REVOLVER CYGNIS SPEAKER

PRICE:$10,999 US per pair

Review by

James L. Darby

 

REVOLVER HISTORY


First, we'd like to thank Carl James of USA HIFI for providing these speakers for review.

Like many brands established in the 1970’s, Revolver has been around on an “on again/off again” basis. It originally was a turntable company, thus the name. It has nothing to do with handguns. After all, this IS a UK company!


According to their website, the original Revolver brand was founded by Colin and Wyn Higham in 1979. For the next 13 years or so Colin developed a small range of turntables and REVOLVER was for some years acknowledged as a significant force in this specialized area of the UK Hi-Fi market. Sixty percent of sales were made overseas, with turntables exported to fifteen countries. However, severe illness in 1990 meant Colin was no longer able to function within the company, and without his input, the company failed.


Peter Ratchford and Ray Nugent of Revolver UK Ltd bought the sole trading rights to the brand and in 1994 they launched a small range of high quality but low priced loudspeakers, manufactured for them by JPW Loudspeakers. The products were well received by both the trade and the reviewers and significant distribution was achieved. By 1996 the overseas market included more than 20 countries.


Revolver UK Ltd was then bought by an electronics company in 1998 who, for reasons of their own, shortly afterwards discontinued with the loudspeaker production. The brand name Revolver eventually became dormant.


Early in 2002 Mike Jewitt (ex Heybrook Hi Fi) and Charles Greenlees (ex JPW Loudspeakers) formed The Acoustic Partnership and in turn bought the sole trading rights to the brand “REVOLVER”.


Jewitt is the principle designer of the Cygnis and has been in the speaker designing biz for over three decades in the UK, including stints with the well known Heybrook and Mordaunt-Short brands. The Cygnis and all revolver speakers are designed AND built in the UK.

 

CYGNIS DESIGN AND BUILD


It is immediately apparent that the Cygnis is not one of those speakers that have been thrown together with minimal thought and design engineering. Quite the opposite. It seems every little detail is accounted for with a high degree of forethought, engineer expertise and finesse. From the bottom spikes to the top chamber, everything has a reason and a function.


First you should know that the speaker is a three-way design with two separate enclosures, similar to what you’d find in a Wilson Watt/Puppy. The top part holds a 26 mm anodized aluminum dome tweeter with shielded double magnet and a 130 mm woven glass-fiber diaphragm mid with cast aluminum chassis. I confess that when I saw that the tweeter was aluminum, I thought to myself “Uh-oh… Aluminum…metallic and bright. I know I’m not going to like the high end, and I’m not too sure about that woven glass mid, either”. Was I right?

It is noteworthy to point out that the top enclosure is molded so that there are no parallel surfaces to keep reflections and standing waves to a minimum. Of course, it is well insulated to eliminate resonances, too – a theme thoroughly played out in the design. Jewiit obviously knows how detrimental resonance is to clarity, detail and soundstage among other things. Of course, the fact that he went to the expense of isolating the two drivers and titled them back a bit for time alignment demonstrates his attention to detail.


The bottom enclosure employs substantial bracing for rigidness and more anti-resonance. “The Bass cabinet is constructed of 25mm thick MDF with both inner and outer sides veneered to balance the panels and avoid them warping, the designer said. “We also fit a cross brace above the Bass drive unit
just off centre of the cabinet to make as many of the panels different sizes and therefore different resonances, so no one frequency mode activates the cabinet.

The driver is a 254 mm doped compressed paper (now we’re talkin’) diaphragm with cast aluminum vented chassis and shielded double magnet. At first look, one would think there is no more to talk about regarding the bass cabinet, but that would be a big mistake. First, it appears the cabinet is sealed, but it’s not. The port is actually vented between the cabinet and the included separate base. Out of sight and noiseless. Clever, this Jewitt guy. What’s more is that the cabinet is designed to use not only the internal reflex loading, but also the floor itself! It’s called “2pi” and is designed for more accurate real-world, in room performance. Most designers think if a speaker measures well in an anechoic chamber, that’s all that matters. I don’t know about you, my neither of my listening rooms are anechoic chambers.

I asked Jewiit about his unique “2pi” loading design. Here’s what he said: “The 2pi loading is very important, as the reproduction of the lower frequencies can be better controlled if the listening environment is taken in to account.”

