and REV 5 SPEAKERS
List Price: REV7 $2,500 (sold direct)
REV5 $2,100 (sold direct)
Dr. John Richardson
First Opinion - Dr. Richardson
In addition to listening to music, I like to read books. For some reason I’ve been focusing on the British Isles: first a biography of Queen Victoria, followed by a biography of Sir William Walton, one of the first-rank English composers of the last century. I’ve never read a biographical account of a composer before, but this one has been fascinating. We get a taste of Sir William’s artsy sense of humor and constant high-jinks, but also his painfully slow and tedious methods of composing. While some folks (Mozart and Handel come to mind) could rip out an opera, symphony, or requiem in no more than a few days, Walton struggled to get notes to paper. My feeling, though, is that Walton’s plodding had more to do with his sense of perfection. Every note had to have its place in the score, and every note had to count. If this weren’t true, Sir William wouldn’t have assured his place in the musical pantheon, and we wouldn’t today still be enjoying and appreciating masterpieces such as his symphonies and choral spectaculars, of which the opulent “Belshazzar’s Feast” remains my favorite.
What, then, does all of this have to do with speakers? Or, more specifically, a certain designer of speakers? Of course, I’m referring here to Mr. John “Fritz” Heiler, the proprietor of Fritzspeakers, an artisanal company based in Southern California. Like Walton, Fritz seems to have a fun-loving personality, but he’s also a dead serious artist when it comes to designing and building speakers of exceptional quality. Looking back on his training, Mr. Heiler has paid his dues both as a professional musician and also as a cabinetmaker and woodworker. Put a love and knowledge of music together with woodworking skills, and what do you get? In my book, either a luthier or a speaker maker! According to Fritz, speakers have been coming out of his workshop for over 35 years, making him one of the long-term survivors in the business. Unlike other manufacturers, Fritz has decided to keep his operation small-scale, making up a small batch at a time and selling them before moving on to the next project. As far as I know, he is the one and only employee of his company, so he’s CEO, janitor, and everything else in between. Such a strategy might seem strangely backward in today’s dog-eat-dog corporate arena, but one thing Fritz has is flexibility. And freedom to strive for near perfection at a pace that suits him.
While you may or may not have heard of Mr. Heiler and his speakers, I can attest that he has been up to some pretty cool stuff. Not so long ago I was blessed to spend some time with his Carbon 7 two-way design that were being reviewed by Stereomojo at Mike Peshkin’s house. I had helped Mike unbox these when they first arrived, and we set them up together. Upon first hearing them, Mike and I agreed that they were indeed something sort of special. Much later on, I was fortunate to spend a couple of weeks with the Carbon 7s in my own home and thoroughly enjoyed them, though I never did evaluate them seriously. What they were was musical, very musical indeed. I recall ample, but slightly slow and plummy bass and lower midrange, but above that was near perfection. Truly a speaker I could live with based on its musical involvement, I decided. Eventually, Fritz found a home for the Carbon 7s, and Mike and I found ourselves pining somewhat for them. I had thought on several occasions of making Fritz an offer on them so they wouldn’t have to be shipped, but I knew how much Mike enjoyed them and couldn’t bring myself to remove them from his basement listening room!
Memories of that pair of Carbon 7s stuck with me, and I started to hanker for more of that “Fritz” sound. The obvious finally dawned on me: give ol’ Fritz a call and see if he had anything in the making that could be reviewed. As luck would have it, another reviewer nearby was just finishing up with two of his newest models, the Rev 5 and the Rev 7, and I could probably arrange to just pick them up from him. How fortunate!
