2/25/2014 - NL26
Hi everyone. How are you all doing? I know it's been a while since I sat down to write a newsletter, mostly because I've been so busy, but also because there just hasn't been that much happening of interest over the last few months. But sales have been good! We've had steady sales of Klipsch upgrades, and a few speaker sales have kept the shop flowing nicely since Rocky Mountain Audio Fest ended in October. In December, Volti speaker sales were very brisk, as potential customers were enticed to beat the price increase coming at the start of the year.
In fact, I'm very excited to report that sales at Volti Audio have never been as good as they are right now. 2013 was a very good year for us, with sales that were nearly twice what they were in 2012, and this next year promises to be even better. We're in full production at the shop, filling orders and trying to keep cabinets, horns, crossovers, and components in stock.
So the story of Volti Audio continues on. It might surprise some of you to find out that there are a number of
people who subscribe to this newsletter not
as audiophiles, but simply for the story line! I can assure you that I am as entertained, surprised,
delighted, and inspired as those of you following along with this Volti Audio journey.
It is challenging and rewarding to be living it, and I am honored to have an audience to write to.
The Volti shop continues to become smaller and smaller. If you count the upstairs storage areas, we have about 4000 square feet of space, and every last inch of it is currently being used for some project. Walk into the shop right now and you'll find crossovers being built on the front table, a grill cloth area on another table, veneering work being done in another area, horns being built in the back room, and new Vittora cabinets are being built in the main shop area. There's a constant rotation of work in all these work spaces. One project finishes up, and another one takes its place. Every available nook and cranny is being used to store something - jigs and templates, drivers, parts for crossovers, packaging materials, rolls of cloth, hardware drawers, cabling, veneer, plywood, and did I mention jigs and templates?!! If I built bookshelf speakers, this shop would be big enough for a long time; but when you produce large horn speakers, space runs out very quickly as a batch of cabinets starts to take shape, and there are other cabinets being veneered, and crates waiting to be loaded and shipped, etc... We are outgrowing our facility - and in a way, that is a really cool thing.
So I'm writing the bulk of this newsletter (outline form) here in a cramped seat in coach, next to my wife Laurie, about 26,000 feet in the air, on my way to Nashville, Tennessee. Laurie and I have lived in Maine our whole lives - well, as the joke goes - 'not yet'. After fifty years here in this State, we have decided it's time to make a move. It's time for a fresh start in a place where we can build a bigger shop and a bigger business in a more business-friendly state. We would like to live where the burden and cost of harsh winter weather is nil. It's also time to finalize the transition from the construction business that we've been in for the last 26 years, to Volti Audio, and put all of our efforts into one business.
We've been looking for another place to live for the last three years, off and on. Maine is a very beautiful state to live in, and we knew we had to find a place that would offer similar, up-close natural beauty that we live with every day. Trees! There had to be real trees, and a varied landscape of hills, ponds, farmland, etc... And we think we've found that in Middle Tennessee.
We are conservative minded people who believe in the American ideal of 'rugged individualism', live and let live, make your own way so you can help your family and neighbor make their way, grasping opportunities to succeed through hard work, making good choices to make your own luck - you know, old-fashioned stuff like that. And we think we've found like-minded people in Tennessee.
We want to keep more of what we earn, living under less government control, and in a place where we can enjoy more
individual freedom. And we think we've found such a place in Tennessee.
We like the four seasons, but we don't like shoveling snow! Yup, we think we're on the right track by making a move to Tennessee.
A little figuring has revealed that the cost for us to live and operate Volti Audio in TN would be $12,000 less per year than in Maine. Lower taxes, lower energy costs, lower construction costs, lower gasoline prices, and lower costs to travel to Audio Shows, all top a long list of cost savings that come about with a move to TN.
We think Tennessee will provide a more centralized location for Volti Audio to succeed. Maine has one bordering state, that being New Hampshire - Tennessee shares borders with Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia. Compared to Maine, there's ten times the population that is within driving distance of a new listening room in our new facility in Tennessee.
