Revox is a name with the full weight of history behind it; a brand that was once among the most highly regarded in this business, but somewhere along the line it seemed to diminish. Revox itself started when Willi Studer began making professional tape recorders in 1951 under his own name; the Revox brand was born the following year to cater for the domestic market. It went on to develop classic tape recorders like the A77, and expanded into loudspeakers and parallel tracking turntables. It was one of the first companies to build multiroom specific electronics way back in the 1980s, and had a reputation for making some of the best electronics in the business, especially with regard to tape recorders and tuners.
In the mid-1970s, Studer-Revox was a large company with several thousand staff, but today it has just 65 – what happened? Well, the company owned a fair amount of property in Regensdorf, Switzerland when Willi Studer retired and sold the business in 1990, and the company Studer-Revox was sold to essentially asset-strip the business, selling off the real estate before selling the professional division to Harman. The Revox brand was bought by private investors who set about rebuilding the company out of two bases (in the Black Forest and Switzerland), which resulted in digital loudspeakers, televisions, and a dedicated audio server built for multiroom integration. This Revox-redux ultimately led to the new Joy one-box streaming range that is bringing the company back to the UK.
Joy is an amplifier and streamer in a very neat and compact box. It comes in three varieties, the entry level S118 at £875 with a 25 Watt amp; the S119 ups amplifier quality for £1,650 (60W) and the S120, seen here, is specced at 120 Watts a side and goes for £2,090. Functionally, they all share some similarities with products from Linn and Naim, and in control terms are very similar to Cyrus streamers. There aren’t very many options on the market when it comes to sourcing the key elements in a streamer, so Revox offers an optional two-way RF handset that is a dead-ringer for the one provided by Cyrus, but unlike that company’s first streamers, an app for iOS and Android is also available from the outset.
The minimalist casework conceals a powerful box of audio tricks that supports most music file formats (except Apple Lossless) and can be augmented with an FM and DAB+ tuner module at a sensible price (£170). Most users will probably want to listen to the plethora of stations available on the net using the vTuner facility, and this gives access to ‘listen again’ type functionality with some stations, making it a whole lot more powerful than a regular tuner.
Where the audio manufacturer does have a choice with streamers is in the amplifier and digital to analogue converter. For the Joy S120 (and S118 for that matter), Revox has gone for a PWM Class D amplifier. Pulse Width Modulation amplifiers first came to the audiophile fore with the TACT Audio (latterly Lyngdorf) Millennium designs from Denmark, but are taking their time to filter through the high-end amp world. In this instance, Revox has used a linear power supply, which is generally ‘a good thing’ but invites the question, “why go down the Class D route if you’re not going ‘switch mode’?” The answer is you can get a lot more power without producing heat, so the 120 watt rating on the S120 is probably realistic, despite its shoe box dimensions.
The S120 is a very ‘less is more’ design. You can buy it in other colours (which include all white and all black), but there really is nothing to play with once you’ve connected it up. This means you’ll need the app or optional remote on hand to do anything. The advantage of the remote is that it’s dedicated to the task, and therefore likely to stay in the vicinity where it’s required. It is also quick to bring to life thanks to an onboard motion sensor, and this version has greater tactile appeal than the Cyrus example, thanks to rubbery buttons that give an encouraging click when pressed. When it comes to searching for music in a big library, however, Revox’s own iPad app is a far more intuitive experience, at least once you’ve mastered its basic logic. It can’t give you a screen full of album sleeves like some apps, but it does show artwork for the album being played. It also has an A-Z list, so that you can jump quickly to a particular album, artist, or genre.
Once the track is up and playing, you get all the following tracks on that album plus any you have added to the ‘playqueue’, it’s also possible to add tracks to ‘My Music’, which is not a playlist but a folder a the top of the hierarchy that can be quickly accessed and contains both stored music and radio stations. The vTuner internet radio system works well in my experience, allowing you to find stations by type or location, although not by search. There are two headings on the net radio page whose function only becomes clear if you read the manual. They are ‘Favourites’ and ‘Added Stations’, both of which can only be altered via Revox’s IAP (internet audio portal). This is useful for finding an obscure station, but adding such statons to favourites could be easier. The ‘My Music’ option is, in fact, an easier route to the same end.
Looking at the quick start manual, it becomes clear that differences between the most affordable Revox Joy and its siblings extends beyond the amplifier to the inputs and outputs. These are considerably more extensive on the S119 and S120 which features digital and analogue inputs, USB input, connections for DAB+/FM and
Wi-Fi antennae and both digital and analogue outputs, the latter volume controlled. Those wanting to connect their mobile phones can hook up to the integrated Bluetooth receiver, an option not afforded the S118 entry level Joy receiver.
There are a pair of RJ45 connectors, one for the network and the other for the Joy series CD player. The latter matches the S120 in appearance, and this connection means you get to control it from the app or handset. If you want even more Joy, there is also a matching server, a ripping NAS device that appears to be like a Naim UnitiServe but with a smaller 500GB hard disk for £2,200. Those in search of the full Revox experience can complete the system with a Re:sound G series loudspeaker; a range that comes in matching glass fronted, silver boxed cabinets that have a very high ‘wife acceptance factor’ on account of their diminutive stature. I was supplied with the ‘G shelf’ that has a baffle that’s a mere 104mm wide. Should you choose one of the Revox speaker models, there are custom EQ setting in the settings in the Joy S120 for all the Re:sound G series models, alongside ‘any speaker’ for every other speaker on the planet.
