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Product Review
 

Revel F50, C50, S30 Speakers and B15 Subwoofer

April, 2004

Sumit Chawla

 

Specifications:
 

F50 Floor-Standing Speakers

● Ported-box, 3-way, Magnetically shielded
● Drivers: one 1” pure titanium dome tweeter, one 5.25” ceramic composite midrange, three 6.5” ceramic-composite woofers
● Frequency response (in-room): 33 Hz – 18 kHz,
± 1 dB
● Nominal impedance: 5 Ohms
● Crossover frequency: 225 Hz, 2.3 kHz
● Sensitivity: 88 dB
● Dimensions w/ grilles: 11 9/16” W x 45 1/8” H x 17” D
● Weight: 100 lbs
● MSRP: $7500/pair USA

C50 Center Channel Speaker

● Sealed-box, 3-way, Magnetically shielded
● Drivers: one 1” aluminum-alloy dome tweeter, one 4” ceramic-composite midrange, two 6.5” ceramic-composite woofers
● Frequency response: 80 Hz – 18 kHz,
± 1 dB
● Nominal impedance: 5.7 Ohms
● Crossover frequency: 260 Hz, 2.1 kHz
● Sensitivity: 90 dB
● Dimensions w/ grilles: 26 1/4” W x 10 5/8” H x 10 15/16” D
● Weight: 36 lbs
● MSRP: $3000 (Optional stand: $260) USA

S30 Surround Speakers

● Sealed-box, 2-way, Dipole/Monopole
● Drivers: one 1” aluminum-alloy dome tweeter, two 4” midrange, one 6.5” woofer
● Frequency response (in-room): 90 Hz – 16 kHz,
± 1.5 dB
● Nominal impedance: 6 Ohms
● Crossover frequency: 2.5 kHz (monopole mode), 250 Hz (dipole mode)
● Sensitivity: 90 dB
● Dimensions w/ grilles: 14 3/16” W x 12 1/2” H x 8 3/8” D
● Weight: 18 lbs
● MSRP: $2295/pair USA

B15 Subwoofer

● Sealed-box
● Driver: one 15” Kevlar pulp and alloy composite cone
● RMS power: 1,000 W (1,400 W peak)
● 3-band parametric equalizer
● Dimensions: 20 3/16” W x 20 1/16” H x 19 9/16” D
● Weight: 110 lbs (including carton)
● MSRP: $2995 USA

5.1 System MSRP: $16,050 USA


Revel
www.revelspeakers.com

Introduction

Formed with the expectation of being a loudspeaker company that matched the reputation of Mark Levinson, Revel was born under the Harman umbrella in 1996. Unlike most companies that start out on a shoestring budget, the financial might of Harman gave Revel access to vast engineering resources at its inception. With folks like Kevin Voecks (previously at Snell and Mirage) leading the loudspeaker design team, and Dr. Floyd Toole heading the research department, Revel set out to create loudspeakers that would please the audiophile palette.

The company started out by launching the Ultima line of loudspeakers. This line was to be a manifestation of Revel’s best know-how on loudspeaker design. Next came the Performa line where the emphasis was on reducing cost to the consumer while having the smallest possible negative impact on sound quality. The Performa line has recently seen the introduction of newer models. These products utilize new transducer technology, and are the subject of this review.

(You can read an interview with Kevin Voecks for more details on designing loudspeakers at Revel.)

The Design

The F50 and C50 introduce the new transducer technology in the Performa series. This includes new materials for the midrange, woofer, and tweeters.

The material for the midrange and woofer units has shifted from an aluminum alloy to a ceramic composite. Both the old and new transducer materials are light and stiff, allowing for pistonic operation throughout their intended operating range. However, the ceramic composite pushes the first break-up mode a little higher. In addition to the new material, these transducers have a more sophisticated spider, surround, and motor design.. The sum of all these improvements yields substantially lower distortion compared to the previous design. Sonically, the new transducer sounds significantly cleaner. In Kevin Voecks’s words, “It’s as if you were looking through an absolutely clean window, vs. one that had a layer of film over it.”

For the tweeters, the shift in material is from aluminum to titanium. The use of titanium benefits the tweeter by pushing the first resonance out further, which helps it achieve a flat response within the audible range. Work on the magnetic system and the surround also yielded sonic improvements. There is a greater transparency and a reduction of a slight “spit” compared to the previous tweeter design. The new tweeters are only used on the F50s.

The Sum of the Parts

The F50 floor-standing speaker is a reflex design featuring three 6.5" woofers, a 5.25” midrange driver, and a 1” titanium dome tweeter. The midrange driver is housed in its own separate sub-enclosure. The woofers and midrange driver use the newly developed ceramic-composite drivers. A high-order crossover is used at 225 Hz and 2.3 kHz. The use of a high-order crossover is said to optimize both on- and off-axis response of the system. A tweeter level control is provided to tailor the in-room high-frequency response. Bi-amping and bi-wiring capability are provided. The cabinet is constructed of 1” thick MDF walls, and the front baffle is rounded to reduce diffraction. The speakers sit on four cast aluminum feet, and the supplied spikes thread into the feet. Each spike has both a pointed and a rounded end, the latter of which you can shield by supplied covers if the speaker is situated on a wood or tile floor.

