Revel Ultima2 Salon2 Speaker System Page 2

The B15a’s rear panel is a tweaker’s paradise. It features a three-band parametric equalizer with selectable frequencies (18 Hz to 80 Hz), bandwidth, and level. You can bypass the low-pass crossover or select a 24-dB or 48-dB slope at any frequency between 30 and 80 Hz (in 10-Hz increments). Also, the phase correction is continuously variable from 0 to 180 degrees. When you throw in a Revel test CD that’s replete with low-frequency test signals a few hertz apart, you begin to see the possibilities. There are no speaker-level inputs, but you’ll find both RCA and XLR stereo connection line-level inputs. You can even daisy-chain two subs together.

Raising the Roof
I’d heard the Revels might be a wee bit power hungry, so rather than chance it, I used my Marantz SR8002 AVR as a processor. I ran AudioQuest Jaguar interconnects to my 150-watt by five- channel ATI 1505 amp. Voecks picked the ATI as the best suited for the job from the short list of amps I presented him, and I agree. Published numbers aside, the ATI 1505 has a bit of a reputation as an arc welder, especially in comparison with many of today’s greener amps.

Properly amplified, the bass output from the Salon2 alone was extraordinary for its strength, realistic extension, and timing. Music never sounded slow or plodding as can happen when improperly damped woofers generate realistic SPLs. Even on fare like the Moody Blues’ Long Distance Voyager CD reissue on Mobile Fidelity (which borders on wispy), the Revels clearly evoked a sense of drive and punch.

The Salon2 was capable of excellent depth and stereo imaging, given the usual caveats that you’ll need to experiment with speaker and seating positions to get the best from your investment. Room treatment is also an option, recommended to control the primary sidewall reflections. However, my room is large enough that early reflections generally weren’t a problem. I only noticed image smearing in the upper midrange and lower treble at high playback levels. I know it was the room and not the speakers because when I moved my listening seat substantially closer to the speakers (diminishing the strength of those early arrivals), the smear disappeared.

Soundstage layering with the best recordings, like Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra through some Mozart Piano Concertos, was outstanding. The sense of the hall and the placement of the instruments within that hall were thoroughly addicting. If I were forced to identify a personality for the Salon2 in this regard, I would put the speaker slightly more forward than my reference MartinLogan Prodigy speaker. However, that’s to be expected given the electrostatic speaker’s dipole nature. I would say the Revel is slightly more expanded in its portrayal of depth. It reaches back just as far into the hall as the MartinLogan, but it also reaches even more forward into the room. When properly set up, the sense of limitless layering is more convincing than nearly any speaker I can recall.

Natural timbre is the Salon2’s best feature. These Revels get the weight and body of stringed instruments nearly perfect. Even violins that sound thin on other systems are presented here with their inherent beauty intact. The piano on the Mozart concertos was lush in its natural vibrato. Its percussive lead was defined down to the thunk of the felt-laden mallet so much that I thought I was tickling the ivories myself. If you like classical music, you’re going to adore the Salon2.

Best of Show
Across the Universe might not have made an impact at the box office, but the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack of the Sony Pictures Blu-ray release made an impact in my home theater. The full-range Salon2 thundered on stage as the waves that accompany the movie’s title tune in the opening sequence lulled me in only to be overpowered by a modern guitar-thrashing rendition of “Helter Skelter.” The full-range nature of the Salon2 showed its powerful contribution in the upper bass here.

The Voice2 center channel is clearly the best center channel I’ve ever heard. It trumped everything with its lack of compression and unstrained naturalness. In Across the Universe’s “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” T.V. Carpio’s mournful voice puts a longing, almost lustful, spin on this song that the Beatles wouldn’t have attempted a half century ago. (Plus, you can’t dance to Carpio’s version!) The Blu-ray Disc of Tropic Thunder, where lots of screaming and yelling goes on amidst gunfire and grenades, presented challenges. I did think the Voice2’s natural timbre occasionally worked against intelligibility on soundtracks where dialogue is thickly buried. A speaker with an emphasis in the presence region (upper midrange and lower treble) can often do a better job in this regard. When I goosed the Voice2’s treble-compensation switch, it somewhat helped with this messy soundtrack. Still, there’s no telling what Robert Downey Jr. is really saying in his over-the-top 1969 soul brother impersonation.

The small (by Revel standards) Gem2 did a great job with the sur- round channels. It re-created the basketball court acoustics during “It Won’t Be Long” in Across the Universe. When I stood near the Gem2, ear to speaker, I ascertained that the surround channels were laden with reverb during the chorus and nearly silent at other times. The effect instantly trans- ported me into that high-school gymnasium, filling the room with the slap echo you’d expect.

Donnie Darko’s release on Blu-ray possesses some truly intoxicating music, from the incidental music that accompanies the opening sunrise on this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack to its “Mad World” ending, which is surely one of the sweetest tunes ever put to film (and to a Gears of War promo a few years ago too). The Revel system’s portrayal was visceral to the point of being primitive in its impact. It’s an emotional scene, no doubt, and the Revels left me with goose bumps. Unfortunately, some of the ’80s music comes off bright, just like it was recorded. No, the Revel system isn’t euphonically colored; it tells it like it is, albeit without the compression and distortion that would also plague a lesser system. The sound you hear from the Revel system is simply the truthful retelling of a tale.

All Will Be Reveled
I have heard some excellent speaker systems in the 15 years I’ve been reviewing and attending trade shows. With just the right track, dimmed lighting, and perhaps the aroma of a lit vanilla-scented candle, everything falls into place. Then there’s my house, where the room perhaps isn’t perfect, the lighting is what it is, and the scents lean more toward last night’s chicken curry experiment. Still, the Revel Ultima2 system proved itself to be the easiest-to-love system to grace my home theater. The sound is warm, extended, and vibrant, but lacking any false shimmer. It reveals the complexity of the human voice as perfectly as the mechanical gyrations of a grand piano. Whether listening to vinyl in stereo, or watching the latest action movie on Blu-ray, the experience is always rewarding. I hate having the sound turned off as I’m writing this, but it’s too distracting and too alluring to afford me the concentration I need to get these words down.

In case you’re getting ready to blow your tax refund on an Ultima2 system, I must remind you that this system costs more than a decent German car, and by decent, I don’t mean Volkswagen. But in my opinion, these speakers are worth owning if you can afford them—and worth lusting after if you can’t.

(516) 594-0300