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March 2008
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Volent Paragon VL-3 Loudspeakers 
Spirit, presence and deep bass.
Review By Neil Walker
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 Volent Paragon VL-3 Loudspeaker

  Reviewing these speakers has been an adventure. One of my favorite audio friends said to me, "Sure, some of the Chinese speakers sound great, but they have no soul." With that in mind, I listened to these speakers expecting to be uncharmed, disbelieving and otherwise prepared to say that for $9,650 you could do much better with something crafted in the Black Forest or the Allegheny mountains or your local speaker garage.

Was I ever wrong.

My only cavil is that these speakers have gorgeous, expensive looking, high-gloss burled walnut cabinets. I wondered as I unpacked their 86 pound weight (with some assistance: reviewing speakers is a bit of a neighborhood project) whether the pretty part detracted from the sound part. I began my serious listening and what a joy that was. My 30-watt tube amp had no trouble driving these loudspeakers. These speakers presented me with recorded music that possessed clarity, openness, precision, musicality, internal detail, accurate phasing, deep musical bass (25Hz) and a realistic, deep soundstage.

The technical aspect of these speakers deserves mention. The 25mm ribbon "twin ribbon" tweeter (Volent's patented design) reproduces frequencies up to 100kHz. Your hearing may reach, if you are young, about 20kHz, but the ability to reproduce sounds to frequencies five times higher is, according to the company, "able to produce the harmonics and high frequencies which ‘lift the curtain' on musical reproduction to give the listener a sense of presence as never before." Its low mass provides it with the ability to reproduce tiny high frequency waves with greater precision and speed. A Volent-prepared chart demonstrates the wide listening angle they achieve with twin ribbon technology. The result is to provide the qualities of both ribbon and dome tweeter technology.

The seven-inch bass driver crosses over to the mid range at 630Hz. It is a titanium and graphite sandwich cone woofer with a patented "Air" system. Volent does not elaborate on the Air system online or on the details of titanium and graphite sandwich, but its importance became important later in my listening.

The three-inch mid-range speaker uses an aluminum cone and covers the range up to 5700Hz at which point the dual ribbon tweeter takes over. The nominal impedance of the speaker was given as six Ohms, and I found it worked best when I attached it to the four Ohm terminals on my amplifier.

What do all the high tech and artistry do for the listener? I started my review with one of my standards, Shirley Horn's "If you leave me" [You Wonÿt Forget Me, Verve, 847 482_2]. She was there, piano and all. Same thing with Patricia Barber, another piano playing chanteuse on several of her beautifully recorded CDs.

When I moved to vinyl, I started with Elvis's great rendition of "Fever" on the LP Elvis Is Back [DCC Compact Classics LPZ_2037]. It put his voice front and center better than any speaker I have reviewed with this track. The bass and percussion accompaniment has the kind of tactile presence good reproduction demands. Interesting that the high tech tweeter and woofer of the VL-3 gets so much attention. Once you listen to something like a single driver Cain and Cain running off a 300B output tube, you realize that so much of your sense of hi-fi reality is in the midrange. Granted that the tweeter's harmonics make the sound real, but the heart is in the midrange. A significant part of this miracle (it sounds miraculous the first few times you hear it), comes from the single driver's lack of a crossover network. The more between you and the CD or record, the more the result with the VL-3's aluminum cone midrange driver is straight forward: tactile realism is very high when you listen to these loudspeakers.

Therefore, it went record after record. A new album, Raising Sand, made by the seemingly unlikely duo of Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and the great bluegrass fiddling and singing artist, Alison Kraus, revealed a lot of music. They perform with skill and feeling, and, for the purposes of this review, they produced a record of exceptional sonic quality.

If you have heard the iPod song one time too many on Apple's TV ads, you should listen to it on these speakers. Canadian singer and songwriter Feist (Leslie Feist) released The Reminder in 2007 to great critical acclaim. All tracks are enjoyable, sometimes ironic, and sometimes romantic "1234," the song that Apple used and that brought Feist a huge audience, is a new song when the VL-3s bring you her closely mic'ed voice and banjo. As in orchestral recordings, opera and choral works, the loudspeakers' ability to reveal the inner structure of the music enlivens this CD, too.

Then I moved to vinyl and some Strauss waltzes, in particular the "Thunder and Lightning Polka" on Strauss Waltzes, performed by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestrain 1962 [RCA Victor Red Seal LSC-2500]. The bass drum takes a walloping in this piece, and the VL-3s never faltered, all the time maintaining inner detail, woodwinds that breathed in my listening room and solid strings that sat in their assigned places. The other cuts demonstrated the same kind of internal clarity while carrying out their heavy bass and tweeter jobs without hesitation.

