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Revel’s New F328Be Versus the Old Ultima Salon2 Which is the Better Speaker?

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Revel F328Be Vs Salon2

Revel F328Be Vs Salon2

Summary

  • Product Name: F328Be, Ultima Salon2
  • Manufacturer: Revel
  • Review Date: April 23, 2021 01:15
  • MSRP: $16,000/pr - Performa F328Be, $22,000 - Ultima Salon2
  • First Impression: Gotta Have It!
  • Buy Now

Executive Overview

Loudspeaker comparisons usually have a certain amount of subjectivity baked in. What’s better, this speaker from Brand A, or this similarly-priced speaker from Brand B? You can take any group of audiophiles and ask them to look at the specs and measurements, compare the styling and build-quality, and sit down for a nice long listen. At the end of all this, you can pretty much bet that some listeners will prefer one speaker, and others will lean the other way. That’s what allows so many great audio companies to coexist. But within the product lineup of a single brand, there is usually a clear pecking order. Brand A’s flagship is the best product that the company can make, and the less expensive offerings do their best to offer a similar sound on a tighter budget. There may be some disagreement about which model offers the best overall value, but there’s little time spent discussing which is objectively best. I doubt any Monitor Audio fan would argue that the company’s affordable Bronze speakers are actually better than its top-of-the-line Platinums. And even the most casual Bowers & Wilkins fan knows that the 800 Series is better than the 700 Series. There’s generally no need for debate. But we find ourselves with an unusual case when we compare the Revel Performa F328Be ($16,000/pair) with the same brand’s Ultima Salon2 loudspeaker ($22,000/pair).

Revel F328Be  

When the F328Be was introduced at CEDIA 2019 as the new flagship of the PerformaBe series, some Revel fans were surprised to learn that it would be replacing the Ultima Studio2 loudspeaker, which was to be discontinued. The Studio2 was a 3-way floorstander from the Ultima series, and just one step down from Revel’s crown jewel, the Ultima Salon2. The Studio2 sold for the same $16,000/pair that will now buy you a pair of the F328Be, so it’s likely that the choice to discontinue it was at least partially a business decision. That price overlap could create confusion, and customers want clarity. But I doubt that the Revel team would have discontinued the Studio2 if the new F328Be didn’t pummel it in blind listening tests (which the folks at Revel use extensively as part of the product development process). In fact, during a 2014 visit to Harman's Multichannel Listening Lab, or MLL, Sound & Vision writer Thomas J. Norton took part in a blind listening test comparing the the Studio2 with some much less expensive speakers from the (non-Beryllium) Performa3 series, and it was pretty much a tie. Clearly, Revel’s engineers had been able squeeze a great deal of high-end performance into the Performa3 speakers, and that was before the souped-up PerformaBe series even entered the picture.

Revel Salon2 vs F328Be YouTube Overview & Comparison

Revel Salon2So how does the new Performa F328Be stack up against the more costly Ultima Studio2? It goes without saying that anyone choosing to buy a speaker from Revel’s Ultima series is paying for more than just sound quality. The sculpted cabinets and exotic-looking front baffles are clearly expensive to make. By comparison, even the range-topping Performa F328Be looks more traditional, and its design language does hail from the relatively affordable Performa3 series. Beyond the Salon2’s refined aesthetics, it’s worth pointing out that it is simply a bigger and more complex design. The 4-way, 6-driver Salon2 is taller, deeper, and 34 pounds heavier than the 3-way, 5-driver F328Be. But looking just at the specs, the Performa F328Be has some advantages over the Ultima Salon2. The F328Be is a brand-new design, while the Salon2 is 13 years old. That’s not to suggest that it’s based on “bad” or even outdated technology. But Revel and its parent company Harman have had well over a decade to build upon and refine the already-extensive research and development that went into the Salon2. This is not a team that is known to rest on its laurels for long.

