Revel Sub 30 Subwoofer 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Subwoofers
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Tuesday, 01 June 2004

The Revel Sub 30 is the latest addition to Revel’s Ultima line of premium loudspeakers. Building on lessons learned with the groundbreaking Revel B15 subwoofer in the Performa line, the Sub 30 comes to the AV market in a whole new class in terms of both performance and aesthetics. Gone are the boring black box lines of a traditional subwoofer. The Revel Sub 30 rounds out the lines with the kind of industrial design that you might expect more from Apple than Harman; however, anyone who has seen the new Harman-Kardon receivers might say the U.S. electronics manufacturer has turned a new page in terms of their products’ physical appearance. The price for the Revel Sub 30 starts at $5,990 for a standard finish. It can also be ordered with aluminum side panels for a $500 premium.

The speaker complement includes a 15-inch driver and a secondary 15-inch dual-layer metal dome acoustic radiator. The sub is powered by an amp capable of 1000 watts, with peaks as high as 1400 watts. Revel claims that their magnet and speaker system eliminates the need for servo control of their woofer, resulting in the main theme of the Revel Sub 30: less distortion. Having owned two Revel B15s, I can personally state that it was hardly as though they shrieked with distortion, but with a higher budget and a few more years of R & D under their belts, the speaker design team at Revel was able to significantly improve on an already excellent design. I moved my professionally set-up B15 and tuned my listening space to make room for the Sub 30. I could immediately hear a difference, even without running Revel’s excellent set-up software.

In the old days, an audio enthusiast had very little chance of making his or her subwoofer truly perform to its potential in a room. Without a degree in acoustics and $30,000 in measuring tools, it was hard to know how to set your levels, EQ, phase and all of the other adjustments on the back of a sub. This is why audiophiles have long fought the addition of a subwoofer to their “purist” systems. Revel overcame this objection by creating a software system that comes with the B15 and the Sub 30 that allows you, using very simple tools, to measure the performance of a sub in your room. Revel’s software will suggest the proper EQ for a certain placement (the Sub 30 comes with EQ built in), along with phase and other settings. The consumer finally has a chance to get a personal music or theater system to live up to its potential without the help of a professional.

Many have argued that, on a lot of levels, I need professional help. One of the areas that I can’t dispute this is in terms of speaker set-up. As a professional reviewer, I need to know that my system not only sounds good in my room, but also measures fairly so I can evaluate other components in my system for years to come. I employ the services of studio tuner to the stars, Bob Hodas, who is famous for setting up and tuning recording studios, mastering labs and home theaters for clients like Abbey Road, Electric Lady, A&M, George Lucas, Sony Music Tokyo, and many others. I also brought in Kevin Voecks, who has been instrumental in the design of Revel speakers since the very beginning, for a day of tuning and fine-tuning of my room. While I catered the meals, Hodas and Voecks tweaked EQs and dorked with levels for hours, until my system pounded with tight, deep bass energy that is well-matched with the performance of my new Wilson WATT Puppy Version 7 loudspeakers. By the end of the day (and after a lot of effort), I took a drywall saw to the wall beside the permanent location of the Sub 30 and hacked a hole in the wall to make room to pull a Transparent Reference balanced interconnect from my Meridian 861 to the Sub 30. After this much set-up effort, I figured it was worth the investment in a badass cable. It is important to note that while a Bob Hodas set-up is the ultimate level of tuning, you don’t absolutely need to fly the master in to make a Sub 30 sound great in your room. The Revel set-up tools are very powerful and definitely capable of making your sub sound great in your room for just around $50 in tools and an hour or two of your time.

