Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Revel Performa F52 Tower Speakers, C52 Center Channel Speaker, S30 Surround Speakers, and Concerta B120 Subwoofer

ARTICLE INDEX

Revel Performa F52, C52, S30 and Concerta B120

Introduction

In 1996 an announcement was made about a new speaker company being formed under the very large umbrella of the Harman brand. One could say a perfect storm was created when Harman committed their considerable resources, and Kevin Voecks; a protégé of legendary audio engineer Dr. Floyd Toole, was brought on as Head Engineer. Harman wanted a speaker brand to match the quality of its Levinson electronics. These speakers would be designed using pure science and only released to market when proven to out-perform the competition in double-blind listening tests. We know that brand today as Revel.

Revel currently offers three product lines, Concerta, Performa and Ultima2. I have been afforded the opportunity to sample the Performa models for this review. Covering the main speaker duties is the F52 tower. The center channel is the C52, and the surround positions are filled by the S30 multi-pole. The B15a subwoofer was not available to me so Revel sent me two Concerta B120 subs instead with their slick TX-1 wireless transmitter.

Specifications

  • F52 Tower
  • Design: 3-way, Ported
  • Drivers: One 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter, One 5.25" Midrange, Three 6.5" Woofers
  • Sensitivity: 87.5 dB (2.83v @ 1 meter)
  • Nominal Impedance: 6.5 Ohms, 3.5 Ohms minimum @ 373 Hz
  • Crossovers: 3-way, 200 Hz and 2.3 kHz
  • Frequency Response: 33 Hz - 18 kHz ± 0.5 dB
  • Low Frequency Extension: -10 dB @ 23 Hz
  • Dimensions: 43.9" H x 9.5" W x 17.5" D
  • Weight: 87.7 Pounds/each
  • MSRP: $6,998/pair USA
  • C52 Center
  • Design: 3-way, Sealed
  • Drivers: One 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter, One 5.25" Midrange, Two 8" Woofers
  • Sensitivity: 90 dB (2.83v @ 1 meter)
  • Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms, 3.1 Ohms Minimum @ 292 Hz
  • Crossovers: 3-way, high-order at 235 Hz and 2 kHz
  • Frequency Response: 65 Hz-18 kHz ± 0.5 dB
  • Low Frequency Extension: -10 dB @ 36 Hz
  • Dimensions:10.9" H x 24.6" W x 10.6" D
  • Weight: 40.75 Pounds
  • MSRP: $2,499 USA
  • S30 Surround
  • Design: 2-way, Sealed
  • Drivers: One 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter, Two 4" Full Range, One 6.5" Woofer
  • Sensitivity: 90 dB (2.83v @ 1 meter)
  • Nominal Impedance Monopole: 6 Ohms, 3 Ohms Minimum @ 3.6 kHz
  • Nominal Impedance Dipole: 6 Ohms, 3 Ohms Minimum @ 355 Hz
  • Crossover Monopole: 2-way, 2.5 kHz
  • Crossover Dipole: 2-way, 250 Hz
  • Frequency Response: 85 Hz - 16 kHz ± 1.5 dB
  • Low Frequency Extension: -10 dB @ 50 Hz
  • Dimensions: 12.5" H x 14.1" W x 8.4" D
  • Weight: 18 Pounds/each
  • MSRP: $1,998/pair USA
  • B120 Subwoofer
  • Design: Ported
  • Amplifier Power: 250 watts @ .01% THD
  • Driver: 12" Micro-ceramic Composite with 2" Voice Coil
  • Frequency Response: -3 dB @ 36 Hz
  • Dimensions: 17.75" H x 14.75" W x 14" D
  • Weight: 51 Pounds
  • MSRP: $999 USA (Optional TX-1 Transmitter: $120)

Revel Performa F52, C52, S30 and Concerta B120

Revel Performa F52, C52, S30 and Concerta B120


Design

Design, in a word, is what the Performas are all about. Every aspect has been meticulously and thoroughly designed, refined, listened to, measured, and refined again. There is no element that does not contribute to the sound. Even down to the grills, there is nothing on these speakers that does not have a function. Note also that these are clean-sheet designs. Every component is designed and manufactured by Revel. No off-the-shelf components are used.

One of the more interesting aspects of Revel's development process is their Listening Lab. I spoke with Kevin Voecks, head of product development, before this review about the concept behind and the use of this special resource. Revel has created a system for comparing speakers that directly addresses the fact that human auditory memory is only a few seconds at best. A/B comparisons between different loudspeakers are made more difficult because of this. In typical tests, the time to change speakers and/or electronics is too long and then you've pretty much forgotten what you've heard. Revel's system uses a mechanism to physically move speakers in and out of various locations in the listening room so the change time is under ten seconds. The system is computer-controlled so no one knows which speaker is active at any given time. Revel is able to compare their own designs to those of their competitors very easily.

