"For the excellence of ambient naturalness, top-to-bottom coherence, dynamic capabilities and distortion-free resolving power of the Ultima Studio 2 you have to pay 16,000 euros, however, with the Revels I have arrived to the point of no return..."
Alea iacta es…
Sometimes a challenge comes and you change your job. I lived with Avantgarde Acoustics Trio quite happily for a while when I had to move my flat to follow that challenge. In fact, the rather small house our family occupies now is much more convenient for audio, so that was definitely the change for good. However, behind the change of style the Avantgarde Acoustics turned out to be too ´avantgarde´and that is why I started my search for a new ultimate pair of speakers that would merge with the new interior decor more easily..
The original idea was to make speakers invisible in the new room so naturally I opted for high-performance standmounted Dynaudio Confidence C1. Coincidentally, by an act of god, I managed to haggle about much bigger listening space, about 38m2. Hallellujah! The Avantgarde Acoustics had been gone unfortunately and Dynaudios seem to be too modest to pressurize such a room enough to high SPLs. MJ suggested to check Revel and that was how the Ultima Studio 2 has become my new reference.
Those anxious to find more about Revel (the company) and Kevin Voecks (the man behind) please refer to Audiodrom´s Revel Performa M22 review. The Ultima Studio 2 is technologically much more advanced product in Revel´s hierarchy, I would say far more advanced than the Performa series. It is totally different. Still, it does not occupy the top position in Revel´s catalogue - this position is taken by Ultima Salon 2 that further improves over Studio 2 with its 6-driver compartment and four-way design. The Studio 2 is a three-way bottom-ported speaker with four drivers in total.
Starting from the top there is a beryllium dome tweeter (2.5cm) that rests in a concave waveguide. The extremely lightweight and stiff dome radiates energy up to 45kHz (!) with its resonance frequencies being below 600Hz and above 50kHz which is far enough from its operational range and thus virtually not audible. A copper pole-piece is supposed to reduce inductance modulation and herewith the harmonic distortion of the tweeter. The outer diameter of the tweeter’s waveguide equals to the outer diameter of dedicated 14cm midrange driver. Both the drivers thus sit closely next to each other in a monitor fashion and it helps to unify their dispersion characteristics.
The output of the beryllium tweeter can be adjusted within +/-1.0dB by a knob from behind the speaker’s cabinet to fine tune the Ultima Studio 2’s high frequency shelving as you need. This optimalization feature is very useful in case you room is a tad more overdamped like mine and encourages faster roll-off of highs. Putting an accent on what happens from ca 10kHz onwards helps to maintain sparkling clarity of the Studio 2 in my room.
The midrange unit and two 20cm woofers (note that the sizes of the woofers do not differentiate a lot from the other drivers) all have titanium inverted-dome diaphragms. This is also where the Studio 2 differs from the Salon 2 that employs aluminum woofers. Neodymium motor assemblies in the titanium drivers are doubled to increase performance and speed of reaction with a positive effect on the speaker’s dynamic behavior. Designers were also attentive to voice coils that are wound with a flat ribbon wire to prevent losses. There are two cross-over boards in the Studio 2 set to 230Hz and 2kHz (24dB/octave) so each driver works in quite narrow frequency range. Personally I think that the Ultima Studio 2 owes much of its performance to the fantastic alignment of its drivers - throughout my use of the Revels I have never been able to identify which driver is a momentary source of sound; the handover between the drivers is exceptionally smooth and seamless.
The last ´passive´ driver can be found at the bottom of the speaker’s cabinet. The bass reflex port fires downward, however, not to a floor but to a pedestal that is a firm part of the speaker. By this arrangement Revel makes sure that there is no difference whether you place the Studio 2 on a thick furry carpet or on a wooden floor - the port’s output is uniform in both cases and you are expected to use supplied spikes anyway.
If I said that my previous speakers had been eccentric, then the Studio 2 should be called ´classical´. My pair is in high gloss mahagony finish which lends a look of a musical instrument to the speakers. I assume that it is why I leave (except for a really critical listening sessions) their protective grilles on: not to spoil the classical look by showing the metal of the drivers.
For how expensive they are, they look maybe even more expensive. Indeed, 16ths€ (430tis CZK) is a lot of money but there is also a lot of top-notch engineering behind these speakers.
The 60mm thick front baffle cut from 9-layer MDF is elaborately contoured not to leave a single unrounded edge with one aim: minimize diffractions. For that purpose the speakers are also unusually slim with the dimensions to be only 117 (H) x 35 (W) x 52 (D) cm including the pedestal.
Further to its frontal curvature the cabinet is rounded towards rear where both side panels eliptically meet so the real ´rear´is virtually missing. What you can find here, however, is the plexiglass door covering a recessed area that hides two pairs of gold-plated terminals shorted by removable jumpers and two regulators: one is the aforementioned tweeter level adjustment knob and the other is a low-frequency compensation that works between 30 and 50Hz. The 3 settings of the bass knob allow to fine tune the bass performance of the Studio 2 within +/-5dB range according to the actual placement of the speakers in a room.
The Ultima Studio 2s posseses something that I would call a ´plug & play´capability. Not to say they are completely insensitive to their placement in a room but it is easier to find the right place for Studio 2s than for most other speakers. They ended up approximately 2.5m apart with only slight toe-in and closer to the wall behind them than I could afford with other speakers. I believe this is possible due to the down-firing port. Moreover, there is the possibility to further adjust the LF output with the help of compensation knob. However, the Studio 2s greatly benefit from ample space to their sides as this will significantly cleanse the sound from side-wall reflections; I leave 1.5m to their sides for breathing.
