Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.
A little over one year ago, Revel started shipping the first speaker from its PerformaBe line, the F228Be, which was well received and continues to garner praise from professional reviewers, myself included, and enthusiasts alike. Accordingly, we have been anticipating the release of additional speakers in the line, including the M126Be bookshelf speaker and C426Be center channel. In addition to these speakers in other formats, Revel also designed two other floor standing speakers: the smaller F226Be reviewed here and the larger F328Be, which recently started shipping.
As nice as the F228Be was and still is, it is a fairly large and visually imposing speaker. The F226Be, at 41.3 inches high by 9.8 inches wide and 13.7 inches deep, is only about five inches shorter and four inches narrower than its bigger brother, but the visual difference is significant. The F226Be looks much smaller and less imposing. This should provide significantly more placement options when room aesthetics factor into that decision matrix. The F226Be, at $3,500 each, is also $1,500 less expensive than the F228Be. Yes, $7,000 per pair is still a big chunk of change, but that $3,000 savings (or more if you're constructing a complete surround sound system) can go a long way towards the rest of your system.
The F226Be shares much of its design with its bigger sibling, which I reference more in this review than I normally would, but I think it is worth pointing out both their similarities as well as their differences. They are both three-way loudspeakers in front-ported, bass-reflex enclosures. The F226Be's enclosure looks just like a downsized version of its big brother, with a flat front panel that has the four drivers flush mounted above a front-firing port, all of which can be covered with a magnetically attached grille. My review sample F226Bes came with high gloss white cabinets, which gave them a clean and modern yet interesting look with the black surrounds and white drivers. A few guests said they looked like they belonged on an Imperial Star Cruiser from Star Wars. If white is not your thing, the F226Be can also be ordered in your choice of Black, Walnut, or Metallic Silver.
Beryllium has, of course, become the darling material of speaker designers across the world for use in high frequency transducers. The one-inch beryllium tweeter in the F226Be is an all-new design for the PerformaBe line. While aluminum and titanium have been and continue to be popular materials for hard dome tweeter diaphragms, "Beryllium offers roughly four and a half times the stiffness and three times more damping, at only half of the weight" by comparison, per Revel. Diamond is another material that has been used as a diaphragm material in higher-end speakers. While discussing the design of the PerformaBe tweeters, Revel personnel acknowledge that while diamond-dome tweeters have a higher breakup frequency (this is a good thing), Beryllium's breakup frequency is still beyond 40kHz. In addition to stiffness and damping qualities, Beryllium's density and elasticity properties are also well-suited for use as an audio transducer.
The one-inch Beryllium dome is incorporated into a tweeter system that features a beefy motor assembly with 85mm dual ceramic magnets and Revel's fifth-generation Acoustic Lens waveguide, designed to integrate the tweeter's off-axis output with that of the midrange driver. The 5.25-inch midrange driver and the two 6.5-inch woofers have Revel's Deep Ceramic Composite ("DCC") diaphragm, which is all new for the PerformaBe series. DCC is described by Revel as: "a plasma electrolytic oxidation process that uses a plasma discharge to create a coarse ceramic coating on both sides of the aluminum core. 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."
As with the Beryllium tweeters, there is more to the midrange design than simply utilizing exotic driver materials. The PerformaBE midrange and bass drivers have new motor structures designed for greater efficiency, dynamic range, and power handling, with reduced distortion and compression. As noted in our F228Be review, the crossovers in the PerformaBe series are high-order crossovers, which utilize all film capacitors and air core inductors in the midrange and tweeter circuits. The crossover point between the Beryllium tweeter and DCC midrange is 2.1kHz, with the midrange giving way to the woofers at 260 Hz. Given the similarities between the F228Be and F226Be, one should not be surprised to learn that they are both eight-ohm speakers with a rated sensitivity of 90 dB, although given the smaller size of the F226Be is overall, its 6dB-down point is at 36Hz instead of 27Hz in the F228Be.
I started with the F226Bes in the same position I ended up using with the F228Bes, with the front baffle three feet from the front wall and approximately eight feet apart. Their final position ended up being about four inches closer to the front wall. The amount of toe in ended up being the same--no surprise given the shared tweeter and midrange drivers--pointing to a spot just in front of my listening position.
