Revel Concerta B12 Subwoofer 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Subwoofers
Written by Bryan Dailey   
Wednesday, 01 March 2006

Revel: home theater and audio enthusiasts have come to know and lust after this brand name for nearly a decade. The Revel Ultima and Performa lines of speakers compete with the likes of Wilson Audio, B&W, MartinLogan and Meridian, with favorable results in the cost-is-no-object arena. Many entry-level home theater owners have stayed awake nights dreaming of finding any way possible to get Revel speakers in their systems. Thanks to the Concerta line from Revel, the dream has become reality, with Revel speakers priced at a fraction of their big brothers.

Taking many of design elements that have made Revel into a world-class speaker brand and strategically cutting costs where costs can be cut without causing a large drop in performance, Revel has created an entry-level line of speakers called the Concerta series, which are a natural progression for AV enthusiasts who are ready to move up from the mass-market entry-level speakers to something with better performance.Concerta joins the Performa line, which features speakers that wowed us back in 2001, so much so that that the Performa F30s(replaced by the F32's) were chosen as the “Audio Product of the Year” that year.

The $999 Concerta B12 subwoofer is not small, but at the same time, it is not overly bulky. With a weight of 64 pounds and dimensions of 14.10 inches tall, 13.1 inches wide and 15.96 inches deep (15.21 without the front grille), the B12 should fit in all but the very smallest of home theaters. Metal spikes are included for setting the sub on carpet. However, my theater room is primarily tile, so I used the rubber feet that are attached to the bottom of the B12.

The driver is a 10-inch woofer has a "Symmetrical field Gap", a hree-inch diameter voice coil and according to Revel, has the ability to move two full inches, giving this medium-sized sub the ability to move the air like its big brothers, the Revel B15 and Sub 30. The cabinet is constructed of thick-walled MDF with internal bracing for rigidity and is available in three different finishes, black ash, maple and natural cherry (this last is the finish of my review sample).

The B12 is powered internally by a beefy 650-watt amplifier and has a total frequency response from as low as 20Hz up to 150Hz, with no more than 0.1 percent total harmonic distortion, according to Revel. In other words, this sub can rock loudly and do it without much (if any) audible distortion.

A silver plate on the back of the sub contains all of its knobs and controls. Beginning at the left and moving to the right, the B12 has a pair of RCA jacks for feeding the subwoofer out from a receiver or AV preamp. A small LED to the right of the RCA inputs indicates the status of the sub. When signal is present, the LED will turn green. When no signal is present for more than 10 minutes, the sub will essentially turn itself off but is in a standby mode and will immediately come back to life when signal is sent to it. This is a nice feature, as the backs of subwoofers are often not easily accessible, and reaching back to turn the sub on and off every time it is used can be a pain, especially on the B12, as Revel decided to put the on and off knob at the very bottom right of the sub. I leave my sub on all the time and would only consider reaching back to flip the switch to off if I was going to be gone for a week at least or was going to plug a new connection into it. Otherwise, it just sits in standby mode, ready to handle any signal that I feed to it.

Next up is a solid black knob that controls the subwoofer’s output level. The markings behind this knob indicate that the volume control can range from “min” to “max,” with “nom” also marked at 75 percent volume. Not exactly an exact science as far as volume control goes, but there is quite a noticeable difference as you sweep the knob up and down. I have seen many subs that are either just too loud or too soft and don’t offer the kind of range that the B12 gives you volume-wise.

To the right of the volume control is the low-pass filter section. A knob determines the low-pass frequency with a range from as low as 50Hz to as high as 175Hz. Tied to this knob is a small silver on/off toggle switch. According to Revel, this low-pass filter is not meant for use with AV processors or receivers and should only be used when using a preamplifier without a built-in crossover, such as a two-channel stereo unit, as the bass management in the receiver or AV preamp should set the crossover frequency between the sub and the rest of the speakers in the 5.1 (or higher) system. This knob essentially controls the frequency range that will be reproduced by the subwoofer, so that the left and right speakers are not playing the same frequencies as the subwoofer. While the low-pass frequency control is not used in most setup configurations, but it can avoid interference between the main loudspeakers and the subwoofer in systems that do not have a crossover(bass management) as part of anAV Processor/Receiver.

Speaking of phase, a 0 and 180-degree phase switch is located between the low-pass fitter knob and the low-pass filter on/off switch. Running the test disc included with the B12 and lightly touching the driver on the sub, it’s quite apparent that the phase knob works perfectly, as you can feel the driver firing one direction when the test tone is running, then firing in the exact opposite direction when this knob is flipped. If it were firing out/in/out/in etc. with the phase at 0, it would fire in/out/in/out when it is set for 180 degrees. Although the phase setting is located in between the low-pass filter knobs, the on/off switch for this filter does not affect the phase setting. A small rounded box around the low-pass section clearly makes the distinction.

