REL AcousticsStorm mkIIIusedREL Acoustics Storm IIIREL Acoustics Storm - III Active SubwooferThe Storm III is an amazing musical subwoofer that is easy to integrate with virtually any speaker. This is hands down the best subwoofer for music I have ...749.00

REL Acoustics Storm III

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Package dimensions20.0" × 32.0" × 31.0" (75.0 lbs.)
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REL Acoustics Storm - III Active Subwoofer

The Storm III is an amazing musical subwoofer that is easy to integrate with virtually any speaker. This is hands down the best subwoofer for music I have ever owned.

REL Acoustics has made legendary powered sub woofers for Music and Home theater for several Decades and continues to make some of the best performing sub woofers and well built cabinets that are also aesthetically appealing. Inside is a powerful clean amplifier with a long throw super fast woofer that really delivers a punch to your music without being a boomy undertone.

Power poise and finesse - the Storm Ill has it all, exuding all the excellence that comes with the name. REL's commitment to the highest standards of design and build has endowed the Storm Ill with truly awesome capabilities. Like its cousin the Strata Ill, Storm Ill offers an evolution in electronic design from its wholly redesigned and upgraded 150W DC-coupled MOSFET amplifier to its sophisticated "ABC" crossover, setting the upper response limit in 24 musically correct increments between 22Hz and 96Hz. Storm Ill offers separate volume controls for high and low level inputs, a "straight-through" LFE bypass, an improved, audibly transparent, "Set-Safe" protection circuit and a high quality 10" (250mm) long-throw downward firing driver. Superior gas­tight Neutrik connectors are supplied as standard for Storm Ill's stereo high level input, and for its single channel balanced high level inputs. Storm Ill also offers a balanced low-level XLR input for use with professional and suitably equipped domestic systems. Its cabinet is precision-crafted from 30mm MDF. Storm Ill's wood­ finished cabinets are additionally reinforced with internal veneers to ensure long-term structural stability. The Storm Ill - cabinet, driver, amplifier and electronics perfectly poised to deliver the highest quality bass resolution and impact to lovers of the lowest frequencies.


  • SYSTEM TYPE: Linkwitz-Riley reflex-loaded cabinet with ABC® semi-tone variable bass filter. 40 litre.



  • AMPLIFIER INPUT IMPEDANCE: High level 100K, low level 10K



  • MAINS INPUT VOLTAGE: 115V 50/60 Hz

  • DIMENSIONS: (including feet and rear panel controls)

  • W x H x D (inches) 16.38 x 24.49 x 13.01 (mm) 416 x 622 x 330

  • WEIGHT: 66.14 Ibs. 30 Kg

  • FINISH: Cherry


  • True 150W (continuous) discrete direct-coupled MOSFET amplifier

  • Downward-firing 250mm long-throw driver with heavy-duty cast chassis

  • Ultra-rigid 30mm cabinet

  • Improved ABC® filtering circuit with 24 musically correct semi-tone increments between 22Hz-96Hz.

  • Four position mode selector: line/LFE (0 degrees phase and 180 degrees phase)

  • Audiophile grade toroidal transformer

  • Gas-tight Neutrik high level connection for long-term consistency of sound quality

  • High guality, panel-mounted twin phono inputs at OdB and +12dB (low level)

  • High and low level balanced inputs (Neutrik/XLR)

  • Totally discrete input circuitry for high and low level inputs

  • Separate volume controls for high and low-level input adjustment

  • Simultaneous connection of high and low level sources

  • Set-Safe® audibly transparent driver protection

  • Double-sided glass-fibre board with plated-through holes

  • IEC power input socket - non-captive lead for installation flexibility

  • Hand-built in Great Britain

REL storm 3 rel storm mkiii rel storm mk3 rel lll REL strata rel strata RELT /5i REL T 5i REL studio rel studio 3 rel studio three rel studio iii REL habitat REL T-0 REL s-3 sho REL q108 rel q 108 REL acoustics r-328 rel 328 rel 528 Rel mkiii Rel Gibraltar Rel g-1 rel g1 Rel g2 rel g-2

