Revel Ultima Sub 30 powered subwoofer Page 3

The Sub 30 delivered bass-drum notes with authority and no trace of overhang. The deepest bass notes were produced with pitch-perfect precision, giving the low frequencies a tight, rhythmic quality. Take the furious bass-drum beats that punctuate Liberty Fanfare, from Winds of War and Peace (CD, Wilson Audiophile WCD-8823). The drum erupts into huge, gut-punching whacks. While loud and deep, these whacks were not trailed by the sustained dying notes of rich tonalities that I had heard with the Velodyne FSR-18 (see the August 1998 Stereophile, Vol.21 No.8).

Similarly, the Sub 30 handled powerful synthesizer notes with dead-on pitch definition. In so doing, it added tremendous emotional weight, suspense, and energy to film soundtracks that make use of this instrument. The excellent blend of Quad ESL-989s and Sub 30 allowed my system to render the deepest synthesizer growls and surges—they shook my listening room—while delivering the tortuous mix of percussion, chimes, gongs, and snare drums used in "Attempt on the Royals," from the Patriot Games soundtrack (CD, RCA 66051-2), and the deepest synthesizer notes on "Assault on Ryan's House." The bass remained clean, solid, and deep, with no spurious noises to indicate that the Sub 30's woofer and passive radiator were being distressed.

The Sub 30 worked the same deep-bass magic for the deep, vibrating, ghostly footsteps that open the Casper soundtrack (CD, MCA MCAD-11240); the ominous rumblings of "Caravan Moves Out," from Philip Glass's music for Kundun (CD, Nonesuch 79460-2); the oppressive, pumping bass line on Insane Clown Posse's "Ain't Yo Bidness," from The Wraith (CD, RIV 9912-2); and the dense, subterranean pulses on "The Carnotaur Attack," from the Dinosaur soundtrack (CD, Walt Disney 50086 06727).

Even when the Sub 30 was reproducing high-level synthesizer bass, this didn't interfere with my perception of other instruments. The sodden drone of Tibetan horns, the single-note chant of the Gyuto monks, and the contrabassoon were heard clearly over the steady buzz of the synthesizer in "Sand Mandala," from Kundun. The heartbeat on Pink Floyd's "Speak to Me," from the SACD remastering of their Dark Side of the Moon (Capitol SACD-82136-2), rattled the walls of my listening room before reappearing, less loud but more ominous, in "Time."

The Australian didgeridoo taxes the deep-bass capabilities of most full-range speakers. But the Revel Sub 30 was not fazed—it didn't distort or overload from the instrument's complex rattle of upper harmonics and deep resonances, as heard on David Hudson's "Rainforest Wonder," from Didgeridoo Spirit (CD, Indigenous Australia IA2003D).

The Revel allowed the Quads to handle dynamic bass peaks without overloading in my large listening room because the sub's high-pass filter was set to 80Hz—almost an octave higher than the lowest notes the Quads' bass panels can handle. For example, the system-busting synthesizer opening of Emmylou Harris' "Deeper Wells," from Spyboy (CD, Eminent EM-25001-2), didn't shut the system down. Run with its high-pass filter protecting the Quad panels, the Sub 30 was able to keep the synthesizer separate from the other instruments and vocals, something that many full-range speakers—and certainly the unassisted Quad ESL-989s—aren't able to do.

Other lease-busting synthesizer passages were handled with equal aplomb, including Don Dorsey's "Ascent," followed immediately by the Introduction of Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra, from Time Warp (CD, Telarc CD-80106). The Sub 30 was able to play this passage, particularly the sustained 20-25Hz synthesizer note, without giving an auditory clue as to its location—the bass appeared to emanate from a central point between the two Quad panels, not from the corner where the Sub 30 sat. Like other top-quality subwoofers, the Sub 30 improved the depth and width of the soundstage image.

With its output level carefully set to match the Quads at the 80Hz crossover frequency, the Revel Sub 30 delivered bass that was tight, clean, fast, musical, and accurate. Although it matched the more expensive REL Studio III that I reviewed in October in deep-bass extension and pitch definition, it didn't quite deliver that subwoofer's room-shaking power. On the other hand, its deep output was much tighter and better controlled than the REL's, which has no high-pass filter to protect the Quads from low-frequency demands. Only the Velodyne DD-18 matched the Revel Sub 30's tight, pitch-perfect bass extension and control, while the Velodyne's servo-controlled 18" woofer, high-pass filter, and 1400W RMS internal amplifier combined to deliver more punch, slam, and room lock.

I found the Revel Ultima Sub 30 smooth and free of distortion and midbass overhang. I had no problem blending it with my Quad electrostatics to achieve a clean, tight, solid bass signal with great pitch definition. This was possible because all the important setup essentials were handled automatically—Revel's LFO setup program analyzed my listening room's characteristics and corrected them with the Sub 30's three-band parametric equalizer.

I have some criticisms. First, the deep-bass output level I chose using the LFO program for my large listening room resulted in fast, accurate bass but with less of the shuddering, rattling, sustained bass pulses put out by other top-quality subwoofers. Second, at $5990, the Ultima Sub 30—whose build quality and control features are of the highest order—is one of the most expensive subwoofers now on the market. However, its Third, the Sub 30's installation routine can't be managed from the listening chair. But while other subwoofers, such as Velodyne's DD-18, offer remote-control room-analysis systems, they don't automatically analyze the results to identify optimal subwoofer equalization settings.

I strongly recommend the Revel Ultima Sub 30 for its beautiful and rugged construction, powerful amplifier and driver, sophisticated equalizers, CD-based test signals, and installation software.

The latter combination puts the Revel in a league with Velodyne's sophisticated DD-18 subwoofer. Perhaps more importantly, it was Revel's Low Frequency Optimization software that has convinced me, more than ever, that it is possible to successfully integrate an aftermarket subwoofer into a top-quality audio system and listening room. With their LFO software, Revel has brought subwoofer technology a step closer to a design that will calibrate itself automatically during installation.

Harman Specialty Group
3 Oak Park
Bedford, MA 01730-1413
(781) 280-0300