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Revel F36 Loudspeaker Sound Quality Tests

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Most consumers will be connecting the F36s with either a flagship-level receiver, an integrated amp, or separates. I chose to do my testing with all three. Associated equipment for this review consisted of:

  1. Separates: An Anthem AVM 60 pre-pro (in for a forthcoming review) with a pair of Emotiva XPA-1L 200 W monoblocks.
  2. AV Receiver: Denon X7200WA AV Receiver
  3. Integrated Tube Amplifier: Yaqin MC-13s 45w tube amp

All source material to the Anthem AVM 60 and Denon X7200WA was fed from either a server running iTunes with Bitperfect and the Yaquin MC-13s was fed from an Astelle&Kern A70 hi-res audio player. A mix of hi-res music FLAC and ALAC source files, ripped CDs, and lossy encoded AAC downloads were used.

While Revel spent some time making the Concerta2s easier to drive (even recommending 30W amps), my previous experience with Revel speakers has shown that the more power you feed them the better they will respond. I will say that regardless of which amplification I used, the Concertas responded very well. Even the 45W tube amp was able to pump out over 95db out of the Revels with plenty of headroom to spare.  My ears were waving a white flag before the amp was.

yaqin integrated tube amplifier

Powering Revels with tubes amps?

You bet, the Concertas sounded great when powered by a Yaqin 45W tube amplifier.

In addition to the associated equipment I also tested the F36s in two separate locations and rooms.

The Revels had an uncanny ability to convey the music’s dynamics.

I first hooked up the Concerta2 F36 speakers in location one and, as I typically do with any new equipment that comes in for review, I play it for a while, try and get a feel for it, and then spend a bit more time dialing it in. The first location is relatively large at about 30 feet long by 18 feet wide.  I used both the Anthem and the Yaqin setup with the Revels here. I let the Revels play for several weeks but did not run any room correction. As I previously mentioned Revel now assumes that you'll be using some type of pre-pro or AVR with room correction with the Concertas. 

From the first note, the F36s commanded my undivided attention. A smooth, clean, sweet, and open midrange foreshadowed what I was in for.  Even though only rated to go down to a modest 51Hz, the F36s delivered an authoritative, crazy-detailed bottom end. In this room, there's significant bass reinforcement with the left speaker that I've been able to compensate for previously using Revel's contour controls.

Without any room correction, however, I noticed that bass lines were emphasized just a hair and there was a slight resonance. This was very noticeable on Patricia Barber's Cafe Blue "Taste of Honey."  I couldn't get that resonance to calm down without room correction. Oddly, the same anomaly was not present in the same manner playing a pair of Ultima2 Salons immediately next to the F36s or even swapping out the position of the F36s with the Salon2s.

Led Zeppelin iiiDuring my first several listening sessions, I found myself listening to album after album, song after song and getting lost in the music. Is there a better late-night panacea in life?  After about two weeks of casual listening, I applied Anthem’s ARC2 room correction (set to correct up to 5,000Hz) to the setup. The sonic results solidified once again why ARC ranks among the best room correction solutions in the business.  The bass and lower midrange snapped into balance and the results let the full glory of the F36s shine.

When I ran Anthem's ARC room correction the low end immediately tightened up and the issues disappeared.  Bass lines fell into line and never became detached or forward from the rest of the music.  Imaging was simply outstanding and the off-axis response of these speakers will put up a robust fight against any challenger.

In September 2015, I went with some friends to the Acme Seed & Feed in Nashville to see Guthrie Trapp and the Mulekickers. Alyssa Bonagura, a local favorite, was the special guest singer. I wanted to see how well the Revels could capture the essence of Alyssa’s vocals. Needless to say, the presentation was spectacular. On “Killing Me,” a duet with Alyssa and Tyler Wilkinson (iTunes, AAC download) the Revels painted a beautifully detailed soundstage. Alyssa and Tyler’s vocals were rendered dead center with the soundstage starting about three to five feet behind the speakers’ front boundary. Each guitar stroke was a natural balance between the guitar’s strings and body. Lesser speakers will apply acoustic plastic surgery.  They’ll smooth over the sound and tend to overemphasize a guitar’s body as a way to hide other acoustic blemishes.  Not the Revels. They had no wrinkles to hide.