I was fortunate enough to still have the excellent D'Agostino Progression Preamplifier and Stereo Amplifier in my two-channel listening system for this review. I also tried my McIntosh C500 Preamplifier driving a pair of McIntosh MC-501 monoblocks. My PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Network Audio Player served up music from either audio files stored on my NAS or discs played on my Oppo BDP-95. I used a single pair of Kimber Select speaker cables with Kimber Select jumpers throughout.
I also tried the F226Be's in a multichannel setup with a Marantz AV8805 AV Preamplifier and Krell TAS Amplifier driving the F226Bes, as they flanked a Revel Performa3 C208 center channel. In the interim, since my review of the F228Bes, Revel released a PerformaBe center channel, but I do not yet have one for evaluation so you will need to wait until we look at the F328Be. There is also a relatively small, stand-mounted speaker in the PerformaBe lineup, the M106, which could be used as main speakers in smaller areas or as surround speakers in a multichannel system in order to timbre-match your mains as much as possible.
I'll admit I had some preconceived notions of what I would hear with the F226Bes. I expected to hear the F228Bes but with less bass and some restrictions on dynamic range. All I can say is I'm glad I was able to set those aside and listen to the F226Bes on their own terms, as there were some surprises.
My listening started with some of the same tracks I used with the F228Be, as I wanted to establish a baseline before moving onto other pieces. Accordingly, I started "Variations" by Submotion Orchestra, from their album Kites (Tidal Hi-Fi, Smo Recordings). My notes from the prior review referenced deep and taut bass, and the F226Bes also provided this, but with perhaps a touch more detail.
The F226Be surprised me with its ability to project the images away from the cabinets. The speakers disappeared in the soundstage, leaving the vocals and each of the instruments to float in their own space, better defined both laterally across the soundstage and in distance from the listener.
The track "Soothing" by Laura Marling from Semper Femina (Tidal Hi-Fi, Sony Music) also has great female vocals, but adds a guitar track that the F226Be realistically reproduces. The individual guitar notes were reproduced with a great amount texture and detail, which helped build a solid, well-positioned sonic image.
Pete Belasco's electronica track "Deeper," off of the album of the same name (Tidal Hi-Fi, Nashville Catalog), has a deep, well-defined bass line that can demonstrate a speaker's bass capabilities or point out the shortcomings thereof. The multi-note bass line requires a speaker to both play deep and retain control to delineate between the different notes or they blur together in a poorly defined rumble.
The track showed off both the F226Be's low frequency extension and control. Many speakers with taut, well-defined bass can be difficult to drive, but the F226Bes maintained control of this track with all of the amplifiers I tried, although the D'Agostino amplifier exercised the greatest amount of control. Each of the notes was distinct, although the relative level of the lowest of the notes diminished at higher volumes, as it was simply too much air for this modest-sized speaker to move.
That is not to say the F226Bes are not capable of reproducing visceral bass. They are. I listened to many tracks with deep bass that could be felt as well as heard. However, they could not load the room the way the larger F228Be or similarly sized Magico A3 could. I was surprised that the F226Be's bass reproduction sounded more like the tauter Magico A3 than the richer F228Be, although both the A3s and F228Be can put out significantly more bass energy.
One of my go-to tracks is Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" performed by Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra led by Eric Kunzel (TELARC, CD). This complex track is extremely dynamic and has much to offer in addition to the infamous canons. It came as no surprise that the F226Be could not produce the impact and solidity of the canons like the larger F228Be or Magico A3, but even at moderately loud levels there was no compression or loss of composure. What was surprising about this track was the amount of detail and complexity it reproduced in comparison with its larger brother. The overall size of the image was smaller than that of the bigger Revels or Magico speakers, but detail was close to that of the MartinLogan Expression ESL 13A, with image definition close to the Magico A3.
More than that, the individual instruments were cleanly and naturally reproduced. The violin strings were crisp and well defined. The speed of the leading edge of the brass made for a realistic and dynamic reproduction that added to the sense of realism. Note, though, that the Revel's high frequency reproduction can be ruthlessly revealing. This is a well-recorded track played through high quality electronics; if you play lesser quality recordings, the faults will be revealed.
