Product: Revox B 226 CD player
Manufacturer: Revox - Germany
Approx. price: no longer made approx. 1600 € / $ when new - (YMMV!)
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Reviewed: October, 2003
It may sound a bit weird to write of an old CD player while everyone is raving about new digital formats and higher resolution digital audio. Or maybe not. In my opinion there are HiFi components of the past which may appear technically obsolete but still can have something to say to our ears, even by today's standards.
I'm sure there's no need to introduce the Revox Company to anyone who knows a thing or two about hi-quality Audio. Hence I prefer to concentrate myself on the CD players Revox designed and produced in the early Eighties.
The first one was the B225, a 14 (fourteen, yes!) bits machine which made a large use of Philips components, packed together into a very sturdy and nice metallic chassis. Then came the B226, a 16-bit machine which featured the latest hi-end "bits" (pun intended) from Philips: both the all-aluminium CDM transport and the famous TDA 1541 DAC.
In some sense - at that time - there were three machines which shared the very same philosophy and components: the uniquitous Philips CD 960, the Marantz CD 94 and the Revox B226.
This last one was the most expensive of the lot and with some good reason. The level of craftsmanship, the choice of materials and the bomb-proof construction were something rather unique and barely seen on other contemporary CD players. Revox had (and still has) a long tradition in making durable and no-frills HiFi components, designed to survive even under "pro" (hence heavy) working conditions.
It shouldn't come as a surprise the fact that many radio stations (including the Italian RAI network) and recording studios were (and some still are!) equipped with Revox B226's CD players.
The B226's were built like tanks and their weight (9 kgs, more or less) tells something about the quality of the construction. During production, the B226 has been upgraded several times. You can find a B226 Signature, more or less a B226 with a classy all-black finish and a B226S, the most "audiophile" of all, featuring the famous TDA 1541 S1 (Silver Crown) DAC. This DAC, sometimes, can be found even on standard B226's.
I won't go into details because it is hard to correctly track the whole history of this model. Rather, I'd try to give you an idea of its main features and, most of all, of its sound.
First of all, the B226 was equipped with 2 pairs of analog and digital (coaxial) outputs. The analog outputs were different one from the other: FIXED (straight 2V line) and VARIABLE (adjustable by means of an electronic volume control). This way, the B226 could be directly connected to a power amplifier.
The two coaxial digital outputs, a quite rare feature, could be used to connect the unit to separate DACs, for example in a kind of multi-room environment. For we die-hard audiophiles, two digitals outs are a joy because they allow us to compare two external DACs "on the fly" with any need to swapping cables :-)
Still in the rear we find the mains socket, a kind of (smaller than usual) IEC standard, matched to a fine mains voltage selector. A very useful feature because it made the B226 entirely universal, regardless of the Country of purchase.
The front panel, an elegant polished aluminium fascia, was literally crowded with (micro-switched) buttons. Instead of making a LONG list of the features I'd say the B226 made everything possible. Programmable sequences, loops, indexes...everything you can think of and then some :-)
Of course, it was also equipped with an adjustable headphones output (quire rare, nowadays). The green-lighted dispaly offered every kind of information to the user, though it was a bit difficult to read.
The remote control was sold separately as an _expensive_ optional.
Here are some relevant tech specs:
For someone intimately convinced by the hi-res propaganda, a listening test of a CD player of more than 10 years ago must be a pure nonsense. For those who don't believe the hype the following notes might prove to be quite useful, instead.
While it's true digital audio has made quantum leaps forward during the last, say, 10 years, it is also true that good products do survive.
I'm especially referring to the all-metal CD transport which equips the Revox B226, the Philips CDM 1 (and 2 on certain models). This is still highly praised by audiophiles who _can_ judge with their own ears. There are few CD transports that can rival with the CDM 1, indeed: the new Philips CD Pro2, some hi-end VRDS by Teac and few others. And so highly praised is the TDA 1541 DAC, which equips many DIY DAC these days, including our own TNT 1541 DAC. So, please, don't count the good old things out too soon.
What should you expect from such a CD player, then? Well, it doesn't sound as smooth as modern upsampled players but it still has an harmonic richness which is unknown to many bitstream machines. Its sound is lively, vivid, perhaps a bit on the warm side if you compare it to many overbright players on the market today. I wouldn't dare to call it warm, though.
Actually it still shows some trace of edginess in the highs, from time to time. This attitude doesn't disturb the listener, though, as it is perfectly "integrated" into the whole sonic behaviour of the player.
Quite precise and detailed, the Revox B226 can rival with many modern players in terms of overall musicality. I suspect the rich harmonic content of its sound plays a relevant role to make everything so undoubtedly real. No mistakes, there's no doubt you're listening to a digital player, in the sense there's no trace of analog sound in it but somehow you feel a sense of rightness in the tunes it plays.