I purchased this subwoofer as a demo until from a retailer no longer in business - Tweeter Etc. The unit was in excellent condition but had two minor scratches. It included a Neutrik Speakon High level Interconnect, however the unit did not come in its original packaging. This unit was used in my system for both music listening and home theater in a dedicated climate controlled room. It has been well cared for as can be seen in the photos included. It never saw sunlight or was exposed to smoke or smoking. Although I kept the subwoofer out of the way and protected, it did pick up a few more minor scratches over the years. All scratches and or nicks are shown in the photos. I am selling because I downsized from a house to an apartment and no longer use it.

The subwoofer has been carefully packaged for shipping by me. Due to the fact I did not have the original packaging, nor could I find a suitable box to match the large size of the unit, I decided to custom make the cardboard box. I have a background in product design and I am very handy and crafty. I have illustrated the  packaging in a series of photos.

I used thicker than normal cardboard for the box and doubled up the wall thickness. The two laminated layers of cardboard equal a half inch on all six sides. Inside, I used styrofoam sheets to protect the subwoofer cabinet that are two and a half inches thick on all six sides. In addition, I protected the cabinet exterior by stretching an old (clean) t-shirt over the unit, covered it with an additional half inch of soft foam sleeping bag mattress padding, and wrapped it up with shrink-wrap.

After sealing up the box, I realized I forgot to add the power and audio cables. Therefore, I will ship the cables in a separate package.



Equipment Review No. 3   October 2001

Rel Storm III Subwoofer

$1795 pr. (black)
$1995 pr. (wood finish)

10" downward firing ported subwoofer; crossover from 22-95 Hz in 24 adjustable steps; high and low level inputs with defeatable crossover on low level; both crossover inputs can be used simultaneously for music and theater with independent gain adjustments; phase adjustment; 1.25" cabinet thickness; spikes for feet included; overload protection; 16.5"w x 24.5"h x 13"d; 60 pounds; 3 year warranty.

Krell KST-100 Amplifier, Meridian 568 Preamplifier/ Processor, computer DVD, Philips Transport, PS Audio P300 Power Plant, Thiel CS2.3 speakers, Audioquest, MIT & Discovery cabling, and Bag End InfraSub 18 for comparison.

The manual is very detailed about subwoofer setup including sections on hookup, setting all the controls, placement, and design. There is a quick setup procedure that has all the necessary information to set up the subwoofer in a new room with a new set of speakers in less than 15 minutes. It is called Rel

set-up made simple. I was lucky because Kevin Wolff from Sumiko came over to setup the subwoofer in my listening room. At first I protested because I didn't want any preferential treatment, but Kevin assured me that the dealer would come over and setup the subwoofer in the customer's home in the same manner. He also provided me with some background on the company and the design philosophy. I had already connected the woofer to the amplifier via supplied speaker-level cable, so Kevin listened a little to the Thiels, and we began to fine-tune the subwoofer to the room and the system. I only had a chance to play the sub for a little less than a day before Kevin arrived, so it was still breaking in. Kevin suggested that I might have to fine-tune the sub a little more after the next few days, and he was right. When I readjusted the subwoofer after the break-in period, I started from scratch. I would suggest having two people present for this task although I was able to do it alone being the die-hard reviewer that I am! The Rel set-up guide is very detailed and describes exactly how to properly position and adjust the subwoofer, so I won't outline the procedure here.

One of the things that Kevin mentioned to me while he was setting up the woofer stuck with me. He claimed that by a small adjustment of the crossover it would be possible to not only change the frequency going to the subwoofer, but also allow for a change in tonal characteristic of the system. I'm not talking about the difference between a heavy throbbing bass sound or a thin sound quality that is common when the bass is clearly misadjusted. The difference became one of a leaner or warmer sound and preference was wholly subjective depending on taste. By the turn of the switch on the back of the unit I could easily change system balance in a way that was both complementary and yet different at the same time. Rel suggests that different music and taste will play into this decision and I fully agree that experimentation is necessary to get the best sound. Even after I was satisfied for a period of time, a small change left me certain that I had "then again" found the best setting. Even after a dealer has set up the system and is convinced it is perfect, don't feel bad about trying a different setting. It might be a good plan to write down the previous setting in case you muck something up.

