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.
Revel's newest speaker, the Performa F228Be, has been in the works for a few years, with a lot of excitement brewing in enthusiast circles. Prototypes of the speaker were displayed at audio shows for a couple of years and many described it as a Revel F208 with a Beryllium tweeter. I had a pair of F208s in my system for a while during my review of the Mark Levinson N° 585, so I was familiar with them. The imaging and dynamic response of the F208s were very good, and my limited listening experiences with the Beryllium driver prototypes was positive, so when I had a chance to spend time with the new F228Be, I jumped at it.
I have to admit, though, to being a little surprised when I saw that the F228Be was priced at $5,000 each, double the price of the F208. This seemed like a big jump in price if the only change from the F208 was the addition of the Beryllium tweeter. I spoke with Kevin Voecks, the Acoustic Technologies Manager at Harman, and he was not surprised when I queried him about this misperception that the F228Be was basically a F208 with a new tweeter. Kevin patiently explained the myriad of differences between the F208 and F228Be. In short, the only thing that is the same is the cabinet.
I surmise that had Revel changed the cabinet, the F228Bes would likely end up costing nearly as much as the $16,000/pair Salon2. The F208 and F228Be cabinets may be a bit staid in design, but are very well engineered. The flat front panel has the four drivers flush-mounted above a front-firing port. The drivers and port can be hidden by a magnetically attached grille, but the white drivers in their black surrounds have a clean, modern look that some may wish to display.
The F228Be can be had in your choice of choice of four high-gloss finishes: Black, White, Walnut, or Metallic Silver. My review samples were finished in an attractive polished Walnut with a metallic black curved top panel and a black plinth that extends slightly from the body of the cabinets. The cabinets have curved sidewalls and resemble the blunt bow of ship when viewed from above. The curved shape and internal bracing make for a solid, inert cabinet that only emitted a dull thud no matter where I knocked my knuckles on it.
The three-way, 46.6-inch tall, 13.5-inch wide, and 14.8-inch deep speakers weigh in at 82 pounds apiece and contain a lot more technology than the Beryllium tweeter that has dominated the pre-release chatter. However, Beryllium tweeters are still pretty sexy in the world of speaker design, so I will start there and work my way down. The one-inch beryllium tweeter features large, 85mm dual ceramic magnets as part of its powerful motor structure.
In my discussion with Voecks, I recalled that the much more expensive Studio2 and Salon2 also had Beryllium drivers and asked if the F228Be's tweeters came from those models. I was informed that the Beryllium tweeters are an all new design, which leads one to ask: why use Beryllium if you have a clean sheet of paper? According to the Revel marketing materials, Beryllium "is a rare earth metal that is renowned for its remarkable physical properties that make it the ideal material for a high-frequency transducer. Compared to aluminum and titanium tweeter diaphragms, Beryllium offers 4.5 times the stiffness and three times more damping, and does so at only half of the weight." In short, it is stronger and lighter, and will exhibit less ringing than aluminum or titanium.
During some of the recent trade shows, I asked the Revel personnel about Diamond as a diaphragm material and they explained design choice reasons in favor of Beryllium. Diamond dome tweeters have a higher velocity of sound than Beryllium, which impacts the material's breakup frequency, but Beryllium is still beyond 50 kHz, so that should not be a problem in this application. Beryllium's lower density, as compared to Diamond and most other tweeter materials, minimizes density and distortion. Revel also cites "Poisson's Ratio." The lower the ratio, the better a material's elasticity is suited for audio. Beryllium's Poisson's Ration is .08 compared to .31 for Diamond and .33 for Aluminum.
Having spoken with numerous speaker designers, I have come to the conclusion that either of these materials can be used to make a great speaker, but there is much more than the diaphragm material that determines whether the tweeter will sound great. And much more than a great tweeter is needed to make a great speaker. In the case of the F228Be, the Beryllium tweeter is combined with a fifth-generation ceramic-coated, cast-aluminum Acoustic Lens waveguide engineered to integrate the tweeter's directivity with the directivity of the midrange driver. The 5.25-inch midrange driver and the two eight-inch woofers have Revel's Deep Ceramic Composite ("DCC") diaphragm, which is all new for the PerformaBe series of speakers.
Revel describes DCC 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." The DCC cones are coupled with an improved motor structure for greater efficiency, dynamic range, and power handling, with reduced distortion and compression. Last but not least, the crossovers in the PerformaBe series are high-order crossovers that utilize all film capacitors and air core inductors in the midrange and tweeter circuits.
I positioned the F228Bes in my room with the front baffle three feet from front wall and approximately eight feet apart. I experimented with the amount of toe in, and with the F228Bes' wide dispersion I ended up with them pointing to a spot just in front of my listening position. Once I had the position figured out, I installed IsoAcoustics' GAIA II feet.
The F228Bes were evaluated in both my reference stereo system as well as in a multichannel configuration. Starting with the stereo system, I used a single pair of Kimber Select speaker cables with Kimber Select jumpers to connect to a Halcro dm38 being driven by a McIntosh C500 preamplifier. A PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Network player served up the music from either audio files stored on my NAS or discs played on my Oppo BDP-95.
I also tried the F228Bes in a multichannel setup with a Marantz AV8805 AV Preamplifier and Krell TAS Amplifier driving the F228Bes as they flanked a Revel Performa3 C208 center channel. There is currently a pair of small, stand-mounted speakers in the PerformaBe lineup, the M126Be, but there is no center channel as of yet, so the C208 had to suffice.
