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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Ancient Audio Lektor Prime
Preamp/Integrated: Supratek Cabernet Dual; Wyetech Labs Jade; ModWright LS-36.5 [on review]; Coda CSi [on review]

Amps: Coda CX monos and CSX stereo amp [on review]
Speakers: WLM Diva Monitor; Mark & Daniel Maximus Monitor [on review]; DeVore Fidelity Nines [on review]

Cables: Crystal Cable Ultra loom; Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular 4-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom 117V AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option; Furutech RTP-6 on 230V line
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room

Review Component Retail: $5,050/pr

Yes - before you can't help yourself. That's indeed the very ATD-18W4004 7" Titanium sandwich mid/woofer proudly worn also by Magico's original Mini which sold for quad ruples more than what today's speaker commands. And no, I don't have a Mini on hand for comparison. Anyway, it now sports a different, nano-carbon woofer and morphed into the new Mini 2. But yes once more, that's the same twin-ribbon tweeter previously seen on the JAS Orior and Orsa models. Yet this is Volent from Hong Kong. Ben Lau explained that his company has been manufacturing this tweeter for five years and that they indeed supply it to JAS. Through its sister company, Volent has been in the audio business for over 25 years. Since 1982, Ying Tai has been the sole Chinese agent for drive units from ATD, Focal, Thiel & Partner/Accuton, LPG, Eton and Jordan. Volent the brand launched in 2006. But you might say that Volent and expensive specialized transducers have already been on a first-name basis for a very long time.

It's no surprise then to find the good stuff in Volent's own speakers now. There are two Volent Paragon models, the 2-way monitor under review and a $9,650/pr 3-way tower [above and right]. Both share cosmetics and drivers but the floorstanding VL-3 of course adds a 3" spider-less aluminum Jordan midrange to cover 630 to 5,700Hz. The 2-way's single transition point hovers at 1,900Hz. Ported alignments like the VL-2's roll of shallower than a sealed box, hence Volent claims a very ambitious F3 of 30Hz for it. Nominal impedance is 4 ohms and sensitivity 88dB. Interestingly, the VL-3 isn't rated a single cycle lower nor do its other specs change. That is, except for 100,000Hz ultrasonics over the VL-2's mere 60,000Hz. That is due to the 3-way's use of Volent's 25mm tweeter rather than the 38mm unit of the monitor which has to reach lower to meet the same woofer which is now doing double duty as a midrange.

Asked which model I wanted to review, I opted for the smaller of the two. I reasoned that many listeners whose routine diet does not consist of complex symphonic mayhem might not appreciate the wisdom of paying double to go from a 2-way to a 3-way of essentially identical specs. Purely on paper, both models appear to offer a bundle. There's the boat-hull form factor popularized by Sonus Faber. There are the upscale materials of massive aluminum terminal and tweeter mount plates, pure sheep's wool stuffing, a wood-turned port, quality crossover components and the classy gloss finish.

Volent's Chorale models in gloss black, pearl white or Mahogany further showcase manufacturing chops. And then there are the hi-tech drive units. In the Chorale models, the 6" mid/woofers are Morel HU-631s with hexagonal voice coils and die cast frames. The transformer-driven twin ribbon tweeter is said to mimic the polar response characteristics of a normal dome tweeter but with "the magnificent and graceful timbres specific to ribbons".

The provided response chart would corroborate those claims - in which case the rising on-axis response above 8kHz could easily be manicured by avoiding or minimizing toe-in.

I may be reading more into this than factual but it seems that Chinese listeners -- in particular those still fond of traditional music -- favor the hifi qualities of air, sparkle and shimmer. Fellow Sino manufacturer Aurum Cantus too is in the ribbon business and has garnered very favorable US reactions with Mark Levinson's Red Rose Music monitors.

But ribbon devotees aren't exclusive to the Far East. Not by a long shot. The entire empire of Piega Switzerland was built on ribbons (coaxials included) and by their own account, they annually now move 14,000 aluminum-clad upscale speakers, adding up to ca. 120,000 boxes over the firm's 20-year operation. While ribbons may still be exotic and a no-show in the regular hifi john's lexicon, there are plenty of music lovers who are hip to and keen on bändchen as the Germans call 'em.

Personally, I'm neutral on the subject still. I've never yet reviewed a ribbon-equipped speaker, no strategic avoidance implied. It simply never happened. Hence this belated opportunity afforded by Volent's Ben Lau was timely and due. It would broaden my horizon to become at least beginner fluent in Ribbonese. For what it's worth, my ultimate tweeter to date is the one in Micropure's tiny Kotaro - an OEM Murata 'breathing-type' piezo. It sounds just like its color - golden. It also goes out to 100,000Hz while my hearing hits a brickwall at 17,000Hz. Go figure.

