We have recently taken delivery of our demonstrator REL S3, here are our thoughts on it's looks and performance.
REL are a British company with their roots in Bridgend, South Wales. Started in 1990 by retired Naval officer Richard Edmund Lord who was 'dissatisfied by the commercially available subwoofers of the day.'
More of the REL story can be found on their website www.rel.net
Unpacking our S3, we immediately thought it a particularly smart looking unit in its piano black finish with both satin and polished aluminium fittings. Almost as impressive is the weight of the thing, (nudging 28kilos) when you try and lift it out of its carton. Much better to heed REL's advice; carefully roll the box upside down and remove the carton from the contents.
We decided to install the S3 in our main stereo system using the supplied High Level Neutrik Speakon cable. This is a clever feature of all RELs – the unit samples the output of your amplifier via it's loudspeaker terminals, yet draws minimal current. The benefit of this is that the signal going to the speakers does not have to pass through a crossover in the subwoofer.* The speakers can go about their business and the REL can underpin their performance without masking anything the amplifier produces. It also means that in a home-theatre setting, one can run the front Left&Right speakers full-range, dispensing with a chunk of processor power and run the Low Frequency Effects channel to the REL at the same time. This results in a great increase in bass detail during surround playback. Happily for stereo listening, one can switch the home theatre amp to 'audio direct' mode, simplifying the audio path (which improves quality) whilst reaping the benefit of the REL that you've just shelled out your hard-earned on. You'll be using it all the time.
*REL refer to their products as Sub-bass systems.
Once installed in our system (Bryston DAC and pre-power, Focal Electra 1028, Naim CDX2, Rega RP8, Sonos Connect) calibration took a few minutes following the enclosed instructions. We found it beneficial to set the REL playing too loud and too high up the frequency range whilst we had a coffee – just killing time whilst it warmed up you understand!
Once calibrated, the S3 integrated seamlessly. So seamlessly, I thought it wasn't switched on, so I checked, checked again and then switched it off. Then we could tell what the S3 was doing. Playing Leftfield's “Original” demonstrated the tectonic bass one would expect from a REL, never overblown, simply very tight and very, very solid; the Leftfield/John Lydon collaboration “Open Up” pounded along very satisfactorily indeed, displaying great crispness and rapidity.
With ZZ Top's re-working of their track “Gotsta Get Paid” on the La Futura album, the S3 brings massive scale to the filthiest, most overdriven guitar you've ever heard. Cue big grins all round and grown men itching to play Air Fender. The S3 can most certainly do the power thing, but what can it do with a choir?
With the S3 playing, the soundstage was presented wide, tall and deep, with a wealth of fine ambient detail – the sound of the space of the Brangwen Hall here in Swansea, hosting Morriston Orpheus Male Voice Choir. With the S3 disengaged, the choir sounded pretty good, enjoyable enough stuff, but you might have to be Welsh to really 'get it'; with the REL in play however, the haunting “Myfanwy” took on a ghostly depth and resonance as the choir used the great space of the hall to bring an enormous emotional depth to the work.
I'm allright lads, it's just some grit in my eye.