Brent has been a professional audio journalist since 1989, and has reviewed thousands of audio products over the years. He has served as editor-in-chief of Home Theater and Home Entertainment magazines, contributing technical editor for Sound & Vision magazine, senior editor of Video magazine, and reviews editor of Windows Sources magazine, and he also worked as marketing director for Dolby Laboratories. He's now on staff at Wirecutter.
In my nearly three decades of reviewing products, I've learned there are a lot of people who don't want to weigh the pros and cons of every subtle characteristic of the audio products they buy. They don't care about the latest audiophile fad; they just want something that's built right and sounds great. That's the kind of person who might be interested in the Revel Concerta2 F36 ($2,000/pair).
The F36 has a straightforward design. There are no unusual design twists or construction methods. No exotic materials. No eccentric drivers. Anyone who judges audio products by buzzwords and trends will find nothing in the F36 to excite them. It's just a one-inch aluminum dome tweeter and three 6.5-inch aluminum cone woofers, mounted in an MDF enclosure. The F36 was designed according to practices and standards based on decades of research that originated at Canada's National Research Center in Ottawa, and it was completed in the research labs of Harman International, Revel's parent company.
On the F36's spec sheet, there's one number that clearly shows the design intent behind the F36. It's 1.8 kHz, the crossover point between the tweeter and the top woofer. That's extremely low. Most speakers with a one-inch tweeter and a 6.5-inch woofer would have a crossover point somewhere between 2.3 and 3 kHz. Higher crossover points take some of the load off the tweeter, but they can also force the woofer to run at frequencies where it starts to become directional or "beamy," which produces a less open and spacious sound and can also lead to "cupped hands" coloration (it makes singers sound like they have their hands cupped around their mouths). The F36's woofer cone has an effective radiating area of about 5.25 inches, which means its dispersion starts to narrow somewhere around 2.6 kHz.
By moving the F36's crossover point so far down, Revel assures that the F36 will have a big, open sound. However, it also puts much more stress on the tweeter; most tweeters struggle to reproduce frequencies below 2 kHz. Revel must have a lot of faith in the F36's tweeter, and by that I mean its engineers probably put a lot of effort into making sure the tweeter can handle a 1.8-kHz crossover point.
The F36 is a 2.5-way design. This means the crossover filters frequencies above 600 Hz out of the bottom two woofers. If higher frequencies were allowed to play out of the lower woofers, they'd interfere with the sounds coming from the top woofer. This would create comb-filter effects, which would likely cause the speaker to sound very different if you sit just a few inches higher.
While the F36 somewhat resembles the higher-end Revel Performa3 F206 that I use as a reference speaker, you can tell it ain't the same thing when you pick it up or knock on the side. The F206 is so heavily braced and has such thick sidewalls that it feels almost like stone when you tap on it. The F36 produces more of a resonant "thunk" when rapped with a knuckle, and it's 14 percent lighter than the F206.
The F36 has a magnetically attached grille with fabric stretched over a plastic frame. There's a single set of metal binding posts and a single bass reflex port on the back. Rubber feet support the speaker on the bottom; carpet spikes that thread into these feet are included.
As an F206 owner, I was curious to hear how the F36 compared, especially after hearing demos at trade shows where the F36 seemed to come surprisingly close to what I hear from my F206s.
I used the F36s with my usual stereo rig, which consists of a Classé CP-800 preamp/DAC, a Classé CA-2300 stereo amp, a Music Hall Ikura turntable, and an NAD PP-3 phono preamp, plus an Audio by Van Alstine AVA ABX switcher for level-matched comparisons. For movies and TV, I used a Sony STR-ZA5000ES AV receiver. I used Wireworld Eclipse 7 interconnect and speaker cables.
No big surprise that the same positions that work well for the F206s worked well for the F36. Both speakers were pointed straight at my listening position. I never use the grilles with my F206s, so I didn't use them with the F36s, either.
Because the F36 is essentially the step-down model from the speakers I own and use most often, I expected to like it. But I was surprised at how much I liked it.
