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While Almarro's 18wpc A318B single-ended 6C33C amplifier with its fixed amount of modest feedback had no issue with the VL-2's load (nor did my equivalently powered Melody Valve Hifi I2A3 with JJ 2A3-40s), the far higher damping factor of Coda's massively paralleled transistors made better bass. No surprise. The lower-powered Coda CSX stereo amp actually sounded sweeter than the CX monos. Hence it became the amplification choice for all subsequent observations.

It took no time to get to the core of this assignment: Volent's Paragon monitor is a bona fide statement effort. Its superior drivers show up all the telltale sonic signs of low mass and high damping. Especially on first-rate recordings with deep ambience, there's exceptional visibility at already very low volumes where less responsive and articulate transducers remain shrouded in the mists. By the same token, truly elevated sound pressures don't get irritating. I imagine that high output measurements would confirm very low distortion figures indeed.

Apparent just as readily is the wide open, fully developed, exceptionally informative treble. It's on the breath, beautifully aerated, 'weightless' and (particularly noticeable on struck metals) with very lengthy decay trails. The resolving power of lesser drivers simply shuts down sooner to clip off such decays once they fall below a certain loudness. Andy Narell's and Liam Teague's steel drums with their peculiar but short-lived harmonic kinkiness that has things roll around inside their ringing metal cans reveal overtone activities which more 'gravitationally bound' tweeters can't make out.

The enhanced low-level retrieval -- again most relevant with recordings padded in that regard -- also connects the dots between the stacked slides that often go for soundstage layering. Then you perceive two, three or four distances relative to your seat yet nothing between them to connect up a fully developed continuous depth of field. The VL-2 simply resolves more spatial awareness around and between the performers. Naturally, if the recording lacks such clarity because it's been overly doctored with, mastering mediocrity telegraphs
far more plainly and painfully as well. That's the common denominator of higher resolution. All manner of insufficiencies are magnified together with the good stuff. Where 'just the music' types often are wrong when discussing resolution is to assume that, to a certain extent, less is more.

Partial resolution is troublesome because it is skewed. If it resolves transients with acuity but not the harmonic signatures of instrumental tone, you suffer etch. Inverse bias produces thickness. Too much treble with insufficient bass grounding gets lightweight, possibly bright. The reverse turns dark and ponderous. And so forth. Higher resolution must apply itself equally across the board to maintain balance, not bias. The VL-2, obviously, cannot plumb the depths to the same degree as it reaches so effortlessly into the oxygen-thin heights. However, the bottom octave's upper half is powerful enough for a well-tempered
tonal balance. This is not a lit up, light-in-the-loafers nervous speaker. Neither does its ported alignment fake enhanced midbass. Yes, the Paragon Monitor is all about reflexes, precision, terrific openness and digging deeply into the pits - or grooves if you're a vinylista.

But don't presume to assign a metallic fingerprint to the mid/woofer. Its diaphragm is internally damped by an organic layer between the Titanium skins. It betrays no ringing. Ditto for the tweeter. But not all ribbons are created equal. Piega's aluminum-clad TP3 monitor borrowed from a friendly Cyprus retailer evidenced a metallic sheen the Volent patently did not. There's no sizzly or hard trace with the Volent ribbons when oriented appropriately. (I had their tweeter axes cross about 3 feet behind my head for a mild degree of toe-in).

Bowed string instruments like cello and double bass -- think Renaud Garcia-Fons' Légendes [Enja 9314-2], an overdubbed feast of solo work by the French bass master -- become especially expressive with Volent's' combination of overtone-tracking ribbon and tuneful, fast mid/woofer that's not at all lean or thin as its composition could suggest. Just how much tone color you'll wrest from a speaker is of course directly proportionate to the amplifier used. Even though the crossover isn't exactly minimal, my positive experiences with two 18-watt tube amps suggest that a 40-50wpc superior valve amp could be ideally suited for the job.

It doesn't appear to be a very reactive network nor is the bass alignment as forced as it is with the Mark & Daniel Maximus which consumes copious amounts of current and is plainly unfit for thermionic devices - safe perhaps for a Wolcott Presence or Supratek Mondeuse.

With 600 to 900 4-ohm transistor watts behind either speaker, the Maximus Monitor had the last word in bass reach, slam and ultimate loudness potential. It's no exaggeration to invoke unnatural or beastly to describe what Maximus is capable of down in the basement when controlled and powered by top muscle amps.

