Revel Performa F30 Loudspeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Sunday, 01 April 2001

The Performa F30 is the entry-level $3,500 floor-standing speaker from high-end upstart speaker manufacturer Revel. Financed by Harman International, the largest U.S. based audio/video company, and under the close scrutiny of parent company Madrigal (Mark Levinson, Proceed, Madrigal Imaging etc.), Revel benefits from record-setting investments in research and development. Revel also benefits from over 35 years of speaker design and manufacturing experience from sister brands JBL and Infinity.

Madrigal takes the Revel project very seriously, especially the Performa Series speakers, as these represent a reasonable entry to the world of high-end products that are affordable for affluent but non-millionaire enthusiasts. Until now, Revel has been establishing itself as a high-end speaker presence with it's Ultima line, with cost not being nearly as much a factor as performance. The Performa line makes compromises in the fit and finish department (especially when compared to the Gem, Studio and Salon speakers, two of which have reviewed on previously), but still manages to custom-build drivers and use as much trickle-down technology as possible in a far more affordable package.

The Revel F30’s fall into an interesting price class at $3,500, just a bit more expensive than the highest-priced mainstream loudspeakers. With a slim footprint and a reasonable price tag, the Revel Performa F30’s represent equipment that might motivate aspiring audio/video enthusiasts to step up to the plate and invest in a serious pair of speakers – assuming the F30’s live up to their significant hype.

Physically, the Revel F30 is a basic rectangular box with some tricky industrial design all dressed up in a wood veneer. Unlike the Ultima Series speakers, the F30’s do not have very advanced color coating, incredible glossy finishes and non-linear shapes, nor should you expect such costly, non-performance-oriented gingerbread on high-end speakers priced at $3,500 per pair. Revel Performa F30’s are like BMW M3’s. They have some creature comforts, but they are designed for performance above all else.

The F30’s stand 46 inches tall, 14-3/4 inches deep, and a slim 12 inches wide. The driver configuration consists of a 10-inch inverted aluminum dome woofer rated down to 30 Hz at –3 dB, a five-and-one-quarter-inch inverted magnesium dome midrange driver, and a one-inch aluminum dome tweeter. The F30’s cabinet is ported and constructed of one-inch MDF and braced substantially. Weighing 90 pounds per speaker, the F30’s cabinet has a surprisingly solid, dense feel. The F30’s have a rated sensitivity of 87 dB, which in itself sounds inefficient, yet the speakers seemed easier than I expected to drive.

Revel offers several veneers to choose from. The review models were dressed in rosewood and looked great. The philosophy of "It doesn’t matter what a speaker looks like - it’s the performance that matters" isn’t quite as valid as it once was. Of course, I wouldn’t think of purchasing a loudspeaker for its looks alone, but let’s face it, many of us fall in love with our loudspeakers and want them to look good, too. I think that high-end audio companies have awakened to the notion that an ugly contraption that sounds great will only sell several pairs of speakers to the several remaining audiophile tweakers who, if they heard wrapping their speakers with duct tape would help, would actually do it.

The Revel Performa F30’s weren’t out for a week before I had received raving phone calls and e-mails urging me to get the F30’s in for review. One of my best friends had one of the first pairs of available F30’s installed in his theater system, along with Proceed electronics and ultimately a full Revel Performa 5.1 system, including two Ultima series subwoofers. I was immediately impressed at his New Year’s party. I had to fight the urge to hog the sofa to get an extended listen to the mix of Orbital and Paul Okenfeld rocking all night. On subsequent trips back to his place, I was able to hear the F30’s as the transducers in a 84-inch HDTV system. The emotional experience was enough to give this jaded reviewer goose bumps, even though my reference system is valued at over six times more than my buddy’s.

The system I employed for the majority of my listening was on the higher side of what many F30’s owners may start with, including a Mark Levinson No. 39 CD player ($5,995), Mark Levinson No.383 100-watt per channel integrated amplifier ($5,995), along with Transparent Ultra speaker and balanced interconnect cables. I had the speakers set exactly three feet from the front wall, seven feet apart and my listening position about nine to nine-and-a-half feet from the speakers.

The Revel Performa F30’s come with attenuation (EQ) for the tweeters, which is a mighty handy tool when trying to elicit the best out of a high-performance loudspeaker in a real-world room. Don’t let audiophile geeks give you this "EQ is evil" garbage. They are way off. My entire front wall is glass. I was therefore happy to have the ability to tune the Revels down if I needed to. Strangely, I found the flat setting the best for this application, although the F30’s have attenuation of plus or minus 0.5 to 1 dB in each direction, hot or cold, which could potentially be very useful.

I did spend more time than usual playing around with the grilles than I normally do during a speaker review. The Revel Performa F30 has two separate grilles – one that looks like the letter "U" filled in and center-justified with the top of the speaker. I preferred to take this grille off. The 10-inch woofer has a round grille that I could take or leave. I do like the opalescent color of the drivers, which made me decide that the F30’s looked cooler with the grilles off. I liked the sound of the F30’s better with the top grille off, albeit the detectable audio change was very small.

