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Positive Feedback ISSUE 61
The following submissions are for the 'Readers Who Want to be Writers' Contest. The authors are not Staff members of Positive Feedback.
The Volent Chorale CL-2
For me, listening to music is a cherished experience that conveys the spirit and thoughts of it's creator like few other human interactions. This is the reason I find listening to music conveyed through fine audio equipment to be such an important aspect of my life. To me, there is no such thing as mere background music. Music is a form of communication; a communication of ideas and emotions that can literally transform metaphysical existence into tangible physical satisfaction. Though I wouldn't go so far as to quote, "Music soothes the savage beast", you get my point.
This brings me to my "latest" affordable discovery, the Volent Chorale CL-2 Loudspeaker. Like most audiophiles with any seasoning, I have been through my share of loudspeakers over the years and have been fascinated and impressed by some. But this in fact is indicative of the problem as I see it. Though I have been impressed by a few speakers I've had the pleasure of hearing, I have never been able to afford those loudspeakers and so I have therefore spent years pursuing "affordable" alternatives to the best I have heard. I admit that people who have lot of disposable income and therefore buy extravagant things never impress me; I'm happy for them. What does impress me is the person who is frugal and obtains the best they can on a limited budget. I will never spend over $10,000 for a pair of loudspeakers! Not because I don't think they can satisfy me because I know they can and do sound amazing, but because I simply can't afford them. I love reading about them and I most certainly enjoy listening to them whenever I can.
My music-loving goal is not to accumulate the most expensive components available, but rather to assemble within my humble budget a system capable of two things. One, communicate the emotional intent of the musicians, and two, be as truthful to the timbre of the instruments (vocals included) as much as possible. In other words, when I listen to Dee Dee Bridgewater or Cassandra Wilson sing "Strange Fruit", tears should flow from my eyes. When I listen to Terence Blanchard's A Tale of God's Will, I should be transported to a New Orleans devastated by Katrina and feel the pain and suffering of her people. When I listen to the Glory soundtrack, I should be mesmerized as I'm taken on an emotional roller coaster until the surreal Closing Credits… and yes… tears should flow, too. If these things don't happen while I'm listening to my system, I investigate and upgrade until it does, and I do this within my means… no second mortgages for me!
It has taken me many years to build my current system. To some my system maybe considered entry-level "High-end" but the spectacular listening experiences I obtain regularly for not only myself, but also my wife who doesn't share my obsession for music, but certainly appreciates and has also experienced listening to music through our system that takes the enjoyment of listening to music to another level of consciousness. The heart of my system is a Conrad Johnson ET-2 tube preamplifier that includes the MC phono section. The phono section is outfitted with NOS Telefunken 12ax7 which is an upgrade I highly recommend and is a much needed step-up from the pedestrian EH 12ax7's provided by CJ. I've gotten off of the preamplifier merry-go-round and will no doubt bequeath this preamp to one of my children…who can appreciate it; I simply love it. My amplifiers are Opera-Consonance Cyber 800 mono tube amplifiers. Regardless of what anyone thinks about Chinese audio, these amps must be heard to be truly appreciated. They sing like with the magic only tubes can provide yet are possessed with the bass and dynamic grunt that solid state amps are known for. My analog rig…of course I listen to vinyl...includes a VPI Scoutmaster turntable with…TT Weights record weight. Mated to this is a ZYX R100H .48mv MC Cartridge loaded by the preamp at 400ohms. Listening with this turntable to Analogue Productions Oliver Nelson reissue is an experience I can only summarize as magical.
Until recently I was struggling with digital in the sense that I wanted a physical CD player for the best sound, but I also wanted to stream music for convenience. So I sought out and found an affordable CD player with digital input in which I could use the players internal DAC to route the digital output from my Logitech Classic player. The CD player I found was the Shanling CD2.1. Though I'm still getting the full measure of its capabilities, it is by far musically superior to my previous computer rig of Apple Mac Mini (New with maxed out RAM), Eastern Electric DAC PLUS (with op-amp upgrade), and Audirvana software. Yes, the Shanling sounds that good and the better the Shandling/CJ interface cable the more it delivers... musically! My cables include Verastarr, Amadi, Analysis Plus, Purist Audio, and Nordost, the former three in active in rotation. My musical tastes reach across the spectrum, but my preference is for Jazz and Classical music; instrumental over vocals.
This brings me to the Volent Chorale CL-2 loudspeakers, which are the subject of this review. My present loudspeakers are Usher 6381's. These 120-pound monsters have satisfied me for years, but alas, my current setup could not accommodate a large floorstanding loudspeaker. The problem then became how do I get a relatively small stand mounted loudspeaker that approaches the performance of the Ushers for a sane price? I must confess that I have a preference for monitor speakers since my first exposure to the genre via a pair of Spica TC50's. (My first speakers were Magnepan Tympani 1D's) The Spica's imaging prowess spoiled me to the point that to this day I set imaging and tangible soundstage reproduction as one of my top priorities when evaluating any loudspeaker. Over the years I've had many monitor/stand mounts from such well respected manufacturers as Celestion (SL6S), Monitor Audio (Studio 10), Spendor (SP-1), Totem (One), Spica (TC50 & 60), and Kevek (ES.6), just to name a few. Each had their own strengths and weaknesses but none have ever made me say to myself…STOP HERE! That is until now.