The final element on the back panel is a parametric room EQ. It features a frequency knob that has a range from 20Hz to 80Hz that allows the user to select the center frequency of the particular problem area that needs to be addressed. A bandwidth knob allows the user to define the range of frequencies over which the EQ will have an effect. The knob goes from 0.05 octaves to 0.53 octaves. The last part of the EQ section, once you have defined the frequency and bandwidth, is the level control. This sets the amount of drop in dBs of the equalization. The range goes from 0dB to minus 14dB. A silver switch in this section turns the EQ on or off and makes it easy to A/B your settings as you work with the EQ.

In my theater, I have RBH on-wall and in-wall speakers that are for all intents and purposes attached to my walls, so I was not able to run a full Revel system with this sub. Tim Hart raved about the other speakers in the Concerta line, but here was a chance to see how the sub would integrate with another system when purchased a la carte. Subwoofers are typically easier to mix and match than the other speakers of a 5.1 system, with the center and left and right channels the most important speakers to match tonally. My RBH WM-24 speakers that I use for left, center and right are able to produce bass down to 50 Hz, so I had a good idea of where I would need to set my low-pass filter for listening to two-channel music.

Revel recommends leaving the low-pass filter"Off" with AV processors or AV receivers, which incorporate crossovers as part of their "bass managemment" under most circumstances. Some processors offer an alternative "analog bypass" mode that bypasses the bass management crossovers. In such instances, the B12's Low pass filter provides the ability to acheive an optimized blend between the main speakers and the B12 Subwoofer.

In my room, my placement options are somewhat limited. However, I was able to place the sub in the front left corner of the room, meeting the recommended placement options in the instruction manual. Revel suggests using two subs if possible. My room is not large enough for this, but if yours is, they suggest putting it in the opposite corner, as the primary subwoofer placement to produce even coverage and minimize dead spots. It is virtually impossible to eliminate these sonic anomalies, but Revel has included a test disc that has a series of tones and test patters that are used along with the set-up software that is available from Revel’s website. In my particular room, I found that that one certain frequency would cause the glass in my flush-mounted gas fireplace to rattle. Using the built-in EQ, I was able to find this frequency at about 60Hz and back it down a few dB until it was no longer an issue. I set the bandwidth to the smallest setting, so I could pinpoint this frequency on the test disc, then lowered the level and the buzz went away, yet it did not dramatically affect the overall tonality of the music. The result was, when playing music, I’d get the fireplace rattling with the EQ off and I made the disturbance vanish simply by toggling the EQ switch to on. The next logical step will be to open the fireplace and find where the rattling piece is and secure it, but in the meantime, the flexibility of the B12 allowed me to easily solve a problem that was a noticeable annoyance at medium to high volumes.

The Music and the Movies
I’m a bit of a hack drummer who likes to jam along to Rush and Led Zeppelin songs on my iPod through the auxiliary input on my Yamaha Digital drums. I have been recently inspired by a new two-disc DVD set released by Rush drummer Neil Peart, whom many consider to be the most technically advanced drummer in rock music. In his new disc Anatomy of a Drum Solo (Hudson Music/Roundor Records), Peart breaks down, section by section, his drum solo called “Der Trommler” (German for “The Drummer”). This instructional DVD was recorded in a large studio under very controlled conditions, so the sound of the drums is impeccable.

This would be the perfect opportunity to see how well the subwoofer would benefit my system. I cued up the double bass pedal triplet flurry section where Peart’s feet are flying faster than Carl Lewis at a track meet. The kick drum, otherwise known as a bass drum, has more complex overtones than many people might guess, but at the heart of any good kick drum sound is a nice, tight bottom end, and the Revel B12 provided a solid foundation that blended well with the RBHs. A camera placed by Peart’s foot actually lets you see when the batter on the kick drum pedal strikes the drumhead. The speed at which the sound was produced relative to when the drum was struck gave me a good indication that the response time on this sub is quite impressive. I have heard faster subs, such as the smallest Sunfire subs, but for a sub with a large 10-inch woofer, it has some get up and go.

As Peart moves around the kit, often riding with his right hand on the lower floor toms to create a low droning effect, the B12 was also able to handle these sections without becoming muddy. On lesser subs, the distinction between each individual drum strike can easily become lost, making it even tougher for wannabe rock stars like me to hear what is actually being played. No one works a drum set like Neil “The Professor” Peart, and the B12 kept up quite effectively.

“Kung Fu Hustle” (Sony Pictures Classics) is one of the most original films ever, combining classic kung fu with musicals, a la “West Side Story,” with “Matrix”-inspired action sequences and some “Roger Rabbit”-style animation elements mixed with live action. The film is subtitled, so the sound effects have a great deal to do with telling the story. In the dark blue sequence where two hired assassins attack three masters that are living in the small run-down village on the outskirts of town in the dead of night, the sound is extremely important. The assassins hold what looks to be a long skinny harp and they strum it in the direction of their foes and a sound I would compare to a sonic boom winds up and then a second explosion rocks the speakers as various projectiles are hurled through the dark blue night sky towards our heroes. The sound is indescribable, but the B12 reproduced this sonic assault with detailed accuracy and precision. This sound makes car crashes and big onscreen explosions that you see in most action movies seem tame by comparison.