My settings were 28 Hz crossover, 180-degree phase, and about 9-11 clicks below the top on the level for the high level input. I didn't make note of the volume setting on the low level input. I was more concerned that I would be able to use both inputs and not run into trouble with the bass being too high or low depending on the LFE content. In the end, I was fairly satisfied that the woofer could be used in this manner, however, in my system, I would be content to have the woofer dedicated to the front channels. Many of the DTS discs that I listened to that made active use of the LFE channel did not really sound much better than when I routed the bass through the front channel and drove the Storm III off the front channel amplifier. Ultimately, the front speakers will be used and the flexibility of the surround processor will determine what will work the best.

Design Philosophy
In the older days of passive subwoofers it was necessary to connect speaker wires directly from the amplifier to the subwoofer to get sound. When powered subwoofers became more popular, many subwoofers still had these speaker wire (high level) inputs. In addition, they offered line level inputs that commonly consisted of a single (or stereo) RCA jack that could be connected to a preamplifier output or a dedicated subwoofer output. The argument to NOT use the high level inputs goes like this: You already have an amplifier built into the subwoofer, so why go through the amplifier in a separate component and then have to do it all over again (from high to low and back again?) Instead you could take the line signal from the separate component and send it directly to the amplifier in the subwoofer. In audio we are always told how "less is more." It seems unnecessary to have this step when a direct connection is available.

Rel recommends using the supplied speaker wire to connect directly to the back of the main amplifier. By taking the signal right off the amplifier and using this signal to derive a line signal to feed the internal subwoofer amp, it is possible to retain the characteristic sound of the main amplifier. Rel believes that you spent time finding a really good amp and either you found something incredibly neutral in which case the sound coming out of the Rel will be neutral, or you have an amp that delivers certain qualities that veer from neutrality, and by using this signal the Rel will have a similar sonic signature.

The other concern is the use of a crossover. Where is the best place to implement it in the system? Many believe that the crossover should be located in the preamplifier or control component. If the component has enough adjustment range and flexibility then this would allow easy matching between the subwoofer and other speakers in the system. There are a few possible problems right from the start:

1. The component in question does not offer variable crossover points. This would make it difficult to take advantage of the different ranges of speakers, and best adjust the frequency based on room considerations.

2. The subwoofer has a crossover that is not defeatable. This would mean the signal would have to pass through two crossovers with varying characteristics that may impact negatively on sound.

3. The component doesn't offer different settings for movies and music that might be necessary to achieve appropriate levels for both.

Rel completely overcomes all these difficulties in the Storm III. First, the Rel allows main speakers to use all of their range, and allows careful adjustment of the crossover, phase, and level of the subwoofer. Also, the crossover is defeatable for use with a dedicated subwoofer output or LFE channel from a separate component piece. And lastly, by having two different inputs for music and movies (although they are really just line and high level inputs), the Rel offers different levels depending on program content.

Listening- Part I (Music)
The first thing that people do when they install a subwoofer is grab some bass heavy CD's and relish the amount of bass they never had before. My experience with the Rel was completely different. After Kevin had finished the set-up, I began to think about the difference between most woofers and this one. Kevin claimed that having the proper bass settings on the subwoofer would not only help to extend the low end, but also allow a more coherent musical presentation. This meant that vocals would sound more real, instruments would provide a more realistic range of sound, the recording environment would become transformed into a three dimensional acoustic space, and of course bass would be more palpable, lively, and genuine.

