Penon Volt – Electric dreams

If you're looking for flagship performance at a reasonable price and you like full bodied, smooth signature with strong bass foundations, impressive resolution and treble refinement then you'd miss out not adding the Volt to your list. Make sure you have a proper source though to provide enough current to bring the best out of it. And if you have a bigger budget, Totem is a fantastic pairing that brings a more punchy, energetic, focused presentation as well as elite performance that matches much pricier flagships. 

Pros

  • Potential is high Volt will scale superbly with better sources and cables
  • Highly resolving and open sounding organic tuning that manages to be non fatiguing (quite a unique combination)
  • Superb upper treble performance providing superb air, resolution and refinement thanks to blazing fast transients (Rises to elite levels with Totem)
  • Smooth lower treble with good energy
  • Full bodied, smooth and soulful midrange with sweet vocals (Totem brings extra bite, clarity and transparency)
  • Powerful and detailed bass that strikes a good balance of control, punch and rich textures (Totem makes it punchier and snappier with more power)
  • Excellent build and fit
  • Outstanding value for money

Cons

  • Needs good current to shine (don’t hesitate to try medium / high gain you’ll be rewarded!)
  • Some might find upper mids and lower treble to miss bite (upgrade cables like Totem will make this a weaker con, brighter sources can also help)

Product Page : https://penonaudio.com/penon-volt.html
Price : 799$ (universal) + 879$ (custom)

Fit, Build & Isolation

The Penon Volt features a superb build, worthy of its flagship status and the fit was perfect right out of the box, I sent my usual digital STL prints and it took 10 days to build which is pretty good time from my experience. The fit is quite deep (deepest of all my customs in fact) but not too compressive it’s very confortable. I can see people having a problem with the artist fit as compared to the usually more relaxed fit of audiophile CIEM. I personally love it but if you’re sensitive I would ask for a shallower insertion.

As you might notice in the picture above there are 3 sound tubes and 3 bores with only one larger bore at the exit so the Volt is somewhat of a horn bore design which is great to avoid wax to enter the sound tubes. The 2 pin socket is not recessed which is something I generally prefer for a more secure fit this being said the sockets are tight and the cable secure.

The Volt comes with a very nice stock single crystal copper silver-plated copper cable with assorted colors to the Volt blue. The cable is 2.5mm and comes with a 3.5 and 4.4 pigtail extension.

Introduction

Like most people I know I have enjoyed Penon as an online shop, a trusted distributor of many brands I love like Dunu, Astrotec or ISN to name a few. Penon started building IEMs (the BS1 earbud in 2017) and great value for money cables (like OS849). In 2019 they launched their first IEM the Sphere and it was a success. Lately they have been on a roll with the Penon Orb I recently reviewed and the flagship cable Totem I’ll soon review.

The Volt is a tribrid sporting a 10mm dynamic driver for the lows, 2 Sonion balanced armatures for the mids and no less than 4 Sonion electrostatic drivers for the highs. Penon didn’t really write up a summary of the tuning goals and very little to no marketing happened at launch. This means I had no expectations and I simply blind purchased it based both on a few reviews I trust and on how good the Orb sounded to me and the trust I have in the brand to build a flagship that would fit my tastes. Let’s check out what is Penon’s take on a flagship with the Volt!

Sound

The Volt is one of those IEMs that from the get go I knew was going to be interesting as it clearly is a multi-faceted IEM with its own brand of sound. As you’ll see further down this review, there is more to the Volt than meets the eye upon first listen. This is largely based upon the fact it needs some experimenting to get the best out of it.

First thing I quickly noticed is how Volt needs power or rather good current to shine. It’s deceptive because at 12ohm it’s easy to drive loud enough, you could be fooled to think to stay in low gain with relatively conservative volume levels. But as I experimented I quickly found out it sounded best between medium and sometimes high gain. The laid back nature that is a recurrent theme of most Volt impressions and reviews is to be taken with a grain of salt. The Volt needs, as we’ll see, more juice to reveal what it has to offer.

