Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
Nearly four years ago, I reviewed Revel’s Performa3 M106 minimonitor ($2000 USD per pair). I was impressed by its nicely balanced, well-controlled, squeaky-clean sound -- traits it shared with every other Revel speaker I’ve heard. More recently, someone at Revel had the idea of putting this model and its bigger brother, the floorstanding Performa3 F208, on steroids. Every component part was redesigned, the prices were doubled, and they were made the first and, so far, only members of a new Revel line, PerformaBe. The results began shipping last year: the PerformaBe M126Be minimonitor ($4000/pair) and the PerformaBe F228Be floorstander ($10,000/pair). When Doug Schneider asked if I wanted to review the M126Be, I acceded to his request without hesitation.
I don’t know why Revel chose to revamp these particular models, but it may have had something to do with filling the price gap between the Performa3s and their top line of speakers, the Ultima2s. Whatever Revel’s intentions, the new models occupy what are, essentially, repainted Performa3 cabinets, gutted and filled with all-new parts. The biggest change is the inclusion of a beryllium tweeter, as indicated by the Be in PerformaBe.
Unlike materials and technologies that are eventually trickled down to less-expensive models, this rarely happens with beryllium drivers -- Revel began using beryllium tweeters over a decade ago, in their Ultima2 line, and there they stayed. Beryllium, a dangerously toxic metallic element, is relatively rare and difficult to work with -- the cost of using it may have come down in recent years, but you’re still unlikely to find a $1000/pair of speakers with beryllium domes.
What make beryllium so desirable for use in tweeter domes are its extremely low density and its exceptional stiffness. It’s easy to see the usefulness of using such a material to build a device that must retain its shape without deformation while being made to move back and forth 20,000 times per second -- or, in the case of the PerformaBe M126Be, more than twice that frequency. Beryllium has the added benefit of being good at self-damping, which essentially means that it better controls the resonance of the diaphragm.
The M126Be’s 1” beryllium dome sits at the bottom of a ceramic-coated, cast-aluminum waveguide, and hands off via a high-order crossover to a 6.5” midrange-woofer at 1.7kHz. This frequency is quite a bit lower than the 2.3kHz used in the M106, and lower than the tweeter-handoff frequency of almost every other speaker I’ve ever reviewed. The crossover itself comprises premium components -- film capacitors and air-core inductors -- chosen to reduce distortion and dynamic compression. The midrange-woofer boasts a new cone technology that Revel calls Deep Ceramic Composite (DCC), which it claims is stiffer and better damped than untreated aluminum, so that control of the cone’s resonances are improved.
Revel specifies the M126Be’s frequency response as 54Hz-44kHz, -6dB, its nominal impedance as 8 ohms, and its sensitivity as 86dB/W/m. The sensitivity is a touch on the low side, but the impedance reveals the M126Be to be a fairly easy load for an amplifier. Revel recommends 50-150Wpc of amplification, but I’d err on the side of more power if your room is large and/or you like to listen at higher volumes. Each speaker measures 15.2”H x 8.3”W x 10.3”D, weighs 22 pounds, and has on its rear panel a port and a single pair of gold-plated binding posts that accept spades, banana plugs, or bare wire.
The design of the cabinet is the same as the M106’s, except that the M126Be’s curved top panel is finished in metallic black paint and raised electroform branding. As one visitor to my place observed, that curved top surface guarantees that no guest will try to rest a drink on an M126Be, a detail Revel probably never considered but nonetheless is a happy consequence of the design. The speakers can be ordered in one of four high-gloss finishes: Black, White, Walnut, and Silver. The review samples, finished in Black, look terrific, though I abhor high-gloss black for its uncanny ability to advertise the presence of every speck of dust -- if I were buying a pair, I’d opt for Walnut. As on most of today’s speakers, the M126Be’s grille attaches magnetically, leaving the naked baffle uncluttered by mounting holes.
Generally, I found the M126Be handsome, and the contrast of their black cabinets with their white waveguides and midrange-woofers was striking. My only critique is that Revel should have found a way to hide the drivers’ mounting screws, which would have cleaned things up even more.
I placed the PerformaBe M126Be’s on 24”-high Osiris stands and drove them with a Bryston B135 SST2 integrated amplifier via AudioQuest Comet speaker cables. Digital content was provided by an Apple MacBook computer running Audirvana, feeding a Bryston BDA-2 DAC through an AudioQuest Forest USB link. Additional digital content was delivered to the BDA-2 by an NAD C 565BEE CD player through an i2Digital X-60 digital coaxial interconnect. The BDA-2 fed the B135 SST2 via Kimber Kable Tonik interconnects (RCA). Vinyl was played on a Thorens TD 160HD turntable with a Rega Research RB250 tonearm and a Dynavector DV-10X5 high-output moving-coil cartridge, in conjunction with a Lehmann Audio Black Cube phono stage. All electronics were plugged into an ExactPower EP15A power conditioner-regenerator.
