The Revel Performa M126Be speakers are some of the highest quality small speakers I’ve encountered. They represent a great deal of design and construction expertise, creating a synergistic whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Between the extremes of a large, horn-loaded stage monitor, and a delicate electrostatic, the M126Be cleaves to the detailed and accurate side.

Revel Performa M126Be Bookshelf Speaker

Highlights

Revel Performa M126Be Bookshelf Speaker

  • The Revel Performa M126Be has the best detail of any speaker I’ve heard
  • Surprising and smooth bass from such a small enclosure
  • Not afraid of high volumes
  • Works with or without a subwoofer
  • One of the most inert speaker enclosures I’ve ever met
  • The piano black finish isn’t to my taste
  • High price, but high quality
Introduction

The Revel Performa M126Be creates an “approach-avoidance” dilemma for me. Decades ago, I had the opportunity to hear a pair of Revel Performa F30 tower speakers in a dealer’s showroom. Although I couldn’t afford them at the time, I’ve never forgotten their sound. And since then I’ve had a soft spot for Revel’s products, and particularly the Performa series.

REVEL SPEAKER SPECIFICATIONS
Description:

2-way Bookshelf Loudspeaker

Tweeter:

Beryllium dome with Acoustic Lens Waveguide

Woofer:

6.5” Deep Ceramic Composite (DCC) aluminum cone with cast frame

Crossover Frequency:

1,700 Hz.

Frequency Response:

(±3 dB): 54 – 44kHz.

Nominal impedance:

8 ohms

Recommended Amplifier power:

50-150 Watts

Sensitivity:

86dB (2.83V @ 1m)

Finishes:

Piano Black, Gloss White, Gloss Walnut, Metallic Silver

Dimensions (HxWxD):

15.2 x 8.3 x 10.3” (386 x 211 x 262mm)

Weight:

22lbs (9.97kg)

Grills:

Black with magnetic attachment

Price:

$2,000 each USD

Company:

Revel

SECRETS Tags:

Revel, Performa, Speaker Review, 2018, bookshelf, speakers, surround, Bookshelf Speaker 2018 Review

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On the “avoidance” side, I’m not now, nor have I ever been, a fan of bookshelf-sized speakers. In general, they have always struck me as being thin sounding and full of tricks, trying to make you think that they have more bass than they really do, and trying to imply false detail with exaggerated treble. They also take up the same amount of space as floor-standing speakers once on their expensive stands. So, bookshelf speakers, much like Randy Newman’s short people, “got no reason to live.”

Which brings us to the subject of this review, the Performa M126Be. Let’s get the concerns out of the way first – this speaker does NOT use bass trickery to convince you that it’s larger. There is no measurable bass bump, and that makes it easier to integrate with a subwoofer than any speaker I’ve tried. This fact alone speaks well of the M126Be.

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It also has one of the smoothest and most extended trebles that I’ve experienced. Having heard some exceptionally good ribbon tweeters (Emotiva T2s) and electrostatic speakers (Martin Logans) lately, I was skeptical that any speaker with a dome tweeter could compete. But the beryllium dome on the Revel Performa M126Be fully held its own and offered nothing to criticize.

The Revel Performa M126Be speakers are ideal for a specific type of audiophile:

  • The person who doesn’t want or need deep bass because of the intimacy of their smaller room (where deep bass would overwhelm the space and become boomy)
  • The person who wants to hear deeply into the recording, missing none of the detail and nuance
  • The person who hates treble glare or gimmickry and instead values an accurate and uncolored treble range with almost electrostatic quickness and clarity

Revel Performa M126Be Bookshelf Speaker Front View

Is that you? Then DUDE – do I have some speakers for YOU! The Revel Performa M126Be speakers fit all the above criteria and look good doing it!

Revel has been around for decades, with a reputation for not only great sound but also high-quality construction. Being part of the large and expanding Harman group, as Revel is now, provides consumer confidence that the manufacturer will be around for decades more to provide support and parts if needed.

Design

Revel Performa M126Be Bookshelf Speaker Front View

The design of the Revel M126Be bears some discussion. I had the opportunity to correspond with Mr. Mark Glazer, Principal Engineer at Revel Speakers about the design of the Performa M126Be.

