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.