Revel Ultima Salon2 loudspeaker Larry Greenhill July 2019

Larry Greenhill wrote about the Revel Salon2 in July 2019 (Vol.42 No.7):

Ever since Revel's Kevin Voecks lent me a second pair of Ultima2 Salon2 loudspeakers (now $21,998/pair) for my review of Revel's Rhythm2 subwoofer (since discontinued), I've put them to good use. I used the Salon2s in my evaluations of Constellation Audio's Inspiration Stereo 1.0 amplifier, the Mark Levinson No.534 stereo power amplifier, and Bryston's BP-173 line preamplifier.

When I'd reviewed my first pair of Salon2s, for the June 2008 Stereophile, I'd described it as "a new reference standard in floorstanding loudspeakers that has earned my strongest recommendation." The Salon2 went on to be listed in Class A (Full Range) of Stereophile's "Recommended Components," and was named Stereophile's Component of the Year and Joint Loudspeaker of the Year for 2008. But its Class A status expired after 2012—listings in "Recommended Components" do not remain active for more than three years unless at least one of the magazine's contributors has had continued experience in that time. So John Atkinson suggested that I write this Follow-Up, which evaluates whether the design's reputation has survived the test of time.

The Salon2 continues to be Revel's biggest tower loudspeaker, measuring 53" tall by 14" wide by 23" deep and weighing 146lb. Its vented cabinet houses three 8" woofers, a 6.5" midwoofer, a 4" midrange, and a 1" beryllium-dome tweeter, and its fourth-order crossover filters are set to 150Hz, 575Hz, and 2.3kHz. Revel specifies the Salon2's frequency response as 23Hz–45kHz,±3dB. The speaker can be adjusted for position-related room-acoustic effects by using the Low Frequency Compensation and Tweeter Level dials on its rear panel.

My 2008 review of the Salon2 was conducted in my former listening room, which measured 25' by 13', with a 12'-high semicathedral ceiling. The loudspeakers were positioned 6.5' from the front wall, 3' from each sidewall, 7.5' apart, and 7.5' from my listening chair. JA measured their frequency response in my room by taking ten 1/6-octave–smoothed spectra for each speaker individually in a rectangular grid 40" wide by 18" high and centered on my ears in my listening chair. As he stated in his Measurements section, the results showed "an extraordinarily smooth, flat response... [that] offers full output down to below 20Hz."

Now the Salon2s reside in my new, 143-square-foot listening room in California. I placed them to either side of my equipment rack and 2.3' from the front wall, 6.3' apart (measured from the centers of the tweeters), and 6.3' from my listening chair. Pink-noise tests in my new room revealed minor changes in treble balance during the "sit down, stand up" test. Richard Lehnert's voice on John Atkinson's Editor's Choice test CD (Stereophile STPH016-2) sounded natural, with none of the chestiness I'd heard in the first part of my original review.

Because JA, for his March 2009 Follow-Up on the Salon2s, had measured their spatially averaged room response at the listening positions in both his and my old listening rooms, I was curious to repeat those measurements in my new room, using different measuring hardware and software. As he had, I averaged ten 1/6-octave–smoothed spectra for each speaker individually in a rectangular grid 40" wide by 18" high and centered on the positions of my ears. (I now sit 6.3' from the speakers, not 7.5', as before.) I used a Studio Six iTestMic2 and their AudioTools FFT module (v.10.7.11) running on my Apple iPhone 6. The Salon2's bass response extends well below 20Hz, ±5dB, and rolls off gradually above 12kHz, perhaps due to the room's furnishings. As in prior measurements, the Salon2s' Tweeter Level controls were set to "0" (flat).

The modes of JA's listening room elevated the Salon2s' bass response between 15 and 35Hz. A similar mild boost occurred in my new California room between 25 and 40Hz, a region to which the Salon2s' downfiring ports contribute. The response between 50 and 100Hz wasn't as smooth as in JA's room. I tried to use the speakers' Low Frequency Compensation switches to smooth out this region. Switching them from Normal to Contour reduced the impact of percussion and shrank the bloom and rumble of organ-pedal notes. Switching to Boundary—a setting intended to be used when the Salon2 is less than 2' from a sidewall—reduced the bass output too much for my taste. Using AudioTools' FFT room-response spectral analysis, I measured a 5dB drop in output below 100Hz. Kevin Voecks confirmed my findings with plots taken in an anechoic chamber that showed a 2dB reduction in output under 300Hz with the Contour setting and a 5dB reduction with the Boundary setting. I found Normal best for percussion sounds, and for orchestral and pipe-organ music in general. Based on the rolloff above 12kHz, I left the Tweeter Level dial at +1dB for my listening sessions. The settings evaluated, I turned from uncorrelated pink noise to music.

I was impressed with the Salon2's extraordinary bass response. While a pair of MartinLogan 800X subwoofers (10" drivers) and my Quad ESL-989 speakers could deliver deep bass, rattle objects, and mildly pressurize the room, the Salon2s delivered weightier and better-defined bass, with greater extension, in the final, 25Hz-anchored organ-pedal chord of James Busby's performance of Herbert Howells's Master Tallis's Testament, from the compilation Pipes Rhode Island (CD, Riago CD-101). The Salon2s are the only loudspeakers I've heard deliver the mass, solidity, tension, and pressure I've felt from actual organ-pedal notes in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in upper Manhattan. "Why So Serious," from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's film score for The Dark Knight (CD, Warner Sunset 49860-0), presented a solid, crushing 24.9Hz synth note that seemed to pull all the air out of the room.

