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a Audio EnthusiastDate Reviewed:
December 25, 2009Bottom Line:
I was pretty concerned the day I sold my B&W 704’s – not because they were speakers that I’d particularly “loved”, good as they were – but more because I knew that after many satisfied years of using floorstanding speakers I was being forced to “downgrade” to standmounts, a scenario I had taken care to avoid in the past, but moving house had left me with no other option – because of the layout, the space required for bigger speakers simply isn’t available.
For the weeks immediately after I’d settled on a pair of Sonus Faber Concertino Domus as replacements I was too distracted to care about what had been lost in the trade – Sonus Faber speakers have a reputation for having “a way” with reproducing acoustic instruments and these tiny boxes certainly live up to expectations in spades despite their (then) entry level status in that manufacturers product range. Yet despite their many charms there is no way of avoiding the fact that as small speakers they cannot produce genuinely low bass with any conviction – for that matter neither can mid-sized floorstanders such as the B&W’s I’d owned before, but somehow the overall sound from those seemed to be more realistically balanced & scaled and that’s what I began to miss.
All of which leads me to a confession of sorts – I didn’t end up using floorstanders by accident, I had a long standing dislike of subwoofers in general, thinking them to be more trouble & expense than they were worth. I took a devil-may-care approach to music’s lowest frequencies, writing them off as the preserve of obsessive’s and secretly sneered at the frustration & angst endured by those who battled to get subwoofers set up & integrated at all.
Yet, despite my this I could only resist the obvious solution to my problem for so long – and I loaned an R-205 from my local retailer for a home trial (for reference my room is around 330 square feet or 31m² if you prefer). At first I had intended to loan units by MJ Acoustics & Velodyne too having determined these to be the leading brands available in my area, but decided on the REL as my first point of reference since it is often described by other users as ideal in a 2ch music system (my intended application) and also because of its forward firing driver – I have suspended timber floors in my house, so downward firing designs would likely project directly through the floor – of course I could’ve placed a slab of stone or concrete underneath to counter this, but trying a forward firing design to start with seemed an obvious way around the issue.
I found basic set-up very easy & also got lucky in that my intended location (one which suits from a domestic acceptability aspect) also seems to be the “correct” sonic location in my room. As an aside – I did try corner placement as recommended in the REL manual, which was an absolute disaster resulting in a succession of monotonous thuds & drones - other potential users of this product may wish to note this before writing the product off as poor. Suffice to say, I was quite impressed by what I heard (impressed enough in fact to not bother trialling any of my other options) and thanks to an act of generosity by my wife (who decided to purchase one for as a surprise) I ended up with one of my own soon after the home demo.
Longer term ownership (including many weeks of fine-tuning – basically finishing with the volume further up & the crossover further down than I originally thought) has cemented my initial impressions, so I can confidently conclude that the addition of the sub has improved my system in the following ways (in no particular order of importance):
1) Increased bass response – down to around 15 or 16Hz in room (admittedly at very low levels) if the LF test tone discs I’ve been trying recently are anything to go by. The little REL gets into shifting air more seriously (enough to feel in your chest) at around 23 or 24Hz, still respectably low in my view although the process has obviously not been conducted in a particularly scientific way. Musically - and therefore more importantly - the obvious benefit of this is a greater depth of tone to instruments such as upright bass or large drums.
2) Improved dynamics – To me this raises real questions around the benefits of active vs. passive bass systems in general; since it’s far easier to achieve a real sense of power during loud passages (as well as articulating subtle micro-dynamic cues) with the subwoofer in the playback chain than without it – which is saying a lot considering my amp is capable of producing around 500w R.M.S at the Sonus Fabers nominal 4ohm impedence and double that at 2ohms – in other words more than up to the task of coping with transient current demands with ease. That said overall SPL is probably limited more by the loudness capabilities of the standmounts than anything else – and that’s where the contribution of the active sub comes into the equation.
3) Scale – There must clearly be a psycho-acoustic link between low frequency resolve and the perception of scale since as a consequence of adding the sub, instruments such as upright bass have gone from 7/10 scale to 9/10 scale.
4) Soundstage & Imaging - soundstage proportions have grown in all directions (perhaps 10% or so) & imaging has taken huge leaps forward – instruments previously overwhelmed by other sounds, even on familiar recordings (for example brushes on a snare drum) now occupy a distinct, 3d location, with clearly delineated space around, very gratifying indeed.
On the downside, and the reason why I didn’t give this product the full rating, there is no remote nor are there any facilities for presets. As anyone who listens to music seriously would know – not all recordings are created equal and when one’s tastes in music extend as broad as mine do you have to take the good with the bad. In this regard it would’ve been nice to have at least two settings configurations – that way one could set up for well balanced recordings and for recordings with completely overblown, poorly engineered bass levels - unfortunately not as limited to pop, techno or hip-hop releases as I had once imagined.
In summation the above comments amount to the following: overall the system has taken a significant leap forward in terms of realism - and greater levels of enjoyment & listener involvement have been the logical outcome. Even more gratifying is that this upgrade has extended the range of music my system will play convincingly – in other words it’s now just as possible to have a serious “sit down” listen to Dr.Dre, Jeff Mills or Bjork as it would be to listen to Bach, Miles Davis or Tord Gustavsen and if that isn’t a worthwhile upgrade what is? In fact I can’t think of another upgrade costing under $2000 (room treatments included) that would have afforded this kind of overall improvement.
To conclude – Despite my initial resistance to the idea I set out on this process with a single goal in mind – to augment the output of my main speakers with a sub transparent enough to blend with them seamlessly, without detracting from their strengths in any way or drawing undue attention to itself. I feel quite satisfied that I’ve achieved that with this tiny REL – it’s not a perfect product (nothing is) and you’d be unlikely to mistake it for a Stentor or a Studio with your eyes closed, but don’t let it’s diminutive proportions fool you into thinking it isn’t a capable device, which it certainly is. If you’re considering the purchase of a small music sub and your ideal outcome sounds similar to mine you’d do well to check this product out. After many years in the “sub-hater” camp the little R-205 has made a believer out of me, improved my system more than any other cost comparative upgrade I can think of and I reckon that overall - the Sonus Faber/REL combination is a significant improvement on my old B&W’s – and that’s just about the best recommendation I could think of.
Used product for: 3 Months to 1 year
Duration Product Used: Audio Enthusiast
Product model year: 2009
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