REL Strata III Subwoofer reviewed

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Moved in part by my experiences with the REL 'cube' and the Ruark subwoofer, I now find myself less resistant to boom boxes than I did before. No, I'm not enamoured of subwoofers and I could quite easily remove them from my system without suddenly feeling as if the bottom had dropped out of the sound. But I still think that subwoofers are no substitute for whacking great main speakers in which the entire sound is integrated into a cohesive whole.

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Unlike the similarly-priced but decidedly grisly Q200E, REL's Strata III seems like a piece of furniture worth displaying. A hundred years from now, I expect whoever is working on the will try to find its lid, for it looks like a Victorian wine cooler or some other arcane box with an obscure purpose. But turn it around, and you see that it is a sophisticated subwoofer with enough knobs to twirl in the quest for making it blend in with your existing speakers.

Among its facilties are an enhanced version of REL's ABC filtering circuit, for setting the upper response limit in 24 'musically correct' semi-tone increments, between 22Hz and 96Hz. Separate volume controls are provided for both high and low level inputs, along with a 'straight through' facility which bypasses the filter when it's fed the LFE component of discrete multi-channel formats such as Dolby Digital and dts. It differs from its predecessor, the Strata II, in that it's a closed-box design for greater phase accuracy. It contains new custom-engineered 100W DC-coupled MOSFET amplifier and high quality 250mm long-throw, downward firing woofer with a cast chassis. Also fitted is REL's 'audibly transparent' Set-Safe protection circuitry.

Competition and Comparison
Please compare the REL Strata III subwoofer against other models by reading our reviews for the
Spendor S-3 subwoofer and Atlantic Technology's 10 CSB corner subwoofer.  You can also find more information by visiting our Subwoofer section.

REL describes the topology as an 'Active zeroQ Acoustic Suspension System with ABC semi-tone variable bass filter'. Its frequency range is 20-120Hz, which will allow it to merge with all but the tiniest speakers. On the back are rotaries for 'Mode', Lo Level Gain' and 'Hi Level Gain' with an 80dB range, 'Coarse' and 'Fine' roll-off, 10k ohm low and 100k ohm high level phono inputs and the same again in balanced mode, an IEC mains input and a green illuminated on-off rocker. A pity it's not on the front: those who choose NOT to leave it on at all times would appreciate not having to look around the back for confirmation. So, Richard, how about a tiny tell-tale on the front of the Mk IV?

As with the Q200E and the other RELs, the surfeit of adjustments doesn't make set-up any easier, and you will eventually learn that what it finally gets down to are your own ears and preferences. Life is made simpler if you happen to be using it in a multi-channel system controlled by a surround processor with comprehensive facilities for setting up a subwoofer; blessedly, the Lexicon MC-1 is such a beast, so I was able to do some of the fine-tuning, especially output level and some of the crossover setting, from the listening position. Conversely, if you love knob twiddling and tweaking, the REL will prove to be as much fun as a DreamCast. In addition to overall gain setting and crossover points, you can play with polarity and slope to your heart's content.

In my installation, the REL was used to augment the Martin-Logan Script/Scenario array, even though I was perfectly happy with the bass they produce in my 14x22ft room. The Strata III was driven by the subwoofer output of the Lexicon, its connection made with Transparent Ultra, while sources included Region 1 and 2 Pioneer DVD players; the assorted Martin-Logans were driven by the Theta Dreadnaught and the Acurus 200X3.

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