Shipping speakers to the UK might once have seemed as rewarding as carting coals to Newcastle, but the times they are a changing. Not so long ago the number of established, imported loudspeaker brands could be counted on less than the fingers of one hand (and they all came from a single distributor): now, even many of those speakers that carry British names are built overseas and the floodgates seem to have finally opened.
One of those brands that struggled to fight a good fight in the past is Revel, part of the sprawling Harman empire that also encompasses the likes of Mark Levinson. Revel’s original Ultima range was remarkable for its performance and value, but more noted for its appearance, with wags remarking that the side panels on the Salon and Studio models looked like repurposed table-tops from 1970’s caravans (the stand-mounted, D’appolito-design Gem’s side-panels just looked like the clip-on trays that used to be found on high-chairs). Whether it was the looks or the fact that they had been shipped across the Atlantic, this was another excellent speaker range that failed to secure a substantial bridgehead on British shores. But that may be just about to change.
It wasn’t just the original Ultima series that featured a distinctive appearance. The more affordable Performas were equally ‘different’, equally impressive in performance terms - and equally unsuccessful. But softening attitudes to imported speakers are not the only thing that has changed. The Ultima 2s made a first, tentative step towards the more conventional, while the Performa 3s went beyond mainstream to really rather attractive, their slim baffles and boat backs offering a classy appearance that matched impeccable musical manners. They still suffer something of a price penalty when (visually) compared to high-value and aggressively priced domestic lines, but that too seems like it’s about to change, with the arrival of the new Concerta 2s, essentially cut-down versions of the Performas with simpler finish and styling.
The F35 reviewed here bears all the hallmarks of a standard, high-value floor-stander: slim, boat-backed enclosure – check; multiple bass/mid drivers in a two-and-a-half way topology – check; gloss black or white paint finishes – check; 90dB sensitivity, easy drive characteristics and bass that reaches down close to the all-important 50Hz mark – check; magnetic grilles – check. Oh, and a competitive price (£1,500/pr) – check. But as much as it might resemble other speakers on the market, there’s rather more here than meets the eye. For starters, it’s a Revel and that branding comes with a firm declaration of engineering intent. Boat-backed cabinets are hardly novel but the care and attention that’s gone into the F35 cabinet is unusual, especially at the price. It may have eschewed the curved top-cap and wood veneers of the Performa 3s, but the F35 still has plenty of tricks under its skin. The slotted and curved walls add stiffness to the cabinet (as well as contributing to the looks), but here an inner fibre-board layer adds further stiffness and damping. Along with the non-parallel 19mm thick MDF walls and figure-eight bracing it makes for a remarkably well-behaved enclosure, the perfect foundation for the carefully engineered, in-house drivers and large, flared ports.