“Better reproduction of the sound from a loudspeaker will be achieved if you are able to control the listening environment. We as manufacturers cannot know where our loudspeakers will be placed for listening. So we can only give recommendations in our manuals to help the consumer to position the loudspeaker for the best results. However, in a floorstander loudspeaker, one area we can design in is improved performance below 200 Hz.”

“As the loudspeaker will normally always be placed on the floor, it makes much sense to realize this local surface will always be there. Designing a loudspeaker in an anechoic environment, will therefore never give the same frequency response, as the speaker will reproduce when placed near a local surface. Of course, there may also be other surfaces, ie. side and rear walls, but we cannot adjust the speaker’s performance for surfaces which will vary their position. But we can adjust the performance for a known position surface such as the floor. We therefore adjust the loudspeaker to have a flat frequency response when placed on a floor. This means, effectively 2pi across the whole loudspeakers frequency band, not just the frequencies above 200Hz which are controlled by the cabinet dimensions”.

He was then asked whether the floor surface makes a difference, say a hardwood floor versus a thick rug; “The use of Rugs or Carpet do not markedly affect these very low frequencies, it is just the position of the surface relative to the Bass loudspeaker”.

The supplied spikes are needle sharp. Good for thick rungs, but could be a problem with wood floors or tile. He told me that they generally recommend placing a small coin underneath the spike point, when used on a decorative type floor surface.

When I said that from the bottom spikes to the top chamber, everything has a reason and a function, I was not exaggerating. Those needle sharp spikes are part of the 2pi. Take them away or alter them and the sound suffers. Their height is important. The speaker platforms are designed to be anti-resonant as well.

Two other speakers I have in for review right now, the Nola Baby Grand’s by Carl Marchisotto ($55,000) and Dan Herrington’s Proclaim DMT 100’s ($26,000) are radically different in design, but they both have one thing in common; both place their crossovers outside the speaker cabinets. Both designers tell me that vibrations that bombard crossovers inside a cabinet are very deleterious to the speaker’s sound. Carl goes so far as to include three layers of isolation platforms under the external crossovers to further protect them. While the Revolver’s do not go to the great added expense to externalize the crossovers, Jewiit does at least acoustically isolate them in their own enclosure. “There is also an internal shelf section in the back of the cabinet, for the isolation of the crossover, which also acts as another brace section”, Mike explained.

This indicates to me that he does sweat the details and why I said that this speaker is far from being the kind where some guy picks out some drivers from a catalogue and sticks them in a box with a store-bought crossover and calls it a speaker. By the way, these crossovers are all hand built utilizing air cored inductors, custom polypropylene capacitors and silver plated OFC wiring. I don’t know how many “quality” speakers I’ve seen that use cheapo wiring inside. This stuff matters.

Those of you with low powered amps (tubes especially) will be pleased to hear that the Cygnis is rated at 91-db efficiency. As we have informed you before, speaker efficiency ratings are all over the place when it comes to accuracy and use in the real world. I would have to say that it appears that the 91-db spec is pretty close to being true. Furthermore, it is claimed that the speakers have a nominal (other amorphous term in the industry) impedance rating of 8 ohms. But Revolver goes further in stating that the impedance does not go below 4.3 and thus should not present a difficult load for amps. Experience here bears that out as well. Revolver’s integrity kept rising as the evaluation process continued.


In addition, something else that is not always present in speakers even at this price is the ability to bi-wire or bi-amp. The Cygnis comes with four nickel-plated, heavy-duty terminals in the rear with jumpers if you don’t want to “bi” anything.


The frequency response is also uncharacteristically (meaning honestly) stated in two values; 30Hz - 30KHz +/- 6 dB (45Hz - 22KHz +/- 3 dB). From what was observed by several listeners in different systems and rooms that spec sounds pretty conservative as well. As we will see, the bass does not suffer from lack of low extension.

SMOKIN’ CYGGIES

We really put the Cygnis through a gauntlet of four different rooms in two different homes with at least six evaluators. Several different amps were used as well.
Amazingly, the conclusions and observations were pretty much unanimous.