The Music and Movies
“Superstition” from Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium 1 (Motown - CD) was a suitably funky place to start with, testing how the Sub 30 meshed with my recently-tuned Wilson WATT Puppies. It is amazing to hear, when you make improvements to the low end of your system, how problems get fixed in the higher frequencies. I know I am supposed to be talking about what the bass sounded like, but the most notable improvement to the sound I could hear was the depth of the horns and guitars on the track. Wonder seemed more centered and focused than he had with my old Revel B15. The old Revel B15 was also professionally set up and tuned for my system, although my room wasn’t as acoustically “finished” as it is now (as if I am ever finished with my room). From Disc Two of Musiquarium, “Higher Ground” (a tune successfully covered by The Red Hot Chili Peppers) also features a deep and funky bass line. I worked with Hodas to add a little volume to the overall mix of my sub-speaker setup as compared to the more “flat” mastering studio-like sound that Hodas normally dials in for his pro audio clients. I wanted more fun and more bump than “flat,” but I didn’t want to give up quality or too much precision. After a set-up at really high levels, you can hear the Sub 30 moving a lot of air, but unless you turn your head, you’ll struggle to locate the Sub 30 in the room sonically. To me this is one of the true tests of whether your sub is performing well in your room. If you can feel and hear the low energy but can’t really locate the sub or tell exactly where the speakers roll off and the woofer takes over, you have made major strides in getting to audio heaven!

No matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find any of those star-shaped sunglasses, but that didn’t keep me from firing up “Unfunky UFO” from Parliament’s all-time classic, Mothership Connection (PolyGram) on CD. Bootsy Collins tends to play a little higher up the bass guitar register than other bassists, giving me the chance to hear how the Sub 30 could split the workload with my Wilson WATT Puppy version 7 main speakers. While the age of the recording is evident by the analog noise you can hear across the top of the high end, the bass has some exciting sonic moments. The choppy and muted bass riffs remain punchy in the front (seemingly coming from the front speakers), while the very low end is fortified by the Sub 30. If you weren’t paying attention to the subwoofer for review purposes, you would only notice how detailed the low end sounds.

There were moments when I realized the subtle effects of the Sub 30 on my music when listening to less-than-perfect recordings. The original, muted and ‘70s-sounding Phil Spector version of “The Long and Winding Road” from Let It Be (Apple – CD) doesn’t benefit from the mid-range openness that the Stevie Wonder tracks do, but the additional bass energy perfectly synergized with the main speakers, adding to the spine-tingling emotional power of the musical experience. For the record, I like the old version better than the stripped-down version, but I would love to hear the old version be remastered for DVD-Audio (even in stereo, if that is all we could get). The art of the Beatles deserves the extra resolution, but the last time I checked with EMI, the Beatles on DVD-Audio (seemingly EMI’s preference of the high-resolution formats in the U.S.) is not coming any time soon. I will keep you all informed if I hear anything to the contrary in the future.

The kick drum on “Show Me How to Live” from Audioslave’s self-titled DVD/CD flip disc is only a precursor to the breathtakingly low bass guitar chops that are mere seconds from delighting your ears. “Low” bass can be had by the goofball with four 18-inch boomers in the back of his low rider. Real bass comes in a system where you are able to hear the subtleties of an astonishingly low bass guitar line in the middle of a hard rock maelstrom. What I heard with Audioslave is the kind of bass that can inspire a neighbors-calling-the-police-style listening session. In all seriousness, this track sounds so good that I had to justify incrementally increasing the volume of the sub (vs. the main speakers) so that I could avoid cranking the overall volume to unhealthy levels.

Bryan Dailey, Director of Content for and drummer for our now-defunct cover band Ghetto Chicken, argues that even I can play the drums for AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” We have tried the experiment, and let me just tell you, it wouldn’t be any favorite demo of our readers. Nevertheless, “Back in Black,” as released by Sony Music on the experimental DVD-CD dual disc (the CD is good, too, but the 20-bit stereo version on the DVD is notably better-sounding), is something to behold. On a track that you have heard a million times on the radio, in a dorm room or elsewhere, the higher-resolution DVD side of the dual disc gives you the chance to run some TNT high voltage into your system. The main advantage you can hear in the bass is an increase in the overall punchiness of the track, along with an extended low end. The snare (not something that ever should come out of your subwoofer) seems to benefit from the increased solidity in the regions down below. By the chorus of the tune, you can feel and hear the syncopated hits as the band works their way back to the second verse. On “You Shook Me All Night Long,” you can hear much better performance on the kick drum. The bass guitar is resonating deep and very, very low but without ever sounding directional or as though it is obviously coming from the Revel Sub 30.