In every other aspect, Volent's Paragon VL-2 is the superior speaker - as it should be for its higher sticker. It's more resolved and accurate; its treble is more refined and informative; and it lifts the curtains at low volumes which completely elude the Maximus to remain shrouded in fog, sounding opaque and veiled before you
prime its pump and wake it up. Mark & Daniel's speaker is warmer, denser, slower and less open. It will, however, rock out and party down the Volent in SPLs and sheer slam. To play that card, it soaks up significantly more power than the Paragon despite a stated sensitivity only 2dB lower. The Maximus is the V-8 SUV of low impedance amperage guzzlers.

Compared to the resident WLM Diva Monitor, the Volent's treble is in a different class altogether and even exceeds the Austrian's SuperPAC for speed, extension and gossamer refinement (conversely, the SuperPAC's deliberately expanded off-axis response makes for an even wider sweet spot before the image collapses into one speaker). The Diva trumps the Paragon in the amount of pressure it develops in the upper bass, lower mid band. Thus, its dynamic kick in the power zone is harder. However, its large paper-cone woofer-cum-midrange is warmer and less incisive than the Italian ATD unit. That sports higher magnification power further down into the molecular fabric. Without bass compensation from the Diva Control, the Volent monitor also offers greater bass extension.

It's a remarkable balancing act for the Paragon Monitor. It avoids the hyper rez caricature many tube lovers like to make fun of who are foremost about gestalt, tone and dimensionality. Just so, it also avoids the warmish, clearly voiced aesthetic of classic Sonus Fabers. Yet it is just as pleasant to listen to.

Compared to certain so-called 'musical' speakers, the Paragon strips away inner layers of congestion. The proof of that, once again, is the lack of need to play things loud. One is fully satisfied very early on in the volume games and gets to follow the fine tendrils of tonal fades as they drift away on the air like curling smoke.

Rainsticks, bell trees and similar noise makers with their massively paralleled miniature percussive events aren't mere noises or a wash. Things individuate out rather farther. Anything that holds for instruments goes doubly so for the human voice. We're so familiar with that, we can't even analyze what makes one system reproduce it with a stronger dose of "aha, real". We respond instinctively to vocal realism. Only active musicians do likewise when it comes to their own instruments during playback.

Needless to say, the Volent does a real number on well-recorded vocals. The upper harmonics handled by the ribbon seem to encounter so little by way of material/mechanical resistance before exciting the air that voices become rich and polished like a waxed apple's skin glistens after you rub it down.

Returning to the two already mentioned non-ribbon monitors drove this home. Take Yaghoob Zoroufchi, a high Azerbaijani tenor who studied locally as well as abroad. Like Lila Downs who can modulate her voice from a hooded whisper to banshee wails not merely in loudness but in harmonic content, Zoroufchi can switch out pipes as it were - and more than just two. On top of that, he has mastered the Azerbaijani throat warble and another type of undulating delivery which he maintains descending or ascending over multiple octaves for a nearly Indian effect. In short, how he alters and filters his tone is astounding. The better a speaker gets, the farther those differences stretch out. With the Volent, one feels closer to seeing how he actually does it - how he physically adapts his instrument to cause these effects. Quite spooky, that.

Because I ran high-power solid state, I'm confident that I heard Volent's ribbons uncut, without high-frequency phase shift or premature roll-off. Those suspicious of aluminum-based tweeters with extension to 60kHz would consider this the acid test. Were these tweeters too hot? Toed in for a full on-axis hit, I considered them just a touch too lively. Mellowing the toe-in to where the inside band of high-gloss Burl Mahogany on the cabinet looked double as wide as on the outside nailed it. Your tastes may vary but the operative concept is, there's some variability on hand. The claim for minimized beaming is factual. Standing up or moving sideways along the listening seat line for various degrees of shading from direct radiation did not net the hooding or veiling effects which narrow dispersion entails. Even in a 2.0 video context where except for one, none will sit dead center, tonal balance is maintained. Off a high-brow audiophile horse, it seems wasteful to even suggest video duties for this classy a speaker. It remains a fact though that it's a serious asset in the real world when a speaker is fit for both music and movies. Depth charge and rocket launch fanatics will necessarily disagree but civilized viewers who focus on character and story-driven flicks won't hear the need for a subwoofer.

