|Revel Performa F32 Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers|
|Written by Ben Shyman|
|Saturday, 01 January 2005|
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Revel is the high-end speaker division of Harman Specialty Group, a division of multi-billion-dollar conglomerate Harman International, makers of high-end Lexicon and Mark Levinson audio-video electronics. Revel’s Performa line is more modestly priced than their swanky Ultima products, which are reserved for the most demanding and wealthy consumers. Revel has taken much of what they have learned through extensive research and development of their Ultima line and employed this in their Performa speakers. Evidence of this can be seen in the fact that many of Revel’s products have received widespread acclaim among consumers and critics, including the Performa F30s, which Audio Video Revolution selected as a Best of 2001 product.
While the Performa F30s were a sonic marvel, especially considering their price, they left a lot to be desired aesthetically. With the recently introduced Performa F32s replacing the Performa F30 speakers, Revel has completely redesigned the look of their entry-level floor-standing speaker. Gone is the art deco large white woofer and the funky-looking grille covers for the tweeter and midrange. In addition, the cabinet has not only been narrowed considerably, but gently tapers to become narrower in the rear. The original F30 was almost twice as wide as the new F32.
Importantly, Revel has also attempted to improve the sound of the renowned F30s. With the F32s, Revel has opted for two smaller six-and-a-half-inch woofers to replace the single woofer found on the original. The speakers also utilize one five-inch midrange driver and a one-inch titanium tweeter. Improvements have been made in cabinet design and new drivers and crossovers replace those found in the previous model. The F30 are available in a slate of colors, including Maple, Natural Cherry or Black Ash natural wood veneer. The Performa F32s sell for $4,000 a pair.
Even considering their weight (35 pounds each), successfully setting up the Revel F32s was notably easy. The speakers can be single-wired, bi-wired or bi-amped. I chose to keep it simple and opt for a single-wire connection, using Transparent Music Wave Plus speaker cables, which in my view are a smart match with any of the entry and mid-level speakers in the Revel Performa line. The grilles attach cleanly and give the F32s an unimposing and handsome look, which many spouses will be willing to live with in almost any décor.
I spent considerable time adjusting the placement of each speaker to get the imaging just right. After experimenting with the low-frequency compensation and tweeter level controls on the rear of each speaker, I left each in their “normal” positions. These controls are a great asset when speaker placement is less than ideal, such as too near a wall that can exaggerate low frequencies, or in a bright or dead room. I liked these features on other speakers in the Performa line and I am pleased that Revel included them here.
I began my listening with Cake and their first new album in three years, Pressure Chief (Sony BMG Music Entertainment, 2004). On the opening track, “Wheels,” John McCrea’s lead vocals sounded more natural than I can ever remember, accurately placed dead center in a broad soundstage highlighted by thickly arranged background vocals, guitars, trumpets and percussion. I was immediately struck by improvements that Revel has made in their midrange, which appeared warmer, fuller and more natural than I remember from prior experiences with the original F30s. On the energetic hit single “No Phone,” the ringing phone, which begins the track, sounded incredibly lifelike and could easily be mistaken for the real thing to the unwary listener.
Another obvious change that I noticed between the Performa F32 and the Performa F30s was in bass extension. Revel is now utilizing two six-and-a-half-inch woofers with the Performa F32s versus the single 10-inch driver in the F30s. While the F32s do not have the deep aggressive rumble of the Performa F30s, I would not even consider describing them as bass deficient by any stretch. When I listened to “Tougher Than It Is,” Gabriel Nelson’s bass guitar and Todd Roper’s kick drum were authoritative, tight and smooth. The trade-off Revel has made here, going with two smaller woofers in a slimmer and more attractive cabinet, in my view was the correct one. While the loss of deep bass with the F32s that made the Performa F30 such a hit is minor, my listening experience revealed they are in need of a good sub. While the Revels integrated beautifully with the Sunfire True Subwoofer EQ, which I am currently auditioning in my theater, I can imagine they are an even better match for the considerably more expensive Revel B15 sub.
I also listened to Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic (MCA Universal Music, 1974) and what better place to begin such a classic album than with “Rikki Don’t Loose That Number.” Right from the top, drums and percussion were crisp and spacious, imparting a live feel to the quality of the presentation. The accuracy and smoothness of the Performa F32’s high-frequency response was evident in the subtle nuances of Walter Becker’s rhythm acoustic guitar, where I could easily hear his fingers picking and sliding across the strings. The performance of the Revel F32s in this area was first-rate, at a level that I would have expected from speakers at a far greater price.
The Revels breathed new life into Steely Dan’s rendition of Duke Ellington’s classic “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo.” With its New Orleans-style jazz feel, the Revels made this spirited tune fun to listen to. In my opinion, this is the signature of a great-sounding speaker. The tuba and lower octaves from the piano rounded out the bottom end, which in prior listening experiences on competitive speakers can sometimes sound lost and a bit thin, but not here.
Finally, I listened to the title track, “Pretzel Logic.” It was here that I discovered a key strength of the Performa F32s. Donald Fagen’s layered vocals showed remarkable clarity and separation. Each voice was remarkably distinct, with no evidence of muddiness between channels. The soundstage was wide and his voice never sounded shrill or thin, even when I listened to “Pretzel Logic” at much higher volumes. Pretzel Logic is a personal favorite of mine and the experience was only made better on the Revels.