One of my prime concerns, when I see a small, two-way speaker is that the large woofer excursion required to provide sufficient volume will cause audible distortion, and particularly, intermodulation distortion (IMD). Mr. Glazer says that the M126Be’s woofer was constructed with those very issues in mind, and that its motor design is expected to minimize such distortion. My listening concludes that whatever Mr. Glazer and company have done is successful. I hear no distortion from the speakers, even at higher levels.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) frequency response goals were also adopted for the Performa M126Be, and seem to have been met (see frequency response measurements later in this review). Although I didn’t use the speakers as side or rear surround channels, their voicing should make them great surround speakers for home theater use with any of the Revel Performa or Ultima series products.

The M126Be’s beryllium tweeter (that’s the meaning of the “Be” suffix), is truly a marvel. I’ve heard no other dome tweeter with such extension, air, and neutrality (and don’t get hung up on the idea that “air” and “neutrality” are somehow incompatible – real instruments in real spaces DO sound airy on occasion). Mr. Glazer emphasizes that the beryllium tweeter is designed for pistonic motion to greater than 40kHz without significant ringing and that beryllium has the best stiffness-damping mass ratio of any other known material.

And while we’re talking about the tweeters, the magnetic grills of the Revel M126Be speakers caused no audible degradation of the treble. This is HIGHLY unusual for any speaker and highlights the care and engineering that Revel has invested in this model.

Revel Performa M126Be Bookshelf Speaker Top View

The cabinet also bears some discussion. The slightly domed top may be mostly for flash, but it also helps prevent box resonances. The cabinet must be heavily braced, because I hear no tocks when I knuckle the sides. The cabinet comes with port plugs for smaller spaces, but I didn’t use them since I have a larger room.

There is no bi-wire or bi-amplification possible, since the speaker sports but a single pair of binding posts. With shorter than 12-foot speaker wires, this should be no impediment to top performance.

Revel Performa M126Be Bookshelf Speaker Back View

Setup of the Revel Performa M126Be Bookshelf Speaker

Other than the very high density of the Revel M126Be speakers, setup was a breeze. My 27” stands just happened to put the tweeters exactly at my ear-level (I’m tall). Imaging was excellent over a wide variety of positions, but the best compromise between image depth and width was found with the speakers about 10 feet apart, 2½ feet from the back wall, about 8 feet from the side walls, and angled slightly in (but still to the outside of the convergence-focus point of the listener). In this position, the imaging was as good as I’ve heard from any set of speakers in this room.

In Use

Since my room is large in volume, I used a PowerSound Audio S3601 dual-18” subwoofer for about half my listening. The remainder of the time, I used the Revel M126Be speakers on their own.

I listened to them with an Arcam AVR550 receiver (used as a preamplifier) connected to Emotiva A300 and XPA-2 Gen 3 power amplifiers. I also tried them with my 12-watt Heathkit mono tube amps. Ultimately though, most of my listening was done using the Arcam’s internal power amplifiers (sans Dirac room correction).

Associated equipment used in this review:

  • Mac Mini running jRiver Media Center with external USB media drive
  • HDMI connection from the Mac to the Arcam AVR550
  • PowerSound Audio S3601 dual-18” self-powered subwoofer
  • Emotiva A300 power amplifier
  • Emotiva XPA-2 Gen 3 power amplifier
  • Heathkit 12-watt monophonic tube amplifiers (customized from integrated amps)
  • 27” sand-filled stands
  • RBH center & surround speakers for movie use
  • Mytek Liberty DAC
  • OPPO UDP-205 universal disc player
  • Audioquest interconnects and speaker wires
  • Room diffusers and absorbers

Revel Performa M126Be Bookshelf Speaker Fred LeBlanc


Fred LeBlanc “Dammit”

The simple but powerful acapella performance of “Jacob” (On the Mountain) by Fred LeBlanc from his “Dammit” CD was one of the first tests the Revel Performa M126Be speakers had to pass. Many speakers, and small speakers in particular, have a great deal of trouble with male voices (and especially with massed voices).

The Revels picked up every bit of edge and roundness and the singers sounded as if they were in the room. I’ve heard many other speakers (some costing much more than the Revels) that can’t get this simple vocal music right.

Revel Performa M126Be Bookshelf Speaker Jean-Henry


Byron Schenkman “The Jean-Henry D’Anglebert Harpsichord Suites and Transcriptions”

The second test I subjected the Revels to was “The Jean-Henry D’Anglebert Harpsichord Suites and Transcriptions” disc by Byron Schenkman. This recording, on Centaur label, has some of the best-recorded harpsichord music I’ve ever heard.