More than once, Volent's monitor caused involuntary reflexes when certain transients sounded so life-like, I suspected a window or door had been opened, some tree branch snapped - a veritable game of 'gotcha' I mostly lost. There's a distinct side effect to this type of rise-time brilliance. Take Compay Segundo's Duets [Warner 43228-2] where the stellar Cuban singer shares the stages with the -- unlikely -- likes of Khaled, Charles Aznavour, Martirio, Cesaria Evora and others. The vocals naturally lack charged transients. However, the attacks of various shakers and rattles so typical of tropical music are nearly glinty by comparison as though injecting 'whitish' light reflections. Coming off warmer paper drivers, one could at first feel inclined to focus on this quality to the exclusion of the softer vocal textures which happen concurrently.

Being on a regular paper route myself so to speak -- driver wise that is -- I could still appreciate this simultaneity of sharp and soft textures. It made for stronger contrasts than my resident speakers pull off whose paper cones don't lay bare the edge inside truly steep transients to the same unplugged extent. They're more thick-blooded, a little slower in their body language if you will. These differences, it seems, are intrinsic mostly to the cone materials used and less so the attached crossovers since the Zus and WLMs use very different electric networks yet share the same paper driver signature. Because the Volents handle both transient and decay fidelity equally well, I would not call them biased to the leading edge. Still, coming off paper drivers, their sound throws your music in sharper relief. If your music library is stocked with bright, hard recordings, the Volents won't soften the blows, slow down the sizzle or round over the edges. There's no judgment in this. Those are simply the consequences of better optics. They show up more imperfections whatever you choose to aim 'em at.

For large-scale symphonic dynamics, I first cued up a recording that actually warns the listener: Neeme Järvi's reading of Sibelius' 5th Symphony with the Gothenburg Symphony on BIS [CD-222]: "Contrary to established practice, this recording retains the staggering dynamics of the original performance. This may damage your loudspeakers but given first-rate playback equipment, you are guaranteed a truly remarkable musical and audio experience. Good luck!" I kid you not. I actually don't care for this particular symphony as much as others but for the audiophile purposes at hand, it was indeed highly suitable to prove a point. For sane purposes, dynamic compression isn't something these monitor speakers suffer. They tracked severe dynamic swings for the really big waves without complaints.

You might cry conjecture if I predicted comparable performance in spaces significantly larger than my own - were it not for the fact that I heard the original Magico Mini in the place below to know that the Titanium mid/woofer it shares with the Volent is indeed capable of filling such environs. Mind you, this doesn't account for variances incurred by different crossovers and cabinet loading schemes (in this case, sealed vs. ported). Still, I'm reasonably confident that in the room-filling department, the Volent Paragon VL-2 should be capable of similar feats (note how the owner of this system relied on the equilateral triangle setup rather than moving his seat into the extreme far field).

The amount of toe-in not only affects subjective HF balance but soundstage focus. In my digs and nine feet apart center to center, the Volents locked fully with the aforementioned mild inward angle that had the tweeter axes cross behind me. Facing straight out in the same setup made things a bit more diffuse and the stage compress laterally.

I mentioned earlier how I'm no expert on ribbon speakers. That said, my singular exposure to the Volents -- and taking a brief detour with the smaller Piegas to hear differences I didn't care for -- demonstrated rather conclusively why such high-frequency transducers enjoy their following. Once you revel in the nuances, delicacy and sweet shimmer which superior examples of the breed release so effortlessly, more conventional tweeters begin to sound rather earthbound - thicker, less transparent, less expansive, less interesting. Tellingly in that regard, our household's better half really fell hard for the Volents. The last speaker to cause a similar commotion goes a good 10 years back when we listened to a smaller Martin Logan hybrid in our house in Santa Rosa, California. My wife loved its see-thru look and sound then and likewise cottoned to both with the Paragon VL-2. If their tweeters overcooked things to any degree, her better hearing in that range would have reacted mercilessly. It did not. Quite the contrary.

