At the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, Jonathan Valin, Neil Gader, and I independently thought that one of the show’s most pleasant surprises was a stand-mount two-way from a then-unknown (to us) company called Volent. Made in Hong Kong and distributed in the U.S. by Laufer Teknik, the $4995 Volent Paragon VL-2 impressed us with its dynamics, transparency, and soundstaging. We mistakenly thought the VL-2 used a Heil Air-Motion Transformer tweeter, but later discovered that the tweeter is an unusual dual-ribbon unit designed by Volent. I immediately put the VL-2 on our short list of “must-review” products.
The VL-2’s large (for a stand-mount speaker) cabinet is unusually shaped, with faceted side panels that merge into the baffle. The side panels are also tapered toward the rear, giving the VL-2 a boat shape when viewed from the top. In addition, the top panel is sloped to further minimize parallel surfaces that could create standing waves inside the wool-stuffed enclosure. The cabinet is vented by a large port on the rear panel. Connection is made via a single pair of WBT binding posts. The Volent’s sensitivity is 87dB, and its impedance 6 ohms. The VL-2s were perfectly happy being driven by the 100W Pass Labs XA100.5 amplifiers.
The enclosure is stunning visually, with absolutely gorgeous woodwork. The side panels (and the side-panel facets that merge into the baffle) are veneered in a burled dark-red wood and lacquered to a high gloss. The top, bottom, and rear are finished in piano-black gloss. The baffle is covered in a black leather-like material.
The VL-2’s drivers are unusual; the 7** woofer is made from graphite and titanium, and the tweeter is, as noted, a twin-ribbon designed by Volent. Starting with the woofer, the cone is a sandwich of polymer foam coated with graphite and titanium. The patented motor system employs dual neodymium magnets and a copper Faraday ring. The driver has considerable excursion and power handling, as I witnessed when breaking in the VL-2 with organ music. The tweeter, designed by Volent in 2002, is a 1.5** dual side-by-side ribbon set back in a waveguide. This is a true ribbon in which the audio signal flows through the aluminum ribbon itself. (By contrast, a “quasi-ribbon” or “planar-magnetic” driver has signal conductors bonded to the diaphragm.) The pleated ribbon, which is only 0.006mm thick, is split into two side-by-side halves, a technique that Volent says produces the dispersion of a dome tweeter with the transient speed and other virtues of a ribbon. The driver reportedly extends to 50kHz. The dynamic woofer is crossed over to the ribbon at 1.8kHz.
The cabinet seems solidly constructed and the finish quality is outstanding.
I positioned the VL-2s on 24** Sound Anchor stands that put the tweeter at 37**, somewhat below the 42** height of my ears in the listening chair. After much experimentation, I installed feet of slightly unequal height between the speakers and stands so that the VL-2s were tilted back by about 10°. This put my ears more on-axis with the tweeter and resulted in greater air, life, and resolution. Such fiddling would be unnecessary with taller stands. These speakers are sensitive to listening height (a result of the narrower vertical radiation pattern of the ribbon compared with a dome tweeter) and to toe-in. The VL-2s, however, had much wider vertical dispersion than other ribbon speakers I’ve auditioned. The treble response of some ribbon-based loudspeakers drops off precipitously just a few degrees above the tweeter axis, but the VL-2 produced a more gradual roll-off. I ended up with the VL-2s moderately toed-in so that their axes crossed just behind the listening seat.
The qualities I heard at the CES demo that made the VL-2 such a standout were abundantly apparent in my listening room. Simply put, this is an amazingly great pair of loudspeakers for $5000. For starters, the VL-2 had unbelievable bass extension, weight, and bottom-end dynamics for the cabinet size. Had I not known the VL-2 was a stand-mount two-way, I would have guessed from listening that it was a floorstanding model. The VL-2 didn’t create faux extension with a hump in the midbass—it had genuine depth and dynamic impact in the bottom octaves. After hearing these qualities, I drove the VL-2 with more and more challenging music at higher and higher playback levels. Amazingly, it reproduced the dynamics and low-end sock of the extremely challenging orchestral recordings on Reference Recordings HRx 176.4kHz/24-bit files sourced from my music server. The massive bass weight and impact of Dance of the Tumblers from Exotic Dances, for example, was reproduced in full measure of authority. The VL-2 kept perfect composure, filling the room with a huge, unfettered, and believable sonic picture of an orchestra. That’s saying a lot for a $5000 stand-mounted two-way. The VL-2 even did a credible job with organ pedal tones. In rock and jazz, the VL-2 had a wonderfully solid bottom end, with explosive dynamics on kick drum and deep-tuned toms. Although I heard no cabinet resonances that colored the bass, I thought that on occasion I could hear the port’s contribution as a separate component of the bass. Overall, I’ll go so far as to say the VL-2 had the deepest extension and widest bass dynamics of any stand-mounted loudspeaker I’ve heard.
Although outstanding, the VL-2’s bass and dynamics were not the stars of the show. That honor goes to the VL-2’s stunning transparency and ability to disappear as a sound source. The VL-2s themselves were dwarfed by the enormous soundstage they threw. The soundstage wasn’t just big; it was also well defined. The VL-2 imaged with pinpoint precision and, even on a crowded stage, instruments were clearly differentiated from each other. The lateral spread was wall-to-wall with no change in image precision along that spread. The sheer size of the soundstage, and its transparency, reminded me of a big planar loudspeaker, but the imaging precision was like that of a classic stand-mounted two-way.
