|Revel M20 Performa Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers|
|Written by Ben Shyman|
|Friday, 01 August 2003|
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The Revels present a remarkably large and transparent sound stage for a speaker their size. This is clearly the M20’s greatest strength and was highly evident while listening to Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason (Columbia, 1987). Right from the album’s opening track, “Signs of Life,” the placement of the rowboat was very precise fronted by David Gilmour’s richly chorused electric guitar. Segueing into “Learning To Fly,” Gilmour’s vocals took on a liquid feel and were never throaty or unnatural. It was here that I was struck by the width of the M20’s impressive soundstage, carrying Gilmour’s rhythm guitar almost to the extent of my listening area. Tony Levin’s stick bass adequately tested the Revel’s lower limits, which while not as deep as other compact speakers I’ve listened to, were smooth, tight and in full control of the lower octaves. This is in stark contrast to many other compact speakers, which sound sloppy trying to articulate lower octaves, especially at higher volumes.
Paul McCartney’s Flowers in the Dirt (Capitol Records) turned out to be an excellent test of the Revel’s abilities. The album is a well-balanced and produced recording that I’ve listened to hundreds of times, yet I never before felt quite as moved as I did with the Revels, which presented McCartney’s incredibly emotional vocal performance so rightly that at one point I felt I could almost reach out and hug him. Layers of percussion, brass instruments and orchestration came through with remarkable clarity on “Distractions” and “Put It There”; I caught myself listening with a big smile on my face more than once. On “Distractions,” the subtlest nuances of the rhythm acoustic guitar, such as the smallest squeak of Hamish Stuart moving his hands across the fret board, could easily be heard. And on “Put it There,” it was impressive how the M20s channeled the lively feel of the tune, characterized by the buoyant bass track and melodic acoustic guitar. To me, Flowers in the Dirt was more listenable than I’ve ever heard because the Revels never interfered or added their own flavor between the music and my ears. While this is one of the Revels greatest strengths, it is something that many listeners may not like. This is to say, a characteristic of the Revels is in fact their lack of character. This was clearly evident on “Flowers in the Dirt.”
High Resolution Music
It didn’t take me long to want to hear my favorite band in DVD-Audio and Yes’ Fragile (Elektra) is among the very best productions released to date. The Revels articulated the finest nuances of Steve Howe’s finger-picking on “Mood for a Day” and acoustic guitar on Roundabout with brilliant clarity. In “Long Distance Runaround,” which in my opinion is the best surround mix on the album, the texture of Chris Squire’s Rickenbacker bass guitar can finally be heard clearly. Howe’s well known electric guitar riff on “Long Distance Runaround” gently alternates between the front and rear speakers. It was here that the Revels added a spaciousness, openness and freshness to Fragile, which was originally recorded over 30 years ago. On “Roundabout,” it was sensational to hear and feel the attack of Bill Bruford’s aggressive drum rolls. The Revels presented Yes as I’ve never heard them before and I look forward to other older DVD-Audio releases by them (Hey Rhino, hint, hint: Close To The Edge).
I also listened to the recently released SACD of The Police’s Every Breath You Take. While the album suffers somewhat from the familiar but nonetheless frustrating irregularities found between recording and production quality on the tracks of many “Best Of” releases, The Police on SACD definitely rocked. I’ve always been enamored with the musicianship of Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers and having a high-resolution 5.1 surround mix of their best and most popular works was awesome. The separation between instruments was among the best I’ve heard on any recording, no doubt the result of the high-resolution format and only having three musicians, and the entire album had a lively and open quality to it that was refreshing. One of the most significant improvements over lower-resolution mixes was in the sound of the hard-hitting and jazzy Copeland. On “Roxanne” and “Message In a Bottle,” Copeland’s aggressive drumming carries the music and, through the Revels, it was easy to feel the attack of the snare drum and hear the crispness and full decay of the cymbals. The Revel M20s are definitely a fast speaker in this regard. On “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” the mix of Summer’s edgy and textured guitar sound is found in both front and rear channels with a spaciousness that was well articulated by the Revels in surround sound. If I had to criticize, though, the M20’s lack of deep bass is apparent throughout the SACD on Sting’s bass and Copeland’s bass drum, and I was glad to have the aid of my Sunfire sub to fill in the missing pieces of the music and let the Revels do what they do best. While it is perhaps not fair to expect the M20s with only a six-and-a-half-inch woofer to have big bass, it was definitely missing here.
Not surprisingly, some of the most fun I had evaluating the M20s was watching movies. The opening scene featuring the D-Day attack on the beaches of Normandy in “Saving Private Ryan” (DreamWorks Home Entertainment) was absolutely earth-shattering. I watched this scene several times and found the Revels presented the sharp-sounding machine guns and explosions with seamless precision and clarity. The Revel’s quickness aided the presentation here. At some moments, it sounded so real that I shuddered in my seat as bullets flew over my head and across the room. The C30 center channel was exceptionally articulate on voices throughout the battle scenes and not once did I find myself wondering, “What did he say?” The greatest flaw with most home theater setups is that too many people skimp on a high-quality center channel. It is, without question, the most important speaker in the home theater and the Performa C30, on and off axis, is nothing short of exceptional.
More subdued but no less emotional than the “Saving Private Ryan’s” Normandy Beach sequence is Disney’s THX-Certified “Fantasia 2000” (Disney Home Entertainment). The sound quality of the orchestra in Dolby 5.1 surround is another grand achievement for Disney, which possesses a catalogue full of them. Animation set to the genius of Ludwig von Beethoven, George Gershwin and Igor Stravinsky was spectacular. Chapter 14 is my personal favorite. Set to Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” the animation depicts the struggle between Mother Nature and the fury of the Firebird, who emerges from an erupting volcano. Mother Nature ultimately prevails with the help of a lone elk to recreate the beauty and green of the countryside. The Revels, combined with the brilliant animation, so triumphantly captured the extraordinary dynamics and emotion of the “Firebird Suite” that they could easily transform a rock and roll listener into a classical music enthusiast. It was a testament to how good the Revels can be with virtually any kind of music.