Revel F50 Performa Home Theater Speaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Thomas Garcia   
Saturday, 01 March 2003

Introduction
It was only a few years ago that Revel embarked on its journey to design and develop some of the world's most accurate and musically satisfying loudspeakers. The company was established in 1996 through a collaboration consisting of Harman Kardon founder Dr. Sidney Harman, Sandy Berlin of Madrigal, and well-regarded speaker designer Kevin Voecks. From the outset, the design philosophy of the Revel team was to incorporate the highest level of engineering knowledge, fused with sound scientific principles in conjunction with real-world listening evaluations. Using these objectives, Revel created the founding benchmarks for developing their products. Though Revel itself is a relatively small company, its ability to exploit the enormous resources of Harman International gives them unparalleled ability to achieve their design goals. Their debut product, the Ultima Gem, drew critical acclaim for both its musical attributes and unique styling.

Following the Gem’s release, Revel continued with various new loudspeakers under the Ultima series banner, all of which have been extremely well received and garnished with numerous accolades and awards the world over. After accomplishing their initial objectives with the Ultima line, Revel set forth to incorporate many of these technical advances and sonic qualities into more affordable series, leading to the conception of the Performa line of loudspeakers.

Similar to the Ultima series, the criteria for developing the Performa line includes the same goals of producing loudspeakers that feature wide dynamic and power handling capabilities, while maintaining high-frequency purity and midrange accuracy. The Performa series currently consists of the M20 bookshelf speaker, the floor-standing F30, the C30 center channel, S30 surround speakers, the B15 subwoofer, and the recently introduced F50 floor-standing speaker and C50 center channel. Revel has matched the timbre across the entire Performa line, allowing the speakers to be successfully mixed and matched, creating flexibility for the consumer to configure a system that meets individual needs and budgetary constraints.

The speaker complement used for this review consisted of a pair of Performa F50s ($7,500 per pair), a single F50 center channel ($3,000 each) with matching speaker stand ($260 each), four S30 surround speakers ($2,295 per pair), and one B15 subwoofer ($2,995 each in black).

Description
The recently introduced F50 occupies the flagship position in the Performa series. It has an especially attractive three-way ported design that is unimposing visually considering its size, 46 inches high by 11-and-9/16 inches wide by 17.5 inches deep. The driver configuration consists of a one-inch pure titanium dome tweeter, a 5.25-inch ceramic-composite mid-range driver, and three 6.5-inch ceramic-composite woofers. Revel uses high-order crossovers in both the Performa and Ultima series to optimize timbre both on and off-axis, ensure low distortion, and provide ample power handling capabilities and low dynamic compression. With a rated sensitivity of 88 dB and a nominal impedance of five ohms (3.2 ohms minimum at 64 Hz), the F50s were not difficult to drive, even working quite well with a 120-watt surround receiver. At a weight of 100 pounds each, the F50 is extremely solid and imparts a sense of substance and density. This is in part due to the Medite (one-inch-thick MDF) used for the exterior walls and the ample internal bracing incorporated throughout the speaker. As with the Ultima series, the F50 uses a significantly tapered port to reduce turbulence and potential port noise. It is also equipped with a tweeter control that allows adjustments from -1 to +1 dB in 0.5 dB increments to compensate for different room environments, dual binding posts for bi-wiring or bi-amping, and magnetic shielding to prevent interference with video monitors.

Though I wouldn't consider its aesthetics conventional, the F50 departs from the more industrial designs found in the Ultima series. There is a gentle front to back taper that is very complementary to the slender, understated and elegant cabinet profile. The F50 presents a graceful, curved and softened face to the listener, and blended extremely well with the decor of my listening room. At times, I favor the more high-tech look of loudspeakers without grille covers, but I much preferred the F50s with grilles in place. The review sample came with a Sycamore wood veneer and silver high gloss trim, with a very high-quality lacquer finish. Available finishes for the F50 include high-quality wood veneers of Rosewood, Black Ash, Sycamore and Dark Cherry.