Revel F328Be dual exhaust portsSensitivity: Advantage Revel F328Be

The Performa F328Be is a much more sensitive design, with a rating of 91 dB (2.83V/1meter). The Salon2 is rated just above 86 dB. For my fellow English majors out there, that’s a difference of about 5 dB. In the real world, those numbers tell us that the Performa F328Be will play quite a bit louder with a given amount of power than the Salon2 would. Going by the sensitivity alone, we can assume that the Salon2 will require a beefier amp to get up and moving. But sensitivity is only part of the story when it comes to predicting how difficult a speaker will be to drive. We also must consider the impedance ratings for each speaker. The older Salon2 is rated as a nominal 6-ohm load, but when John Atkinson measured the speaker for Stereophile back in 2008, he found that its impedance dropped to between 3 and 5 ohms, between 17Hz and 600Hz. Ultimately, Atkinson concluded that the Salon2 should not be excessively hard for the partnering amplifier to drive, since the electrical phase angle is generally low in the region between 17Hz and 600Hz. Nevertheless, it would be a good idea to choose an amp that’s comfortable delivering power into a 4-ohm load. The F328Be is rated at 8 ohms nominal (no value is given for minimum impedance). Generally speaking, it’s safe to assume that the higher overall impedance and significantly higher sensitivity of the F328Be will make it an easier speaker to drive than the Salon2. And this was one of Revel’s goals for the F328Be — to make it play nice with a wide range of amps, from a middle-of-the-road AV receiver all the way up to the most muscular Mark Levinson. That said, higher-quality amplification will almost certainly be rewarded with higher-quality sound when paired to a speaker of this caliber.

Note: We’ll have to stay tuned for Gene’s full review of the F328Be, which will include measurements. It’s certainly possible that its impedance dips into the 4-ohm range. (Remember that a trio of 12-ohm bass drivers, wired in parallel, equals a 4-ohm system impedance). It’s worth pointing out that the step-down F228Be, which uses just two woofers instead of three, has a minimum impedance of 3.42 ohms at 98Hz and 3.55 ohms at 290Hz (again, according to John Atkinson’s measurements). That speaker’s impedance stays below 8 ohms throughout both the bass and midrange regions.

Revel F328Be Spin

Revel F328Be Measurements per CEA2034

Tweeter Waveguide: Advantage Revel F328Be

The Performa F328Be features Revel’s 6th-generation waveguide with a new geometry designed to better match the directivity from the tweeter with that of the midrange driver, with the ultimate goal being more even and continuous dispersion characteristics, and no audible change to the sound at the crossover frequency. The speaker’s excellent “Spin-O-Rama” measurements are the first indication that this new waveguide is doing its job. (To learn more about interpreting graphs such as this, see James Larson’s informative article from 2019, entitled Understanding Loudspeaker Review Measurements.) The Salon2 uses a much older 3rd-generation waveguide with a less advanced geometry. The Performa F328Be’s tweeter also benefits from an acoustic lens that helps smooth out the frequency response at the highest frequencies. So even though both speakers utilize beryllium tweeters, the way they are loaded into the listening room is not the same, and the F328Be takes advantage of more advanced techniques and design elements. The midrange drivers and woofers on the Salon2 are made from Titanium, whereas on the F328Be they are made from ceramic-coated aluminum. Revel calls this cone material Deep Ceramic Composite (DCC), and says that it is made using “a plasma electrolytic oxidation process that uses a plasma discharge to create a coarse ceramic coating on both sides of the aluminum core.” Revel says that the ceramic-coated aluminum has excellent damping characteristics and that the drivers display no breakup within their operating bandwidth. According to Revel, “the deep ceramic layers sandwiching the aluminum core provide constrained layer damping that push cone breakup modes outside of the passband allowing the driver to maintain ideal pistonic motion throughout its range.” The result is a very linear, clean-sounding speaker.

Bass: Advantage Revel Salon2

So far, the Performa F328Be might seem to be pulling ahead of its older stablemate, simply because it is newer design that utilizes more recent technology. Being easier to drive is also definitely a plus. But the Salon2 still has at least one advantage that might make it worth the higher asking price for some listeners. In order to make the F328Be more efficient, the design team at Revel had to sacrifice some low bass performance. The bass extension of the F328Be is respectable, as its frequency response shows a -3 dB point at 35Hz. But the Salon2 digs all the way down to 23Hz before it’s down by the same 3 dB. That deeper bass extension could be significant in the context of a 2-channel system with no subwoofers. If you want a truly full-range sound with an authoritative bottom end, the Salon2 will provide it in a way that the F328Be simply won’t. But in the context of a high-end home theater where separate subs will be in use, the F328Be’s higher sensitivity and excellent dynamic range will more than make up for its lack of super-low bass.

