The year: 1999. The city: Minneapolis. While taking a break from partying with Prince like it was, well . . . that year, I wandered into a local audio emporium to see what new and exciting goodies were on display. Set up in a large listening room, attached to the latest Mark Levinson gear, were Revel’s original Ultima Studio loudspeakers. I sat down, gave them a listen, and heard the best sound I had yet heard. For the first time, it seemed to me that I was listening to an audio system that played with low distortion and little coloration. Also, the system’s wide dispersion threw a huge soundstage, engrossing me in the music in ways other speakers couldn’t. I was hooked.
I asked the clerk how much they wanted for the Ultima Studios. I blanched when he told me their price ($10,799/pair when first reviewed in 2000; $15,000/pair when last listed in “Recommended Components”) and began walking out of the shop, bummed that I’d never be able to afford speakers that sounded as good. As I slunk out the door, the clerk stopped me and asked if I’d heard any speakers from Revel’s Performa line. I had not.
He escorted me to another listening room, where I spent the rest of the afternoon listening to the Performa F30s. These full-range speakers had much of the openness and low distortion of the Studios, were handsomely made, and cost an approachable $3500/pair. Within a year I had bought my own pair, and for the 14 years since they have been my references. Although I’ve heard many other fine speakers, none has made me want to part with my money or my Performa F30s. And although, over the years, I came to understand that the F30 has faults, I grew accustomed to them.
Revel updated the Performa line around 2007, replacing the F30 with the Performa2 F32 and F52; I spent a lot of time with both models. I liked the refinements Revel made with the line, but thought my original F30s still did a few things better than the F32 and F52. So it was with great interest and anticipation that I saw that Revel was revealing a third generation of Performa models. Without hesitation, I signed up to review the new Performa3 F208.
Revealing the Revel
The Performa3 F208 is a three-way design: two ported 8″ aluminum-cone woofers, a 5.25″ aluminum-cone midrange unit, and a 1″ aluminum-dome tweeter. The tweeter features new waveguide technology developed for Revel’s latest line of flagship models, the Ultima2s. The waveguide is said to properly control the tweeter’s dispersion, to both increase the coverage in the driver’s highest octave and to allow the tweeter’s output to properly integrate with that of the midrange driver throughout the crossover region. All drivers are made to Revel’s specifications and have cast-aluminum baskets. The front plate of each driver is molded of plastic and blends seamlessly into the F208’s front baffle. The flared port is mounted on the front of the speaker, directly below the woofers, and can be blocked with a supplied foam plug (more about this later). The speaker’s claimed nominal impedance is 8 ohms, its sensitivity 88.5dB.
Unlike the F206 and the other Performa3 models, the F208 is biwirable: on the lower part of its rear panel are two pairs of high-quality binding posts surrounded by lots of space. Also on the rear, and again unique to the F208, is a tweeter control that can change the tweeter level by ±1dB in 0.5dB increments. Next to that is a bass control: Each F208 can be set to Boundary, for placement near a rear or side wall; or Normal, when used farther out into the room.
The Performa3 F208’s cabinet is quite different from that of the Performa F30. At 46.1″, the F208 is noticeably taller, but because the F208 is only 11.8″ wide and the entire rear panel curves around in a parabola, its appearance is far less imposing than the boxy, Volvo-like F30. The F208 is available in Piano Black or High Gloss Walnut (I got the latter). Though I’m not always a fan of walnut furniture, I really liked the F208’s finish. It looks far more expensive than the speaker’s $5000/pair price suggests.
The cabinets of Revel Performa speakers are no longer made in the US; I thought the F208’s fit and finish absolutely excellent, and really loved the speaker’s overall styling. The most persnickety might balk at the plastic surrounding the drivers, but I thought these functional moldings blended well with the rest of the speaker’s looks. In fact, I like the look of the Performa3 models’ driver moldings far more than on the Ultima2s. Your mileage may vary. Each speaker is outfitted with floor spikes and magnetic snap-on grilles; I didn’t use the grilles.
Boom in the Room
After removing the Performa3 F208s from their boxes, I placed them close to where the Performa F30s had worked well and screwed in their floor spikes, which I then used to easily level the speaker. I removed the terminals’ shorting straps and connected my Kimber Kable BiFocal speaker cables. Because the F208 is specified to provide a nominal impedance of 8 ohms, I began their break-in by connecting them to the 8 ohm taps of my Rogue M-180 tubed monoblock power amps. I hadn’t used those taps before, and wanted to be sure they got a good break-in as well. I let the speakers play continuously for about a week before trying to dial them in to my room.
After a week or so, I began my listening by switching between the Rogues’ 8 and 4 ohm taps. In every way, the F208s were happier being driven from the 4 ohm taps: the treble was smoother and a bit more laid-back, the imaging was better; and the overall coherence of the sound was better. I left the F208s hooked up to the 4 ohm taps for the rest of my listening. The F208s eventually took about 500 hours of play before achieving their ultimate sound.
My room is quite small, and I thought that the bass switches and port plugs might be useful in getting the best sound from the speakers. But, lo and behold, even when placed near my sidewalls, the Revel F208s delivered deep, taut, and tuneful bass. When I brought the speakers a little closer together and pushed them a little closer to the front wall, I got some of the best bass I’ve heard in my room.
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