Every so often you get a product come along that seems to embody every current design trend and hot new technology. It represents everything that is seen to be good in its particular category – and it normally sounds indifferent at best and more often that that, absolutely terrible. Jumping on bandwagons has seldom advanced the state-of-the-art; in fact, the result is often increased technology at the expense of absolute performance. On the face of it, Revel’s Performa M105 might be just such a product. It features a boat-backed cabinet, glossy finish and aesthetically pleasing plastic trim, a funky wave guide on the tweeter, and an aluminium coned bass-mid unit. As an exercise in ticking all the currently important boxes, that’s pretty complete. But throw in a price-tag that looks steep and it would be easy to take a quick look, conclude that it’s possible to get something superficially similar for a fraction of the price, and hit the ‘Next’ button. But that would be a mistake, because there’s a lot more to this speaker than the outside suggests – not least because it comes from Revel, a company with a reputation for combining sound engineering and superb material value. So, rather than judging this particular book by its cover, let’s look inside to see what it’s made of…
Having the huge resources of the Harman Group behind the design and manufacturing effort is no small advantage and Revel exploit it to the full, with every single component and part in the M105 built for purpose. The M105’s cabinet is another of those increasingly familiar boat back designs, the curved walls adding stiffness when compared to conventional flat panels. But that’s not all that Revel has done to create a stiff, non-resonant structure. Firstly, despite the diminutive dimensions of the cabinet, the walls are a full 25mm thick, the side-walls and rear having been laminated from single contiguous layers to ensure consistent resonant behaviour and long-term stability. Then they’re braced, to further suppress mechanical modes.
The drivers, so elegantly trimmed by that molded insert, are far from standard too. The 130mm aluminium cone on the bass unit is heavily ribbed to ensure pistonic behavior and coupled to a sophisticated motor that pays particular attention to the stability of its flux field, aiming to keep driver performance consistent even at high levels or under extreme dynamic demands. The acoustic lens fitted to the 25mm aluminium dome tweeter acts as a wave guide, controlling dispersion and matching it to the bass/mid driver through the crossover range, to improve integration and continuity as well as off-axis performance.
Likewise, the numbers look less than impressive compared to the rest of the field (-3dB at 60 Hz and 86dB sensitivity aren’t exactly inspiring), but then I suspect that that is because they have rather more to do with reality than some, and if there are lies, damned lies and statistics, there’s a special corner in arithmetical hell reserved just for loudspeaker specs.
So the Revel Performa M105 isn’t exactly hiding its light under a bushel, but more behind a rather pretty face and high gloss finish (including the currently obligatory white, naturally). But don’t be fooled by that slightly bland exterior; this is a far more capable performer (ouch) than it seems. Designed for free-space mounting, Revel supplied a set of matching stands for the M105, although I opted to stick with my tried and trusted 24” Track Audio stands. You do get a set of foam bungs to stuff the rear ports should you be book-shelf or near-wall mounting the speakers, but in the UK at least these are going to be used as a high-quality mini-monitors rather stuffed in the ‘den’. So, I figured that compromising their performance with less than ideal siting made no sense at all. Instead, positioned about 40cm out from the rear wall with a slightly wide stance and moderate toe-in, the M105s quickly demonstrated just how right I was. This is really rather a special little speaker. I can (and will) break down its musical character, but let’s start by establishing what it is that makes it so special – and that’s its unfailing sense of coherence and integration. It’s not just that the tweeter and mid-base meet so seamlessly that you don’t ever hear the join, the whole speaker is so well behaved, so devoid of attention grabbing or intrusive anomalies, that it simply disappears into the soundstage, leaving behind music, just music.
With so many exotic tweeter types and materials around these days, the apparently simple aluminium dome used in the M105 might look a little low rent, but its contribution demonstrates just how far you can take established materials and technology if you know what you are doing. The top-end here is sweet, open, and unusually solid: no wispy, ethereal thinness here. Play really wide-ranging vocals from a singer like Ruth Moody, who effortlessly combines a clear soprano with the earthier tones of a contralto, and there are no discontinuities in her voice, no doubt helped by the material consistency between the two drivers. Her vocals on These Wilder Things [Red House CD] stay put, both in terms of position and substance, so as they soar – and soar they do – you never lose the sense of the flesh-and-blood person behind the voice.
Moving to the other end of the range, you’ll soon discover one of the challenges that the M105 presents – resisting the temptation to maximize bass weight in exchange for articulation. Given the small bass driver and modest on-paper performance specs, it’s easy to get carried away with just how effective the Revel’s bottom end is in practice. But overdo it and you’ll slow the pace of tracks like Moody’s infectious ‘Trouble And Woe’, blunt the rhythmic hook that underpins her fabulous cover of ‘Dancing In The Dark’, and thicken that gorgeous voice. Pull the speakers forward a little at a time and you’ll hear speed and dynamics that more than compensate for the lost weight. Get it spot on and the M105 will shock you with the scale and impact it can recreate. Even something as bombastically OTT as the opening of Reiner’s Scheherezade [RCA Living Stereo] is given convincing scale and substance – and that directly after hearing the RPO delivering it live.
It’s this ability to convince – and convince across a wide range of music – that makes the M105 worth seeking out. There are plenty of small speakers out there – and plenty of them sound pretty impressive. But there’s a world of difference (and wasted money) between a speaker that’s impressive and one that’s capable of truly convincing and that’s where the M105 scores. Don’t be fooled if it doesn’t stand out at first; the more you listen the more you’ll recognise and come to values its easy, open, and unforced balance of virtues-its warm, natural yet not overly rich or think balance, and the self-effacing qualities that let it stand behind rather than in front of the recording. In fact, it’s a good thing its so pretty, ‘cos otherwise you might never notice it.
It’s also rare to find a speaker this compact that can carry off the conflicting demands of small-scale acoustic folk, all natural timbre and attack, that’s still comfortable with the broader band dynamic demands and massive scale of full orchestral music. Really well-recorded rock or pop will show up the dynamic limitations of the M105 – you can only get so much out of such a small system – but that’s why there’s the M106. Very slightly larger in the cabinet (they’d need to be side by side before you noticed) its 165mm bass/mid driver affords a 36% increase in swept area – an increase you are going to hear in terms of dynamic range and heft rather than bass extension. But short of coming up against its (slightly) bigger brother I seriously doubt you’ll find the M105 wanting. There are speakers that sound quicker and more agile, but they lack the Revel’s natural weight and sense of body – and the sense of musical satisfaction that goes with it. A natural partner for moderately powerful integrated amps and perfectly at home with tubes, the M105 is fast becoming a firm favourite in these parts. Versatile, adaptable, and unfailingly musical it’s yet another reminder of just how underrated the Revel loudspeakers are. Beautifully finished and intelligently engineered, there really are very few small speakers as musically satisfying as these – at any price, which makes them well worth seeking out if you are a small speaker kind of guy…
Type: Two-way reflex loudspeaker
Driver Complement: 1x 25mm aluminium dome HF, 1x 133mm aluminium cone B/M
Bandwidth: -3dB at 60Hz
Impedance: 8 Ohms
Crossover: 2.3kHz – single-wired
Dimensions (WxHxD): 200 x 356 x 248mm
Finishes: High gloss black, white or walnut
Price: £1,400 per pair
Manufactured by: Revel
UK Distributor: Karma AV
Tel: +44(0)1423 358846
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