Second, upon first listen my brain had to adjust to the expectations I have for this type of signature. The Volt is a singular IEM for it features a sublime top end extension with blazing fast transients on top of that full bodied, smooth and organic signature. This is a particular taste of organic that is very resolving and refined with great separation, air and detail retrieval all presented in a natural way. Something that I very rarely experienced aside from Vision Ears VE8 or StealthSonics C9 Pro. But Volt takes yet a different twist with a different balance between a less energetic lower treble than the C9 pro and more extended upper treble than the VE8.

Bass

The Volt bass shares a driver and a common baseline with the Orb. It’s a powerful bass that strikes a good balance of powercontrolpunch and rich textures. This being said while the sub bass is equally powerful and controlled as the Orb the mid bass is just a bit less prominent than the Orb and the tuning goal seems to have been to make this a leaner more reference bass. As we’ll see this is coherent adjustments, given Volt features more lower mids presence than the Orb.

Sub bass extension is excellent, my usual test tracks gave me plenty of sub bass rumble on Sohn’s “Falling” or Aphex Twins “Ageispolis” or Phanee de Pool “Amstram”. There is a sense of power and physicality that is unmistakenly the trait of a good dynamic driver, the Volt has great sub bass presence when called for but at the same time it does not overshadow the rest of the spectrum.

The mid bass is a bit less prominent in terms of presence compared with the sub bass. The Volt shows a bit more restraint than the Orb with a more controlled presentation. This being said the bass line is still strong with beautiful textures and impressive detail. This shows with percussions where the Volt manages to pull significantly more detail and nuances thant the Orb. In Ruben Gonzàles “La Lluvia” the double bass presence is very strong in the mix and it’s always a good test of how good mid bass control is. The Volt does very well there with excellent control and good speed. It won’t be as fast and snappy as the best BA bass though and I get a snappier and faster performance from my best BA IEMs as we’ll see in the comparison section.

The deep percussions on Nenad Vasilic “Lupafte” is outstanding and close to the best portrayal of this track that I have heard. Okvsho “Algoriddim” is rendered with great punch and is quite snappy as well, it shows that depending on the recording the Volt can deliver more speed and snap. Ayo “Throw it away” show how deep the Volt bass can be, with its almost hypnotic rhythm operating as it was intended I was totally immersed in the song with a very tactile bass oozing of rich textures and deeply seated bass line.

All those impressions are with the stock cable, let me now tell you about how the Volt bass fares with Penon flagship cable the Totem. The Totem is a cable built for superlatives, combining a silver plated copper, a gold plated copper and a palladium plated silver in 2 wires each containing a whopping 334 cores. It’s also the very same price as Volt. Price notwithstanding it gave me a clear view of how high the Volt can scale and let me tell you right away, this is a stunning combo in every way. So much so that it warrants a full write up…

The Totem takes the Volt the extra mile in terms of sub bass. The 3 tests tracks Sohn’s “Falling”, Aphex Twins “Ageispolis” and Phanee de Pool “Amstram” all exhibit a more focused and controlled presentation. I am talking subwoofer like performance with a physicality that goes well beyond what the excellent stock cable can deliver. I was simply utterly impressed by this combo and the sub bass coming out of those IEMs was simply unreal. Consider me stunned. Wow.

On to the mid bass, the Totem tightens the mid bass significantly, bringing a much snappier performance out of the Volt’s dynamic driver. It’s now very close to the best BA bass I have at hand with my custom EM10 and FIBAE7. It’s a bit shocking how this cable affects the mid bass performance again bringing a more focused bass with more punch along with more detail. The Totem brings a sense of visceral realism to the Volt bass and I got lost in time listening to my bass test playlist, absolutely hypnotized by the sound coming out of a pair of custom IEMs. Again, wow.

