Paragon Volent Paragon VL-3 Loudspeakers
|A Sexy Little Débutante|
My first exposure to Volent loudspeakers was at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show and later that same year at the Munich High-End Show. Based solely on their well-sculptured look and high-gloss finish, I assumed this new loudspeaker was either Italian or French. No matter the event, whether the ’07 Munich, HE and Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, or the ’08 CES and Munich Show, Volent loudspeakers were present in one incarnation or another (there are both floor and stand-mount models among Volent’s Choral and Paragon series). You can imagine my surprise when I learned that those curvy tapered sides, that rich two-tone finish, as well as those dual-ribbon tweeters, were designed and manufactured in China. And being a self-anointed ribbon-tweeter fanatic, I had a difficult time accepting the idea that a ribbon manufactured in Hong Kong could be of any sonic significance.
But I can admit when I’m wrong, and I was.
The VL-3, which has a $10,000 asking price, rests smack dab in the middle of the company’s Paragon Series Three models, which also includes the VL-2, a stand-mounted monitor ($5,000), and the VL-4 reference ($26,500), a gargantuan loudspeaker that tips the scales at over 300 lbs.
Last July, I got the chance to hear the VL-3 driven by the Behold Gentle integrated amplifier (with Bybee wiring throughout). The location was Laufer Teknik’s downtown Manhattan showroom, owned and operated by the gregarious Sam Laufer himself. To say I was impressed by the sound would be a gross understatement. I think what surprised me most was the sheer acoustic scale and precision achieved with a rather puny 3″ aluminum midrange and 7″ titanium/graphite bass driver (model ATD 18AGTi4004 to be specific). The three-dimensionality of the sound stage was very impressive as well. Tonal and frequency balance were noticeably well-behaved driven with the Behold’s 80-watt analogue tap. Although we didn’t play anything close to loud, the volume seemed perfect for the music chosen.
Being the proud owner of a Gentle too, I requested the opportunity to formally review the Paragon Volent VL-3. A pair arrived some weeks later packaged in sturdy corrugated boxes. Having them in my home, I realized how remarkably attractive the VL-3 loudspeaker is. Its tapered, glossy, veneered sides contrast nicely with its leather front face (a la Sonus Faber). The shiny aluminum drivers give the VL-3 an immediately recognizable look, and they are quite reflective of the soft evening light (I would have preferred dark drivers). A trio of heavy duty spiked feet come standard.
Unfortunately, the VL-3’s single pair of 5-way binding posts makes bi-wiring or bi-amping impossible. This was a real bummer because the Gentle has two stereo outputs (one analogue, one switch-mode) specifically for this purpose.
The VL-3 has a sensitivity rating of 88 dB, so it is not extremely efficient, although its 4 ohm impedance will permit many solid-state amplifiers to deliver more power than they do driving 8 ohm loudspeakers . All in all (lack of bi-amplifier/bi-wire capability notwithstanding), I consider the VL-3 a very attractive and well-thought out design. Aesthetically what I like most is the VL-3’s closely appointed drivers near its top – which gives the rest of the attractive cabinetry the appearance of a very tall monitor.
Compared with the multitude of 3-way floor-standing loudspeakers available today, I’d characterize the VL-3 as a small floor-stander. As I’ve already noted, the woofer and midrange are 7” and 3” respectively, while the dual ribbon tweeters measure a mere inch (2.5 cm), from tip to tip. These rather modest-sized drivers might make the VL-3 a perfect candidate for small dwellings, but one wonders how well the VL-3’s drivers can handle stress?
My dining room is where my small system and the VL-3s are located. Its dimensions are 18′ x 17′ with a 9′ ceiling. A nice sized room (although one could wish length wasn’t an even multiple of height). A really desirable feature of the room is 5′ tall wood wainscoting on all sides, acoustically far superior to painted sheet rock. I decided I was ready to hear the VL-3s on my own terms, using the recently reviewed Holfi Xandra SACD player and Acoustic Revive cables and AC conditioner.
