Revel Home Theater (SGHT Review) Page 6

I could go into extensive detail about the Revels' outstanding midrange performance, but all you really need to know is this: It is open, detailed, and uncolored, with none of the boxy, nasal, artificial quality that crops up far too often in lesser speakers. And although the Revels' highs were a question-mark early on, I now consider their performance in this area to be among the best in the business: open, unrestricted, and sparkling.

Yes, there is still an occasional bite to the sound here and there, perhaps coming from the upper end of the metal-cone mid-woofers rather than the tweeter. This might also be due to the Revels' lack of dynamic compression; the speakers do not soften the treble at higher playback levels, as many other speakers do. And I sometimes hear a bit of buzziness with some high-frequency material—most often soundtracks, not high-quality music sources.

But nothing can really detract from the overall thrill I experience every time I fire up this system. It's impossible to say whether this reaction is due to the overall balance, the cohesive sound of five well-matched speakers, or the system's wide dynamic range. It's probably a combination of all these qualities, which is evident on all types of movies.

The subtleties of such atmospheric soundtracks as The Matchmaker, with its Irish-flavored music score, are a delight. So are other films that make the most of good music, from the fun scores of Muppet Treasure Island and Little Shop of Horrors to films such as Fools Rush In, which puts a superbly well-recorded set of pop tunes to good use. And the Revels do a great job on music-only sources as well (see "The Music Goes Round and Round" sidebar).

The Revel Ultima Gem provides a rear tweeter for ambience enhancement, but I prefer to leave it off in my system because it makes the top end sound a little grainy. But in my system, the rear of each Gem is fairly close to the wall behind it; with more spacing, the rear tweeters might well produce the airy quality they are intended to convey. I should also note that, in most of my listening, the level of the main tweeters in all three front speakers was set to -1dB.

A solid foundation
The observations above were made with two (mono) subwoofers, but for much of my listening, I used a single SUB-15. The bass is deep, clean, and particularly notable for staying out of the way when not required—in other words, no boom or annoying "bass all over the place" quality. But it is definitely all there when called for.

A pair of SUB-15s driven by a single LE-1 produces remarkable bass. In my room, I was never able to get the truly scary extreme bottom end I've heard from the Revel subwoofers at two different trade shows (in smaller but not tiny rooms), but there is something awesome here nonetheless. Even a single SUB-15 is every bit as impressive, though with a little less headroom. In fact, a single SUB-15 sounds slightly cleaner than two, which might be a minor limitation with the use of a single LE-1 amplifier.

In my room, most of the Revel's special bass qualities show up only with video program material. In direct comparisons, I find nothing significant to choose between a Velodyne F1800R II and a single Revel SUB-15 on music-only sources, though there are some slight differences: a little tighter sound from the Velodyne here, a slightly more full-bodied sound from the Revel there. But overall, I don't find the differences worth dwelling on. (These comparisons were made via direct switching with the two subs located as close together as possible near a corner, and each was matched for level and blending with a Gold Line 1/3-octave, real-time analyzer placed near the main seating position.)

On soundtracks, however, the differences are clear. A single SUB-15 sounds far more powerful and dynamic on the most challenging bass material. I hear bass from the Revel that sounds squelched on the Velodyne, probably due to an overly conservative limiter that keeps the Velodyne from overloading or even producing significant distortion. Revel's design philosophy of forgoing any sort of dynamic limiting in favor of a huge power amplifier and a driver that can handle the required power and excursion really pays off here.