I have been an audio buff for over 40 years now and since those earliest of days when high quality audio reached my conscious being, the Swiss name Revox stood at the forefront. Of course, back then their mainstay was in the area of Reel-to- Reel tape machines. In fact, the A77, A700, B77, etc… were all well-known for being at the very top of the offerings of their respective days. A few select audio shops back then, we’re talking the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, usually had a Revox tape machine for their very best playback systems, since they offered sound quality, build quality, and innovation, that simply could not be matched by many turntable playback systems nor reel-to-reel systems of that time. In the professional recording studio world, Studer-Revox dominated with a line of professional tape machines, boards, mixers, etc.
In fact, back in the 80’s Revox even took a perhaps misguided stab at building turntables. The series of tables, B790, were direct drive units equipped with straight line tracking tonearms. My brief encounter with those units was positive as they offered a real alternative to the Technics and B&O units with which they were meant to compete.
Well, that was Revox back then. To be honest I had not heard a peep regarding Revox in many, many years. So, when my Editor called and asked if I would review an audio lifestyle system from Revox I was a little more than a bit skeptical that this was the Revox. As it turns out, the original Swiss company appears to be intact and has evolved into a modern day Home Theater and lifestyle products company! Their offerings include modular audio systems, multi-room systems, loudspeakers, etc. The entry level “Joy” lineup of system components which includes a series of network receivers, Audio Servers, speakers, CD player, and accessories is fairly new to the market. The line includes a series of three Network Receivers, the S118, S119, and S120. The middle-of-the-range S119 with a rated power output of 60 watts continuous per channel is the subject of this review.
Installation and Set-up
By its very name, a Network Receiver should have a broad range of capabilities to connect and receive A/V data from a wide range of sources. In this regard, the Revox Joy range clearly does not disappoint. The S119 receiver offers up digital audio reception and input via a wide range of methods and sources such as Ethernet connection (RJ45), USB, Home WiFi/WLAN (via a supplied antenna), coax digital input and optical glass digital input from players. Analog inputs are also available (2) via RCA jacks.
Output capabilities are handled via a single stereo pair of speaker binding post connections, a single summed analog output is also available for use by a subwoofer. In addition there is an analog line output (RCA jack) as well as a digital output S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format). I am far from being a digital geek, and since the purpose of this review is for commentary on sound quality as it relates to entry-level high end, I did not perform exhaustive tests of the capabilities and ergonomics related to the integration to my home network. The brevity of the time period with this review sample did not warrant such in-depth analysis. I leave that to the more geeky-inclined sites to sort out. The specified power output of the S119 is a rather low 60 watts continuous per channel. The S119 came equipped with fully function remote control and charging station.
Since this is decidedly a “lifestyle”-type audio product, I would be remiss if I did not comment on how absolutely beautiful this diminutive black lacquered receiver actually is. Not only is it easy on the eyes, but sports an absolutely informative-yet-unobtrusive front panel display. This just really sealed the deal with matching it up to my equally stunning black lacquered Eficion F300M speakers.
For the purposes of this review, I created a second system in my sound room along the long wall, perpendicular to my reference system. This was the closest I could come to simulating an office/bedroom/dorm type of scenario which I believed to be the application for a 60 watt-per-channel receiver. I mated the Revox Joy S119 with my favorite in-house satellite speakers, the Eficion F300M. Cables employed were the excellent value priced MIT Styline Matrix SL-36i interconnects, SL-70s speaker cables, and Magnum ZIII power cord. Source inputs were limited to stereo analog output from the high resolution digital Pono Player (article pending), digital streaming from handheld devices, and from a dedicated computer running a Pono-based version of JRiver.
Thanks to the recent delivery of my crowd-funded Pono player, I happened to have a handful of albums available to me in high resolution digital file format, so I was able to put the Revox internal DAC’s to the test vs. the Pono Player. It is important to note that resolutions greater than 96 kHz cannot be streamed to this unit via wireless LAN, you must use the S/PDIF connection for that.
