9/26/2016 - NL34
I know, I know; it's been a very long time since the last newsletter was sent out. I apologize, but it's been a little crazy busy in our life over the last eight months. We spent the better part of the first half of 2016 working on the new home/workshop in Tennessee, and then in mid-June, we came back to the old shop in Maine to fill orders, build a new batch of Vittora speaker cabinets (six full sets plus extra ELF cabs, @600hrs of labor), and to enjoy the nice Maine summer weather.
I am writing this newsletter to you from Maine, probably for the last time. I really do wish we could keep the old shop up here and work here for a few months every year. That would be great, but our budget will not handle that. We've got the old shop up for sale, and funds from the sale will be needed to finish up the new place in TN.
Speaking of the new place in TN, it is under roof, and racoon proof! There are still a few small squirrel sized holes, but overall the exterior is closed in, and the buildings are locked up secure.
The woodworking shop, which is the separate building that is attached by the breezeway roof, is insulated, with drywall and paint on the ceilings, and all the wide pine that will be installed on the interior walls is inside waiting for us when we return.
The other building, we call the "Big Building", is mostly workshop space, but also has our 1500 square ft. of living space in the back part of it. This building is not quite as far along as the workshop, but all the interior framing is done, including the decorative beams on the ceiling, and rough-in electrical is nearly finished. We had drywall put on the ceilings in the garages so the garage doors could be installed.
Overall, we're very excited about how it's all coming together. A lot of it has been "design as you go", which is risky for the budget. And our budget is being stretched!
We'll be heading home in October, and the goal now is to not have to go back to the old shop to make products. So the push is on to get the new shop up and running - pine on the walls, install interior doors, trim everything out, install lights, and finish up electrical and plumbing. When we've got the building operational, we'll move everything down from the old shop in Maine and get the new shop set up. With any luck, we'll be making things in Tennessee by the start of 2017. Yup, it's a long process when you decide to build a 7000 square ft. building yourselves, and also keep a business running at the same time!
As if that wasn't enough, we managed to squeeze in three audio shows this year so far, plus the long-awaited development of the new, smaller Volti speaker finally
came together over the last couple of months.
Busy, busy, busy all the time.
Due to the many unknowns having to do with the remodeling at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest hotel, Volti Audio will not be at RMAF this year. We had planned on doing this show, as we always do, but there are some real questions about the space available in the regular rooms. Apparently there are new built-in heat pumps that protrude into the room in one corner, and furniture that is non-removable, and may even be attached to walls and immovable. We just couldn't take the chance of showing up there and not really being able to accommodate our speakers in the show room. #1 job at an audio show is to make a great sound, and that would have been too much of a risk this year. Too bad, because of all the shows, RMAF was my favorite. I hope the staff will get things sorted out for 2017.
We will be at the New York Audio Show coming up at the beginning of November, and we'll be formally introducing the new Volti speaker at this show. We're teaming up with Triode Wire Labs, Vinnie Rossi, and Fidelis to put together a nice system around the new compact horn speaker we've produced. Maybe you'd like to come to the show and hear the new Volti speaker?
AXPONA, THE Show Newport, Capital Audio Fest,
And A New Rival
Well, this is becoming a trend isn't it? I announce what shows I'm planning to do at the start of the year, and then along the way I decide to add more shows to the schedule. It's because my whole life is so up in the air right now that I really can't plan too much in advance. As these marketing opportunities get closer, I realize that I can squeeze them in, so I do.
I'm going to be more concise with my Volti show coverage in this newsletter. I mean, the story is really the same at
each one - Volti teams up with like-minded manufacturers, we make a great sound, we get some wonderful feedback
from the Press and show-goers, we meet a lot of really nice people, and we just plain Have Fun!
At AXPONA, in Chicago, Volti Audio had two rooms. We had the same big room we had last year, sharing with BorderPatrol Audio and Triode Wire Labs, only this time, the turntable was an Acoustic Signature provided by Walter Swanbon of Fidelis Music Systems. The sound was effortless, palpable, exciting, and one of the best of the show. But we found our room was empty most of the time, victim to being off the beaten path and without enough blinking-light signs to steer people towards us. For those who did find us, they were usually able to grab that sweet spot and listen as long as they wanted. Because of this lack of traffic, we've decided to give up this big room next year, and go up into the sweaty, crowded, small rooms of the upper floors. The sound may suffer a bit, but we will be found!
