|Revel B15 Subwoofer|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Subwoofers|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Friday, 01 June 2001|
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The Music and the Movies
Bass is called bass for a good reason – it is the basis the other audible frequencies are built upon. The Revel B15, through its far better than average set-up procedure, provides whatever speakers you choose with a solid foundation that, believe it or not, significantly improves performance far above the frequency range of the B15. This was most evident on Stevie Wonder’s "Sir Duke" from the Original Musiquarium (Motown). While the bass guitar had a solid, round and analog feel, I was more impressed by the way a properly set up pair of B15’s helped free up the midrange, enabling the horns to absolutely jump out of my Wilson WATT Puppies. It sounded like a level of audio clutter had been lifted from my system, while placement of instruments were more obviously located in the three-dimensional soundstage.
In hopes that a pair of 1400-watt, 15-inch subwoofers would help my eternal search for pimpdom, I dropped in Philly-sound hero Teddy Pendergrass’ TP album and played the track "Love TKO" (Right Stuff Records) for some groovy soul and deep bass. Within the first four notes, I heard bass with such control and even more noticeable volume that it seemed like an entire new lower octave was now audible in my system. In fact, that isn’t really true – my reference pair of Sunfire Signature woofers are capable of nearly the same low frequencies as the B15, but the Sunfire True Subwoofer Signatures cannot play the lowest frequencies with such output. Being nearly half the physical volume of the Revel B15 subwoofers, the Sunfires had to reach their performance limit at some point, and at $1,895, they are still a steal. The Revel B15 is the next logical step up from the Sunfire, which has been the king of the hill for years, beating out subs costing many times more.
Tony Levin’s Chapman stick on Peter Gabriel’s single "Love Town" from the motion picture soundtrack from Philadelphia (Epic – import) was a very compelling test of the Revel B15s, because the Chapman stick is an instrument that is like a bass guitar, but with much different and seemingly lower frequencies associated with its distinctive sound. The resonance of the open strings is so low that you feel as much as hear the impact of the lowest notes at full volume on the B15’s.
On the same principle as the Chapman stick, the Roland 808 drum synthesizer is legendary in modern R&B and electronic music for its colon-loosening bass drum sound. My absolute bass reference is Barry White’s "There It Is" from The Icon Is Love record (A&M). I have used this track to judge bass on nearly every system I have evaluated. What I noticed with the Revel’s set-up in my system was how well the subs integrated with the dual eight-inch drivers in the Puppies of my Wilson WATT Puppies. The low notes were tight, deep, fast and loud, which made for an exciting musical experience. I was concerned that a driver this large would have trouble recoiling in time when playing back such demanding low-frequency information. The Revel B15’s 1400-watt peak amplifier and highly efficient driver were tested to their limits here and succeeded with flying colors. The best attribute of the WATT Puppies is their speed in the mid-bass and midrange, which also poses a significant challenge to any subwoofer you try to match with the costly speakers. After hearing Mr. White’s legendary demo material, I have no question that the B15’s are up to the challenge of working with highly efficient speakers costing $20,000 per pair or more.
The best the B15’s sounded was on 5.1 music material. While in stereo the B15 helped open up the midrange, a spectacular added value when investing in a subwoofer, with 5.1 music (or movies, for that matter) recorded with a specific bass track, the B15 comes into its own. The modern day Philly-sound pop supergroup Boyz II Men (DTS Entertainment – 5.1 CD) highlighted how accurate the B15’s could be on the higher frequency range of the sub. With four-part vocal harmonies and swirling 5.1 effects, the impact of the Revel subs was most evident.
Sting’s "Desert Rose" (DTS Entertainment 24 bit 5.1 CD) starts out with effects mixed to be behind you. With one of my subs physically placed way behind my listening position, the effect was even cooler. The crispness of this 24-bit 5.1 version of this hit tune was even more present with the Revels in the loop. To be even more solid than two professionally set up, kick-ass Sunfires is a major feat.
My first introduction to the Revel B15 subs was at the 2001 CES show at a private demo in the Paris Hotel Presidential Suite. The B15 and the Madrigal Imaging nine-inch CRT projector were the featured performers and did the B15 ever rock with them. With two B15’s installed and professionally set up by Kevin Voecks of Revel and Bob Hodas, I gave U-571 (Universal DVD), the featured demo DVD of the CES presentation, a run on my reference system. Holy shit. During the depth charge scene, the bass was so beyond powerful that I had to go turn the woofers down because I had my lighting fixtures rattling in the ceiling, along with CDs flying off my eight-foot-tall and 10-foot-wide bookcase that is bolted to the wall opposite the Revel Subs. At first, I thought that the woofers had reached their limits, but I was wrong. I had reached the limits of the build quality of my condo. If the goal of a home theater is to elicit strong emotions, the Revel B15’s on U-571 hit hard on the emotion of fear. They are that powerful.
Obviously, the Revels at 20 inches squared are nearly twice the size of my reference Sunfire True Subwoofer Signatures. Logistically, this may or may not pose a problem for you, but with the extra cabinet volume, you do get more audible and tactile output.
The physical location of the Revel subwoofers is key to sonic success, but the software, as great as it is, doesn’t tell you exactly where to place the subs in your room on your first try. Trial and error are still a big part of the process of getting the most out of your B15’s. Some of the locations that Bob and Kevin tried out for me were nothing short of impossible from an interior design standpoint. Keep in mind that there is a fine line between the optimum subwoofer location and ending up in divorce court. At least with the Revel LFO software, you have the ability to receive analytical feedback on how good each location really is. I would estimate that you will need to spend at least an hour, if not two or three, in trial and error testing to make sure a single Revel B15 is in its best location. Also note that, much like building a bunch of Ikea bookcases, the more you do the set up process, the faster you get. You may for grins try a whacky spot for your B15 and find that it has better performance than you ever expected.
You do need a meter to measure sound levels in your room. Even though these aren’t too expensive at Radio Shack and the LFO software is so sophisticated that it can calibrate for most of the meters on the market, it would have been even cooler if the B15 came with a meter in the set-up package. It would make the B15 an even more complete package – not that it isn’t already the most complete high-end subwoofer ever sold.
The Revel B15 is a breakthrough product that costs easily $7,000 less than what it used to in order to obtain this level of performance. At 20 inches cubed, the B15 is not too large to fit in with most music and film playback systems, yet it represents the first major subwoofer breakthrough since Bob Carver’s True Subwoofer more than five years ago.
Bass is increasingly important to your music and film playback system. With 5.1 music and 5.1-plus channel DVD-Video soundtracks now a real world part of every good system, the need for high-performance subwoofers has never been more urgent. With that said, the Revel B15 overcomes the "audiophile" (I hate to even use that word) historical objections when it comes to using a subwoofer in a serious music system. Up until now, critics have been right in saying that it is nearly impossible to get the phase, placement and equalization of most woofers correctly tuned in when matching a subwoofer with a high-performance pair of loudspeakers. The Revel B15, with LFO software, test tone CD and Radio Shack meter, finally gives the music and film enthusiast the tools he or she needs to correctly integrate a sub into a sound system. At $3,000, the Revel B15 is far from the most expensive subwoofer on the market, but it may very well be the best available for under $10,000.