Mids

The Volt mids are full bodied, with sweet vocals that are forwardly positioned. Like the Orb it’s an engaging and smooth midrange but the Orb is more lively with more upper mids bite while the Volt feature a silky smooth midrange. As we’ll see, the Volt upper treble presence and extension have a huge role on its midrange presentation bringing separation, air and balance to what would have been a darker signature otherwise. This is one key aspect of the whole signature.

The lower mids remind me greatly of Stealthsonics C9 Pro in that it’s an elevated lower mids that provides satisfying body and weight with a delicious “tactile” feel to them. As we’ll see in the comparison section, the Volt is not as warm and thick as the C9 Pro but it does have a warm hue to its midrange. This does benefit the whole range of wood instruments from the double bass to the violin, which sound more soulful and powerful and in the brass section the tuba and trombone as well.

The upper mids on the other hand are on the smoother side. There is good percussive attack and electric guitars have good bite but above around 5kHz there is a dip and some might find hi hats to lack crispness, kick drums and toms to lack a bit of snap and brass instruments are overall on the safer side. If you’re looking for deliciously hair rising bite on some saxophone performance the Volt won’t get you there. Not that it won’t be beautiful. I know I like it’s soulful presentation but in terms of bringing you to the edge it will just be too safe for some in how it portrays brass instruments. On the flipside Volt is non fatiguing and tracks like Hank Levy “Whiplash” or Miles Davis “So What” are absolutely devoid of any agressive hints that have me cross my personal threshold with some IEMs.

On to vocals. Given the lower mids tuning and overall fullness of the Volt, male vocals have power and Leonard Cohen “Nevermind” was a pure treat. Female vocals are slightly on the sweeter side but I find it gives a natural tone. I loved how the Volt portrayed Juliette Armanet vocal performance in “L’accident” which was as good as I have heard it. The presence range is elevated and there is vocal emphasis, and the upper mids being on the safer side there is no hint of sibilance whatsoever. As we’ll see to bonify things the superb upper treble brings welcome air and nuances to an otherwise smooth presentation, making the Volt a very enticing vocal performer.

All those impressions are with the stock cable, let me now tell you about how the Volt mids fares with Penon flagship cable the Totem. The first thing that is clearly apparent is how the Totem brings the Volt mildrange towards more transparency and clarity but also more bite in the upper mids. The overall tone of the mids is more balanced despite retaining a slight warm hue. The stage is more open with better instruments separation with the lower mids loosing a bit of thickness over the stock cable. This provides a fantastic sense of realism and the cleaner attack and faster decay also make it an even more engaging IEM and I had a hard time putting the Volt down going through my midrange test tracks. The additional bite now makes brass a totally different story and while Volt remains smooth and won’t bring you to the edge of performances in terms of bite it will provide a good amount of it which I think make it more engaging.

Treble

As I have hinted before, treble is somewhat of a cornerstone of the Volt signature but also somewhat of an atypical treble range with a buttery smooth lower treble and an impressive upper treble extension providing air, resolution as well as sublime transients. The Volt clearly features an upper treble tilt.

The lower treble has good energy but is consistent with the upper mids and the overall tuning goal which seems to be smoothness first. This means some will find the lower treble lacking bite, it’s not the kind of treble that will rejoice pure treble heads in this respect. This is a weakness of the EST in the lower treble in my opinion and I think BA have long good days as the best tech for lower treble if you want bite, weight and smoothness. Don’t misread this as the treble being lifeless, it’s not! It has good energy but it lacks bite and weight that is so yummy on piano for example. You can get a better result with setting a higher gain there and get extra energy but it might not be enough for those who seek thrilling lower treble. On the flipside this means the Volt is absolutely devoid of any sibilance even on the worst tracks and albums, Paul Simon “Graceland” album comes to mind there and it’s the first time since the FIBAE Black I had no sibilance at all.

The upper treble has top notch extension and presence and at the risk of sounding cliché I have just re-discovered many tracks and album subtleties and details with the Volt that I had only heard with my former KSE1500. This is where EST shine with blazing fast transients that add superb air and refinement. Contrary to many IEMs with excellent upper treble performance, I didn’t find the upper treble presence was overdone like it sometimes is : detail is not presented in a way that is at the expense of the overall musical message. This might be the most impressive aspect of the Volt, it provides boatloads of details in such an effortless and natural way. Volt is very resolving but not in a way that is “in your face”.