Listening to Alyssa’s various songs on iTunes or her Cotton Mill Live set on YouTube revealed another F36 strong suit: transparency. Whatever is there at the source, the Revels will render—unapologetically. The Revels easily laid bare any hint of compression. Choose your source material and components wisely. You’ll be duly rewarded.

Adele 25The Revels devoured just about any musical genre I threw at them. The F36s constructed complex soundstages with ease. Each instrument and musical layer on the hi-res music version of Led Zeppelin’s “That’s the Way” from Led Zeppelin III had a firm place in both space and time on the soundstage. Firing up the re-mastered version of “Kashmir” from Led Zeppelin’s Mothership delivered excellent dynamics. John Bonham’s drums had snap and weight as Robert Plant’s vocals stood firm amidst a glorious orchestral accompaniment. That’s Zeppelin the way it should be played.

After getting the Led out, I naturally had to spin up some classic Rush. Let me just say that the Revels attacked the opening notes of “Tom Sawyer” with explosive, rhythmic precision. Geddy Lee’s intoxicating bass lines had weight and presence. Alex Lifeson’s Guitar riffs on “Time Stand Still” sent chills down my spine as I found myself toe tapping to the music. And Neil Pert’s drums? Awesome.

The Revels had an uncanny ability to convey the music’s dynamics. For example, the bottom end of “Send my Love” from Adele’s 25 just thumped with amazing life. The Revels rocked the chorus bass lines. Musical notes started and stopped on a dime and the texture of each instrument was palpable. The F36s also took no prisoners with Sade’s title track, “Soldier of Love.” Bam! Dynamics and my engagement with the music just reached another level. As you can imagine, playing the F36s side-by-side with the Ultima2 Salons immediately betrayed the low-end limitations of the F36s and the effortless way that the Salon2s handled the music. Yes, the king still reigns. If the Salon2s were a Tyrannosaurus Rex, then the F36s were Velociraptors.

Classical music was an equally strong suit for the F36s. For example, on Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” conducted by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, strings were smooth and lifelike. The Revels reproduced violins with an open, yet warm character without ever erring into an ear-fatiguing, knuckle-clenching, cold presentation. The same sense held true on the London Symphony Orchestra’s hi-res recording of Brahms Symphonies 3 & 4.

As I previously noted, the Revels excelled at creating a deep soundstage that brought you into the ambiance of the recording. Firing up Norah Jones “Love Me,” featuring the Little Willies, was a great example of this. The wall behind the speakers simply disappeared and opened up. I don’t want to give the impression that the Revels somehow became Magnepans, but the sense of space was superb for a dynamic, direct-radiating (non-dipole) speaker.  The rendered image was large and lifelike. There were no Hasbro-size action figures singing here.

The one thing I couldn’t trip the Revels up with was vocal timbre.  Ray Charles and Elton John’s duet, “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word,” from Genius Loves Company, was just about spot-on. Elton’s vocals had that pure, full-bodied character that only a good speaker can nail.  That same sense carried over onto George Michael’s “Listen Without Prejudice.” George’s pristine vocals on “Something to Save” were immaculate.  Turning to a medley of characteristic female vocalists such as Adele, Dido, Sade, Sarah McLachlan reinforced every impression. Norah Jones’ breathy vocals. for example, whispered through each track and Natalie Merchant’s rich vocals—from the classic “These Are Days” to the more contemporary “Ladybird”—were full-bodied, smooth and unadulterated.

Downside

Revel F36Did the Revels have a sonic downside? You could only readily discern such spots when paired against the Salon2s.  The way the Salon2’s assaulted the deepest octaves down to 23Hz is something to behold. The F36’s limitations down to about 50Hz were no match for music or movies flirting with notes down deep.  The Salon2s also ruled the upper midrange and top end with a detailed smoothness and effortless presentation that has rightfully perched it among the best speakers in production today.  By contrast, the F36s—while exceptionally good objectively and for the price point—differentiated themselves in this area with a more etched musical presentation.