Of these two speakers, the ones I was really interested in spending time with were the Rev 7s, the larger of the two designs. These, according to Fritz, are built around the same cabinets as the Carbon 7s, but employ different drivers. Whereas the Carbon 7s sport the roughly textured ScanSpeak 7 inch carbon fiber mid/bass driver and model 9500 soft dome tweeter, the Rev 7s use the more expensive 7 inch ScanSpeak Revelator paper mid/bass cones and AirCirc tweeters. Fritz tells me that the Revelator drivers are lighter and more agile, leading to faster, less bloated bass in the Rev 7 model, though they don’t dig down quite as deep as the Carbon 7’s woofers. Another advantage is supposedly more refinement in the treble region due to the sophisticated design of the AirCirc soft dome tweeter. Overall, this combination sounded like a potential winner to me, as it ought to correct the slight issues I had with the original Carbon 7s.
Upon first examination of the Rev 7 speakers, a few observations jumped out at me. These are attractive speakers, beautifully veneered in a natural light mahogany; the finish was a decidedly dull (read: non-glossy) hand oiled job. Very understated. They’re also quite heavy for their size, clocking in at 30 lbs each, suggesting solid construction and lots of internal bracing of the MDF cabinets. I checked out their specifications over at the Fritzspeakers website and found them to be pretty sensitive at 89 dB (at 1 watt at 1 m), but sporting a nominal impedance of four ohms, which seemed a tad low by today’s standards, though probably not a problem for most modern amps. I will mention, for what it may be worth, that on hot days in my listening room I did experience several thermal shut-downs of my REDGUM RGi60ENR amplifier when using the Rev 7s, so I wonder if the low impedance might have played a part.
Further, Fritz likes to use minimalist crossovers, thus letting natural roll-off of the drivers in his cabinets play its part. As I see it, the fewer electrical components in the signal path, the less molested the sound will be. Fritz definitely seems to be of the “less is more” school of design: use a simple, but well-constructed cabinet, top quality drivers, and the least obtrusive crossover possible. With a bit of computer aided design coupled with some great ears and years of experience for fine tuning, Fritz always seems to come up with very good (and well-implemented) designs. And he never seems to stop tinkering... He calls me every once in awhile to excitedly tell me about some new driver he found out about that he can’t wait to put into a cabinet and hear in one of his designs. Fritz seems to get tremendous satisfaction out of what he is doing, and it most definitely shows. From the point of view of the consumer (that’s you or me), it’s quite satisfying to know that one guy designed and built my speakers from the ground up in his very own workshop, right here in the USA. I’m sort of reminded of my beloved Shahinians which are built out on Long Island according to much the same recipe.
After my very positive experiences with the Carbon 7 speakers, I was understandably excited to hear the Rev 7s. In my own mind the bar was set high... Would they be able to deliver the goods? Would they really compare favorably with the Carbon 7s? When I listen to stand mounted monitor-type speakers (which these are), I like to get them out into the room and away from room boundaries, as they throw a more convincing soundstage in this configuration and offer more realistic imaging. However, bass can be a concern, or more specifically, lack thereof. I really shouldn’t have worried. I got the Rev 7s up on adjustable stands with the tweeters right about at ear level, with each speaker at least five feet away from the side walls and seven to eight feet away from the rear walls. My listening chair occupied a point right at the apex of an equilateral triangle with each speaker about seven feet from my head in what I would call a semi-near field configuration. I settled on enough toe-in that I could barely view the inner sides of the cabinets from my listening position. Amazingly the bass from these relatively small cabinets was quite satisfying. Satisfying enough, in fact, that I really didn’t feel the need to insert a subwoofer, though I did end up doing so later in the review process when the excellent Gallo Acoustics TR-3 came for a visit.
Since we’re on the subject of bass performance, let’s then take a more detailed tour of the sonic make-up of the Rev 7. Keeping with the low end of the audible spectrum, I found the bass to be somewhat remarkable for such a small box. While not plumbing the Stygian depths that true full-range floor standers are capable of, I found the bass that was present to be tight, tuneful, and plenty deep enough. Fritz claims that these are flat down to around 37 Hz, and this would seem about right based on my listening experiences. I was also impressed by the speed and agility of the bass offered by the ScanSpeak Revelator driver; it was almost electrostatic in its litheness and devoid of that slightly thick and creamy character I’d noticed with the Carbon 7s.
