Revel Ultima Salon Loudspeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Bryan Southard   
Thursday, 01 February 2001

Introduction
The Salon is the flagship loudspeaker in the Revel lineup. Revel was established in 1997 as Madrigal’s premier speaker line to complement their electronics products, such as Mark Levinson and Proceed and, later, Madrigal Imaging and IRIQ remotes. Madrigal, which is owned and financed by Harman International, formed Revel with one intention – to produce the best loudspeakers in the world. A tremendous amount of money and design resources were allocated to this end, including the use of the largest speaker manufacturing facility in the world, the JBL & Infinity factory.

In production since 1998, the Salon is a floor-standing loudspeaker system with a look of modern elegance. For better than a year, since the AudioRevolution.com review, I have made the smaller Revel Studios ($10,000 per pair) my reference loudspeakers. I welcomed the opportunity to review the much larger Salons. When I first laid eyes on the Salon, the thought that came to mind is that someone finally took a fresh look at a big-dollar loudspeaker and produced a look that isn’t the standard coffin-like cabinet. Revel has created a truly unique look for their new product. The review models were glossy piano black with rosewood sides. Many more options are available.

The Salon's rated response is 25 Hz to 20 kHz +/- 1 dB. Low-frequency extension is measured down to 17 Hz at (–10 dB), 20 Hz at (-6 dB). The importance of these figures, it should be understood that manufacturers often measure their speakers at +/- 3 dB. With every loudspeaker response, there is a descending curve representing bass roll-off. You can better understand the expected bass performance when you first understand that even –6 dB provides a significant amount of information for your music. The Salons are rated with a sensitivity of 86 dB. What this figure means to a listener is that this speaker needs to be driven with a moderate- to high-powered amplifier, which the manufacturer would likely recommend to have a 100-watt or greater capability. Personally, I wouldn’t connect this speaker to anything less than a 150-watt per channel amplifier. I would recommend even higher wattage for moderate to loud listening in average to large rooms.

The Salons have a speaker complement of three eight-inch mica/carbon-filled co-polymer dome woofers, a six-and-a-half-inch mid-bass driver of the same configuration, a four-inch titanium midrange driver, and two tweeters, one facing rear and one facing forward. The purpose of the rear tweeter is to supply room ambience. According to Madrigal, tweeters become increasingly directional at higher frequencies and contribute progressively less high frequency energy into the listening area as frequencies increase. The Salon's rear tweeter and its frequency shaping network provide very high frequency "sound power" output. The combination of the front and rear tweeter were done in an attempt to create an ideal reverberant field.At the rear of the Salons are bi-wire binding posts and three knobs for either attenuating or boosting the front tweeter, rear tweeter, or the low-frequency extension. The Salons are 51 inches tall, 13.5 inches wide and 26.5 inches deep. Weighing in at a backbreaking 240 lbs. apiece and costing $17,995 per pair, these loudspeakers are very substantial, to say the least.

Although the Salons are considerably larger than the Studios, once set up, they did not look obtrusive. Salons looked like a mighty version of the Studios or Revel Studios on steroids. After about two weeks of around-the-clock break-in, it was time to give these heavyweights a run and see how they measured up when compared to other big-bucks loudspeakers.

The Music
I initially listened to the Salons with the Pass X350 amplifier, which I reviewed a few months ago. As soon as the Salons were broken in, I replaced the Pass amplifier with the brand-new Sonic Frontiers Power 3 (Special Edition) amplifier, which I will be reviewing for an upcoming issue.