I noticed from the very first note the VL-3’s outstanding ability to focus and image musicians on a three-dimensional plane. A great example of fine musicianship can be heard when listening to Billy Higgins’ rendition of the Bill Lee composition John Coltranefrom the self-titled CD, “Mr. Billy Higgins” [Evidence ECD 22061-2]. Originally released on LP in 1985, it was thankfully re-released on CD in 1993. The song John Coltrane is as haunting as it is inviting, as rhythmic and smooth as it is hypnotic, and as founded on near-eastern melody as John Coltrane – the man – was in real life. Gary Bias swings on soprano saxophone in this number, maintaining an utter sweetness throughout this 12:20 jam session.
The Volent VL-3’s ability to handle the sensitivity of Higgins’ rhythmic actions, particularly his delicate cymbal accents, was unexpected. I think it’s the outstanding performance of the VL-3’s twin ribbon tweeters that accounts for this. Tony Dumas’ bass solo was also rendered with just the right amount of resonance and pitch. In short, the VL-3s perform bigger than they physically appear capable of performing. The bass doesn’t extend very deep compared to larger loudspeakers, and the simple fact is it wasn’t designed to. Its tonal balance in the bass is simply exemplary, and I believe that’s just what Paragon were aiming at. Voices possessed a clarity and freedom from even the tiniest hint of cabinet resonance, there was an uncanny sense of freedom, life and presence, thanks to the ribbon tweeter and to the curved baffle design.
Another killer example is the cut The Chosen from CD “Meshell Ndegeocello Presents: The Spirit Music Jamia: Dance of The Infidel.” This slow and melancholic song, features Cassandra Wilson, one of the sexiest and enchanting voices in jazz today, and a mesmerizing solo from guitarist Brandon Ross. Cassandra’s voice is husky, heavy and hypnotic. She’s been so closely mic’d on some recordings she sometimes sounds as if she’s chewing on the microphone. But once you become acquainted with her naturally gifted voice and her unique phrasing, it’s hard not to fall in love with this jazz diva.
The bass energy isn’t as well-recorded as I would have hoped on this commercial disc. On the other hand, Cassandra’s voice, which goes quite deep, didn’t appear negatively impacted in the least by the limited bass. My guess is the VL-3s start rolling off gradually around 40 Hz. Using a titanium layer on the sandwiched woofer cone was a brilliant idea because titanium is very stiff and very light. The woofer does sound remarkably clean and quiet. I wondered if the VL-3’s stiff driver and relatively low sensitivity coupled with the Behold’s rather modest output power (off the analogue tap) limited their performance, and in what ways?
Enter the Dragon. As it happens, I recently received a pair of Hephaestus Audio 600-watt Class D mono amplifiers. I thought it would be a good idea to hear what the VL-3s sound like driven by a pair of these monsters. (Let me mention also that I’ve been listening to the Hephaestus amps in a variety of setups, and I have found them to be highly musical: a rare compliment to brute power). With these mono blocks in place, the VL-3s were much more dynamic than they were with the Gentle. And with a 4 ohm load, the Hephaestus is rated at a whopping kilowatt of power. The sleek and diminutive VL-3s seem to love every watt. The Hephaestus amps gave an improved sense of scale to the VL-3’s bottom-end. The music sounded at once richer and fuller throughout the midrange as well. I felt that the overall transparency suffered ever so slightly, as the upper-frequencies lost a bit of sweetness, perhaps due to the extra run of cable that was needed.
The Paragon VL-3 loudspeaker is a product that I could easily live with and thus highly recommend. It’s well made and extremely attractive both in performance and looks. The only issue I had with the VL-3’s was their thirst for power. I totally appreciated their clean, wide-open sense of spatiality through the Behold Gentle. Through the Hephaestus mono blocks however, the VL-3’s came to life, especially in the lower octaves. If you’re considering purchasing this loudspeaker and already own a 100-watt amplifier of decent pedigree, I think you’ll be happy. But if you have a more powerful amp, perhaps one of the latest Class-D, high power designs similar to the Haphaestus, then expect to be amazed.
Frequency Response: 28 Hz ~ 100,000 Hz
Power Handling: 250W(RMS)
Sensitivity: 88 dB (2.83/1M)
Impedance: 4 Ohm
Crossover Point: 630, 5,700 Hertz
Dimension: 260(W) x 978(H) x 373(D) mm
Weight: 78Kg (net weight/pair)
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