Revel Ultima2 Speaker System (Salon2/Gem2/Voice2) 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Thomas Garcia   
Saturday, 01 December 2007

Over the last decade, Revel has established itself as one of the leading researchers of psychoacoustic science and innovators of high-performance loudspeakers. Positioned within the Harman Specialty Group, a subsidiary of the massive Harman International organization, Revel was conceived as the crown jewel of Harman's high-end consumer loudspeaker companies. By pooling resources from Harman, Revel has had the luxury of utilizing some of the world's most technically advanced engineering teams and sophisticated testing facilities to accomplish their objectives. The original Ultima loudspeaker system has been praised by the press and public alike for its faithful sound reproduction and cutting edge technology. Revel has upped the ante by recently releasing the new replacement for the original series, aptly named Ultima2. Having used the original Salons, Voices and S30s as my reference multi-channel system for several years, I was eager to experience Revel's new offerings.

The loudspeakers provided for this review consisted of a pair of Salon2 ($21,998) floor-standing loudspeakers, a single Revel Voice2 ($7,999) center channel with optional stand ($599), and a pair of Gem2s ($9,998) with dedicated stands ($1,398 per pair) functioning as the surrounds. My review samples came in a high gloss black finish, but they are also available in a high gloss mahogany veneer.

The Revel Ultima2 design is a substantial departure from the original Ultima series. I remember first viewing the original Salons at a trade show just before their official release and I was not a fan of the styling. The original Revel Salons and Studios had somewhat of a like it or leave it following. Many leading-edge designs are followed by a period of acclamation before they win customers over, and this was the case for me with the Salons. I now truly appreciate their aesthetics, but had I been given a choice back in the day, I certainly would have picked the Salon2s.

The Salon2 is much more universal in its visual presentation. It is a large tower, yet maintains architectural elegance with its rather small footprint and front dimensions. The speaker is rather deep, but you don't notice the depth when viewing the speaker from the front profile. Revel has tastefully softened all the enclosure’s edging, which makes the speaker pleasing to the eye while at the same time providing sonic benefits. Acoustically transparent grille covers, held on with magnetic fasteners, extend around the protruding front baffle assembly.

The utmost attention was given to every design aspect of the new Ultima2 loudspeaker series, commencing with completely redesigned transducers, including a new pure beryllium tweeter with a unique waveguide. An intricately machined front baffle was designed to reduce undesirable diffraction, and distinctive curved loudspeaker enclosures engineered to minimize internal standing waves. Each of these attributes was maximized through the use of proven engineering and Revel has revised the art of building a loudspeaker into a highly technical, science-based exercise.
Additionally, Revel conducted extensive double-blind listening tests to confirm the results of their engineering efforts, and to correlate the technical performance to the listener’s experience. Consistently, certain engineering and design parameters are perceived as more accurate and correlate to a higher degree of listener preference. Revel incorporated these studies into their design specifications and confirmed the anticipated results during their listening evaluations. To ensure that each Revel loudspeaker is matched to within a fraction of a decibel to its prototype reference, a final tuning process is conducted on all production units to ensure absolute uniformity.

The Salon2 is configured as a six-driver array in a four-way vented system. The overall shape of the Salon2 looks somewhat like a conventional tower speaker from the front, with four short standoffs connecting it to a base plate. Nine layers of laminated MDF are shaped into a single curvilinear enclosure, which helps minimize the amount of joints necessary to put together the speaker cabinet assembly. To maintain rigidity, a massive two-and-a-half-inch-thick front baffle is employed to mount the drivers and keep the front face from flexing. The front baffle was computer-designed to follow the shape of the transducers, therefore reducing unwanted diffraction. Internally, the speaker is extensively braced; combined with various other design factors, this makes for an extremely inert and resonance-free enclosure. During the enclosure design, laser Interferometer scans were used to minimize any potential unwanted resonances or colorations.

With its non-removable base, the Salon2 is 53.25 inches high, 23 inches deep, and 14 inches wide (though the loudspeaker body is only 11 inches wide). The listed shipping weight is 178 pounds.

The transducers include one one-inch pure beryllium tweeter, one four-inch midrange, a single six-and-a-half-inch mid-woofer and three eight-inch woofers. Similar to the original Ultima series, the Revel Ultima2 woofer and midrange drivers continue to use inverted dome designs and titanium diaphragms. The transducers used by Revel specify oversized voice coils and are wound with flat ribbon wire, which provides higher output capability while lowering dynamic compression. Multiple other innovative design criteria have been incorporated to reduce other audible distortions and improve heat transfer and power-handling capabilities.

