Revel Gem2 Loudspeaker

Equipment report
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Stand-mount
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Revel Gem2
Revel Gem2 Loudspeaker

The Gem2 is Revel’s Ultima2 “flex” speaker. Whereas most loudspeakers are designed for a single use, the compact Revel Gem2 can play many roles. Like Transformers for audiophiles, just tell it what you want it to be. A stereo pair? Not a problem. A small multichannel system, or part of a much larger one that might include (Revel hopes) the Salon2 or Studio2 floorstanders? Done. It has accommodations for wall-mounting, on the listener axis or in a multichannel array installed up high as a side or rear-surround channel. In situations where wall-mounting isn’t practical or wanted, a purpose-built pedestal converts the Gem2 to a floorstander. Like I said, Gem2 has more faces than Lon Chaney. But there is one constant and that’s superb sonic performance. Control and precision are the prevailing characteristics of the Gem2. In these very real senses, it is not unlike a studio control monitor. Its personality leans to the cooler side of the spectrum, but that is due, in part, to the pure, distortion-free images it produces. Its sound is utterly boxless and conveys the impression of transient speed and responsiveness that I associate with electrostatic and ribbon transducers rather than dynamic drivers in box enclosures. In fact, if your eyes were closed and the Gem2 was fired up you would feel that skin-tickling planar-magnetic or electrostatic sensation—the pleasantly weird feeling that music seems to be originating supernaturally from some place other than the speaker itself. Music just seems to trampoline off the Gem2 rather than emanate from it. At least part of this perception has to be attributed to the beryllium tweeter, which is as sweet and colorless as the best I’ve heard. Material colorations that I’ve experienced with earlier beryllium designs are simply no longer in evidence with the new Ultima2 lineup.

The Gem2 also has the lower-midrange and upper-bass energy that I’ve come to expect from Revel speakers. I heard it in the Performa F30 and more recently in the F52. Like a tide rising beneath the music the Revel’s output in the roughly 100–200Hz range fills the room with the weight and foundation of the performance. You can sense it in orchestras when trombones and bass viols weigh in, but it’s most easily perceived with solo piano. When Keith Jarrett plays “Shenandoah” (The Melody at Night With You [ECM]), you should experience the full scale of the instrument in the lower octaves—the sustain reverberating from the huge soundboard. This isn’t Schroeder of Peanuts fame tinkling on a tiny-tot keyboard. This is a thousand-pound concert grand meant to pressurize a symphony hall. Many speakers attenuate these octaves in the name of resolution and detail, but it’s a false choice. Revel and Gem2 have got this priority straight.

Even more impressive is the fact that the Gem2 is a threeway that integrates like an ideal two-way—an iteration that I’m especially fond of. There is little to signal inter-driver problems, and lobing is minimal. Vocals, male or female, are suave and uncolored. There is no sense of shoutiness. Fact is, cone drivers and horns can both convey a cupped-hands kind of loading that creates a hollowness with a vocal. Not here, folks.

If you’re of a “certain age,” you’ve probably had a listen to Steve Hoffman’s remastered LP of Sweet Baby James [Warner/Rhino]. Aching to hear some minutiae that you’ve probably missed over the last thirty-plus years? Listen to the title track and be amazed as you track Taylor’s head moving into and away from the microphone. On the Gem2 you can hear these tiny volume and frequency distinctions with exceptional clarity.

Given that the Gem2 doesn’t share the computer-sculpted-and-optimized baffle of the Salon2/Studio2, I wasn’t entirely surprised at the Gem2’s average soundstage layering and depth performance. It never lacked for resolution, but symphonic string section depth was a trifle compacted. In the Gem2’s case, the reality was that in order to allow a shallow depth suitable for wall-mounting while preserving adequate internal cabinet volume for sensitivity and output, a wider overall enclosure was necessary. In the grand scheme, however, it is a minor tradeoff.

There is one thing, however, that the otherwise-accommodating Gem2 is not going to do for you. And that’s deep bass. Since it was designed to run in concert with a subwoofer, it rolls off quickly below 70Hz. Subwoofer selection, therefore, will turn out to be critical, since the quality of the Gem2s performance will rise or fall based on its ability to integrate with the sub. That sub will need to be free of resonances and fast if it has any prayer of keeping up with the Gem2. This means a subwoofer of pedigree like the Revel’s own Performa B15a or, in my case, the REL T2, a newly crowned TAS Product of the Year.