Back on CDs, the VL-3s reveal aspects on every track of Nikolas Kynaston's recording of Liszt music for organ performed on the Klais Organ of Ingolstadt, Münster [Organ Works, IMP Masters/Carlton Classics, 30366 00032]. I had not heard until now. The capture of resonance in the church opens a new dimension of listener placement. The bass notes took on the life that one would expect from a great recording of such a superb instrument. At the same time, I heard the interior of this music, a rare experience. But that bass caused shivers: not only is it in balance with the rest of the music, but the VL-3s offer a musically satisfying bass that surrenders no detail to the demands of major excursions by the speaker cone.

When I asked company representative Ben Lau to elaborate on the technical aspects of the woofer, he explained, "It is a special woofer tailor made for Volent from Italy. The cone is built with a sandwich structure. The inner layer is made of Syntactic Polymer Hardfoam, [while the] outer layer is graphite with titanium ionized on its surface. The merits from both materials are therefore maintained, [using] graphite's elasticity and titanium's stiffness.

I was glad I asked. Although knowing the technical details matters little to one's listening experience, they satisfied my curiosity. As I listened to this CD and several other records that placed great demands on the system, I felt that either these folks were smart or I was having an undeserved out of body experience.

And that is where the magic lies in these speakers. Have I heard more coherent sound from other speakers? Yes. The use of a series crossover in a two-speaker system can provide a serious advantage here. But the VL-3s have many compensating features. Have I heard speakers as good as or better than these? Yes. However, they cost significantly more and, although they had hi-fi qualities galore (more and louder "ting and bang"), they did not possess the depth of immediacy and detail that the VL-3s provide.

The VL-3s have musical magic. Their clarity and lightness comes from the fast response and rapid deceleration of the individual parts that good engineering and careful manufacture provide. And they have the sum of parts greater than the whole. In all my dealing with Volent, I sensed that they are determined to satisfy an international customer base that takes music very seriously and with great emotional attachment. In all my listening to these speakers, I realized that they are doing a very good job of satisfying that base of musical connoisseurs. The VL-3s promise and deliver on in unusual combination: transparency, immediacy and intimacy simultaneously at both low and high volume.

Finally, a word on the quality of these loudspeakers. The Volent VL-3 are technically advanced, to be sure. They are also stuffed with a lot of real lamb's wool, as the SL-3 website states. Nevertheless, I had occasion to open one of these loudspeakers and can report that they have meticulously built crossovers, very high quality terminals, a lot of lamb's wool and excellent manufacturing standards throughout.

I disassembled one of the speakers with the permission of company representative Ben Lau as one of the mid-range speakers was not functioning because of frequent, long distance shipping. When I first began listening to the speakers, I wondered at the sudden incidence of right channel dominance in my recordings. I thought that perhaps my amplifier was in trouble or that my hearing was failing on one side, but when I investigated further, I discovered the real problem. Opening an expensive speaker fills me with some dread, I procrastinated as long as possible as other jobs and chores required my attention. After finally peering into the works of the speaker, and stating that I could see no reason inside the box for the malfunctioning driver, I received a new panel containing a mid-range and tweeter. Again, the terror of messing with an expensive speaker made me hesitate until I finally got out the soldering iron, some silver solder and did the whole job in about ten minutes. I did not even drop any solder on that beautiful walnut finish. So much for procrastination as the product of procrastination.

Most importantly, my exploration inside the VL-3 loudspeakers taught me that their build quality is very high. If you are going to spend close to $10,000, you deserve an excellent product and the Volent VL-3 loudspeakers easily qualify. While the VL-3s sell for a price where there are many other fine loudspeakers, these hang with the $10,000 crowd very comfortably.

 

Associated Equipment
Analogue

Ariston RD90 turntable
Sumiko MMT tone arm, Cardas internal wiring
SAEC cartridge shell
Benz Micro L2 cartridge
Cardas Golden Cross Phono interconnect B tone arm to phono pre-amp
Audiomat Phono 1 pre-amp
JPS Labs Superconductor 2 interconnects, phono pre-amp to amplifier

Digital
Vecteur L-2.4 CD Player
JPS Labs Superconductor 2 interconnects

Amplifier
Audiomat Prélude Référence integrated tube amplifier

Speaker Cable
Nirvana S-L

 

Specifications
Type: Three-way floorstanding loudspeakers
Frequency Response: 28Hz to 100kHz 
Power Handling: 250W (RMS) 
Sensitivity: 88dB/W/m 
Impedance: 4 Ohm 
Crossover Point: 630 and 5,700 Hz 
Dimensions: 10.24 x 38.5 x 14.7 (WxHxD in inches)
Weight: 172 lbs per pair
Price $9650

 

Company Information
Volent Corp. Ltd.
A: FT, K&L, 17/F, Blk 1,
Golden Dragon Industrial Centre,
152_160, Tai Lin Pai Rd, Kwai Chung
Hong Kong

Voice: (852) 3427-2308
Fax: (852) 3427-2309
Website: www.volent.com.hk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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