Revel Ultima Studio (£11,000)

A polished performer in every sense, this luxurious loudspeaker boasts a wealth of hi-tech engineering

I didn’t need much persuading to audition this sumptuous pair of floorstanders made by Revel, one of its flagship Ultima2 range. Priced a cool £11,000 they exude opulence from their sculpted front baffles in gloss black, highly lacquered cabinets finished in real wood veneer (ours were the mahogany version; also available in piano black) and hi-tech drive units. Revel’s Ultima2 range comprises the Studio2 that we have here, an even larger model called Salon2, a slim bookshelf that’s suitable for on-wall use dubbed Gem2 and the Voice2 centre speaker.
  Commensurate with price, attention to detail is fastidious; to ensure that each Ultima2 loudspeaker is matched to within a fraction of a decibel to its prototype reference, a final tuning process is conducted on all production units to ensure absolute uniformity.
   The Studio2 employs a one-inch vapour-deposited beryllium dome tweeter common to all models in the Ultima2 range, together with a 5.25in midrange unit and two 8in woofers with inverted domes using titanium diaphragms. These drivers feature oversized voice coils that are wound with flat ribbon wire, designed to provide higher output capability while lowering dynamic compression.

The cabinet is a work of art, fabricated from nine layers of laminated MDF shaped into a single curvilinear enclosure, with extensive internal bracing to make for an inert and resonance-free enclosure. Even the front baffle is 2.5in thick. With its narrow shape designed to blend easily with a wide variety of décors, the Studio2’s seductive form is mirrored by the shape of its magnetically attached grille to provide what the marketing literature describes as ‘a wholly satisfactory sense of completeness’. I wouldn’t disagree; even my wife thought they looked elegant.
   At the rear a solid aluminium input/control panel sports two pairs of high quality binding posts for bi-wiring or bi-amping, together with two controls: low frequency compensation and tweeter level. The LF control offers three positions (Normal, Contour, and Boundary); the tweeter level control has five positions (–1 to +1dB, in 0.5dB steps). Both the controls, and the terminals, are located in a rear panel recess with a smoked plastic, hinged cover that follows the curvature of the cabinet and allows discreet installation with cables exiting through a slot at the bottom. Unfortunately, if you use 4mm banana plugs (as I do) the door won’t close; audiophiles tend to use spade connectors in the US!

While the Studio2s revelled (oops) in being bi-amped with 400 watts of studio monitoring amplifier, tightening up in the upper bass register when driven with meaty power amplification to give a faster, tauter sound that better enabled me to hear into the texture and subtle timbres of bass instruments, I nevertheless enjoyed these Revels most when using a lower powered integrated amp possessed of a sweeter character and more holographic imaging.
   There’s a cultured and highly refined quality to the upper midband and treble of The Studio2s that further benefits from a ‘sweet-sounding’ amplifier, I found. At moderate-to-loud listening levels I enjoyed many, many hours of fatigue-free listening in the few weeks during which my listening room gave the Studio2s a home.
   Auditioning a hi-res (96/24) DVD-Audio release of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw under Nikolaus Harnoncourt performing Dvorak’s Symphony No 9, ‘From The New World’ [Teldec 3984-25254-9], the Studio2s proved perfectly capable of revealing the obvious difference between the resolution of this ‘master digital file’ and the truncated, downsampled compact disc version [Teldec 252542]. Despite having the opportunity recently to play the CD version of this recording on the magnificent £30k Kalista Integrated player from Metronome Technologie of France, the higher resolution DVD release clearly sounded better textured and palpably more real, the Studio2s better revealing the juicy, rich texture of Harnoncourt’s interpretation of this lovely work. There’s plenty of fine detail and resolution capability from these Revels given high quality source material, notwithstanding their understated and smooth overall presentation.
   In recent weeks I’ve been listening to plenty of vinyl, too. My trusty Rock Reference gave the Studio2s a workout with some energetic 12in singles (Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Heaven 17 et al) along with Grace Jones’ classic Slave To The Rhythm [ZTT/Island GRACE1]. Containing infra-bass so deep that the mastering engineer didn’t even know he’d put it on the disc (as his monitors didn’t go that low in his studio room), Slave To The Rhythm revealed that while the Studio2s lacked the wherewithal to plumb the very deepest depths, they nevertheless moved sufficient air to shake the rafters and bring a grin to my face once again. You want more bass? You could consider a large subwoofer or two, I suppose. Or the bigger Ultima Salon2s with six-driver array in a four-way vented configuration. They’ll be £15,000 to you, sir.
   Whatever the programme material feeding them, these Studio2s sounded natural and at ease with any challenge presented them. Time and again I was thrilled to hear into recordings’ subtle details that tend to get masked by artificially rich-sounding transducers. The epitome of a low colouration speaker, the Studio2s deliver clearly extended and airy high frequency details along with controlled, tuneful bass while never throwing detail at the listener in an obvious fashion. Furthermore the subtle-acting LF and HF adjustment controls allowed me to achieve holographic imaging in my asymmetrical listening room the like of which is normally the reserve of electrostatic panel speakers.

Revel’s Ultima Studio2s possess a sound quality that’s as smooth and polished as the industrial design of the enclosures. Expensive, yes – but they look expensive and they sound expensive, delivering rich, deep bass combined with silky and refined treble that affords for hour after hour of fatigue-free listening. Given high resolution source material the Studio2s can produce truly thrilling music.

Originally published in the February 2009 issue