After the initial adjustments, I tried track 8 from Me'Shell Ndegeocello's Peace Beyond Passion. This cut has some good bass, but I was also listening for changes in sense of space, changes with the vocals, and differences in other instruments. Bass was very deep and tight. My fireplace cover began rattling and I was forced to dampen it so it would not interfere with the listening sessions. Surprisingly, voice and instruments DID improve with the subwoofer in the system. And, of course, I could feel the bass coming through the floor. Me'Shell's voice became deeper and fuller although it would seem highly unlikely that the sub was operating in that frequency range. At first I was plugging and unplugging the woofer from the wall, but when I tried just turning the level down in the back there seemed to be a difference. Perhaps the fact that the subwoofer was connected to the main amp and turned off impacted the sound. From this point on I noted the volume setting via clicks (as the control is stepped), and then returned it to this position when to hear it working in the system. I verified that there was no sound coming from the subwoofer with the volume control all the way down. When I took the woofer out of the system, the entire low frequency range seemed to be missing. The sound also seemed flatter, thinner, and almost anemic by comparison. The Thiels are great speakers by themselves, but with the sub they were even better.

I should mention that Sumiko originally picked the Storm III for me with the intention of using it along with my Martin Logan SL3's. Unfortunately, the SL3's are in the shop due to a bad power supply. However, I found the Thiel CS2.3's to work extremely well with the Rel. Rel, and Rel dealers, would be more than happy to make a recommendation for a subwoofer given a certain pair of front speakers. Room size, listening taste, and other preferences would be considered as well.

To check output capability I listened to track 16 from the Stereophile Test Disc #2. My room is 15' wide by 22' long with an opening towards the back right. The subwoofer was placed diagonally opposite this opening. This was the placement chosen by Kevin when he set up the subwoofer in the first place. I didn't really experiment in other locations in the room, although I did play with positioning in that corner. Other manufacturers have also recommended this location given a diagram of my room and the furniture layout. There was good, solid output on the 40 Hz band. At 31.5 Hz the subjective level was a bit lower and at 25 Hz I noted that I could still hear the bass, but it was reduced in level. At 20 Hz there was not much coming out of the sub although at higher volumes I did believe I felt some of the bass. Since the bass was crossed over at such a low frequency to begin with, the bass rolled off very naturally and I wasn't concerned about emphasis or humps in a particular frequency range. With a woofer that is called upon to reproduce higher bass frequencies, you may be at the will of placement, seating position, and other problems that occur when trying to get the best sound.

I tried to use a few CD's that I had listened to in the previous subwoofer review to get a feel for the differences and tradeoffs in the design. I listened to two cuts, tracks 1 and 5, from a Mobile Fidelity copy of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon. The throbbing sound produced by the Rel seemed to come and go more quickly than with the Bag End. There was an entirely different character to the bass produced by the Storm III. I guess I'd say that it had better definition, but less output than the big 18" Bag End. When I turned the subwoofer down I felt the resultant sound seemed almost out of balance. I had quickly become used to the bass that the Storm III could provide and now it was as if the midrange had been turned up and the bass turned down. Whenever there was deep bass content the Rel improved the sound. Even when there wasn't a good deal of bass content the Storm III seemed to improve the sound. I've heard so many systems where the subwoofer made the system sound worse at one time or another. When the Rel was properly adjusted, this was just never the case.

With track 3 from Moby's Play the bass was much more solid and extended with the subwoofer in the system. The subwoofer integrated extremely well with the Thiels, although I felt I needed to step the sub down a few notches. With the subwoofer at the previous level the bass was too heavy and it was alerting me to the presence of the subwoofer. Aside from the bass range, the sound was more spacious with the Rel in the system. The high frequency sounds that begin at :20 seemed more natural. As Rel claims, there is an improvement in overall sound with the Storm III in the system.

With track 2 from Shirley Horn's Loving You, I noted how powerful and deep the bass was-much more so than would be possible without a serious subwoofer. Low tones were sustained and you could easily hear as they shifted in frequency-no one-note bass with this subwoofer! Extension was effortless and natural. I decided that I wanted to hear another recording with an acoustic bass.

