REL Acoustics, Ltd. of Bridgend, Wales was founded in 1990 by Richard Edmund Lord. Dissatisfied by the commercially available subwoofers of the day, Lord set out to build Himself something better. Almost immediately, word spread of a Welshman who had built this incredible sounding sub bass system and soon enough audiophiles began searching out these legendary subs that were built like no other.
Lord began referring to them as sub bass systems, because the performance he had been able to achieve was the result of system engineering. Where common subwoofers rely on amplifying a line level signal, Lord had intuitively realized that the signature of the entire system had to be built forward into a pre-conditioning signal that allowed the sub to disappear into the music. Thus, from almost the very beginning RELs used a special high-level circuit. Many of the basic elements present in modern day RELs began finding their way into production RELs in the later 1990’s.
The modern era of REL began in 2005 when John Hunter and Donald Brody acquired REL. Almost immediately, they identified several key paths to take the strengths of the core REL philosophy and build upon them. First, the designs had to be updated and made to look as wonderful as they sounded. Second, for all their robust qualities, there was room for improvement in the area of electronics and driver technology. Accordingly, they set about on a comprehensive plan to upgrade and improve every aspect of the products; focusing on reliability, clean styling and robust mechanical construction–a path that continues to this day.
Today, REL is one of the fastest growing product ranges in the entire high end with strong international partnerships all over the world and acclaim coming from virtually every high end audio and home theater magazine. At its cornerstone, fundamental reliability remains its core strength, blended with a unique approach to design that results in what many consider the most musical and powerful sounding subwoofers available.
“The subwoofer’s task to deliver musical fundamentals below the reach of ordinary loudspeakers. It’s an approach that can work well with compacts, but often works even better with large speakers…” Alvin Gold Gramophone
Musicians place no limits on the bandwidth of the music they play. Many recordings, particularly those of “live” events include acoustic cues as to the size and shape of the recording space, which constitute an important component in the recorded sound. In many instances the venue’s “sound” contains some very low frequency information as do harmonics of instruments in the orchestra. Strange as it may seem, it’s not only bass instruments that produce low frequencies – many orchestral notes contain low frequency components, which contribute to the defining character of their sound.
For pure fidelity to be realized, every part of every note in the music must be reproduced, along with the acoustic signature of the recording space. The typical home audiophile system, sometimes chosen after hours of agonizing over which components to buy, often suffers bandwidth limitation at the lower end of the reproduction spectrum. This is especially true when playing high bit-rate formats such as 24/96 or 24/192 kHz files. Whatever format you select, there is no hope of realizing what was originally recorded, without a correctly designed sub-bass system.
“…bass and cello fundamentals that were only implied by their harmonics are now produced in full strength. But the benefits extend well beyond the bass, as the additional bandwidth alters the perception of midband and treble output, adding richness and a greater range of tonal colours, and adding also to image scale.” Alvin Gold Gramophone
Accurate reproduction of low bass is especially important to film sound tracks. Directors and sound engineers rely on very low bass frequencies to impart the power of action sequences, and the sheer drama of subtler scenes. In many cases, huge expenditure is lavished on sound tracks to achieve the desired emotional response in the movie goer. The explosion of high quality sources into homes has given consumers the opportunity to experience the fidelity of wideband multi-channel recording. Every movie soundtrack has a special Low Frequency Effects channel (LFE), where all the really dramatic bass sounds are stored. But without a properly integrated audiophile sub-bass system, bass frequencies, which took hundreds of man-hours and millions to create, will not be reproduced in full.
REL sub-bass systems are optimized to deliver highly accurate, dynamic low bass in film soundtracks. This requires an ability that as of this writing, only RELs possess; the ability to deliver huge low bass originally intended for the main speakers as well as the ability to deliver effects for the .1 channel. We do this simultaneously by the following procedure. First, using the High Level input with the AV processor (or receiver) set to “Large”. This restores the low frequency balance to your system allowing the L/R main speakers to operate as a truly full range device (make certain your speakers can handle this, if in doubt check with the speaker manufacturer). This opens up the sense of space embedded in the original recording. Follow the set-up procedures in the REL set-up sequence found elsewhere in this website using music as this will produce the most accurate balance for both music and film. Next, connect the subwoofer output on your processor or receiver to the .1 input on the REL. Using a soundtrack of know high quality properties in the .1 track, adjust gain so that on the very loudest passages, with the main system set to full undistorted output, the REL fulfills the loudness requirement while itself not distorting. Now, when movies are played, your system will be capable of reproducing all the space and dynamics of movies. Almost.
“No one else even thinks of bass in these terms. REL remains the only company to truly study film sound and work with transfer studio engineers to unlock the promise Implicit in Dolby’s standard. Try this technique once and you’ll never go back. That’s a promise.” -John Hunter and Donald Brody
If one wants to feel the depth charges exploding all around the submarine, one ultimate trick remains up our sleeves. For ultimate spatial coherence, a minimum of 3 RELs (1-main L/R, 1-center, 1-surrounds) may be used to fully realize all the performance embedded in move soundtracks. REL Shotgun unleashes the basic performance possible in a soundtrack. Shotgun 3D™ extends that benefit to all the building blocks of a theater. By extending the low bass performance of the center channel the entire front half of the theater Is opened up. No longer does the center channel struggle to keep up with the mains. By doing so for the rear channels, the theater is completed and the 3 dimensional reality of film soundtracks takes place as one’s theater is transformed into a sort of 3 dimensional aural holograph.