The Schenkman disc fully displays the glories of the Performa M126Be’s beryllium tweeters. Harpsichord, which has more overtones than most instruments, creates a challenge for the tweeters in any speaker. The Revel M126Be speakers were fully up to the task, producing detail that, to my ears, sounded better than electrostatic panels or ribbon tweeters. Both electrostats and ribbons have a reputation for excellent treble, so to say that the Revels exceeded them is high praise indeed.

As an aside, the Centaur label is full of most-excellent recordings, and if you’re ready to get away from the usual suspects among classical composers, I recommend the Centaur label very highly! If you want to hear how good CD treble CAN be, reach for some Centaur harpsichord music.

Revel Performa M126Be Bookshelf Speaker Mega Park


variety artists “Mega Park Hitmix 2004”

I also played some electronic pop from a variety of artists, mostly from the “Mega Park Hitmix 2004” double-disc set. As expected, the Revels with their 6.5” woofer and limited cabinet size didn’t plumb the depths as a larger tower speaker might have, but the bass that was there was smooth, non-peaky, and didn’t distort, even at high volumes.

With most of these pop recordings, I crossed over to the subwoofer at 70Hz. and got one of the best bass blends that I’ve heard. The bass extended by an extra octave and a half, without the crossover being audible at all.

Revel Performa M126Be Bookshelf Speaker Movies

For movie sound, I queued up a variety of older movies including La La Land, Blade Runner 2049, Jackie, and The Duke of Burgundy. The Revel Performa M126Be’s, again, comported themselves perfectly (in all cases, used as right & left front speakers) and did so without distortion.

On the Bench

There are tons of audio gear on proffer that make claims of audio improvement, but that offer absolutely no proof of improvement (other than testimonials). The claim that a device is “specially constructed for audio” could be true of a kazoo, but it wouldn’t be relevant.

But one enters deep water when the measurement of such claims is attempted. Beyond the audio basics, such as noise, distortion, and frequency-response, there is not even any broad agreement of WHAT measurements are significant, much less how such measurements should be taken.

And to further complicate the situation, many devices that measure relatively poorly (including vacuum tube gear) sound great, despite their poor measurements.

So, I am generally reluctant to discuss measurements; that way lies madness.

Then, what CAN one say about a specific design? One might state, by observation, that the design is a two or three way, that the audio circuitry or crossover contains metal-film resistors of high precision rather than ± 10% (or more) carbon-composite ones, and that film capacitors rather than non-polarized electrolytic ones are present. But these observations, on their own, do not guarantee good sound.

Ultimately, the only valid statements about audio gear are subjective ones concerning the SOUND of the equipment. A good description of what you heard followed by your conclusion of whether or not the device is worth its price is the core of a review.

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In equipment comparisons, documentation of your opinions comes by listing the things that were identical (or not) in the comparison. If power conditioning was used, was it identical for both devices? Were the interconnects, amplifiers, and speakers identical for the comparison? And then to avoid “accidental-synergy” questions, were different source and downstream devices used to see if the “better” switched with the changes?

But lots of people disagree with my “how it sounds is the ultimate arbiter of quality” idea, and strongly favor a “by the numbers” measurement-based approach. I can’t object to that, but I still think that it can miss the point.

So back to the Revels – I used Room Equalization Wizard (REW) software for Mac and a UMIK-1 microphone with my Mac Mini to test the Revels. I’ve previously used a different software (FuzzMeasure) and the measurements below are my first ride on this particular REW pony. The software seems fairly straightforward, so here are my results with the microphone about a half meter from the speaker grill, with the speakers on 27” stands, with the microphone centered (height and width) on the face of the speaker, and with my volume dialed back:

The first graph is frequency response from 20 to 20K Hz.

Revel Performa M126Be Bookshelf Speaker Frequency Response

The second graph is the frequency response and the phase.

Revel Performa M126Be Bookshelf Speaker Phase

Now my take on this data is as follows – the frequency response seems exceptionally flat from 70Hz to above 19,500Hz. I’ve never (ever) seen a dome tweeter go that high. Bravo, Revel!

There’s a bit of response dip from 70Hz down to 50Hz, but things drop off quickly below, making this an ideal speaker to pair with a subwoofer if you feel the need for more bass. The dip at 85-90Hz is probably a floor cancellation, and isn’t particularly audible, even with the Revel run full-range. With a subwoofer, the dip disappears entirely.

