Revel Performa3 F208 Floorstanding Speaker Reviewed

Revel-Performa3-F208-floorstanding-speaker-review-pair-small.jpgI received my first review samples from Revel’s new Performa3 line 18 months after I saw the original prototypes demoed at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2012. We see this kind of delay sometimes with James Cameron movies or Guns N’ Roses albums, but rarely with speakers. What could be so hard about making new speakers? You got some woofers, some tweeters, an enclosure, a few capacitors and chokes – all stuff that was around before The Beatles. This protracted development time left me wondering: did the Performa3 speakers take so long because the engineers couldn’t get them right? Or because they wanted to get them perfect?

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If you scan the Performa3 line in search of bold design twists and engineering innovations, you won’t find much. A read of Revel’s website reveals little more than a few driver tweaks (ribbed aluminum cones! new tweeter waveguide!) and curved cabinets, which should be stiffer than the Performa2 Series’ rectangular enclosures.

The F208 that I’m reviewing here is one of two tower speakers in the Performa3 line; the other is the smaller F206, which I also had the opportunity to audition and will do some comparisons throughout the review. Both have the same one-inch aluminum dome tweeter and 5.25-inch aluminum cone midrange. The $5,000 per pair F208 has two eight-inch aluminum cone woofers, stands 46.5 inches high, and weighs 80 pounds. The $3,500 per pair F206 has two 6.5-inch aluminum cone woofers, stands 41.4 inches high, and weighs 58 pounds. Obviously, the F208 is going to give you deeper bass; Revel rates its -6dB point at 27hz, versus 36hz for the F206. However, the mids and treble will be slightly different, too. The width of the speakers’ front baffles is 11.8 inches for the F208, 9.8 inches for the F206. The larger baffle of the F208 will give its output a tad more oomph in the midrange, which is why the crossovers between the midranges and woofers are slightly different. The specified crossover point for the F208 is 2.2 kHz, while it’s 2.15 kHz for the F206. Arcane stuff, sure, but I’m impressed that the engineers took the trouble to make such subtle tweaks.

The F208 also offers a few more features to justify its $1,500-higher price. It’s biwireable and biampable, with dual sets of binding posts (compared with a single set for the F206). Above the F208’s binding posts are two controls. One is a tweeter level switch, which boosts or cuts treble level by ±1 dB in 0.5-dB increments. This lets you tweak the high-frequency response to your liking. The other control is a low-frequency compensation switch, with positions for Normal and Boundary. The latter position attenuates the bass in situations where the speaker must be positioned less than two feet from the wall behind it. Both speakers come with foam port plugs that let you reduce bass output when the speaker is placed near a wall. (The F208’s plugs can be used with the low-frequency compensation switch set to either Normal or Boundary.)

Revel-Performa3-F208-floorstanding-speaker-review-big-and-small.jpgFit and finish of both models is superb. Both come with magnetically attached grilles and floor spikes that can be installed with the pointed end down (for carpeted floors) or the rounded end down (for wood or tile floors). The F206 does have one colossal advantage over the F208: while both are available in a walnut veneer or piano black finish, the F206 is also offered in gloss white, an ideal choice for one of those homes in the Hollywood Hills with floor-to-ceiling windows, a bearskin rug, an acrylic coffee table, and a white grand piano. You know, one of those places they rent out to shoot music videos and pornos.

If you want to expand a pair of F208s or F206s into a full home theater system, you can add the $2,000 C208 three-way center or the $1,000 C205 two-way center, the $2,000 per pair M106 or $1,500 per pair M105 two-way stand-mounted speakers. the $1,800 per pair S206 surround speaker, and the $3,000 B112 or $2,200 B110 subwoofers. The subs have a special twist: Revel’s Low-Frequency Optimizer (LFO) is an internal 12-band parametric EQ that you can adjust using software running on a PC or Mac.

The Hookup
Both the F208 and the F206 are pretty much ready to go out of the box. All you have to do is put in the floor spikes. The Performa3 speakers are designed for broad, even dispersion – i.e., they sound much the same at 15 or 30 degrees off-axis as they do on-axis – so the aim of the speakers is not so critical. In both cases, I started by placing the speakers so that the centers of the front baffles were 52 inches from the wall behind them, and 58 inches from the side walls.

With the F208, this position gave me a just-right balance of bass to midrange and treble. I experimented briefly with plugging the ports, which reduced bass output and also gave the speakers a more gradual second-order (-12dB/octave) natural bass roll-off instead of the fourth-order (-24dB/octave) roll-off with the ports open. A second-order roll-off works better for many small rooms, but it sounded a little lean in my 2,924-cubic-foot room (which is also open to other spaces in the house), so I pulled the plugs. Likewise, I didn’t need to engage the F208’s low-frequency compensation switch. It works, though, and in my room it seemed to preserve more of the F208’s essential character than plugging the ports did.