The C50 is Revel’s newest Performa loudspeaker, designed to mate specifically with the F50s, but capable of integrating with any main speaker in the Revel line. The C50 uses two 6.5-inch ceramic-composite woofers flanking a four-inch ceramic-composite midrange and a one-inch aluminum-dome tweeter. Revel rates the C50 at 90 dB sensitivity, with a nominal impedance of 5.7 ohms (3.2 ohms minimum at 200 Hz). The aesthetics of this 36-pound center channel are a perfect match for the F50s, measuring in at 10-and-5/8 inches high x 26 1/4 inches wide by 10 15/16 inches deep. The C50 is also quite flexible in its placement adjustability, including a three-position switch that allows you to compensate for above-monitor, flush wall mount, or speaker stand installations. Additionally, the C50 is equipped with a tweeter level control that allows adjustments from -1 to +1 dB in 0.5 dB increments, and magnetic shielding, similar to the F50. An optional stand attaches directly to the base of the C50, angling the loudspeaker slightly up towards the listener. Fit and finish of the C50 is again first-rate, similarly available in Rosewood, Black Ash, Sycamore or Dark Cherry wood veneers.

The S30 surrounds present a very appealing and versatile design. They are deployed as side and rear surround speakers for this system. They feature a direct-facing one-inch aluminum-alloy tweeter, a 6.5-inch midrange/woofer, and two four-inch all-range drivers (used to minimize localization in dipole mode) on the side cabinet faces. These speakers can be operated in either dipole or monopole mode, and can be user-controlled either by the side panel rotary dial or remotely via a 12-volt control input.

In dipole mode, all drivers are active, with the exception of the direct-facing tweeter. Also, the direct woofer has a fairly low crossover point of 250 Hz. In monopole mode, the S30s function like standard two-way monitors, with both all-range drivers disabled, and the tweeter to woofer crossover point set at a much higher 2.5 kHz. They are rated at 90 dB sensitivity, with a nominal impedance of six ohms (three ohms minimum) in either operating mode.

The S30 surround loudspeakers come in triangulated, asymmetrical, mirror-imaged left and right pairs, measuring twelve-and-a-half inches high by fourteen-and-three-sixteenth inches wide by eight-and-three-eighths inches deep, each weighing 18 pounds. Color choice for the S30 surrounds is limited to black or white. They are capable of effectively serving as surrounds for any Performa or Ultima main and center speaker configuration.

Enlisted to cover the lowest octave was the potent B15 subwoofer. With its 15-inch high-excursion driver and built-in 1400-watt amp, the B15 was more than capable of providing low-frequency support for the entire Performa system. In June of 2001, AudioRevolution.com reviewed the B15, and I was as impressed with its performance and innovative calibration system as was the reviewer, Jerry Del Colliano. Rather than reiterate the B15’s attributes at this time, I recommend that you take a look at the aforementioned review in AudioRevolution.com’s archives to get a much more comprehensive description of this subwoofer.

Setup
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.

Movies
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.

Music
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.

The Downside
The F50s are physically large, and they need to be placed at a minimum of a few feet away from any room boundary in order to reach their full potential. This may be a challenge for relatively small listening rooms. Additionally, regardless of how good it sounds right out of the box, the Performa system demands some attention during setup to achieve its highest level of refinement.

Although the F50 is a very satisfying stand-alone loudspeaker, Revel’s design criteria was to optimize the high frequencies, midrange and mid bass, while accepting some compromise in overall low-end extension. And finally, relative to the Ultima line, the Performa series does not have the same authoritative presence in the lower octave.

Conclusion
Revel has deservedly earned a world-class reputation with their Ultima series, and it is obvious that their development and associated technical advances have successfully trickled down to the Performa line. The F50 Performa Home Theater Speaker System proved to be an outstanding performer, displaying great versatility while playing blockbuster movies at reference levels, or capturing the most delicate nuances of high-resolution sources. They left a lasting and extremely positive impression on everyone that listened to them. In all but the largest listening rooms, it is hard to imagine a need for more dynamic capacity, and the sound was certainly well balanced and satisfying. Although any 7.1 home theater loudspeaker system that retails for the combined price of the Performas cannot be considered inexpensive, I consider this system a solid value by high-end standards. They are seriously addicting with their ultra-low distortion, matched timbre accuracy, and deep, wide soundstaging capabilities. The Performa system proved to be an impressive, cohesive and most pleasing multi-channel surround speaker system, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I spent listening to them. Bottom line, if the road to audio nirvana ended here, the Revel F50 Performa Home Theater system would not leave me wanting.
Manufacturer Revel
Model F50 Performa Home Theater Speaker System
Reviewer Tom Garcia





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