Leaving pop music, I cued up the soundtrack to James Cameron's
Avatar (Atlantic) by James Horner and the track "Becoming One of 'The
People' Becoming One with Neytiri." In contrast to the thumping,
immediate bass track of "Candyman," "Becoming" had a far more textured
and dare I say analog sounding bass line aided by song's use of
tympanis versus a drum machine. For a great example of what I'm talking
about cue up "Becoming" and listen closely at about the three and half
minute mark (when the tympanis rumble then explode) and see if through
your system you have a feeling of truly being "there" versus listening
to a recording. I assure you at this point in the track, with the
volume set near unity gain you will be transported through the
Studio2s. There was more true weight to the song's bass versus simple
slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am. The depth the Studio2s were able to reach
with "Becoming" was also superior to "Candyman" leading me to rethink a
few of my initial findings. The treble was once again on full display
especially through Horner's delicate use of bells balanced against the
song's various cymbal crashes, both of which sprung to life from some
of the blackest backgrounds I've heard in my system and decayed in such
a three dimensional way that I could 'feel' the sound versus simply
hear it. The midrange, especially the young boy's vocals, were haunting
and hung in space creating a very ethereal sound and feel. The
soundstage itself didn't extend much in front of the speakers; however
the width and depth was so vast that at times it seemed to nearly arc
completely around my primary listening position. Who says you need five
or more speakers to get a surround sound experience. Dynamically the
Studio2s were in a league of their own at least compared to some of the
speakers that have recently graced my listening room. The sheer
explosiveness and texture to the Studio2s dynamic prowess was awesome
to behold. Whereas some speakers will simply disguise dynamics by
shifting everything forward and showcasing their ability to handle high
volumes the Studio2s take a more layered approach, building layer upon
layer until the combined sounds make for more volume. This obviously
happens very quickly, however the Studio2s never do it at the expense
of spaciousness, definition and clarity.
I ended my evaluation of the Studio2s with a song I should be utterly ashamed for liking; Timbaland's "Carry Out (featuring Justin Timberlake)" from the album Shockvalue II (Blackground/Interscope). I chose this particular track for a reason, because in nearly every system I've ever heard it in it has been utter-well-not good. Whereas Christina Aguilera's album is well recorded and rather surprising at times how good it is, Shockvalue II is more or less club music. There isn't much to "Carry Out" other than thumping bass, some tapping of some synthesized cowbell or something like that, and Justin Timberlake. That being said, it was far from a train wreck, in fact it was simply good fun. It was nice to know that even though the Studio2s are serious audiophile loudspeakers they aren't so serious as to reject our guilty pleasures. Justin's vocals were actually quite enjoyable and the self-harmony was far more present than I'd heard before giving the whole performance a bit more weight and space. The cowbell I referred to earlier was rendered quite nicely, though completely fake; it wasn't offensive or rife with digital harshness. The bass was the deepest of the bunch though in no way as pleasant, however it did showcase just how low the Studio2s could go. More surprising still was the addition of certain sound effects and dynamic swings that were previously absent from my other listening sessions with the "Carry Out" through lesser speakers. The gear, sources etc. hadn't changed, just the speakers, showcasing just how revealing, in a good way, the Studio2s could be.
While I was pleasantly surprised by the Studio2s performance - okay I was blown away - there were a few items I did take note of. First, the door located on the rear of the speaker designed to create a more professional looking installation is all well and good provided your speaker cables aren't too thick. For example, my Transparent Reference speaker cables were able to connect nicely to the Studio2s binding posts, but I was unable to position them in such away that would allow the door to close over top of them leaving me with a somewhat exposed (open) door hanging off the back of the speaker, which is not very sexy. I know of several Revel owners who have removed that door altogether to avoid this problem but since these were review samples I didn't feel comfortable doing this, nor did I think that removing such a design feature was an okay solution given the time and thought that must have gone into including it in the first place only to have it not work.
As of this review's publication the Studio2's, like all of the speakers in the Ultima2 line, are only available in two finishes, high-gloss black and high-gloss mahogany (my review samples were the latter). The beauty of the previous Ultima designs was that you could have 'em your way making them as much a personal expression as they were a sonic one, which I really liked though I'm sure it made the profit margins a bit leaner. Either way, for a $16,000 pair of speakers there should be more finishes than two. I vote for carbon fiber weave.
I asked Kevin Voecks about this very issue and his response was "we reduced the number of finishes for two reasons. We had to blow-out the few red, green and blue speakers we built in the original series. Also, the separate side panels ended-up annoying people, as we originally sent them out as "kits." The primary problem was we couldn't keep every combination in stock, which only caused upset. Now that we have two finishes that satisfy most people, we have been able to keep them in stock in our US and European warehouses."
Lastly, one can't ignore the Studio2's absolute need for power, not to mention high quality, clean power. My Anthem Statement P5 is hardly what I'd call a slouch at 325 watts per channel into eight Ohms and 500 watts per channel into four. However I'd consider an amp such as the P5 as a baseline from where to begin with a speaker like the Studio2. Names like Mark Levinson, Krell, and Pass should be on your list of amplifiers to consider when thinking about purchasing the Studio2s. You can do it with less but trust me, the better the amp the richer and fuller the Studio2s are going to sound. Tube amplifiers, unless you're talking about some of the bigger Audio Research or McIntosh amps, need not apply.
While I'm not about to call a $16,000 anything, much less a speaker, a bargain, the Revel Studio2s are on the more affordable side of the cost no object spectrum. While not the biggest in the Ultima2 line - that title goes to the Salon2s - the Studio2s more than hold their own and if I'm honest, provide most of their big brother's performance for six grand less. Not to mention they're more compact and easier to integrate into a room than the Salon2s.
That being said, I believe the Studio2s compete favorably with other ultra high-end offerings such as the Wilson Sophia's, Wilson Watt/Puppies (now Sasha W/P), Bowers and Wilkins 802D and more. Given the choice I think I'd chose the Salon2s as they just do it for me. Okay, I'm still not the biggest fan of their looks but they don't look that bad even if you can only get them in two finishes. Beyond their looks it's what they do sonically that impresses me most. If you have the proper equipment, mainly power, the sonic tale the Studio2s can weave is engrossing and addictive. The Studio2's sound is never aggressive or forced even when pushed to the ragged edge: the midrange is borderline perfect and the bass, while not the absolute deepest, is so textural and musical that you almost don't care that it won't rattle the fillings from your teeth (here's one area where the Salon2s have it over the Studio2s in spades). That's what subwoofers are for and Revel makes some fine subs.
I consider the Studio2 to be a perfect blend of performance, form and practicality. From their design to their music and movie performance, everything about the Studio2 screams balance and control. The Studio2 is a much more mature loudspeaker than its predecessors and a much more mature speaker for Revel as a whole. I really enjoyed my time with the Studio2s and I'm willing to bet anyone who purchases them that they would too. Consider this my very enthusiastic endorsement.