The F226Bes got paired with the C208 center speaker for multichannel duty, as the PerformaBe C426Be is just starting to ship. If you already have a C208 in your system, it will do a good job pairing with the PerformaBe towers, but there is a slight discontinuity between them, especially if your listening position is well off-axis. My family and I were watching Queen's Rock Montreal and Live Aid (Blu-ray) shortly after receiving the F226Bes for review.
It was no surprise that the Revels had no problems reproducing the powerful male vocals of Freddie Mercury or grit and speed of Brian's dynamic guitars, especially on "Get Down, Make Love." Of course, Roger's drums were precise and powerful. The F226Bes were able to blend in with my subwoofers to provide seamless and powerful bass. Given the solid stereo performance, it was no surprise that multichannel music would be well covered too.
Movie soundtracks are a different animal altogether, though. I watched a few movies with this speaker system, starting with Deadpool (Blu-ray). The highway fight scene not only has all the big macrodynamic crashes and gunshots you could ever ask for, but also more subtle microdynamic sonic cues that envelope the listener, such as the changing size of the sound envelope when Deadpool is on top of the bridge, as compared to on the highway level or in a vehicle. The Revels had no trouble reproducing these differences, making for a more involving movie-watching experience.
Given that my biggest complaint with the F228Be was the cabinet, I expected that to be an issue here. However, the slightly smaller dimensions allowed the cabinet to blend in better both visually and sonically. Room placement is still important due to the even and wide dispersion pattern, which makes differences in first reflection points more audible than with speakers with less even dispersion patterns.
The F226Be is not a "laid back" speaker; the Beryllium tweeter is revealing, which could be a problem with bad source material or bright electronics or possibly when installed in rooms with lots of hard physical surfaces. I did not have a problem with this, though, in a large, wooden-floored room, nor a smaller, carpeted room.
Comparisons and Competition
While Revel's own F228Bes ($10,000/pair) may be competition, although they are both more expensive and significantly bigger. The bigger size gets you a bit more bass extension and more output, but with slightly less precise imaging.
If the sharpness of image and cabinet size of the F226Be are appealing to you, the Magico A3 is close in size, images like crazy, and has great linear bass response, but costs almost twice the price at $12,400/pair. If the price is within your budget, you should give both speakers a listen in your room to see which sonic signature works best in your environment.
Lastly, the Focal Kanta No. 2 ($8,999/pair) features a similar driver complement, including a Beryllium tweeter. The Kanta's more modern cabinet design may stand out more, and although I like the way it looks, it may not work with all décors. Sonically, they get rave reviews from many on staff here at HomeTheaterReview.com.
The F226Be was a pleasant surprise, with its razor-sharp imaging and balanced sound reproduction. I was expecting solid performance in these areas, but these speakers went well beyond that. Large, detailed soundstages such as the symphony pieces I listened to where each rendered with more positional specificity than via the bigger F228Be. I can only guess that the narrower baffle permitted by the smaller woofers decreased diffraction and improved the imaging. It makes me wonder how a PerformaBe speaker with a Salon-type baffle would sound, but I digress.
It is true the smaller woofers and cabinet mean less bass extension and dynamic capabilities, but the limits are still pretty generous, so I doubt this will be an issue for many people. If you like the F226Be, but stronger bass response or louder volumes are needed, the larger F228Bes should be considered.
During my time with the Revels, I tried them with quite a few different amplifiers and found them easier to drive than either their big brothers or the Magico A3. While the D'Agostino and Halcro amplifiers excelled, all of the amplifiers I tried drove them to relatively loud levels without losing control.
The Revel F226Be is an all-around excellent speaker at a competitive price point. Its speed and cohesiveness provide a realistic image into which the speakers can disappear. While I thought I would miss the bigger F228Be, I spent many hours listening to a wide variety of jazz, blues, and rock without ever thinking I wished I had the bigger speakers here. The only time I missed the bigger speakers is when listening to bass heavy tracks at higher volumes.
The F226Be provides a natural, balanced presentation that will let you extract loads of detail from your system to create an enveloping listening experience. I am very glad I did not dismiss these speakers as only being the smaller version of a speaker I had already reviewed, as they are truly deserving of their own attention.
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• Revel PerformaBe Series F228Be Floorstanding Speaker Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.