The Music
The Revel Performa F30 is a speaker that has a warm but engaging sound, highlighted by real bass performance. Keep in mind that I had no subwoofer hooked up in this system, even though Revel does have an incredible new $3,000 powered subwoofer now shipping called the B15 (stay tuned for a future review or check out coverage from CES 2001). I am always captivated by loudspeakers that can present an extremely wide yet coherent soundstage. On "The Girl From Ipanema," from Getz and Gilberto (Verve) the Revels shone. The guitar instrumentation imaged with detail, but the second chorus’ female vocals were literally two feet outside the physical bounds of the left speaker. This is simply incredible for a speaker at this price range. The vocals were definitely laid back, but the clarity was all there. Revels are smooth speakers that aren’t going to hit you over the head, not even if you crank up the tweeter attenuation to the full 1 dB. They have a more reserved THIEL midrange and less of the Wilson dynamic punch, to compare their effect to that of other great loudspeakers.

Inspired by the width of the soundstage, I dipped into my stash of CDs to pull out one of my favorite live CDs of all time, Isaac Hayes: Live at The Sierra Tahoe (Stax). On the tracks "Ike’s Rap VI" and "Ain’t No Sunshine," the Revels proved to be a time machine back to an era in the 1970s when there were no "playa haters" and pimps roamed the earth in a consequence-free environment. The Movement, Isaac Hayes’ band for the gig, laid down the flyest jam for this track. Ike takes a good six minutes on the prelude to the tune. Once Ike is done and the recognizable melody kicks in, the sax literally jumps out of the soundstage a good two feet in front of the F30’s. Further into the track, the bongos and tambourines develop a spicy and detailed rhythm structure for Ike to song-style over. If you are not feeling it by the time Mr. Black Moses hits the first chorus, you ain’t never gonna be feeling it and you should sell your AV system and start a stamp collection.

There are a lot of speakers priced between $3,000 and $4,000 per pair that ignore the all-important frequencies below 50 Hz. Low-frequency energy is called bass because it is the basis, the foundation, that music and sound is built on. Speakers that don’t have it and/or aren’t paired up with subs to get it simply stink in my book. For $4,000, I expect to hear some low-end energy and the Revels may very well lead their class in this department. On Led Zeppelin’s "Dancing Days" from House of the Holy (Atlantic), you could clearly discern John Paul Jones’ funky walking low lines paired with the hard-hitting tree trunk slamming of John Bonham, along with the whiny rifting of Zoso. Robert Plant’s voice suffered from the Revel’s laid-back nature on this track for me. This is because the highest parts of his vocal range, while perfectly clear and not distorted in any audible way, didn’t have the presence or forwardness that I have become accustomed to with my Wilson WATT Puppys. The Puppys as speakers are philosophically far different from the Revels and cost nearly six times more per pair.

The best performance I heard from the Revel Performa F30’s was on "Sex MF" from Prince’s 1992 Symbol Album (Warner Brothers). I played the Zep track for Music Editor Bryan Dailey, and he too could hear the vocal anomaly I described on the Zep tune. On the Prince track, the entire musical presentation sounded more alive and up front. You could hear some of what I complained about on the overdubbed backup vocals, but it was of little consequence to the overall sound of the tune. The bass line of "Sexy MF" was so very groovy and booming with energy and musical excitement that it was hard not to be feeling it on this listening session. Could the bass ultimately be better on the F30’s? Absolutely. You could have a professional acoustician set up your room and tune a new Revel B15 sub to mesh with your F30’s, but that would be more than double the expense of the actual speakers and would require a sub, an EQ and the expense of a pro set-up. Will you be happy with the bass on the F30’s? If you aren’t, prepare your checkbook, because you are going to have to invest $10,000 a pair on speakers to get to the next level without subs.

The Downside
At 87 dB efficient, I expected the Revel Performa F30’s to be harder to drive than they actually were. These aren’t speakers that you will run from a receiver unless you have an outboard amplifier, be it a two or a five channel model. The characteristics of the speakers make the F30’s not conducive to lower power amps and/or smaller tube set-ups, when other speakers in this class can flourish with these power sources. In a perfect world, you’d have a big Mark Levinson No. 336 or a Krell FPB 300 amp for your F30’s, but a Sunfire costing a fraction of the price may be more in line as you are getting started. The thing is, you will want to really crank with your F30’s and you’ll need an amp that can keep up with this type of speaker design. You don’t have to break the bank, but you will hear obvious improvement with each investment.

I made the controversial call that the Wilson WATT Puppy V6.0’s were the best loudspeakers in the world, which has caused many a flame and equal amounts of letters of support. At $20,000 per pair, I expect you to be able to hear God directly from your speakers. At $3,500, the Revel Performa F30’s have no right even being mentioned in the same sentence with the Wilsons – except for the fact that they are indeed that good. This is one of the greatest speaker values I have ever heard. I don’t know of anyone who has anything bad to say about the F30’s. Do they look as good as the $10,000 Revel Ultima Studios? Not really. But that isn’t the point. For $3,500, this is the speaker that may get hardened audiophiles back in the store starting to invest in their systems for the first time in years. More importantly, the Revel Performa F30’s are the type of speakers that, if you were to invest in them early in the development of your AV system, you would be guaranteed to be hooked. The F30’s are so good at their price point that you will want to keep them as rear channels when you upgrade to Studios or Salons. These speakers set a new standard for a high-end speaker values, much as the Sunfire True woofer did for subs. Expect the Revel F30 to earn strong consideration for Speaker of The Year and possibly Audio Product of The Year.
Manufacturer Revel
Model Performa F30 Loudspeakers

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