Revel Ultima Studio loudspeaker Page 4

From bottom to top, the Studio's performance exuded authority and integrity. Whether the fare was background sounds from FM, jazz, pop, rock (well, a little), or my regular diet of symphonies and operas, I enjoyed a closer connection to the music when the Studios were in the system—even though the speakers were not forward-sounding, and tended to create a deep soundstage extending far behind them. While they didn't "disappear" as completely as the Artemis Eoses or the EQ'd Kharma Ceramiques, the Studios pulled off that trick most of the time. In addition, they provided a more solid center-fill, and as palpably as that of the Meridian TriField setup, which uses a center-channel speaker.

The better the recording, the better the Studio sounded. On The Long Black Veil (RCA 62702-2), each of the Chieftains' guests, from Sinead O'Connor to Tom Jones, was absolutely and solidly placed and characteristically distinct, effectively approaching the devastating immediacy of the Cowboy Junkies' famous The Trinity Session (RCA 8568-2-R). And when I played that disc...Wow! Margo Timmins' voice was so eerily real that I felt I should have been able to feel the warmth of her presence. The Studios added to this a re-creation of Trinity's vaunted ambience even beyond that offered by Meridian's five-channel decoded Ambisonics. The in-room illusion was well-nigh perfect.

With the Studios providing such a wonderfully open window onto recordings, I was compelled to dig back into my collection and rediscover some favorites. One old friend is Kodály's Dances from Marosszek, with the Budapest Philharmonic under Arpad Joo. Even though the LP (Sefel SEFD-5014) is derived from a SoundStream digital master, I prefer it to the CD because it better separates the instruments and the ambience from the residual noises of the media and processing. On the other hand, the CD (Arts 47379-2), remastered by Bruce Leek, does a better job of distinguishing instruments and their immediate auras from the hall's surrounding reverberation. Issues of frequency balance, distortion, and dynamics were beyond contention. How remarkable to have, with the Studios, the ability to limn such subtleties—and yet be able to ignore them by reveling in the sheer beauty of the sound!

But I hadn't fully experienced the joyous sound the Studio could make with non-audiophile discs until I played Seiji Ozawa's recent recording of Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tirésias (Philips 456 504-2). Poulenc's opera-bouffe wraps Apollinaire's superficially silly dialogue in some of the ripest, sauciest, most lyrical music of the last century. The scoring is richly romantic, melodic, and often wildly eccentric. In fact, I gave up on the libretto and simply let the Studios tear into the magnificent sounds and melodies. Song after song, scene after scene, I had absolutely no idea what was going on between and behind the Studios, but damn—it was fun and it sounded great.

Since joining Stereophile, I have had the pleasure and responsibility of reviewing some of the best music equipment on the planet. Still, I ship most of these fine components back to their manufacturers with little regret—I know something new is on its way, and I need the closet space. I've had the Revel Ultima Studios in my system for longer than I've had any other piece of review equipment, and I've made more accommodations for them than I have for any others. To mangle Jack Nicholson's compliment in As Good As It Gets, the Studios make me want to have a better room.

The Ultima Studios have given me unabated pleasure as well as utility—their accuracy and transparency across the audible range make them powerful tools for assessing other components and sources. Inferior sources are revealed for what they are, and one must be prepared to hear just that. But this also means that the Studios let the music's humanity and joy shine through into my listening room. Highly recommended.