And if you’re wondering if the Revels will crumble under the weight of dynamic movie audio tracks on Blu-ray, don’t be. Just substitute your favorite movie title with any of the above paragraphs and the description will still hold true. There wasn’t a two-channel down-mixed movie that didn’t come across with incredible detail, dynamics or clarity. The phantom center image of two F36s will playing in stereo will put most other manufacturer’s dedicated center channel speakers to shame.

After taking the Revels for an extended, two month run in the first location, where they shined, it was time to test them out in a second room. I transported the Revels back to my basement where I have my Dolby Atmos/DTS:X/Auro-3D setup anchored by SVS Ultra speakers. I spun up the Revels with both the Denon (sans Audyssey and running the Revels full range with no subs) and the Yaquin. Frustratingly, the low end completely overwhelmed the room. I had invited my friend Kevin over on a Sunday afternoon and we played with speaker placement for a good hour plus and simply couldn't get the F36s to calm down completely in that room.  So there's no misunderstanding here, this anecdotal, real-world test simply showed that a room's acoustics are important and can significantly alter a speaker's sound.  The Revels shined in the first location and without any room correction, didn't mate well with the room acoustics in the second.  I brought the Revels back to the first location and all the magic was back.

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

head_unit posts on November 23, 2020 01:59
“This indicates a system tuning a bit too low for the available box size needed to produce a more optimal response. This isn't surprising as many speakers make this compromise in favor of aesthetics.” I don't see what that has to do with aesthetics, since a lower port is bigger. Per my friend who worked at Harman/JBL and designed many Revel drivers, the idea is the same as I applied in automotive audio: tune lower than “optimum” to have a more extended slower rolloff, to better match room gain. Regarding F3 and “optimum” folks are WAY too obsessed with F3. It is NOT some holy grail and it is NOT the best figure of merit. When I was lucky enough to meet Dick Small in Indiana in his Harman days, he agreed F3 was just a useful mathematical convenience grabbed from filter theory for his thesis.* It has nothing to do with loudspeakers in rooms; F6 or F10 are more relevant but aced out by F3 because of…Dick Small using that in his thesis! (Understand also this was before Allison had published work on boundary reinforcement http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=2760.)

(*He was a really nice guy, good humouredly laughing in surprise that I had a bootleg copy of his entire thesis Xeroxed out of Jim Novak's personal library. Now THAT, my friends, is some heavy bedtime reading…and yet at the same time, done in a clear manner, kudos Mr. Small!)
Irvrobinson posts on September 12, 2016 18:42
BoredSysAdmin, post: 1152869, member: 28046
Tell it to TLSGuy, ADTGuy who run speakers fullrange. Gene does same, but supplements with few extra subs to even out the bass in room.
I feel that generalizing a bit too much and a bit off on more than few points.

I do this too, but it only works with relatively expensive towers with powerful bass, so the towers are able to keep up with subs. For the majority of budgets, I'd recommend going with smaller mains and bigger subs. I also completely agree with ShadyJ that the best positioning for imaging and mid-high smoothness is seldom a good location for smooth bass response.
BoredSysAdmin posts on September 12, 2016 17:44
shadyJ, post: 1152864, member: 20472
Because the best place for low frequency emission in-room is rarely the best place for higher bands. It doesn't hurt to have that capability there, but the the way most systems are setup, it doesn't help either, since they are typically high-passing their mains at 80 Hz. I feel that full range tower speakers are more a matter of convention than logic.
Tell it to TLSGuy, ADTGuy who run speakers fullrange. Gene does same, but supplements with few extra subs to even out the bass in room.
I feel that generalizing a bit too much and a bit off on more than few points.
shadyJ posts on September 12, 2016 17:17
Because the best place for low frequency emission in-room is rarely the best place for higher bands. It doesn't hurt to have that capability there, but the the way most systems are setup, it doesn't help either, since they are typically high-passing their mains at 80 Hz. I feel that full range tower speakers are more a matter of convention than logic.
BoredSysAdmin posts on September 12, 2016 16:53
shadyJ, post: 1152859, member: 20472
A deep bass f3 on a full range speaker is nearly useless for conventional home audio applications.
Why do you think so?
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