Greg’s Thoughts and Occasional
Ramblings on Stereo Hi-Fi Systems
This is where I get to put my thoughts into writing. Remember, it’s a subjective hobby and most of what you’ll read here is my opinion.
This page will be added to every so often, randomly.
I think feet, decouplers, and plinths can be very useful for fine tuning and improving the sound of a system, but I also think in some cases they can have the opposite effect.
If you’re so inclined to install isolation devices in your system, be sure to have fun doing it as part of your hobby. Take your time, trust your ears and make your own decision as to whether or not you are hearing an improvement.
The best sounding systems to my ears are always the simplest ones. Simple systems that forego complicated electronic circuit boards, DSP processing, bass/treble control circuits, and overly complex passive crossovers always sound more natural to me. More like the live event would sound. I think the reason for this is because the signal is not ‘harmed’ as it passes from source to preamplifier, to amplifier, to speaker. The purity of the signal is better-maintained when there are fewer components for it to travel through.
I guess I’m old-school because I really like things like point-to-point wiring inside an amplifier, cables made with copper wire, and speakers with simple passive crossover networks.
I know that Digital Signal Processing can be a very powerful tool that can fix or enhance many aspects of a home stereo system. But do we really know what is happening to our pure signal coming from our turntable when it goes into the input of the DSP? I’m sure someone out there knows, but for the rest of us, these DSP’s are ‘mystery boxes’! For all I know, my pure analogue signal from my turntable is going through a ten-cent part on a circuit board somewhere in there. My ears tell me that whatever is going on inside these mystery boxes, the purity of the signal coming out is not the same as going in.
I think people who like DSP are looking to be impressed by their stereo system. And that’s fine if that’s what floats your boat. But for me, I want to be impressed by the music and completely forget about the system. DSP doesn’t work for me.
The Klipsch Connection
I get asked a lot about the connection between Volti Audio and Klipsch. There is no connection. I never worked for Klipsch, I’ve never been endorsed by Klipsch in any way, and my designs are not alternate versions of Klipsch speakers.
I do consider myself a Klipschophile for a couple of reasons. First off, I’ve owned at least one pair of Klipsch speakers for over forty years, and currently still own a pair of La Scalas which survive to play music nearly every day in my dusty workshop. Secondly, I have great respect for Mr. Klipsch, a person I never met, but who did have a profound impact on my own designs.
There’s no doubt that Volti Audio speakers resemble Klipsch designs. When you own a pair of La Scalas at age 14, your audio sensibilities are set for the rest of your life. The Vittora never would have been as good as it is without the La Scala. They are both three-way horn speakers, but that’s where the comparison ends. The La Scala, old or new, is simply not in the same league as the Vittora in terms of design, build quality, parts quality, finish quality, durability, and sound quality. The Vittora absolutely mops the floor with a pair of La Scalas.
Imagine sitting in front of a pair of La Scalas and a pair of Vittoras and being able to switch from one set to another on the fly as music is playing. Wouldn’t that be cool? I’ve done it. It IS cool. I wish you could do it too. The difference in sound quality would startle you. You would most likely laugh uncontrollably at how much better the Vittora is. It would put the quality of Volti Audio speakers in perspective for you real quick. Where previously you might have thought Klipsch, the larger company with more resources, that’s been around a lot longer, was producing higher quality speakers than Volti Audio, you would immediately realize that is not the case.
Volti Audio speakers sound better because they use much higher quality parts and have much better built cabinets. It has very little to do with Greg Roberts being able to out-engineer the Klipsch crew. It’s simply about one company being tied to the corporate structure and having to sell a large quantity of a product with a high markup to pay for a huge overhead expense, compared to a one-man operation that is able to put nearly all of the sale price of a product into the product itself.
If Klipsch built speakers that were as high quality and sounded as good as Volti Audio speakers, the retail price of their speakers would be triple the cost.
When you read my criticism of Klipsch products, please understand that I’m not doing that simply to put Klipsch down. If you’re reading carefully, you’ll notice that I have good things to say about Klipsch products and especially about Mr. Klipsch himself.
My criticism of Klipsch is done to put things into perspective. Klipsch does not build the finest speakers in the world as some people think. In fact, Klipsch speakers generally are at the lower end of the range when compared to all the new horn speakers available on the market.
Klipsch speakers for the most part have that “old horn speaker sound”. Because they are horn speakers, they are captivating and exciting to listen to. You don’t know about the problems they have until you hear something better.
Did you know that I owned a pair of Klipsch Jubilee speakers for a few years? The sound they produce is impressive in terms of the scale and high-output dynamic impact. They do all the things we love about horn speakers, but they also do some of the problematic things that horn speakers have been known for since the beginning of hi-fi speakers. I enjoyed them for sure, but it didn’t take long before I became tired of the sound. It’s like having a P.A. system in your living room. Unrefined, lacking in low frequency extension, not particularly great at imaging, in your face sound, and they looked terrible.
The biggest problem I had with them though, had to do with the processing that is part of the system. Jubilee midrange horns on their own, without processing, do not reach as low as you would like in the midrange, nor do they cover the high frequencies very well. Remember, this is a two-way system with NO tweeter. The only way to have that big midrange horn cover the full range of 400Hz – 20Khz is to EQ it with a Digital Signal Processor. The processor also provided an active crossover between the bass horn and the upper horn.
DSP is a ‘mystery box’ that the entire music signal goes into, passes through who know what kind of components on circuit boards, is converted from analogue to digital and back again, and comes out the other side not nearly as good as it went in. It’s a unit that ‘does harm’ to the signal. Yes I realize that there are lots of neat things you can do to the signal in the digital domain, but I’m not willing to harm my signal quality to do that. Some people are fine with it, I’m not. I don’t like the mechanical, machine-like sound that is less musical, less natural, and less enjoyable after it is squirted out of the output of the mystery box. Not my cup of tea.
