What We Think
|If you have the space and the coin, and a taste for accurate, unhyped sound, you will be richly rewarded.|
Revel is the most audiophile-oriented speaker division of the Harman International empire, which includes JBL, Infinity, Harman Kardon, and Lexicon. Founder and chief designer Kevin Voecks has been around the block, leaving behind a trail of excellent speakers at Mirage, Snell, and now Revel. The brand's Ultima flagship systems meet the highest expectations - and start at a breathtaking $26,000. On the other hand, Revel's new Concerta family is an excursion into more familiar territory - to me, anyway. At about $3,800 for the set, the Concertas cleave to Voecks's long-held methodical design philosophy, which emphasizes strict timbral accuracy, carefully managed dispersion, and a fanatic dedication to real-world dynamics.
SETUP Unlike Revel's curvaceous flagships, the Concerta F12 left/right front speaker and C12 center are big, boring, square-rigged structures, though nicely finished in vinyl you'd swear was real wood veneer. I muscled them in place, the F12s on either side of my 42-inch plasma TV and the C12 center just below the screen on my usual center stand. (Revel offers a nice metal pedestal for its center speakers as a $200 option, but I needed more height.) The S12 surround features a three-position switch on its front face to select bipole, dipole, or monopole mode - more on that later. I placed the surrounds on high shelves flanking the listening area, but simple keyhole hardware allows wall-mounting.
Given the C12's and S12s' above-average bass extension, I set the bass crossover in my preamp/processor at 60 Hz for a better blend. I initially balanced up the surrounds in their dipole mode, my preference for movies and a good deal of multichannel music.
The B12 subwoofer furnishes a single parametric room-EQ band to help tame your room/placement combo's worst low-frequency peak. It comes with a CD of test signals and instructions for downloading optimization software (Windows only) from Revel's Web site. I did so, and the result of running the optimization routine was very close to the correction I have dialed in on my everyday sub, which has a similar feature.
MUSIC PERFORMANCE In some ways, the essence of my job is faultfinding (and my significant other says I'm very good at it), so an all-around-excellent speaker system leaves me little to say. This is one of those occasions. The Revel F12s play two-channel music with such unspectacular accuracy that it adds up to something pretty spectacular. Its hallmarks are clarity, precise and detailed shadings of tonal color, dynamic precision, and an utter indifference to volume. Unlike many speakers, the F12s' sense of transparency remains consistent whether the music is very dynamic (say, acoustic jazz) or relatively static (typical pop) and whether it's played at chamber-music or arena-rock levels.
This applied both to stereo and multichannel playback. During the Revels' stay in my system I happened across Norah Jones and the Handsome Band, a live set from Nashville's Ryman Auditorium (culled from the Live in 2004 DVD), which I recorded in HD from the INHD2 high-def channel. With a gorgeous "stereo-plus-three-ambience-channels" mix, this performance showed off many of the Revels' strengths, from microscopically detailed renditions of Ms. Jones's many vocal inflections to highly evocative low-end detail and dynamics. I even swore I recognized the distinctive, papery thud of the bassist's vintage Ampeg B-15 amp - familiar to me from a thousand poorly attended gigs about a million years ago.
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