Revel Ultima Studio2 Loudspeakers Reviewed

Revel Ultima Studio2 Loudspeakers Reviewed

While not as big or as expensive as their larger sibling the Ultima Salon2, the Studio2 from Revel packs 90 percent of their performance at almost half the price, not to mention they look nearly identical in fit and finish yet take up far less space making them not only easier on your wallet, but on your living room as well.

Revel-Studio-reviewed.gifThe previous generation of Revel Ultima loudspeakers were a statement to say the least. While they could be had in a variety of finishes I wanted mine in Ferrari Red with silver sides partially because I had never seen a speaker (keep in mind this was a few years back) in such a pallet and partially because I could. Well, I couldn't actually because I was still in school and frankly couldn't afford the grills let alone the speakers themselves but that's part of being an audiophile. Wanting what you can't have, or can't afford. Still, when I heard that Revel was updating their hugely successful Ultima line my imagination soared over the possibilities of what the new line-up of speakers would look like. What could top it? Space thrusters? Machine guns that pop out of the sides? It was anyone's guess.

Additional Resources
Learn more about Revel speakers here.
Read a review of the Revel Ulitima Salon2's by Jerry Del Colliano at HomeTheaterReview.com.
Read other high end audio floorstanding speaker reviews from the likes of Bowers & Wilkins, MartinLogan, Wilson Audio, Magico, YG Acoustics, Magenpan and many others.

 

Fast forward to CES 2007 I believe, and the new Ultima Salon2's unveiling by Revel's own Kevin Voecks. I walked into the Harman suite at the Hilton Towers to a pair of speakers I didn't recognize. In truth I thought Harman had brought along a pair of someone else's speakers, prompting me to ask Kevin "Where are the new Revels?"

"Right there," he said pointing to the pair of large, high-gloss towers.

Huh? There were no space thrusters. No machine guns; hell there weren't even custom finishes. What was going on? Had Revel lost their edge? Truth be told, I was so thrown by the new style that I didn't remember much from the demo aurally.

Fast forward to today. The updated Ultima line has been with us for a little while now and my initial reaction to their appearance has since tempered. However it seems a lot of the attention and accolades have gone to the largest of the line, the Salon2's leaving the smaller Studio2's, reviewed here, in the shadows. Well I have a soft spot for the next best in any speaker line, hell I still think the Wilson Audio Sophia is superior to the Watt Puppy so why couldn't the same hold true for the Studio2's?

The Revel Ultima Studio2 is a three-way, floorstanding speaker featuring a one-inch beryllium dome tweeter mated to a single five and a quarter inch midrange driver and dual eight-inch bass drivers. All of the drivers in the Ultima2 Series, from the Salon2's to the Gem2, have been redesigned from the ground up with larger motor systems, voice coils, and titanium diaphragms. Grills off, the driver array of the Studio2 is quite striking and somewhat unique looking, with each silver driver sitting in stark contrast against the surrounding piano black finish that looks more like flowing ink than the face of your typical loudspeaker.

In comparison to their predecessors, the Ultima2s are much more trim and streamlined in their shape, size and overall visual impact in a room. Where previous Revel designs had been more of a "look at me" statement, the new Revel loudspeakers, especially with their speaker grills on, are far more understated. Take the grills off and they regain a bit of their visual flare but it's definitely a more mature design language. While still a large speaker, at a little over 46 inches tall by nearly 14 inches wide and 20 inches deep, the Studio2s aren't going to be mistaken for mini monitors, though the subtle curves and sloping lines of the cabinet itself go a long way in portraying a far more compact looking floorstanding speaker then the Studio2's actual dimensions would appear.

The Studio2 has a reported frequency response of 32Hz to 45kHz, with crossover points at 230Hz and 2kHz. The Studio2's bass response is aided by a downward firing port, which rests above the Studio2's attached (non removable) base. The Studio2s are not what I'd call an efficient speaker; okay - they're pigs when it comes to power, evident in their 88.7dB sensitivity rating into a nominal six-Ohm load.

Around back, hidden behind a plastic door, are two EQ controls to aid in better tuning the Studio2's sound to the listening environment. The first of these controls handles high frequency or tweeter level, which allows you to boost or dial back the Studio2's tweeter output in half dB increments plus or minus a full dB. The second control is for low frequency compensation, which changes the Studio2's bass response depending on how the speaker is positioned in the room. For example, if you position the speakers near or next to a wall or hard surface you can select the Boundary setting, where as if you have a particularly challenging room with standing waves resulting in boomy bass you can select Contour. Normal is reserved for traditional placement in a room with little to no sonic abnormalities or problem frequency areas, such as a properly designed and implemented dedicated listening room. Below the Studio2's EQ controls you'll find a pair of rather robust binding posts that can accept spade or banana terminated speaker cable as well as bare wire.

The Hookup
Unpacking and placing the Studio2s is a job for two able bodied people or preferably your dealer; however since I had neither of those two options at my disposal I had to get creative. While I was able to unpack and setup the Studio2s on my own I do not recommend it for they are quite heavy at 140 pounds apiece. One thing that does help is Revel's rather ingenious packaging, which basically "peels" away from the speaker itself leaving it in an upright position with only a thick foam base below. The foam base can be tricky to remove by one's self, however not impossible. The Studio2s come with carpet spikes; I didn't bother with them due to my listening room having wood floors.

