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REL 212SE subs review – with horns!

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Not written a review on the Wam before so please bear  with me...

My Avantgarde SUB225’s died on me and having spent ages deciding on suitable replacement subs I’ve got a firm recommendation. The thing is that although I have a very specific set of requirements it has given me a really good idea of what these particular subs - a pair of REL212SE’s  - are capable of doing, and I believe what I have learned would help anyone interested in sub-woofer quality to make an informed decision.

I’m coming at the subwoofer problem from the point of view of running ludicrously efficient Avantgarde Trios – 108db from 1 watt, really dynamic and delicate, but they only go down to 100Hz- driven by a 5w Tron PX25 single ended triode amp. The rest of the system is a Verdier Platine, Graham Phantom 2 and Transfiguration Proteus front end with a Tron Nucleus pre. This is in a dedicated room 28 x 23 x 8 feet.

For context, my 15 year old Avantgarde Sub 225’s weren’t really aren’t up to the task of driving that room. As has been well documented elsewhere, with Avantgarde horns & Trios especially, subwoofer integration to the main speakers is the biggest challenge in getting them to work well. Although I found balancing placement in the room and placement relative to the main speaker helped (a whole different topic) you could always hear where the 225’s cut in, the bass having a different character and being noticeably slower. I’m aware Avantgarde have released two updated versions of subwoofers after mine. I’ve heard the SUB 230’s which go down further and are a bit quicker but not good enough for the money, IMO.

I listen to 95% LP’s, anything from dub reggae to Schubert lieder via the Who and Zep, so the subs have to be able to both integrate well and reinforce the bottom end sound.   

 

So what about the REL’s?

For those who don’t know them the REL212SE’s have 2 12” drivers pointing forward with a 12” passive radiator on the back and another passive radiator pointing down. Yep, 4 12” cones. These are controlled by an integrated 1kw Class D amp. Controls on the back are a variable cross over point, phase inversion switch and a volume control. For more info https://rel.net/shop/subwoofers/serie-s/212se/

So that’s 2 x 1kw = 2kw of sub-woofer amplification to be integrated with 2 x 5w of single ended amp. Using subs of this size in a pair might be a little bit unusual. I was told that trying to marry a pair of big subs to a 5w amp and 108db horns is really unusual, but this set up does tell you everything about what the subs are actually doing. For a two channel audio set up the bass extension part is easy. The challenge is getting seamless integration and delicacy. 

I bought them through a dealer called Fanthorpes supported by Rob Hunt the UK sales manager for REL.

These were set up mostly with a couple of CD’s which Rob brought with him, where he was looking for consistent bass tonality and volume across the pieces of music. From me I chose a Schubert leider LP of Peter Schreier singing Die Schone Mullerin on Eterna, Thin Lizzy’s Nightlife on Vertigo, and Nick Cave The Boatmans Call on Mute and War The World is a Ghetto. Not exactly bass extravaganza’s but I know them all well. NB I’m purposely not saying anything about the set up process because I’m trying to keep this to a reasonable length and it’s already too long. Just believe me when I say that subwoofer set up is everything and the REL process works. I can say more about it if anyone is interested. 

 

And the sound?

I was not and am not interested in lots of bass at the expense of anything else. Yes I was expecting more bass than I had before but I wanted speed and subtlety and integration more than quantity.  - This is vinyl, right?

Obviously as you would expect the bass is far better, more weight and definition, with notes starting and stopping far more readily. On about three quarters of my records, even many of those which I didn’t think had much bass, I don’t just hear the bass now but can feel low bass what’s there through my chest and the floor. So the room is being driven and it’s going down further more easily. There is noticeably less overhang, which I wasn’t even aware was an issue. Equally, some LP’s which I thought had good bass simply have bass which only goes down so far. They sound OK but not great.  