AXPONA Room 1
"All in all, a fantastic sounding room from some of my favorite audio conspirators, and easily one of the very best sounds at AXPONA this year. Again."
Scot Hull - Part-Time Audiophile
AXPONA Room 2
The second room we had at AXPONA was shared with Vinnie Rossi and Triode Wire Labs. We had the Vinnie Rossi LIO, with the new DHT tube preamp section, which I didn't really warm up to until the next show - more on that later. Volti had the Alura speakers set up in this room, and overall I think the system sounded pretty good. It was good enough that we sold the Alura speakers to a gentleman who heard them late Sunday afternoon! Third year in a row that we've sold speakers at AXPONA. While not having the same fun vibe as shows like THE Show Newport and Rocky Mountain Audiofest, AXPONA is serious business, and probably the biggest show now in the country. I'd have to say that the 2016 AXPONA Audio Show was the best show Volti Audio has been a part of.
THE Show Newport
Right before AXPONA I realized that I could squeeze in THE Show Newport this year, so why not? Gary Dews didn't want to travel that far or spend that much money, but Vinnie Rossi and Pete Grzybowski were in! It is a fun vibe - a very relaxed and laid back vibe - at THE Show Newport, and even the passing of founder Richard Beers (who died just a few months before the show) didn't dampen spirits much. Attendance was pretty good and a fun time was had by all. I got to spend some quality time listening to the Vinnie Rossi LIO with the new DHT preamp stage, and I gained a real appreciation for the sound Vinnie squeezed out of those 811 tubes. Direct Heated Triode tubes, using power tubes as preamp tubes, and plug and play as an optional LIO module. Yes, microphonics were there (and that drove me nuts), but not noticeable while music was playing thank goodness. What was really noticeable was the true character of that tube coming through - and in fact, so much so that I did not notice the characteristic sound of the Mosfet amp, which I have been able to detect in past LIO listening sessions without the DHT preamp section. A truly wonderful sound from the LIO and nothing added or taken away from the sound by the Triode Wire Labs cabling - feeding into a set of Volti Audio Vittora speakers, made this system one of the best at the show.
"Finally, on the always personal and subjective category of "what I would buy if I could," my favorite speakers were the Volti Audio Vittora. Balanced, smooth, dynamic - so totally engaging. No doubt, the most accomplished demo room at the show."
Joao Martins - AudioXpress Magazine
"a fat pizza slice of hi-fi heaven to my ears"
Rafe Arnott - Part-Time Audiophile
Capital Audio Fest
Ah yes, CAF. Not even on my radar after coming back from the show in Newport, less than a month before CAF started. Was it a surprise that Volti showed up at CAF? Nah, I've been doing that every year it seems. But it WAS a surprise that we showed up with a new speaker that didn't exist two weeks prior to CAF!
Oh, the idea of building a smaller, less expensive Volti speaker that still embodied the "Volti" sound has been on the agenda for a couple of years. Making it happen has proven to be a challenge. But something happened between THE Show Newport and CAF this year that brought the whole new speaker design together.
Here's how it went down . . . .
It's called the "Rival"
The trip back from Newport California to Maine went reasonably well, considering the general unpleasantness of being trapped in the commercial airline system for an entire day. I had more work ahead of me than could possibly be done within the time frame I've alloted, but hey, who's complaining really. With everything that's been going on lately, the last thing I needed to do was add something more to my plate. But I began thinking once again about the smaller, less expensive speaker that Volti Audio desparately needs in our lineup. Before I knew what was happening, I was cutting plywood.
It all happened so quickly. Where past attempts at this new design were a struggle, this time I found myself able to focus and move forward on it with ease. It all just fell together. Why had I not thought of this before? Use the same components you're using in the Vittora, dummy! And make the cabinet as simple as possible to build!