What Does Harman Say about the Revel Salon2 vs F328Be?

Jim Garrett, the Senior Director of Product Strategy at Harman, recently spoke with chief Audioholic Gene DellaSala about the F328Be, and how it compares to the Salon2. Garrett is in the fortunate position of having both loudspeaker models in his own home, so it’s fair to say that he has a great deal of real-world experience comparing the two. Here’s what he had to say:

Revel Jim GarrettThe F328Be is the better loudspeaker. And there are a couple things that you can say there. The Salon2 is an absolutely incredible loudspeaker. You can’t deny the heritage that we have from that. It was designed almost 13 years ago. It has consistently been rated among… the best loudspeakers available at any price. The engineering that went into that thing is just absolutely phenomenal. One of the reasons it hasn’t been replaced until now is (that) it has been, frankly, a challenge to develop a speaker that sounds better and does things better than the Salon2 does. With the F328Be, we wanted to really challenge that the best that we can, and when I’m saying that it’s a better loudspeaker, you have to consider, first of all… they were developed 13 years apart from each other. What we’ve been able to learn and develop in the years since the Salon was done is not insignificant. Mark Glazer is the principal engineer for all the Revel loudspeakers. He developed the Salon2 and he’s done the development work on the 328. Let’s even back up a second to the F228Be, the smaller version that came out first, when we launched the bookshelf and the middle tower before we expanded the range. The F228Be was ranked “Loudspeaker of the Year” by Stereophile (in 2019). And so now you’re (saying), “here’s a $10,000 speaker that’s considered one of the best speakers on the market.” So we had two challenges. How do we better the F228Be? And how do we compare against the Salon2?

So, if we start at the top, the F328Be does not use the same tweeter or waveguide that the F228Be, the F226Be, the M126Be, and the C426Be center-channel speaker use. It is a larger, 6th-generation waveguide, as opposed to the slightly smaller 5th-generation waveguide that’s on the (smaller speakers). You can see it at the perimeter of it… what Mark was really working on was to smooth how the waveguide itself meets the cabinet. And you can see — these are little details — but when you’re digging down into every last ounce of what you can find to make a speaker better, these are the kinds of things you look at. The tweeter itself has a much larger motor structure than what’s in the F228Be (though they’re both 1-inch beryllium diaphragms). So now we’ve got a tweeter that has even greater output capability, almost impervious to power compression when you’re talking about a dome tweeter. But we should mention… the one thing about Revel speakers, I think there’s a lot more in common with the technology and things we just discussed with JBL than maybe what a lot of people think. People think, “Well they’ve got their JBL speakers; that’s their horn line. And they’ve got their Revel speakers; that’s their dome and cones.” All of the (current) Revels use waveguides with an acoustic lens in front of them. So, in effect, we really have a compression driver, if you will, in the Revel speakers. Because that acoustic lens is basically putting that diaphragm into a mild form of compression. Not the same as the drivers we use in (JBL)… maybe it’s 3- or 4-to-1 versus a 12-to-1. Don’t quote me on these; I’m not an engineer. But it is still a form of compression that goes into it. And then with the waveguide, now we’re getting that controlled directivity with it, and so that waveguide is really helping to integrate with the midrange driver… Revels are 3-ways instead of 2-ways. And so that’s what’s developed there.