Revel's other testing resources include three anechoic chambers, computer modeling and simulation systems and a fascinating Laser Scanner. This instrument can pinpoint the exact location of distortion-causing breakup modes in the driver's diaphragm. They also employ a device called a Klippel Analyzer. It can locate the source of distortions in the motor system. One benefit of this data is to locate the optimal position for the voice coil within the magnetic field. After all this, the speakers coming off the assembly line are individually hand-tuned to within 0.5 dB of the reference standard. All adjustments are recorded and stored in a database with each speaker's serial number.

Physically the towers and centers are simply-styled boxes that taper toward the rear. The cabinets themselves are constructed from MDF and finished in a combination of satin smooth surfaces and a wood grain finish. My samples were Black Ash and there is a Natural Cherry finish available as well. Both finishes have a black front baffle that is set forward of the rest of the cabinet. These speakers are incredibly solid and well-braced internally. The rap test produced a very solid sound with almost no resonance. All corners and seams are gently finished; there are no sharp edges. Super-high quality exudes from these speakers. They will fit in nicely with any luxurious décor.

The F52s driver compliment is three 6.5" woofers, a 5.25" midrange in its own sub-enclosure and a 1" aluminum dome tweeter. The tweeter incorporates a special waveguide which aids the transition from treble to midrange frequencies. This makes the tweeter much harder to localize. The midrange and woofers are made from a ceramic composite material which is extremely light and rigid. The rear panel has two pairs of binding posts if you want to bi-amp or bi-wire. In addition there are controls for tweeter level (plus or minus 1 dB in 0.5 dB increments) and low frequency compensation (normal, boundary or contour). The adjustable feet screw on with a large retaining ring. There is enough adjustment to tilt the towers forward or back slightly. With their nearly 44-inch height however, I left them at a level position. The feet have a dull spike tip with a small rubber cap. I placed them on carpet but if you put them on a hard floor, the caps might be prone to split. I would suggest some small furniture feet be used if you want to protect a nice wood floor.

The C52 center channel uses the same midrange and tweeter but increases the woofer size to eight inches. This is the lowest reaching center I have ever experienced. Despite the fact that the cabinet is sealed the C52 had tremendous bass extension. The large woofers serve to minimize dynamic compression in film sound reproduction. Rear panel controls include the same tweeter level and a switch for placement compensation (stand, in-cabinet or on-monitor). You can also bi-amp or bi-wire the C52 if you wish. The stand I received was a stylish three-post affair with heavy cast plates for the base and speaker support. The cabinet bolts down solidly and the stand and speaker become one. Screw-on spike feet are provided.

The S30 surrounds are a three-sided asymmetrical design with drivers on all vertical faces. There is one 6.5" woofer and the 1" tweeter on the large face (directed toward the listener), and one 4" driver running full-range on each of the smaller faces, pointing forward and rear at angles. There are specific right and left speakers. The S30s feature a dipole/monopole switch which will alter the dispersion characteristics for movie or music listening. If you have a compatible receiver or processor, you can wire the S30s to automatically switch when the appropriate signal is fed.

I also received two subs with the Performa system – Concerta B120s. The Performa sub is called the B15a but Revel is currently in pre-production of a new model and they had no B15as to send me. The B120 has been recently reviewed by Secrets. The B15a has considerably more bass extension – down to 20 Hz versus 36 Hz for the B120. I was happy however to experiment with dual subs as I had not done this before.


Setup

This was one of those times I wished my theater weren't on the second floor of my house. Getting the 85-pound F52s up two flights of stairs from my basement was a chore. I must thank my surprisingly strong wife for her help. The smoothly-finished cabinets make friendly assistance a must. I placed the towers eight feet apart and toed them in just slightly. The C52 on its stand was too low for my projection screen so I built a little box out of MDF to raise it up. The stand has a set angle that fires the speaker directly at the listener. I mounted the S30s on the walls about two feet above and slightly forward of the listening position. The two Concerta subs were placed in the front right and rear left corners of my room facing directly forward, not angled. The B120 subs have a wireless feature that I found extremely useful. You simply plug them into the wall then install the small transmitter within reach of your subwoofer signal cable. One transmitter will run up to two subs. Everything turns itself on when a signal is detected and I never had it shut off during a listening session.

