REL Serie R-528SE Sub-Bass System


Equipment report
REL Serie R-528SE Sub-Bass System

It can be made to do that to a limited extent, as I will indicate, by judiciously raising the crossover point, but even with my Quads, I wouldn’t go higher than 75–80Hz. Beyond that the presentation begins to thicken ever so slightly in a way not to my taste. But “taste” is most emphatically the operative word here, inasmuch as the sound was by no means unmusical or in any other way unattractive. Usually I had the crossover at what I believe was in the 40–50Hz range (the reason for my uncertainty will be become clear soon enough). The thinking, as John Paul Lizars of Sumiko, REL’s domestic importer, explained it to me, is to have the subwoofer provide the foundation, the oomph, slam, or crunch factor—supply your own figure of speech— so that the main speakers dominate in reproducing the leading edges of the transients, not to mention the harmonics.

Quads are reputedly among the most difficult of all speakers to match with a subwoofer, but I am happy to report that I achieved a seamless transition between them and the REL. It took some doing, but it can be done and, once done, the results are magnificent: Anyone hearing my present setup who would seriously want more and deeper bass or a better integration must have a very different conception of natural sound from mine.

The Sound

Once the 528SE was properly situated and dialed in, absolutely the highest possible recommendation I can give is to say that I quickly forgot it was there until it was needed. But when it was needed, it didn’t sound like an accessory adding something to the presentation that wasn’t there before. On the contrary, the Quad 2805s continued to sound like the peerlessly pure, open, neutral, transparent, and lifelike reproducers they are, only, almost miraculously, these qualities now seemed to extend organically into the low bass and even further into the really subterranean bass, as if those characteristics were always part of the Quads themselves. And this was realized with a sense of solidity, foundation, and sheer power that I’ve experienced only a few times before (one of those with a previous REL woofer). This means that nonmusical sounds are also reproduced, such as the subways that run below St. John’s in England, which are famously audible on any number of choral recordings made there (also traffic noise outside).

But it’s not just big deep stuff that is better reproduced. All recordings made in spacious venues are reproduced with a greater sense of air, atmosphere, and the “presence” of the space itself, which results in a much richer and more enveloping presentation. This is because in most large venues that are acoustically pleasing, especially the great concert halls of the nineteenth century, level rises as response descends into the bass (so does reverberation time). On the new Dudamel Also Sprach Zarathustra, listen to the rush of air at the end of the organ introduction—one reason you hear this is that the REL is reproducing the true fundamental, not just its first harmonic. (Even when there’s no music at low frequencies, most large spaces still have a certain amount of “bass sound,” though they appear to be pretty quiet.) Finally, there is, top to bottom, a more pleasing overall tonal balance, especially on big material, but also with instruments like pianos, where you get the full muscularity and resonance of the bottom end. The coda of Richard Goode’s Waldstein (Nonesuch) is quite overwhelming in this respect, and Valentina Lisitsa’s Totentanz (Naxos) has to be heard to be believed. (Both of these recordings in their very different ways offer outstanding reproduction of grand pianos.)

I mentioned earlier that using a crossover to divide the spectrum by diverting the lows away from the main speakers will often yield greater dynamic range because the main speakers don’t have to work to reproduce the bass. This is true, yet I found that with the Quad/REL combination the subwoofer now produces so well balanced and properly proportioned bass that it’s not necessary to play the system as loud to try to get a physical feeling from bass drums, tympani, organ, and the like.

The definition, resolution, and transparency of the REL seem to me beyond reproach, and there is no sense that the speaker is lagging behind or dragging the so-called “speed” of the Quads down. “Speed” in any case is both the wrong word and the wrong idea here. The difficulty with matching most woofers to Quads doesn’t have to do with the quickness of their response—most good or better subwoofers respond plenty fast enough unless they’re incompetently designed—but with the fact that Quads are dipole radiators and woofers are direct radiators. Once this new REL was optimally set up, however, I heard no trace—zero, nada, none—of cone driver versus planar discontinuity. The integration was seamless. (This is yet another reason why it’s advisable to set as low a crossover frequency as you can get away with, consistent with having as smooth a response as possible throughout the bass range.)