All those impressions are with the stock cable, let me now tell you about how the Volt treble fares with Penon flagship cable the Totem. I am not sure if it’s the palladium plated silver, but first very apparent difference is the extra lower treble energy you get out of the Volt with the Totem. Things remain absolutely smooth no matter which track but you have welcome extra energy that makes Volt more engaging. Electric guitars, piano and hi hats and snare drums are more enjoyable to my ears and when I compared Jack Johnson “Staple it together” with both cable it was clearly so much more enjoyable with the Totem. Last but not least, with the Totem upper treble section is less significantly improved but you still get extra resolution and refinement that comes with the last 5% improvements that flagships are known for and let me tell you Volt is among much pricier IEMs in that configuration.

Select comparisons

Note : I couldn’t resist the temptation to make this comparison using the Totem to bring the best out of each contender.

ItsFit Lab Fusion
Of all the comparisons in this section, on paper this is one of the most fitting in my collection : for starter, both Volt and fusion are tribrid, with a dynamic driver for lows, BA for mids and their own new tech for treble magnetostatic for the Fusion vs EST for the Volt. If you’ve read my Fusion review you know I consider it’s a punchy and clear sounding IEM with a balanced signature, great soundstage and fantastic imaging.

Starting with the bass, the Fusion bass presentation is clean and absolutely flawless technically with clearly a reference take. It’s a tight, snappy, detailed and controlled bass with no particular emphasis on sub or mid bass. The sub extension is excellent with good presence, the mid bass is on the leaner side with sharp attack and quick decay. You could be fooled to think it’s a BA bass if not for the physicality of the sub bass. Comparatively Volt is more fun with both more overall bass presence, more physical sub bass and more mid bass slam.

In terms of midrange, the Fusion is coherent with its bass tuning, furthering the reference approach and it’s a very balanced clear and clean midrange with very good separation where the Volt is clearly fuller bodied with an overall warmer hue in terms of overall tone. The upper midrange is where Volt are more similar with safe upper mids that aim to be smooth.

Treble is where I was quite interested to check out how the Fusion magnetostatic would fares against Volt EST drivers. The magnetostatic promises fast transients but does this equal the EST incredibly fast transient performance ? Not quite, although it’s the closest I have heard to EST performance and it’s not a one sided story either. While the Volt upper treble is more extended with faster transients and I found it more resolving and airy than the Fusion, the lower treble packs more energy than the Volt with more weight as well. Of course we’re comparing Apple to Oranges here as Volt and Fusion clearly have different tuning goals but still this is interesting. Volt is more refined and resolving but the Fusion are more energetic and engaging.

Custom Art FIBAE7
As you might know, this is still my all time favorite IEM and another organic IEM that is an obvious comparison to the Volt. The FIBAE7 signature is to me the epitome of musicality : sub bass provide physicality and strength, engaging mid bass it provides great rhythm and pace, full sounding, smooth, rich and textured mids pack plenty of bite, while lower treble energy provides plenty of excitement and upper treble finesse, air and resolution.

In the bass department, despite its 2 BA drivers array vs Volt dynamic, the FIBAE7 holds its ground with astonishing sub bass presence that manages to rival the Volt in terms of physicality. Volt and FIBAE7 have the same sub bass tilt relatively to the mid bass, with FIBAE7 tilting a bit more towards sub bass which I think allow to compensate the more physical dynamic driver of the Volt. On the flipside, the Volt has more mid bass slam with an overall more reference and snappier presentation over the more textured and a tad longer decay of the FIBAE7 (although FIBAE7 is quite faster than the C9 Pro).

