Revel Ultima Studio loudspeaker Follow-up #2

Follow-up #2 (from January 2001, Vol.24 No.1)

As you can read elsewhere in this issue's Follow-Up section, Kalman Rubinson was so impressed by the $10,799/pair Revel Ultima Studio loudspeaker that he has decided to purchase the review pair. When I read his enthusiastic prose, I still had the pair of Studios that I had measured to accompany Kal's original review in the December 2000 issue, so I set them up in my new listening room for a...listen.

Yes, that's new listening room, "new" spelled "a-n-g-s-t." As I mentioned last September, I have relocated from Santa Fe to Brooklyn. After 12 years in a room whose acoustic had settled around my ears like a well-broken-in pair of Doc Marten boots, I had to deal with a new room and its new acoustic problems.

Our new Brooklyn house has a large basement that at one point had been divided into many small rooms to serve as a dentist's surgery. The old dentist's laboratory has become the Stereophile measurements lab, and I had what had once been the patients' waiting room and a file room knocked together to make a rectangular listening room just under 17' wide, and 23' long on one side, 19' long on the other, with an 8' ceiling. The walls are almost entirely lined with book, CDs, and LPs and various alcoves break up the symmetry.

Before I set the Revels up, I installed the B&W Silver Signatures that had been my Santa Fe references. Fig.1 shows the B&Ws' spatially averaged response in the old room, produced by averaging 120 separate measurements taken for each speaker individually with the microphone placed in a 60" by 18" vertical grid centered on the listening position, about 8' from the speakers. The 1/3-octave spectrum analyzer used was an AudioControl Industrial SA-3050A.

Fig.1 B&W Silver Signature, spatially averaged, 1/3-octave freefield response in JA's Santa Fe listening room.

This technique minimizes the effects of room standing waves on the lower frequencies and produces a measured spectrum that has closely correlated with the speaker's perceived balance in my old room. There is a slight lack of in-room energy at the top of the woofer's passband, but the B&Ws' response trend is superbly flat overall. While the 63Hz 1/3-octave band is a bit boosted and the 50Hz band a bit suppressed, the speakers offer useful low-frequency response down to the 32Hz band. And that is how they sounded: uncolored, if a bit polite-balanced, with surprisingly powerful bass. The graph doesn't indicate how superbly transparent the Silver Siggies are, nor does it show their somewhat limited dynamic-range window—for that, you'll have to read my June 1994 review.

Fig.2 shows an identical measurement for the B&Ws taken in my new room. I sit a little farther back in the new room, about 10' from the speakers, which modifies the mid-treble balance a bit. Nevertheless, from 500Hz up, these are obviously the same speakers! (Those who say that the room dominates the perceived balance of loudspeakers should ponder the significance of figs.1 and 2.) However, from 500Hz down, where room resonances make their presence felt, things become increasingly different with decreasing frequency. The lower midrange and upper bass are actually better balanced in the new room, the old room having a "bloom" in the 160Hz and 200Hz bands that I could never eliminate.

But look at the bass in fig.2: There is no bass! Well, there is some bass, but the midbass has been suppressed by almost 8dB. And that's how the B&Ws sounded: The midrange and treble regions were astonishingly articulate and the soundstaging even more precise and deep than it had been in my old room, but the speakers sounded so much smaller than they had in New Mexico, and no adjustment of speaker positions did much to help. (The new room's layout unfortunately means that I can't get the B&Ws close to the wall behind them, which may be the real solution.)

Fig.2 B&W Silver Signature, spatially averaged, 1/3-octave freefield response in JA's Brooklyn listening room.

Without enough midbass energy, my new recording of Robert Silverman performing all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas sounded too thin. In addition, the balance emphasized the reverberant nature of the recital hall in which I had captured the sound of Bob's Bösendorfer, making the instrument sound smaller than it should.

Enter the Revels. Fig.3 shows their spatially averaged response in the Brooklyn room, taken under circumstances identical to those of fig.2. (The tweeter controls were set to their maximum positions, the rear tweeters turned off.) The Studios' in-room balance is astonishingly and superbly flat, meeting +0.9dB, -1.25dB limits from 100Hz up to 10kHz. The very top octave rolls off a little earlier than it had with the B&Ws. Again, the 50Hz and 63Hz bands are suppressed, but not to the extent they had been with the Silver Signatures, and low bass is evident down to the 20Hz band.

Fig.3 Revel Ultima Studio, spatially averaged, 1/3-octave freefield response in JA's Brooklyn listening room.

That is basically how the Studios sounded: flat, neutral, with articulate and extended low frequencies. The imaging was superbly well-defined, with a wide, deep soundstage. I did end up dropping the tweeter level by 1dB to eliminate a slight brightness in the mid-treble. Though this made the overall presentation a little dull, I found that turning the rear-facing tweeters to their maximum settings almost compensated.

My comments on the Studio are a work in progress: I need to work on the missing midbass energy, and, after a high-level session playing "Division Bell," from Pink Floyd's live Pulse album, one of the tweeters developed a buzz. But based on my experience so far of the Revel Studio, I enthusiastically endorse Kal's recommendation of this speaker.—John Atkinson