The midrange driver in the F328Be is the same as what’s in a 228. The woofers (in the F328Be) have some evolutionary improvements in the motor structure that Mark was able to put into them. So while you could look at it and (say), “It’s a 228 with a third woofer,” the woofers in the 328 are actually better than what’s in the 228. The other thing is that the 328 is considerably larger than the 228. You can’t just simply put a third woofer in a box and say, “Well now it has more bass or plays louder.” You’ve got to have a commensurate amount of enclosure volume to go with it. And so when you look at the 328, you’ll notice that it’s like 4-6 inches deeper than a 228, and several inches taller because of that third woofer. And you’ll also notice that the ports got moved to the rear of the speaker, and that was because of the simple stack height. By the time we put everything on the front of it, that tweeter was going to be way up in the air and not in a good place. So we moved the ports to the rear of the speaker on (the F328Be). And actually, from a design standpoint, that’s super cool. It looks like, I would call it “dual exhaust” on the back (like on a sports car). Because the whole back of the cabinet is rounded, and you have a flared port exit onto a rounded surface — there’s a fun project for a mechanical engineer. So that’s something to think about there.

The crossover network, again, is a little more advanced (on the F328Be). With Mark, it was about pushing the performance further than the 228. The 328, with the larger cabinet and the third bass driver, has much greater bass extension than does the 228. We have more output capability —  it plays louder. More sensitivity, I think we rated it at 91 dB, so it’s fairly hot. Revel speakers have never been known for being efficient, but with the (Performa) Beryllium series, that was a goal. Again, when you come back to dynamics, they are one of the very compelling things about JBL loudspeakers with that technology. Revels are such neutral, amazing-sounding speakers, but without that dynamic capability… that was a little something extra, an extra ingredient that we wanted to put into the soup of that product, and so that’s what we did.

So, back to the awesomeness question as we compare (the F328Be with the Salon2). Again, I think now, the F328Be tweeter… first of all the Salon2 doesn’t really have (much of) a waveguide… and there’s no lens at all in front of that dome. So you’ve got 1-inch beryllium (on both speakers), but now I’ve got an acoustic lens and a 6th-gen waveguide (on the 328) as opposed to a (smaller, much older) waveguide on the Salon2. So the advantage goes to the 328. The drivers — the midrange and the woofers — are Deep Ceramic Composite (DCC) drivers in the 328 versus the titanium drivers in the Salon2. There’s less moving mass in the (Performa) Beryllium speaker than there is in the Ultima series speaker. So, again, a little bit of an advantage, and another 12 years of design development that Mark could get into that midrange and those woofers. So that’s there. When you look at the baffle, the 328 does have the flat baffle of the Performa family, whereas you get the sculpted baffle for the Salon2, so I would give that advantage to the Salon in that respect. So whatever cabinet diffraction may be there, I would say that’s definitely an advantage for the Salon. The Salon is a little bit taller… and the Salon tweeter is really a bit too high when you’re in a normal seated listening position. So we wanted to drop the tweeter down, and that was another advantage of putting the ports on the back (of the F328Be). The Salon2 has a midrange (driver) and a mid-bass, and then 3 woofers. So it’s a 4-way design with 6 drivers in it, as opposed to a 3-way design with 5 drivers in it. And then, outside of that, I think the finish options on the (Performa) Berylliums are much nicer than what we have on the Salons, but again, that’s what you get from something that’s 12 years newer.

That was a thorough and fairly definitive response from Jim Garrett. But Harman’s Acoustic Research Fellow, Dr. Sean Olive, disagrees with his colleague about which is the better speaker. In his conversations with Gene, Dr. Olive has let it slip that he favors the Salon2. So in the end, there’s still some room for opinion and subjective personal preference. Have you heard both the Ultima Salon2 and the Performa F328Be? We would love to hear your thoughts about which Revel speaker reigns supreme in the related forum thread below.

About the author:

Jacob is a music-lover and audiophile who enjoys convincing his friends to buy audio gear that they can't afford. He's also a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.

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Recent Forum Posts:

gene posts on April 23, 2021 03:28
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gene posts on April 23, 2021 03:24
In this article and related YouTube video, we discuss the similarities and differences between the Revel Salon2 and F328Be speakers. The Salon2's retail for $22k/pair and have been around for 12+ years whereas the F328Be retail for $16k/pair and are only a little over a year old. Does the new tech outperform the old or is the old design so good that it's timeless? We look at speaker sensitivity, bass response, driver tech and aesthetics to help answer that question. We also hear directly from Harman on their take to this question.

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Read: Revel Salon2 vs F328 Floorstanding Speaker Comparison: Which One is Better?
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