But interestingly the improvement isn’t limited to the bass. What the REL’s have done is added a whole swathe of harmonic information and clarity to the midrange which I wasn’t even aware was missing. This means the overall sound is significantly more dynamic and greater clarity is extending right into the high midrange. Drums in particular sound much more like drums. Curiously, my wife also calls the system “silkier” sounding, which I hadn’t immediately noticed. I take this as meaning less distorted. The soundstage has also got wider and maybe a bit deeper. These subwoofers have provided a whole system upgrade of an order of magnitude I wasn’t expecting.

You cannot spot either tonally or dynamically where one cuts in and the other cuts out, which anyone who knows anything about subs will know that’s no mean feat. 

The only downside is that the lack of distortion from all that power definitely causes me to play louder (which I need to control). Basically, the subs have given everything else an upgrade and improved openness across the board (other than at the very top end), and now it shows!

 

I’m also noticing more variation between recordings, which logically means more information is coming through whether or not I can figure out exactly what is better. Oddly, this seemed to be having the effect of making the upper mid / top end seem a bit more recessed and definitely a little harder sounding. I think the greater openness or clarity from the midrange down was showing up the top end. This hardness meant some vocals sounded more strident or transistorised, which wasn’t enjoyable. You could think of it as I was getting more hifi but possibly a bit less music. Remember these were brand new. Happily REL had offered to come back after a month and tweak the set up after the amps and cones had bedded in so I wasn’t too stressed by this. I had a suspicion for what might be causing this hardness effect, so while waiting for Rob to arrive and tweak the subs I thought I’d investigate based on past experience.  

I narrowed this strident effect to one or a combination of three possibilities: 1/ It might be the class D amplification crossing over as high as 100Hz, & the metal cones hardening up the sound. I thought this might be helped by crossover adjustment once they had settled in a bit; 2/ the lack of distortion from all that power was definitely causing me to play louder (which I need to control) and this could be hardening up the sound, or 3/ the greater overall clarity afforded by the subs is showing up the limitations in the pre amp, which I knew was the weakest point of my system anyway. Basically, the subs have given everything else an upgrade and improved openness other than at the top end, and now it shows!

I suspected the issue was #3 above exacerbated by #2. Over the last few months I have been experimenting with a valve power supply for the pre amp which is significantly more open, and getting this in the system fixed #3. Now it’s just great.

I can’t praise the service from Fanthorpes and Rob highly enough, but I have to especially praise the service from Rob and REL in the UK. Prompt response to questions, really knowledgeable on site set up, (and not at all how I thought they would go about setting them up) which has resulted in completely seamless integration between subs and Trios.

So, in summary I’m absolutely delighted. I’m convinced that if the 212SE’s can integrate with high efficiency horns and a 5 w amp they could be made to integrate with pretty much anything. It sounds almost silly to say so but this has been a whole system upgrade and as such actually represented value for money compared to spending it on anything else in my set up.

-          Sorry to go on so long. I hope this is helpful to the group.

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Super Wammer

Great write up, thanks. :^

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Great stuff, REL make superb subs and it's always nice to hear a happy ending.

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Apart from the Rel, did you consider or compare similarly priced subs from JL audio and SVS?

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Sorry for the delay

No I didn't consider them. I preferred the look of the REL's and liked the logic behind wwhat they are trying to do. Turns out it worked!

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I'm glad to read that the RELs work out so well for you. 😊

I understand that horns are very efficient/sensitive, but the power difference between your amp and subs is funny.

Last year I brought a tiny, 10 year old REL Stampede to a €35k setup, and not only the lower end improved obviously, as the mids but the soundstage increased significantly as well. That was actually jaw dropping, I didn't expect that much difference.

I had only brought the sub to prove a point to the owner, but I didn't have to bring it back home. 😊

At home I have a pair of old REL Stratas, and last week I got persuaded to put Auralex Subdudes below them. In my house, with suspended wooden floors, it was well worth it. No idea what the effect is on other types on floors, but if you happen to have suspended floors as springy as mine, you really should consider them.

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