“This technique was, until recently, our best-kept in house secret. It wasn’t that we didn’t want our customers to have access to this. We simply felt that we might be perceived as too extreme—that with our older, more expensive lineup—it might just be received as too expensive and out of touch with our customers. Now, with the incredible value we have been able to build into these newest ranges it’s possible to use, for example, an S/5 for the mains, an S/2 for the center channel and an S/3 for the rears and experience a huge upgrade for a reasonable cost. REL 3D is NOT about making more bass, it’s about better and more spatially accurate bass. REL 3D allows you to be transported inside the movie.” -John Hunter and Donald Brody
One secret to a REL sub-bass system’s success resides not only in its ability to extract the deepest sounds in the mix, or in its bullet-proof reliability and conspicuous overbuild, it resides in its ability to integrate effortlessly with the main system, enhancing its sound by naturally underpinning the output from the speakers – to make them sound as if they’d doubled in size. REL defined the conditions for successful integration years ago by following three simple but hitherto elusive principles:
High Level Connectivity
To ensure no blurring or other sonic degradation to the main system, the solution is to connect the sub-bass system from the power amp. REL sub-bass systems are designed to be connected to the existing power amp’s speaker terminals using the gas-tight high-level Neutrik connection supplied with virtually all RELs. In this way there is no interference or possible corruption of the main signal going to the speakers. By connecting at high level, the sub will reproduce exactly the same character of bass as the main speakers. The sub-bass system draws virtually zero current from the power amp because it is a very high impedance load (technically we say it is voltage driven). No harm can come to the sub-bass system whatever the power of the main amp, even a kilowatt can be accommodated with ease.
There is also the substantial benefit of the bass engine in a REL system being driven by its own dedicated, high current REL power amplifier – optimised for that specific driver. It is DC coupled in all but our smallest design, meaning there are no capacitors in the signal path causing phase problems and limiting its ultimate low frequency performance. REL power amplifiers are designed to produce high levels of current and built in the most robust manner practical.
When More Is Less
Because of this built-in high current REL amp, there is no power drain on your main system amplifier. It goes on happily driving your main speakers precisely as before, albeit with the significant benefit that because the REL is now fully energizing one’s room it is possible to enjoy the system at lower volume levels and with less sense of strain. Women, in particular, come to love this aspect of REL ownership. As counter intuitive as it may seem, restoring bass by adding a REL can result in lower average listening levels precisely because one doesn’t need to turn up the volume as high to provide the drive and pressure one is often seeking in higher volume levels.
Perfect Filters: Speed Kills
At REL, we know the secret to a perfectly balanced system is our filter circuits. Evolving over several generations the REL filter circuit is considered a trade secret, To this day, we embed them in a matrix designed to destroy the components hidden within should our competition try to discover the ideal way to crossover. Speed is incredibly important to a sub crossover and so we employ, simple, direct and very fast-acting filters. Based on second order designs, they are intended to allow all the speed and slam of Music to emerge—and importantly, all of the subtlety—while still performing the necessary crossover filtering.
The filters used in Gibraltar are, to our knowledge, the fastest ever built into a production sub bass system and measure at the theoretical limit of a filter circuit at approximately 4 milliseconds of group delay. Those used in our other models are still remarkably fast and weigh in at around 8-12 milliseconds. In order to properly reproduce music and film sound’s dynamics and natural qualities, we do not offer room correction modes. While these can, sometimes, have a positive gross effect they also slow down the transient speed of the system hugely.
“We are unwilling to destroy music or film sound in order to provide a “happy idiot” button, whereby the customer hears some difference by pushing a button, only later to discover, as they listen more critically, that the bass is completely out of time with the cadence of the music. We’re not in the happy idiot business, our customers are smarter than that.” -John Hunter and Donald Brody
REL sub-bass systems can be “tuned” to your system and room, whatever your system’s capabilities and listening room size. This is of enormous benefit, particularly if like many others, your listening room is not perfect. The REL can be positioned to pressurize your listening room below its lowest eigentone and ensure that those previously missing or masked frequencies are heard cleanly and clearly, no false emphasis or boom – you control its sound in your system. We are often asked: “Are two subs better than one?” Two subs will help iron out the usual room response undulations. Dynamic range is doubled and an even tighter and more controlled bass results. Two separated bass sources help achieve these subtle improvements.
If you decide to upgrade any item in your system, the REL will simply reveal more of its potential. This of course can be said about some upmarket speakers too, but rather than simply show up your systems faults, the REL is fully adjustable, thus it will never be obtrusive. Above all it will allow you to keep what is best about your existing system. With a REL there is NO compromise. The REL will only add to your already high quality sound. It will never overwhelm, but confidently underpin your main system. It is very likely the most cost effective upgrade you will ever make.
“We still insist on testing each unit at multiple stages along the way, then performing exhaustive tests on finished units. It’s not the cheapest way to build, to be sure, but the only way we know of to ensure consistently high quality.” -John Hunter and Donald Brody