Dance music calls for a nice, tight, fast subwoofer, so I put on some high-res dance music in Jamiroquai’s DualDisc release of Dynamite (Epic Records). On the rocking yet ever-so-funky track “Black Devil Car,” using the “enhanced stereo” mix, the syncopated relationship between the drums and bass part have the subwoofer working overtime. Just when it’s pushing out air to reproduce a big bass drum sound, the funky slap bassist is hitting the strings on the up-beat, requiring the B12 driver be in two places at once. I have rocked some Jamiroqai and other high-energy music of this nature on other systems, including the Polk LSi. The Polk sub is similar in shape and power, but the Revel B12 seems to have a smoother feeling in the higher end of the bass spectrum. The overall result is a smoother, cleaner sound.

Going back an old favorite, I cued up the SACD release of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon 30th Anniversary (Capital). The opening heartbeat that segues into the frantic opening sound effects that build in intensity on the track “Speak to Me/Breathe” is a legendary subwoofer demo. It was during this track that I found the horrible rattle in my fireplace would render my system unlistenable without the EQ turned on. With the EQ set, I was able to crank this track to obscene levels, yet the rubber feet of the B12 on my tile floor and the MDF cabinetry isolated the sub so well that the following day I asked my neighbors if they were annoyed by my Pink Floyd demo; I thought for sure the entire neighborhood was privy to it. They had no idea that I was even playing music, yet inside my unit, the bass was tight and fast, with a liquid smooth sound that I would not expect from a subwoofer under $1,000.

The Downside
Compared to the other subs in the Revel line, the look of the B12 is really devoid of any distinctive styling. It essentially is just a big square box. Of course, this helps keep the cost of the speaker down. Ultimately, it may end up appealing to a wider audience than its futuristic big brother, the Revel Sub 30. I was thrilled that the natural cherry color almost matched my kitchen cabinets, so it brought consistency to the look of the sub in my room, but I have always been partial to the soft rounded edges and compact look of Sunfire’s small subwoofers. The MDF faux wood does not authentically simulate the look of real wood and the Revel version of cherry is a bit on the orange side.

The B12 is essentially a perfectly square box with nothing that sets it apart from other subs, other than a small silver Revel logo on the bottom of the black grille. Ultimately, I think the best visual design element of the B12 is the muted silver back panel, but this is not something that you’d want to feature anyway, so what I did is tuck the sub into the corner of the room and left the black grille cloth in place, so it calls less attention to the square box in the corner. It sounds great, but the looks are just above average.

Being primarily a Mac user, I had to track down a PC to use with the set-up software. The B-12 does not come with any kind of sound pressure meter, so you will need to go to your local Radio Shack or electronics store and track one of these meters down. I was not able to find the B12 software set-up program on the Revel website, so I found the version for the Revel B15 subwoofer and was able to make it work. The larger B15 has more controls on the back. However, I was able to get a nice set-up with the room EQ, rolling off a particular frequency that was giving me a nice rattle from my built-in gas fireplace and finding the correct volume setting for my particular needs.

At $999, it’s hard to argue that there is a better value on the market today in high-performance entry-level subs. The term “trickle-down technology” is often overused and seems clichéd, but it’s the perfect explanation of why this subwoofer is so good. Harman’s research and design in Northridge, California is amongst the finest for any speaker brand in the world and the B-12, as well as the rest of the new Revel Concerta line benefits greatly from this research without having it heavily tacked on to the price tag. For the little extra that you’d spend over a subwoofer in your big chain electronics store, you get a whole lot more performance for a few hundred more dollars. Having set-up software and the ability to tune the subwoofer to the room and match your speakers is a nice benefit as well.

Setting up a subwoofer is one part science, one part art. The finest professional acousticians in the world can set up your room, so you know that your subwoofer is just about as perfectly tuned as you can imagine. Revel has given the do-it-yourselfer the ability to try to achieve some of the audio bliss that you’d get from a pro set-up. I was able to get what I felt was a reasonable accurate set-up that blended with my RBH on-walls and in-walls.

Before you drop upwards of $2,000 on a subwoofer, you owe it to yourself to audition the Revel B12. If you are in the market for an entire speaker system, be it in-wall or floor-standing, the entire Revel Concerta line is one you might want to consider. If you already have a system and need some extra kick in the low end, you should know that the B12 rocked my world. I bet it will rock yours, too.
Manufacturer Revel
Model Concerta B12 Subwoofer
Reviewer Bryan Dailey

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