Revel Salon loudspeaker A Visit to the Revel Factory
Driving 75 miles on Southern California's crowded freeways was a first for me, but I was determined to visit designer Kevin Voecks at Harman International's Northridge facility. I traveled north from Anaheim, through Hollywood, past the Van Nuys airport, turned off Balboa Boulevard into Harman's parking lot (catching just a glimpse of the beautiful San Gabriel mountains in the distance), and entered a huge, 450,000-square-foot factory once used to assemble Titan missiles.
The next hour was a blur as Kevin and his engineering team raced me through Revel's engineering digs. I walked by the new, fully automated production line used to manufacture the Salon's unique midrange driver; perched myself on the wire-screen floor of the 5000-cubic-foot "4Pi," full-space anechoic chamber used to collect exacting measurements on early Salon prototypes; took a computer-aided instruction program used to train Revel's double-blind listening panel; sat in the darkened, ultraquiet Multichannel Listening Laboratory as a hydraulic speaker mover shifted loudspeakers in a simulated listening test; held a plastic port horn carved by laser using stereo lithography; and looked—very carefully—over a huge laser measuring the vibrational resonance velocities of Salon side panels.
All during this engineering walkabout, I chatted with Kevin Voecks about his role in the Salon's creation...
Larry Greenhill: Kevin, how did you come to be a loudspeaker designer?
Kevin Voecks: I started engineering school, but left to go into retail... While working at Natural Sound in Massachusetts, I became frustrated with the high-end loudspeakers I sold, and what traditional engineering offered for loudspeaker design. I left retail to start Symdex, with the goal of making better loudspeakers. My first designs followed the trends in vogue, with time-aligned drivers and first-degree crossovers that reproduced squarewaves. Later, I worked on the M-1 Mirage, developing an early prototype later perfected by John Tchilinguirian and Ian Paisley. Next, I went to work at Snell Acoustics, and began to spend time at Canada's National Research Council's [NRC] audio laboratory in Ottawa, where I first worked with Floyd Toole. Two years ago, I joined Revel.
Greenhill: You once told me that you moved to Revel because there you'd finally have the research budget adequate for designing a better high-end loudspeaker. How does a bigger research budget translate into a better loudspeaker?
Voecks: At Revel, we've had the luxury of being able to design drivers from scratch, and not have to settle for what I can purchase from other manufacturers. That allows me to make the ideal tradeoffs. Say I want a driver to extend well above the crossover point, as well as have excellent power handling and avoid dynamic compression. If I had to use the typical lossy cone available in OEM drivers, it had to be well damped so breakup was not apparent. In the past, I might have had to use Band-Aids to cover up the breakup problem.
Here at Revel we can get the extended upper range by designing our own driver with a lower-mass cone material: titanium. I want it to have good power handling, which usually means a heavier motor structure. Because the titanium does not have a low-frequency breakup mode, I can use a huge voice-coil and still have high-frequency extension. I was able to specify a curved front baffle to reduce reflections, where previously I could use only the standard box enclosure with strategically placed pieces of felt, which did the same job but not as well. Now I can have it all!