The VL-2’s midrange and treble presentation was also very planar-like, sounding nothing like dynamic drivers in a box. The midrange had extraordinary palpability; certain instruments (voices in particular) were presented as tangible objects appearing between and above the loudspeakers. Note that the VL-2’s ribbon driver is crossed over at 1.8kHz, meaning that this driver handles the entire spectrum above that frequency. The VL-2 was highly resolving in the midrange and treble, with an extremely detailed and lively presentation. Moreover, transparency was jaw-dropping—it was as though there were no mechanical transducers between me and the instruments. Instead, the images just hung in three-dimensional space right in front of me.
As stunning as the VL-2 was in these aspects, there’s no free lunch. The upper midrange was a bit forward in perspective, the result of an emphasis in a frequency band I estimated as between 2–6kHz. This broad band of upper-midrange/lower-treble emphasis brought out recorded detail and gave the VL-2 a highly upbeat and immediate quality, but tended to thin out the tone colors of instruments that had significant energy in this frequency band. Violins playing in their lower registers were unaffected, but instruments rich in upper-order harmonics (saxophone for example) tended to sound just a bit thin and “whitish” rather than densely colored. Acoustic guitar was rendered with an emphasis on the attack of the string rather than the warm resonance of the instrument’s body. Instruments rich in energy in this frequency band were brought to the forefront, particularly those of a transient nature. I must stress that this quality, though a departure from neutrality in my view, was not objectionable the way a rising top-end from a dome tweeter is. Instead, it had the effect of making music immediate, lively, and on many recordings, immensely engaging. Recordings that were already forward in the upper midrange could become overbearing, however.
Although one could characterize the VL-2 as having some excess energy in the upper-mids and treble, it wasn’t “bright” in the usual sense of that term. The treble was slightly uptilted, but not in the way that we hear from dome tweeters. Many loudspeakers with a forward treble presentation sound as though the response begins rising in the upper midrange and keeps rising through the treble. This quality is manifested as excessive sibilance (“s” and “ch” sounds in vocals), cymbals that sound like bursts of white noise, and a general impression of the treble as a separate component riding on top of the music rather than part of the musical fabric. The VL-2’s treble, by contrast, was integrated with the midrange and extremely clean. I think that the VL-2 could get away with the upper-mid/lower-treble prominence because it had a pristine clarity and lacked any grunge. The presentation didn’t have the sizzle, grain, and metallic hardness of many dome tweeters.
The treble had a gossamer-like character with tremendous delicacy, transient speed, and resolution. Nonetheless, the treble’s dynamics didn’t have the same degree of weight behind them as I heard from the midrange and bass. High-frequency transients had less impact and force than they do in life—or from dome tweeters. In this regard, the VL-2 didn’t have the tonal or dynamic coherence of many other loudspeakers. That is, the VL-2 didn’t speak with one voice; the bass and lower midrange had a different character than the upper-midrange and treble. I was not, however, aware of a discontinuity at the crossover between the dynamic woofer and the ribbon tweeter.
I must stress that these characteristics, although a departure from absolute neutrality, were not unpleasant or fatiguing. In fact, the VL-2’s combination of immediacy, resolution, and freedom from textural grain were immensely involving.
The Volent VL-2 combines the soundstage size of a large planar loudspeaker, the imaging precision of a mini-monitor, and the bass extension, weight, and dynamics of a floorstanding loudspeaker. One must hear the VL-2’s bottom-end authority to believe that such a presentation is possible from a stand-mounted two-way. This terrific bottom-end is coupled to a highly resolved midrange and treble that brings out every recorded detail. The upper-midrange prominence also imparts a sense of palpability and tangibility to instrumental images that was spooky-real. Moreover, the sense of transparency was world-class by any measure. The VL-2 is, however, probably not the best choice for someone who enjoys a lush romantic interpretation that favors ease over resolution.
While living with the VL-2s for a month, I repeatedly had the experience of reminding myself that these loudspeakers cost $5000 per pair, not $15,000. If you’re in the market for a stand-mounted loudspeaker under $15,000, you absolutely must hear the Volent VL-2—it’s that special.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Two-way ported dynamic loudspeaker
Driver complement: 7** titanium-graphic woofer, 1.5** twin-ribbon tweeter
Frequency response: 25Hz–50kHz
Sensitivity: 87dB (2.83V/1m)
Impedance: 6 ohms nominal
Crossover frequency: 1.8kHz
Dimensions: 10.2** x 15** x 14.7**
Weight: 44 lbs. each (net)
Price: $4995 per pair
27 Whitehall Street
New York, NY
Basis 2800 Signature turntable with Basis Vector 4 tonearm, Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridges, Aesthetix Rhea Signature phonostage; PC-based music server (built by Goodwin’s High-End), Classé Audio CDP-502 CD/DVD-A player, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC, dCS Puccini/U-Clock CD/SACD player and DAC; Pass Labs X20 preamplifier; Pass Labs XA100.5 power amplifiers; MIT Oracle MA interconnects; MIT Oracle MA speaker cable; Running Springs Audio Dmitri, Shunyata Hydra-8, Hydra-2, and V-Ray AC conditioners, Shunyata Anaconda, Python, and King Cobra CX AC cables; Shunyata Dark Field cable elevators; room custom designed and built, acoustic design and computer modeling by Norm Varney of AV RoomService, acoustic treatment and installation by Acoustic Room Systems (now part of CinemaTech)