Of course, the midrange is the all-important region of the audible range, and this segment is also covered by the Revelator driver. Given the speed and resolution of the driver, I was fearful that the mids might come across as a bit too lean and un-involving. Again, I shouldn’t have worried. Fast indeed, but also well fleshed out and with plenty of harmonic detail, harboring enough warmth to keep any performance engaging. I can imagine that some listeners will miss the syrupy flavor of the Carbon 7s through the bass and lower midrange which seems to add some fullness to that part of the spectrum, but that’s why Fritz offers plenty of variations on his central speaker theme. You know what you like, so there you go.
The handoff from midrange to treble seemed particularly seamless, and the highs offered by the AirCirc tweeter were ravishing indeed. Lots of air, presence, and organic texture, but no sense of steeliness or hardness. Yep, these are soft domes indeed, but working at a very sophisticated level of performance.
Putting everything together into an integrated package as Fritz has done seems almost an impossible feat at his asking price. At $2500 these speakers, taken as a sum of the whole, must be considered a wonderful bargain. Looking at the handmade nature of the cabinets, with their hand-rubbed finish and superb internal construction, coupled with the quality and expense of the drivers and crossover components, one has to wonder how Fritz is able to do what he does and still pass the savings on to fortunate folks such as ourselves. Maybe it really does have something to do with his business model after all, as Fritz seems to be more concerned about pleasing his individual customers as opposed to focusing on large-scale production and price gouging.
Since I’ve had William Walton’s biography on my mind lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of his music. I have a great LP box set from EMI called “Walton Conducts Walton” (EMI SLS 5246) that showcases much (but not all) of his best known music. A few of the pieces are recorded in somewhat dull mono sound from the early 1950s, but much of what’s there was done in excellent early stereo. All of the pieces were produced by Walter Legge, a tireless promoter of Walton and his music. According to the biography, Arnold Bax, a contemporary of Walton’s, once said that Legge would fancy the idea of recording Walton fart if it were at all possible. Perhaps Legge’s obsession with Sir William and his music is one reason why these early recordings are so spectacular. I’ve always loved the oratorio “Belshazzar’s Feast” and own several recordings of it. My favorite is this one from the box set which features the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus with Walton at the podium, as recorded by EMI’s Christopher Parker. I find the performance sublime, yet powerful, and the recording has everything in it an audiophile could want: sweeping dynamics, depth of soundstage, opulent orchestral timbre, and lots of voices, both solo and massed. All in all, a great demonstration and evaluation piece.
With the Fritz Rev 7s in place, my 24 bit/96 kHz digital transcription of “Belshazzar’s Feast” merited a first-rate playback using my regular system, which is outlined at the end of the review. Right from the opening bars, the Fritz speakers grabbed my attention, offering up music that is big, bold, and dynamic. Layering is quite apparent, with the orchestra in front and the massed voices behind, yet I sensed an excellent integration between the two bodies. This recording wonderfully conveys the opulent timbres of both orchestra and chorus, and the Rev 7s were no slouches in its reproduction. I heard plenty of harmonic detail and purity in woodwinds, percussion, strings, and brass. Dynamics were quite good for a speaker of this size, as I enjoyed an impressive sense of range. Quiet passages were appropriately quiet, while I got plenty of satisfaction from the louder parts featuring full chorus and orchestra going to town, as it were. I’m sure a pair of large floor standing speakers would handle such climactic macro dynamics more effectively, but I felt quite good about what the Rev 7s were serving up in this respect.