This is also the opportune place to reiterate that purely cosmetically, Ben Lau and his team have outdone themselves. The high-gloss sloping tops strongly reflect the room to make the speakers appear 'topless' of sorts, something you see even sitting down. The Burled Walnut is dark and subtle and the thick flawless gloss over it creates many additional reflections to further dilute physicality. Add the form factor of the curved receding sides and mature elegance becomes the operative term. In fact, my wife did indicate -- in the usual indirect fashion certain women have perfected when they want something -- that she wouldn't mind if I acquired this pair or the equivalent floorstander for the living room. (Alas, they're moving on to another publication for their next review.)

Back to shop talk and the wrap-up. Ultra performance monitors are on offer from various established makers, with many far more expensive than the Volent. Only someone who has heard most of them may pronounce the medalists. In this product category, that's not me. The best I can offer is an educated guess based on not having had any complaints whatsoever during my audition. I believe that in this price range and beyond and for a stand mount, you'd be foolish not to first listen to this speaker. Its hardware is top notch, its construction without compromise and its price, based on what the same coin buys elsewhere (or not), very fair. To come full circle with the prior thread on percentages: even if hard-core performance truly makes up only 20% of the diverse ingredients vital for commercial success, Volent's Paragon VL-2 makes theirs count for a full 100. That's how profoundly this package struck me, from a company which prior to Mr. Lau's e-mail, had never once pinged my radar before. Great things can from unexpected sources come.

In toto, Volent's smaller Paragon is a brilliant example of the musical ultra-resolution speaker. Contrary to certain hybrids where divergent driver technologies married to the same box betray seams or discontinuities, Volent's choice for the expensive ATD mid/woofer hands stealthily over to their ribbon without netting any complaints. Forget too slow, too thick, not resolved enough, can't keep up with the tweeter. And if ribbons suffer ultimate power handling limitations as some of their rep has it, my usage here didn't hit any output ceilings even during happy hour.

The VL-2 has all the earmarkings of award material. It's merely my unfamiliarity with the ribbon speaker genre that prevents me - which in this instance likely makes for an unfair oversight but to be meaningful, such distinctions must be informed by solid comparative context.

The only thing perverse about this exciting discovery is likely going to be that many audiophiles in Volent's domestic market where upscale flats make the Paragon VL-2 the ideal acoustic and design solution will snub it because it's not a golden cow trophy from a big import house. There's no guaranteed resale value fixed in advance by the dominant trade-in resellers who control the market. Something about little respect for a prophet in his own country? If operative in Hong Kong as I'm told from retail sources, such biases simply open the doors for American and European imports. They can then cost significantly more than Volent to sell successfully - or perhaps precisely because of it. Let's hope Ben Lau's export ambitions kick into high gear. If not his own landsmen, then certainly the rest of the world will be ready for a -- relative -- value proposition in the ultra-performance monitor speaker category.

Voice of Excellence? I'd say. Exercising will power? That too, considering how this is the launch of a new speaker brand. Color me impressed on both counts. And mark me as the newest honorary member in the Ribbons Done Right Appreciation Club. In fact, a future look at the floorstanding Paragon with its smaller ribbon is now very much on my mind. Luckily, Ben Lau has already kindly agreed to facilitate such an encounter when my schedule clears up. My crash course in Ribbonese shall continue. In the hands of a sterling teacher like Volent, ribbons = rarefied isn't mere marketing hooey. It's simply the way things are - in a far more dynamic way than I had anticipated.

Quality of packing: Cardboard with solid foam cradles top and bottom, speakers enclosed in draw string pouches.
Reusability of packing: Can be reused at least once.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Very easy.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Completeness of delivery: Includes snap-on grilles and full-size brochure, no rubber bumpers for bottom plate.
Quality of owner's manual: Included in both Chinese and English and perfectly adequate.
Website comments: Informative, with good photography and complete specs but no pricing info.
Warranty: 5 years.
Global distribution: Company manufactures in Hong Kong, international business is in start-up phase.
Human interactions: Professional and courteous, timely responses to questions.
Other: Exceptional fit 'n' finish and elegant form factor.
Pricing: Affordable for the luxury range in which this speaker operates sonically, cosmetically and build wise.

Application conditions: Mandates stands with sufficiently deep top plate, rear porting wants some distance from the front wall. High-gloss finish prone to finger prints. Categorically won't need subwoofer for music.
Final comments & suggestions: None. This is a finely matured and packaged product.
Manufacturer's website