For a jump start quickie into ribbon tech, such drivers use a thin aluminum or metalized plastic film with an often vapor-deposited voice coil suspended in a powerful magnetic field. They are used not just in loudspeakers but also microphones. Unlike a conventional dome tweeter's voice coil, the entire ribbon surface is immersed in the magnetic field (necessitating expensive neodymium arrays) and breakup modes in the usual bands are banished. Excursions are by necessity limited. There is no conventional suspension. This has restricted ribbons to primarily treble bands. Still, technological advances continue to introduce ribbon drivers with higher SPL capabilities at lower frequencies, notably those from Alian. As Volent's VL-2 speaker demonstrates, its ribbon is employed just like a conventional dome tweeter, above 2kHz. The difference to a dome is ultrasonic extension to 60,000Hz and a promise of greater reflexes for higher accuracy (more detail) and less distortion (more finesse). After all, a ribbon's mass compared to a dome tweeter's is far more negligible. Low mass plus high magnetic field strength applied to a large surface equals accuracy and speed. Volent's construction of its twin ribbon tweeter uses a 0.0006mm aluminum foil with two outer and two inner pole pieces. "Because our pole pieces are not at the front or back of the ribbons, we don't suffer the usual excursion limitations." The above are the various trump cards ribbon proponents will push to have you go ribbon and abandon conventional tweeters. When we consider the top models of various speaker brands, ribbon tweeters indeed show up as weapons of choice. The big Aerial Acoustics 20T comes to mind.

With the LCY-130 being Volent's design -- and a mature one at that after 5 years of continued manufacture -- a ribbon tweeter of course had to become the final choice for its own monitor. From the above, this speaker sees itself as a statement effort for listening spaces where a premium 7-incher's vented bass extension and weight are all that's required and desired. If we add to this Hong Kong's infamous real-estate of exorbitantly priced yet compact flats and condos plus Volent's access to affordable labor, the VL-2's raison d'être and pricing spell out in no uncertain terms. For Westerners used to renting homes that would seem palatial to Pacific Rim apartment owners (and unbelievably cheap), the main questions are mostly whether this monitor speaker can perform full-range in dedicated rooms of larger size and whether its voicing particularly in the treble meets our expectations.

Soliciting us for a review suggests of course that Volent is poised to expand distribution into foreign markets. Given the abundance of speaker brands, Volent's ace cards will include pricing, fit'n'finish and driver tech, all of which they seem to have in their back pocket. That in itself doesn't guarantee success of course. Cynics insist that marketing makes up at least 60% of the ingredients vital for success, with actual performance perhaps 20% but mostly clocking in dead last. Given that poor reviewers sweat performance
Crossover for Volent CL-2i floorstander
assessments, magazine priorities seem sorrily divorced from business reality. Regardless, Volent's ingredients suggest a very propitious beginning. And having survived in business for 25 years is enormously more than just a beginning. Beside being a contraction of 'voice of excellence', the company's name also means 'to exercise willpower'. That said, it's about those twenty percent card-carrying audiophiles are most concerned. Did Volent will premium performance into its upscale package?

First, a few more technical tidbits. Ben Lau explained that "conventionally, because of magnetic field density problems, no ribbon tweeter worldwide exceeds 10mm in width. In order to compensate for sensitivity losses from that size, the ribbon itself needs to be very long, say 8 -12cm. However, this creates phase problems. Listeners need to sit on tweeter level or treble output will vary enormously. With Volent's patented twin-ribbon tweeter, we combine the characteristics of a ribbon's light mass with the dispersion
advantage of dome tweeters while sensitivity remains naturally between 92 and 96dB (2.83V/1M, depending on model). Therefore, we get the ribbon's transparency, detail and fast speed and at the same time, minimize the need for toe-in and enjoy the benefits of wider soundstaging and a deeper 3D image.

"The Italian ATD 18AGTi4004 7" woofer is a very special design of sandwiched Titanium skins bonded to an inner graphite layer to be strong yet light for exceptional detail and speed. The high-gloss burled Walnut cabinet is made from curved 25mm HDF panels and a 40mm front panel. All veneers are Italian imports and top class. Internal cross braces minimize cabinet resonance to improve bass performance. The VL-2's crossover, like the CL-2i photo submitted, is mounted perpendicular to the drivers to minimize capacitor microphonics. Needless to say, all network components are specially selected and highest grade." Take that, Bainbridge scholars (from The Mummy's Rachel Weisz). No curse of any sort accompanied the DHL shipment from Hong Kong via Germany and London which arrived properly embalmed in draw-string pouches and in immaculate condition. A speaker company's excellence is directly proportionate to its ability of getting their goods past the men in brown and into your hands, mint and as advertised. Volent's got that aced.

Besides the curved side walls, the top panel slants rakishly upwards going back to make the only parallel walls remaining the front and back. Add the superb finish which includes a pebbled faux leather front baffle covering and Volent's VL-2 is styled about as upscale as a 2-way monitor could hope to get. Because no speaker may be assessed in limbo -- rule #3, sub clause 14 of the Speaker Review Cookbook -- two in-house 2-way competitors, the €3,000/pr WLM Diva Monitor from Austria and the $3,000/pr Mark & Daniel Maximus Monitor from Shanghai, would provide context. Drive duties would fall primarily on Coda's new CX mono and CSX stereo amps to supply requisite muscle with finesse.