Once unboxed, I was able to slowly and gently slide the Studio2s into position, with the help of a small bath towel underneath the base, with little drama. Deciding on final positioning took a few days of experimentation between toe in and front wall distance, which is to be expected. I must say, the EQ controls did prove useful though, especially the low frequency controls. I ultimately ended up placing the Studio2's about eight and a half feet apart with the slightest bit of toe in towards the primary listening position with the back of the speaker itself resting about three feet off the front wall. In this position, while I could hear a difference in the bass response if I jogged through the various compensation controls, I ultimately chose to leave the Studio2s in the normal bass setting.

The Studio2s were connected to my Anthem Statement P5 amplifier via a run of Transparent Reference speaker cables. For my preamp/processor I utilized my trusty Integra DTC 9.8 with source duties falling to my Sony Blu-ray player, AppleTV and NAD C 565BEE CD player. The whole system was wired with Transparent Reference interconnects with power conditioning by Transparent as well.

Performance
I kicked things off with some two channel fare courtesy of Christina Aguilera and her greatest hits album Keeps Getting Better: A Decade of Hits (RCA Records). Now before you all go rolling your eyes at my music choice, I have to say it's actually a well recorded and mixed pop album that when played back on a system better than a stereo found in a Honda Civic can be quite revealing and enjoyable...for a pop album. Starting with the track "Candyman," a sort of 40's era big band throw back, the Revels were in full-ahem-swing. The bass was the first thing I noticed, largely because the track begins with a thumping bass line that is rich, nicely textured (in the right system) and immediate. Though it had good dynamic build and airy decay it did lack that last ounce of slam or edge. It wasn't tubby or bloated, quite the opposite, but it wasn't able to quite reach the depths I've heard from the larger Salon2s, though with fewer bass drivers I'm not sure it's a truly fair comparison. Moving to the opposite end of the spectrum, the treble was able to reach the highest peaks yet remain utterly composed and free of distortion even with my volume control set on unity gain. There was tremendous air and extension but also weight, which you don't always get from tweeters, a true sense of weight and heft. The midrange proved to be the Studio2's party piece rendering Christina's vocals naturally and faithfully. Christina's placement within the soundstage was rock solid and stood out in stark contrast from the rest of the surrounding instruments, especially the raucous horn section that while forward was never harsh or brittle. Speaking of soundstage for a moment the Studio2's ability to virtually disappear was a feat in and of itself and one I wasn't expecting given their size yet they disappeared like a pair of monitor speakers leaving a vast, wide open soundstage in their wake. One thing I did notice about the Studio2s with this particular demo was they did need a fair amount of volume to come to life and unlock their true dynamic potential, no doubt a side of effect of their thirst for power. I like to listen to music on the louder side of normal so this wasn't so much an issue for me, however if you're more of a background listener you may not be hearing everything the Studio2s can offer.

Read more about the performance of the Studio2s on Page 2.

Revel-Studio-reviewed.gif

Leaving pop music, I cued up the soundtrack to James Cameron's
Avatar (Atlantic) by James Horner and the track "Becoming One of 'The
People' Becoming One with Neytiri." In contrast to the thumping,
immediate bass track of "Candyman," "Becoming" had a far more textured
and dare I say analog sounding bass line aided by song's use of
tympanis versus a drum machine. For a great example of what I'm talking
about cue up "Becoming" and listen closely at about the three and half
minute mark (when the tympanis rumble then explode) and see if through
your system you have a feeling of truly being "there" versus listening
to a recording. I assure you at this point in the track, with the
volume set near unity gain you will be transported through the
Studio2s. There was more true weight to the song's bass versus simple
slam-bam-thank-you-ma'am. The depth the Studio2s were able to reach
with "Becoming" was also superior to "Candyman" leading me to rethink a
few of my initial findings. The treble was once again on full display
especially through Horner's delicate use of bells balanced against the
song's various cymbal crashes, both of which sprung to life from some
of the blackest backgrounds I've heard in my system and decayed in such
a three dimensional way that I could 'feel' the sound versus simply
hear it. The midrange, especially the young boy's vocals, were haunting
and hung in space creating a very ethereal sound and feel. The
soundstage itself didn't extend much in front of the speakers; however
the width and depth was so vast that at times it seemed to nearly arc
completely around my primary listening position. Who says you need five
or more speakers to get a surround sound experience. Dynamically the
Studio2s were in a league of their own at least compared to some of the
speakers that have recently graced my listening room. The sheer
explosiveness and texture to the Studio2s dynamic prowess was awesome
to behold. Whereas some speakers will simply disguise dynamics by
shifting everything forward and showcasing their ability to handle high
volumes the Studio2s take a more layered approach, building layer upon
layer until the combined sounds make for more volume. This obviously
happens very quickly, however the Studio2s never do it at the expense
of spaciousness, definition and clarity.