The newly-designed pure beryllium dome tweeter proved to be an extraordinary transducer and is used in every Ultima2 loudspeaker. Beryllium has several unique properties, as it is extremely stiff, lightweight and dimensionally stabile over a wide temperature range. This new tweeter minimizes compression and substantially reduces high-frequency distortion via its power handling capabilities and extended frequency response. Throughout the tweeter’s mechanical assembly, great efforts were taken to reduce odd-order harmonic distortions and inductance modulation, as well as unwanted standing waves and resonances. The end result provided transparent, extended non-fatiguing high-frequency reproduction that was thoroughly enjoyed throughout my listening evaluation.

In order to maintain a narrow front face profile, Revel chose to go with multiple small woofers. It should be noted that the combined surface area of three eight-inch woofers has almost the same surface area as a single 14-inch driver. The base assembly is an integral part of the speaker, as it provides an opening for the down-firing vent to operate, augmenting the low-frequency performance of the Salon2. Looking at the smallest details, Revel conducted extensive research into the performance of different types of ports and came up with a more aerodynamic design, which improves performance and reduces potential vent noise and system compression.

Revel provided a variety of connections and controls to optimize the performance of the loudspeaker in varying environments. Hidden behind a form-fitting hinged cover located at the back of the speaker (nice touch) are two pairs of high-quality binding posts, which are connected to separate high-pass and low-pass filters, enabling the loudspeaker to be either bi-wired or bi-amped. To aid in integrating the high-frequency response of the loudspeaker to the listening environment, Revel included a Tweeter Level switch with five different settings, varying from -1 to +1 decibels, in 0.5 decibel increments. A Low Frequency Compensation control allows the user to vary the low-frequency response to adjust for room or placement issues. This control offers three different options, with the Normal setting most often utilized for speakers that are placed three feet from other boundaries. The Contour setting helps compensate for problematic room conditions, such as standing waves. Finally, the Boundary option is intended for close to boundary placements or built-in applications.

Similar in aesthetics to the Salon2, the Voice2 also utilizes a curvilinear enclosure with the same complex front baffle design. The three-way center channel is relatively large, yet aesthetically neutral when placed on its optional stand, as it was during this review. My review sample, in its high-gloss black finish, was elegant, with a look of simple sophistication. Revel utilizes a cradle assembly that allows the speaker to be rotated upward or downward, depending upon installation, to optimize on-axis positioning.

Clustered closely together, the Voice2 driver complement consists of a single one-inch beryllium dome tweeter, one five-and-a-quarter-inch midrange and two eight-inch woofers. Similar to the Salon2, the Voice2 offers controls to optimize the loudspeaker's response, depending upon the application and placement. The Low Frequency Compensation switch has three different settings, with a Flush setting optimized for bookshelf or wall unit placement, the Stand setting for when the Voice2 is placed on top of a monitor or shelf, and a Stand+ setting, which is optimized for use with the optional pedestal stand. Additionally, there is Tweeter Level Switch, with identical functionality to the control found on the Salon2. Again, there are two sets of high-quality gold-plated binding posts to accommodate different wiring and bi-amping configurations. Including the pedestal, the overall dimensions of the Voice2 are 24.2 inches high by 16.8 inches deep by 28 inches wide, with a purported shipping weight of 74.5 pounds.

The new Gem2s are multi-functional three-way monopole loudspeakers, with a radical departure in design from the previous Gems. Unlike the Salon2 and Voice2, the Gem2 enclosure is somewhat more conventional without the extreme rounded form factor. Rectangular in shape, with slightly curving sides and sloping top and bottom, its overall shallow depth will facilitate a low profile when used for wall-mounted installations. The same meticulous attention to timbre matching, engineering standards and diminishing distortion levels are adhered to in the Gem2s, as in the flagship Salon2s and the Voice2 center channel. Overall, the Gem2s have a height of 24.2 inches, a width of 12 inches and a depth of five-and-a-half inches. The optional floor-standing pedestal mount is listed at 46 inches in height. Noted shipping weight is 38 pounds for each Gem2 without the pedestal.

The Gem2 driver complement consists of a one-inch beryllium dome tweeter, a four-inch midrange with a one-and-a-half-inch voice coil, and an eight-inch woofer with a two-inch voice coil. They are equally suited as main loudspeakers or surrounds and can be wall-mounted or, like the review sample, installed on an optional pedestal. They can be utilized as the main speakers for a two-channel stereo configuration when used with their optional stands, or wall-mounted to mate with a flat panel display. Additionally, augmentation with an appropriate subwoofer would make for a true full-range system. The Gem2s can also be bi-wired or bi-amped via their dual sets of binding posts.

