Revel Salon loudspeaker A Visit to the Revel Factory

A Visit to the Revel Factory
Driving 75 miles on Southern California's crowded freeways was a first for me, but I was determined to visit designer Kevin Voecks at Harman International's Northridge facility. I traveled north from Anaheim, through Hollywood, past the Van Nuys airport, turned off Balboa Boulevard into Harman's parking lot (catching just a glimpse of the beautiful San Gabriel mountains in the distance), and entered a huge, 450,000-square-foot factory once used to assemble Titan missiles.

The next hour was a blur as Kevin and his engineering team raced me through Revel's engineering digs. I walked by the new, fully automated production line used to manufacture the Salon's unique midrange driver; perched myself on the wire-screen floor of the 5000-cubic-foot "4Pi," full-space anechoic chamber used to collect exacting measurements on early Salon prototypes; took a computer-aided instruction program used to train Revel's double-blind listening panel; sat in the darkened, ultraquiet Multichannel Listening Laboratory as a hydraulic speaker mover shifted loudspeakers in a simulated listening test; held a plastic port horn carved by laser using stereo lithography; and looked—very carefully—over a huge laser measuring the vibrational resonance velocities of Salon side panels.

All during this engineering walkabout, I chatted with Kevin Voecks about his role in the Salon's creation...

Larry Greenhill: Kevin, how did you come to be a loudspeaker designer?

Kevin Voecks: I started engineering school, but left to go into retail... While working at Natural Sound in Massachusetts, I became frustrated with the high-end loudspeakers I sold, and what traditional engineering offered for loudspeaker design. I left retail to start Symdex, with the goal of making better loudspeakers. My first designs followed the trends in vogue, with time-aligned drivers and first-degree crossovers that reproduced squarewaves. Later, I worked on the M-1 Mirage, developing an early prototype later perfected by John Tchilinguirian and Ian Paisley. Next, I went to work at Snell Acoustics, and began to spend time at Canada's National Research Council's [NRC] audio laboratory in Ottawa, where I first worked with Floyd Toole. Two years ago, I joined Revel.

Greenhill: You once told me that you moved to Revel because there you'd finally have the research budget adequate for designing a better high-end loudspeaker. How does a bigger research budget translate into a better loudspeaker?

Voecks: At Revel, we've had the luxury of being able to design drivers from scratch, and not have to settle for what I can purchase from other manufacturers. That allows me to make the ideal tradeoffs. Say I want a driver to extend well above the crossover point, as well as have excellent power handling and avoid dynamic compression. If I had to use the typical lossy cone available in OEM drivers, it had to be well damped so breakup was not apparent. In the past, I might have had to use Band-Aids to cover up the breakup problem.

Here at Revel we can get the extended upper range by designing our own driver with a lower-mass cone material: titanium. I want it to have good power handling, which usually means a heavier motor structure. Because the titanium does not have a low-frequency breakup mode, I can use a huge voice-coil and still have high-frequency extension. I was able to specify a curved front baffle to reduce reflections, where previously I could use only the standard box enclosure with strategically placed pieces of felt, which did the same job but not as well. Now I can have it all!

Ornello's picture

These abominations are some of the worst speakers i have ever heard. That they are sold, let alone that the 'manufacturer' asks $15,000 per pair for theses abominations, is an insult to the human race.

makrisd's picture

Are you experiencing hearing problems? Probably the best speakers in the world!

Ornello's picture

These abominations sound like crap. My hearing is exceptional.

Christopher's picture

@Ornello :
You must not be familiar with Harmon Audio Group's testing facilities and procedures, and, you also must not have heard these speakers working properly. Either you heard some bad quality clones, or there was something terribly wrong with some other piece of equipment in the chain, or, very bad source material.

Because not only do these speakers measure exceptionally well from an entirely objective perspective, they also have EXCELLENT sound quality both from my perspective as a person who listened to them while working for a COMPETITOR -and- from the perspective of a panel of expert trained listeners working at the parent company.

Even if these speakers did not suit your personal preference [for non-neutral sound], I don't believe you honestly could have listened to them and come away with an opinion that the were not at least "generally excellent"!

In 2003 I went to all the major high end audio boutiques in Manhattan and auditioned several of their finest (and some more modest) speakers at each store. The Madrigal Revel Salon Ultimas stood out as clearly superior to every other pair we heard over that period of a couple days that we spend listening to the best the competition had to offer. Every other pair had at least some minor unpleasant quality to their sound, these were the only ones where nothing stood out as an obvious imperfection to their ability to accurately and dynamically reproduce recorded music.

lenslens007's picture

If you did not like the sound of them, maybe there was some other part of the system that was producing noise that you did not like. I know they can reveal sonics in cables, DAC filters, room acoustics, and pre-amp. They also throw a large magnetic field that can interact with close-by (i.e. between the speakers) electronics.

makrisd's picture

When and where did you hear these? What is your favourite speaker system?

Ornello's picture

I own Yamaha NS-1000M speakers. Prior to that I owned Rogers Studio 1s. Either of these trounce the Revels.

steve59's picture

I got lucky enough to get a pair to and these speakers live up to their reputation bigtime. I'm generally disappointed by hi-end loudspeakers because my mid-fi electronics tend to translate into harsh, ultra revealing noise that's not musical, in fact I was in the process of upgrading my electronics when I found these and drivin by an anthem 225I and kimber 4tc wire these are the most impressive and musical speakers i've had and I can finally say my home system sounds as good as the systems I hear at the hifi stores. I'm sure better electronics will produce better sound but it's nice that they sound great as is. previous speakers, revel f52, VA beethoven, kef 107/2, 105/3, Dyn audience 80. The 107/2 are full range but can't compare to the salon.

amh020's picture

Dear Ornello,
I also own Yamaha's NS1000 and I am familier with the Salon2. I think the design strategies of both speakers are not that different. Recent measurements on NS1000 drivers show that the big mid driver has exceptional dispertion even at 5K. Distortion levels at around 1KHz are extremely low, like no cone driver can give. The Yamaha's sound extremely detailed without dynamic compression. The Salon2 sounds like that too, a bit less detailed in the mids and a bit more modern (laid back). And if you haven't upgraded some filter components then I believe the Salons can sound better then the yamaha's.
The Salons were and still are a high-end bargain, if your amp can handle the low impedance. If you can't afford them, buy second hand Yamaha's and recap the filters.

Ornello's picture

No way. The Revels are horrid in every way. Typical American speakers, 'badass' rather than good.

steve59's picture

You're passionate about your taste i'll give you that, but why hang around here and slam one speaker in favor of another when both are out of production? I read the review of the ns1000 and tbh I would take the dq10 they compared it to over a speaker that will make 5% of my recordings magical and the other 95% unlistenable, been there, done that.