People have been asking me for years if I could produce a speaker with the Vittora sound for less money, or in a smaller version. We know we're going to give up something to do it - let's not compromise quality of sound.
And there it was. The new speaker would use all the same components found in the Vittora. Keep that sound as intact as possible - simplify and reduce the cost of everything else to a bare minimum. No, it doesn't sound exactly like a Vittora system, but it does sound like a big horn speaker - a Volti speaker.
I made cardboard mockups, did some calculations, and eventually came up with a cabinet size that I thought would work well. I wanted it to be small (ish), but it needed to have good bass extension. I used a midrange horn that has the same design and build as the one used in the Vittora, but smaller. It is a mid horn that I developed for Klipsch Cornwall owners to use to upgrade their speakers. 2" throat, Tractrix flare, and made of wood - this horn would give the Rival that unmistakably effortless midrange that is associated with the Vittora sound.
I built a prototype, loaded it up and started testing and listening. BAM! It just happened. The sound was phenomenal. It was thwacking bass at me in my 1000sf shop space like it had no business doing. Upper bass - the most important aspect of the Vittora sound - was there and integrated really well with this smaller mid horn. I used the same tweeter I use in the Vittora. Like I said, it's not a Vittora system sound, but wow, it's really great.
At this point, it's nine days to the start of CAF, and I'm realizing that I have a viable product that I could bring to that show. There's no better way to flush out whether or not this is going to be a winner than to subject it to the scrutiny of show attendees, and my peers, especially Gary Dews, who I knew would not hold back his thoughts on the Rival.
It just so happens that Pete Grzybowski of Triode Wire Labs had a room all booked, and the guy he was supposed to be showing with, wasn't able to make it. He and Gary Dews decided to put together a second system in that room using Living Voice speakers. It was very nice of them to let me crash the party!
So I worked my butt off over the next week, building a prototype pair of the new speakers. I refined the design as much as I had time to, so it didn't look too much like a DIY attempt. I worked hard on the crossover to get it balanced just so. I came up with the marketing approach and determined pricing for the base model and the long list of options. I determined what the specifications were for the new speaker. I wrote the language for a brochure and had that printed. I had signs made up for the show. I rented a vehicle to go to the show so as not to leave Laurie without wheels. And on Thursday, the day before CAF started, I sprayed lacquer on the cabinets!
Here's what that first prototype pair looked like
I drove all day on Friday, getting to the show hotel in Rockville at around 6pm. The show ended at 8pm that evening, and after talking it over with Gary and Pete, we decided to bring the new speakers into the show room after the show ended and give them a go. We took the petite Living Voice speakers out, and inserted the Rivals into the system. It was quickly determined that the horns needed to be up higher, and luckily they had a couple of speaker stands to put them up on. That made a real nice difference in how the midrange and high frequencies sounded. After a couple of tweaks to the crossovers, Gary shook my hand and told me I had done a nice job.
It's a three day show, with the midway point being mid-day on Saturday, so the guys proposed that we use the Living Voice speakers up until 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, and then switch over to the Rivals after that. I put them out in the hallway for people to see on Saturday morning. At 2:00 we brought them into the room and at 2:20 I had them SOLD!!
So that was cool! The new owner was excited about his purchase, and Volti had some money to work with to finish up development of the Rival once we got back to Maine.
Pete joined me on Sunday night after we packed everything up from the show, and we made the 45 minute trek to Robert's house to deliver his speakers. We got em all set up and tweaked things a little bit, and the Rivals were making a great sound in Robert's system. After a late night listening session, Robert put us up at his home for the evening. I think he got about four hours sleep and just couldn't wait to get the music on again early the next morning. Needless to say, he's pretty happy with his new speakers.
The next day Robert took us to a great place to eat lunch, Chick and Ruth's Delly in downtown Annapolis, where we had the most wonderful crabcakes! Check out Pete's squirrel cheeks! Lol.