Once I got the speakers settled into position and the feet installed, I began what turned into a lengthy series of listening sessions. Starting with stereo music, one of the first pieces I listened to was "Variations" by Submotion Orchestra from their album Kites (Tidal Hi-Fi, Smo Recordings). The synthesized bass was deep and tight, but what caught my attention was the solid positioning of the lead female vocal track. Each of the instruments and voices was in its own distinct space in the soundstage.
Moving to Laura marling's "Soothing" from Semper Femina (Tidal Hi-Fi, Sony Music) the female vocals were again reproduced with a near spooky sense of realism, which was further bolstered by a natural sounding guitar
track with a slow pace that let the Revels reproduce the minute details of the individual string plucks.
The speakers were extremely fast, detailed, coherent, and provided well-defined images. The Expressions edged out the F228Bes when it came to low level detail at lower listening volumes, but the Revels provided better defined spatial images and dynamics.
Staying with music from my recent Expression review, I then listened to the Living Stereo recording of Charles Munch leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 (176kHz/24-bit AIFF, from HDTracks.com). The F228Bes created a huge soundstage, going well beyond the physical confines of my listening room, and did so without giving up anything when it came to careful layering and positioning of individual instruments.
I could go on and on about the variety of two channel music that I listened to during my time with the F228Bes, but I also had the opportunity to listen to some multichannel music. "Last Plane Out" from Toy Matinee's self-titled album
(DVD-Audio, DTS Entertainment) has been a long time favorite of mine. The guitars sounded very realistic, with the right amount of bite, the bass guitar had the right amount of weight and lots of detail, making it easy to close my eyes and imagine the band in the room with me.
I listened to a variety of other multichannel music tracks, including Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" from The Game (DVD-Audio, DTS Entertainment) and Imagine Dragons' "I Bet My Life" from Smoke + Mirrors (Blu-ray, DTS-HD), both of which are great tracks to demo a multichannel system. The dynamics of Freddie Mercury's vocals and the ambient spaciousness of the Imagine Dragons track were equally impressive. However, with multichannel music I was able to hear the differences between the F228Bes and the C208. They were very similar in character, but as the sounds panned across the front, I could discern the additional detail and extended open treble of the F228Bes.
The timbre differences between F228Be and C208 combination were much less distracting with movies. The train crash scene from Super 8 (Blu-ray, Paramount Pictures) really let the F228Be's dynamic power delivery and detail shine through as the big crashes, impacts, and explosions were reproduced without compression or strain. Equally impressive was the F228Be's ability to simultaneously reproduce the subtler sonic cues that provide the sense of envelopment and space that puts you in the middle of the action. This capability came as no surprise, as I heard it time and time again as I dove deep into my music catalog, but I was nonetheless happy to confirm that dynamic movies posed no challenge.
Competition and Comparison
The Paradigm Persona 3F, a larger floor-standing speaker, is an obvious competitor, as they are also priced at $10,000 and feature a Beryllium midrange as well as tweeter.
Likewise, the Focal Sopra N°2 at $14,995 also features Beryllium tweeters. I have not had the chance for extended listening sessions with either speaker, but my brief experiences with them were favorable. The Paradigm and Focal speakers have a more modern appearance, with the curved baffle of the Focal being a bit more eye-catching. This could be a plus or minus depending on your design criteria, but could be a deciding factor for some. See HomeTheaterReview.com's floorstanding speaker category page for the latest reviews of competitive speakers.
My biggest complaint with the F228Be is the cabinet. It's fine in and of itself, but it is the same cabinet as the F208, and some visual differentiation for a speaker that retails for twice the price would have been a good thing. The even and wide dispersion pattern makes room placement important, as differences in first reflection points were more audible than with speakers with less even dispersion patterns.
If you are looking to place the F228Be in a multichannel system, the lack of a matching center channel is problematic for now. A PerformaBe series center channel is forthcoming, but no release date has been announced.
During my time with the F228Be, I found myself getting lost in hours-long listening sessions. Roon made it easy for me to find plenty of music to listen to and the Revels made me want to stay and listen. Whether it was the solid bass of an R&B track, the opening riff of Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing," or a mellow acoustic piece at the end of the day, the F228Bes were cohesive, neutral, fast, and dynamic. I was concerned that the Beryllium tweeters might be bright, but I found them to be open, with an extended top-end.
During my time with the Revels, I tried several different amplifiers and found that the speakers really benefit from a powerful amplifier that can deliver a lot of current. My McIntosh MC501 monoblocks did a good job, but the Halcro dm38 really brought the F228Bes to life. Likewise, with multichannel audio, you will need a substantial amplifier in order to realize the potential of these speakers. Care must also be taken in their positioning, for while I believe the even and wide dispersion pattern has a lot to do with the F228Be's ability to create a precisely detailed soundstage, the first reflection points should be treated as much as possible to take advantage of this.
Of the speakers I have had in my system, the B&W 800 Series Diamonds were probably the closest to the F228Bes, but the Revels had more energy in the upper midrange/lower treble range, which provided them with more presence than older series of B&W 800 Series Diamonds (although I heard the current generation of the B&Ws also has more energy in this region). All in all, the Revel F228Be is a speaker that can recreate soundstages of any size, place the instruments in the correct spot, and make them sound real. The balance of coherent integration of the drivers, dynamic power delivery, and wide dispersion window work together to make for a performance that does a very good job at reproducing a wide variety of music. I highly recommend that you take a close listen if you are in the market for floorstanding speakers anywhere near this price range.
• Visit the Revel website for more product information.
• Check out our Floorstanding Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
• Revel Concerta2 F36 Floorstanding Speaker Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.