Revel Reveals All to Stereophile Scribes, Part 2

On day two of Revel's early-March press junket, Stereophile and Guide to Home Theater writers and editors were treated to a discussion and demonstration of some superb audio and video equipment at Kevin Voecks' spacious home in the San Fernando Valley. Voecks spoke at length about the extensive research his company has done on the perceived realism of reproduced sound, under the leadership of Dr. Floyd Toole.

One of the most persistent beliefs among audiophiles and speaker designers is that a loudspeaker's step response or square wave response has a significant effect on the perceived sound. This belief has driven designers to work long and hard to minimize crossover-induced phase anomalies in the acoustic outputs of their products. While well-intentioned, such efforts are probably misguided, according to Voecks, Revel's head of research and technology, because "waveform preservation is insignificant to the human ear/brain."

Much more important, he claims, are timbre, directivity, resonance, distortion, and dynamics. "Power response," or the combined frequency response of a speaker both on- and off-axis, is another extremely important aspect of speaker performance, and one that Revel pays particular attention to. The rear tweeter on Revel's Ultima-series speakers is there to smooth out the power response, Voecks said, pointing out that digital room-correction devices "can't do anything to improve off-axis response." In Voecks' opinion, some music lovers have dismissed speaker measurements as insignificant because "the measurements are wrong"—that is, engineers have been measuring the wrong things. Many loudspeakers sound overly aggressive due to designers attempting to achieve a flat frequency response, he said. Revel products have a flat on-axis response but a built-in "slight downward tilt in the [listening-window] response" resulting in a natural-sounding "calculated perceived response." He added that "there is no need for any disagreement between the audio community's objectivist and subjectivist factions, because both approaches serve the same purpose: to make reproduced music sound more real. Music is the ultimate test."

Evidence of all this theory and practice was presented in a huge home-theater space designed by Florida's Acoustic Innovations with the aid of former Audio Engineering Society president Dr. Elizabeth Cohen. One of the first music demonstrations we got was of Revel's new Performa M-20, a $2000/pair compact two-way stand-mounted speaker with amazing bass capabilities. Driven by Mark Levinson No.33 amplifiers through long lengths of Kimber Kable 8TC ("One of the best values in cable, I think," Voecks said), the M-20 got our attention in a big way with its dynamics and imaging abilities.

Even more impressive was the floorstanding Performa F-30, a $3500/pair marvel that has gotten rave reviews at several hi-fi shows. The F-30 yields an exceptionally smooth, uncolored presentation with a deep, open soundstage. It offers one of the highest performance-per-dollar values of anything in audio, and is certainly all that most music lovers could ever want in a loudspeaker. (Kal Rubinson offers his thoughts on the F-30 in the forthcoming May issue of Stereophile.)

The high value the F-30 represents has been a problem for some dealers, one Madrigal executive confided, "because it is so much better than most speakers costing much more." Suzanne Vega's "Caramel" sounded wonderful through the F-30s. "A beautifully structured song," commented Guide to Home Theater contributing editor Scott Wilkinson, himself no slouch when it comes to penning tunes.

The F-30s were soon displaced by a pair of Ultima Studios, which seemed to offer more of everything: faster attack, deeper bass, better dynamics. It's pretty tough to please a group of hardened professional audiophiles, but the new Studios pulled that off effortlessly. Revel's new $2995 B-15 subwoofer—with a 1400W internal amp—got a workout with some movie material, including the opening-credits scene of My Best Friend's Wedding, a wonderful piece of fluff with bride and bridesmaids dancing and miming "Wishin' and Hopin'," actually sung by Ani DiFranco. "Best part of the whole film," cracked one Stereofool. "Man, what a tough crowd," responded a Revelian. He had no idea.

The video display was a high-definition rear-projection screen about 72" wide, aided by the latest processing magic from Snell & Wilcox's G-2 Interpolator. We watched an assortment of film and TV clips, including HDTV coverage of the most recent Rose Bowl parade. Although the video was meticulously calibrated with the aid of an expert described as "Joe Kane's former assistant," several of us commented that it looked a tad dark. (Kane is the founder of the Imaging Science Foundation.) During a break in the festivities, Guide to Home Theater editor Tom Norton boosted the brightness (with Voecks' approval, of course), which also solved what I saw as color oversaturation. Like all engineering references, "technically correct" calibrations are simply the starting point for making pictures and sound as good as they can be.

The two-day event was a delight for all. Thanks to Mark Glazier, Kevin Voecks, and crew for hosting us—and the dinners were great! Many days later, I'm still impressed by the Performa F-30, which was also a favorite of Scott Wilkinson's. The complete Performa surround system, including the B-15 subwoofer, center-channel, and side/rear speakers, will retail for about $11,000—not much more than a pair of Studios. Revel is one company intent on pushing this industry forward, to the benefit of all.