The Revox Joy S120 marks the UK return of a brand that is steeped in history. Born in 1952 as the domestic arm of professional audio brand Studer, Revox made its name in tape recorders, producing some of the most highly regarded reel-to-reel and compact cassette recorders in the business throughout the 1960s and 70s, before expanding into loudspeakers.
In 1990, with the retirement of founder Willi Studer, the company was sold to investors, and while it continued to make a range of products, the brand went quiet in the UK and we’ve heard little from them since.
That was until the ISE (Integrated Systems Europe) 2015 show. Among the halls of the Amsterdam RAI, we found Revox, fresh from a period of focusing on multi-room in foreign markets and showing off a new stereo range named Joy.
Made up of an audio server, CD player, three network receivers and a convenient all-in-one, it is launching alongside a five-strong loudspeaker range that, all combined, hopes to reignite the love for the brand.
Design and build
It’s a very modern design – sleek and minimalist. So minimalist, in fact, that there isn’t even a display on its front panel, just an LED light that changes between dark blue and white to show when it’s off or on.
We’d have liked a display, or at the very least, a few more LEDs to show what input is selected, but the idea is that you use the free iOS or Android app or the optional S208 remote control (£300) to get your system set up, make selections and see what’s currently playing.
The remote is rather like the one Cyrus offers for its streamers and is nicely designed and easy to use, with a full-colour display at the top that makes easy work of navigating through menus. It also doubles up as a universal remote for any other kit you want it to control, and has the nice touch of a motion sensor on board, so it’ll jump to life as soon as it’s picked up.
Whether that’s worth the £300 outlay is another question. The app does well enough for the basic controls, though we do find it rather unintuitive and unreliable. It crashes or freezes several times during testing, and also didn’t manage to pull album art through from our server – however, the remote did.
Considering this box’s compact size, Revox has managed to fit rather a lot into it. First, there’s an impressive 120W per channel, which is augmented by a good complement of connections.
Alongside a pair of speaker terminals, there are two coaxial and two optical ins, a USB-A port, two analogue inputs, one each of analogue and digital outs and a subwoofer output should you want it.
There’s also an ethernet port for hardwiring the S120 to your network, a connection for the Joy CD player to enable universal control and the option to add an FM and DAB+ tuner module. AptX Bluetooth is on board for streaming from mobile devices.
We’re seeing more and more high-end kit choosing Class D amplification over more traditional methods, and that’s what Revox has gone for with the S120.
While some may prefer the idea of Naim’s Unitiqute 2 and its AB amplification, opting for Class D here will ultimately enable the S120 to run more efficiently, offering plenty of power from a small box, while still running cool.
Hooked up to our reference system, the S120’s setup is quick and easy. It swiftly finds our wireless network and connects without issue. So, we point the S120’s attentions to our Naim music server and begin playing.
We test it with music from Spotify streams to 24-bit/192kHz and find a similar character across all, aside from the expected drop in quality in Bluetooth streams.
It’s worth noting we encountered some stop-start playback issues with the 24-bit/192kHz tracks and were unable to ascertain why. We had no problems with any other bitrates, so can only assume there’s a handover problem somewhere between the two.
A CD quality rip of alt-J’s Breezeblocks immediately uncovers a rather forward quality to the S120, which takes a little weight and authority from its performance.
It does have pace on its side though, with real drive behind the more up-tempo parts of the song. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily translate into good timing across the board.
In fact, it can come across as a little impatient in the more brooding, ponderous parts of the song when we want it to be a little gentler, and it can’t portray those shifts in tempo as well as it should.
Give it the right music though, and this can work in its favour. Its forward character does give it plenty of punch for something like Faithless’s Insomnia, making for a powerful, energetic performance.
But while the pace of the S120 certainly carries the tune forward with plenty of urgency, it once again struggles to convey the song’s changes in momentum. Its inability to develop a sense of excitement as the song builds and drops is not what we’d expect from kit at this level.
Detail levels are pretty decent across the board, but it’s the finer subtleties that are missed most here. It means instruments and voices don’t have much of a sense of depth or texture to them, making them sound a little one-dimensional.
This lack of subtlety mixed with its impatient character can lead to some organisational issues too, meaning it can struggle to show clear definition of stopping and starting between a complicated grouping of notes.
To address some of these issues, we substitute our rather neutral ATC reference speakers for something a little warmer and laid back, namely the Q Acoustic Concept 40s.
This definitely helps add more weight to the low end and decreases its overly forward nature, but the overall character is still a little on the thin side and inexpressive side. It lacks the kind of full-bodied openness that you’d expect to hear from an AB amplifier.
Even using the pre-outs to bypass the amplifier section and purely employing the streaming module of the S120 shows up similar qualities, so it appears that this is a character flaw affecting both sides of the device.
Overall, the Joy S120 lacks the subtlety to provide us with the expression, excitement and eloquence we expect at this price. No matter what genre we threw at it – different paces, tones, voices – it struggles to drive home their relative differences in dynamics, like a performer unable to change his or her act to suit the audience.
There’s stacks of power here, and matched with the right speakers you can find a balance that will make it sonically impressive for big loud music. However, it’s not one that will hold your attention with subtler passages over extended listening periods.
The biggest problem for the Revox Joy S120 are the excellent products that fall some way below its price, but come pretty close in spec, like the UnitiQute 2. We’d take its more expressive character at the expense of a bit of power and a couple of inputs any day – and it’s £700 cheaper to boot.
Revox’s return hasn’t proved to be quite as iconic as its history might suggest, and at its current price point, it’s a tough one to recommend.