|Revel Ultima Studio Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers|
|Written by Bryan Southard|
|Saturday, 01 January 2000|
Page 1 of 3
By the strained look on the face of the delivery person as he wheeled the Revel Ultima Studio’s into my room, I could tell I was clearly in for a workout setting up these speakers. After he finished chuckling at my suggestion that he lend a hand and help me unpack and position the speakers, the delivery man was off. Before me sat two boxes that I could hardly budge. The unpacking instructions indicate that two strong people should perform the task of unpacking and set-up; ideally, these are instructions that ought to be followed.
Revel is the latest addition to the Madrigal Audio Group, owned by Harman International. Revel’s mission when founded in 1996 was to redefine the state of the art in loudspeaker design. With the resources of a NYSE-financed parent company, as well as some of the most advanced loudspeaker driver, cabinet and assembly know-how from sister companies like JBL and Infinity, Revel had a head start that no other high-end loudspeaker manufacturer has ever had. Revel hired Kevin Voecks, who was the Chief Engineer at both Mirage and Snell Acoustics, to shepherd the project with Madrigal founder Sandy Berlin. The result is the biggest success story for a high-end company in the past 10 years, not to mention some killer loudspeakers at a variety of price points ranging from $2,000 to $16,995 per pair.
The Revel Studio is the smaller sibling of the flagship Revel Salons and are priced at $9,995 per pair in matte black or $10,995 per pair in a variety of high-gloss color finishes and side panel materials. Some of the finish options include traditional black with rosewood or a more modern-looking black or red with aluminum side panels.
The Studios sit 43-7/8 inches tall, are 12-3/4 inches wide, 19-3/8 inches deep, and weigh in at a hefty 165 lbs. per speaker. My review pair were high-gloss black, with rosewood sides and dark gray grills. Revel offers a variety of base colors and sidings, including wood and aluminum. The Studios have a very different look, which I would characterize somewhere between futuristic and modern elegance. Either way, their appearance commands attention. Almost every visitor to my listening room had comments, overwhelmingly favorable, on the look of the Studios. I personally think they look quite striking, however I could see how some end users with very conservative decors could possibly find the Revel design too modern for their rooms. The best antidote for this problem is matching the most appropriate wood panels or colors to your room.
The Studios constitute a three-way floor-standing speaker system that uses two eight-inch mica/carbon-filled co-polymer dome woofers, one five-and-a-quarter-inch titanium-dome midrange driver, a one-and-one-tenth-inch front firing tweeter, and a three-quarter-inch rear firing tweeter for added high frequency energy and overall room ambience. Both the front and rear firing tweeters have attenuation adjustment to compensate for room anomalies. I found the flat settings to be the best for my set-up, although my room is acoustically treated. The Studios have a measured response of 31 Hz to 20 kHz and have a sensitivity of 87 dB SPL.
Most of Revel’s drivers are designed, tested and manufactured at the Revel facility in Northridge, California with the exception of their tweeter which was co-developed by Revel with Scan-Speak in Denmark. Among Revel’s many design goals was the creation of midrange drivers that would have the best measurable off-axis response of any drivers ever designed, thus helping to minimize problematic early reflections, and to create a driver with a true piston movement in order to minimize distortion. Although they provided me data to substantiate the achievement of these goals, as always I reserved the right to make judgment with my own ears. You can judge a speaker based on its measurements, but considerably more important is how the speaker sounds and, even more important, how it sounds in your room.
Double-Blind Listening Tests
Revel created a double-blind listening test and standard manual, both to assist in the design and to evaluate is results. This 21-page standard manual included everything from the maximum allowable noise levels to the ultra-cool automated speaker mover capable of automatically moving and positioning up to nine pairs of speakers, including room treatments. I expressed my desire to own one of these systems myself, in hopes that it might help me to better evaluate speakers, until I heard the approximate price tag of $500,000.
An intriguing aspect of the double-blind listening test is that the listeners were selected from a large pool based on their actual ability to discern sonic differences. The expert panel must achieve at least 95% in a 6dB-resonance identification test, and 85% in a 3dB test. Both tests require correct identification of the center frequency of resonance peaks and dips of added resonances that are 2.5 octaves wide. Revel found that at least 20% of willing participants with normal hearing failed to hit these marks after repeated training sessions. In addition, no listeners were selected with greater than –15dB hearing loss in any audiometric frequency. These listeners were considered to have less consistent opinions. I found this information pertinent because many speaker manufacturers claim that their speakers have been selected in blind tests, often without disclosing their criteria or foundation for the tests themselves..