Revel Ultima Salon2 loudspeaker John Atkinson, March 2009
When, in June 2008, Larry Greenhill reviewed Revel's top-line loudspeaker, 3 the four-way Ultima Salon2 ($22,000/pair), he concluded that "In the Salon2, Kevin Voecks and his team have produced far more than a cosmetic upgrade of the Salon1. They have created a new reference standard in floorstanding loudspeakers that has earned my strongest recommendation."
I gave the Ultima Salon2s a listen when I drove up to Larry's to measure them in his room, and yes, they did indeed seem to be something special. After Larry's review had been prepared for publication, I asked Revel's Kevin Voecks if I could borrow a second pair, in order to do some listening for myself. LG's samples were serial numbers 0343 and 0344, mine 0511 and 0512. The Salon2s replaced my regular speakers, the PSB Synchrony Ones, which I reviewed in April 2008, and followed the Esoteric MG-20s, which I wrote about in August 2008. I spent a couple of weeks getting familiar with the big Revels' soundsetup was straightforward, other than the usual difficulties of handling such a large, heavy speaker; with its tall, slender shape, the Salon2 looks smaller than it really is. (The supplied carpet-piercing spikes were mandatory at helping keep the powerful bass region under control.) However, I then had to put the Revels to one side while I reviewed Dynaudio's 30th Anniversary Sapphire loudspeaker (January 2009).
Going back to the Revels, it was immediately evident that, as much as I'd enjoyed my time with the Sapphires, the Salon2s were larger speakers in every way: more extended, more powerful-sounding low frequencies, an enormous and stable soundstage, and considerably greater dynamic range. In fact, in the Salon2's ability to play at very high levels without strain or noticeable compression, it was the equal of the very impressive and similarly priced KEF Reference 207/2, which I reviewed in February 2008.
Today's popular music tends to go over my headeven more than before, with the major labels' abandonment of artist development, pop comprises ephemeral music by equally ephemeral talents. But when I caught Kanye West on Saturday Night Live performing the hit "Love Lockdown," from his album 808s & Heartbreak, it was obvious even through my TV's tinny speakers that there was something going on. Playing the CD (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam) through the Revels, their three 8" reflex-loaded woofers per side driven by the 750W Musical Fidelity 750K Supercharger monoblocks, the track made musical sense. The sampled three-note bass figure that opens "Love Lockdown" needs both maximum LF extension from a speaker and the ability to play loud without the recording's gross needs for bass reproduction muddying up the midrange. When first the pitch-corrected voice enters, then the piano riff, then the thunderous drums, each new musical element remains maximally distinct from the others and from the bass figure.
A speaker like the Salon2, which could handle this Kanye West track at room-filling levels, is cruising with classical. But even after I'd gotten used to the Salon2s' ability to fill my listening room with sound, it was their retrieval of fine details that continued to impress. An example: Last May I recorded Minnesotan vocal group Cantus in concert, performing covers of pop songs, for release next summer. As you can read in producer Erick Lichte's Follow-Up on the Musical Fidelity 550K amplifier, this was not a purist recording. I used close mikes on all the singers and percussion instruments, and took direct electronic feeds from the Yamaha keyboard and Rickenbacker bass guitar.
Erick and I were working on the provisional mixes last fall, monitoring with the Revel Salon2s, and it was apparent that for the concert's opener, Curtis Mayfield's "It's All Right," we needed to add some mild equalization to the five vocal tracks in order to compensate for the cardioid mikes not being quite close enough to give the full proximity effect demanded by this kind of music. I dialed in +3dB in the upper bass for each of the vocal tracks and Erick gave a listen.
"Something's not right," he said. "Did you apply the EQ to the second tenors?"
I looked at the settings. Under pressure to work fast, I had applied the EQ to just four of the five vocal tracks. The second tenor track was indeed playing back flat.
Such resolution of fine detail is rare among loudspeakers. That the Salon2 can offer such resolution along with the ability to play at high levels with full-range low frequencies, and has a neutral, uncolored midrange, and offers superbly well-defined and stable stereo imaging, and has silky-smooth top octaves courtesy its beryllium-dome tweeter, and features sonic coherence from bottom to top of the audioband, makes it both a Class A speaker in Stereophile's "Recommended Components" listing, and gave me no choice but to make it my "Editor's Choice" for Stereophile's 2008 Component of the Year. And enough of the magazine's reviewers agreed with me that the Salon2 was also voted Joint Loudspeaker of 2008.
A full set of measurements for the Ultima Salon2 can be found here. But as I had measured the Salon2s' spatially averaged response at the listening position in Larry's room, I thought it would be instructive to repeat those measurements in my room.
Fig.1 Revel Ultima Salon2, spatially averaged, 1/6-octave response in LG's listening room (blue), JA's listening room (red).
In both cases, I took ten 1/6-octavesmoothed spectra for each speaker individually in a rectangular grid 40" wide by 18" high and centered on the position of the listener's ears. (LG and I both sit 10'/3m away from the speakers.) I used an Earthworks omni microphone and a Metric Halo ULN-2 FireWire audio interface, in conjunction with SMUGSoftware's Fuzzmeasure 2.0 running on my Apple laptop. The results are shown in fig.1, the blue trace being the spatially averaged response in LG's room, the red trace the response in my room. The differences in the traces below 300Hz are due to the different effects of low-frequency resonant modes in the two rooms that have not been minimized by the spatial averaging. But above 300Hz, the traces are both extraordinarily smooth and flat and almost precisely overlay one another, at least up to 10kHz, where my room's smaller size and less-absorptive furnishings result in slightly more top-octave energy. (The Salon2's treble control was set to its flat position for both responses.)
At the other end of the spectrum, the speaker's output extends to below 20Hz in both rooms, but because I could not get the Revels as far from the room boundaries as Larry can in his larger room, there is a boost apparent between 15 and 35Hz in my room (red trace), which basically corresponds to the region handled by the Salon2s' large, downward-firing ports. On the other hand, the speakers' response in LG's room (blue trace) is not as smooth in the upper bass as it is in my room.
With the Ultima Salon2, Revel's design team has taken the conventional concept of a moving-coil box loudspeaker to the limit of what is currently possible. As Larry Greenhill wrote, "a new reference standard in floorstanding loudspeakers." Indeed!John Atkinson