The first piece of music I used to test the system was something that I recently found at a used software retailer: Santana Live at The Fillmore. Recorded in San Francisco in 1968, this disc is a rare find in that it is a combination of fabulous music and even better recording quality. In the awe-inspiring 15-minute version of "Soul Sacrifice," the Salons impressed me out of the gate with a profoundly coherent soundstage. I had asked two respected retailers in the past to list the differences between the Studios and the Salons. Both retailers told me that the only difference was in the bass. I found many differences first-hand. Certainly none were more obvious than the bass, but improvements to the overall coherence and transparency of the upper octaves were noticeable as well. This was never more apparent than when listening to the latest from Keb Mo, The Door (Sony Music). The song "Loola Loo" had a sense of reality that was incredible. The vocal midrange was very liquid, with inherent warmth and sweetness, yet it was also fully detailed. I am typically hesitant to describe sonic signatures with such phrases as "sweetness," as this can imply a sense of softness due to rolled-off highs and/or a sense of top-end slowness. This is clearly not the case with the Salons.

I recently headed down to the Hollywood Hills to party like a rock star with Audio Revolution’s publisher Jerry Del Colliano, as well as to hear his Wilson Watt Puppy Version 6.0 loudspeakers. I dug the WATT Puppys and can honestly say that the Salons do not possess the quickness and detail of the WATT Puppys in the higher frequencies. To some, myself included, this is a welcome characteristic. The Salons have a voicing and tonal balance that made nearly all of the recordings I tested sound enjoyable. The Wilson Watt Puppy Version 6.0’s possess a hopped-up, edgy sound that energize you with their agility, responsiveness and presence. The Salons will excite you equally, or possibly even more, with their sheer sense of realism, smoother tonality and deeper low end. The Salons provide great levels of detail without ever sounding forward or in your face. When listening to the re-mastered version of the Beatles’ Abbey Road (EMI Records), I found myself almost feeling that I was falling forward into the speakers as the music pulled me towards them rather that pushing me away.

The Downside
The Revel Salons are not for everyone. In fact, they are not for many. They are very large, very heavy and demand a moderately large listening room. They have a tremendous amount of bass and will perform best on solid and preferably concrete flooring. As mentioned earlier, the Salon has a knob that is capable of attenuating the bass. If your suspended flooring becomes a large resonant speaker, or if you are rattling your paintings off the wall, you can attenuate the bass by –3 dB, but you would only be cheating yourself. If you think you’re liable to find yourself in this situation, I would suggest the more moderately sized Revel Studio at nearly half the price. The Salons are very expensive loudspeakers and consequently should be driven by electronics that are equal in performance.

I have heard many formulas that define the amount that should be spent on each component in the audio chain, most of which are bogus. To put it simply, the Revel Salon is a reference loudspeaker and should be driven by reference components. For amplification, I would recommend one of a number of amplifiers, including the Mark Levinson No. 336, the Krell FPB 600 and the Pass Labs X350. For amplification, I would recommend a tube amp with a minimum of 150 watts per channel, like the Audio Research VT200 or my personal favorite, the new Sonic Frontiers Power 3 Special Edition monoblocks.

Conclusion
It is hard to mention the price of this loudspeaker without becoming at least a little stunned and perhaps a tad skeptical. Let’s face it, you can buy a car, and for that matter a pretty nice new car, for $17,000. So who the heck owns these loudspeakers, then? You will find them in the homes of people who find music and/or video a high priority - someone who either has a lot of money or makes the appropriate sacrifices necessary to own a speaker of this caliber.

There are few speakers in the world that compare to the Revel Salon. I found this loudspeaker to possess the dynamics, transparency, detail and finesse to make it my favorite loudspeaker to date.

Loudspeakers are very much a personal choice. Therefore, there will never be a single perfect product for every music lover and/or audio/video enthusiast. Before laying down your hard-earned cash on a new speaker at this price point, I would recommend that you audition the competition. Look into the Wilson WATT Puppy Version 6.0 or the Sonus Faber Amati Homage at the $20,000 price range. The B&W Nautilus 802 and Martin Logan Prodigys make for serious contenders at nearly half the price. With that said, the Revel Salons earn my vote as the better speakers of the aforementioned group and the best speakers on the market in their price range. For me the choice was simple. I wrote the check and now call the Revel Salons my reference loudspeakers, which I will use to judge the best audio/video equipment for years to come.
Manufacturer Revel
Model Ultima Salon Loudspeakers
Reviewer Bryan Southard





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