Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Revel Ultima2 - Studio2, Voice2, and Gem2 Speakers

ARTICLE INDEX

 

Setup

The primary purpose of this review was to review these loudspeakers in a multi-channel setup.  As such, a crossover frequency of 80 Hz was used, and the bass duty was relegated to a pair of Revel B15a subwoofers.  The audio calibration was performed by Bob Hodas.  One big change from before was the relocation of one of the two subwoofers which greatly improved the bass response.  There is no substitute for accurate in-room measurements and someone who has the experience of tuning many rooms.  This turned out to be a good investment, one I wish I had made earlier.  The Gem2s were stand mounted and placed directly to the side of the listening location, adjacent to the side-walls.

The front L/R placement was not optimized with full-range reproduction in mind.  When configured in this manner, their coupling with the room modes produced a sub-optimal response.  As a result, listening in this configuration was confined to a brief period.

The Low Frequency Compensation setting was set to Stand+ and Boundary for the Voice2 and Gem2 respectively.  All the other acoustic controls were left at their default settings.  Note that with the Studios, I needed to trim the level of both the front and rear tweeters in order to achieve the right balance.

The Sound

In my review of the Performa F52, I noted the exceptional integration of the midrange and tweeter.  The sound seemed to emanate from a point-source.  This notable improvement over the Studio was something I was looking forward to hearing in the Studio2.  It did not take long to hear this improvement.  Points in space had a tighter definition; borrowing some video terminology, it was as if the image has a tighter focus.  There was a three dimensional quality here which was evident on Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (Sony Classical, SK51352).  The Studio2s provided an effortless presentation bringing the string instruments to life.  There was no sign of compression when listening to music at a high volume level, and the detail in the quiet passages stood out regardless of volume level.

Patricia Barber’s Café Blue (Premonition Records, PREM-737-2) is another reference disc which takes an occasional spin during a review.  Track 11, “”Nardis” has a percussion solo midway through the track which pans across the front.  The imaging here was excellent.  The new tweeter has a remarkable level of transparency and is able to preserve all the detail in a recording.  You could hear the delicacy of the cymbals when they were brushed or struck along with these notes lingering in the air as they decayed.  This sounded superb.

I did briefly configure the Studio2 to run full-range and found them to perform very capably in this regard.  The Studio2 could reproduce deep bass without any audible strain.  In my setup, however, I did prefer the Studio2/B15a combination.  The bass was deeper and smoother, but that was not surprising given that placement optimization was carried out with this setup in mind.  In addition to the placement, the parametric-equalizer controls had also been exercised on each subwoofer to even out the combined response.  The Studio2 does provide acoustic controls which can be used, but those filters have a broad response.  It would have been nice if a multi-band, or even a single band parametric equalizer had been provided on the Studio2.  For me, however, this is not much of an issue since I am an advocate of using a subwoofer even with full-range loudspeakers.

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I greatly valued the Ultima Voice for its ability to reproduce the human voice.  The Voice2 does that even better:  voices took on an even more natural form, and there were no boxy or chesty colorations to speak of.  This was true of both male and female voices.  I watched many movies during the course of this review and found dialogue reproduction to be just wonderful.

The Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s SACD, Long Walk to Freedom, is a prime example where the cohesiveness of this multi-channel setup gets highlighted.  This is a mix where unlike the gimmicky sound effects which typically linger in the surround channels in a movie, you get voices in the surround channels.  The first track on this album, "Nomathemba", showcased the importance of a high quality surround loudspeaker.  Voice pans had a consistent timbre resulting in an immersive, continuous sound field.  The consistency was not perfect, but that is most likely due to a difference in how each loudspeaker interacts with the room, rather than a fault of the loudspeaker itself.  Even so, this was the best timbre matched set that I have ever reviewed.

The Eagles: Farewell 1 Tour – Live From Melbourne HD DVD is a concert disc with a lively atmosphere which gets heartily conveyed.  You can sense the excitement of the crowd as they cheer and applaud the band.  The mix makes good use of the surrounds, and the part which surprised me here was how effective the Gem2s were at recreating the lively atmosphere even though they are a monopole design.   Yes, a conventional dipole design does create a more diffuse sound field, but I was happy with the Gem2s performance in this regard, and when it came to music, I was certainly drawn to their accurate timbre and monopole characteristic which mated extremely well with the rest of the ensemble.

Conclusions

Several months have elapsed since I’ve had this system, and during that time this loudspeaker ensemble has provided me with a truly exceptional experience.  In looking back at the review, I see that I have used nothing but superlatives to describe their sound.  This system is very well-rounded across the frequency range.  The timbre is both accurate and well-matched within the family.

If I were to nitpick, two things come to mind: the rear panel door and the price.  The rear panel door does not have the feel that you would expect from a loudspeaker in this price range.  It also may not close if you plan to use some thick and/or stiff cables.  And then there is the price.  Yes, this system is an outstanding performer, but it also commands a high price.  This price will no doubt limit their market penetration.  For buyers for whom this system may be out of reach, there is still an excellent alternative: a system built around the Performa F52s.

What matters most, however, is their sound.  Here they excel.  This is simply the best surround sound system I have ever reviewed, and it is also the best yet from Revel.  This reference caliber system gets my highest recommendation.

Associated Equipment

DVD/CD playback: Sony PS3, Denon DVD-3930CI, Toshiba HD-A1
Preamplifier: Lexicon MC-12HD
Amplifier: Proceed AMP5
Projector: Sony VPL-VW60
Screen: Stewart StudioTek 130 G3
Cables: Kimber/BetterCables/Monster interconnects/speaker cables
Power: Power Plant Premier
Room: ASC SoundPlanks/Iso-Wall/Soffit/TubeTraps