I see no reason to wait any longer. It's time to 'shit or get off the pot' as my mother always used to say.
We're going to work hard to make this move happen this year, and still operate Volti Audio at the same time.
Could be interesting. Stay tuned.
Volti Audio will be attending three audio shows this year - AXPONA Chicago; THE SHOW in Newport, CA; and Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver, CO. Yes I know, Capital Audiofest is not on the list this year. My apologies to those of you who were looking forward to hearing the Volti speakers at CAF2014, but I can only do three shows this year, and I really wanted to add Newport to the list. The Newport show has really grown in size over the last few years, and we're excited to be showing for the first time on the West Coast. I've built a beautiful set of Rosewood Vittoras for the Newport show, and I'm currently trying to woo Gary Dews into joining me with his fantastic BorderPatrol gear. Even if I can't get Gary out there to share the room, I bet he'll let me use some of his stuff anyway. So come on all you Californians, now's your chance to come hear the Volti Audio Vittoras with some world-class electronics. Same system that garnered all the accolades at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest last year.
But first there's AXPONA Chicago, April 25, 26, 27, at the Westin O'Hare hotel. Volti had two rooms at this show last year, and we debuted the Alura speaker in one of them - and sold them! This year, Gary Dews is not joining me there, and with that, I had a great idea. Let's show what our speakers can do with some lower priced gear.
As many of you know, Volti has teamed up with BorderPatrol Audio Electronics at many of the audio shows we've been to, and with great success. One writer said that the Volti speakers and the BorderPatrol electronics go together like 'meat and potatoes', and I couldn't agree more. I am so grateful that I ran into Gary Dews when I did a few years ago. His products have made my speakers sound great, and his guidance in business matters has been truly helpful.
But a BP/Volti Vittora system is expensive. At RMAF, there were three publications that gave our room a Best of Show nod. Impressive, yes, but that system costs over $80K. How many people roaming the halls at RMAF could afford such a system? So one point of this exercise at AXPONA will be to show that the Volti Alura speakers, priced at $15,900, can be "Best Of Show" contenders when paired up with lower priced gear too. Do I expect to match the sound quality of the RMAF system? Certainly not, but I am looking forward to showing just how good our speakers can sound with gear that is of a quality level comparable to what a lot of folks roaming the halls in the Westin O'Hare Hotel CAN afford, and may even have sitting right at home.
So I've been purchasing and testing new electronics to go with a pair of Alura speakers that I'll be demonstrating in room 320. I found a really nice CD/SACD player made by Yamaha that has a very nice design and is well constructed. For the preamp, I decided on a Peachtree NovaPre. The amplifiers will be Quicksilver Mid-Mono monoblocks using EL34 output tubes with 40 watts per channel of power. Everything will be wired together with Triode Wire Labs interconnects and cabling.
The Alura speakers will have a beautiful Walnut veneer that I found, and I will build a stand and plinths for the amplifiers finished with the same veneer.
Total system cost, including the cabling and stand/plinths will be less than $25,000, a bargain considering the quality level of the gear and the sound this system makes. I currently have it set up in my listening room and it's impressive for sure.
For the first time at a show, I will not be bringing Vittoras with me. The Volti room at AXPONA this year will put the spotlight on the Alura, a model that I think deserves more attention than it has received while hiding in the shadows behind the Vittora. In my opinion, the Alura is every bit the quality sounding speaker that the Vittora is - in its own way. And for many people, the slightly smaller size, with no need for the Extended Low Frequency cabinet, and the lower price point, makes the Alura a great choice. I hope the Audio Press at AXPONA picks up on that too, and we start to see more Alura sales in 2014.
It is so hard to find the time and energy, and to clear my mind enough to work on new speaker designs. I set very high standards for myself when it comes to everything about my speakers, and unless the design is 100% what I'm listening and looking for, I'm not going to put it out there just for the sake of getting a new product out on the market.