Configuring the Revox Joy S119 could not have been more intuitive. So thankfully very little time was wasted to acquaint the unit with the source inputs. As a relative newcomer to devices such as this one, I was overjoyed that it was so dummy-proof!
So What of the Sound?
Once the system was put together and source connections established, I decided that the unit probably could do with some warm up time. I had already been advised that the unit had seen a good amount of action as a demo unit at dealers and shows, so I didn’t really need to be concerned with break-in. I therefore started out by just playing the system for background music while I worked in another room. The system faced this other room, through two doorways and a 20-foot corridor. I set the Pono Player to play the new Patti Smith album Banga on auto repeat. At that time, I had only heard the album once, and that was in my car through the Pono player and in-car system.
After the first few songs, I was sufficiently impressed and distracted by what I was hearing in the other room. I set aside the work I was doing, went to the sound room to check it out. All I could do was sit down and nod my head with a sense of pure satisfaction. This little Revox has a very big, clean, and bold sound! Stoked that this was going to be a fun little system, I let it continue playing and went on with my business. I let the system do its thing for a few days and then I finally decided it was time to do some critical listening.
Since I had “cold-started” with Patti Smith’s Banga and was already familiar with its sound through my reference system as well as through the portable Pono Player, I decided that this was a reasonable way to start. My initial impressions of the small system, powered by the diminutive Revox were more than confirmed. The system really rocked. The bass was firm, if a bit fat. In this case, perfect for a small room setting and satellites. In fact, there was not a single clue indicating that the Revox was rated to produce a mere 60 watts per channel.
Switching gears a bit, still using the Pono Player as playback source, I listened to my free high definition download of Peter Gabriel’s album, New Blood. This is a superb recording that was done mostly live on location. This system, anchored by the diminutive Revox S112 receiver sounded large with an expansive soundstage, and Peter Gabriel retained his remarkable vocal presence that is so vividly captured in this recording. Overall, there was tad of added warmth to the upper bass and lower mid. However, this only served to enhance the overall sound of the system in this very intimate setting. Bass too, though perhaps a bit on the rich side, retained excellent tune and tone. The highs were clean, and present without much evidence of stress from the Revox regardless of the punishing dynamic range this record brings to the table. This 60 watt’r really knows how to strut!
Getting back to this particular recording, I was actually able to listen to this record played back both through the Pono player and Revox, by streaming it directly to the Revox. This led to some interesting results. The Pono Player and the Revox internal DAC’s sounded more similar than not; not a huge surprise to me at this point. In fact, the Revox did excel at retrieving a tad more focus of the detailed sound space that is captured by this recording, but this seemed at the expense of some bottom end weight that the Pono brought to the table. Still, the Revox proved to provide a closer approximation of the original analog record played back through my reference system.
Over the next couple of weeks, I streamed music to the Revox Joy S119 as I worked in my home office and the system never failed to surprise me at how good a small 60-watt digital system could actually sound.
I had set rather conservative expectations of the Revox S119 network receiver. After all, it is just a 60-watt stereo receiver. However, once I actually experienced it and heard it, my attitude shifted rather quickly. I found that Revox did in fact insert an element of joy into this product as the name indicates. The sound quality of the receiver is first rate. Add in the entire feature set that this receiver includes and you have a versatile, agile, and fully modern answer to the need for a high quality Hi Fi- grade lifestyle two-channel audio receiver. Perhaps the only thing that may overshadow or detract from that very notion is the suggested retail price of $2,349. The S208 remote adds yet another $329 to that price. Obviously, the value proposition will be a key decision that would need to be made by the prospective buyer. One thing is for sure, in every way that I can glean, Revox’s execution in the Joy S119 is flawless. It has a clean and elegant design, it is quiet in operation, and it proved to be a highly competent performer. Recommended.
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