This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Chris Redmond
Financial Interests: click here
Source: AMR CD-77.1
Preamp: Music First silver TVC, Music First copper TVC.
Amplifier: E.A.R. 509 100wpc monos
Cables: Kimber Select KS-1030 silver ICs, Kimber Select KS-3035 silver/copper speaker cable, Artisan Silver Dream ICs, Kimber High Current power cord, JPS Kaptovator power cords
Equipment supports: Finite Elemente Spider Rack for components, Townsend isolation platform for AMR CD77.1
Power delivery: PS Audio P600 multi-wave, separate Kimber high current mains spur
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System Resonators and sugar cubes, AMR audiophile fuses
Room size: 70 cubic meters
Review component retail: $12,995 a pair

As someone who tends to buzz in and out of audio show exhibitor rooms like a honey bee seeking to rest its weary wings and drink the purest nectar, experience shows that the most physically attractive flowers don't necessarily yield the greatest returns. There appears to be zero correlation between aesthetics and performance. On the other hand I'm also convinced of a kind of placebo effect. The most eye-catching designs tend to be given the benefit of the doubt. Here I'm talking primarily of speakers where a designer can really be quite flamboyant and create a visual impact that dominates a system or room. Certainly when pushed for time I'm guilty of briefly peering into rooms and moving on at the sight of waist high narrow veneered rectangular boxes which suggest a safe conservative manufacturer designing within certain budget restraints. Bearing in mind my own Audio Note AN/Es which are the most expensive components in my system yet wouldn't look out of place as plant stands in a charity shop, this attitude is highly irrational. Nonetheless it exists when I have to be selective about how to spend my time at shows.

In contrast to bland boxes, a giant pair of bright yellow or blue hornspeakers would be the audiophile equivalent of a beckoning finger from a scantily attired young lady sitting in her boudoir window with a red light on. Again, irrational and illogical given that I've never heard a pair of horns I'd want to own - or any pair of yellow or blue speakers if I think of it. On a subliminal level then, the mere mention of Italian in the same breath as speaker does initially raise more interest in me than if the former word was Chinese, Swedish, American or even British. The mind is quicker to recount visual images than sonic experiences. Mention Italian to me and once the imagery of a pizza is scraped from memory like the remains of last night's ham and pineapple dish, I think of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Ducati as examples of Italian flair, style and passion for making beautiful objects of desire.

Apply preconceptions of Italian to loudspeakers and we've all seen the results, Sonus Faber being the poster boys of Italian loudspeaker design with exquisite combinations of luxuriant veneers, leather and a disdain for boxes that look like boxes. Corners are rounded, surfaces are curved and divided into multiple segments. In general the impression I get is that aesthetics are at the very least regarded as being of equal importance to performance like the aforementioned Ferrari, Lamborghini and Ducati. Those go hand in hand. Considering that my perception was rather clich├ęd then, it was still positive. Hence the review offer of a pair of Rosso Fiorentino Volterras was eagerly accepted even though I'd never heard them in a system before or indeed heard of them - and this despite the fact that Rosso Fiorentino had been producing speakers since 2006.

As somebody who infrequently reviews due to work commitments, I'd nonetheless become acquainted with a select network of industry professionals whose ideas of what constitutes good sound are broadly similar to my own. I could therefore be reasonably confident that if these speakers weren't capable, there was no way I'd be allowed to get my hands on them. I also knew that these were well received at shows and with source components and amplification which formed part of my own system. From the distributor and manufacturer perspectives I was sure they were confident that my own tastes would be well served. That being said, it's no secret that my preference is for SET amplification where the 87dB Volterras aren't exactly SET-friendly. My favoured flavor of amplification would thus be consigned to the barracks for the duration and replaced by the E.A.R. 509 monos with their 100wpc of Tim De Paravicini valve grunt.

Wonderful amps though the 509s may be, they aren't SET and not even class A. Just how my pampered ears would react to a downgrade in amplification at least in terms of resolution did somewhat temper my expectations for the Volterras. Whilst connecting the 509s to the PS Audio Powerplant I did recall that their resolution compared favorably to a couple of decent class A solid-state amps that passed through my system a few years ago, one of them the excellent Sugden A21SE. As a matter of interest I listened to a few CDs through the reference Audio Note AN/Es and as expected the E.A.Rs couldn't match the... I was trying to resist "the magic of SETs" but just failed miserably. Still the E.A.Rs were no slouches. They reminded me in no uncertain terms of why I'd held on to them for so long and why their big bold ballsy sound and razor-sharp dynamics would hopefully be a good match for the Volterras. So then, system ready, bring on the Italians.