We Ask 10 Questions For High-End
During Enjoy the Music.com's very special 25th Anniversary we're asking various high-end audio manufacturers to answer the same ten questions. Their answers may surprise you! This month we're featuring Greg Roberts of Volti Audio. He started back in 2009 building upgrade parts for Klipsch Khorn speakers, which is still a part of his business today. Parts developed for Khorns led Greg into his first complete speaker design, the Vittora. The Vittora has been a success beyond what he ever expected! All design and engineering is done in-house, with each bespoke unit being one pair of only 10's of speakers a year! Greg is at a point with his life where he can do as he so chooses. Fortunately for us, he chooses loudspeaker design and our world is better off for it.
Q. What is your first memory of falling in love with music?
A Elton John – Bennie And The Jets on a fold-out record player.
Q. How did you first get introduced to high-fidelity audio gear?
A. At the age of 14 (1978), I saw an ad in a Rolling Stone magazine (yes, I was a little young for that mag) for Speakerlab speakers (remember those?). In the ad they mentioned Klipsch a couple of times, and I wondered what Klipsch was. A few days later, I was riding in the car with my Mom, and noticed a 'KLIPSCH' sign in the window of a hi-fi store. Long story short, the store (which carried large solid-state McIntosh amplifiers and big Klipsch speakers) was run by college-aged guys, and a 14-year-old wide-eyed kid walked in and asked about Klipsch speakers. What do you think happened next? Yeah, it was life-changing.
Q. What is your favorite piece of vintage hi-fi, and why?
A Scott 299A – because it sounded so sweet on my Khorns, and it had that cool gold face and knobs and the beautiful wood case with slant wood feet. Luscious.
Q. When did you decide to start a high-end audio company?
A. In 2007 I was in the construction business, building custom homes in Maine, with no thoughts of changing careers. I had a Klipschorn / McIntosh system in my listening room that I had grown tired of. When I was younger, it was all about the effortless power of horns and being impressed by the sound of the system. As I grew older, I began to hear things in my Khorns that bothered me. I guess you would say I 'matured' as an audiophile, and I almost gave up on my beloved K-horns and went in a different direction. But living without the effortless dynamics and life-like presence proved impossible. So rather than selling them, I fixed them instead.
Over a two-year period, I bought an array of after-market upgrades for my K-horns but found they did not make a significant improvement, so I began work on my own upgrades, starting with a new midrange horn design that I built in my woodworking shop and installed in my speakers. The larger 2” throat, the shallower Tractrix flare, the wood construction, and very high-quality midrange driver DID make a significant difference. The honky, shouty, un-integrated sound that characterized the original was greatly reduced, and in some ways eliminated.
I developed new crossovers, discovered much more refined and articulate tweeters, and in the end, I had my speakers back! The excitement of listening to music returned.
During this time of fixing and upgrading my speakers, the recession of 2008 happened, which pretty much crippled the home construction business my wife and I started 20 years earlier. A dismal outlook for the housing industry along with my desire to get into another business coincided with my renewed interest in hi-fi, and the next thing I knew I was in the business of providing upgrades for other Klipsch Khorn and Klipsch Belle owners – Volti Audio was born.
Soon after, I was designing, manufacturing, marketing, and selling my own line of speakers, starting with the much-heralded Vittora Loudspeaker System.
Q. What, and when, was your company's first product?
A. 2010 - The Vittora, which garnered more Press than they deserved because of their unique and bold looks and sound qualities that surprised nearly everyone who sat in front of them, including myself!
Q. What challenges did you face during those early years?
A The biggest challenge was learning how to build a complex product like the Vittora consistently and profitably. I started out selling my speakers for far less than I should in order to spur sales, which I was criticized for as I raised my prices over the years. But working for low wages on the first dozen pair was a way to pay for my education. If I didn't sell speakers, I didn't have speakers to build, and I could never hone my skills. I do all of the work to manufacture the Vittora myself – I design and build my own crossovers, I build my own wooden midrange horns, I make my own curved Baltic Birch plywood panels, I do all my own wood veneering, I do all my own spray finishes, etc… Each of these jobs could be a career unto themselves for some, and it takes time and practice to master each skill, which I have done over time.
Q. How have your products evolved over the years?
A The biggest evolution has been my learning to listen, and then to translate what I've learned into my new designs. I've also become better and better at building speakers over the years. My speakers today are the best built and best sounding I've ever offered to my customers.
Q. What is your company's most popular product(s)?
A. The Rival was born out of the requests of listeners at the hifi shows who loved the sound of the Vittoras, but not the size or price tag. The Rival has that 'Volti' sound, just like their big brothers do, but in a much simpler, compact, more manageable and lower cost package.
Q. What is your next planned product offering and its' features?
A. With horn speakers, size matters a lot. Big horn speakers are easier to design than little ones, and they sound better too. But they are expensive and take up a lot of real estate in a home, so there are limitations. Designing a small horn speaker that has the 'Volti' sound is hard to do. I've been working on it since 2015 and it was just late last year that I finally hit on the right combination of drivers, horns, crossover, and cabinets. We're in the last stages of development on the $4,999/pr New 'Little' Volti Audio speaker, and I'm very excited to say that we'll get it wrapped up and out on the market soon.
Q. What advancements do you speculate high-end audio will offer ten years from now?
1. form a theory or conjecture about a subject without firm evidence.
I'm too 'old-school' for speculation. I'm sure the industry will continue to produce 'different' products that claim to offer an experience like no other. Meanwhile, my customers can count on me to keep producing horn speakers that they can connect a couple of 300B's to and quietly and privately enjoy a musical experience that didn't need speculation in the first place.