While the Rev 7s are smaller speakers, they are not exactly tiny. Even so, they do that thing that mini-monitors are well known for: they have the ability to effectively disappear. The baritone soloist’s voice in “Belshazzar’s Feast” emanates from between the speakers and reasonably far back in the soundstage, hanging in space free from the boxes themselves. Even the chorus and orchestra together never sound like they are trapped in the boxes, but float freely as a contiguous three-dimensional wall of sound presented slightly behind the speakers themselves.
Detail is also well preserved, as I never felt that the music, even in its loudest and most complex passages, ever became muddled. I was always able to make out what was being sung by the massive chorus, which sometimes can become a mucked up blur. However, I never felt that the Rev 7s overdid the detail thing. We are all aware of speakers that seem to overemphasize detail to the point that instruments and voices come across as etched, steely, or washed out, with little sense of dimension or texture. Perhaps it comes back to that sense of integration that I mentioned before; instruments and voices are easily distinguished from one another, but there is always that sense of “oneness” pulling it all together again. I’m looking for a good term to describe this effect, and I’m coming up with “organic.” I mean here that there is a musical viscera or fabric that seems to hold everything together such that I hear a musical performance instead of focusing in solely on tiny details in the recording. While the Rev 7s are plenty resolving, I would have to imagine that they aren’t the most detailed speakers in the world. If they were, I’m guessing they’d lose that all important organic quality I just mentioned that to me contributes so greatly to the musical experience.
Oh, and the Rev 7s can rock. Be it Led Zeppelin’s “Celebration Day” or Yes’s “Live at Montreux 2003” (both downloaded from HDTracks), the energy and emotion of these live performances was captured with aplomb, displaying moments of beauty and warts alike. Again, that sense of organic oneness I mentioned before crops up again and again. Check out the warmth and harmonic texture of Steve Howe’s acoustic guitar on the Yes album and how the audience interacts with his playing, with Howe placed up front in the soundstage and the rhythmic clapping set well back behind the guitar on the cut “Clap.” Lots of spatial information here, but with that sense of wholeness linking all of the parts together via the Rev 7s. While the Yes Live album is great through and through, my favorite cut must be the group’s raging version of “The Fish,” a tune I grew up listening to on the album “Fragile” (on vinyl, of course). Here, bassist Chris Squires shows his virtuosity as both a soloist and accompanist, tossing out bass riffs that you feel in the gut as much as hear. I felt the Rev 7s really let me experience the visceral impact of the electric bass, with no sense of the instrument being overly fat or loose. Neither was there any truncation or quickening of the notes; everything just sounded satisfyingly right.
If you want a real treat for the ears, you might consider adding a subwoofer to grab that last bit of frequency extension under 40 Hz. Of course, this is the region we really feel more than hear, but if you are contemplating using the Rev 7s as your main speakers in a full-range system, it may well be worth it. Later in my evaluation of the Rev 7s, I took delivery of the TR-3 powered subwoofer from Gallo Acoustics. I hadn’t tried using my usual Shahinian Double Eagle sub with the Rev 7s since it is tuned to “play along” with my Shahinian Compasses and offers no user-adjustable low-pass filtering. The Gallo sub, on the other hand, seems to be infinitely adjustable, making it an excellent addition to any system employing smaller speakers that needs a bit of a kick in the nether regions. With the Fritz speakers, I ended up feathering in the TR-3 at around 50 Hz or so. What I got was that last bit of goodness in the bass, with extension down to around 20 Hz, thus lending more of a sense of depth, ambiance, and impact to live rock recordings such as the Yes concert outlined above. Everything just sounded bigger and more “there” without the added bass ever becoming too intrusive.
