Comparing the Volti Audio Upgraded Klipschorn to the Avantgarde Duo
Written by Dan Kapeller December 2009
This is the one of the most difficult writing tasks I've ever attempted. The goal being to convey my knowledge and opinions about the V-Trac mod to the Klipsch faithful, and do so without stepping on toes or hurting the feelings of proud Khorn owners. I find myself in the position of the man who's portly wife asks, "do these jeans make me look fat?" Say no, and you're a liar. Say yes, and prepare to sleep in the garage. Adding to his difficulties is the fact that he knows what a 21-year-old super-model looks like in those jeans, and the vision is too vivid to forget.
So, if you're
reading this review, I hope you're not overly sensitive. My praise
of the V-Trac may appear to be Klipsch bashing. I'm just sharing
what I've heard and what I know, please read the entire essay before
judging me. I also need to state that this is not the start
of a discussion on my part.
Editorial note: Dan originally posted this essay on the Klipsch
forum, which like any forum, has quite a few rude members who attack anyone with a different opinion than theirs.
Editorial note: Dan originally posted this essay on the Klipsch forum, which like any forum, has quite a few rude members who attack anyone with a different opinion than theirs.
I'm posting this
here because I feel that I have an important message to spread to
the Klipsch forum members, and because Greg's mod is too good to be
ignored. I'm not a forum kind of guy, mainly because I don't like
sitting in front of a computer. My free time is rare and I'd rather
spend it with my wife on our bikes or in front of our stereo. If you
have any burning questions that I have not addressed in this
document, I guess you could email me personally (dkapeller at
hotmail) or better yet, come on out to Cheyenne, WY for a first-hand
listen. I'm serious, We'd love to share our music with you.
If you want the quick summary of what I learned during my days with Greg's V-Trac demos, it's that he has taken the Khorn to a level of excellence that is off the charts. The word "improvement" does not do justice. Was color TV an "improvement" over black and white? I'd say it was more of a fulfillment of the TV concept. Was the indoor, flushing toilet an "improvement" of the outhouse? This mod takes the Khorn out of the dusty corner of vintage HIFI and into the world of top-tier, price-no-object, high-fidelity loudspeakers. I'd say the mid-range and high frequency is nearly (let's say; 80%) as good as the Avantgarde Duo, and the bass is better, due to the mighty folded horn, PWK's shining moment. The V-Trac horns are heirloom quality, hand crafted pieces of art, which allow the use of legitimate, high quality drivers. Greg is offering a fairly simple mod that finally brings the top half of the Khorn into the same league as the bottom half. In my opinion, this transformation is not optional, but absolutely necessary for any Khorn devotee. The improvement in sound far surpasses all past attempts I've spent cash on, including NOS tubes, new crossovers, expensive wire, boutique capacitors, cartridges, preamps, etc. Greg has taken the Khorn to the place it was meant to be, and should have been for the last 60 years. Paul had the vision and the engineering skills to make it work on paper and on the oscilloscope. Greg made it musical, tonally correct and up to date with all the improvements available in the new millennium. And as much as it hurts me to say this: Shame on Klipsch and Associates for burying their heads in the sand, and pretending that the Khorn was the "best in the world and could not be improved" (Their words, not mine).
If you need more details and more evidence, read on...
It's good advice to always consider the source when taking advice. I want everyone to know that even though I'm not a member of the Klipsch forum, I am a rabid Klipsch fan. When just 14 years old, (1975), I wrote to the factory, asking for a pamphlet on the Klipschorn. I still have it. I also have a personal letter from Paul himself, answering a question I asked about correct room placement of my Heresy's. I have the shirts, necktie and coffee mug. After finishing college, I started a 10 year journey, clawing my way up the Heritage line, and ending 12 years ago, with two mint pair of Khorns, walnut and oak. I upgraded one pair with ALK universals, and vintage Alnico tweeters, and deluxe wire. I use low powered tube gear on all of my stereos. All of my preamps and amps are either custom built, or restored by, myself. (for the record: Fisher X100, with tonectomy, Heathkit W's fully restored. Custom 2A3 SE power amps, one shunt feed with Magnequest, one traditional air-gapped with Tango, preamp is TVC, 6SN7 shunt fed to nickel output transformers, phono stage is one of Mark's last Tercel II kits.) With all these glowing tubes and Khorns galore, my dream had come true. I was happy and content, just like most of you. Then...