For high-resolution music I decided on The Ultimate Tony Bennett, Stereo SACD (Sony Music Entertainment, 2000). In listening to many tracks on this album, I was repeatedly impressed by the clarity and transparency of Tony Bennett’s vocals and the separation from the supporting musical accompaniment. Despite the age of many of the tracks on this recording and the lack of sound continuity between songs, as is typical of many compilations such as this, I repeatedly found myself more in touch with the emotion of the music, as the Revels never stood between me and the performance. Tracks on The Ultimate Tony Bennett span from 1951 to 1999. On “Rags to Riches” (1953), Bennett’s youthful voice and the band sounded so good that there were times I could not believe the center channel speaker was not on. For a recording of its era, the transparency was quite extraordinary. The Spanish-style percussion and horns on “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams” (1956) exhibited a similar quality of separation that I experienced on Fagen’s vocals on Pretzel Logic. The opening electric guitar was smooth and clear, as were Bennett’s vocals, which were strong and full. Finally, on “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” (1993), drums were crisp, particularly on the high hat cymbals and the brushes, which possessed a surprising airiness and delicacy that gave the tune an open feeling.
I own a handful of the recently released Rolling Stones SACDs, which all sound terrific. For this review, I selected the stereo SACD Beggar’s Banquet (ABKCO Records, 2002). On “Sympathy for the Devil,” the musical accompaniment to Mick Jagger from percussion, piano, bongos, shakers and background vocals create a thick tapestry of sound that extended across the entire width of my listening area. Keith Richard’s filthy guitar tone was beautiful, yet raw as ever, and Jagger sounded more convincing than with any other speaker I have auditioned in my home. On “Street Fighting Man,” I was impressed again by the clarity of separation between instruments. Imaging was excellent on Jagger’s voice and as I turned up the volume to levels more appropriate for a Stones song such as this, the Revels never sounded strained. In fact, the speakers almost challenged me to turn up the volume beyond comfortable listening levels. After spending considerable time with Beggar’s Banquet, I am sure that classic rock listeners will enjoy the precise and smooth presentation that the Revels offer. You will hear fresh nuances and detail, even on recordings that you have enjoyed a thousand times before.
I decide to test the Revels with the recently released George Lucas masterpiece “Star Wars Trilogy.” All three episodes have been remixed in Dolby Digital Surround with THX. Not since their theatrical release has it been possible to watch The Trilogy in such exciting fashion. My expectations for great sound on all three DVDs were extremely high, given that director George Lucas is also the inventor of THX Certification. To present the Revels with the most thorough test I could muster, I watched scenes from all three movies: “Episode IV: A New Hope” (1977), “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” (1983). As I would have expected from recent experiences watching Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones” epic trilogy, the video and sound of each movie in the “Star Wars” trilogy improved considerably with each successive episode.
In “Episode IV,” Chapter 34: The Trash Compactor, when Han Solo unwisely shoots his phaser at the compactor door, the resulting ricochet of sound moves seamlessly from speaker to speaker throughout the listening area. Moments later, when Luke struggles with the water snake, the splashing sound of water is presented fully across the front channels. The realism here is impressive, especially for a soundtrack originally recorded almost 30 years ago. Finally, when the compactor is activated and the lives of our Rebellion heroes are in jeopardy, the music combined with the deep rumbling of the slowly moving walls creates a level of suspense that is quite intense.
I was immediately struck by a significant improvement in video and sound in “Episode V.” It was during the brief Chapter 11: The Imperial Fleet that I discovered the Revel F32’s greatest contribution to the movie experience was its ability to powerfully deliver the brilliant score by legendary composer John Williams. The recurring Imperial Theme throughout “Episode V,” with its full ensemble of strings and brass makes the soundtrack one of the most recognizable in movie history and when it matters most during the climax of battle, the Revels deliver.
In Chapter 14: Battle In The Snow, when the Imperial forces attack the Rebel station on the Sixth Planet of the Hoth system, Williams’ dynamic classical score overlays the sounds of intense battle. The violent explosions and gunfire of this futuristic fight are remarkably reminiscent of the storming of the beaches of Normandy in “Saving Private Ryan,” albeit in a more 1980s Hollywood style. The soundtrack here goes way beyond explosions and gunfire and presented me a great opportunity to challenge the F32s. Lucas, with the aid of Williams, has created a remarkably complex soundtrack that is way ahead of its time. When I listened to this scene near reference levels, the screeching engines of fighter jets moved quickly and accurately from speaker to speaker, creating a rich three-dimensional sound space.
I concluded my movie watching with arguably the most exciting movie in the trilogy, “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.” The obvious place to turn to was Chapter 21: Speeder Bike Chase. Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia find themselves in a high speed chase in the forest with several Storm Troopers. The soundtrack here is the best of all three movies. The sound flies quickly from the rear channels to the front channels as the speed bikes move away from the viewer and from the front channels to the rear channels as the speed bikes move toward the viewer. The effect here is simply awesome and the Revels were easily able to deliver the dynamic sound and create a sound presence, which could make you sweat. When several of the speed bikes meet their fate crashing into the trees, the explosions are deep, powerful and dynamic.
I was extremely pleased with how the F32’s performed watching the trilogy. The soundtrack is impressive by itself, but it is even more impressive, given the era of technology in which it was originally recorded. It is worth noting that despite the F32s being part of a newer breed of Performa speakers vs. the C30 center channel and pair of M20s which reside in my theater (and have subsequently been replaced by the Performa C32 and M22s), the integration was totally seamless.