First, the speakers were set up in my small (10x12x8) room, mainly for break in, even though they had considerable hours on them. It has been confirmed many times over that speakers need to settle in to a different system even if they have many hours on them. I don’t know why, but I know it to be true. One very famous speaker designer told me off the record that he has proven that speakers in particular have a memory. He told me how he would get his speakers back from reviewers, set them up in his system and be amazed to find how different they sounded. Out of curiosity he began checking what amps, sources and cables were used in the reviews. He concluded that his speakers had temporarily taken on the sonic characteristics of the review’s gear. Playing them in his own system for about 20 hours “reprogrammed” them to their original state. Interesting, huh? All I know is that speakers, even ones with tons of time on them, always sound different after playing them for a few hours.

So how did they do in the small room in a forced near field arrangement? The speakers were only about 4 feet from my ears. Not bad, but not good enough to recommend them in such a small space. The bass was too pronounced and overloaded the room at even moderately high volume. The soundstage was not fully developed. It was as if they were shouting, “Hey man, we need more space!” So we gave it to them.

In the large room, they were several feet from and boundary and 10’ from the listening position. Night and day difference! After allowing them some time to “settle in” again, the first thing that is noticed is the startlingly huge soundstage. It extended from one wall on each side, arching out in front of the cabinets and extending all the way back to the rear wall and up to the 12’ ceiling on recordings that had space in them such as orchestras as CD’s on the Reference Recordings label. Not only was it incredibly spacious, but the space around each orchestral section was well layered and full of air. Individual instruments such as tympani, snare drums, orchestral chimes and even triangles were all easily identifiable as to location within the orchestra, and that includes height. Brass was elevated above and behind that strings just as they should be. You could point to the oboist when there was a solo. Bass viols, over on the right, had the right heft and authority and well as correct relative scale; they were not larger than they should be or more pronounced. Their low frequencies did not smear or spill over to the cellos. Rather impressive.

More importantly (to me anyway), is that at no time was there any sense that music was emanating from a couple of boxes. The speakers absolutely disappeared. For me, if they don’t, I don’t care how good everything else is. I want to listen to music, not speakers.

To be fair, some might think that the enormous soundstage might be too big – slightly exaggerated in a mid-sized room. Not me, though.

Remember that aluminum tweeter I dreaded in advance? This is the first one I’ve heard that had no trace of hardness, coolness or metallic resonance at all. It could easily be a paper cone. How did they do that? If anything, I would say it is a little on the relaxed side and not aggressive at all, no matter whether the amplification was tube or solid state. There was no sense of fatigue even after hours long sessions. Do you find yourself listening to your system, enjoying it, but then after 30 minutes to and hour you find yourself just wanting to turn it off and do something else? That’s probably ear fatigue. You don’t think to yourself, “Gee…my ears are tired”, it’s just that for some subconscious reason you find yourself not wanting to continue listening. Unless you have just eaten a bowl of sugar and are totally wired, it’s probably ear fatigue.

I might venture to say that if you have older tube gear that is substantially rolled off on top (or you haven’t retubed in too long a time), the Cyggies might sound a little soft on top since there is no excess brightness to give your amp a boost up there.

One of my favorite piano tracks I use for evaluation is from the new release from Reference Recordings entitled "Jazz Hat" by Michael Garson. This guy has jazz chops almost as enormous as Oscar Peterson in his prime. Like Oscar, he has the fecility to play incredible long lines, octaves apart with both hands in unison. On the cut "Rumble", starts out solo then builds up in a Liszt like cadenza before the acoustic bass and drums enter. Through the Cygnis, the piano, especially when RR's HDCD processing is being played back, sounds wonderfully natural and present. Want to hear what it sounds like? Through an exclusive agreement with RR,you can download a short sample of what I just described, just to get a taste. keep in mind that it is a lower rez mp3 and not the full sound you'd get from the original disk. But hey...more than you'd get anywhere else, right? Just right click here and save to your disk.

The midrange? Lovely. A little on the warm, lush side but not excessively so. Imagine a delicious slice of apple pie at room temperature as neutral.  The Cygnis would be be like the same slice after 15 seconds in the microwave. Very elegant and refined. Pleasant. Let's see if we can give you a graphic representation:

 

 

The Cyggies might represent the gold dot. Does that help? In this sense, they reminded a little of the Sonograms by the Gershmans. Male and female vocals reached out and caressed you with their revealing texture and space between them and their accompaniment. Their image was not flat but had some roundness to them as well. Strings had the appropriate amount of shimmer and piano in mid keyboard let you hear that it is an instrument made of wood, even though the strings and frame are steel.

