I had a moment of revelation in 2000, when I first set up a pair of Revel’s original Ultima Studio loudspeakers in my living room. It wasn’t just my awareness that Revel’s next-to-top-of-the-line loudspeaker was outstandingly goodit seemed to perfectly match my space and my ears. From the first day, I knew these would be keepers and I purchased the review samples.
Revel’s Ultima Studio2 arrived in 2008, and though it performed even better than the original, the impression it made on me wasn’t quite revelatory, and my praise was somewhat restrainedsomething for which Fred Kaplan justly chided me in his enthusiastic Follow-Up review in December 2009. To this day, the Ultima Studio2 and Revel’s top model, the Salon2, remain Revel’s standard bearers. Meanwhile, I wonder when there will be a Studio3.
Since 2000, rising costs of labor and materials have driven Revel to raise the prices of the Ultima models. Today, the price gap between the Performa3 F208 ($5000/pair) and the Ultima Studio2 ($15,998/pair) is $10,998. Apparently, Harman believed that this required attention. The solution, from a marketing point of view as well as the desire to implement technologies developed while creating the newer but less expensive Performa3 and Concerta2 lines, is the PerformaBe series, of which the F228Be ($10,000/pair) is the first floorstanding model.
The Performa F228Be is the third current Revel model of roughly the same configuration: a three-way floorstander with two 8″ woofers. When I made a spreadsheet comparing the salient features of these models, a few things stood out. At 112 lb, the Studio2 is significantly heavier than the F208 (80 lb) or the F228Be (82 lb). It’s also wider and deeper, with the largest volume: more than 7.5 cubic feet, compared with the F208’s 4.7 and the F228Be’s 4.2 cubic feet. Like the Studio2, the F228Be has a beryllium-dome tweeter (albeit of a different design), but unlike the plain aluminum midrange and woofer cones of the F208 or the titanium cones of the Studio2, the F228Be has diaphragms made of Revel’s new Deep Ceramic Composite (DCC), in which aluminum also plays a role. The three models’ crossovers are each tailored to their specific drivers and cabinets, but all are high-order, three-way designs with similar crossover frequencies.
Anything but white
Although an audio component’s color and finish are worth the potential buyer’s careful consideration, they mean little to the reviewer. So when asked which of the Performa F228Be’s four finishes I preferred, I knew only the one I didn’t want: High Gloss White would not suit our room. Of course, that’s precisely what I got, and not one of the other finishes available: Walnut, Metallic Silver, or High Gloss Black. But after removing the speakers from their shipping cartons and peeling off their protective film, I had to admire their fit and finishfrom the subtle metallic flecks in the top trim to the seamless gloss of the cabinet and base, all was above reproach. So was the rear panel, which bears two pairs of sturdy, gold-plated, multiway binding posts with jumper plates. No adjustment controls are provided.
Of course, the F228Be has white cones, and the beryllium dome sits within a white acoustic lens, or waveguide. The drivers and the port at the bottom are all framed by a black border. This forms a striking motif, strangely reminiscent of the contours of my Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3 speakers, which sat a few feet behind the Revels. Fortunately, Revel includes lightweight plastic grille frames covered with black cloth, which snap into place over the drivers. But even in High Gloss White, the net effect is of a clean, slim tower.
Setup and Listening
My preferred positions for speakers are somewhere at the far end of the oriental rug that extends to the sofa on which I sit. Under the rug is a thick pad, but most heavy speakers have no trouble gaining a stable footingI’ve never had to lower the spikes of the 200+ lb B&W 802 D3s into this valuable carpet. When I do have to use spikes, their points sit in protective cups, but that gives me no advantage. The 82-lb F228Be, however, is a bit top-heavy; I had to use the speakers’ reversible spikes, rounded ends down.
The F228Be’s were easy to maneuver. They ended up 8.5′ apartas far as my room permitsand about 12′ from my listening position. The F228Be’s tweeter is 43″ above the floor, so I extended the rear spikes a few turns to aim the tweeter axes down to ear level, but there was no change in the sound. I could almost say the same about toe-in. While I ended up with the speakers aimed directly at the listening position, adjusting the toe-in within a small, reasonable range made for only elusive differences. In short, the F228Be’s positions in my room seemed relatively noncritical.
I always note my first impressions of a component, even though those impressions may be revised over time, and even if there’s such a thing as component break-in. Well before my trip to Harman (see “Blind Listening at Harman International”), it was apparent from the first sounds I heard through them that the F228Be’s midrange was consistently clean, open, and balanced. Those first sounds were from a marvelous recording, Bye-Bye Berlin: Marion Rampal singing German lieder and popular songs of the 1920s with Quatuor Manfred, with important contributions from Raphaël Imbert on saxophone and bass clarinet (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMM 902295). The album begins with Imbert’s gentle introduction and Rampal’s soft, breathy voice in the habanera rhythm that characterizes Kurt Weill’s “Youkali.” That sets us up for the impact of her full voice and the entry of the strings as they launch into this tango’s eager, longing refrain. It’s clear that singer and instruments share a moderately dry acoustic whose subtle ambiance is just sufficient to let the music breathe. In a sense, these passionate souls are close and present, but isolated in the frame of Berlin between the two World Wars.
The other selections range from the familiar “Falling in Love Again” to Hindemith’s rather startling arrangement of the overture to Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. Throughout, the Revels stood aside without comment, providing a clear, uncolored window on that distant time and space.
From there, I went on a romp of familiar recordings, all of them seeming somewhat new as I savored subtle details in the inner relationships of the music and the performers. Consistently, individual voices and instruments sounded more honestly natural and balanced with each other than I’d heard them before from these same recordings, and when they combined they made for more coherent and pleasing ensemble sounds. The Revels were able to do this at any scale, from solo performances and small groups to very large ensembles. As a result, I was able to listen through the F228Be’s without concern for the usually inevitable effects of increasing speaker colorations at louder levels.
I focused on three of my favorite voices: Michael McDonald’s in “I Heard It through the Grapevine,” from his Motown (SACD/CD, Motown 038 652-2); Hugh Masekela’s in “Stimela (The Coal Train),” from his Hope (SACD/CD, Triloka/Analogue Productions APJ 82020); and, surprise!, Robert Gordon’s in the title track of his It’s Now or Never (CD, Rykodisc RCD 10915). McDonald’s voice is set in a complex, powerful studio mix, Masekela’s in a huge concert venue with crowd contributions, and Gordon’s in small studio, driven by Chris Spedding’s guitar and backed by the voices of the Jordanaires. But all of these tracks demand to be played at high levels, to immerse me in the moment and allow me feel compelled by the beat. I obeyed, and at no humanly tolerable level was the sound ever compromised or the experience ever less than thrilling.
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Revel, Harman International Industries
8500 Balboa Boulevard
Northridge, CA 91329
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