On a very special Saturday night in early September—late winter in Australia—I was deeply moved by hearing Brahms' Symphony 1 in the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House complex. Perhaps it was Marek Janowski's fiery, inspired conducting, but I keep recalling the hall itself. Earlier that day, I had photographed—first from my hotel room, later from a ferry—the huge, nesting sail-like roofs, covered with a million white ceramic tiles, that enclose an opera theater, concert hall, and restaurant. Twenty-five years in construction and costing over $107 million, the Sydney Opera House is described in my Fodor's '98 Australia guide as "the most widely recognized landmark of urban Australia." Attending the concert that night—all 2679 seats were occupied—I found the acoustics lovely, dark, and rich.
Back in March 1998, Revel's Ultima Salon1 floorstanding loudspeaker generated quite a stir at Stereophile (Vol.22 No.3). Our reviewers were impressed by its seven designed-from-scratch drive-units, its ultramodern enclosure with curved rosewood side panels, exposed front tweeter and midrange, rear-facing reflex port and tweeter, and a flying grille over the mid-woofer and woofers. In the December issue (Vol.22 No.12), the Ultima Salon1 ($16,000/pair) was named Stereophile's "Joint Speaker of 1999" for its "big bass, timbral accuracy, low distortion, dynamics, lack of compression, and best fit'n'finish."
It didn't seem like such a big deal. After all, when designer Kevin Voecks added a passive radiator to the bottom of Revel Loudspeakers' powerful Ultima Sub 15 subwoofer, no one expected that the resulting 6dB increase in bass output below 35Hz would be so audible. However, Revel's sophisticated double-blind listening tests (described in my review of their flagship Ultima Salon full-range loudspeaker in the March 1999 Stereophile, revealed that a big change had occurred. With now twice the radiating surface, the modified Sub 15 produced significantly deeper, more powerful bass.
Determined to find out more about Revel's Ultima Salon2, I tracked down designer Kevin Voecks late on the second day of the 2008 Consumer Electronic Show. I persuaded him to step outside the demonstration suite of Harman International Industries, Revel's owner, high atop the Las Vegas Hilton. We spent an hour chatting about Voecks's design goals for Revel's new flagship. I asked Kevin what had led his team at Revel to develop a new Ultima Salon loudspeaker after 10 years?
After 10 years of selling the $15,000/pair Ultima Salon as its flagship speaker system, Revel introduced a redesign, the $22,000/pair Ultima2 Salon, at CES 2007. When I reviewed the original Salon, I was very pleased by its bass extension and dynamics. What's new in the Mk.2 Salon? It has a more conventional look, and employs all-new drivers that performed better in double-blind tests conducted by the manufacturer. While retaining the basic configuration—a four-way design with one tweeter, one midrange, one mid-woofer and 3 woofers—the Salon 2 no longer has side panels, a rear-firing port, or a rear-firing tweeter. Revel had a pair of the Ultima2 Salons playing in a demo room at the Hilton, driven by a 200Wpc Mark Levinson No.433 amplifier via Transparent speaker cable, a Levinson No.32 Reference preamplifier, and a Levinson No.390S CD processor. The loudspeaker played with all the dynamics and excellent LF response of the original Salon, reproducing the powerful deep bass of the organ accompaniment to John Rutter's Requiem. There was also a richness and smoothness that I found very pleasing.
Revel’s new Rhythm 2 subwoofer ($10,000) contains a pair of 2000W class-D amplifiers (said to offer 4kW on peaks); an 18" driver with a 4” voice-coil; over 114dB maximum acoustic output; high-resolution DSP room equalization; fully configurable electronic crossover; and PC or Mac setup via USB. Kevin Voecks, its designer, described how the subwoofer's highly sophisticated DSP engine can equalize both the subwoofer and the satellite speakers. The DSP-driven room equalization generates adjustments from one set of room measurements, correcting for as many as 10 modes in the frequency range of 20400Hz.
My interest in wireless network music players began during David Hyman's keynote speech at Home Entertainment 2003. Then CEO of Gracenote, Inc. (footnote 1), Hyman stunned me with his opinion that CDs and DVDs were already obsolete. Rather than pursue discs with greater storage capacity, Hyman urged industry designers to design music-server units with large hard drives to allow instantaneous access to any digital music track. With all of your music stored on a central hard drive, you could, within seconds, locate a specific track among thousands just by knowing the name of the artist, song, group, composer, year of recording, or even recording venue. Music mixes could be instantly grouped into playlists by the owner.
The Type A has served as Snell Acoustics' flagship loudspeaker since 1974. The Type A Reference System reviewed here is the sixth update of the late Peter Snell's original three-way floorstanding design, and is the most radical departure from Snell's original. Gone is the pair of "upright bricks of polished wood and stretched cloth" (footnote 1) that delighted decorators because they functioned best against a wall. Today's Type A Reference $18,999 price tag (footnote 2) purchases two tall midrange-tweeter towers, two huge subwoofers, two short but heavy enclosures housing the outboard passive crossover networks, and a small electronic crossover.
Say "Type A" to a group of psychologists and they immediately think "hard-driving, workaholic executive." Speak the same phrase among audiophiles, and the late Peter Snell's (1946-1984) flagship loudspeaker comes to mind. The model reviewed here is the seventh iteration of Snell Acoustics' Type A, and this is the 12th published review of the product in American audio magazines. (The last one published in Stereophile was in March 1996, Vol.19 No.3, of the Type A Reference.)
"How do you make an object common as a box iconic?" asked Bob Graffy, Snell's vice president/brand manager. He and Joseph D'Appolito, Snell's chief design engineer, were sitting in my listening room, discussing cabinet designs. Graffy noted that KEF had sought the same in their distinctive, silvery, cylindrical Muon loudspeaker ($150,000/pair). For the flagship model in their Illusion series, Snell commissioned Gerd Schmieta, former designer for Ideo, to integrate D'Appolito's wish list for an ideal enclosure: a narrow, rounded upper baffle for the midrange and tweeter, wider at the base for the woofers, holding a constant cross-sectional area while maximizing cabinet volume, and compliance with a 15° tip test.