I ended my evaluation of the Studio2s with a song I should be utterly ashamed for liking; Timbaland's "Carry Out (featuring Justin Timberlake)" from the album Shockvalue II (Blackground/Interscope). I chose this particular track for a reason, because in nearly every system I've ever heard it in it has been utter-well-not good. Whereas Christina Aguilera's album is well recorded and rather surprising at times how good it is, Shockvalue II is more or less club music. There isn't much to "Carry Out" other than thumping bass, some tapping of some synthesized cowbell or something like that, and Justin Timberlake. That being said, it was far from a train wreck, in fact it was simply good fun. It was nice to know that even though the Studio2s are serious audiophile loudspeakers they aren't so serious as to reject our guilty pleasures. Justin's vocals were actually quite enjoyable and the self-harmony was far more present than I'd heard before giving the whole performance a bit more weight and space. The cowbell I referred to earlier was rendered quite nicely, though completely fake; it wasn't offensive or rife with digital harshness. The bass was the deepest of the bunch though in no way as pleasant, however it did showcase just how low the Studio2s could go. More surprising still was the addition of certain sound effects and dynamic swings that were previously absent from my other listening sessions with the "Carry Out" through lesser speakers. The gear, sources etc. hadn't changed, just the speakers, showcasing just how revealing, in a good way, the Studio2s could be.

Low Points
While I was pleasantly surprised by the Studio2s performance - okay I was blown away - there were a few items I did take note of. First, the door located on the rear of the speaker designed to create a more professional looking installation is all well and good provided your speaker cables aren't too thick. For example, my Transparent Reference speaker cables were able to connect nicely to the Studio2s binding posts, but I was unable to position them in such away that would allow the door to close over top of them leaving me with a somewhat exposed (open) door hanging off the back of the speaker, which is not very sexy. I know of several Revel owners who have removed that door altogether to avoid this problem but since these were review samples I didn't feel comfortable doing this, nor did I think that removing such a design feature was an okay solution given the time and thought that must have gone into including it in the first place only to have it not work.

As of this review's publication the Studio2's, like all of the speakers in the Ultima2 line, are only available in two finishes, high-gloss black and high-gloss mahogany (my review samples were the latter). The beauty of the previous Ultima designs was that you could have 'em your way making them as much a personal expression as they were a sonic one, which I really liked though I'm sure it made the profit margins a bit leaner. Either way, for a $16,000 pair of speakers there should be more finishes than two. I vote for carbon fiber weave.

I asked Kevin Voecks about this very issue and his response was "we reduced the number of finishes for two reasons. We had to blow-out the few red, green and blue speakers we built in the original series. Also, the separate side panels ended-up annoying people, as we originally sent them out as "kits." The primary problem was we couldn't keep every combination in stock, which only caused upset. Now that we have two finishes that satisfy most people, we have been able to keep them in stock in our US and European warehouses."

Lastly, one can't ignore the Studio2's absolute need for power, not to mention high quality, clean power. My Anthem Statement P5 is hardly what I'd call a slouch at 325 watts per channel into eight Ohms and 500 watts per channel into four. However I'd consider an amp such as the P5 as a baseline from where to begin with a speaker like the Studio2. Names like Mark Levinson, Krell, and Pass should be on your list of amplifiers to consider when thinking about purchasing the Studio2s. You can do it with less but trust me, the better the amp the richer and fuller the Studio2s are going to sound. Tube amplifiers, unless you're talking about some of the bigger Audio Research or McIntosh amps, need not apply.

Conclusion
While I'm not about to call a $16,000 anything, much less a speaker, a bargain, the Revel Studio2s are on the more affordable side of the cost no object spectrum. While not the biggest in the Ultima2 line - that title goes to the Salon2s - the Studio2s more than hold their own and if I'm honest, provide most of their big brother's performance for six grand less. Not to mention they're more compact and easier to integrate into a room than the Salon2s.

That being said, I believe the Studio2s compete favorably with other ultra high-end offerings such as the Wilson Sophia's, Wilson Watt/Puppies (now Sasha W/P), Bowers and Wilkins 802D and more. Given the choice I think I'd chose the Salon2s as they just do it for me. Okay, I'm still not the biggest fan of their looks but they don't look that bad even if you can only get them in two finishes. Beyond their looks it's what they do sonically that impresses me most. If you have the proper equipment, mainly power, the sonic tale the Studio2s can weave is engrossing and addictive. The Studio2's sound is never aggressive or forced even when pushed to the ragged edge: the midrange is borderline perfect and the bass, while not the absolute deepest, is so textural and musical that you almost don't care that it won't rattle the fillings from your teeth (here's one area where the Salon2s have it over the Studio2s in spades). That's what subwoofers are for and Revel makes some fine subs.

I consider the Studio2 to be a perfect blend of performance, form and practicality. From their design to their music and movie performance, everything about the Studio2 screams balance and control. The Studio2 is a much more mature loudspeaker than its predecessors and a much more mature speaker for Revel as a whole. I really enjoyed my time with the Studio2s and I'm willing to bet anyone who purchases them that they would too. Consider this my very enthusiastic endorsement.

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