Take 2 System Report

TJN takes a look (and listen) at a system consisting of four recently reviewed products: the Revel Performa F32 speaker system, the Sony STR-DA9000ES A/V receiver, the Marantz DV8400 DVD player, and the Sony VPL-HS51 video projector.

Because the performance of any product in an audio, video, or home theater system is dependent to some degree on the products it's mated with, all of our reviews here at Ultimate AV include a list of associated components used in the evaluation. But we rarely report on a complete system.

There's a reason for that. The possible permutations are enormous. Suppose we start with source A and receiver B in search of a good speaker. We evaluate speakers C, D, E, F, and G. If speaker G comes out on top, will it also rule with receiver H? Possibly, but it's just as likely that receiver H will sound better with speaker E!

I should quickly add (to avoid spreading panic in reviewer-land) that I'm not talking about enormous differences in such a comparison test if the source and receiver—or separates—are well-designed products to begin with. But they do make a difference, and you can see how the typically perfectionist reviewer—who can be as anal as any audio or video fan—could easily spend months in search of the "perfect" mix of products, months in which nothing else gets reviewed!

Nevertheless, a glove-fit combination sometimes occurs purely by serendipity. I've recently been using just such a system, and it fits my room and preferences beautifully. That's not to say that tomorrow or next week I won't find, say, an A/V receiver or combination of separates that work even better with the system. Nor does it mean that this setup excels in all respects, or that it will be as fine a fit in every room. But it has provided me with a lot of smiles.

Three of the products in this system were originally reviewed by me. (Actually, I reviewed the Marantz DV8300, and the DV8400 is very similar.) The fourth, the Revel Performa F32 speaker system, was reviewed by Steven Stone. All of the individual reviews are available in our archives, and I strongly recommend that you look for them there. That's also where you'll find complete specifications, prices, and manufacturer contacts.

Revel Performa F32speaker system
Sony STR-DA9000ES A/V receiver
Marantz DV8300 DVD player
Sony VPL-HS51 video projector

Having reviewed three different Revel home theater speaker systems over the past seven years, I was eager to see how this system, built around the F32 floor-standers, stacked up in my room. So after they were measured for the review, I schlepped them home for a listen. With the F32s holding up the front left and right channels, the C32 at the center, a pair of M22s as direct-radiating surrounds, and my long-time reference B15 subwoofer sitting in the right front corner (with its parametric equalizers adjusted for my room and preferred seating area), I was ready to go. I had just finished reviewing the Sony STR-DA9000ES receiver driven mainly by the Marantz DV8400 DVD player, so that seemed as good a place as any to begin.

It not only began there, it lasted for weeks. I had just reviewed the Focal-JMlab Diva Utopia Be speakers in the same system, and my first impression of the Revels was that their high frequencies were just a little more mechanical. They lacked the almost-ethereal quality of the Focal-JMlab speakers, with their beryllium-domed tweeters. But nothing else about the sound suggested that I had just replaced a $28,500 speaker package with one topping out at $11,300 (speaker stands not included). We're hardly talking bargain basement in either case, but that price difference is still significant.

When Steven Stone reviewed the Revels, he used words and phrases like "matter-of-fact," "without undue emphasis," "harmonically correct," and "honest." That is what I found as well. I anticipated a pristine, if slightly cool, detached sound, and to a certain extent that was what I heard. But there was just a little more welcome warmth than I expected, too. It wasn't enough to make the sound unnatural or bloated, and not enough to add the sort of bloom that some audiophiles prefer, but it did flesh out the sound without sacrificing the Revels' superb rendition of detail.

The Performa system can sound cooler still with some very good separates, including the superb Anthem Statement D1 pre-pro and P5 power amp (reviews in progress). That combination also brought out details that were more overt than the more subtle and rounded—though still very much there--presentation of the Sony.

The same was true of the Marantz DVD player from its digital output versus the far more expensive Faroudja DVP4000, which added noticeably more air and sparkle. Even with the Sony and Marantz, some may prefer speakers that are a little richer and warmer. But you'll look long and hard for a system that is more articulate while not sounding overtly bright. In fact, "articulate" is not only a word that Steven Stone used in his review of the Revels, but one that others have used to describe their sound in this system.