I am a firm believer in full-system room correction so for this review I used the excellent Anthem Room Correction built into their Statement D2v processor. I have auditioned several speaker systems using ARC and have settled on a measurement mic layout that works very well. After zeroing the channel trims and setting the test tone level to 75dB, I measured my usual five positions. Matching 75dB with dual subs meant setting their gain controls to around 30 percent. I have found level-matching the subs with the other speakers before taking measurements has a profoundly positive effect on the final results. I also let ARC determine the crossovers for me. After measurement, the targets ARC chose were 60Hz for mains and center and 75 Hz for the surrounds. The 75 Hz number for the surrounds astonished me. There are very few surround speakers on the market that do anything useful below 100 Hz.

Electronics included the aforementioned Anthem Statement D2v processor, Emotiva XPA-5 amplifier and an OPPO BDP-83 as the source. The signal path was purely digital over HDMI. All cables were Bluejeans.


In Use

performa-sadeu2

performa-talkingmark

performa-camilo

I spent many enjoyable hours watching movies and listening to music on the Revel Performas. My first listening session in particular really taught me something about both the Revels and my room. I spent an afternoon with several rock albums covering such groups as Sade, U2, Talking Heads, Mark Knopfler, and Emmylou Harris. I also included a bit of Michel Camilo's jazz piano. The speakers really demonstrated their personality that day. First off they are extremely revealing. If it's recorded on the media and you play it with good electronics, the Performas will reproduce it. It's as if they were telling me, "we know this recording is bad but that's what you put in and that's what we're going to play." They also spoke to me about my room. They said, "why are the walls so close together, we want to run!" My theater is pretty small. EQ overcomes the room gain but these speakers were the first I've heard that are truly capable of overwhelming the space. Lesser speakers will audibly distort when I play too loud but not the Performas. They simply covered up the nice transparent vocals with huge helpings of bass and midrange mush. This was not the speaker's fault at all. My room simply couldn't handle it. It was like trying to ride a thoroughbred race horse in a corral. The fix was easy however, I simply lowered the volume. Just two or three decibels less was enough to restore the perfect mix and I still enjoyed plenty of presence.

I must say I was quickly sold on the idea of multiple subs after this first listening session. Though the low extension I'm accustomed to from my SVS PB-12 Plus wasn't there, the dual B120s produced a super-smooth clean bass that I really enjoyed. There wasn't a hint of bloat or suck-out at any frequency. It was perhaps the cleanest bass I have ever heard. The physics of two subs really do make a difference in the overall quality and balance of low-frequency material.

performa-stateofplay

The 2009 thriller State of Play is a dialog-driven film with a few brief action scenes. I chose it so I could really experience the C52 center channel without a lot of distracting sound effects or music in the soundtrack. The excellent bass extension really shined as both male and female voices were reproduced with the utmost clarity. With the 60,Hz crossover, there was practically no center channel signal playing from the subs. The placement of vocals on the screen was also handled well with seamless pans across the mains and center. There was no hint of chestiness or sibilance at any time. Any time there was gunfire, I truly jumped in my seat as the upper levels of the Revels huge dynamic range were reached. This movie has an excellent DTS-HD Master audio soundtrack and the Performas reproduced it in perfect detail.

performa-labyrinth

Jim Henson's 1986 fantasy film Labyrinth is a great example of a vintage soundtrack. Although the codec is Dolby TrueHD, dynamic range and detail are not up to the standards of a modern film. Still the Performas fleshed out every nuance quite well and did a fine job of rendering this 25-year old movie. The musical score is very commercial-sounding with lots of synthesizer and percussion effects. It brought back some fond and not-so-fond memories of my movie-going experiences as a teenager. Sound effects like explosions and clanging metal during battle scenes avoided the usual compressed sound that would be heard through lesser speakers. Dialog was crisp and clear and well-placed. I doubt this movie could sound any better on another system.

performa-transformers

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is an action-filled crash-a-minute two hours. The battle scenes feature some truly breathtaking audio with highly detailed elements and super-low frequency effects. My personal favorite is the battle scene in chapter nine where Optimus fights several enemy Decepticons. The flying trees and debris will really test the limits of any sub and the low end of your mains. While the F52s handled everything with aplomb, the Concerta subs did not quite match the extension of my reference SVS PB-12Plus. There was plenty of volume and the bass was incredibly well-controlled and tight. I just missed the very bottom end that my SVS pumps out so well.