The C50 center channel speaker is a three-way horizontal design. A 1” aluminum-dome tweeter is located above a 4” midrange driver, with two 6.5” woofers located on either side. Like the F50, the midrange and woofers use the ceramic-composite drivers. The tweeter, however, does not use the new titanium driver. A high-order crossover is used at 260 Hz and 2.1 kHz. A high-frequency level control, which functions the same way as on the F50, is provided.

In addition there is a placement compensation control which has three options: Flush Mounted, On Top of Monitor, and Stand Mounted. Unlike the F50, the C50 has a sealed enclosure. Also, the C50 does not have bi-wiring/bi-amping capability. The C50 cabinet is constructed of 0.75” MDF.

An optional stand can be purchased that fastens snugly to the C50. This is the option I used. The stand itself provides some upward tilt. With the stand, the front of the speaker sits about 22” above the floor. Further tilt adjustments can be made using the spikes which install the same way as with the F50. The drivers on both the F50 and C50 are magnetically shielded, so the speakers can be situated in close proximity to a video monitor.

The S30 surround speaker is not a new design; it is part of the original Performa lineup, and therefore does not utilize the new drivers. Nonetheless, it is timbre matched to blend with the F50 and C50. You can switch the S30 between monopole and dipole modes. You can also switch the operation mode manually or via an externally compatible integration system, which is a nice feature.

The S30 sports a 6.5” woofer, two 4” drivers with a unique dispersion pattern to minimize localization in dipole mode, and a 1” aluminum-alloy dome tweeter. Like the F50 and C50, the S30 provides a high-frequency acoustic control. The S30’s cabinet is constructed of 0.75” thick MDF. Mounting options include wall or ceiling placement.

The B15 subwoofer shares the S30 lineage, in that it is part of the original Performa loudspeaker family. It uses a 15” driver, a 3”, four-layer voice coil, and a massive 3.7 kg magnet. The long-throw voice coil is capable of 2.5” peak-to-peak linear excursion, and 3” of maximum excursion. The subwoofer is powered by a 1,000 watt (RMS) amplifier, with peak capability of 1,400 watts.

The frequency of the low-pass filter is adjustable between 30 Hz and 80 Hz in 10 Hz increments. The slope can be set to either 24 or 48 dB per octave. The phase is continuously variable from 0 – 180 degrees. This filter can be bypassed if the crossover is being set on an SSP. The high-pass filter is always on. Its frequency has the same selection range as the low-pass filter. The slope is selectable at 12 or 24 dB per octave. Inputs of both balanced and unbalanced variety are provided.

What differentiates the B15 from most subwoofers are the acoustic controls and the Revel LFO software. Both facilitate proper subwoofer setup. The B15 offers a three-band parametric equalizer system with adjustable frequency (continuously variable from 18 – 80 Hz), bandwidth (continuously variable from 0.1 to 1 octave) and level (continuously variable from -14.5 to +6 dB). Each control has ample markings which makes it easy to find the correct position for each control.

The availability of a three-band equalizer really facilitates corner room placement of a subwoofer (a recommended location in the owner’s manual, and the location I chose for the B15 in my room). In this location the subwoofer couples with a room’s resonance modes, and the aid of a parametric equalizer is essential to get the best possible bass response. The fact that there are three bands that can be adjusted independently provides a great deal of flexibility to do this well.

Accompanying the B15 is the Revel LFO Test Signal CD. This CD is to be used in conjunction with the Revel Low Frequency Optimizer application that you can download from the Revel website. A sound level meter (SLM) is also required for this exercise. You play the test tones on the CD, read the measurements off of the sound meter, and enter them into the application. There are a total of 29 measurements to take, so if you have a tripod, use it!

You get to select the type of SLM that you are using. The analog and digital versions of the SLM from Radio Shack are selectable options. Revel has come up with corrections for both these meters, and the compensation is made automatically by the software. Once the measurements have been entered, Revel computes the best possible settings for each equalizer that will yield the closest response to one of three user selectable settings:

1. “I mostly listen to music”: This selection results in a flat low frequency target.
2. “I mostly watch movies”: This selection provides a very low frequency boost (at around 35 Hz). The boost provides some additional punch, but it is low enough that it avoids coloring the lowest voices.
3. “I listen to music and watch movies about equally”: This selection is similar to “2” in effect, but a smaller low frequency boost is applied.

The software is an extremely useful tool, and I certainly commend Revel for providing it. The progression here would be to automate this process through the use of a calibrated microphone. The natural place for this to happen would be the SSP where the EQ can be performed in the digital domain. Lexicon’s MC12 is supposed to offer this functionality through an upcoming software/hardware update.

