Loudspeaker design is a mixture of art and science. Some brands favour one over the other, while the rest tread a middle-ground. Such is American specialist Revel.
Reviewed here is a full 7.1 channel speaker system, one of several possible 5.0., 5.1, 7.1 or even more exotic combinations that can be assembled from the extensive Performa range.
The system assembled uses five distinct loudspeakers united by the common Performa design features including drive units and voicing, which have been honed and refined at the company's signature Multi-Channel Listening Lab facility, in the US. This is a serious, uncompromising system for those who prefer sound over form.
The F32 main front speaker is an elegant floor standing design with tapered side panels equipped with four drive units in a three-way configuration. The tapered side panels help the system look more elegant and reduces space requirements, while rear panel switches configure the box for use near walls or in free space, and provide subtle adjustment of the treble output in five 0.5dB steps.
The smaller M22 is a chip off the old block, allocated here to the back surround channels. It's like a reduced height F32, with a single bass unit and tweeter, but otherwise is very similar. It too has similar rear panel switching.
The C32 centre speaker is comparatively compact, but again embodies the same fundamentals as the others, using two bass units flanking a tweeter and midrange unit that are disposed vertically in the centre of the enclosure. To achieve this in an enclosure just 216mm tall is impressive. Yet again, the same boundary compensation switch and tweeter adjustment are provided.
The final passive speaker in the system is the S30, an odd shaped affair which can be switched between two output dispersion patterns: monopole and dipole. The monopole setting gives a direct output like the other passive speakers, albeit over a broader angle than usual, which is well suited to multichannel music recordings. Dipole delivers a diffuse soundfield which helps reduce rear channel localisation, and is more suitable when listening to film and TV soundtracks.
A cute feature available on the S30 is the ability to switch dispersion patterns using a programmable trigger on the amplifier or receiver in charge, allowing seamless reconfiguration of the system when used with music and films. This speaker is intended for use both as a side or rear speaker, ideally close to the listening plane, and is supplied in left and right handed versions. Completing the system is the B15a, a large and extremely heavy powered subwoofer, with a massive 1kW amplifier on board, and a three band parametric equaliser for fine tuning the output to work with different room acoustics. Setup is rather protracted, and should ideally be left to the supplying dealer.
The system acts superbly in combination, with the same critically disciplined mid and high frequency voicing all round and with bass output beautifully tailored to their individual roles. The F32, used here as the main front L/R, is also an excellent stereo speaker for music-first systems. Switching to multichannel make no change to the sonic fundamentals. It simply results in the sound spreading out spatially, and developing a sense of envelopment and depth, without the system's tonality altering significantly.
Another feature noted early on is that with appropriate care over setup, the supplied subwoofer is particularly impressive. It is a mean, solid performer which can reproduce the explosive bottom end of appropriately endowed soundtracks. The depth charging scenes from U571 still act as something of a benchmark here, and here the Revel system is impressive while remaining integrated. But it is the midband, which has a penetrating clarity and evenness, that defines this system.
Overall, it moulds itself to a variety of programme material unusually well. Special effects are genuinely exciting, but the dialogue track is particularly articulate without sounding pointed or aggressive. Indeed the unprepossessing C32 central speaker turns out to be one of the stars of the show. But it is the system's clarity, transparency and ability to drive hard at high volumes when the occasion demands that puts the Performa system at the top of its class.
Those looking for a higher-end 7.1 speaker system will find the supremely versatile Performa range well worth an audition. Two important points help account for its very real aural success. The first is the ability to finetune its output to suit the listening room.
The balance of the main speakers can be adjusted, subtlety but effectively. Most important of all, the subwoofer's parametric equaliser offers the opportunity of finetuning to suit the room's acoustic character. Though the range of adjustments is less than ideal, it is still currently better equipped for its task than almost any of its direct rivals.
The other point that cannot be left out of the equation is that the Performa speakers are meticulously designed and built. While they don't necessarily embody the most fashionable thinking, or the most exotic materials in their construction - there is a sense that the system achieves what it does through perspiration - a great deal of very thorough engineering. And it shows in the results. Hugely impressive.