performa-phantom

Phantom of the Opera has always been my favorite musical. I have seen both the feature film and the Broadway show many times and I really enjoy its operatic feel and classic storyline. The Blu-ray release unfortunately only has a Dolby Digital soundtrack; shame on you Warner Brothers! This did not reduce my enjoyment one bit however. I have never such detail and accuracy before. Even after watching this movie dozens of times before, I enjoyed it more then I ever had. I can't imagine how good a hi-res version would be but I hope Warner will consider a re-master.

performa-star-wars

Speaking of re-masters, where is that Star Wars saga on Blu-ray? I had a hankering to watch Episode IV: A New Hope, but alas, there is only the THX-certified DVD edition. It was still a very special experience though thanks to the Performas. I heard things I had never heard before in any presentation of this film. My favorite example: during the scene when Obi-Wan is deactivating the Death Star's tractor beam from a high-altitude platform and he waves his hand to distract the guards and make his escape; I actually heard the noise he creates. It's an extremely soft gong sound. I have never heard this sound effect previously. It teeters on the very edge of perception. I actually ran the disc back several times to be sure. Amazing!

Classical music listening was a very special experience for me. As a full-time performer, it's a rare speaker that can reproduce the feeling the music usually gives me. When you're surrounded by live music every day, listening to the reproduced version is always a compromise. Since I am much more accustomed to being part of the performance rather than having it occur in front of me, I prefer a sound that envelopes and involves me; "to the fore" as my colleagues often say. The Revel Performas are the first loudspeakers I have experienced that truly make me part of the music. The transparent and natural (and accurate) sound is something I have sought for years.

performa-mahler

I began with my familiar stand-by, the San Francisco Symphony's SACD of Mahler's "Fifth Symphony". This grammy-winning recording is a reference-quality product and its superb balance and high fidelity really shone on the Performas. Massed strings, which are very difficult to reproduce well, really impressed me with a degree of clarity I have rarely heard. Most speakers, even good ones, will form the individual violin sounds into a single tone with a soft edge. The Performas preserved the detail of the individual players. Every great orchestra has a unique and distinct string sound. This nuance was presented very clearly. Softer passages had a power that really involved me. Rather than straining to hear the pianissimo dynamics, I could simply focus my attention and experience every subtlety. Mahler has plenty of big loud brass and this was also reproduced cleanly and with no effort.

performa-shosty

I moved on to another SACD recording, this one of the Kirov Orchestra and Valery Gergiev performing the "Fifth" and "Ninth" Symphonies of Shostakovich. I was never a huge fan of this album in the past but it sounded SO much better on the Performas than any previous playing. This is a 5.1 recording that makes minimal use of the center channel and surrounds. Despite this, the center image was very strong and perfectly placed. The hall decay played in the surrounds to give an excellent sense of spaciousness. The different string sections displayed clear separation and detail. I particularly enjoyed the airy sound of the principal flutist and the warm dark sound of the solo bassoonist in the extended cadenza of the Ninth Symphony. The bass notes at the beginning of the "Fifth Symphony" Scherzo movement also had the longest resonance I had ever heard.

I was almost afraid to listen to recordings of my own performances on such revealing speakers but I took the risk for the sake of journalism. Boy was I surprised! I had expected to be even more critical of my playing than usual given the accuracy of the Performas but instead was thrilled at the quality of sound I was hearing. I sampled recordings of varying quality and each one sounded better than I had ever heard them. Two recordings were of live concerts and one was a studio recording made in a small concert hall. Once again it was easy to discern exactly what type of space I was playing in whether a recital hall or rehearsal studio. The more I listened, the more I wanted to practice; not to fix anything but just to enjoy my own playing.


Conclusions

My time with the Performas was very pleasurable. They are the finest speakers I have had in my theater to date. Though I have heard high-end products in other environments there's no comparison to actually living with them. The front soundstage had such a depth and power that my room was overwhelmed when I turned the volume up too high. At proper reference levels however, the balance and tone was simply superb. At no time did the speakers have to work to reproduce any material of any type. Whether it was classical music, vintage rock or the most dynamic movie soundtrack, the Performas handled everything with total ease. I wouldn't consider them difficult to drive but to use them with anything less than a high-powered receiver or separates would be leaving something on the table. They deserve electronics befitting their price point.

The exhaustive research and design behind the Revel Performas results in a quality of sound reproduction that is more than worth the effort. I believe it would take a good deal more cash to improve upon them. Given that Revel's next higher line, the Ultima2, retails for $45,000 (5.1 system) I suspect they agree. At the $13,500 price of the Performa system, the bang-for-buck factor is quite high.

Though I cannot afford these speakers myself, they are something for me to aspire to. I don't plan on getting rid of my Axioms any time soon but Revel Performas are at the top of my very short "someday" list. I give them my highest recommendation.

Revel