When I got back to Maine after the show, I spent a little time thinking about all I had learned about the Rival during my trip. This was a good speaker, no doubt about that, but I knew I could improve on it. At the show, they were scritinized, mostly by me as I sat and listened to them all those hours, and I had a good idea of where improvements could be made. So I set about with a re-design, making the cabinets taller and narrower to get the top horns up higher. I also made improvements to the aesthetic design, to make them look more like a professionally manufactured product, rather than a good Do-It-Yourself attempt. So the front of the speaker no longer has the protruding sides, the tweeter is inset into a routered out recess, and the plinth/feet options were worked out.
The design also underwent an entire redevelopment of the crossover that included the final voicing of the speaker sitting right beside a Vittora. With a switchbox on my lap and music playing, I was able to switch back and forth between the Rival and the Vittora. I would make small adjustments to the crossover, run a test so I could verify what I was hearing, and listen to more music. I ran over 250 tests on them, and listened to music for countless hours. Nope, no matter how much I tweaked that crossover, I couldn't make the Rival sound better than the Vittora! Or as good. But it's close. Very close in a lot of ways. I wish you all could sit here and switch back and forth between those two speakers. It is so much fun!
Along with your answwer, please include the address you want your T-shirt sent
to, and the size you want.
The Rival is compact, and seriously loaded, sporting a much larger presentation of music than any speaker that size ought to. It's very sensitive at 100db, so you can play around with low-power if you want to, but put the power to it and listen to what happens! It'll give it right back to you cleanly, effortlessly, just like the Vittora does.
Tone? Oh yeah. The same kind of tonal balance that you hear in the Vittora system, with nearly the same accuracy of reproducing the tone and timbre of instruments. This is not a "hi fi" sound, this is a dynamic, realistic reproduction of what real musical instruments sound like.
Hey! You've been asking me for years:
"Can you build a speaker that has the same sound as the Vittora, but in a smaller cabinet"?
"Can you build a speaker that has the same sound as the Vittora, but costs less than $10K"?
The Rival is 1/3 the size and 1/3 the cost, but it is ALL Volti Audio sound.
The Rival is 41-1/2" tall, 19" wide, and 16" deep, and it weighs about 120lbs. It is stoutly built with
1" thick Baltic Birch plywood, and well braced and damped. It sports a wooden, tractrix midrange horn that I designed
and build here. The crossovers use very high quality components, and they have adjustments available to tune the
speaker to your liking. The woofer, midrange driver, and tweeter/horn are all right out of the Vittora.
It is 100db sensitive, and will handle 100 watts of continuous power.
The Base model of the Rival will be offered in your choice of either unfinished, or clear finish over Birch Plywood at $7,900 per pair. From there, you can add from a list of options that include veneer and lacquer finish, paint, and grills. As usual, we can accommodate special requests for custom work or options as well, and you can expect we'll come up with more options in the future. Much more information coming on the Volti website in a month or so.
I'm building the first two pair of Rivals as of this writing, and I had to make a decision about sending out this newsletter
prior to having them done. Ideally I would be introducing the new Rival speakers to you in this newsletter, with nice
photos of the finished product. But for that to happen, would have taken another few weeks, and I just didn't want to
wait any longer to update my readers on what's been happening at Volti this year, and also to let you all know about the
New York Audio Show. So I made the decision to send out the newsletter with photos of the new Rival speakers under
construction. I know you will bear with me on this. I'll have nice photos up on the website before November.
2016 Show Demo Speakers For Sale
The Vittora speakers we used at the shows this year are finished in Sapele Pommele veneer, and they are truly stunning to look at in person. The figuring in the grain is wild, but you don't really see how wild until you get up close to them. This makes them an elegant and reserved looking speaker that will fit into any decor, and when you get within a few feet, they really become conversation pieces as you discover all the really cool graining and figuring they have.
Regular price on the five-piece set is $26,750 (with the $1000 veneer upgrade). Special demo pricing is $25,000, a savings of $1,750. Plus, for a limited time, free shipping is available. But I stress, that's for a very limited time.
I also have an extra matching ELF cabinet for those of you with larger rooms.
The very few photos I have of these speakers are up above.
For the same limited time, I may be able to arrange an in-home demo.
If you're at all interested, send me an email and let's talk.
Thank you for your support, and until next time, trust your ears and have fun!