At the dawn of DVD-Audio, I recall listening to demonstrations from those involved in promoting the format. Each company had a selection of their own speakers to show off the astonishing resolution of the technology, but each chose to use flagship REL subwoofers. The brand has an enviable reputation for some of the most accurate, deepest and large sounding subbass systems around.
So how does a company with so many Laurel leaves in its lapels cope with making the 'next year's model'? Welcome to the Storm 5, a medium-to-a-bit-bigger sized upright sub that stands above the carpet on rubber plinth feet, (spikes supplied) with a characteristic down-firing drive unit. What's cunning is the new control system. First developed in concept for the brand's cheaper range, the remote system allows the user to make the adjustments to the device from a seated position. This is a big help. Crouched next to your sub, twiddling levels up and down or adjusting crossover points, it isn't until you get back on the sofa that you can really appreciate what you have achieved or not.
The enclosure is smart and well made, with an attractive brushed alloy panel bearing a simple blue LED display that gives a slice of 'ooh' factor. The display's brightness can be adjusted to taste, using the only dial on the product, a twist and push control for scrolling through menus. This is one of the few controls not available on the 12-button remote control. The remote control is a tough little spud; with IR pouring out of it like a halogen Maglite.
On the sub's back panel you get Neutrik Speakon plugholes for both unbalanced or balanced speaker level input. Four phono sockets serve the LFE input and daisy chain a full range signal feed input.
As with other RELs, you can connect both speaker and line level at the same time, and each gets its own level control buttons on the remote. A single crossover point is chosen for both with other buttons. You can flip phase and adjust a 'Slam-Depth' control with another pair. The latter is an 80Hz EQ, going from a 9dB cut to a 9dB boost at 80Hz, which serves to lift impact at 9dB/80Hz or lift perceived deep bass with an 80Hz cut. Best of all, as you experiment with settings good for barnstorming actioners, or talky rom-coms, you get four memory settings in the remote control that you can enter for instant recall.
There's a speaker protection circuit called set-safe and these subs are always hard to overdrive. That said, I did give it some tough love courtesy of movie soundtracks with mighty impact. After all, giving these things a good pull-through is my job...
What struck me most of all, when compared to the B&W PV1 (which is only £50 less), is that the REL Storm 5 drops effortlessly past where the PV1 stops, all the way to 15Hz! This means the deepest, most scary film throbs can be yours. Subsonics, base harmonies and background unease will all be enhanced on the Storm 5, when compared to the PV1. The grip and melodic ability belies the 'mere' 200W RMS power we are told is inside; the thing can growl like a very big carnivore indeed.
Admittedly, this Storm isn't quite as loud at 15Hz as its big brothers, and it won't be as structurally damaging in regard to trying to break your home or smash ornaments by having them gently migrate off the mantelpiece. However, this is a slice of pure, thoroughbred REL, albeit with some smarts. As ever, two would be really (or should that be REL-ly?) interesting...