I put on track 2 from Passage Of Time by the Joshua Redman Quartet. The bass was well defined and complemented the sound of the main speakers very well. Bass appeared to come from between the two front speakers. As the bass went up and down in frequency, it continued to remain localized in the same position. The lowest ranges of the piano were improved with the Storm III playing, and deep bass sounds were really "down there" with superior foundation. It was as if the music was lifted up and given free reign to play atop the stage of bass that the Rel provided.

For a completely different type of bass I popped in Latin Hip Hop Bass Bomb Volume II and listened to track 1 and 9. I wanted to see if I could get the sub to overload. I turned the music up much louder than I normally would, and listened for some sign of distress. The Rel thumped away happily without any strain with this material. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about my room. I had to remove the fireplace cover due to rattling that I was unable to make disappear otherwise. Certain organ music caused vibrations and other sounds that seemed to come from inside (!) the wall. Luckily, this was only present with < 1% of the music/ movies I auditioned. Without the sub playing on these cuts the sound was much edgier, harsher, and was more difficult to enjoy. The sub added depth, breadth, and muscle-much of what it was designed to do and it did very well.

Playing track 2 from the Telarc Sampler #3 was a lot of fun. You really have to be careful not to stand too close to the speaker when the gun shots go off or you might end up ducking for cover. But there is definitely a lot of good low bass and exciting percussion that make it worth checking out. Like the previous track, I chose to listen at ridiculous volume levels-well beyond what I think anyone would find a comfortable listening level. There were no problems up to this point.

For the last of the two-channel music listening, I chose Stravinsky's The Firebird (Telarc 80039). I listened to the final 1.5 minutes of this piece. With the Rel in the system it was like listening to an entirely different piece of music. Although the hair on my arm stood up either with or without the sub, with the subwoofer in the system it was a different experience. I was sitting on the edge of my seat anxiously anticipating the changes in the music, and feeling the power of the piece when the thunderous bass came crashing down. Even though it may seem silly, I found myself waving my arms (as though conducting) and feeling thoroughly involved in the entire presentation.

Listening- Part II (Surround/ Video)
I wasn't really expecting any revelations listening to movie sound from DVD. After all, I put the Rel through some pretty hard testing with the two-channel music listening. However, I did want to connect the Rel to the subwoofer output on my processor and make sure that it would work fine with and without the high level cable connected. After some fumbling with my processor and switching a setting on the back of the subwoofer, I was convinced that this connection scheme was working fine. I turned up and down both the high and low level controls and was satisfied that I was not overloading the sub and that the signals going to the sub were indeed different and blended well together. I didn't do extensive comparisons with and without the LFE connected, but I was NOT convinced that the sound was that much better with it connected. If you want to make absolutely sure that you are getting all the information on the disc, then I would pick up a copy of the AVIA disc for this purpose. It has a test tone with bass information fed directly to the LFE. If you set up your processor to no sub and large fronts it would be easy enough to see if the bass is redirected to the fronts. In many cases the LFE may just be redundant bass anyway, but if your processor does not route the bass to the front, then the Rel subwoofer will accommodate both connections, so there is no problem.

I began with chapter 9 from Titan AE. Most of the comments made on the two-channel music sessions apply here. There was lots of good clean bass. The bass was powerful and controlled and in parts would energize the room. Throbbing, thumping, and booming bass sounds were present in one form or another and helped to dramatize the various scenes in the film. I tried a few chapters from The Mummy as well. Bass was not as plentiful throughout much of the movie, but when there were any heavy action sequences the sub was called into action and performed admirably.

