Revel Ultima Salon2 loudspeaker Page 2
I left the Ultima Salon2's grilles on for all the listening. I first placed the speakers in the positions where my Quad ESL-989s work best: 3' out from the sidewall, 3' from the front wall, and facing the full length of my listening room. This location lent some chestiness to Richard Lehnert's voice on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2). Setting the Salon's Low-Frequency Compensation to Contour didn't improve the situation, while the Boundary setting just thinned out the middle tones of his voice. Moving the Salon2s farther out into the room—80" from the front wall, 50" from the sidewalls, 58" apart, and 90" from my listening chair—helped Richard's voice sound more natural and clean (footnote 1). This allowed me to leave the speakers' bass tone controls in their Normal position for most of my listening sessions.
After some experimentation, I set the Tweeter Level to flat ("0"). At 48" from the floor, the Salon2's tweeter is higher than the 38" my ears are from the floor when I sit down. Even so, the Salon2's treble balance with pink noise didn't change during the "sit down, stand up" test. Final adjustments included phase checks, low-frequency warble test tones, comparative nearfield (8') and farfield (16') listening, and positioning the speakers for optimal soundstaging and imaging using the pink-noise tracks from Editor's Choice.
I drove the Salon2s with various solid-state amplifiers, including a Mark Levinson No.334 (125Wpc into 8 ohms), a Krell FPB-600c (600Wpc into 8 ohms), and Bryston 28B-SST monoblocks (1300W into 8 ohms). The ML No.334 demonstrated impressive dynamics, playing huge deep-bass transients from synthesizer music, sustained organ-pedal chords, and bass-drum notes at high volumes. The Krell FPB-600c seemed to have limitless deep-bass extension. And the Bryston 28B-SSTs drove the Salon2s to 105dB peak levels (at 8') with no evidence of distorting.
I expect good deep bass from a floorstanding, full-range loudspeaker, and the Salon2 did not disappoint. It reached down to 17Hz with no more than ±3dB variation from its output at 100Hz, with no sign of doubling (ie, no second-harmonic distortion). This was the deepest bass I've ever gotten in my listening room from a full-range floorstander. (See fig.8 in JA's "Measurements" sidebar.)
I confirmed the Salon2's deep-bass extension by listening to the low-frequency warble tones on Editor's Choice, which were clearly audible and pitch-perfect down to the 25Hz 1/3-octave band. I felt some useful output as low as 20Hz, and so did my house—the baseboard radiator panels at the other end of the room began to dance and rattle. The chromatic-scale half-step sinewaves on track 19 were reproduced cleanly and evenly, particularly the 130.8Hz note, which falls near the crossover of the Salon2's midbass and woofers.
To confirm this superb low-bass extension, I turned to music. Organ recordings were enhanced and clarified by the Salon2's deep-bass extension. The speaker's three woofers produced a solid 32Hz tone that reproduced the low pedal C that ends Herbert Howell's Master Tallis's Testament, from the Pipes Rhode Island collection (CD, Riago 101 (footnote 2)). Additionally, the Salon2 made it easier than ever before to follow bass lines. Whether it was Tal Wilkenfeld's intricate and tuneful electric-bass line on "Truth Be Told," from her Transformation (CD, Goldelux Productions TAL001-2), downloaded from iTunes and played via WiFi from my Slim Devices Squeezebox; or Jerome Harris's careful bass work weaving in and out of his quintet's performance of "The Mooche," from Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), I heard none of the tendency to blur bass notes that I've heard from other speakers. The Ultima Salon2 played percussion and/or piano and/or brass with full impact while retaining complete clarity of the softer bass lines.
The fortissimo bass-drum strokes heard in the second movement of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, in the recording by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic (SACD, Deutsche Grammophon 000718236), burst into my listening room as sudden, well-defined thuds with cleanly defined leading edges and sudden, explosive power. These bass-drum strokes seemed to spring forth from the floor, even though the clean deep-bass pitch was actually too low to be directional. The Salon2s' downward-firing ports must have activated my wooden floor, which added to the drum note's power, slam, solidity, and weight. However, there were no lingering overtones, no overhang, and no disturbance of the midrange or treble sounds. Nor did the Salon2s' woofers evince any compression during the sustained bass notes of "First Haunting/The Swordfight," from James Horner's score for Casper (CD, MCA MCAD-11240).
The Salon2's midrange and treble showed the greatest differences in direct comparisons with the Salon1. The Salon2 had less emphasis in the presence region, but the pair of them didn't produce as much air and soundstage depth, perhaps due to the removal of the Salon1's rear tweeter. However, the Salon2's midrange and treble showed greater top-to-bottom transparency than the original Salon. While the Salon1 continued to impress with its bass power, speed, and rear-tweeter ambience and air, the Salon2 seemed to be more relaxed and more neutral, with greater overall transparency. Both had deep bass to spare, but the Salon2's response in this region seemed more effortless and smooth, with even less dynamic compression than the Salon1.
The Salon2's midrange and treble improvements were best heard with piano recordings. I was delighted to hear natural resonances and tonalities that greatly added to my involvement in the music—greater clarity, increased coherence, and more emotional impact, from a variety of piano-music genres. For example, the Salon2 communicated the striking dynamics and controlled power of Variation 1, from Glenn Gould's 1982 recording of J.S. Bach's The Goldberg Variations (CD, CBS Masterworks MK3779), which contrast strongly with the lyrical, deliberate moodiness of Simone Dinnerstein's recent, award-winning recording (CD, Telarc CD-80692). The light, joyous character of Keith Jarrett's piano on his The Carnegie Hall Concert (CD, ECM 1989/90) was strikingly evident. Timbral qualities I heard during a live recital by pianist Leif Ove Andsnes were also heard in his recent recording with the Artemis Quintet of Brahms's Piano Quintet in f (CD, Virgin Classics 395143 2).
Footnote 1: The Salon2's manual gives great advice for placing the speakers in the room, suggesting that the buyer move "the loudspeakers further from the front and side listening room walls to improve stereo imaging and sense of spaciousness in the listening room." It also states that "a coffee table between the speakers and the primary listening position will degrade imaging and timbre." For that reason, I moved a marble table from the back of my listening room outside to the patio.
Footnote 2: John Marks, who played a key role in recording Master Tallis's Testament, reports "that the Low C was a 16-foot pipe playing 32Hz as the fundamental, a 32-foot pipe playing 16Hz as the suboctave support, and at least one 8-foot stop providing harmonics at 64Hz."