The Ultima Studio 2s are not difficult to drive either. The specifications say the Revels are less than average sensitive at 88.7dB but unless your room is a hangar or your amp too weak you should not have a problem to make them sing.
Also the impedance curve is tidy enough and although it drops to a minimum of 3.7 ohms at around 370Hz (as reported by Stereophile magazine) from nominal 6 ohms it is still easily manageable for any amplifier rated at least 30W into 4 ohms for most music.
From the combinations I tried in last few months I have found Mark Levinson No.432 to be the most synergistic power amplifier. Irrespective that perfect match I had no issue with driving the Ultima Studio 2s with Bel Canto Pre3/M-300 combo and even 15 years old Pioneer A-400X integrated was pretty enjoyable though the Revels. To make this review clear-cut I will only refer to my current line-up of the Ultima Studio 2s, the Mark Levinson No.432, C.E.C TL51XR, DIY passive attenuator and Kubala-Sosna Emotion interconnects and speaker cables (no bi-wiring).
I already mentioned earlier that I was using the tweeter correction set at +0.5dB due to rather absorptive qualities of my listening room.
The first good thing to put down is that there is a surprisingly wide sweet-spot window. It does not really matter if you move your head left or right - you are always getting the same - that is the best possible - sound. Dispersion characteristics of the waveguided beryllium tweeter and inverted-dome titanium drivers allow even for two listeners to enjoy the same sonic images - a fabulous achievement from Revel.
Further into listening you would realize the miracle of the tweeter in full: comparing to what I heard from JMLab Focal and Usher beryllium tweeters I can only applaud to Kevin Voecks for the refinement he had achieved with the new generation of the Ultima Studio high-frequency drivers - they are even more delicate than JMLab, almost as airy as Usher’s top designs and on top of that fantastical non-directive. The tweeters of the Studio 2s are virtually non-existent and nothing reminds you of their presence, yet there is abundance of inner details like drumsticks hitting the surface of cymbal in Topsy (Dick Hyman, From the Age of Swing, Reference Recordings RR-59C). There you get the initial sharp transient (and it is really sharp with the Studio 2s) followed by ringing brassy delicacy with overtones gently trailing off. The sound is very clearly outlined yet exhibits subtlety and sweetness, though the latter is tamed a bit due to the Mark Levinson No.432´s tendency to dryness.
One more again, there is no directivity to the highs, they seem to come to you from the space ahead rather than from the loudspeakers. And it does not have to be an audiophile recording to live through this magic - even synthesized Sounds Like a Melody (Alphaville, Forever Young, Atlantic 80186-2) can greatly benefit from unobtrusive superresolution of the Revels. By the time Marian Gold’s smooth voice joins the multilayered instrumental background you already know that the Ultima Studio 2s are superbly top-to-bottom coherent.
Simply everything sounds more like live music rather than just reproduction. A bass clarinet, for instance, gives you the reed spittle, the key clicks, the sense of hollowness of its wooden body. Similarly, the Studio 2s let you hear instantly the changing pressure that a guitar player applies when plucking strings; that is why the intimate pieces of music like For Abai and Togshan (Stephen Micus, Listen to the Rain, Japo/ECM 60040 815-614-2) are so immediate, almost scary in their reality.
Should you require an example of the Ultima Studio 2´s imaging capabilities just listen to the digital recording of New York Reunion (McCoy Tyner, New York Reunion, Chesky JD51, engineered by Bob Katz) which represents a fantastical capture of three-dimensional musicians and their instruments being moved to your listening room. I am sure you would join me in adoring the fullness and warmth of Ron Carter´s bass - the Studio 2s can bring plenty of it as well as they can make the drum presentation be very punchy and penetrating. The Revels are rated 32Hz-42kHz. I did not measure their low frequency extension in my room yet but I assume it actually gets lower than the 32Hz judged by Organ Symphony #6 from Recital CD of Marcel Dupre (Mercury Living Presence, 434 311-2) that was presented with full force including the lowest registers of the organ’s pipes. Being back to the New York Reunion the Carter’s bass is impactful, clear, well-controlled and easy to follow.
Alea iacta est (*May the best win)
Considering the Ultima Studio 2’s performance I cannot imagine how the top model of Revel, the Ultima Salon 2, may perform. Maybe it further extends the already deep bass of the Studio 2 (it should with three dedicated 21cm woofers) though you will hardly make a use of it unless you listen exclusively to organ music or synthesizers. The larger enclosures of the Salon 2 may also support more expanding soundstaging but maybe not as a listening room will play the major role in this.
For the excellence of ambient naturalness, top-to-bottom coherence, dynamic capabilities and distortion-free resolving power of the Ultima Studio 2 you have to pay 16,000 euros. Though definitely not negligible it is still 25% less than the budget needed for the Salon 2. With the Revels I have arrived to the point of no return. It is not a final loudspeaker, I am sure, but it is damn’ good.
Over the last few months, as breaking-in has been advancing, the sound of Ultima Studio 2 has improved as has the sound of No. 432 that drives them. I will be happy to be back with a follow-up to this review in a year from now or so. Now I have to apologize, I am going to go and listen to more great music through the Revels...
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