Like cars, subwoofers come in a variety of flavours, from cheap and utilitarian all the way up to huge and very expensive.
This sub-bass system (you don't simply call RELs 'woofers') is definitely in the posh-yet-compact Porsche bracket. The middle-sized product in the range (its siblings are the R-205 and the R-505), the R-305 is a good-looking boom-box indeed. Even the non-cognoscenti will take one look and know that this is no budget product, but rather one made to a standard, instead of solely to hit a low price-point.
Don't get me wrong, I love a cheap-as-chips massive enclosure, with a darn great 15in driver in it and the ability to push the windows out - but after a while, like getting tired of a 1.8-litre screaming turbo-nutter hatchback, one does tend to hanker for a bit of refinement, class and sheer sexy engineering. Not to mention melodic rather than monotonic sonic performance. This is where this REL comes in...
The R-305 is a sealed cube box with a deep piano black finish. Deep grooves in the case add to its classy look. A bulky and purposeful-looking grille sits on the front and a brushed gunmetal colour plate occupies the back.
The box has just a power switch and four sockets on it. One is the mains, one is the famous REL high-level input and the other two are phonos. As with all REL products - and it has to be said, emulated by others - the subwoofer can accept both speaker level and LFE or low-level phono inputs simultaneously.
This means that you get an input for simple stereo use as well as the .1/LFE feed found on all proper home cinema systems, so that even the basso moments overlooked by soundtrack engineers will get to your sub bass system, and, moreover, it helps blend the bass and subsonics to your main speaker's output.
In my view the best method is to use the .1/LFE phono, rather than the simple low-level phono, as that way you get independent control via the gorgeous control module mounted underneath the box. Held off the floor by four solid-metal triangular feet, the control module is connected via a computer-style connector that fixes into the brushed-metal casing by retaining bolts.
The simple controls are behind a thick slab of clear glass, intended to keep fiddling to a minimum and to protect said controls, which comprise a 0-180-degree phase toggle switch and knobs for gain of the high-/low-level input and the .1/LFE input, as well as a crossover point selection knob.
The REL looks delicious and has some really clever features hidden away in its innards that bear learning about. For one, rather than giving the 300W amp a hard time by playing the output via a savage lifting EQ curve, that strains the amp in order to get it to play way below the natural resonance of the small sealed box system, it uses a 12dB-per-octave cut to the bass above the lowest frequency it'll play to, so that it sounds unstressed and melodic when playing down at 25Hz.
It also has an instantaneous power-saving feature that means no so-called Auto-on/off circuit will cut the system off during quiet bits then arrive with the front part of the explosion missing when it comes back on again. One or two professional-heritage items I have tested have had this fault.
So, it's gorgeous to look at, costs £800 and reeks of class. But how well does the REL R-305 work? To kick start my audition, I connected it up via the Speak on and the .1/LFE phonos as recommended by the above-average instruction manual.
My first test for any subwoofer is always to put a savage 15Hz music-content 5.1-channel CD through it to see how it copes with ultimate low-frequency extension. The Telarc recording of Holst's The Planets suite ( Mars in particular) is a real pull-through to test a sub's ability to be melodic and agile at deep frequencies rather than just go 'Burrr Burrr!' and "shake yo' ass" (as our colonial chums would say).
The huge notes within this track were delivered perfectly. It may be quieter at the absurd 15Hz depth but it has way more level than the B&W PV1 can do and that is rated to 16Hz. It remained in control and was very impressive indeed.
Moving on to movies, I spun up a copy of Robots, specifically for the bass-rich cross-town express sequence after our the lead character arrives in Robot City. The REL buoyed up my main reference Energy Veritas speakers perfectly, offering a really rich, fat underpinning that changed with the soundtrack and never seemed to place its own tonic flavour upon the material, as so many active subs tend to.
Despite its small size, it was able to pressurise the entire viewing room with a massive wobble when asked - not quite as vast as the £2,500 resident reference sub, but incredibly similar in flavour and depth.
Even when playing loud already, it had some headroom left for crescendoing weighty moments, which it delivers with enormous ability. And all that's before the excellent manual's referred-to running period of some 24 hours of play time before the suspension of that weapons-grade 10-inch driver loosens up a bit.
This mid-range REL is another welcome addition to the British brand's sub-bass stable. I would heartily recommend it for those with small space but a decent budget. Quite simply, it's killer!