VERSUS THE REV 5
I’ve been waxing poetic about Fritz’s Rev 7 speakers. How, then, did their smaller siblings, the Rev 5s, fare? Well, I’ll just cut to the chase and tell you that for my purposes, I much preferred the larger Rev 7s. The Rev 5s employ a considerably smaller cabinet, as well as the 5.5 inch version of the same Revelator bass/mid driver used in the 7s. When I placed the Rev 5s out in the room, exactly where the Rev 7s have been living, the bass just seemed to evaporate, at least compared to what the 7s were giving me, though all of the other attributes of the 7s remained. However, when I placed the 5s downstairs in my living room with the rear of the speakers about 8 inches or so from the wall, the bass came back, at least to a satisfying extent. After talking with Fritz about the speakers, my findings came as no shock to him. As he patiently explained to me, the Rev 5s were designed to be used in smaller rooms with the speakers taking advantage of bass reinforcement from placement near a wall. Now I get it. I’m sure the Rev 5s would also sound just fine with the Gallo sub, but I never got around to trying that combination, as the 5s headed out to fellow reviewer John Fritz’s house for a short independent evaluation before they were sent on to one of Mr. Heiler’s customers. Even so, given the $2100 price tag on the Rev 5s, I’d just spring for the extra few hundred bucks and go for the Rev 7s provided your room is large enough to properly accommodate them.
Yeah! Rock on, Fritz!
By John Fritz
First, in case you're wondering, I am not related to "Fritz"; remember his last name Heiler, not Fritz.
This review came about by happenstance. I had just completed my review of the SVS Ultra Tower speakers and reinserted my Wilson MAXX speakers into my system. I was anxious to hear the just arrived, 45 rpm edition of Holst – the Planets (Mehta), a celestial sonic blockbuster. Less than a minute into listening to Mars, I realized something was amiss in the left channel. It turns out that the tweeter was blown - how and when it happened is still a mystery to me.
Now effectively without speakers, I was suddenly afflicted with audiophilia nervosa, that dreaded malady that triggers delusional thoughts, like the belief that cables are really components. Help! It was time to call the good doctor and fellow reviewer, John Richardson. John prescribed a review pair of Fritzspeakers Rev 5 speakers he had in-house. I rushed to John’s house and enjoyed temporary relief listening to tracks from Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day played through the Rev 7, the medium sized stand-mount big brother to the Rev 5, with plenty of tight and surprisingly weighty bass down to about 40 Hz. John cautioned that the smaller Rev 5 may not be sufficiently palliative, but he couldn’t let loose of the Rev 7 as it was still under review.
Back in my listening room, I unpacked the Rev 5 and laid eyes on its gorgeous veneered finish. Following the Doctor’s orders, I spent most of my free time during the next two weeks listening to the Rev 5. It wasn’t long before reality set in and I was cured. Thanks Dr. John!
I was able to draw some conclusions during my admittedly brief exposure to the remarkable Rev 5. Overall, I would characterize its sound as smooth, refined and slightly warmish. By smooth I do not imply that the Rev 5 is rolled off in the high frequencies or is insufficiently resolving. Plenty of detail is on offer and the high frequencies are subjectively extended. It is just that this detail is not thrust in your face like pugilists going nose to nose. There is an ease to its presentation that draws you into the music.
The smallish Rev 5 with its 5.5” ScanSpeak Revelator mid-woofer was not quite up to the daunting task of conveying the awesome dynamic range and bass of the Planets recording. To be fair, the two-way Rev 5 was not designed to play in a large listening space (mine is 30’x18’x 9’), and it simply cannot move enough air to generate substantial bass in the nether regions from 20-50 Hz. For that you will need a quality subwoofer. What I did hear was a subjectively flat response upwards of that region and a smooth transition to tweeter. Fortunately, unlike some small stand-mounts, the Rev 5 does not possess a mid-bass bump, so integrating a sub-woofer should be a snap.
Thanks to colleagues Mike Peshkin and Dr. John, I have been getting into jazz big time lately and my jazz collection has grown exponentially. I have several recordings on the Pablo label that feature some of the greats jamming on during their twilight years. Pablo offers good to outstanding sound, and is often overlooked in favor of Blue Note, Verve, Impulse, and other pre-eminent jazz labels.