Five years ago, I attended the first Rocky Mountain AudioFest and had my "horn speaker reality" rocked from it's foundation. I heard the Classic Audio Reproduction Horns and the Avantgarde Duos. I was stunned. I sat in those two rooms most of the day shaking my head in disbelief. I came home sick to my stomach. I had heard what was possible in a horn speaker, and sadly, my beloved Khorns were not in the same league. Granted, there was a huge price difference, but the facts remained. The drivers in the Khorn were not able to compete with the huge and massive, professional grade drivers that Avantgarde and C.A.R. were using. All along I thought the Klipschorn was the king of the horn speaker world, but now I had heard what unlimited resources could do. As hard as I tried, I couldn't erase the memory of those speakers and how wonderfully open, pure and true they sounded. My Khorns now sounded sour, pinched and congested. I confirmed it at the next AudioFest, when I heard some vintage, field-coil horns and the Acapella line of Horns with the Plasma tweeters. There was a vast wonderland of horn speakers out there, and my Klipsch's were no longer "kicking butt, and taking names". Yes, you do get what you pay for, and I had to admit, my Khorns were a good value, but not the "ultimate in sound", as my 1975 pamphlet claimed.
A year later, after teaching summer school, eating PB's for lunch, doing woodworking jobs, and selling my beloved walnut Khorns, I had saved enough cash to join the big league. I purchased a pair of used Avantgarde Duos. They have all the dynamics and fast, open sound that drew me to the Klipsch line. But...a 4 inch dome, with a 7 pound magnet, and a spherical horn...it's not even close. It's a 2009 Porsche Panamera being compared to a 1975 Porsche 914. Same Porsche family, same mojo, but one built to be a great value, and the other built to define the Porsche namesake.
I'll stop here and remind everyone that the correct response is: "No, your butt doesn't look big. It looks just right for a woman of your age, and I love you just the same." And, "Your 914 does run better with the upgraded sparkplugs".
During the three years we've owned the Duos, we held on to one pair of Khorns. They were a once-in-a-lifetime purchase and I wasn't even thinking of selling them. We have two complete stereo systems in our home, and the Khorns were in the daily driver position, in the living/dining room, were our family spends most of our daily time together, cooking, eating and cleaning up meals. Out of habit, I played music through them most evenings. The truth that came out of three years is, we had been spoiled by the Duos in the basement listening room, and we weren't really enjoying the Khorns anymore. Out of duty, I would fire them up and start a CD, only to begin the "volume knob roller coaster ride". I'll bet you've done this: turn it up to get good dynamics, turn it down because it's too harsh, loud and congested. Repeat cycle, up to give pleasure, down because it's noisy. Dinner table discussions would clash with the music, and then the music becomes noise. After 30 minutes, I'd turn off the stereo. My relationship with my beloved Khorns had evolved into one of duty and honor, not enjoyment. Similar to visiting my Grandmother's grave. They had become sentimental collector's items, not a wormhole to musical bliss. More than once, I wished that I could have the best of both worlds: Duo quality, pure midrange combined with the beautiful Klipschorn cabinet, and that killer fast bass that only a Khorn's folded horn can provide.
I was at the point of "thinking" about selling my Khorns. And it was that thought that took me to Audiogon to check on current market value for my Khorns. I stumbled upon the V-Trac ad. I read it with shock and disbelief. Here was a guy who had experienced what I had, and rather than giving up on the Khorn like I had, instead decided to do something about it. I checked all the details of his offerings and combined with my knowledge of the Duo's, I knew he was on to something huge. I began to wonder if I could have it all.