Since the Gem2 doesn’t require bass-management filtering, all that was needed was to set the low-pass crossover on the REL and the system was off to the races. Integration will vary depending on the subwoofer and its crossover characteristics, but when I got the Gem2 and REL dialed in, boy, did they ever speak the same language. And I spent some considerable time trying to dis-integrate them. Not easy. Stand-up acoustic bass, cello, even the tubby kick drum and toms of Russ Kunkel’s kit couldn’t do it. Neither could the massive organ blast at the close of “Praise Ye the Lord” (Rutter, Requiem [Reference Recordings]).

Relieved of any obligation to reproduce frequencies much below seventy cycles, the Gem2 is free to express itself dynamically like few other small three-ways I’ve ever heard, save for the compact threeway Pioneer S2-EX and the MBL 121. (The Pioneer, I should add, is a speaker that has much in common with the Gem2’s performance.) Recordings that for one reason or another I thought overly compressed suddenly assumed a dynamic presence that I had no idea they were harboring. The Gem2 has the ability to sort out the complex lowlevel details of Norah Jones’ “My Dear Country” (Not Too Late, [Blue Note]), and give each an extra bit of elbowroom. Or during “Radio Nowhere” (Magic [Columbia]), when Bruce Springsteen sings, “I want a thousand guitars/I want pounding drums,” the Gem2 will make you believe you are actually hearing a thousand guitars, not ninehundred- seventy.

In the war of the wall-mounts it’s hard to imagine a rival that would best the Gem2 in a head-to-head encounter. Actually, at the spur of the moment I did reassign the Gem2 to surroundchannel duty and flipping the Contour switch I found that by the end of Master and Commander I wasn’t sure whether it was the HMS Surprise that was being reduced to splinters by the Acheron’s broadsides or my house. The detail and dynamics that the Gem2 summon from multichannel soundtracks were astonishing.

Technical & Setup

Built to the same exemplary standards as the Salon2/ Studio2 flagships, the Gem2 is a three-way, acousticsuspension design, shallow in depth and roughly two-feet tall. Its 4" midrange transducer, 8" woofer, and 1" beryllium tweeter are the same drivers fitted to the Salon2 flagship. The crossover is of the same fourth-order sophistication. Construction quality, both fit and finish, are nothing short of exquisite. The enclosures are built of thick panels of MD F with curved side panels and non-parallel top and bottom caps; calling them inert doesn’t quite do them justice. The glossy piano-black finish didn’t have a shred of orange peel, you could apply make-up in its mirror-like surface (at least, that’s what my wife told me).

The Gem2 may offer a variety of placement options but execution on this high level doesn’t come cheap. Revel, a tech-heavy company, has addressed these challenges by adding a trio of controls aboard each Gem2. Two of these, on the baffle of Gem2, are a tweeter control that will attenuate or boost output 1dB in four 0.5dB increments and a lowfrequency compensation switch that has three settings to ameliorate midbass thickness and compensate for wall proximity. On the back panel is a switch labeled ListenerAxis, which supplies an On-Axis setting for conventional listening height and Off-Axis for elevated wall-mounting (typically implemented for side and/or back-channel use). It’s a good idea to double-check this setting prior to installation. There is a dual pair of binding posts that include gold-plated jumpers for those not employing the bi-amp or bi-wire options. Due to depth restrictions, be prepared to use spades rather than bananas. Also, although the terminal plate is inset in the back panel, there is still a limit to the thickness of wire that can exit through the channel at the base of Gem2, or, for that matter, snake down the hollow post of the pedestal. Synergistic Tesla Precision Reference? Just barely. Tara Labs Omegas? No way.

Because of the Gem2’s angled base, stand-mounting requires specially designed Ultima2 pedestals. They are unique to the Gem2, because the pedestal is needed not only to support the speaker but to also enclose its open back-panel. Thus, rather then just having a base plate on which to seat the speaker, the pedestal also incorporates a finished panel that locks against the back of the Gem2. Installing the Gem2 onto its pedestal stands is something that should be done with the help of a friend. An accessories kit is included with the Gem2, and a matching bracket that will lock into the installed bracket on the Gem2 is easily installed. Then it’s simply a matter of hooking up speaker wires and leading them out the base of the speaker and through the bottom of the post of the pedestal. It’s a good idea to have a soft rug to do this on, since you’ll need to lay the speaker and stand down. Ultimately, you’ll need to interlock the brackets of the back panel of the Gem2 to the brackets of the pedestal back by sliding the panels together.