If you want to know how good your subwoofer sounds, you need to hear what Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom” (MGM DVD) sounds like on your system. With everyone but Mick Shrimpton and Viv Savage playing bass, you can really exercise the low end of your sub, even if only for one verse of this amazing tune. With the Revel Sub 30, you can actually hear the wonderfully realistic-sounding unplayed bass on Derek Smalls’ double-neck bass guitar.

In all seriousness, “Spinal Tap” is not the best sonic demo, but it is about the most worthwhile thing I can suggest that you spin in your DVD player. Speaking of DVD players, listening to (or watching) music is one of the bright spots for the often bleak music business these days. It turns out that Generation X (among others), who have grown up on MTV, the Internet and video games, wants to watch their music as much as sit down and listen to it. One of the all-time best releases for that purpose is Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same (Warner) on DVD. Featuring live Zeppelin between sometimes cheesy fantasy sequences, this DVD has a different look for music that often gets a little over-played on FM radio in the U.S. In “No Quarter,” one of the songs that John Paul Jones was mostly in charge of, you can hear the role of the Sub 30 from the first dynamic attack. I turned the sub off at one point to see what the DVD sounded like without the low-end reinforcement, and I couldn’t stand it for more than about 15 seconds. While this recording isn’t the best ever mixed for DVD, the role of the sub in the overall emotional experience is very important. A sub isn’t supposed to hit you over the head; it is supposed to speak to your heart through important sonic information.

Okay, I admit it, no subwoofer review would be complete without a car chase, so why not one with a Ferrari 355 Spyder? In “The Rock,” as Sean Connery’s character absconds with a Hummer from a San Francisco hotel, Nicolas Cage’s character swipes a fly yellow Ferrari in what turns out to be a car chase for the ages. Hummers slamming into cars resulting in thunderous explosions make for some of the largest excursions a woofer will ever have. However, a Ferrari getting crushed by a derailed cable car takes this car chase to an entirely new and epic level. The squealing of the cable car’s wheels is eerie, but the woofer starts to warm up as the cable car starts nailing cars down a San Francisco street. When an explosion sends the cable car into the sky, the Sub 30 is at its best. A huge output of bass is audible; however, what is not audible are any distortions or signs of the woofer bottoming out.

The Downside
Price isn’t a viable downside criticism, although no one can argue the Revel Sub 30 is cheap. I would have liked to see the sound pressure meter needed to do the set-up measurements included as part of the price tag. At over $6,000, Harman could buy a few thousand good meters and offer them as part of the package.

In the effort to really nitpick, there are great new colors available for the Revel Sub 30, as opposed to the Performa level B15 subwoofer. However, in comparison to the more expensive yet equally high-end Wilson WATCH Dog subwoofer, you cannot have your Revel Sub 30 custom painted to match an exotic finish of your main speakers or the overall design of your room. The Revel Sub 30 is not what I would call a small sub, so making it fit in terms of overall design in your theater or listening room could be a challenge, especially if your décor is not modern.

The Revel Sub 30 is the best subwoofer I have gotten my grimy hands on in my 14 years of working professionally in the audio business. While it is expensive, it has both the technology and the improved physical design to take my system to the next level. There is NO question it sounds better than the Revel B15, as it very well should for the increase in the price! In my modern house, the Revel Sub 30 looks much cooler and matches my décor in a way that, even if it didn’t sound that much better, I would have to own it. Needless to say, it sounds better and, even at its price, represents a very good value.

With Revel leading the way out of the restructuring in Harman Specialty Group, the Sub 30 is a statement product to offer to the industry. This is a guaranteed Top 100 product that belongs in the best home theaters to be matched with the best audiophile speakers in order to provide real bass without compromise.
Manufacturer Revel
Model Sub 30 Subwoofer

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