It's no secret that I'm a fan of REL subwoofers; or sub-bass systems as REL prefer them to be called. I really, really dig what they do and I've run at least one in my system for the last ten years.
This love affair started back in July 2001 when I didn't work for Audio T (or Audio Excellence as our Swansea store was called back then) I was just a punter looking for my next upgrade. I didn't have a subwoofer, I was reliant upon my KEF Q50s (tidy sized floorstanders) to provide bass for my cinematic pleasure. I didn't have a lot of money. A second hand REL Stadium was suggested for £300. Bargain.
Another customer had not long traded it in for its replacement, an even larger model called the Stentor.
"Larger you say?" This thing was the size of a coffee table and must've weighed about six stone. "There's a larger one? How big do these things get?" I was persuaded to take her home.
Man alive it was good! But (there's always a 'but') it was too big to fit comfortably in our room (pants) and it had a 'High-Level' input. It didn't have a dedicated low-frequency effect (LFE) channel and I felt at the time that I really needed that facility. (Double pants) I took her back. I settled for a smaller subwoofer with an LFE input, an M&K VX-7.
A few years of M&K ownership later, dissatisfied with the musical performance of my system (cinema was just fine thank you) I went looking again. REL appeared on the radar – a Storm5. Right size, right price, definitely the right performance. Bass is no longer some fat, bloated thing in the middle of the room, its space, air, openness, freedom from boxes and if it ain't on the disc, it ain't in your ears.
I'm now on my 4th and 5th REL. A Brittania B3 and a T7. The B3 underpins my stereo speakers (Focal Electra in-wall) and provides LFE. My T7 is used on the dialogue(centre) channel so I can run it full range for more detail. It all sounds just fine and dandy-o. Or rather, it did...
Now that I've heard this
, 'just fine and dandy-o' has a somewhat past-tense odour about it. I've blogged about the REL S Series in the past, specifically the mighty
(now in Super High Output form) which is terrific and in Hi-Fi terms represents remarkable value for money. I sort of wanted one in a vague, fancying one because, well, just because I fancied one, sort of way. It didn't bother me enough to go to the trouble of selling my B3, taking a trip up to the loft for the box, hauling the damn thing into the box, humping it out of my house and heaving it into somebody else's. This 212/SE is something else though, something else entirely.
Where to start? 32 inches tall, 17 inches wide and 20 inches deep. 8 stone 10lbs. Two 12 inch drivers. Two 12 inch passive bass radiators. A kilowatt of power. Very shiny indeed. (Gloss black only.) So far, so good.
What does it sound like? Hmmm... It has no discernable character of its own, unless you count effortlessness as character. If the information is on the disc (or in the file) and your amplifier sends that information out of its speaker terminals, it is reproduced in the room. I've heard deep bass before. I've experienced heavy bass before. I've rarely encountered textures of bass notes like this before. For the record; once in my shop, once in a loudspeaker factory and once in Metropolis Studios London. All three times on a pair of PMC BB5-XBDs. Seventy grand in any shop you're lucky enough to find them in, although that does include the amp. Now I'm not saying that this REL is a match for a £70k active system, that would be silly, but this is the first time I've experienced this kind of bass detail, control and most importantly texture in kit with a real-world price tag.
We recently demo'd a pair of KEF Reference 5s (circa £11k) and they were excellent, (thank you Alex, for the loan) no shortage of bottom end, a little polite for my taste perhaps, but really very enjoyable indeed. The music was better with the REL. Remaining clean and insightful, but now with a solid authority and oodles of detail down low. We're currently appraising a pair of Focal Sopra2', somewhat less extension than the Reference 5s, but hardly deficient in the bottom end. I happen to like Focal loudspeakers, you may recall that I own some. With the REL 212/SE? A revelation. It's filled out those bottom octaves and provided us with a glorious, huge expanse of soundstage. "Royals" by Lorde sounds gigantic. Huge slabs of synth bass a frightening counterpoint to lonely feminine vocals. "Uptown Funk" by Marc Ronson now revealed as possessing fantastic production values, the generous, big-band sound a worthy homage to 70's funk, a genre Ronson clearly admires. Try sitting still when this is on: you can't. Drum kits and basses (electric and double) are rendered with realism and textures are revealed in drum skins, strings and resonant instrument bodies. Kick drum beats compress your chest, you can feel the shock wave moving across the room.
I don't want to leave you with the impression that only the bass region is improved. Everything is improved. Films and even televised sports sound huge. Large open spaces like sports stadia feel, eerily, like large open spaces. Dramatic film scores sound appropriately menacing, Foley effects are solid, three-dimensional artefacts with realistic weight. Mundane things like car doors now sound just like a Golf.
Church organs and choirs are full-scale. Acres of space and air around the performers, a cathedral's dimensions revealed in full. Male voice choirs (Welsh here remember) now sound like rooms full of tough, sinewy men; singing about lost love and the land of their fathers. I think I may be taking that trip up into the loft after all...