Turning it up to '11' with Volti Audio Rival speakers

The Rival dares to go where few high-end speakers tread.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read

I never got over my first encounter with a big horn speaker in an audio store in the late 1970s, it was a Klipsch La Scala. A salesman was sitting alone playing the Rolling Stones "Exile on Main Street" album at insanely loud volume, and the music sounded more vibrantly alive than any other speaker in the store. Over the years I've heard many more Klipsch speakers, and I raved about Klipsch's awesome Heresy III horn speakers in this blog a few years ago. The Volti Audio Rival took me back to that very first time with horn speakers.

Volti Audio's Greg Roberts was similarly smitten with horns when he was 14 years old, and he went on to own and later modify Klipsch speakers for himself and other people. Then, five years ago he started Volti to sell speakers some might say were inspired by Klipsch designs, but Roberts speakers sound better than any Klipsch I've heard.

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The Volti Audio Rival speakers, shown without grilles.

Volti Audio

Volti's first product, the Vittora is a really big speaker, so I was especially happy to see the company introduce a new smaller and more affordable speaker at the New York Audio Show. That speaker, the Rival, uses the same drivers as the Vittora, in a considerably smaller cabinet.

Roberts builds the Rival's cabinet out of 1-inch (25mm) thick Baltic birch plywood, plus the midrange horn, and the crossover in his Baxter, Tennessee workshop. Roberts does all the work by himself and it takes 40 hours to build a pair of Rivals. The beautifully finished speaker measures 41.5 inches x 19 inches x 16 inches (1054 mm x 482 mm x 406 mm), and each one weighs 125 pounds (56.7 kg). Roberts says Rivals can be positioned against a wall, in a corner, or pulled out into the room.

The three-way speaker has a 1-inch (25mm) compression tweeter, 2-inch (50mm) tractrix horn midrange and a 15-inch (381mm) bass reflex woofer. Impedance is rated at 6 ohms. Chatting with Roberts it was easy to see the man really loves building speakers, before he started Volti Audio he built custom homes for 27 years.

Pumping up Shovels and Rope tunes from their "O Be Joyful" album, the Rivals demonstrated their rock and roll credibility, big time! A lot of far more expensive and larger high-end speakers can't match the Rival's power delivery. For audiophiles craving no holds barred party speakers, Rivals have few rivals!

The Rivals can also sound refined, vocals were immediate and naturally balanced with Rickie Lee Jones singing the old Steely Dan tune "Showbiz Kids." I've heard Jones version of this tune on countless speakers, but the Rival sounded considerably more life-like. Then with some electronica from Aphex Twin's "Syro" album, the Rivals effortlessly unfurled the music's dense textures and room shaking power at high volume levels.

Moving on to Latin jazz with vibraharpist Cal Tjader's "Sona Libre" CD, the sound had a "live in a club" feel, the vibes as well as the drums' transient attacks were dynamically realistic and when I pulled the volume way down the Rivals didn't lose resolution. Stereo imaging was good, but in the New York Audio Show's small hotel room soundstage depth was in short supply.

Rivals can sound closer to live music than most similarly priced conventional box speakers, thanks to its freewheeling power and ability to play loud with low distortion. That's what horn speakers do so well, and why they sound better and better the louder you play them.

The Volti Audio Rival runs $7,900 per pair (approximately £6,344 and AU$10,682) in standard finishes, and custom wood as well as painted finishes are available at extra cost. Volti Audio sells direct and ships worldwide, but Rivals can be heard at just one US brick and mortar dealer; Fidelis in Nashua, New Hampshire.