Two-Channel Listening

When I first set up the F50s, I just wanted to get a flavor of how they sounded. I placed them in the same location as my previous speakers, inserted a CD and pressed play. The CD in the tray was Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”. What followed was pure delight. The imaging was wonderful right out of the box; it was dead center, right at the location of the phantom center-channel speaker (the C50 was not installed at this point). The string instruments were crisp, but there was a slight brightness in the treble. I could have used the treble control to tame this, but I left it untouched. What was to be a preview turned into an extended audition! I ended up listening to most of the CD.

With more use, the treble smoothened. There was nice extension without any hint of harshness. String instruments and cymbals sounded very crisp. Listening to some orchestral recordings was breathtaking. From the detail in the silent passages, to the punch in the crescendos, the F50s presentation was superb. Vocal reproduction, both male and female, was excellent, as was the remarkably tight bass from the six woofers. The smooth vocals, crisp cymbals, and tight drums blended wonderfully when listening to Patricia Barber’s Café Blue. The precise imaging of the F50s did justice to this excellent recording. I was simply having a jolly good time!

Surrounded

When using the system in surround mode, all speakers were set to "Small", and the crossover frequency was set to 80 Hz. The bass from the F50s when driven full-range was nice and tight, and the B15 matched that. In addition, it filled the void in the bottom octave. Tracks on the Blue Man Group disc sounded very dynamic, with solid bass reproduction courtesy of the B15.

Playing a track by an a cappella group called Zephyr on AIX Records' DVD Audio sampler showed that this system had very good tonal balance. One version of this track is recorded with the group standing in a circle with the microphone situated in the center. With voices being reproduced by all the speakers, any tonal imbalance becomes distracting. This was not the case here.

I had been listening to the Amelie soundtrack through the F50s, so I decided to watch the movie as well. The music of Yann Tiersen blends very nicely with the mood of the movie, and it was a real treat to have it reproduced by the Revel system. The voice of the narrator plays an important part in the movie. His voice was very intelligible (both on- and off-axis).

On the opposing end of the delicate spectrum lie the roars of the Pod Race. Playing back this sequence through this system showcased its punchy capabilities. The roars of the engine filled the room as the B15 flexed its muscle. The surrounds did a nice job of diffusing the sound of the raucous crowd. The spatial cues were precise as the engines flew by, and the system never showed any signs of compression.

Comparisons & Options

The Revel system arrived for review on the heels of a previous system. By then, I had been listening to the other system for a few months, and I had been quite impressed by both its dynamic and bass capabilities. Switching in the Revel F50s in stereo mode, I was struck by the clarity in the treble, which was extremely detailed and extended without sounding edgy. The other striking attribute of the F50s was how well they imaged. The F50s bettered the other system in both these categories. What I preferred in the other system was the tight bass. The edge in bass performance was most likely the result of having the placement flexibility of multiple subwoofers – I only had a single B15. With respect to a single subwoofer setup, however, the edge goes to the B15 which offers a three-band parametric equalizer, allowing for finer control when it comes to attenuating room modes, instead of a single-band equalizer offered on the other system. Looking at the price dimension, the Revel system is more expensive. The difference in price is primarily in the cost of getting the F50, which is an outstanding full-range loudspeaker.

You might also consider going down the sub/sat system path. The B15 is an extremely capable subwoofer, so this is certainly a good lower-priced option to consider. The M22 (the “elF50”), which retails for $2200/pair, is a new monitor utilizing the new transducers. The M22 should be shipping by the time you read this review. I have not heard the M22, but I would certainly recommend that you compare it with the F50.

I also happen to own Revel’s Ultima Voice, so a comparison with the C50 was in order. After matching the levels, and switching back-and-forth between the two speakers, it did not take long to determine the better performer: it was the Ultima Voice. Between the two, the Voice sounded cleaner.

In my interview with Kevin Voecks, I had asked him if the Ultima Voice, which was Revel’s first center channel offering, had stood the test of time against the new and improved Performa models. His response was yes, and I certainly agree with that assessment!

Conclusions

Dainty on one end and bold on the other, this system from Revel covers the entire audible range with ease. In surround mode the blend between the speakers is seamless. In stereo mode, the imaging, courtesy of the F50s, is outstanding. Whether used in stereo or surround mode, this package sounds superb.
Once you press “play”, these loudspeakers perform a disappearing act and fill the room with joyous melodies. Highly recommended!

 

- Sumit Chawla -

Associated Equipment:

DVD/CD playback: Panasonic RP-91
Preamplifier: Integra DTC 9.4, Proceed AVP
Amplifier: Integra DTA 9.4, Proceed AMP5
Cables: BetterCables/Monster interconnects/speaker cables
Power: P600 Power Plant
Room: ASC Cinema Panels, ASC Iso-Wall

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Primer - Speakers

 

 

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