The F206’s bottom end sounded a little lean with the speaker so far out in the room; so, to reinforce the bass, I pushed it closer to the wall behind, ending up with the front baffles about 30 inches from the wall. You’d have to have a mighty small room to need the F206’s port plugs.

Revel-Performa3-F208-floorstanding-speaker-review-walnut.jpgI then experimented with toe-in. I thought the F208s sounded best pointed straight at my listening chair, where they delivered what sounded to me like an ideal balance of treble. Not dull or uninvolving. Not bright or edgy. Just right. I did like the F208’s tweeter level switch, even though I didn’t need it. It provides a subtle adjustment without really affecting the quality of the sound. If your significant other insists that the speakers point straight out because they look nicer that way, you can kick the treble up +0.5 dB or +1 dB to compensate. Or if your listening room is highly reflective – like the proverbial Hollywood Hills living room with polished concrete floors and floor-to-ceiling windows – you can bring the treble down a tad if you like.

Because the F206’s bass is leaner, the speakers sounded subjectively brighter. So I turned both of them out a bit, to aim at points roughly between me and the side walls. Because of the speakers’ broad dispersion, this softened up the treble only subtly.

I powered the speakers with a Krell S-300i, a 150-watts-per-channel integrated amplifier. My primary source device was a laptop computer feeding one of two USB DACs: a Firestone Audio I♥TW or a Musical Fidelity V90. I also used the V90 with a Panasonic DMT-BDP350 Blu-ray player to see how the F208 and F206 handled movie soundtracks. For analog listening, I used a Pro-Ject RM-1.3 turntable feeding an NAD PP-3 phono stage.

Read about the performance of the Revel Performa3 F208 on Page 2.

Before reviewing the F208, I had already spent time with the M106 and M105 bookshelf models. My experience with them – and my high opinion of their vocal reproduction – led me to begin my evaluation of F208 with my toughest vocal tests: the live version of “Shower the People” from James Taylor’s Live at the Beacon Theatre, Steely Dan’s “Aja,” and Ron Sexsmith’s “Words We Never Use.”

On “Words We Never Use”, Sexsmith tends to sound too coarse or too dull through most audio gear. Set against this tune’s sparse background of acoustic guitar, percussion, keyboard, and woodwinds, his voice sits atop the mix like a cherry on a cake, completely exposed. Through the F208, Sexsmith sounded just about as natural as I’ve ever heard him sound. The voice had no trace of edge or brightness, yet none of the natural resonance or very subtle sibilance in his voice was lost.

Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen has another of those voices that seldom sounds just right; either the speakers make him sound too thin and reedy, or they mute his sardonic tone. When I played “Aja”, the F208 seemed to nail his sound perfectly. It also portrayed Chuck Rainey’s studio-slick bass line with an almost eerie perfection: an ideal mix of butt-shaking rumble and melodic precision.

By the time I got to Taylor’s “Shower the People”, I’d started to worry less about the voices and focus more on what else was going on in the mix – a luxury few speakers let me enjoy. I noticed especially how lifelike and fully embodied Taylor’s acoustic guitar sounded. It was more like I was hearing sound emitted from a real spruce-and-mahogany box than from speakers. As the full band kicked in, I heard the sound spread naturally across the front of my room. The snare drum and cymbals seemed to be echoing off walls 20 or 30 feet above. (Yeah, I know that’s probably fake reverb, but still …)

The quartet of eight-inch woofers in the pair of F208s proved more than up to handling heavy metal, hip-hop, and the depth charges in the U-571 Blu-ray disc. I especially liked the natural sound of the movie dialogue, regardless of which actor or actress was speaking.

I then switched to the smaller F206, which is in many ways practically the same as the F208, yet in some ways very different. Where the F208’s bass sounds full, satisfying, and effortless, perfectly counterbalancing the mids and treble, the F206 is fussier. It does have a little extra punch in the upper bass relative to the F208, but it doesn’t have the larger speaker’s deep bass extension, so you never get that oomph that the F208 easily delivers.

The smaller speaker has plenty of bottom end for jazz and folk, as well as most classical and pop music. For example, George Benson’s ultra-groovy rendition of “Along Comes Mary” from Giblet Gravy had a just-right amount of bass, and every note of the hyperactive bass line sounded even, dynamic, and perfectly defined. For heavier rock, though, the F206 can sound a little lean; some recordings I played pushed the speaker into a slightly bright tonal balance. I noticed this on Julian Cope’s “Planet Ride” from Saint Julian, which features blaring electric guitar, a hyped-up ’80s-style snare, and Cope’s slightly thin-sounding voice. Through the F208, the kick drum and bass guitar had ample oomph to counter all that treble energy. Through the F206, the balance got somewhat bright.