The Rev 5 really cooked with the Pablo recordings, offering articulation and speed coupled with an insistent forward momentum. “Duke’s Big Four” (LP, Pablo 2310703) sees Duke Ellington trading licks with Joe Pass, Ray Brown, and Louie Bellson. The Rev 5 successfully treads the line between speed and duration, so that neither timing nor harmonic structure are short changed. Thus, through the Rev 5, Pass’ guitar is rounded with the slightest edge; Brown’s bass is woody, taut, with plenty of snap, if not weighty; Duke’s piano is percussive and sweet; Bellson’s double kick drums have skin texture, but not the full weight I know is there. The Rev 5’s tonal sophistication is remarkable for its price if not quite the equal of some state of the art offerings.
The Rev 5 is not a one trick pony, however, and it can play rock and large scale classical. Just don’t expect the full weight of the orchestra or the crush of arena rock. I think the reason it works well with most music has to do with its timing abilities. The Rev 5 will get you involved in the music despite its limitations in overall sound pressure levels and bass extension.
For kicks, I played Zeppelin’s Celebration Day, and from memory, the Rev 5 sounded pretty close to its bigger brother, with the Rev 7 winning out with clearly deeper bass. Choosing between the Rev 5 ($2,100/Pr.) and the Rev 7 ($2,500/Pr.) comes down to one’s room size, as designer Fritz freely admits. With the Rev 5, you could always add a quality subwoofer later as finances allow, albeit at higher total cost. Given the slight difference in price, many with conventional sized (i.e., larger) listening rooms will opt for the Rev 7. I’m sure Fritz would be more than happy to discuss room size and recommendations with you.
I was sorry to have to return the Rev 5s after enjoying them for only two weeks. Fritz had a buyer so off they went. If you are looking for a stand mount speaker in its price range (and above), I strongly suggest you consider the Rev 5 or 7. They have a lot to offer, not the least of which is an innate ability to draw you into the music and keep you there. That Fritz offers a variety of attractive veneers may seal the deal. Fritz also offers a generous in-home audition and a money back guaranty. I suspect that once you lay eyes and lend your ears, returning them will not be an option.
Stereomojo Specific Recommendation
The Fritzspeakers Rev 7s are just all-around great speakers. I said it, and I’m not ashamed. I’m not exactly sure what the “Rev” part of the name really stands for, whether it’s “Revelator” after the driver, or “Revelation” for its musical goodness, but it’s one doozy of an enjoyable speaker. When you factor in the build quality, attention to detail, crazy expensive high performance drivers, perfectionist crossover, and Fritz’s drive to earn ultimate customer satisfaction, all at a cost of $2500, these speakers have to be one of the great bargains of high-end audio. Sound-wise, the Rev 7s go surprisingly deep in the bass for their size, and are fast, accurate, and just warm enough to provide maximum musical enjoyment.
Consider the Rev 5s if you yearn for the same sort of sound, but are confined to a smaller room where the speakers will be placed near a wall.
I sort of suspected that the Rev 7’s older sibling, the Carbon 7, might have earned a Maximum Mojo Award. I went back and checked... It did. I’m now nominating the Rev 7 for this very same accolade. Mr. Darby, what do you think?
I think you're right!
John Richardson’s system:
Digital Source: Mac Mini using Channel D Pure Music playback software; Sound Devices USBPre2 usb to S/PDIF converter with YFS 5 V power supply; Antelope Zodiac DAC with YFS 18 V power supply
Analog Source: Technics SP25 turntable with custom plinth, bearing, and platter by Applied Fidelity; modified Audio Technica AT 1009 tonearm; Shelter 901 cartridge
Amplification: REDGUM RGi60ENR integrated amplifier
Power Conditioner: Spiritual Audio VX-9
Cables and Power Cords: Kimber, YFS, KingRex, REDGUM, Darwin Audio, Tel-wire
Stereomojo Second Opinion: Fritzspeakers Rev5
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