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Revel Performa F50 surround speaker system

Founded just a few years ago, Revel has rapidly developed a reputation as a speaker company to reckon with. Its designs have been consistently praised by reviewers and sought by audiophiles. Revel's speakers aren't cheap, but, as they say in the movie business, the budget is all up there on the screen—or, in this case, in the sound.

The Revel Performa series slots in just under the company's top-of-the-line Ultima range. The newest Performa system, and the one we're checking out here, is built around recently introduced Performa F50 floorstanders at left and right front, together with the newest Performa, the C50 center-channel. Filling out the package are the B15 subwoofer and S30 wall-mounted surrounds.

The B15 and S30 were reviewed as part of the Revel Performa F30 system in the November 2001 Guide. For a complete discussion of those two products, I refer you to that review, which includes extensive information on Revel's Low Frequency Optimizer program for dialing in the B15's response and its blend with the main-channel speakers. The review is available online at www.guidetohometheater.com, so I won't describe either of those products in detail here.

It's Like an Oven in Here
One of Revel's trademarks has been the use of magnesium-alloy bass and midrange drivers with diaphragms that resemble huge, inverted domes. In the F50 and C50, those have been replaced by completely new designs. Kapton voice-coil formers, cast baskets, and low-compression drivers (compression causes a driver's characteristics to change at higher levels as the voice coil heats up) have been hallmarks of Revel speakers since the beginning, but the cone materials in the F50 and C50 are all new. A core of polyethylene terephthalate (say that fast, three times) is bonded to two outer layers of glass fiber using a geopolymer resin. This structure is then heat-cured, which turns it into a ceramic material. The resulting low-mass cone is said to perform as a nearly ideal piston.

The F50 consists of three 6.5-inch woofers in a ported enclosure, the flared duct venting to the rear. The woofers cross over at 225Hz to a single 5.25-inch midrange. A pure-titanium dome tweeter takes over above 2.3kHz. The solid cabinet is constructed of 1-inch-thick MDF with heavy internal bracing.

Two sets of heavy-duty binding posts permit biwiring or biamping. Though spikes are provided, I didn't use them, relying instead on the cabinet's 100-pound weight to provide sufficient inertia against cabinet movement. (I anticipate that the hardwood floors under my almost-wall-to-wall carpeting will see the light of day again when some future owner—who probably won't like pock-marked hardwood—reconverts the 15.5x26-foot space into a dining/living room.)

The C50 center-channel speaker has two 6.5-inch drivers flanking a 4-inch midrange and 1-inch metal-dome tweeter. It's a sealed-box design and, unlike the F50, has only one set of input terminals. I used a single cable run to both F50s, so everything was identically wired across the front.

The C50's cabinet is built of 0.75-inch-thick MDF. It's designed to bolt securely to the optional center-channel stand. The stand provides a slight backtilt, and the stand and speaker together sit 22 inches high—just the right height to fit comfortably under my projection screen.

In other design respects, the F50 and C50 are nearly twins. Both use individually optimized high-order crossovers, and both seem to have been designed for use with their grilles in place—a good thing, since the speakers lose much of their elegant appearance with the grilles removed and the three front channels' 14 drivers exposed. Both speakers provide adjustable, five-position High Frequency Level controls (±1dB maximum), but the C50 also has a Placement Compensation control with three positions: in order of increasing bass output, these are Flush Mounted, On Top of Monitor, and Stand Mounted.

Setup
I set up the Revel F50 system in the locations that I've found work best with most speakers: the center-channel C50 just below the projection screen, the left and right F50s about a foot beyond the screen on each side. This put the F50s about 3 feet from the side walls and 7 feet out from the front wall of the room. The listening position was about 9 feet from the plane formed by the fronts of the F50s. The main S30 surrounds were positioned just above ear height on the side walls, and about 120° back from the front-center position. The rear S30s were on the back wall of the room. The surrounds and subwoofer were always active during the review sessions, except when I evaluated the F50s full-range in a 2-channel configuration. Most of my listening was done with the single set of side-mounted S30s, but the rears were occasionally engaged.

The main-channel F50s could clearly operate to below 30Hz on their own, and the crossovers in the Mark Levinson No.40 surround processor I used for most of the review provide many options lower than 80Hz (including the choice of different frequencies in the left, right, center, and surrounds). However, 80Hz is the most common, and often the only, choice of crossover in preamp-processors and receivers. Therefore, I used that frequency here, with all bass below 80Hz in all channels routed to the B15 subwoofer. The 80Hz setting also provides a wider range of control over the in-room bass response of the Revel system than a lower frequency would, given the B15's parametric equalizers. The B15 was positioned in the right front corner of the room, its equalizers adjusted for optimum overall system response from my main listening chair. (Again, see the archived review of the Revel F30 system at www.guidetohometheater.com for more details on the B15 setup procedure.)

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