REL has come a long way since a Welshman started it in search of more realistic organ pipe sounds in his sitting room. Richard Lord sold the company to Sumiko over a decade ago, the now REL staff were involved with Sumiko, who eventually built the biggest Hi End distribution company in the world before said key staff left to purchase and concentrate on further developing REL.
As a result, REL subwoofers or, sub‑bass systems as Richard used to call them, are now sold worldwide. Any visitor to a hi-fi show will have noticed another trend that REL has been pushing – stacking of subwoofers, where multiple subs are used to create a line source. Which, if truly working, must be highly entertaining indeed.
Carbon Special is the latest addition to the line and a good size beast it is, too. Standing 18 inches high and equipped with a 12-inch driver, it is, however, described by REL as a ‘modest size’ unit. Therefore, I am clearly out of the loop when it comes to what constitutes ‘big’ these days. Its shiny black cabinet is made of 65mm thick MDF and features REL’s so-called BlackWidow carbon fibre drive unit (so, whatever you do, don’t mate with it), the material selected for its combination of stiffness and self-damping properties. It has a big roll surround to allow for a massive 100mm throw, with which it is said to deliver ‘explosive dynamics’, possibly a term borrowed from the rarely relaxed world of home cinema. That is, however, not the only drive unit on this subwoofer, there is a second one underneath the box that is also made of carbon fibre, but is flat and unpowered, it is a passive bass radiator that REL uses instead of a reflex port. Stands are shaped to allow air movement around this driver.
The engine in the Carbon Special is one of REL’s NextGen 5 amplifiers, a Class D 1000 Watt powerhouse that thankfully weighs a lot less than a class AB alternative would, but is said to have current reserves that “easily keep up with the demands of even the most rigorous user”. Like all REL subs, there are several ways to connect the Carbon Special, but those looking for best sonic results are directed towards the cable supplied with the product. This has three terminals for the amplifier; right and left positive plus a single negative, as well as a Neutrik Speakon plug for the sub that connects all three at the same time. Home cinema enthusiasts have an LFE option, and hi-fi users with a sub output can hook up to either the RCA or XLR inputs. But, if maximum coherence is the goal, I wouldn’t recommend it. The other desirable option is a wireless connection costing an additional £300 for which you get a receiver, the requisite transmitter (REL supplies one called Airship) and, apparently, this sounds better than the cable provided and means there is virtually no limitation on room placement. As mentioned, one could also stack vertically up to three subwoofer units per channel.