For more common fare I listened to the THX trailer (with the blue rectangle, i.e. "The Audience Is Listening,") and the logo for 20th Century Fox from The
X-Files Fight the Future. Sometimes the trailers can be more impressive than the movies themselves! Many a time when I used to go to a movie at the theater it would be not uncommon for cheering to occur after the trailers would run. Whether it would be a THX trailer or something from DTS or SDDS, the crowd would always seem to get a kick. The Rel was an essential part of the system that helped create this aura in my home. With the volume turned way up I felt that there were some sounds of distress coming from the Rel. It wasn't present for more than just a short moment, but it did give me cause for concern. I had the sound up so loud (Chapter 1) that when the alien attacked at the beginning of the film I scared myself. I also listened to Chapter 3. There were more occasions of bass present in this chapter than Chapter 1. The Rel handled this material with no trouble. I did some more testing at the end of this section to try to track down some of the overloading on the trailers.

Just for kicks I put on chapter 1 of Taxi Driver. Low bass just manages to pop up in the most unsuspected places. After listening to bombastic bass sounds from the previous selections, it was a joy to sit back and listen to the soundtrack from one of my favorite movies and hear it like I was hearing it for the first time. I can't tell you that there was tons of low bass coming out of the Rel, but with it running there was no doubt in my mind that the overall sound was much improved.
The Sheryl Crow excerpt on DTS Sampler #4 has some extreme low bass. This is the best test I've found in a commonly available disc that will test the capabilities of a subwoofer in the low bass region. With just a little bit more level on the Rel the port noise was very audible even from many feet away. When I made the sub even louder I could hear distressing sounds that resembled the woofer "bottoming out." I quickly turned the volume back down and everything was okay. Note: This was with the LFE connected. This seemed like a big limitation so I dragged the Bag End back into my living room to see what would happen. I thought, well, the Storm III is only a 10" driverso it can't really compete with an 18" sub. Well, guess what? The Bag End overloaded too. It did have slightly more output, but still gave out. I didn't have any more subs for comparison, but I will use this track from now on.

As you can tell from the review, I was very impressed with the Rel Storm III. Not only did it extend the response in the low end, it even helped to improve the sound in the upper ranges. The explanation of the subwoofer setup is very well done, and by following the text you are almost guaranteed to get the maximum performance. The sub is relatively compact and very attractive. If you were a little concerned about the comments made towards the end of the review, then I would point you to one of the larger Rel subwoofers (not tested), or possibly suggest utilizing a second subwoofer. Not everyone can appreciate the kind of bass the Rel can produce. At one point I was testing the Rel in the A.M. and while switching discs I heard the phone. It was my upstairs neighbor, Leslie, calling to find out what the heck I was doing! When I told her that I was reviewing a subwoofer she promptly said, "Tell them it works!" I always enjoy demonstrating my system for friends. You know the demo is successful when you see a big grin on the face of those who hear it for the first time. And when I'm the one who is grinning, then it makes this hobby all worthwhile. The Rel Storm III is highly recommended.

Brian Bloom


SoundStage! "The Candy Store" Back-Issue Article (12/2003)

December 2003

Sub-Bass, Not Subwoofer

Sitting on my front porch, sipping a bourbon and coke, listening to the squirrels, all rowdy and rustling, as they chase each other through the autumn leaves. What could be more peaceful and relaxing? As I recline on the porch swing, the chilled fall air casts a harmonious spell over the neighborhood.

Brrrmm bappa brrm. Brrm bappa brrmm.

What is that?

It gets louder. Brrrmmm bappa brmm. Brrrmmm. Has some giant earthmover been unleashed to wreck havoc on my neighborhood?

Brrrmmm bappa brrmmm. Brrrmmm bappa brrrmmm. Perhaps the earthquake they predicted would someday destroy Missouri and the Midwest is nigh.

Wait -- it’s coming nearer. It’s, it’s -- a Buick. Around the corner cruises a large four-door sedan pulsating like some otherworldly beast. Single-digit frequencies, which could never be reproduced in such a confined space as a car, intrude upon my tranquil haven.

I hate subwoofers!
It was this phrase that kept intruding upon my mind when I heard that David Ellington of Sumiko was going to demo a couple of REL sub-bass systems for us. Sub-bass system? I figured it must be some marketing ploy to try and separate themselves from all of the other "boom boxes" out there.

