Revel Ultima Studio loudspeaker Page 3

Sometimes I didn't like what I heard from the Studio. Take the conclusion of Act I of Tosca, from "Tre sbirri" through the "Te Deum" (Colin Davis, cond., Philips 412 885-2). Ingvar Wixell's excessive sibilants were all over the place, and the Covent Garden brass were overly bright and flatulent. That said, the depth and detail were beyond what I'd heard before, and, for the first time, the offstage rifle shots actually sounded like rifles. By contrast, the seductively smooth treble of the Kharma Ceramique 2.0 that I reviewed in October 2000 sounded more consistent across sources, and therefore more likely characteristic of the speaker than the source. So the only real concern I had with the Studios might not be a concern at all.

This is not to say that the Studio sounded bright. Exactly the opposite—the speakers' HF balance was quite relaxed, a casual hearing even suggesting that they were soft, lacking in treble energy. But that impression faded with continued listening. A familiar recording, Begoña Olavide's Salterio (M•A M025A), nearly stunned me with how meticulously delicate the plucked strings and percussion instruments were, and how precisely they were placed in a perceptible acoustic, even though nothing ever sounded bright. Moreover, I could appreciate all this nearly as well from the nearby dining table as from the listening couch.

The rear tweeter contributed significantly to this, and to the spacious soundstage, by smoothing and extending the power response well into the upper treble without beaming. This meant that rear and near room surfaces participated more than they do with only forward-firing drivers, and that the size and shape of the enclosure were less significant at high frequencies. The payoff was that the sweet spot could accommodate a few companions. What freedom! The Studios thus joined the few speakers that have passed my "grab me as I walk through the room" test.

The glory of the Studio, however, was its midbass and midrange. The midrange of the Performa F-30 was excellent, but the Studio proved that "music lives in the midrange" by delivering this exposed and often troublesome range with no telltale character. When I listened to stringed instruments—whether bowed or plucked, acoustic or electric—the sense of attack and the lack of grain were as great as with electrostatic and ribbon drivers, and dynamic limits were more generous than needed for musical appreciation or visceral pleasure. With high-powered symphonies and high-powered amplifiers, the Revel was as transparent in the softest parts as in the most monstrous Maestoso. Did the Studio have a dynamic limit? Not with my equipment and ears.

The bass drivers extended the response of the superb midrange driver across a transition that was simply seamless. Most human voices and many wind instruments span this transition, and were delivered with a harmonic linearity that I found remarkable and enticing. La Belle Epoque (Sony SK 60168), Susan Graham's traversal of the songs of Reynaldo Hahn, was achingly lovely. The accompanying piano was full but slightly back, and Graham's warm voice was right there, as if she were seated on the loveseat between the Studios.

Quite different but equally impressive was the familiar Louis Armstrong on "St. James Infirmary," from Dr. Jazz (Blue Moon BMCD 3067). Although it barely approaches the palpability of the original Audio Fidelity LP (Satchmo Plays King Oliver, AFSD 5930), the CD offered Pops' raspy growl with a gripping presence, and his trumpet with penetrating power. With the Studios' driver transitions nearly undetectable, I was rapt by the sheer humanity of the sound. In my experience, only speakers without crossovers in this range can approach this.

The Studio's bass was generally unobtrusive. Most of the time, the speaker seemed to lack obvious deep LF, even though its overall balance tilted toward "solid and convincing" and away from "lean." As a former owner of Apogee Duettas, I found this comfortable. When the musical demand arose, however, the two 8" woofers each side performed with surprising power and definition. Bass fiddle was big, resonant, and woody, and electric bass was appropriately tighter but properly powerful. With several recordings, the Studio impressed with the perception of hearing a real bass event, whereas before I'd been impressed with the size of the boom or blast. This moved me to dig out the old Däfos recording (Rykodisc RCD 10108), on which the drums were pushed over to crash onto the floor. I wonder how many of my neighbors thought that Manhattan experienced a tremor that evening.

While the Studio's extreme LF was not quite as huge as that from the Artemis Large Bass Module or a big dedicated powered subwoofer, it went as deep as that of the admirable Genesis 500, and did so without the assistance of an onboard amp and active crossover. Unless you must have a subwoofer for a home-theater LFE channel, the Studio should be able to handle whatever is the foundation of your music: pipe organs, bass fiddles, bass drums, synthesizers, etc.

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