This ability to play at high levels throughout the low-frequency range enhanced recordings of orchestral music, making them intensely compelling and involving, as if I were hearing them for the first time. A vinyl recording of Erich Leinsdorf conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in excerpts from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet (direct-to-disc LP, Sheffield Lab 8) was no exception. Although I've played this recording innumerable times, I hadn't been aware of the immense space occupied by the orchestra, or of the power of the driving rhythm in the double basses. Similarly, the fortissimo bass-drum strokes in the second section of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, in the recording by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the LAPO (SACD/CD, Deutsche Grammophon 000718236), seemed to spring forth from the floor, perhaps as a result of the Salon2s' downfiring ports.

My recent experiences confirm the Salon2's ability to resolve fine details in recordings. It reproduced the subtle differences between venues and the strengths of piano keystrokes in two recordings of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations—by Glenn Gould, 1981 (CD, CBS Masterworks MK 37779), and by Simone Dinnerstein, 2005 (CD, Telarc CD-80692)—and differentiated individual voices of singers in the Portland State Chamber Choir as they sang Eriks Esenvalds's The First Tears (24/88 WAV from CD, Naxos 8.579008), the voices arrayed across a wide soundstage. Bass lines formerly buried in ensemble pieces were clearly revealed by the Salon2s—eg, Tim Schmit's bass guitar underpinning the vocalist in "Hotel California," from the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over (CD, Geffen GEFD-24725), or Jerome Harris's acoustic bass-guitar line in Duke Ellington's "The Mooche," from Rendezvous: Jerome Harris Quintet Plays Jazz (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), a recording engineered, edited, and mixed by John Atkinson.

The Salon2s also made differences between components startlingly audible. The Constellation Inspiration Stereo 1.0 amplifier became harsh, edgy, and zippy when paired with Bryston's BP-173 line-level preamplifier, but was far smoother and more transparent with Bryston's own BP-26 preamp with MPS-2 power supply. Similarly, the Mark Levinson No.534 power amplifier sounded flat and unexciting with the Bryston combo of BP-26 and MPS-2, but came to life with the BP-173, its sound blossoming with transparency, clear highs, and bold dynamic contrasts.

In summary, 10 years on, Revel's Salon2 continues to impress me with, as JA wrote in 2009, "a resolution of fine detail [that] is rare among loudspeakers," an "ability to play at high levels with full-range low frequencies," "a neutral, uncolored midrange," "superbly well-defined and stable stereo imaging," "silky-smooth highs courtesy its beryllium-dome tweeter," and "sonic coherence from bottom to top of the audioband." For all of those reasons, it remains my reference loudspeaker.—Larry Greenhill

Theodor's picture

Could any of you please compare the REVEL Salon 2 performance and GoldenEar Triton Reference especially in the music clarity at mid and low levels (assuming both powered with McIntosh MC462)?

JRT's picture

Take a look at what Kal Rubinson, Jim Austin, and Larry Greenhill are using as reference loudspeakers in their own systems. Kal discussed his recent change from B&W 801D in a recent column, and you can see the others' loudspeakers in associated equipment in their relatively recent reviews.

They seem to be using Revel Ultima/Ultima2 Studio2, and are not using GoldenEar Tritons.

As for you choice in amplifiers, you should know that a pair of Benchmark Media AHB2 bridged as monoblocks would play cleaner with lower noise and lower distortion across the full audible spectrum for less money than the McIntosh MC462.

Jim Austin's picture
The GoldenEar Triton Reference is a fine speaker, but speakers with powered woofers/subs are not practical for reviewers. Jim Austin, Editor Stereophile
Ayrehead's picture

Hi Jim:

I’ve owned my Salon 2’s for about three years. When I first set them up, I was in a hurry and didn’t bother with the spikes. A couple of weeks later, while I was hanging around a forum and showing off about the Salons, I casually mentioned the fact that I had not spiked them. A Salon owner and participant in the forum told me that I should immediately spike the speakers and listen.

Frankly, what I listened to when I spiked the Salons was a very different speaker in the low frequency department - night and day. There was audibly ‘less’ bass but what there was was a hugely increased definition in low frequency delivery.

My speakers rest on carpet so, that might have had an effect when I raised them. I see that, in achieving such excellent sound, yours stood on a wooden floor. You mention not having received the spikes and then, later, you mention the blunt end of the spikes. Did you listen to the speakers without and then with spikes? Any impressions about the difference?

mauidj's picture

...and I still love them.
Its so nice to read that some of my favorite audio reviewers still find these to be among the best full rangers out there. Even more so considering the price. I've owned mine for just over 9 years and they continue to amaze me when the music is right. Yes Jim, you are spot on...they do not like bad recordings.
And yes Larry, that D2D Romeo and Juliet is a stunner played through the Revels. One of my all time favorite records.
So the Revels are sensitive to the music and also, as I discovered, very much to the amplification.
Mine originally lived with a full Krell EVO system...pretty damn good but...there was something not quite right with the tonal balance. They did not sing quite like I heard them singe with other amp systems.
Then I changed to a Pass/Esoteric front end and they sounded dreadful. Flat. No life at all.
I had other components to change out and thus discovered it was the Esoteric not playing nice with the Revels.
Could not believe the difference a power amp made in such a negative way. The system bordered on unlistenable.
It was hard to fathom how such a well made and reviewed power amp could sound so bad.
So the Esoteric was then replaced with a Luxman m900u. they are singing so sweetly.
I completely agree with pretty much everything both Jim and Larry wrote.
When time and budget allow the Pass will go, to be replaced with the matching Luxman Preamp.
Looking forward to hearing even better sound from these great transducers.
BTW...mine are on a solid wood suspended floor with the spikes reversed.
A big mahalo for the reviews gentlemen.

aRui's picture

You paired the Luxman M900U with the Revel Salon2s? What do you think about the combo sofar?