Sometimes I really love being WRONG.

The day of the REL demo began with a little panic. David arrived right on time, smile on his face and a large collection of CDs under his arm. What did not arrive was the subs he had shipped UPS ahead of time. Our deliveries arrive each afternoon like clockwork. Our store is located in a beautiful turn-of-the-previous-century building in downtown Kansas City. We are the only retail tenant in the building, so security locks the front doors around 5:00 PM. At 4:30 we still had no delivery. A quick call to UPS found the truck still en route, our delivery aboard. A quick walk down the street found the truck only a block away.

Upon their arrival, we unboxed the units (a Storm III and a Q150), connected them, and let the drivers settle in a little before doing full setup. The REL Storm III is part of the ST-series, finished in a variety of gorgeous real-wood veneers and designed for the serious music listener as well as for great home theater. The Q-series is REL's compact series designed for use in custom-installation situations as well as in two-channel music systems. While the subs got warmed up, David filled us in a little on what made a REL different from a typical subwoofer.

Located inside each REL is the heart of an audiophile product. You won’t find some wimpy switching amplifier advertising tons of watts but little in the way of current. REL uses large MOSFET amplifiers with hefty toroidals capable of driving with some real current. REL subs will play loud.

The first thing to notice is how the REL connects to your system. REL insists that you connect its units via high-level inputs. Each sub comes with a 34' length of three-wire cable terminated at one end with a Neutrik Speakon connector. Low-level inputs are available via a couple of RCA connectors (more on those later), but the high-level inputs are where the magic begins. REL believes that a speaker, together with a particular amplifier, creates a sonic signature. This being the case, it would seem best to carry this same sonic signature on to the sub system to best create a seamless integration. The load is very high impedance and presents no issue to the amplifier. Simply connect the wires to the appropriate speaker posts on the back of the amp and you’re in business.

Looking at the back of the units immediately draws attention to the flexibility of a REL. Each REL has four inputs: high-level, high-level balanced, low-level, low-level +12dB. The +12dB is for additional gain if needed with extremely high-efficiency speakers. We have yet to find an instance where it becomes necessary. It’s also important to notice that the low-level and high-level inputs can be adjusted independently. This is a priceless feature for those combining home-theater and music systems.

So what’s this about a sub-bass system? Looking at the adjustable crossover section of a REL definitely hints at what’s going on here. Whereas most subs have crossovers that only go down as far as 40 or 50Hz, the REL begins in the lower 20s and moves up in very small steps. According to REL, you rarely need to set the crossover higher than about 28Hz for the system to lock in.

But wait a minute! What if your speakers only rated down to 45 or 50Hz? REL’s philosophy says, "All modern speakers have been designed with the assumption that they are full range speakers." This includes most decent two-way monitors. While their rating may say that they are -3dB at 45Hz, they load a room at a much lower frequency. Assuming that the speaker designer knew what he was doing, he didn’t design the speaker so that you would go out and cross it over at 90 or 100Hz. He designed it to run full range. REL subs are designed to pressurize your room with low bass (below 25Hz) and adjust to fit perfectly beneath your speakers’ frequency response.

Set it up, Bill

OK, OK -- that all sounds well and good, but as a veteran audiophile and somewhat jaded retailer, I’ve learned that listening to the product tells a lot more than listening to the salesperson. No offense David. I am from Missouri after all. Show me.

Having given the subs time to loosen up a little, we went back into the room with the Storm III. The speakers being used were a pair of Verity Audio Fidelios; amplification was provided by Brinkmann.

I was prepared for an hour of fuss and fidget, painstakingly taking bass measurements with the old Radio Shack meter and moving things around. Instead, David put a disc in player and instructed Al (the owner) and me to sit down and listen. He used the soundtrack to the movie Sneakers [Columbia CK 53146], but apparently anything with a repetitive low-bass signature will do. From there David simply directed us through the process.