This leads me up to today. I've had the demos in my house for five days, which was 4 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes longer than I needed. After the first 10 seconds of music, I heard my old friends sound very, very close to the Duos. James Taylor sounded like a real talented guy, in my room, without the clothespin on his nose. I was nearly as shocked as that day in Denver, when I walked into the Classic Audio Reproduction room. I was overcome with a combination of joy and anger. Delighted, because my Khorns were finally living up to their claim to be the ultimate in sound, and ticked off at Klipsch for hiding this from me for 20 years!
It's difficult to describe how amazing the sound is, without repeating the comments of others. It's not so much an improvement as it is a whole new sound. Typical audiophile descriptions do no justice to this. Most "improvements" I've heard are more like band-aid repairs to errors. A new piece of stereo gear would add new errors that mask the old ones. The V-Trac sound is more like stripping off all the mistakes, leaving only pure music. It's hard to describe for the same reasons that you can't describe color by comparing it to different shades of grey. Go to Greg's homepage and read the comments from other demo users. Read Greg's comments too, as he may have nailed it in the most concise way. The comments are all perfectly in line with what I've heard, especially the comments about the mid-bass region. Male vocals, acoustic guitars and piano sound simply amazing. You will plow through your record collection, hearing each of them for the first time. Everything will sound pure and in-tune and huge. Instruments live in their own space, uncluttered by the other instruments. I must politely disagree with the gentleman, who on Greg's website, claims that some songs sounded better on the stock speakers. I'm sorry, I found that nothing sounds better on the stock speakers, nothing. It's not even close. Does the 914 drive better than the Panamera under certain conditions? You've heard the old saying from the automotive world: "there's no replacement for displacement"? It's true here too. The BMS mid driver has over SEVEN times the surface area of the stock Klipsch driver. Music pours out of the beautiful wood horn effortlessly, organically.
If you need more sonic descriptions, go to Avantgardes webpage and read the glowing reviews of the Duos. Then temper them by my "80% as good" measure. Really, I'm serious, go there and read them. You'll hear the same description from all the reviewers. How the best of the horn style speaker is combined with the accuracy and tonal correctness (lack of coloration) of box speakers. All of these reviewers were amazed to hear that "horn speaker" did not have to imply "colored sound".
I'll go out on a limb here, and predict that if Greg could somehow get a pair of transformed Khorns into the hands of the reviewers, well, things would be different for Klipsch and Associates, and the reviewers would be asking the same question I am. Why didn't Klipsch do this years ago??? Realistically, how much would it cost Klipsch to make these improvements standard issue?
At this point, I'm sure I've ruffled a few feathers. Most of you are thinking that if the stock speakers were so colored, surely you could hear it. Don't forget, I listened to, and loved all my Klipsch speakers until my ears and brain were changed at AudioFest. I have a theory: Have you ever visited someone's house and watched their TV which had the color balance horribly out of whack? Skin looks green, hair is red, grass is blue? (My grandparents TV was like that for 20 years, and no one was allowed to adjust it) The amazing thing about the human brain is its ability to adapt and adjust. After watching that color-challenged TV for 20 minutes or so, your brain compensates and you start to "see" the colors properly. As long as you don't look around the room and allow your brain to re-calibrate, you can peacefully exist in that color-altered reality of the TV show. I'm convinced that all the Klipsch fans, myself included, have enjoyed music through our khorns, thanks to our brains adaptive filters. All this time, our brains have been working overtime, adjusting the tonal colors. Could this be why I claim that our khorns "clashed" with normal conversation at our dinner table? Could this partially explain the dreaded "listener fatigue" or harshness that many people associate with the Klipsch line? Could this explain why I describe the V-Trac and the Duos as being "easy and relaxing" to listen to? When the tones are right, your brain can stop filtering and start enjoying the music. The late, great, Harvey Gizmo was always preaching about tone. I wish he could've heard the V-Trac.
Furthermore, I've read some of the forum posts concerning Greg's mod, and his replies. He is one of the most articulate, respectful, and knowledgeable contributors on your forum. I think he is about as humble as they come, which is why I feel the need to stand up and shout about this mod. I also feel he's wasting time writing responses!! He needs to be in the shop, building more V-Tracs!!! There are so many Khorns dying in their corners, so little time to rescue them.