I think any audiophile who heard "Stella by Starlight" from the album John Abercrombie Marc Johnson Peter Erskine through the F36s, without knowing what speakers they were hearing, might assume these cost $20,000 per pair. The sound of Erskine's drums alone through these speakers might be incentive enough for any audiophile--and I mean any audiophile, even ones who love panel speakers--to whip out a credit card and take the F36s home. These speakers portray the sound of a drumstick tapping on a jazz ride cymbal perfectly. (This is a sound I know well because there's a drum kit in my home.) The F36s pretty much nail the rest of the kit, too. I could hear precise images of the tips of the sticks tapping on all the cymbals, and it all sounded realistic rather than exaggerated. Abercrombie plays electric guitar on this recording, so I can't be sure what it's supposed to sound like; however, I can be sure that I really dig it--the sound had that colossal, fluid, reverberant, enveloping quality that so many jazz guitarists of his generation love. (The link here is to "Furs on Ice," another cut off the same album.)
The album cited above is on the ECM label, which is famed for great recordings. Just as important is how a speaker sounds with older, not-as-great recordings, such as "Cause We've Ended As Lovers" from Jeff Beck's 1975 Blow By Blow album. Once again, the F36 amazed me with its treble detail and sense of space. Imaging on the cymbals and the snare drum was incredibly lifelike; I could actually hear the sound of the drummer's wire brushes move slightly from left to right or vice versa as they scraped across the snare drum head.
As for the rest of the instruments, basically I'll just say that the F36s made this sound like a modern, high-quality, very clean recording. The Fender Rhodes electric piano had a big, wraparound sound, and the bass grooved tightly and precisely with no bloating or boom. Perhaps best was Beck's guitar sound. Probably it was recorded with a microphone near his amp's speaker, so there's no natural sense of space, but still I was thrilled with the precision of the guitar's sonic image. I also loved that the F36's clarity made it easy to hear that the reverb on Beck's guitar was different from that used for the Rhodes.
Electric guitars are much easier to reproduce than vocals; so, to get some idea of the F36's "voice," I put on Holly Cole's version of "I Can See Clearly Now," which also features beautifully recorded double bass and piano. Cole's voice sounded clear and intimate through the F36s. The considerable power of her voice at the peak of the tune's bridge did seem to push the F36's midrange right to its limit because the voice did thin out a bit, but it never sounded sibilant or spitty or harsh. I loved that these speakers made it easy to hear how they miked the piano--in plain stereo, I guessed, with the mics about four feet apart. The double bass sounded just right, too--not too twangy and not too full, with every pitch easy to distinguish.
The only real flaw of my Revel F206s is that they don't play really loud. I worried that the F36s might exhibit this problem to a worse degree, but they didn't. Rammstein's "Engel" begs to be heard at really, really loud volumes, and the F36s delivered. The sound was clear and unfatiguing, with no harshness. Only when I played this cut did the F36s leave me wanting more bass, but still they didn't sound thin or strained, and the tune's kick-ass groove sounded exceptionally tight with no trace of overhang in the bass. Meanwhile, the various electronic squiggles flew around my room as if they were coming from panel speakers like MartinLogans or Magnepans. The whistling that highlights the tune seemed to float in my room above the tune's intense thrash.
"This is what music should be. At least for me," I thought when I heard Joni Mitchell's "God Must Be a Boogie Man" through the F36s. Mitchell's voice sounded dead on, with no colorations I could note. That's usual for me; usually voices are where I can't help but notice a speaker's flaw. I loved the way the F36s filled my room with reverberant reflections on the big, reverberant percussion slaps (bassist Jaco Pastorius slapping his strings against his fingerboard, perhaps).
I think the F36 will make an excellent foundation for a home theater system, too. I spent a couple of weeks using it for all my movie and TV viewing, and I found that it had enough bass to give a reasonable reproduction of impacts and explosions in action movies. When I streamed the film Scully, the F36s gave me plenty of low-frequency rumble during the plane crash that occurs early in the movie. You'll need to add a subwoofer if you want to get your couch shaking, but many people will consider this plenty enough bass. What I liked most, though, was the speaker's nearly perfect portrayal of all the actors' voices in the movie; from this speaker, dialogue seems to emanate naturally, not to be coming from MDF boxes.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
On-axis: ±2.2 dB from 43 Hz to 10 kHz, ±2.9 dB to 20 kHz
Average ±30° horiz: ±19 dB from 43 Hz to 10 kHz, ±2.8 dB to 20 kHz
Average ±15° vert/horiz: ±17 dB from 43 Hz to 10 kHz, ±2.7 dB to 20 kHz
min. 3.7 ohms/158 Hz/-4.2, nominal 6 ohms
Sensitivity (2.83 volts/1 meter, anechoic)
The first chart shows the frequency response of the F36. The second chart shows the impedance. The computer that runs my LMS analyzer broke down as I was putting these measurements together, so I am temporarily unable to present charts with average responses. In the meantime, I've presented a chart showing the response at 0° on-axis and 10, 20, 30, 45° and 60° off-axis. Ideally, the 0° curve should be more or less flat, and the others should look the same but should tilt down increasingly as the frequency increases.