I first listened to Allegri’s Miserere, in the recording by the Tallis Scholars (CD, Gimell CDGIM 201). The choir sounded exquisite -- the Revel PerformaBe M126Be’s’ presentation of the group was holographic, with a wide stage particularly notable for its depth. Individual voices were easy to tease apart, and the music emerged from the “blackest” of backgrounds -- all I heard were the sounds of the singers in the acoustic of Oxford’s Merton College Chapel. If you value transparency and clarity above all else, the M126Be is your type of speaker.
With “Banquet Hall,” from Loreena McKennitt’s To Drive the Cold Winter Away (CD, Quinlan Road QRCD102), the Revels were superb at delivering the sparkle of the finger cymbals and the shimmer of the tambourine. The cymbals were especially lively (though not distractingly so) -- the ringing of the little metal plates splashed out into the room. In “Snow,” the focal point is McKennitt’s voice, and through the M126Be’s it sounded eerily realistic. This told me that one undeniable strength of this speaker was the purity of its reproduction of the midrange.
Chor Leoni, a men’s choir based in Vancouver, British Columbia, sounded big, even powerful through the Revels. In “Huron Carol,” from their Yuletide Fires, recorded under artistic director Diane Loomer (CD, Cypress CCR0601), the whistle provided a nice contrast as it hovered over the choir’s opening note. The singers’ voices were amazingly lucid, the choir spread wider than the distance between the speakers, and some distance behind them, while the guitar was quite subtle in conferring a warm, pleasing fullness of sound to this festive piece.
I then listened to James Blake’s cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love,” from James Blake (16-bit/44.1kHz AIFF, Atlas/A&M). Blake’s voice is the centerpiece of this track, and it was carved out with razor precision between and above the plane of the M126Be’s. The piano, not recorded nearly as well as the voice, sounded somewhat boxed-in by comparison, almost as if it didn’t have the same amount of space in which to breathe. When the percussion rumbles in, the M126Be’s went respectably low to reproduce it, but not as deep as I’ve heard from bigger speakers. However, the bass that was on offer was exceedingly clean and sufficiently powerful for me, offering real kick and excellent clarity. This, combined with the crystalline sound of the shaker in this track, gave me the sense that the Revels were letting me hear everything in it other than the lowest end of the percussion.
I find that speakers that sound clean and convey high levels of detail are well suited to more intimate recordings, because such speakers remove any barrier between listener and music. In practical terms, this makes what you’re hearing sound lifelike and believable, as though the performers are in the room with you. I experienced this feeling of intimate authenticity frequently during my time with the PerformaBe M126Be’s -- it distinguished them from many other speakers I’ve heard.
In Elliott Smith’s cover of Big Star’s “Thirteen,” from his New Moon (16/44.1 AIFF, Kill Rock Stars), Smith’s voice and acoustic guitar are mixed up front, which makes them “pop” from the speakers into the room with an immediacy that underscores their presence and liveliness. The recording is hardly perfect -- Smith’s voice is a bit hollow -- yet his soft delivery and apparent closeness through the Revels made them nonetheless sound rather organic. I’m not sure “Thirteen” could have sounded any better in my room -- different, but not better.
Continuing with acoustic music, I cued up Great Lake Swimmers’ Ongiara (16/44.1 AIFF, Nettwerk). With “Your Rocky Spine,” the M126Be’s again treated me to a broad, deep stage populated by an assortment of strings carved out with clarity, playing atop the warm thump of the bass. I could clearly hear the acoustic of Aeolian Hall, in London, Ontario, the small concert hall in which this track was recorded, and particularly in the spaciousness surrounding Tony Dekker’s voice. In “Backstage with the Modern Dancers,” the banjo strings rang out with wonderful clarity, accompanied by the drums farther back on the stage. Again, the intimacy here was irrefutable, and easily commanded my attention.
A high-quality minimonitor should be able to handle thunderous dynamics, but some do it better than others, and in this regard the M126Be’s were as good as any speaker of similar size I’ve heard. With War Dance, from Respighi’s Belkis, Queen of Sheba: Suite, as performed by Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra(16/44.1 AIFF, Reference), the Revels were exemplary in their reproduction of the pounding percussion that drives the dance forward like a force of nature. By this point, I wasn’t surprised by how well-controlled and articulate the Revels were in the lower registers, but was caught off guard by the sheer sense of space surrounding the orchestra as it performs in Minneapolis’s Orchestra Hall. I’ve heard this recording countless times, and through some speakers it’s sounded outstanding. But I don’t recall it ever sounding this open, or the various sections of the orchestra so clearly delineated. This is, after all, an amazing recording -- and the Bryston-Revel combo was the perfect tool with which to showcase it.
