I received my first review samples from Revel's new Performa3 line 18 months after I saw the original prototypes demoed at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2012. We see this kind of delay sometimes with James Cameron movies or Guns N' Roses albums, but rarely with speakers. What could be so hard about making new speakers? You got some woofers, some tweeters, an enclosure, a few capacitors and chokes - all stuff that was around before The Beatles. This protracted development time left me wondering: did the Performa3 speakers take so long because the engineers couldn't get them right? Or because they wanted to get them perfect?
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If you scan the Performa3 line in search of bold design twists and engineering innovations, you won't find much. A read of Revel's website reveals little more than a few driver tweaks (ribbed aluminum cones! new tweeter waveguide!) and curved cabinets, which should be stiffer than the Performa2 Series' rectangular enclosures.
The F208 that I'm reviewing here is one of two tower speakers in the Performa3 line; the other is the smaller F206, which I also had the opportunity to audition and will do some comparisons throughout the review. Both have the same one-inch aluminum dome tweeter and 5.25-inch aluminum cone midrange. The $5,000 per pair F208 has two eight-inch aluminum cone woofers, stands 46.5 inches high, and weighs 80 pounds. The $3,500 per pair F206 has two 6.5-inch aluminum cone woofers, stands 41.4 inches high, and weighs 58 pounds. Obviously, the F208 is going to give you deeper bass; Revel rates its -6dB point at 27hz, versus 36hz for the F206. However, the mids and treble will be slightly different, too. The width of the speakers' front baffles is 11.8 inches for the F208, 9.8 inches for the F206. The larger baffle of the F208 will give its output a tad more oomph in the midrange, which is why the crossovers between the midranges and woofers are slightly different. The specified crossover point for the F208 is 2.2 kHz, while it's 2.15 kHz for the F206. Arcane stuff, sure, but I'm impressed that the engineers took the trouble to make such subtle tweaks.
The F208 also offers a few more features to justify its $1,500-higher price. It's biwireable and biampable, with dual sets of binding posts (compared with a single set for the F206). Above the F208's binding posts are two controls. One is a tweeter level switch, which boosts or cuts treble level by ±1 dB in 0.5-dB increments. This lets you tweak the high-frequency response to your liking. The other control is a low-frequency compensation switch, with positions for Normal and Boundary. The latter position attenuates the bass in situations where the speaker must be positioned less than two feet from the wall behind it. Both speakers come with foam port plugs that let you reduce bass output when the speaker is placed near a wall. (The F208's plugs can be used with the low-frequency compensation switch set to either Normal or Boundary.)
Fit and finish of both models is superb. Both come with magnetically attached grilles and floor spikes that can be installed with the pointed end down (for carpeted floors) or the rounded end down (for wood or tile floors). The F206 does have one colossal advantage over the F208: while both are available in a walnut veneer or piano black finish, the F206 is also offered in gloss white, an ideal choice for one of those homes in the Hollywood Hills with floor-to-ceiling windows, a bearskin rug, an acrylic coffee table, and a white grand piano. You know, one of those places they rent out to shoot music videos and pornos.
If you want to expand a pair of F208s or F206s into a full home theater system, you can add the $2,000 C208 three-way center or the $1,000 C205 two-way center, the $2,000 per pair M106 or $1,500 per pair M105 two-way stand-mounted speakers. the $1,800 per pair S206 surround speaker, and the $3,000 B112 or $2,200 B110 subwoofers. The subs have a special twist: Revel's Low-Frequency Optimizer (LFO) is an internal 12-band parametric EQ that you can adjust using software running on a PC or Mac.
Both the F208 and the F206 are pretty much ready to go out of the box. All you have to do is put in the floor spikes. The Performa3 speakers are designed for broad, even dispersion - i.e., they sound much the same at 15 or 30 degrees off-axis as they do on-axis - so the aim of the speakers is not so critical. In both cases, I started by placing the speakers so that the centers of the front baffles were 52 inches from the wall behind them, and 58 inches from the side walls.
With the F208, this position gave me a just-right balance of bass to midrange and treble. I experimented briefly with plugging the ports, which reduced bass output and also gave the speakers a more gradual second-order (-12dB/octave) natural bass roll-off instead of the fourth-order (-24dB/octave) roll-off with the ports open. A second-order roll-off works better for many small rooms, but it sounded a little lean in my 2,924-cubic-foot room (which is also open to other spaces in the house), so I pulled the plugs. Likewise, I didn't need to engage the F208's low-frequency compensation switch. It works, though, and in my room it seemed to preserve more of the F208's essential character than plugging the ports did.
The F206's bottom end sounded a little lean with the speaker so far out in the room; so, to reinforce the bass, I pushed it closer to the wall behind, ending up with the front baffles about 30 inches from the wall. You'd have to have a mighty small room to need the F206's port plugs.
I then experimented with toe-in. I thought the F208s sounded best pointed straight at my listening chair, where they delivered what sounded to me like an ideal balance of treble. Not dull or uninvolving. Not bright or edgy. Just right. I did like the F208's tweeter level switch, even though I didn't need it. It provides a subtle adjustment without really affecting the quality of the sound. If your significant other insists that the speakers point straight out because they look nicer that way, you can kick the treble up +0.5 dB or +1 dB to compensate. Or if your listening room is highly reflective - like the proverbial Hollywood Hills living room with polished concrete floors and floor-to-ceiling windows - you can bring the treble down a tad if you like.
Because the F206's bass is leaner, the speakers sounded subjectively brighter. So I turned both of them out a bit, to aim at points roughly between me and the side walls. Because of the speakers' broad dispersion, this softened up the treble only subtly.
I powered the speakers with a Krell S-300i, a 150-watts-per-channel integrated amplifier. My primary source device was a laptop computer feeding one of two USB DACs: a Firestone Audio I♥TW or a Musical Fidelity V90. I also used the V90 with a Panasonic DMT-BDP350 Blu-ray player to see how the F208 and F206 handled movie soundtracks. For analog listening, I used a Pro-Ject RM-1.3 turntable feeding an NAD PP-3 phono stage.
Read about the performance of the Revel Performa3 F208 on Page 2.