I kicked off with the S120 hooked up to the network with AudioQuest CAT7 Forest cable and to the PMC fact.8 speakers with Townshend Isolda DCT speaker cable. Not entirely a balanced combination in truth, and one in which the high transparency of the speakers does tend to reveal the slight forwardness of the Revox. It’s hardly ‘in your face’ though. Dynamics are good and there is an immediacy to the sound that is quite rare, a quality that I recall from PWM amplifiers from back in the day.
I put on the title track from Calexico’s The Black Light [Quarterstick] and discovered just how good a recording of a drum kit can sound. The rest of the band sound pretty good too, but it’s the leading edge snap of the snare and metallic qualities of the cymbals that catch your attention. This is delivered with plenty of drive, thanks to what are clearly adequate power reserves from that linear PSU.
At this point I changed tack entirely and put on the unusual but inspired recording, Horowitz Plays Scarlatti [Sony], where a piano is used rather than the traditional harpsichord. Here, the nervous energy of the playing is reproduced with vim and spark; it’s strangely reminiscent of Glen Gould in its mannerisms, but works remarkably well for such a thin sounding instrument. The recording, especially through the Joy is ample proof that performance is more important than recording: see AC/DC’s If You Want Blood and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska for further examples.
The pace of the Joy S120 provoked my next choice, Henry Threadgill Sextett’s ‘Bermuda Blues’ [You Know The Number, Novus]. This also has a drum kit in an open acoustic and you can appreciate the natural reverb through this system. The double bass seems a little thickened here, but the dynamics distract you from such quibbles and allow the groove to gather you in. Listening in a more objective fashion, it’s apparent that image depth could be better, while the brass is pretty solid, but it’s largely in one plane. Moving over to a competitor in the Naim UnitiQute 2, which has pretty much the same feature set in a similarly sized box, the Class AB amplifier is considerably more relaxed and open sounding than the Class D amp in the Revox; you lose power and speed, but gain a sound that could be enjoyed over rather longer periods, with this particular speaker at least. The Revox is somewhat lacking in spaciousness when you make this comparison, but it doesn’t sound ‘wrong’: it’s more like the truth must lie somewhere between the two extremes.
It seemed a good opportunity to change the loudspeaker to something more appropriate in price and resolution to a source and amp of this nature. Fortunately, the Focal Aria 905 bookshelf speakers reviewed elsewhere in this issue were to hand, because they proved to be an excellent match. Their innately great sense of timing and the forgiving nature of the flax cone proved perfect for delivering the immediacy of the Revox, without emphasising its limitations. That, after all, is what system matching is all about; finding the best compromises. The way that finger cymbal appears out of nowhere on Felix Laband’s ‘Minka (And the Notes After)’ from Dark Days Exit [Compost], is quite magical and the following ‘Notes’ remain tight and coherent in a big sound stage that’s pretty engrossing.
I noticed that the remote handset displays bit rate, but not word length or sample rate. Perhaps more importantly, it shows volume in a real world style, with higher numbers equalling higher levels. This is something that is still quite rare, as designers cling to a counter-intuitive decibel scale that must baffle those we hope to lure into the audio appreciation fold.
I thought I’d see how this combination coped with something a bit bigger and put on Daniel Barenboim’s version of Beethoven’s 7th [Beethoven For All, Symphony No.7 in A, Op.92, 24/96, Decca], and I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised. The loudspeaker must take some credit of course, but rarely has this piece proved so engaging, dynamic, and powerful, I couldn’t get it out of my head for days! There is clearly something about PWM that works very well and when you have the right speaker for the job it works even better. I’m starting to sound like a convert.
In an effort to be professional I gave the S120 a spin with a Bluetooth source, an Android phone with aptX. Pairing didn’t take long and the result was really rather listenable. The sound was not quite as precise as that achieved with the UnitiQute, but not dramatically worse, so long as you steer clear of anything busy; keep it simple would seem to be the rule for Bluetooth.
You pay a premium for the Revox name and the German manufacture of the Joy S120, but it’s a cool brand with a fabulous heritage. The player itself is pretty cool too; minimalists will go crazy for it and audio enthusiasts should give it serious consideration, too. With the right speakers, it can deliver a spine tinglingly powerful result, which for something that could have been created designed for TV’s Grand Designs is quite an achievement.
- Type: Streamer/amplifier with Bluetooth and optional DAB+/FM tuner.
- Storage: N/A.
- Analogue Inputs: Two unbalanced (via RCA jacks).
- Digital Inputs: Two coaxial S/PDIF (via RCA jacks), two TOSLink, USB.
- DAC Resolution/Supported Digital Formats: Sampling rate for D/A conversion 192 kHz/24 bit . FLAC/WAV/MP3/AAC/OGG-vorbis/WMA
- Analogue Outputs: One stereo unbalanced (via RCA jacks), subwoofer (via RCA jack).
- Digital Outputs: One coaxial S/PDIF (via RCA jack).
- Output power: 120W/channel.
- Network connection: wired or wireless.
- User Interface: Optional 2-way RF handset, free iOS/Android app.
- Supported servers: UPnP AV1.1 and DLNA.
- Dimensions (HxWxD): 88 x 200 x 322mm
- Weight: 6.3kg
- Price: £2,090
- Optional remote: £300
- Optional DAB+/FM tuner module: £170
Manufacturer: Revox GmbH
Tel: +49 772187040