Surround Sound Speaker Systems

Revel Performa F52 Tower Speakers, C52 Center Channel Speaker, S30 Surround Speakers, and Concerta B120 Subwoofer


In Use




I spent many enjoyable hours watching movies and listening to music on the Revel Performas. My first listening session in particular really taught me something about both the Revels and my room. I spent an afternoon with several rock albums covering such groups as Sade, U2, Talking Heads, Mark Knopfler, and Emmylou Harris. I also included a bit of Michel Camilo's jazz piano. The speakers really demonstrated their personality that day. First off they are extremely revealing. If it's recorded on the media and you play it with good electronics, the Performas will reproduce it. It's as if they were telling me, "we know this recording is bad but that's what you put in and that's what we're going to play." They also spoke to me about my room. They said, "why are the walls so close together, we want to run!" My theater is pretty small. EQ overcomes the room gain but these speakers were the first I've heard that are truly capable of overwhelming the space. Lesser speakers will audibly distort when I play too loud but not the Performas. They simply covered up the nice transparent vocals with huge helpings of bass and midrange mush. This was not the speaker's fault at all. My room simply couldn't handle it. It was like trying to ride a thoroughbred race horse in a corral. The fix was easy however, I simply lowered the volume. Just two or three decibels less was enough to restore the perfect mix and I still enjoyed plenty of presence.

I must say I was quickly sold on the idea of multiple subs after this first listening session. Though the low extension I'm accustomed to from my SVS PB-12 Plus wasn't there, the dual B120s produced a super-smooth clean bass that I really enjoyed. There wasn't a hint of bloat or suck-out at any frequency. It was perhaps the cleanest bass I have ever heard. The physics of two subs really do make a difference in the overall quality and balance of low-frequency material.


The 2009 thriller State of Play is a dialog-driven film with a few brief action scenes. I chose it so I could really experience the C52 center channel without a lot of distracting sound effects or music in the soundtrack. The excellent bass extension really shined as both male and female voices were reproduced with the utmost clarity. With the 60,Hz crossover, there was practically no center channel signal playing from the subs. The placement of vocals on the screen was also handled well with seamless pans across the mains and center. There was no hint of chestiness or sibilance at any time. Any time there was gunfire, I truly jumped in my seat as the upper levels of the Revels huge dynamic range were reached. This movie has an excellent DTS-HD Master audio soundtrack and the Performas reproduced it in perfect detail.


Jim Henson's 1986 fantasy film Labyrinth is a great example of a vintage soundtrack. Although the codec is Dolby TrueHD, dynamic range and detail are not up to the standards of a modern film. Still the Performas fleshed out every nuance quite well and did a fine job of rendering this 25-year old movie. The musical score is very commercial-sounding with lots of synthesizer and percussion effects. It brought back some fond and not-so-fond memories of my movie-going experiences as a teenager. Sound effects like explosions and clanging metal during battle scenes avoided the usual compressed sound that would be heard through lesser speakers. Dialog was crisp and clear and well-placed. I doubt this movie could sound any better on another system.


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is an action-filled crash-a-minute two hours. The battle scenes feature some truly breathtaking audio with highly detailed elements and super-low frequency effects. My personal favorite is the battle scene in chapter nine where Optimus fights several enemy Decepticons. The flying trees and debris will really test the limits of any sub and the low end of your mains. While the F52s handled everything with aplomb, the Concerta subs did not quite match the extension of my reference SVS PB-12Plus. There was plenty of volume and the bass was incredibly well-controlled and tight. I just missed the very bottom end that my SVS pumps out so well.


Phantom of the Opera has always been my favorite musical. I have seen both the feature film and the Broadway show many times and I really enjoy its operatic feel and classic storyline. The Blu-ray release unfortunately only has a Dolby Digital soundtrack; shame on you Warner Brothers! This did not reduce my enjoyment one bit however. I have never such detail and accuracy before. Even after watching this movie dozens of times before, I enjoyed it more then I ever had. I can't imagine how good a hi-res version would be but I hope Warner will consider a re-master.


Speaking of re-masters, where is that Star Wars saga on Blu-ray? I had a hankering to watch Episode IV: A New Hope, but alas, there is only the THX-certified DVD edition. It was still a very special experience though thanks to the Performas. I heard things I had never heard before in any presentation of this film. My favorite example: during the scene when Obi-Wan is deactivating the Death Star's tractor beam from a high-altitude platform and he waves his hand to distract the guards and make his escape; I actually heard the noise he creates. It's an extremely soft gong sound. I have never heard this sound effect previously. It teeters on the very edge of perception. I actually ran the disc back several times to be sure. Amazing!

Classical music listening was a very special experience for me. As a full-time performer, it's a rare speaker that can reproduce the feeling the music usually gives me. When you're surrounded by live music every day, listening to the reproduced version is always a compromise. Since I am much more accustomed to being part of the performance rather than having it occur in front of me, I prefer a sound that envelopes and involves me; "to the fore" as my colleagues often say. The Revel Performas are the first loudspeakers I have experienced that truly make me part of the music. The transparent and natural (and accurate) sound is something I have sought for years.


I began with my familiar stand-by, the San Francisco Symphony's SACD of Mahler's "Fifth Symphony". This grammy-winning recording is a reference-quality product and its superb balance and high fidelity really shone on the Performas. Massed strings, which are very difficult to reproduce well, really impressed me with a degree of clarity I have rarely heard. Most speakers, even good ones, will form the individual violin sounds into a single tone with a soft edge. The Performas preserved the detail of the individual players. Every great orchestra has a unique and distinct string sound. This nuance was presented very clearly. Softer passages had a power that really involved me. Rather than straining to hear the pianissimo dynamics, I could simply focus my attention and experience every subtlety. Mahler has plenty of big loud brass and this was also reproduced cleanly and with no effort.


I moved on to another SACD recording, this one of the Kirov Orchestra and Valery Gergiev performing the "Fifth" and "Ninth" Symphonies of Shostakovich. I was never a huge fan of this album in the past but it sounded SO much better on the Performas than any previous playing. This is a 5.1 recording that makes minimal use of the center channel and surrounds. Despite this, the center image was very strong and perfectly placed. The hall decay played in the surrounds to give an excellent sense of spaciousness. The different string sections displayed clear separation and detail. I particularly enjoyed the airy sound of the principal flutist and the warm dark sound of the solo bassoonist in the extended cadenza of the Ninth Symphony. The bass notes at the beginning of the "Fifth Symphony" Scherzo movement also had the longest resonance I had ever heard.

I was almost afraid to listen to recordings of my own performances on such revealing speakers but I took the risk for the sake of journalism. Boy was I surprised! I had expected to be even more critical of my playing than usual given the accuracy of the Performas but instead was thrilled at the quality of sound I was hearing. I sampled recordings of varying quality and each one sounded better than I had ever heard them. Two recordings were of live concerts and one was a studio recording made in a small concert hall. Once again it was easy to discern exactly what type of space I was playing in whether a recital hall or rehearsal studio. The more I listened, the more I wanted to practice; not to fix anything but just to enjoy my own playing.