Volent is not a new manufacturer to me as I have read quite a bit about their Paragon Series VL-2 loudspeaker, which has gained quite a positive reputation over the years. The VL-2 uses the same woofer as the original Magico Mini whose excellent performance put Magico on the map. (Magico has since moved to their own proprietary mid/bass design.) Reviews of the VL-2 consistently agreed upon excellent performance at a fraction of the cost of other to performing brands such as Magico. This fact kept Volent on my short list of "speakers to dream about" although they still aren't cheap @ $5000/pair. Being sort of an amateur speaker designer, I've learned the hard way that throwing expensive/exotic drivers in a box do not make an excellent loudspeaker. So I knew, at least from the reviews, Volent had the ability to create a great speaker.
Enter the Chorale Series. Targeted at audiophiles of lesser means, but not taste, the CL-2 monitor looked interesting. With impeccable build quality and mirror like piano black finish (also available in pearl white and mahogany), the Chorale CL-2 is a relatively large stand mount speakers employing a 6" Morel Mid/Bass driver and Volent's patented dual-ribbon tweeter. The speakers are spec'd at 38Hz to 60,000Hz (no tolerance given), an 8ohm load, and 150 watt power handling capability. On the surface, other than the frequency response, nothing too special. But the pedigree of Volent seemed to call out to me to try this speaker…and I'm glad I listened!
Let's just get this out of the way. Perched atop Totem Mani 2 stands, that 38Hz low end frequency response specification is no typo. These things not only get down and dirty with authority, but they do so with great finesse and detail. Details obscured by lesser speakers come through with frightening realism! In fact, they are just as detailed in the bass as the Usher 6381 and get darn close to the User BE10 (except of course in sheer volume which the CL-2's cannot match). The high frequency extension afforded by the ribbon tweeters immediately accentuated the musical presentation with just the right amount of sheen, air, and extension. These tweeters produce details that upon first listening caught me off guard. A speaker with a claimed frequency response out to 60,000Hz made me wonder about brightness and sibilant exaggeration but nothing but a natural representation of musical textures were presented here as the music simply came to life like a breath of fresh air when played through these speakers.
Saving the best for last, imaging and dynamics, these babies can rock! Though I haven't pushed them too often, a recent visit from my son-in-law demonstrated even to me just how dynamically capable and musically engaging these speakers are. He's no audiophile, but a true music lover. I gave him the ET-2 remote and the iPad that controls my digital music library and for the next five hours he played his favorites at spirited volumes with no duress form the system. Frankly, I haven't listened this loud to music in years, but it brought back found memories of Zappa, Mahogany Rush, Hendrix, Stanley Clarke, and Herbie Hancock! Most of all, the system sounded fantastic! No stress, no strain, just music. Finally, this speaker drew he and I into the music, grabbed ahold of us, and didn't let us go until the last note…or at least until the wives and kids returned from shopping! Regardless, it was a hypnotic musical experience!
I've owned and heard many speakers over the years that were exemplary in a lot of areas yet they failed to combine all of their strengths into a cohesive musical presentation in one way or another. The Volent Chorale CL-2 loudspeakers are not one of those speakers. In fact, those speakers that have managed to equal and/or exceed the performance of the Volent CL-2's are multiple times their price. Common sense and experience tells me that the Volent Chorale CL-2 must have weaknesses, which I'm sure justifies Volent's more upscale Paragon product line. This is a perfect example of not knowing what you're missing until you've heard better. However, if one is going to hear their inevitable weaknesses you would have to compare them to something that costs way more than what Volent is charging. Since I have been exposed to so many loudspeakers its hard for me to imagine a sound more fulfilling than these at the price. However, after communicating with the US distributor, Eric Hudgens of Tailored Technology, he assures me that I haven't heard the best of Volent until I've move up to the Paragon VL-3 and at $11,000/pair they certainly should be. For now though, I'm as happy as can be.
I do not hesitate at all giving the Volent Chorale CL-2 loudspeaker my highest recommendation, regardless of budget. At $2700/pair, they are by no means cheap, but they have to be considered something of a bargain considering the level of performance you get and they are certainly worthy of being included on any shortlist of great affordable loudspeakers currently available. I've been listening to fine audio equipment for more than 30 years and I can count on one hand those products that simply bowled me over with their price/performance ratio. The CJ ET-2 and the Consonance Cyber 800 are on that short list and now I've added the Volent Chorale CL-2. Volent loudspeakers may be hard to find, but seeking them out will be rewarded with musical bliss.