The Gem2s also have similar capabilities to adjust the speaker for unique listening environments. Located on the front panel behind the grille cover is a Low Frequency Compensation switch that offers three different settings for tuning the Gem2s to your application. The Normal setting will be most often used when the speakers are located away from room boundaries or large objects. The Contour setting, as noted above, works to counteract certain room interactions that may cause audible standing waves. The third setting, Boundary, is intended to be used when the Gem2s are mounted on or close to a wall. Additionally, there is a Tweeter Level switch, also positioned on the front panel, which has the same functionality of the speakers above.

The Gem2 also offers a third control, which is located on the back side to adjust for on or off-axis listening. The On-Axis setting is intended to be used when the speakers are installed on their matching stands or wall-mounted at approximately ear level. If the Gem2s are intended to be mounted five feet or more above the listening axis, the Off-Axis setting will compensate for the height differential, creating a tilted response to optimize the performance at the listening position.

For the purposes of this review, speaker placement consisted of a diagonal layout that had worked quite well in my living room. This configuration had the Salon2s placed approximately eight feet center-to-center, with the Voice2 positioned directly between the pair. The Salon2s were approximately four feet from the side walls and the Gem2s were oriented perpendicular and slightly to the rear, approximately six feet from the main listening location. My standard configuration for this room is a 5.1 system with a subwoofer positioned in the front corner. This review of the Ultima2 system excluded the use of the subwoofer.

My first impressions with this layout were extremely favorable. To be more accurate, the Salon2s operating in stereo were quite mesmerizing. Seldom do I start to take notes during a review upon my first listening session, but this is not the case with the Salon2s. Within the first hour, I found myself scribbling notes on the back pages of the owner’s manual, short blurbs and descriptions that were bursting through my head. Though I had not started to truly optimize the system yet, it was extremely clear to me that the Salon2s might possibly be the most neutral, transparent and technically correct loudspeakers that I have ever experienced. I looked forward to incorporating the Voice2 and the Gem2s to evaluate the complete Ultima2 system’s performance.

Revel recommends experimenting with the various speaker controls to optimize their performance for each environment. In my living room, which is relatively neutral between reflective and absorptive surfaces, the default positions proved to be the best choice after experimenting with the other setting options. As indicated in the manual, you can experiment with the tweeter control and low-frequency compensation switches to find out what setting works best in your listening area.

Music And Movies
As mentioned earlier, when I first started listening to the Salon2s, I was inspired to take notes and scribe descriptors that would adequately express my experience with the Ultima2 system. But it didn't take long before I got out of critical evaluation mode and drifted off into listening bliss. In a stereo configuration, the Salon2s provided an uncanny window into every genre of music I played. Absolutely coherent, the Salon2s responded more like a full-range point source transducer and then a multi-driver device. What I mean by this is that whether I was sitting down or moving around, the integration of the speakers’ drivers was seamless. Lifelike in scale, the speakers were able to reproduce the minutest nuance in each recording, providing me with a new reference of how I was connecting to music emotionally. Accuracy became my best descriptor during my listening experience. The Revels’ neutrality allowed me to more closely evaluate various recordings in their naked truth, without the additive or subtractive colorations of the reproduction transducers. Though I listened to many reference quality recordings during this evaluation, I did not find myself seeking material that would make the system sound its best. The Ultima2 system was able to coax the best out of everything I threw at it, revealing the source for what it was and extracting all that it had to offer.

When playing through a variety of New Age, rock, contemporary and classical recordings, I stumbled across the classic Stevie Wonder album Innervisions (Motown). I cued up "Living for the City" and, from the opening warbling synthesized keyboard to Stevie's introduction, the Salon2s immediately compelled me into a slow body groove. Though this cut is not of audiophile pedigree, it still displayed a huge amount of musical layering. The Salon2s faithfully reproduced the throbbing bass line with an uncanny purity, making it easy to follow all of the interplay that Wonder infused into this track. Most revealing was the articulation of the inner-city interlude, with bustling street sounds, urban living noises and random vocal cues emanating throughout the sound field. The grit and growl of Stevie's voice as the song progressed was realistically reproduced, with the appropriate weight and resonance intended to convey his emotion connected to the lyrics.