I’m not sure how far you’d have to raise the volume before the PerformaBe M126Be’s began to distort, but I never approached that level in my time with them. I expect they could easily fill a fairly large room with sound, so long as you don’t need really deep bass. The Revels could deliver enough energy to invigorate a piece of bombast such as Respighi’s War Dance, but if you want to be kicked in the chest by those beating drums, you’ll need bigger speakers and/or a subwoofer. The M126Be is, after all, specified as 6dB down at 54Hz.
Performa3 vs. PerformaBe
I had on hand a pair of Revel’s Performa3 F206 speakers ($3500/pair). The F206 is a three-way floorstander with a 1” dome tweeter, a 5.25” midrange driver, and two 6.5” woofers, all made of aluminum.
I began by returning to War Dance, and quickly found that the sound of the F206es had a weight and impact that the M126Bes couldn’t equal. When the solo flute enters midway through, it’s accompanied by a large drum -- the greater bass weight produced by the floorstanders made Orchestra Hall sound even bigger and deeper than through the M126Be’s. In contrast, through the M126Be’s, the brass section “popped” more, with more dazzle.
The Performa3 F206 is a special speaker in its own right that holds its own against higher-priced competitors. Its clean, open sound lets me hear deep into recordings while preserving an even tonal balance. However, as good as the F206es are, I preferred the M126Be’s -- their überclarity offered even more precise imaging and more razor-sharp sound. While the F206es were able to convey a greater sense of recording-venue space, with the M126Be’s I heard more space within the orchestra. The minimonitors’ ability to float clearly defined, well-separated aural images was one of its best attributes. If I had to choose only one of these Revel models, I’d be willing to sacrifice the F206es’ greater output and deeper bass extension for the experience I consistently had with the M126Be’s: I could close my eyes and see the musicians and their instruments spread out before me.
I also noted the F206es’ fullness of sound and the sharper focus of the M126Be’s as I switched back and forth between them while listening to several albums. With “Society,” from Eddie Vedder’s music for the film Into the Wild (16/44.1 AIFF, J Records/Sony), both pairs of speakers delivered the warm, pleasing tones resounding from the wooden body of the lead acoustic guitar, as well as the incisiveness of the second guitarist’s finger-picked strings. While the difference was slight, the envelope of reverb around Vedder’s deep voice was fuller through the F206es; his voice sounded more tightly focused through the M126Be’s.
Similarly, with “Louis Collins,” from David Grisman and Jerry Garcia’s Shady Grove (16/44.1 AIFF, Acoustic Disc), I found that with the M126Be’s, the suite of musicians came into sharper focus, as did the assortment of strings playing this traditional bluegrass tune. The guitar in “Louis Collins” sounded weightier through the F206es; through the M126Be’s, I felt I could hear the actual character of the wood more clearly, and the buzz of the strings was even more cleanly conveyed.
Depending on the size of the potential buyer’s room and his or her taste in music and listening, I can see him or her choosing the F206: it offers most of what the M126Be does, while adding greater low-frequency extension and a similar level of fit and finish, all for less money -- and it doesn’t need stands. However, if what you most crave is class-leading transparency and stellar precision, at the expense of the lowest of lows, you might be wise to consider the M126Be.
One thought that continually occurred to me during my time with the M126Bes: Sure, with different speakers, the sound could be just as good, if different -- but was it even possible for it to sound better? Through them, I enjoyed even more space and greater precision in the sound of recordings that I thought I already knew well.
The Revel PerformaBe M126Be is the finest speaker I’ve heard in my listening room. Its even tonal balance, exceptional clarity, amazing resolution, and precise imaging provided me with many intimate listening experiences, and I enjoyed every minute I spent with them. What most surprised me was its ability to draw my attention to details in recordings I’ve heard many times and assumed I knew inside and out.
I’ve listened to many speakers since 2006, when I began reviewing audio gear, and it’s rare that one surprises me. This one did. If I were in a position to buy them, I’d do so without thinking twice. If anything I’ve said here has piqued your interest in Revel’s PerformaBe M126Be, I suggest you track down a pair to hear them for yourself. For me, this is a benchmark speaker against which others should be evaluated.
. . . Philip Beaudette
- Speakers -- Revel Performa3 F206
- Integrated amplifier -- Bryston B135 SST2
- Digital sources -- Panasonic DMP-BDT210 DVD player (as transport), Bryston BDA-2 DAC, Apple MacBook computer running Audirvana
- Analog sources -- Thorens TD 160HD turntable, Rega Research RB250 tonearm, Dynavector DV-10X5 high-output MC cartridge, Lehmann Audio Black Cube phono stage
- Speaker cables -- AudioQuest Comet
- Interconnects -- Kimber Kable Tonik (RCA)
- Digital links -- AudioQuest Forest (USB), NexxTech (TosLink)
- Power conditioner -- ExactPower EP15A
Revel PerformaBe M126Be Loudspeakers
Price: $4000 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Harman Luxury Audio Group
8500 Balboa Boulevard
Northridge, CA 91329
Phone: (888) 691-4171, (203) 328-3500