There was nothing lush or loose on the bottom end. Tight, fast and looooow! I was reviewing a trio a CD’s for our new Music Reviews section by Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke and Victor Wooten - extraordinary electric bass players, all. Let me tell ya – all three came through loud and clear with a high degree of detail even when more than one bass guitar was being played at a time. That’s a tough row for any speaker.

I told you several different amps were used. I had the Class D Spectron Musician III MK II in monoblocks here at the time. $14,000 per pair and about 2,000 watts per side. Like loud? The Cyggies will do it and do it well. 100db peaks were no problem. I also used my Halcro power amp with is also Class D. In addition, I had pair of Atmo-Sphere OTC monos in for a while, but not for review. In my room, my favorite amps with these speakers were the Eastern Electric M156 Tube Monoblock Amps. Just back from another Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, again the number of tube amplifiers greatly outnumbered the solid staters. Speaker makers who do not make electronics usually sought out tube amps to pair to their designs. Are these guys all just living in the past? I don’t know, but I think the Cygnis speakers sound better with tubes in front of them. As I mentioned earlier, they are very tube friendly and I suspect Mr. Jewitt had tubes in mind when he created these. They don't sound bad with transistors – don’t get me wrong. What I’m saying is if you own tube amps, these speakers are particularly well suited to them. I also used the new AudioSpace 3.1 reference integrated tube amp that features 300B’s. Twenty big watts aside. The big Revolver’s took to them like rock stars take to groupies. Love at first sight.

But then the whole scene changed.

 

THE CYGGIES VISIT BIG AL’S


Al Helo is a friend and long time audiophile who lives just a few minutes from Stereomojo’s headquarters in Florida. We occasionally conduct listening sessions in his home, sometimes just for the enjoyment of it and sometimes we take products in for review to plug into his system and invite other local veteran audiophiles over to offer their opinions. As you can see, Al’s system is pretty impressive and, as you can imagine, very revealing.


AL’S SYSTEM


Source 1: Einstein The Source balanced tube CD player
Source 2: Galibier turntable, Schroeder & Tri-Planar tonearms
PreAmp: Einstein The Tube mkII
Amp: Einstein The Final Cut balanced OTL tube mono amplifers
Speakers: Acapella Triolon Excaliber
Cables: Acapella High LaMusika
Phono Stage: Einstein The Turntables Choice (balanced)
Phono Cart.: Einstein, Dynavector, ZYX, VDH
Stands & Racks: Custom Design
Platforms: Acapella Fondato Silenzio Bases
Powerlines: Isoclean (complete system)
Accessories: Isoclean, Millennium
Room Size: 24'W. 30'L. 14-20'H.

 

On this night, there were three products the group of four guys and two women were there to evaluate, one being the pair of Cygnis loudspeakers. As you can see, the massive Triolon Excalibers, including their huge bass columns that each house eight 12” woofers, dwarfed the 40” tall Revolvers.


In the spirit of full disclosure, Al is an official dealer for Acapella and Einstein though he only works out of his home and his entire “inventory” consists of the system you see here. That is why he cannot be and is not affiliated with Stereomojo in any way.


After playing the Stereomojo Evaluation disk over the house system, we switched to the Cyggies, configured for bi-wire, and re-played the same disk, still using the same Einstein components.


No one was more surprised than Al and I at what we heard and, with the lights in the room turned out, saw. Just as in my room, the soundstage was staggering in size and scope. The relatively diminutive Cyggies again completely disappeared and in their place was an image that utterly filled the big space from floor to ceiling and wall to wall on both sides! One of the ladies who had been out of the room when the switch was made, did not even realize we were listening to the Cyggies. The main difference between what I heard there versus in my home was the size of the presentation and the scale of the instruments and vocals, both much larger. Of course, driven by components that well exceed $100,000 retail (the Einstein monoblocks go for $32,700/pair alone), everything else was improved as well. The space between and around instruments and vocals was bigger and quieter with more inky black air and details were even more apparent and rich in harmonic texture.

The overall tonal characteristic was still a bit on the warm side, but to a lesser extent and leaning very close to neutral. The seamlessness of the frequency band from top to bottom to was more perceptible as well.