As a recent gift, I received the soundtrack from an unseen movie, A Lot Like Love (Sony), and found a couple tunes that I enjoyed. One of the tracks, “Hands of Time” by Groove Armada, is a simple chill tune featuring Richie Havens on vocals. Through the Salon2s, Havens’ voice sounded rich and resonant, completely void of any chestiness, and the accompanying drum and synthesizer were well-defined and articulate. The Revels captured the rather minimalist yet totally soulful intent of this tune.

Encapsulated by a melancholy piano, the sweet airy melody of Anna Nalick blossomed in the next test track “Breathe (2 AM).” Accompanied by rhythmic guitar, the song started off with minimal instrumentation. Piano, vocal and guitar were distinctly presented within their own acoustical space and the Salon2s amiably and accurately portrayed this intimate interpretation. The track continued on, adding a supporting baseline and soothing string section, all leading to the cut’s crescendo. Again, the Salon2s showed amazing dexterity as the track turned more complex, exhibiting its wide dynamic playback abilities.

Assessing the multi-channel audio playback capabilities of the Ultima2 system, I employed the DVD-Audio version of Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit/Nonesuch). This distinctive blend of Cuban/Latin music features a unique compilation of vocal and instrumental works, and the multi-channel recording remained pure to the performance, avoiding excessive use of the surrounds for other than ambient purposes. With an eclectic mix of slow and fast songs, the album offered an interesting beat and rhythm, infusing a variety of guitars, congas, bongos and piano, painting a picture of Havana back in the day. “Chan Chan” offered all of the above with a little infusion from Ry Cooder on steel guitar. Through the Ultima2s, the song blossomed, commencing with a slow, rhythmic blend of guitar and percussion, adding wonderfully harmonized vocals. Toward the end of the track, a hauntingly beautiful horn solo floated out of the background, possessing richness while maintaining the appropriate bite of a brass instrument. The complex bass line was well delineated by the Ultima2s, allowing me to pick out any instrument, whether percussion or string bass, and follow its individual contribution to the song. Through the Revels, this tune was extremely vivid, crisp and lifelike, making my hair stand on end. This multi-channel DVD-Audio left me completely immersed, and the accuracy in which the Ultima2s captured the intricate instrumentals and heartfelt vocals was simply stunning.

There are but a few albums that I enjoy from beginning to end, the SACD of Roxy Music's Avalon (Virgin) being one of them. Listening to the multi-channel version of this classic melted me into my chair. The diminishing distortion levels of the Ultima2 multi-channel system deciphered so much inner detail and revealed the complex intertwining of this album’s cerebral musical mix. From the hauntingly distant guitar intro of "Take a Chance With Me," to the sublime first track, “More Than This,” the Revels delivered on both an intellectual and emotional level. Technically, the Ultima2s did a fantastic job of creating a seamless surround environment, and when they were properly calibrated, I was unable to detect any timbre or amplitude variations from any of the Revel speakers. High-frequency extension was precise and pristine, which I attribute to the performance of the stellar beryllium tweeter and Revel's extensive efforts to optimize its performance in each enclosure. Midrange purity has always been one of Revel's strong points, and the Ultima2s raise the bar even higher. Bryan Ferry’s vocals, as well as the distant female singing towards the end of “Avalon,” showcased the cohesiveness of this complete system. Detaching myself from the analytical assessments, this recording immersed me into a sonic garden, with each song romancing my soul while lulling me into a blissful space.

One of the greatest advantages to come out of multi-channel systems is the ability to experience live concert recordings. The Who And Special Guests – Live at the Royal Albert Hall (Image Entertainment) was a good test for the Revel Ultima2 system. The Who’s concerts are renowned for their excessive volume, yet this DVD recording was clean, punchy and extremely dynamic and begged to be played loud. The Revels were more than obliged to play at levels that might have even Pete Townshend running for cover. The overall sound quality throughout the DVD was admirable for a rock concert, providing good spatial separation between instruments and vocals. The Ultima2s’ low distortion and high dynamic contrast brought this concert to a higher resolution at intense volume than I've ever experienced before. Throughout the concert, the Revel system fleshed out Townshend’s guitar and John Entwistle’s bass work, staying extremely transparent and providing unparalleled inter-instrumental dexterity. Entwistle's bass solo on “5:15," complete with a "bass cam," was surreal, flooding my room with clean, tight, articulate low-frequency reproduction.