So overall, I think this speaker has amazingly flat frequency response, but that means nothing without detail. The detail that I hear from these speakers is as good as anything else I’ve heard. So again. Bravo, Revel!

My takeaway from the measurements is that they confirm my listening impressions. This is probably why trying to equalize these speakers (at all) provides no significant improvement. They’re designed to work just fine, thank you, right out of the box! No room correction, parametric equalizers, or bass foolery required. Now this presumes (obviously) that you have a room that is not an echo chamber, that your speaker placement in the room is symmetrical from right to left, and that you’re willing to do some “speaker dancing” to find the best position for the Revels. Should any of those conditions not be so, then you’ll probably benefit significantly from some of the room correction software available on most any AVR or HT processor.

Which brings up yet another issue. Although you CAN run the Revel Performa M126Be speakers from an AVR, I wouldn’t generally recommend it. The Revels are Lipizzaner Stallions, not dray horses. They’ll show you the best (and the worst) of the associated electronics. Unless you get very lucky, hooking up a “bargain” receiver, preamp, power amp, or integrated to the Revels will only show you the error of your ways. I consider my Arcam AVR550 an unusual enough uber-performer in the world of AV receivers that I can get away with using it with the Revels, but only barely.

Suffice it to say that the computer acronym GIGO (garbage-in = garbage-out) is prophetic with regards to the Revel M126Be speakers and their relationship to sources and amplification. And with few exceptions, you get what you pay for.

There is, however, one “economy” option that might be fully compatible with the Revel Performa M126Be speakers. And that option, surprisingly, might be vacuum tube equipment. While one can spend a king’s ransom on tube gear, the performance gap between expensive and inexpensive tube gear is much narrower than it is between expensive and inexpensive solid-state. In fact, even some vintage tube gear (the Dynakit Mk. III mono tube amplifiers come instantly to mind) can sound close to “as good as it gets.” If you don’t want to buy used, then the Vacuum Tube Audio company (VTA) makes some jamming gear for a fraction of the cost of the “audiophile brands.” Their ST120 stereo tube amplifier and M125monophonic tube power amps are some of the best.

I did listen to my custom, hand-made 12-watt Heathkit monoblocks with the Revels, and although you can’t get high volumes, the sound quality was to die for.

Conclusions

Revel Performa M126Be Bookshelf Speaker Top View

Despite their imposing price, the REVEL PERFORMA M126BE SPEAKERS offer great sound and imaging, particularly in the midrange and treble.

Likes
  • Most amazing treble I’ve heard from any dome tweeter
  • Spectacular midrange detail and imaging
  • Smooth bass with easy subwoofer integration
  • Magnetic grills are acoustically transparent
  • Piano black, white, or wood finishes
Would Like To See
  • Non-gloss finishes (every fingerprint shows on the gloss)
  • Lower price (but not if I have to give up that sound quality!)
  • Bi-wire or bi-amplification capabilities

The Revel Performa M126Be speakers are not inexpensive. In fact, one can get speakers that will play more loudly, more deeply, and with less power for a lot less money. Further, if you opt for these Revels, you’ll also need to buy some good-quality stands. And good-quality stands are never inexpensive. This cost, however, will be eclipsed by the expense of matching electronics. But if you want “better-than-electrostatic” treble, a “see-into-it-for-miles” midrange, and excellent bass quality from a small speaker, I don’t know of anything else (at any price) that could compete with these Revel M126Be loudspeakers.

Of course, that last sentence requires a few qualifiers:

  • Within its limitations as a bookshelf-sized speaker
  • Within its loudness and power handling limitations
  • And, most importantly, of the bookshelf speakers I have personally heard in my room

– then the quality is unrivaled. However, there may well be other, less expensive speakers out there that sound as good or better, but I’ve not heard them.

The closest bookshelf-speaker competition that the Revels have had in my room (both of which I once owned) are the Definitive Technology SM65s and the KEF LS50s. Although these speakers are no longer in my house for a head-to-head comparison, I think that the Revels handily whup the KEFs, and edge out the SM65s.

So ultimately, the Revel Performa M126Be speakers should be auditioned prior to purchase. But I’ll warn you in advance that once you hear them, you’re likely to be smitten!