Revel Ultima Studio loudspeaker Follow-up #1

Follow-up #1 (from January 2001, Vol.24 No.1)

"Congratulations! Now, it can be your fault!" So said my relieved mother to my new bride, warning her that none of life's little lapses from perfection would ever be my fault.

One result of this is that my personal appreciation and public praise of excellent audio components is usually damped by the need to dissect, analyze, and lay blame. Another is that I can be immobilized by dithering and second-guessing. I hope to correct the balance and, perhaps, gain some psychotherapeutic benefit with this completely unsolicited, heart-on-sleeve Follow-Up on my December 2000 review of the Revel Ultima Studio loudspeaker.

When my old reference speakers, the Apogee Duettas, were passed on to a more appreciative home, I began the search for their replacements. I sifted through the various industry directories, made the rounds of the salons, and visited room after room at the CES and Stereophile shows. The list dwindled to a precious few, and I decided to get my hands on as many of the finalists as possible. They would, of course, be subjected to the expected Stereophile scrutiny, but that usual rigorous examination would be further intensified by my special involvement in its outcome. Any decision should be unambiguous.

But while many excellent speakers graced my living room over the following months and years, there was always some reason, sometimes personal or obscure, to return them. Searching for that ideal match became much like dating: My heart would be full of hope and anticipation when each speaker arrived, and when it left I would feel a very personal disappointment—especially if we had had a good time together. The unexpurgated morning-after reports are printed in Stereophile for all to see.

To be keepers, the new references would have to be a tool for the reviewer and a delight for the music-lover. They would have to be superbly transparent and tonally balanced in my room, so that they could expose the subtle idiosyncrasies of constantly improving source components. They would have to serve the reviewer's need to evaluate the full-range performance of amplifiers—any speaker that required multi-amping, had built-in power amplifiers, or needed add-on subwoofers to cover the full spectrum, would be rejected. The new references would have to be reasonably efficient and accommodating for use with modestly powered amps, and yet they would have to contend with the high outputs of behemoth amps. It would also be essential for me to be able to single-handedly move any reference speaker out of the listening room when other models come to visit. Finally, the chosen ones would have to make me do something quite out of character: Stop dithering and accept them.

Well, the Revel Ultima Studio has low distortion, wide spectral response, balanced in-room performance, and high power handling. (John Atkinson's measurements in the December issue indicate that this is not self-delusion.) And, yes, it is eminently fit for analyzing and reviewing other audio equipment, because it has less color or spurious character than any other speaker I've used. Upstream component changes and downstream listening-room adjustments were instantly made plain, their beauty spots and warts equally exposed. The Studios look great in my living room, the price of $10,799/pair fits my budget, and, with my trusty dolly, I can arrange for them temporary vacations in another room.

However, the real reason the Studios have stayed in my system for so long is that they give me unparalleled pleasure. Every day, even before a shower or the morning headlines, I am compelled to play with the Studios as if they were a just-opened Christmas gift. Every evening, with music fresh or familiar, the Studios thrill me with a profound emotional experience. I could inundate you with the names of the recordings I've discovered and rediscovered, but little would be learned from such a list: with the Studios, I've enjoyed every recording more, whether the music is delicate, grand, violent, solemn, silly, raunchy, or simply an excuse for foot-stomping. Way beyond that, I still get a kick from the Studios, day in and day out, that rivals the memories of my past audio epiphanies—including my first exposure to real stereo in the early 1950s, Peter McGrath's master tapes on his Levinson-HQD system, and my first visit chez Scull.

Of course, the insecure audiophile asks if there is still something more or better out there, fully knowing that there always is. If I commit to these, what if something else comes around tomorrow? I might get a pair of B&W 802Ns to audition, and maybe—just maybe—the big new Quads. Then there's the—

Hold it! That's a head game for the angst-ridden Usenet audiophiles who list their components and want to know if changing one of them will change their lives. I ask them, "In what particular way are you disappointed? What specific performance aspects do you want to improve?" Turning the glare of that interrogation on myself, I can point out no significant weakness in the Ultima Studio. It plays as loud, as deep, as dynamically, and as transparently as any speaker I've heard. The Studios are simply so right in my room and in my system that I can find no way to carp.

Looking back on the various transformations of my audio systems over the decades, I can recall a few configurations that fairly screamed for change, many that sounded pretty good, and some that were just wonderful. The Studios moved in with me more than a year ago and, driving them with the Meridian Reference 800 and the Sonic Frontiers Line3/Power3, I have been enjoying the best music yet.

But will the honeymoon last? My wife says, "Stop talking and buy them already!" That's all I needed to hear—now it can be her fault!—Kalman Rubinson