Revel Performa3 F208 Speaker System Page 2

At my request, Revel sent two B112 subs with the review system. But I ultimately found that a single B112, located in the right front corner, was all I really needed in my medium-size room. Revel’s Kevin Voecks performed the low-frequency subwoofer optimization with his own test gear. A refinement of the optimization program for using two subs together was in development but not yet available as I worked on the review. There are benefits to multiple subs, properly set up, but most buyers will likely use just one.

Music
Even though it has been six years since the Revel Ultima2 Studio2s were in my home theater, I can still say with assurance that no speaker system I’ve evaluated in that time has left a more positive impression.

However, auditory memory is fleeting—even over a few minutes, much less six years. For that reason, I certainly wouldn’t claim that the F208s equaled the Studio2s. But auditioned full range in two-channel stereo (no sub), with their ports unplugged and their LF Compensation controls set to Normal, the F208s made a compelling case for themselves. The top end was pristine and open without undue emphasis, the midrange impressively uncolored. Overall balance was a little more forward than what I’ve heard from many of the speakers that have passed through here recently, but both male and female vocals had a captivating immediacy. Their imaging was superb—though that quality has been a constant in my room with most speakers.

The bass was tight, clear, and detailed, but a bit lean in the deepest octave, despite a specified –3-dB point of 31 Hz. The F208s clearly weren’t entirely happy with having to sit several feet from the back wall, an unhappiness that hadn’t been the case, as best as I can recall, with the Studio2s. But this merely reinforces what I’ve said many times before: No review can tell you with absolute certainty how a speaker will respond in your room, particularly with the bass. Nor is a location that enables the best performance from a speaker in other respects necessarily the location that allows it to extend as deeply at the bottom end as it otherwise might.

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Adding in the equalized B112 subwoofer, however, produced a far different story. The bass was now solid—not only every bit as defined as before but also deep and powerful. Synthesizer bass and deep organ pedal energized the room. While the B112 couldn’t quite make the 16-Hz organ note on Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony audible at a reasonable listening level (though it could be detected in the measured, in-room response), it didn’t double it, either. (Doubling is a term often used to describe extreme second-harmonic distortion in the bass. If present, you’d perceive what should be a 16-Hz note as a weaker, obviously distorted, 32 Hz.) I’ve heard more prominent bass in my room from other big subs, but another listener could argue that their bass was overblown. Not the Revel’s. The B112’s blend with the F208s was impeccable, though the correct port bung and LF Compensation switch positions on the F208s were vital for getting the best result. (When I used the F208s together with the B112, I rolled them off at 80 Hz, with bungs in their ports and with LF Compensation set to Normal.)

I did notice slight bite in the low treble on some material at high playback levels, and my in-room measurements showed a small and visually innocuous elevation in the region from 2 to 3 kHz. Our Test Bench results will show if this is in the speaker itself or only together with my room and setup.

Later (after I completed the movie performance evaluations discussed below), I tried running Audyssey equalization on the Revels. I’ve had mixed feelings about Audyssey before, and we generally avoid it in reviews, for philosophical reasons. But here it made a significant difference. Not night and day—the Performa3s were already special—but enough to turn the sonic landscape from involving to compelling. It tightened the upper bass further, lending the entire bass range additional depth and definition. This in turn opened up the midrange, reducing congestion on complex musical lines and taming the forwardness noted earlier. What’s more, Audyssey EQ virtually eliminated the low-treble concern mentioned above, and the top end became even more open and detailed—without obvious brightness.

Whether or not such EQ will work as well in your room is an open question, but it’s a route worth taking if your AVR or pre/pro offers it and you’re not staunchly opposed to room compensation apart from the deepest bass. Keep in mind, however, that while the B112 subwoofer’s equalization is among the best, it works only in the sub’s operating range. Rooms sometimes have midbass and lower-midrange issues that can extend up to 300 to 400 Hz—well beyond the usual subwoofer crossover frequency. Equalizing only the sub can’t help with that.

Movies
As impressive as the F208s and B112 were on two-channel music, the full system was even more gripping on multichannel audio. This was true not only on well-recorded SACDs but also on the movies that our home theaters were made for.

With all of the Performa3’s channels pumping away, an action spectacle like Battleship spinning in the Blu-ray player would make Academy voters…um…blanch. But while that movie may have been DOA at the box office and drubbed by critics, its soundtrack is stunning. It has all of the pro forma bings, bangs, and booms. Without a trace of strain, the Revels never faltered in filling my room with all the mayhem and chaos my ears could handle. It seemed that “Give me more” was their unspoken demand. The soundstage was huge, the bass deep and crisp, the effects—at least at any tolerable listening level—never harsh, and the music as right as you could wish for.

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Oblivion is a far better film, and its soundtrack was every bit as impressive on the Revels. The roar of the helicopter as it circled for a landing in the ruined stadium shook my room. The mostly pounding score was clean and dynamic, but it was quiet and evocative when appropriate.

Even a small, intimate movie like Emperor can profit from a good soundtrack, well reproduced, on the Revels. The film tells the (Hollywood-ized, of course) story of how the occupying U.S. forces wrestled with what to do about Japan’s emperor in the immediate aftermath of World War II. There’s more restraint than mayhem here—probably the reason for the film’s box-office failure. A few flashback action scenes pop up here and there, and the Revels handled them as passionately as they did Battleship and Oblivion. But the subtleties and the real-world effects are what distinguish this soundtrack: the ambience of birds, the rustling of the wind, the movements of cars and trains, the sweet score, and the cleanly handled and naturally voiced dialogue. The Revels were consistently right with all of this; they basically got out of the way and let the movie’s sound speak for itself.

Conclusion
I’ll end here by excerpting what I said six years ago about the Revel Ultima2 Studio2 system: “Yes, a larger, more expensive speaker should be able to play louder, without distress, than a cheaper one…. But the most important quality of a good speaker is how natural and at ease it sounds on all sorts of program material. Like any experienced performer, [it makes] the difficult seem easy. Subtle details are just there, but the only ones that jump out at you are those that are recorded that way. The bass is extended, the midbass full but not artificially rich-sounding, the midrange free of coloration, and the highs clearly extended and airy but, again, only obvious when the program material calls for it.”

All of that applies as much to the Performa3 system. I can’t draw a direct comparison between the Studio2 and Performa3 packages; the time lag between auditions of the two systems simply won’t allow for that. And just as this Performa3 system is a fraction of the price of the Studio2 rig, there are even less expensive systems that offer very satisfying performance. But if this system is in your price range, you’re making a mistake if you don’t give it your serious consideration.

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