Am I saying the Cygnis was the equal of big Acapella’s with their huge horns, massive bass towers and plasma tweeters? Of course not. The big Excalibur’s were faster with superior transient response and greater high-end detail. Dynamics were also enhanced with music such as jazz and classical on the cuts that were included to test that very element. The most noticeable difference was in the low end, while not lacking per se, the two Cygnis 10” woofers just did not move as much air as the sixteen 12 inchers that lived in the larger system.


While there was adequate volume, it seemed to me that the 60-watt monos were struggling a bit with the task of driving the smallish Revolvers in such a large space. Al even has to watch the volume carefully when driving the Acapella’s since they are only rated at 93-db efficiency. More than once in the past when we’ve really cranked them, one or more of the Einstein’s went into protection mode.


Eventually we switched in the Eastern Electric M156 monoblocks that I had brought along as well. After a rather long warm up period when the 156’s didn’t sound very good at all (another example of the “settling in” I described above) driving the hellacious horns, they eventually warmed to the task. Literally. See our review of the Eastern Electric’s for the description.


Then we reinserted the pair of Cygnis. The added 100 watts per side made a big difference, particularly on the low end. To say that the bodacious Brits again amazed everyone is an understatement as the bass had taken on significantly more authority and weight. Dynamics contrasts were licked up a notch, too. While still not the equal of the nearly $200,000 reference speakers, the Cyggies were not at all shamed.


Perhaps the comparison can be summed up by Al as he pensively stroked his beard and confessed, “I could actually live with these if circumstances were different..”. Me too, Al, me too.

 

 

As a reminder, please note that the graphic above says “Stereomojo SPECIFIC Recommendation”. What does that mean? As you know, virtually all other audio review publications end reviews with some sort of brief phrase like “highly recommended” or “be sure to check these out”. We believe that is not good enough for our readers. You deserve something more precise and clear. More specific. Why? A phrase like the ubiquitous “Highly recommended” is inherently false and misleading. No single speaker, component or accessory is right for every listener’s taste, every room or every system and thus should not be given a universal “highly recommended” for everyone. In addition – and this is important for you to understand - sometimes we review a product that we are convinced should not be on anyone’s short list or any list at all. When that happens, our “Specific Recommendation” is “NOT recommended” and we give you specific reasons why you should avoid it. Does that make sense?

Who should be interested in the Cygnis speakers? Obviously, your budget needs to be in a bracket around the $11,000 asking price. However, since these speakers exhibit such a high level of performance as well as construction quality, that bracket should be extended upward more than usual. For example, thinking of something like the Wilson Watt/Puppy 8 at $28,000? Do yourself a favor and listen to the Cygnis first. Listen to the Proclaim DMT-100’s, too. There are many speakers in the ten to thirty-thousand-dollar category that might not be as satisfying as the Revolver Cygnis or the Cygnis might be equally as satisfying as those with higher prices. In other words, you could spend more and not do better or even as well.


The Cygnis should particularly be on a short list for those who appreciate tube amps. Their high efficiency and easy impedance load makes them very tube friendly. If your room is large enough to accommodate a distance between speakers and listener of at least 8’ with a minimum 2’ from the back and sidewalls, you should be fine. As we saw at Al’s place, even very voluminous rooms with 30’ spaces with 20’ ceilings are well served, if you have adequate amplification of 100/wpc or more and like to listen at moderately high levels.


Who should not be interested in the Cygnis? If your room is small, say 10x10, these are too big in our opinion. Something like any number of stand mount/monitor-type speakers will likely better serve you. Or, the Gemme Vivace and Coincident Super Victory are both floor-standers that worked for us in a small room. If you own a low-watt amp such as a 300B with around 10 watts per channel, the Cygnis needs more juice even in moderate rooms if you want to get the full bass and dynamic properties they offer.


If your taste runs to the brighter, more etched, hyper detailed presentation, you may not like these.


The Cygnis showed no preference for music genres, but it you are a death metal or Electronica lover, you probably want something less refined and more edgy. Try a Klipsch.


We think the Cygnis presents an outstanding value to price performance ratio. It has been shown to compete with speakers well above its price point. The attention to detail and engineering prowess is evident and not usually found in a speaker at this price level. Based on that criteria, we think it deserves our Maximum Mojo Award and serious consideration for our Speaker of the Year.

 

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