The response plot of the F36 could be used to illustrate the ideal dispersion for a loudspeaker. Except for a roughly half-octave-wide dip in the treble, the on-axis plot is almost perfectly flat. As the microphone moves further off-axis, there's no crossover dip or anything like that, just an increasingly gradual treble roll off. Adding the grille produces dips of about -3 dB at 2.8, 5.8, and 11.7 kHz, which is pretty typical of fabric grille effects.
Sensitivity of the F36 is excellent at 88.9 dB (measured at one meter with a 2.83-volt signal, averaged from 300 Hz to 3 kHz), which means the F36 needs only about seven watts to hit 100 dB. And that's the anechoic sensitivity; you'll get perhaps an extra three dB in your listening room. Impedance averages about six ohms. Considering the excellent sensitivity, you can feel safe driving this speaker with practically any amp.
Here's how I did the measurements. I measured frequency response using an Audiomatica Clio FW 10 audio analyzer with the MIC-01 measurement microphone, and the speaker driven with an Outlaw Model 2200 amplifier. I used quasi-anechoic technique to remove the acoustical effects of surrounding objects. The speaker was placed atop a turntable that elevated it three inches off the ground. The mic was centered on the tweeter axis and placed at a distance of two meters from the front baffle and a pile of denim insulation was placed on the ground between the speaker and the mic to help absorb ground reflections and improve accuracy of the measurement at low frequencies. Bass response was measured by close-miking the woofers and ports, then scaling the port responses appropriately and adding that sum to the woofer responses. I spliced this result to the quasi-anechoic results at 220 Hz. Results were smoothed to 1/12th octave. I made measurements with the grille off except as noted. Post-processing was done using TrueRTA software.
The F36's treble sounds neutral--not boosted or rolled off--but it's exceptionally clear. This means if a recording is bad, the F36 will let you know it. I can't say the speakers highlighted the grating surface-noise effects added to parts of Freddie Joachim's "Shoulder Kiss," but they did nothing to cover up what to me is a regrettable aesthetic decision. I had to turn the system down about 10 decibels to tolerate this recording. A speaker with a soft-dome tweeter (and a soft-sounding soft dome at that) would probably sound more pleasing on recordings like this, or on Toto's somewhat bright-sounding Toto IV, but there's no way it would deliver the detail and sense of space that the F36 presents.
Comparison and Competition
Using my Van Alstine AVA ABX switcher, I compared the F36 with the F206 and the $11,495/pair Monitor Audio PL200 II. (These are the speakers I happened to have around the house at the time.) Most of this test focused on A/B comparisons between the two Revels.
The F206 has a rep for being one of the most open-sounding (i.e., non-boxy) box speakers on the market, and here the F36 couldn't match it. The F206's mids and treble were about a notch or two clearer and more detailed. Even though I occasionally felt that the F36's bass could use a bit more oomph, its low end was far more satisfying that what the F206 could muster. "The F36 is less of an 'audio magnifying glass' than the F206, but it's often more fun to listen to," I wrote in my notes.
It seems that every big-name audiophile speaker company has a tower speaker around $2,000/pair, including the $1,999/pair GoldenEar Technology Triton Five, the $1,999/pair MartinLogan Motion 40, the $1,999/pair Monitor Audio Silver 8, and the $2,199 PSB Imagine T. I can't comment on the Motion 40 because I haven't heard it, but I have heard the rest, and they're all very good-sounding, very well-engineered speakers. I'm confident the F36 is at least a match for any of them, though. The Revel can also go toe to toe with the growing number of fantastic Internet-based speakers at the $2,000 range, such as the Tekton Pendragon, SVS Ultra Tower, and so on.
Simply put, I think the F36 is today's best value I've heard in a midpriced tower speaker. There's no one to whom I wouldn't recommend it.
• Check out our Floorstanding Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
• Visit the Revel website for more product information.
• Revel Introduces Concerta Sub/Sat Systems at HomeTheaterReview.com.