or a bass-reflex ported cabinet.   I could argue that the ELF does low bass better than a very large bass horn in a normal sized listening room.

It is really nice to have output level control over the frequencies below 50Hz as they relate to the bass frequencies from the Vittora bass horn.  A very small adjustment up or down on the gain control of the amp, tips the balance of very low bass to mid/upper bass at just the right point.  100Hz - nope, but 50Hz - just right.

Can you use a really nice big powered subwoofer with the Vittora main speakers and get the same results?  NO you can't.   Subwoofers are made to produce really low frequencies, and at a very high output - for home theater sound effects.   Go into business producing a subwoofer for music only - one that really compliments the music and is not made for sound effects.  You won't sell very many and you won't be in business long.  For all the advertising hype you hear from subwoofer manufacturers about how musical their subwoofers are, it's just not so, compared to a cabinet that truly is designed to be musical.  Don't buy a Volti Audio ELF cabinet as a subwoofer for your Home theater.

It is necessary to have a natural roll-off of the very low frequencies in the ELF cabinet to properly mate up with the Vittora bass horn.  Part of this is the sound of very low frequencies and how they mix with the rest of the music, and part of this is the speed with which the Vittora bass horn produces bass as it relates to the speed of frequencies below 50Hz.   It is critically important for the ELF cabinet to keep up with the speed of the Vittora bass horn.  If it doesn't, there is no chance the low bass will ever integrate properly.  Powered subwoofers, regardless of size or price, regardless of how much power they have, regardless of how much processing power they've packed into them, will not integrate with the Vittora bass horn nearly as well as the ELF does.

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