In conclusion, I'll repeat, I knew in 10 seconds that I had to have the V-Trac. But then, my ears were already spoiled by the Duos, and the decision to buy the V-Trac was easy. I'll need much longer to decide if I can sell my Duos. When I get my Klipschorns all fixed up, I'll begin a calm, relaxed comparison to the Duos. I'm planning on spending a year, to be sure. Seriously, it's too close of a race to call right now. Sure, the Duos still have the bigger midrange, and given the raw materials I'm not surprised. They also have the dreaded, solid state, powered subwoofer. The V-Trac'd Khorns win the bass contest, and I'm just wondering if I can live with 80% of the midrange I've grown accustomed to. If that isn't the greatest endorsement of Greg's mods, I don't know what is. For roughly $2,400 your Khorns can stand toe to toe with a $20,000 state-of-the-art speaker. I'd say PWK would be proud, and would say that was a good value.
Do you remember the first time you heard your Khorns? I do. I recall being stunned by how much better than my Chorus II's they were. That step up cost me about $2,000 and was completely worth it. The V-Trac mod yields a greater step up than that, for about the same cost. I'd say it's the best value in "audio improvement" I've ever experienced. If you want to honor PWK by keeping your Khorns completely stock, then do so. But then; should you be messing around with the crossovers and tweeters? There's a group of fine gentlemen who cherish their Porsche 914's. They fondle, tune, wax and enjoy them everyday. All of them are completely aware of the other models bearing the Porsche badge, cars that could wipe the floor with their humble 914's, and quite frankly, they aren't interested. I respect those guys, and given the time, would join them. If you're on this forum, you love the Klipsch line and I respect that. Remember, Paul was a genius for certain, but he was also very frugal, VERY stubborn and was working with drivers designed in the 50's. The sound he milked out of those mediocre components is truly amazing. Likewise, my brother's 914 was tight and fast, and completely outperformed what should've been impossible with it's little 1800cc, 4 cylinder boxer. But let's be honest, it's never going to be included in the sports car hall of fame, and could never compete with it's big brothers in the Porsche line-up. If you want to hear what your Klipschorns CAN do, and should've been doing all along, do not wait. Get the V-Trac.
Follow up: I've since received and installed my V-Tracs. Greg's attention to detail is unmatched. The V-Tracs quality of workmanship exceeds what was done in Hope. He has thought of everything and made installation a virtual breeze. The only thing missing is a new badge for the grill cloth. My Khorns look bare without the KLIPSCH badge, and I even thought about moving my old ones over to the V-Trac. But then again, that would be an insult to Greg, so I'll wait until he designs a groovy badge. After installing the finished products (rather than the demos) and seeing how they mate to my gorgeous Klipsch cabinets, I can assure you, I will NEVER part with them. The V-Trac'd Khorns just ooze with old world craftsmanship, and timeless beauty, top to bottom, front to back. The Duo's are on the fence now, and will have their work cut out for them in order to earn their spot in the family. Honestly, I already know I could sell them with no regrets. However, the V-Trac'd Khorns will not be for sale, EVER, and I owe Greg a huge Thank You for giving my Khorns back to me.
Follow up again: Three weeks into the V-Trac ownership experience. My best indicator of a good stereo is the enthusiasm of my wife. She has "tolerated" my hobby for over 20 years with a caring amusement, but that's about it. She has gone bonkers over the V-Tracs. She actually turns on the stereo when I'm not home!! She has songs lined up for me to hear when I get home. She is singing along with music!! This is all unprecedented in my home. These speakers are just flat out fun to listen to! Absolutely NO buyer remorse, and it's turning into the purchase of the decade. <
For the gear-heads: they sound great with every amp I've used. Push-pull, single-ended, triode, pentode, cheap wire, fancy wire. Remember the beautiful farm girl who looked wonderful without make-up and wearing Levi's and a t-shirt? No, she doesn't look fat in anything, and she doesn't need contact enhancers or vintage tubes, either. She's just as beautiful as God intended. When something is right, it's timeless. Have fun guys. Keep music in the front and center. I'm going back to the stereo.