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In the Company of Giants: A day with the Revel Ultima Salon 2

Luckily for me, Evolution A/V in Tyson’s Corner, VA, has a pair of Revel Ultima Salon 2s on the floor. I hit the showroom at about lunchtime as I figured it’d be dead and I had a bit of a break before my late afternoon appointments piled up, but wouldn’t you know it, there was another patron in there listening. To opera of all things. Luckily, they also have the Studio 2s on display, so I got to cool my heels listening to them (fed by Mark Levinson gear) while I waited for the opera fan to need a break.

The Studio 2s and the Salon 2s share quite a bit. Their styling and drivers are very similar, but of course, the Studio 2s don’t have the bass extension of their big brothers. Even so, I figured they’d share a house sound, so, what’s not to like?

Well, it seems I’m not a fan of the Studio 2s. I was only in there 30 minutes or so, but it was either the electronics, the setup or the speakers themselves, something, wasn’t gelling for me. Imaging was spot on, and in this home theater room, I felt that the center channel wouldn’t be really all that necessary. I sat down. Stood up. Walked around the couch. Went to the side walls. Everywhere I went, the sound field was pretty cohesive. Yes, I lost stereo imaging when I went far left or right, but standing up or sitting down didn’t seem to matter much at all. And the “sweet spot”, if there was (only) one, was wide enough for 3-4 people to sit in. Impressive.

Ok, so that said, I wasn’t terribly gripped. Imaging? Check. Sound staging? Check — very nice. Emotional connection? Meh. It sounded good. A bit cool, I thought (I’ll come back to this), but … something wasn’t just so. It was hard to put my finger on it — and then I was off to the big room. Apparently, Mr Opera wanted to check out the Studios (which he ended up buying, interestingly).

The Salon 2s are big. I don’t know if anyone told you, but the tweeter sits about 6″ over my ear height, and at 6′, I’m not Tiny Tim. I even sat up straight in the chair. I even stretched! And still the tweeters were clearly over the plane of my ears. Did it matter? Not a whit. Like the Studio’s, the Salon’s have a tremendous vertical dispersion. No head-in-the-vise sweet spot. Standing, sitting, walking around, the Salon’s could give a flying f@(&. It was pretty cool!

Unlike the home theater room, the Revels in this room were fed by ARC gear, and not their top of the line either. The amp was a ARC DS450 (smaller than you’d think), an LS17 preamp and the source was the excellent top-loading Reference 8. Speaker cables were Transparent Musicwave + and the interconnects were all Transparent Musiclink+.

I popped in the MoFi gold CD of Tigerlilly, by Natalie Merchant. Now, this is a nice sounding disc, and one I’ve used several times to tell me what a speaker is doing with the midrange. On the Merlins and Jseph Audio speakers, the vocals are front and center. On the Transmission Audio, and a couple of others I can’t think of now, the vocals are recessed — but only by comparison to the Merlin/Joseph speakers. On the Salons, the vocals are integrated. Neither forward nor recessed. Just right where you’d think they ought to be. Interesting, and a perspective that was a bit new to me.

In went Jem’s Finally Woken. “Come On Closer” is a sexy song. Throbbing bass. Soaring vocals. Violins. What’s not to like? Well, on the Revels, everything hangs of a seamless skein. The image is huge. The sound is HUGE. And the bass is tight and fast and … just a bit light on the lowest registers. Now, Jem does that hiphop type bass — the kind that reminds you of that stoplight you were sitting at when that car came thumping up. It’s the kind of bass that reaches into your body and shakes things. It’s subwoofer bass. And that’s where the Salons lose a bit to the 2+2 rig I have going with the Merlins and Rythmiks. Not that’s bass. Deep, articulate, gut check bass. On the Revels, the bass was folded in and folded down. Coherent, top to bottom. But … it made me wonder if my subs at home weren’t turned up just a tad overmuch. Whoops. Heh.

I played a rather large selection. Rodrigo y Gabriela, 11:11. Diana Krall, The Girl In The Other Room, and Oscar Peterson’s We Get Requests on the superlative K2HD format, Shelby Lynne’s Just A Little Lovin’. I got my depression on with Aimee Mann’s Bachelor No 2. Tommy Emmanuel made an appearance on Live One. And yes, Yes made an appearance with Fragile.

A note about “Roundabout”. Late in this song, they do something where it sounds like everything suddenly goes out of phase. Instead of a rock-solid center-image, the vocals seem to emerge from the walls. On the Transmission Audio speakers, this effect literally ripped the walls out of the room. In this room, on the Revels, this track also experienced a tremendous expansion of the soundstage, but instead of wall-destroying, it seemed to wrap around me. I’m not sure which is “right”, but it sure was weird. And awesome.

The sound of the big Revels is exactly that, big. The sound field is very tall, taller than the speakers. It’s also easily room-filling. Imaging is pin-point, and also very forgiving on and off axis, whether that’s vertical or horizontal. The sound is also very neutral. Unlike the big Magico Q5s, which shared the room with the Salon 2s, the Revel had very little sound of it’s own, other than that “big speaker” sound. It wasn’t warm, except when the recording was. It wasn’t lean, except when the recording was. It wasn’t bright, except when the recording was. It wasn’t boomy, well, you get the picture. In my experience, I’ve not come across a speaker more like an open window that the Salon 2.

All in all, I seriously enjoyed my time with the Revels. They’re awesome. Awe-inspiring. Truly amazing. They also cost $22k. To get there, I’m gonna need to move out quite a bit of audio gear that’s cluttering my basement. I’ll also need to sell my beloved Merlins.

Which brings up another point. There are some who say that there is nothing better than a Merlin speaker, only different. This is hogwash. Yes, the Merlin lineup is special. They’re probably the best monitor speakers I’ve ever heard, whether you’re talking about the ones that sit on stands or the ones that come with their stands integrated into them. But they’re all monitors. The Revels are most definitely not monitors. And yes, they’re clearly different than the Merlins. They’re also better, and they can do things that my Merlins will only ever day dream about. They cast a much bigger, deeper and well-defined soundstage. They also image better (yep, it’s true). They’re more coherent. And, obviously, they reach much deeper than any two-way ever could. Until the sorcerers over at Merlin release a full-range speaker, the comparison isn’t even close.

But it’s funny I say that, because apparently that’s the speaker that’s currently on the design boards over at Merlin. Whether that design makes it to the light of day will be another matter entirely. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Anyway, after an exhausting afternoon trying to ruffle the feathers of the big Revels, I brought my stack of CDs at home and played them through my rig. All I have to say is, this sounds damn good. So, before I write off my magical Merlins, I guess I’m going to have to try one last thing, and get tricky with a Velodyne SMS-1. Maybe if I integrate the subs a bit more perfectly … who knows. The SMS-1 is certainly cheaper than the Salon 2s!

About Scot Hull (976 Articles)
Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and "The Occasional Magazine"

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