He began with the Storm III in the corner with the most solid walls. He started the music and switched phase between 0 and 180 degrees and asked us to identify which was loudest. We settled at 0 degrees immediately.

Next he began the music again and moved the sub's orientation from front to side wall and asked which was louder. Side wall was noticeably louder.

Now David began to pull the sub out from the corner diagonally, and asked us to tell him to stop when we noticed the sub lock in to the room. This step involves finding the "axial node" of the room, where the bass will be most strongly reinforced and create the greatest efficiency. At this point the sub would again become obviously louder and go deeper. It seemed as if David were hardly moving the unit, but sure enough the change was immediate and obvious. Not only did the bass increase in depth and volume, but also the soundstage just seemed to surround you when the right spot was reached. There was no coaching needed. It was that obvious.

The last step was to adjust the gain and crossover settings. With both dials at their lowest settings, David began to first bring up the gain, one click at a time. As soon as the sub became obvious and seemed to intrude upon the main speakers, David backed off one step. Finally it was time to set the crossover. The REL allows for both coarse (A-D) and fine (1-6) adjustments. When set correctly, the sound between the main speakers and sub will sound seamless, with a deeper and more dimensional soundstage, more precise imaging, and no loss in clarity. David told us it was rare to ever get beyond the A coarse setting, and he was right. Then it was just a matter of moving between the fine adjustments and confirming our selection with a few other recordings. What perhaps amazed me most was the difference in one fine adjustment of the crossover. I’m talking a difference of only 2Hz, yet the change was not subtle. We settled in at 23Hz.

The total time for setup on our first try was about ten minutes. The only tools used were located on the sides of our heads

The proof is in the piano
When getting a demo of what promises to be the ultimate sub-bass system, one expects to hear recordings of impossible bass torture tracks. Bela Fleck’s "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo" comes to mind. What I was not expecting was solo piano or violin. David began with a Chopin Prelude performed by Evgeny Kissin. The soundstage was incredible -- as three-dimensional as I could ask for. I could hear the reflections off of the ceiling in the recording venue. As we basked in the beauty of the performance, David slyly reached behind the sub and disconnected it from the system. The change was immediate and negative. The soundstage collapsed. The air and decay of the notes flattened out. The life was gone. Al and I were stunned. I would never have believed that a sub could have such an effect on higher frequencies.

With recording after recording the same result could be heard. Chamber music, solo violin, large choral pieces -- all were dramatically affected. David tells us that it is the deep-bass pressurization of the room that allows this to happen. The higher frequencies ride these pressure waves and allow you to hear more of the venue and space surrounding instruments and individuals. Listening to the new Reference Recordings release of John Taverner’s Ikon of Eros was a stunning example. The recording is a hauntingly spiritual choral work accompanied by a solo violin. Without the sub, you can tell how well this was recorded. The voices are balanced. The violin casts an accurate image. Yet only when the sub is engaged can you hear the reflection of the domed cathedral where the work was recorded, and note the space around the violinist against the background of the chorus. You are in the cathedral. It’s spooky.

If the REL subs had done nothing more than give you this added realism in soundstage and presence, they would be worth the price of admission. Yet I must tell you that we did get to the bass torture tracks as well, and they did not disappoint. I have never had a sub in the store that provided such tuneful and deep bass as the RELs offer.

The soapbox

I know I’m going to sound like a salesperson here. You know what? I am. But I will say that I have never been so impressed with what a single product can do for a system as what this REL stuff does. I keep trying new combinations, but I have yet to find a system that doesn’t dramatically benefit from a REL. I have yet to find a customer who didn’t show the same response. From the audio rookie to the multi-system-owning veteran, the response has been the same: "Damn."

I highly encourage all listeners, at any level, to seek out a dealer and audition one of these RELs. Make sure the dealer has set up the REL correctly. Better yet, have him do the set up together with you. All you’ve got to lose is a little spending money. But hey -- it won’t be the first time.

Bill Brooks

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