The blockbuster war epic Black Hawk Down (Sony Home Entertainment) may possess one of the most consistently layered and engaging soundtracks for assessing the ultimate resolution and dynamic capabilities of a multi-channel sound system. The mix is highly aggressive, at certain times engaging all the system’s speakers at peak levels, easily driving many systems into compression. Not so with the Revel Ultima2s. As the volume was increased, the lack of compression and low distortion made each scene seem more frightening and overwhelming than I've ever experienced with this film. In various scenes where soldiers are running double-time, details such as the rustling of their uniforms and the clanking of their armaments were presented so clearly that it made you fear for their lives. This movie possesses a great deal of complex low-frequency information, such as the pulsating Black Hawk helicopter blades just before the chopper is shot down, and the Ultima2 system reproduced it effortlessly.

Dialogue continually transitioned across the entire front soundstage, and the integration between the Salon2 and the Voice2 was utterly seamless. Throughout this review, I was awestruck by the lack of localization across the front three channels. Image height and focus remained identical, regardless whether the content was in the left, center or right channel. Discrete sound effects were occurring constantly, amazingly lifelike, with seamless and transparent imaging.

The effort that Revel spent timbre-matching all of the system's loudspeakers was clearly evident throughout this DVD. With dialogue and special effects directed to every speaker, the overall balance and expansiveness of the Ultima2 system dissolved my listening room walls, and planted me squarely in the combat zone. Additionally, it was easy to assess the sonic merits of the musical score as it floated cleanly above the ambient background sounds and ferocious battle scenes.

Coming from a completely different angle, Rushmore - Criterion Collection (Walt Disney Home Entertainment) is a good example of a non-blockbuster soundtrack that stimulates the intellect in a completely different way. Though more dialogue-driven than Black Hawk Down, Rushmore was infused with a tasteful surround sound mix that drew the viewer into the atmosphere at each scene. As with many movies, the supporting musical score contributed immensely to the emotion of the movie. The Ultima2 system presented a soundstage that appeared broad at the appropriate times and was quite immersing when the soundtrack dictated. Filled with a broad range of British Invasion tunes from the ‘60s, the Ultima2 system had the film's dialogue focused up front, yet bloomed through all channels during musical performances such as Cat Stevens' upbeat “Here Comes My Baby.” Notable also was Mark Mothersbaugh's score, sprinkled with a wide array of musical tidbits and extensive use of chimes, strings and eclectic synthesized riffs. The Revels nailed the soundtrack to the movie, adding to a very entertaining experience.

The Downside
Potential purchasers should not be expecting any major downsides from a product that calls for the financial investment of the Revel Ultima2 system. Indeed, I had a very difficult time finding flaws with the system’s overall technical performance.

The minimal color options for the Ultima2 system may be a potential limitation for many buyers who may be looking for more than just high-gloss black or high-gloss mahogany veneer. I'm aware that Revel had an issue with too many color combinations with the original Ultima series and stocking became a problem. Still, at this price point, it seems fairly limiting to have only these two options.

Additionally, the low sensitivity of the Salons2s will require a relatively high powered amplifier to drive them. During my testing, I used a multi-channel receiver rated at 125 watts per channel, and maxed it out relatively quickly. Optimal performance was achieved after I incorporated my Sunfire Signature Seven, which is rated at over 400 watts per channel.

Finally, though the overall fit and finish of all of the components were excellent, I felt that they were a notch off from their predecessors which possessed high-gloss finishes that were extraordinary.

Within the first few days of listening to the Revel Ultima2 multi-channel system, I realized that this review was not going to be easy. I tried to imagine how I would represent the revelations that the system bestowed upon me. As I took notes, I recognized I was using all the frequently employed descriptors that are commonly utilized to define the sound of an audio component. My problem was, how would I take those universal descriptors, such as transparency, refinement, articulation, balance, etc., and convey the degree of improvement that the Revels provided over any loudspeaker I had previously experienced?

In summary, the Revel Ultima2 system provided electrostatic type transparency with endless amounts of dynamic capacity. The beryllium tweeter assembly is truly amazing, and the integration and performance of the dynamic drivers is flawless. The reduction of overall distortion created a supremely quiet background, which allowed every acoustic nuance to be revealed, regardless of source.

Ultimately, I concluded that my listening experience with the Revels was an exercise in how an accurate loudspeaker should perform. Similar to any other component in the audio chain, it should reproduce exactly what it is fed. Through all the design and engineering efforts put forth by Revel, the Ultima2 system reduced its influence on the front end source substantially, allowing me to hear the artistic event as it was intended to be. As a true music enthusiast, I can't imagine a more desirable outcome than that.
Manufacturer Revel
Model Ultima2 Speaker System (Salon2/Gem2/Voice2)
Reviewer Tom Garcia
Configuration 5.0

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