Of course, you could easily counteract this by adding a subwoofer. For music listening, adding a subwoofer to the F206 is a good idea. For movie soundtracks, it’s mandatory, because there’s just not enough deep extension to give a convincing portrayal of explosions and car crashes – but this is true of almost any relatively small tower speaker.

How’d the rest of the F206’s sound sound? Basically the same as the F208 – just as neutral, just as natural. Unfortunately, I never got to do a direct comparison between the two, but my notes on all the above tunes read almost the same. If there’s a difference, it’s that the F206 has a tad more treble detail and a slightly heightened sense of air and space. Of course, that could be a psychoacoustic effect of the leaner tonal balance, too.

Revel-Performa3-F208-floorstanding-speaker-review-angled.jpgThe Downside
For me, it was difficult to find anything to dislike about the F208, but every audiophile’s priorities are different. My first priority is tonal neutrality and, in my opinion, the F208 is above criticism in this area. However, I know that a lot of audiophiles consider a dramatic presentation – one that seeks to simulate a concert-hall ambience – is the number-one desire. A lot of manufacturers, especially those that specialize in electrostatic and planar magnetic speakers, cater to this craving, but the Performa3 speakers do not.

It’s not that the F208 can’t conjure up a convincing soundstage, but it’s not the kind of soundstage that’ll make you gasp at its depth and breadth. Super-ambient recordings, such as David Chesky’s “Club Descarga” from The Body Acoustic, sounded great through the F208 (and F206), but a speaker like MartinLogan’s $2,195 per pair EM-ESL electrostatic would have given me a more dramatic sense of envelopment. I’ve also heard a more spacious sound from some of the Heil-type tweeters found on GoldenEar Technology speakers or MartinLogan’s Motion Series. Of course, whether you consider that heightened ambience artificial or natural is a matter of philosophical conjecture.

Comparison and Competition
I’ve tested several speakers in the low- to mid-four-digit price range in the last couple of years that I can compare with the F208 and F206.

Thanks to its phase-coherent design, the $3,999/pair Thiel CS1.7 delivers an incredible (and natural) wraparound ambience, but it can’t approach the Revels’ dynamics and bass response. I haven’t tested Sonus Faber’s $3,495 Venere 3.0, but I have reviewed and enjoyed the $2,495 Venere 2.5, and I expect the 3.0’s dedicated midrange driver might clean up the squiggles I heard in the 2.5’s mids. Still, I doubt either speaker can deliver the nearly colorless mids and treble that the Revels offer.

Another potential competitor I’ve heard – for the F206, at least – is GoldenEar Technology’s $2,998 per pair Triton Two tower, which has that great Heil-type tweeter and bass drivers powered by an internal 1,200-watt amp. I prefer a powered bass section because of the adjustability, simplicity, and extra dynamics it delivers, and the spaciousness of the Triton Two might beat what the F208 and F206 can produce. However, to my ears, the Triton Two has a little bit of emphasis in the lower treble that’s not there in the Revels.

At $3,849 per pair, and built with a similar degree of scientific and engineering rigor, the PSB Imagine T2 Tower might be the F208’s closest competitor. The T2 Tower’s dual 5.25-inch woofers can’t approach the bass power of the F208’s dual 8-inchers – and probably not the F206’s dual 6.5-inchers, either. In terms of mids and treble, the PSBs and the Revels are all exceptional. I couldn’t tell you which I’d prefer without comparing them side by side, and even then, I’m not sure I’d have a clear preference.

After years and years and years of evaluating and measuring speakers, I’ve become hyper-picky. I hear the slightest flaw – say, a “cupped hands” coloration caused by a slightly too-high crossover point or a bit of mechanical noise from a passive radiator on a deep bass note – and a speaker falls into the “nice, but …” category for me. It may be quite good, even inspiring at times, but it’s not perfect, so I could never buy it for myself.

Of course, I know I’ll never find – or at least never be able to afford – the perfect speaker, but I think the Performa3 F208 and F206 are as close as I’m going to get. That’s why I bought a pair. Which did I choose? I like the F208 better overall; I’d probably rate the F206’s performance at 4.5 stars compared with the F208’s five-star rating. Yet I chose the F206. That’s partly because I already have a great Hsu Research VTF-15H sub I can use with it, and partly because I need something I can wrestle up onto my speaker measurement stand on occasion, and the F206 is 21 pounds lighter. And, I’ll confess, partly because the F206 is available in white and the F208 isn’t. Who’s up for shooting a music video?

Additional Resources
• Read more floorstanding speaker reviews from’s writers.
• Explore more reviews in our Subwoofer Review section.
• See pairing options in our Amplifier Review section.