Now the midrange is where the biggest difference lie between Volt and FIBAE7 : the FIBAE7 has similarly full bodied mids but the midrange overall balance is totally different. FIBAE7 has forward upper mids with significantly more bite which makes it a much more energetic and forward midrange than the Volt. Comparatively the Volt is the more relaxed listen of the two, almost understated as compared to the brazen midrange of the FIBAE7 that feel much more lively and saxophones, acoustic guitars and piano have more presence and bite.

This is furthered by the treble presentation where the FIBAE7 has much more lower treble energy and note weight. This provides an additional sense of rythm and excitement where the Volt won’t be pushing your buttons so to speak and its presentation will be beautiful but polite compared to the energetic FIBAE7. Conversely, Volt has much more upper treble presence than the FIBAE7. Not that the FIBAE7 is not extended but it’s less so than the Volt by a significant margin and more importantly Volt upper treble presence is more prominent. Basically their treble balance is a bit of a story of opposites. This makes Volt more resolving and open with better separation, along with much faster transients as well.

Earsonics EM10
The EM10 is a very smooth yes but energetic IEM all around : punchy bass with what I consider to be the best BA mid bass I have heard providing a unique sense of rythm, full mids with bite and energetic and refined treble for a clearly TOTL performance all accross the board. Comparison with the Volt will prove interesting.

Starting with the bass, the EM10 distinguishes itself with a significantly faster bass and Earsonics custom bass driver (built in house) certainly holds its own again the Volt dynamic in terms of impact and physicality. The EM10 bass is key to its power and physicality, it’s a deep, rich, strong and full bass that extends fairly low and exhibits impeccable control. Compared to Volt, there is a mid bass tilt in terms of presence while sub bass is well extended the Volt pack more power and physicality. But the EM10 much faster speed combined with a physicality that falls just behind gives the EM10 a better sense of rythm and pace. It’s still king of PRaT in my book.

On to the midrange, where some key difference lie : while both Volt and EM10 have full bodied midrange, the EM10 is more balanced with a bit less body and weight but more importantly more bite and upper mids presence. Volt is comparatively warmer, smoother and fuller bodied. The EM10 feel more articulate and mature with spot on bite and energy, with a more delicate balance than the more brazen FIBAE7. The EM10 mids feel like a Sean Connery James Bond in a smoking classy, dashing and mature.

Last but not least, treble. The EM10 lower treble is smooth but energetic and this is a real treat especially on piano notes, this is a lower treble with good weight as well. Overall the lower treble contributes to the rythm with satisfying hi hats and guitar riffs have great bite as well. Comparatively Volt feels a bit subdued but this makes for a more relaxing listen. Now the upper treble : the EM10 is a very refined IEM there with superb extension and a refined presentation and it’s boast one of the best resolution I have heard. Among all contenders in these comparisons this is one of those that can almost hold its own against the Volt. Almost, because the Volt EST drivers feature better extension with faster cleaner transients that give a sense of air that no BA can provide in my opinion. Volt is more airy, open and resolving.

StealthSonics C9 Pro
For those of you who have read my C9 Pro review have already figured out it’s one of my favorites organic IEM along with my all time favorite Custom Art FIBAE7 and beloved Earsonics EM10. The C9 Pro will make for an interesting comparison as it shares some key aspects with the Volt : a full bodied IEM with a smooth signature and yet strong technical foundations.

First let’s compare the bass. The C9 Pro bass is well extended and controlled but with a clear mid bass emphasis although sub bass is quite physical for a BA. Delivery is on the smoother side – with a soft attack and a tad longer decay making for a rather “romantic” delivery with beautiful textures and a high level of detail and good control. The C9 Pro emphasizes the bass line with a strong sense of rythm and a level of nuances in how it portrays drums that is something to behold. Comparatively, Volt has a different balance to its bass starting with a more controlled and snappier presentation. Sub bass is more physical and relative to the mid bass more present than the C9 Pro : the Volt is more balanced with less mid bass emphasis. Volt mid bass has shaper attack and faster decay sounding cleaner but also more detailed. The Volt is on the fun side of reference and balanced with the mids and highs while the C9 pro has overall more emphasis on bass in the overall frequency range.