That was the biggest issue with the Jubilee. The Jubilee requires digital signal processing to fix the problems with the midrange horn. Problems that are there simply because Klipsch has decided that a two-way system is better than a three-way system. I disagree.
Here’s another thing I learned through my experience with owning Jubilees. There’s no factory set setting for the DSP. Not really. Klipsch has recommendations, but there are too many variables having to do with the signal input strength and the variables between different amplifiers that people choose to use with them. This leaves Jubilee owners with having to make these adjustments on their own. It’s not terribly difficult, but here’s the rub – or at least it was a rub with me. As I listened to my stereo, I was constantly thinking about the adjustments. I mean the whole time music was playing, my mind was preoccupied with the possibilities available to me. Each time I sat down for a music listening session, I second-guessed myself on the settings I made the previous session.
I could never get settled with the sound of my Jubilees to the point where I could focus on the music. I was constantly focused on the system. I don’t want to think about my system, I want to listen to music. I want my focus to be on the music. For just a few minutes I want to close my eyes and imagine the performers in front of me and not think about the equipment that is making that happen.
This is a perfect example of something I talk to customers about – that when any part of a stereo system calls attention to itself, that will draw your focus away from the music and to the system.
Do you want to listen to stereo equipment to be impressed by the equipment? Or do you want to listen to music and be impressed by the sound of the music. I I know which I prefer, and I have found that a system that allows the music to flow through unfettered, I enjoy listening to music a whole lot more.
This is call the ‘do no harm’ approach to putting a stereo system together.
By the way, my fully upgraded Khorns were much more musically satisfying. With a simple but high-quality system feeding a very pure and undamaged signal into them, what came out in my room was much better sounding than anything I got from Jubilees.
The AXPONA show in Chicago is the largest hi-fi stereo trade show in North America. The 2022 show featured about 135 rooms with systems setup for us to listen to. One of those rooms had the new Klipsch Jubilees in them, presented by the Klipsch company themselves.
Volti Audio also had a room at the 2022 AXPONA show, and during the show I was asked by a lot of people how I liked the Klipsch room. Folks know that I have owned Klipsch speakers all my life and that my speaker designs are similar in a lot of ways. Anyway, here’s my review of the Klipsch room at the 2022 AXPONA show.
First off let me just say that it was fun to see big speakers from Klipsch at the show. As a horn speaker lover, I enjoyed my time sitting in front of them.
I asked many people what they thought of the Klipsch room, and many more offered their thoughts to me without me asking. The consensus was that the Klipsch room was a disappointment and I concur. They are so big, that they ‘have to’ sound spectacular, and they just don’t. Like all Klipsch products, they lack refinement in the sound as compared to the best of the rest of AXPONA. The Volti Audio room with the Razz speakers was a much better sounding room than the Klipsch room – by a mile.
I was in the Klipsch room for quite a while – at least five songs – and I got to hear Tool, which others said they played all weekend, and they cranked it really loud. That was pretty cool. Up loud is when you really get a sense of the dynamics that they can put out. At lower levels, the dynamics weren’t there. Overall it was a very “flat” and boring presentation of music with no imaging and no discernible soundstage. Turned up loud they at least kicked you in the gut.
The problem, in part and as I see it lies in the electronic processing. It just ‘kills’ the music. Whatever purity of signal there was prior to going into the active crossover-dsp mystery box, it wasn’t there on the other side. The high-power solid-state amplifiers they were using (Rotel) were a horrible choice. Why would you show up at a show with hundreds of watts per channel of power when your speakers are supposed to be among the highest sensitivity available?
The room itself was fantastic. I wish I could have that room to show my gear in next year.
Klipsch didn’t ask me 😊 but if they had, I would have offered to spend the Wednesday before the show setting up a system that included those Jubilee speakers that would have ended up being one of the best sounds of the show.
What would I have done? Well, that’s so nice of you to ask!
I would have brought my test gear in, along with my hundreds of inductors/caps/resistors/alligator clips and designed and built a passive crossover for the speakers. It would not have been the best passive crossover I could design for those speakers due to only having one day to work on it, but it would have been good enough to show off how good the Jubilee speakers can sound if properly setup.
I would have brought a set of tweeters, which those speakers desperately need.
I would have brought a Cary Audio SLI-80, an Innuos music server, a BorderPatrol DAC and a loom of Triode Wire Labs cabling that would have provided the naturalness and purity of signal all the way through to the speakers. My choice of an amplifier would have shown how a modestly priced amplifier can provide the depth and spaciousness of tubes along with more than enough output into these highly efficient speakers.
I would have set up the room a bit differently and oriented the speakers a bit differently – resulting in only a few choice, sweet-spot seats, that would get proper imaging and a nice soundstage (instead of trying to cover the whole room with no imaging or soundstage in any seat, as Klipsch did).
I know exactly what that system would have sounded like, and it would have been ten times better than what Klipsch set up. My system would have been something Mr. Klipsch would be proud of.
Oh, and they were butt-ugly as well. Why can’t Klipsch get some help with the aesthetic design of this speaker? The mid horn does not need to be that big to begin with, and then on top of it, do we really need to add ‘wings’ to the sides of it to accentuate the hugeness even more? No grill over the horn? Open backs? So many people I talked to commented on the crudeness of the design.
I’m sorry to say, but the 2022 Klipsch room at AXPONA was a good example of where the current crew over at Klipsch is at these days. Mr. Klipsch would not have approved I can assure you.