Guest written by Yongki Go
This article is meant as a tribute to two outstanding speakers that I have the privilege of owning during my audio journey so far: NHT Evolution T6 (MSRP on released date: $4k) and Revel Ultima Studio (MSRP on released date: $11k). It is worth noting that although these speakers are on different price category, they both make it onto the Stereophile Class A recommended components during the time they were available in the market. Although the T6 is the younger of the two in terms of the release date, it has been the constant occupant of my main audio system the longest, since 2002 to be exact. I like these speakers so much and have used them as my review reference all this while. The Revel Ultima Studio was released in late 1990s, but the one in my possession was produced in 2003. The T6 and the Ultima Studio are not that far apart age-wise, but the Ultima Studio came to my possession only recently, bought them used from a local fellow audiophile. I have known about the Ultima Studio since a long time ago, but only had a chance to listen to them in audio shows or dealer’ showroom. Impressive as they were, one could only know the real characteristics of the speakers after listening to them extensively in a familiar environment. Now I have sit in front of the Studio for many hours and played a lot of music through them to feel comfortable to assess how they compare to the T6.
Both the NHT Evolution T6 and the Revel Ultima Studio are in the full-range speaker category. I would say, they are both medium-sized “tower” speakers. Some people might say they are large speakers, but audiophiles should know better. There are bigger speakers out there that will dwarf these in comparison. Although, they are similar size-wise and categorically, they are not the same operationally. The Ultima Studio are typical passive speakers, that need a stereo amplifier to drive. The provision to biwire or biamp is there, but its use is optional. While the Evolution T6 is a native-biamp speaker system. It is a package system with the X1 external crossover unit and two A1 mono amplifiers to power the subwoofer section of the speakers, which consist of four 12” woofers. Although I usually do not use the A1, in their place I still need to provide additional 2-channel of amplification to biamp the T6. Hence, four amplification channels are needed to drive the Evolution T6 speaker system.
As mentioned, I have lived with the NHT Evolution T6 as my main speakers for 18 years now, so I know these speakers very well. In fact, these speakers have survived three long-distance moves (two cross-continent and one cross-country) during my career journey. As an audio reviewer, a good number of speakers from various brands at various price spectrums have had some stints in my system at various points in time. Some are cheaper and some are more expensive than the T6. If I want to, I could buy these review samples to replace the T6. But so far, it never gets to that point. Sure, some of these speakers might look better and some might even beat the T6 on certain sonic traits, but none bettered the T6 on all aspects of the sound. The T6 speakers are truly an all-arounder. They might not be the best in all sonic elements making up hi-fi sounds, but they are very good in all of them. Great tonal balance, solid midrange, excellent bass extension to the lower octave, detailed yet smooth treble, and good imaging … the T6 does all these very well. Moreover, with the X1 crossover, the bass level can be adjusted to suit one’s taste. It is this strong all-around performance that makes me stick with the T6 all these years.
The Revel Ultima Studio came into my possession by chance. I just happened to see an ad on the local craigslist on these speakers. The guy selling them was an avid audiophile that cared his audio equipment very meticulously. Upon seeing how the speakers were still in excellent condition, I could not pass up the opportunity to own them at a fraction of their new price. I knew they were great speakers, but I did not know how great they were until I played them in my system. I have listened to the Ultima Studio everyday now and come to appreciate more what the speakers can do. First of all, these speakers are very revealing, a bit more so than the T6. You can tell a good vs. bad source music easily using the speakers. On a good recording, the Studio’s most-obvious strength is the palpability of the midrange presentation, which is very seductive, making you want to listen more. Vocal reproduction is very life-like and smooth with no sense of graininess. You can hear very clearly the breathing of the singer. The treble of the Studio is incredibly detailed and airy. The bass is very taut and articulative. With the Studio, unlike the T6, one cannot adjust the level of the bass, but I feel that the bass response is sufficient and well balanced with the rest of the sonic regimes. The Studio is a maestro in conveying the texture in the music, and hence music never sounds dull or flat through them. Also, these speakers seem to image effortlessly, creating deep and wide soundstage.
That the Studio has an edge over the T6 on sonic performance is not unexpected. The fact that the Studio was a market success at almost three times the T6 price suggests that they had to bring something positive to the table. What I do not expect is the Studio edges the T6 at almost all aspects of the sonic performance. I said almost, because obviously due to the built-in powered subwoofer, the T6 has lower bass extension than the Studio. The T6 can go down to mid 20s Hz in bass response, while the Studio can only go to the low 30s Hz. In other aspects of the sound, such as mid-range palpability, treble details and airiness, bass articulation, and imaging capability, the Studio is noticeably better. So much so that I have decided to make the Ultima Studio the main speakers in my main system, the spot that has been occupied by the T6 up until recently. But this does not mean I appreciate the T6 speakers any less than before. No matter how you look at it, the NHT T6 speakers are great speakers with all-around strong sonic performance, that is unbeatable at their price. The Revel Ultima Studio is just simply better. Regardless, the standard of good sound has not changed, and the performance displayed by these two speakers has stood the test of time. The NHT Evolution T6 and the Revel Ultima Studio are both great classics and they can still stand tall among the speakers occupying the top of the hi-fi pyramid today.