Revel Ultima Studio2 loudspeaker Page 2
After a week or two, the only thing I'd noticed about the Studio2 was a recurring impression, in the listening room or in an adjacent one, that the bass had unusual impact and clarity. Thus, when I sat down to listen carefully, I expected to find the bass a little overripe, or underlined by a fortuitous room mode. Not so. The Studio2's bass and midbass were clean and audibly flat. Moving the speakers a foot to the left or right made no difference, which exonerated my room of being a mode-mongering culprit. It was simply that the Studio2 was capable of bass much like that of a well-designed, well-placed, properly EQ'd subwoofer.
The midbass, as evinced by bowed double bass, cello, or deep male voice, was clean and well-defined enough that, when a good, truly low sound came along, it had pop and impact untouched by muddiness. I can't fathom how Revel has managed this, but this is the only speaker, the original Studio and the big B&Ws , included, to have such excellent bottom-end extension and definition—except for the JL Audio Fathom f113 subwoofer. This observation set the tone for the rest of my assessments.
For me, the most important performance parameters for a speaker are accuracy of voices, a deep and detailed soundstage, a wide dynamic range, and consistency of presentation. Reproducing voices, the Studio2 was simply ravishing. Male voices, particularly low ones, benefited greatly from the lack of spurious resonances and, in my room, superimposed room effects. Take, for example, It's Now or Never, the recent homage to Elvis Presley by Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding (CD, Rykodisc RCD 10915). At times, Gordon sounds just like Elvis; at others, just like himself. The clarity of the Studio2 revealed those subtle transitions and let me really enjoy the humor of the gesture.
Female and massed voices were presented without glare but with exquisite detail. Rachmaninoff's The Bells, in a recent recording by Semyon Bychkov and the Cologne West German Radio Orchestra (SACD/CD, Profil PH07028), is a perfect demo not only of excellent recording of voices, but also of how the Studio2s placed each voice, solo or ensemble, in a clear and proper position in a deep and defined soundstage. Soloists were up front with the orchestra, choral voices above and behind. Sometimes, the Studio2s stripped away the familiar warmth and immersion, as with that familiar demo track by Chris Jones, "No Sanctuary Here," from Road Houses and Automobiles (CD, Stockfisch SFR 357.6027.2). Through most systems, including those at audio shows (!), Jones sounds frighteningly close-up, and the choral backup looms large. Through the Studio2s, Jones and the guys were human but retained the presence and intensity that underlie the song's impact.
As for dynamic range and consistency, the Studio2 trumped here, too. I could turn up the volume with any recording, and at no level that I can countenance in a domestic setting did the character of the sound change. That doesn't grant license to listen to a harpsichord at 110dB—a harpsichord sounds like a real harpsichord only at lower SPLs. On the other hand, if the music has a wide dynamic span, such as Rachmaninoff's The Bells or its discmate, his Symphonic Dances, I could play it through the Studio2s at truly realistic levels, from quiet bell imitations to explosive symphonic bursts, while maintaining the illusion of a single performance event.
Rereading what I've written, I see that I haven't mentioned the high-frequency range. That's telling. Over the months that the Studio2 was my main conduit to the music, the treble range was remarkably unremarkable. When I listened to upper strings, brass, and percussion, they sounded just right. There was never anything to make me wince because of excess of high frequencies, or wonder because of a lack. The lovely recording of Mozart's Violin Concertos 3–5 by violinist Marianne Thorsen, with conductor Oyvind Gimse and the Trondheim Soloists (SACD/CD, 2L 38SACD), let me hear the instrument in all its brilliance but with no superimposed edginess. Equally impressive was the magnificent Brass, by the Concertgebouw Brass Ensemble (SACD/CD, RCO Live 07002): the Studio2 delivered a truly glorious, powerful sound that retained the squillo (ringing) without biting off my ears.
Context means nothing
The Studio2 wasn't particularly sensitive to amplification but did let me hear back into the reproduction chain. Whether driven by the Classé D-3200, the Mark Levinson No.433, or the Bel Canto eVo 1000s, the Studio2s did just fine in all aspects. The No.433 produced a bit of rocky hardness in the extreme bass that could be quite impressive. The Classé was more generous and rich in the bass and excelled with the lower strings. The eVos seemed more neutral than either, but lacked the sweetness of the others in the upper reaches. All left the power, transparency, and soundstaging of the Studio2s untouched.
When I compared the Studio2 with the B&W 802D, the Revel seemed a contralto, the B&W a mezzo-soprano. By a tiny increment, I hear the midrange clearer and with greater presence through the B&W, while the Revel's midrange was less individuated and more integrated with the midbass. Similarly, the Revel seemed to make more of distinctions at the very bottom of the audioband, while the B&Ws seem smoother. The treble was a tossup. As for soundstaging, both pairs threw a deep, well-defined soundstage, but the B&Ws make it a bit wider in my room. These comments apply only to two-channel performance; it's hard to predict how a five-channel Revel Ultima2 system might stack up against my resident B&W array—but I'd love to find out.
What's not to like—indeed, love—about the Revel Ultima Studio2? Almost nothing. I could point to the flimsy trap door and the less-than-overwhelming soundstage spread, though the latter was probably particular to my room. In the areas of lack of coloration, integration across the audioband, dynamic range, imaging, and soundstage depth, the Studio2s were simply outstanding. Including electrostatics that can't approach the SPLs that the Revels handled with aplomb, the Ultima Studio2s imposed less of a fingerprint on the sound than any speaker I have used. Urgently recommended, both to those in the market and to those who simply want to hear how good a loudspeaker can be.