|Revel F50 Performa Home Theater Speaker System|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems|
|Written by Thomas Garcia|
|Saturday, 01 March 2003|
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Following the usual procedure when introducing new equipment into my system, I positioned the Performa loudspeakers in the same location that my current reference system usually occupies. After spending some time adjusting to the speaker’s characteristics, I began to voice the system to the room. The good news with the Performa system was that they sounded extremely cohesive right out of the box, quickly positioned into the room and wired up. I immediately knew that although things were not ideal, there was a lot to work with here. I started with the F50s by themselves, using two-channel sources only, measuring them for symmetric placement within the listening area, adjusting them an inch or less at a time.
Concurrently, I varied the toe-in slightly, and experimented with the tweeter controls. These controls can be extremely useful, though in my listening room the 0 dB reference setting was the optimum position.
I continued with the procedure, integrating the C50 center channel installed on top of the matching Performa stand. This included adjusting relative amplitude, the tweeter level control, and the placement compensation switch (which I set to stand-mount) until the left to right sound stage became uniform in amplitude and seamless in its sonic presentation. Continuing the process, I incorporated the four S30s as left and right surround and rear surround speakers. The S30s provided ample flexibility, allowing me to evaluate the differences between the monopole and dipole settings. I continued to switch back and forth during the review process and ultimately determined that I preferred the monopole setting in my environment. Throughout the whole tuning process, the Revel’s performance continued to improve, making the entire endeavor enjoyable and rewarding rather than tedious and tiring.
A close friend of mine, who often assists me in setting up various systems for review, recommended that we view “Signs” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) during a recent visit to our local Blockbuster Video. My expectations were low regarding this movie’s ability to provide good acoustical evaluation material. I was pleasantly surprised with this Dolby Digital EX soundtrack. From the opening scenes, the micro-dynamics of the rustling corn stalks, swirling debris in the wind, circling birds, and buzzing insects led me to believe that this soundtrack would be very involving, without the manipulation that was so prominent in “X-Men,” the second movie used for this review. Throughout the movie, multiple scenes had wind chimes tinkling in the background that were both realistic in their tonality and their distance relative to the scene, creating an eerily lifelike sense of space. The Performa system did a stunning job capturing all of these cues and showcasing the dynamic contrast present in this movie. Whispers were clearly intelligible in the midst of other sounds, while a phone ringing in a quiet scene had a texture, clarity and startling quality about it. Tonal balance amongst all the Performa speakers was extremely consistent, allowing sounds to flow from speaker to speaker in a seamless and illusionary manner. This film provided for an extremely enjoyable viewing and listening experience. Through this system, the soundtrack was subtle, clear and tastefully mastered, totally non-fatiguing but still incredibly breathtaking. The Performa F50s may alter some people's perspective on what natural high-frequency playback should sound like. The tweeters are so neutral that at times you think there's a possibility that they may be rolled off slightly, when in reality they are extremely clean and devoid of any peakiness that sometimes presents itself as artificial air to the sound. In fact, the noise floor was so low on the Revels and dynamic range so high that when the effects of the movie snapped in, I was truly jolted in my chair. In addition, when the scenes were intended to be quiet, the acoustical backdrop of the movie became literally black, almost as if someone had muted the audio signal.
My audition of the Performa loudspeaker system also included the science fiction thriller, “X-Men” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment). I viewed this “good vs. evil” Marvel Comics adaptation in Dolby Digital EX, which engaged the complete 7.1 system. This film was wonderful visually, but less so sonically for several reasons. Through the Performa system, it was very easy to decipher the sound effect layering and acoustical manipulation done in the recording studio. During various complex scenes that included clamoring metal and shrill transients, the audio sounded detached rather than integrated with the visual action. Overall, the film had very limited dynamic range, and the far less realistic ambient sounds and cues resulted in a much less satisfying experience than with a high-quality DVD such as “Signs.” Through a lower-resolution system, I am confident that these effects would not be noticed to the degree they were when played back through the Performas. With high-resolution playback systems, such as the Revel Performas, and the promise of more advanced audio formats on the horizon, the film industry will hopefully find it necessary to pay more attention to the production quality and integration of the acoustical special effects. Due to its pedigree, the Performa system continued to be true the source, flaws and all.
To evaluate the Performa system for 5.1 music, I utilized ‘70s electric rockers Wishbone Ashe’s DVD-Audio disc Bare Bones (Silverline), a mellow, largely acoustic collection of both new and classic songs. This somewhat subtle disc produced a nice spectral balance between the surrounds and mains, capturing the reverberation and ambience of the recording environment without calling attention to the surrounds directly. Track 3, “Master of Disguise,” is a fun, spacious Southern rocker that energized the Performas, showcasing their dynamic contrast capabilities. At the same time, the Revels effectively interweaved the smooth, melodious violin, creating another dimension in the dynamic mix. The Performas realistically delineated all of the various instruments present in Track 8, “Strange Affair,” floating Andy Powell’s acoustic guitar above the well-integrated, flowing bass line. The bass added a sense of foundation and articulation, with no bloat or overhang. The bite of the harmonica, and the subtly infused, distinct acoustics of the Dobro guitar completed the complex, but easy to follow sonic image of this intimate recording.
I’ve recently developed a real affinity for DVD concert and music videos, much like audiorevolution.com editor Bryan Southard. The integration of music and video performances is extremely entertaining, especially with well-produced sources. I recently received a copy of Eric Clapton’s 1996 concert video Live in Hyde Park (WEA/Warner Brothers) that contains numerous tracks that sounded fantastic in multi-channel DTS playback. The standouts for me were two memorable classics, “Badge” and “White Room,” both from Clapton’s ‘60s band Cream. “Badge” may be one of my favorite songs from this era and this version absolutely rocked through the Performa system. Clapton’s guitar riffs were presented in a very life-sized manner through the F50s and C30 center channel, exploding equally with power and finesse. The B15 conveyed the bass line with great ease and articulation. Most notably, the improvements brought on by the B15’s built-in parametric equalizers were greatly apparent and appreciated. Emotionally, the Performa system truly connected me to the concert venue, a credit to Revel’s engineering excellence and artistic awareness.
Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia (Lava/Atlantic) tested the F50’s two-channel performance with a mainstream 16-bit, 44.1 kHz CD recording. Led by guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Steve Wilson, Porcupine Tree has graduated from their earlier progressive space rock days to become a very interesting yet hard to classify band with hard rock, melodious, pop and progressive elements all evident. In Absentia, their first major label release, displays each of these styles, sometimes all in the same song. The opening rack, “Blackout Eyes,” alternates hard, almost metal portions that slammed me back in my seat, with surprising, melodious sections that had me humming and singing along. The F50s transitioned effortlessly back and forth between the hard, raspy electric guitars and beat, and the almost delicate acoustic guitar and vocals. This cut clearly demonstrated the dynamic, wonderfully integrated characteristics of the F50s. “The Sound of Muzak” showcased new drummer Gavin Harrison, his percussion providing a powerful, solid base for the melodic vocal harmonies and Wilson’s soaring guitar solos to float above. The Performa’s midrange had a presence and dynamic ease about it, very clear, crisp and non-fatiguing. Although this is not an audiophile quality recording (unfortunately exhibiting a bit of the typical compression in pop rock recordings), and the Performas realistically revealed it as such, it was still a very fun and entirely enjoyable listen.