The mids are an interesting comparison especially in the lower section where both the Volt and C9 Pro don’t rely on a classic “clarity dip”. Both Volt and C9 pro own up their full bodied nature and balance it each in their own way as not to become congested or overly dark. This being said the C9 Pro is a much warmer IEM than the Volt as its has more lower mids emphasis and were Volt is full sounding the C9 pro can be considered thick and with more weight to its midrange. Despite similar safe upper mids, the Volt has a bit more energy in the upper mids and therefore a more balanced midrange. As we’ll see its upper treble is more extended with more air and resolution also helping the overall transparency and clarity.

The treble are quite different starting with the lower treble where the C9 Pro has more energy and bite along with considerably more weight to its treble note making it a better performer on piano notes in my opinion. This where the C9 Pro relies on its lower treble to balance its prominent bass and lower mids, although its top end is refined and extended it just can’t compete with Volt there. Volt doesn’t have as much energy and bite or weight, but it has much more upper treble presence than the C9 Pro and it’s also more extended with much faster transients. Volt is definitely more resolving, open and airy and separation is better.

Verdict

Penon has been on the roll lately with excellent value for money cables (Penon OSG for example) and IEMs (Sphere, Orb). It was a only a matter of time before they would push the enveloppe and get their own shot at a flagship.

It’s not as easy as it seems to pull off, as it’s a very different story when you tackle flagships because the game has only gotten much tougher these past few years (competition is stiff) and people that are willing to pay for flagships rightfully have very high expectations. On the flipside the insane prices trend over the last 5 years where flagships have gone from around 1K$ to whopping 2/3/4K$ or even above definitely opens up opportunities for manufacturers that are willing to keep things sane. I for one love the likes of Custom Art, Dunu or StealhSonics to keep things real in terms of prices. At 799$, Penon definitely has priced its Volt aggressively for a flagship offering.

So did Penon succeed their entry into the flagship segment? Very much so in my opinion and the Volt competes very well with the market and manages to do so with its own rare brand of signature. Paired with Totem I’ll go even as far as saying Volt competes with the best and that’s interesting because even Volt and Totem combined manages to be a reasonable bundle against flagships that are much pricier without an upgrade cable. Not to mention you can enjoy the cable with the rest of your 2pin IEMs 🙂

If you’re looking for flagship performance at a reasonable price and you like full bodied, smooth signature with strong bass foundations, impressive resolution and treble refinement then you’d miss out not adding the Volt to your list. Make sure you have a proper source though to provide enough current to bring the best out of it (not necessarily an expensive DAP, iBasso DX160 does a great job there). And if you have a bigger budget, Totem is a fantastic pairing that brings a more punchy, energetic, focused presentation as well as elite performance that matches much pricier flagships.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I don’t know but I sure know as a late night listening session adept I sure dream of Volt!

Listening notes
I spent approximately 150 hours with the Volt, listening on Hiby R8 using the stock cable and Penon Totem flagship cable. 

Special Thanks
Thanks to Penon for allowing me to get a discounted price on my custom Volt in exchange for my honest opinion. No incentive was given for a favorable review. 

Accessories

  • Cleaning brush
  • Carry case
  • Cable: single crystal copper silver-plated (comes with 2.5mm balanced female to 3.5mm audio male adapter / 2.5mm balanced female to 4.4mm balanced male adapter)
    • Connector:2pin 0.78mm
    • Plug:2.5mm balanced
    • Length: 1.2m

Specifications

  • Driver: Sonion 4 electrostatic + Sonion 2 Balanced Armature  + 10mm dynamic driver
  • Impedance: 12ohm@1khz
  • Sensitivity: 114db@1khz@1mw
  • Frequency response: 15-80Khz

One thought on “Penon Volt – Electric dreams

Add yours

  1. Hello David, thank you for the review and the discovery of these iems and the presentation of their musical personality.

    Like

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