I had high hopes in 2013 for producing several new models of speakers, and simply didn't have the time to come up with even one. The Alura did debut in 2013, but it was developed in 2012. The new models for this year were supposed to be based on the Alura, with different cabinet sizes, different components, and different price points. Still a good idea, but as Volti progresses, so does my understanding of what makes a good Volti speaker, and also what the market wants from Volti. So at the start of 2014, my focus is a bit different than it was a year ago.
For sure, Volti needs a wider range of speakers, varying in size and price - that has not changed. But how to do it, at least theoretically, has changed. I did have some time this last year to work on a 'small' Volti design, and I ended up with one prototype. A relatively small cabinet, three-way, sensitivity of 96db, with a 10" woofer in a bass-reflex design, a 5" high-sensitivity cone midrange, and a small horn tweeter. It seemed promising, however, the results were less than satisfying to me, as this little speaker just didn't have enough low bass, and the mid-driver didn't have that 'Volti' midrange that I was listening for. I've realized that with high-sensitivity woofers in sealed or bass reflex enclosures, you need a large cone to make reasonably low bass, even if it means putting those large cones in a smaller than recommended enclosure. Speaker design is all about managing compromises. I've also realized that I need to stick with a midrange horn to get that sound that I'm after.
So my focus is going to be on smaller footprint and smaller
enclosure size, but still using the 15" driver that we have used so successfully in the Alura and Vittora models.
I will also be buying and testing an array of drivers and horns to use, that will help me lower the
cost of this model. Target price for this smaller Volti speaker is $10K, so that means using the expensive horns and
drivers we are currently using will not work. I'm getting a lot of people asking me about building a smaller
speaker, and this is going to be priority for me once I get settled into my new shop in Tennessee.
Once Again . . .
You'd think it would be relatively easy to know ahead of time, and to accurately estimate how much it will cost to produce a new speaker model. Maybe after I have more experience doing it, but I'm not good at it right now! The Alura speaker was developed in 2012, debuted at AXPONA Chicago in March 2013, and we sold the first pair built at that show. Through the rest of that year we built several more pair and continued to develop our construction techniques, along with building the necessary jigs and templates. But it wasn't until this last batch that we just completed a few weeks ago that I realized we weren't charging enough money for them, even at the current price of $15,900. So we will sell the rest of what we've built so far and hold the current price, which will probably take us through 2014, but then we'll have to raise the price again to make it a sustainable product.
It's disappointing, because I know we need to have a speaker in the $15K price range, and I thought this Alura model would be it. But as it turns out, the hours needed to build the cabinets, veneer, and finish them, are not much less than it takes to build Vittoras - and the Aluras use all the same components as the Vittoras. This leaves very little in the way of cost savings over a pair of Vittora speakers, which are currently $21,500 (without the ELF cabinet).
I think I have a solution to the $15K price point, with performance that will match the current Alura model, and that is simply
to build single cabinets rather than dual cabinets. The current model, with its midrange and tweeter in a separate
cabinet from the woofer, is hard to build. Not only because of that time-consuming curved top, but also because
building four cabinets is more expensive than building two, regardless of the size of the cabinets. So
imagine the Alura components built into one, large, curved-sided cabinet. I think this is the key to
building an Alura-performing speaker in the $15K price range, and one of my goals this year will be to get this one
produced and marketed before year end.
Check it out. A fascinating visualization of music history.
Check out this really cool picture.
It's true, I'm not doing restoration work anymore. I just don't have the time with all the new speakers
I'm building these days. I will, however, keep all the restoration pages up on the Klipsch Upgrades site so
people can reference them. I will also continue building the Klipsch Upgrades products that have been
good sellers for us over the last five years.
So that's it for now. Next newsletter will be published after AXPONA and before The Show Newport.
Thank you for your support, and until next time, I hope it all sounds good!