Revel Ultima2 Surround Speaker System

Ever since its launch in 1996, Revel has pursued a no-compromise approach to speaker design and manufacturing. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the brand is part of megaconglomerate Harman International, which boasts some of the best speaker-development facilities in the world. For example, Revel engineers have access to multiple anechoic chambers and Harman's Multichannel Listening Lab that allows blind-listening tests, shuffling several speakers around for each test run so the effect of their positions in the room is randomized and thus prevented from affecting the results.

Another factor in Revel's stellar reputation is Director of Revel Products Kevin Voecks, who previously served as Snell's chief speaker designer in the mid-'80s. Under his guidance, Revel speakers have quickly risen to be considered among the finest in the world.

The ne plus ultra in Revel's stable is the Ultima2 line, which includes the Salon2 and Studio2 floorstanders, Voice2 center, and Gem2 stand-mounted model that can serve as a smaller front or direct-radiating surround. For this review, I used the top-dog Salon2 at the front right and left positions, a Voice2 in the center, and the Gem2 for right and left surrounds. There is no subwoofer in the Ultima2 line, so I pressed two Revel Performa B12a subs into service at the low end.

What You See
The Salon2 ($21,998 per pair) looks very much like a solid curved billet of mahogany, and its 178 pounds hover deceptively above the base as if buoyed by antigrav plating. Nine layers of laminated MDF wrap from the left edge of the 2.5-inch-thick front baffle all the way around and back to the right edge of the baffle. In the case of the similarly constructed Voice2 center speaker ($7999), they wrap from the top edge of the baffle around to the bottom edge. In both cases, this eliminates two large joints in the rear that would have otherwise been required. Also, the curved front baffle helps minimize diffraction and thus distortion.

Speaker connections are on the back, behind a curved Plexiglass door. If your cables are large and as uncooperative as my AudioQuest Mont Blancs, you may want to leave the door open. Or you can simply unhinge the doors and put them away, as I did. Revel also offers two pairs of speaker terminals that you can use to biwire or biamp the Salon2, Voice2, and Gem2 speakers. I left the input terminals bridged and ran a single cable from my amp to each speaker.

Magnetically attached grilles hide the sculpted baffle that holds drivers designed specifically for the Ultima2 line. The Salon2 sports three 8-inch woofers, a 6.5-inch midwoofer, and a 4-inch midrange that riff off a design concept with dual neodymium magnetic-motor assemblies and titanium diaphragms. The 8-inch drivers share a ported cavity that fires out the bottom of the cabinet, while the 6.5-inch midwoofer and 4-inch midrange operate in their own sealed enclosures.

Revel claims the Salon2's bass output is down only 3 decibels at 23 hertz, and nothing in my listening experience contradicted that. An unported Vandersteen 2W subwoofer I owned years ago also used three 8-inch drivers to achieve deep, powerful bass extension. Smaller drivers can generate massive amounts of tight bass, provided they are capable of high excursion.

The Salon2's tweeter is pure beryllium. At about one-third the density of titanium, it provides a lighter, stiffer diaphragm that's capable of better performance than a diamond-coated dome. The tweeter uses a waveguide that helps control diffraction and directivity while it simultaneously increases effective output.

The 3-way Voice2 uses the same drivers as the Salon2, just not as many. Two 8-inch woofers flank a 5.25-inch midrange and 1-inch tweeter. Along with the similarly curved baffles, this allows the Voice2 to match the Salon2's timbre perfectly.

Two frequency contouring controls on the back of the Salon2 and Voice2 speakers let you set the low-frequency compensation to Normal, Boundary (if the speakers are close to the wall behind them), or Contour (for a modestly shelved bass response that might make them easier to place). A five-position tweeter control gives you two boost and two cut options in addition to flat.

I've heard five Gem speakers (predecessor of the Gem2) used as a complete surround system, and they sounded so good, I felt particularly pretentious using the new Gem2 speakers ($9998 per pair) merely as surrounds here. Obviously, with the same drivers as the Salon2 speakers (one 8-inch woofer, one 4-inch midrange, one 1-inch tweeter), timbre matching was all but a given.

The rather pricey pedestals for the Gem2 ($1398 per pair) provide a pleasing final aesthetic, so these Gems can linger mid-room without objection. I can say the same for the Voice2's pedestal ($599), which ended up four feet into my room in order to provide clearance to open the doors of my equipment cabinet behind it. If you're looking for a speaker system for your cramped Manhattan pied-à-terre, the Ultima2 line from Revel will not be your first choice.

Basso Performa
Revel's Ultima2 line may lack its own subwoofer, but the Performa B15a subwoofer ($2999) is as ultimate as you can get in any case. A 15-inch inverted metal-dome driver with a 3-inch voice coil that's coupled to an 8-pound magnet driven by 1000 watts of power (1400 watts on peaks) is all a reasonable person could want. I used two B15a subs in this 5.2-channel review system.