Revel Home Theater (SGHT Review) Page 8

In a related problem, the LE-1 amplifier, which had worked without a hiccup for several weeks, perversely began cutting out on the last day or so of my serious bass testing. It did this three times in one hour. Resetting required turning it off, then on again; the third time, I had to unplug it and wait a few minutes before starting it up again. Was its protection circuit shutting down from the rapid succession of bass-heavy material it was being asked to reproduce? Perhaps. In a few hours of additional, more normal listening before this review had to wrap, the amp did not misbehave. But shutting down when the going gets tough is something I'd rather not see in a $6000 single-channel amplifier.

Neither the recommended nor the alternate connection scheme using the Proceed AVP approached the bass I heard from the Revel system with the Meridian 861 surround processor. Perhaps because of this, the Revel subwoofers definitely tended to overload more often with the Meridian. This tells me that the tendency of the Revel subs to clip depends on the system.

Still, despite the noble intentions of the Revel sub's no-dynamic-limiting design, I really think that any subwoofer used in the real world needs some sort of overload protection, if only at the extreme margins. No subwoofer design is immune to overloading if you drive it hard enough in the deep bass. The Revel sub is clearly more rugged than most, but its limits are not infinite. True, my home-theater room is large. And yes, the Revel subwoofer system complained only when asked to reproduce the most demanding material at high levels (though not unrealistic ones—never above THX reference). But anyone prepared to spend this kind of money for a subwoofer should expect no less than bulletproof performance.

My feelings about the Revel subwoofer/ amplifier combination are mixed. On the one hand, I've never heard more impressive low-frequency performance in a home-theater system—or in a real theater, for that matter. For example, the bass from a pair of SUB-15s on Independence Day equaled or exceeded my recollection of the bass from the same film as heard in the Mann Village theater in Los Angeles, with its Sensurround subwoofer system. This is not an insignificant accomplishment, even in the much smaller home-theater environment. But my praise is strongly tempered by the Revel subwoofer's tendency to audibly overload when heavily stressed, which I might be more inclined to forgive in a less expensive, less ambitious product.

I have no such reservations about the other speakers in the Revel system, which get an unqualified recommendation. Of course, the Ultima Gems, Ultima Voice center-channel, and Ultima Embrace surrounds are not flawless—no speaker is. And they're hardly an impulse buy; the entire package, in a standard finish with stands but not including the subwoofers, will cost you just over $17,000. Here is my standard disclaimer regarding super-expensive products: Never assume that you won't find satisfaction for far less money. There are a lot of good home-theater speakers out there for a fraction of the Revel's price.

But believe it or not, you can also spend considerably more than this for a home-theater speaker package and get a lot less. The Revels offer a level of performance against which other similar products must be judged. These are reference-quality home-theater speakers.