The bass range isn't exactly sismic, perhaps the first octave lacks a bit of authority and weight. Immediately above the first octave, the B226 does significantly better, delivering bass frequencies with impact, weight and good articulation. From time to time, you may even find the bass range to be a bit overblown.
Compared with modern players, its performance is still up to date in this department. For example, its bass range proved to be clearly better than that of the Holfi Xaurus Rex NFB CD player I tested here on TNT-Audio (a player which retails for 3,500 €...). To find something significantly better you should compare it to the NorthStar Model 192 transport + DAC combo or the Cairn Fog + Soft, for example.
Overall, the B226 appears very coherent and hence enjoyable in the long run. You can play it for hours without suffering from any kind of listening fatigue.
As said, the sound of the B226 is lively and vivid, certainly it performs up to date even in this department. Punchy when needed, the B226 delivers good amounts of "energy" while respecting the right musical tempo. Certainly there are quicker players today but, unless you make a head to head comparison you can easily live with the Revox and its performance. At least, it can hold a tune much better than some highly praised CD player (the Cambridge D500, for example).
In the microdynamics department it performs quite well, considering it succeeds in sounding detailed and harmonically rich at the same time. Not the ultimate magnifying glass, that's for sure, but significantly better than many modern cheap CD players. This proves progress isn't everything in digital audio...otherwise a modern entry-level CD player should be able to outperform the B226 with ease. Not so. D/A conversion isn't everything. Correctly sized power supplies and cleverly designed analog output stages still play a relevant role.
In this area digital players have significantly improved over the years. Hence it is easy to find CD players that outperform the B226 in terms of width and depth of the soundstage. The B226 still succeeds in building a reasonable virtual stage, which develops entirely behind the loudspeakers. The contours of the instruments are a bit blurred and not everything is precisely focused as it should be.
The depth of the stage is proportionally better than its width while the height appears to be adequate. Things can be improved by using different absorbing feet, as the stock ones are terrible.
Forget smooth operation when loading/unloading the CDs. The all-metal transport is noisy and gives the feeling something is going to break sooner or later. If you are used to the extra-smooth action of a Linn Mekk transport, for example, you'll be shocked ans thrilled.
Moreover, Revox used custom-made Zamak guides which proved to be not 100% reliable over the years. They tend to flex and deform, making the drawer action uncertain.
Another known bug relates to the diplay light: it is quite prone to break and replacements can be quite expensive.
Finally, if you're used to big RCA connectors, forget to use them with the B226. The RCA sockets are hidden inside the chassis so you need to insert the RCA plug INTO the cabinet through a very narrow hole. Only the slimmest RCA plugs will work. The mains socket isn't IEC standard (in size), so swapping mains cables isn't easy.
The sound of the Revox B226 is something very easy to appreciate. It was slightly under-rated during its life, because the CD recordings of, say, 10-15 years ago were terrible and needed an extra smoothing effect to be completely bearable. With modern recordings the B226 can finally show all its virtues of precision and liveliness.
It is plenty of Revox B226's out there, especially in Germany and Switzerland. Prices are very variable but I wouldn't suggest to follow the cheapest way (E-bay, for example). Considering the age of the player and its known bugs, you may end up buying a piece of useless metal filled up with electronic components. My advice is to buy the Revox from authorized and well-known Revox service dealers. Many of these are located in Germany and Switzerland, so you need to understand some German. I can suggest Revoxjoschi.de and Revoxservice.ch. Also try, for repairs, Revox in perfektion.ch. The price for a completely revised B226 may vary from 400 to 500 €. Do not forget to ask whether the remote is included or not. It was an optional not everyone bought.
Buying from a Revox service center gives you the possibility, in case of need, to send the unit back for a complete check-up, nothing a private seller can guarantee.
Since it is a quite old component, don't expect the caps to be 100% functional. A symptom they need to be replaced is a foggy and dark sound during the first hour of use. After two hours, the B226 opens up and starts to shine :-)
Anyway, consider a recapping, sooner or later.
The B226 runs pretty hot, so if it seems warmer than you expect from a CD player...relax, it's 100% normal. Considering it has been tought even for a "pro" use, you can even decide to let it "on" forever. When connected to the mains, it stays permanently in stand-by mode.
Use soft feet under the stock ones and enjoy the difference. I've been successfully using SonicDesign and Holfi feet under my 226 (see review on TNT-Audio).
The Web is plenty of tweaks for the B226. Some include DAC upgrades (to 1541 S1 or S2 status) and even zero-oversampling mods (a la Kusunoki/Convertus). Though it is possible these mods will bring new life into the player, making it rival with contemporary hi-end machines, personally I wouldn't perform them. The reason is simple: this is not a Philips CD 960 with nearly-zero historical value...this is a Revox, a machine which, in my opinion, should be left "as is". I wouldn't modify an old Alfa Romeo or Ferrari, even if I was sure to make it become a land speed record monster.
I wouldn't suggest the Revox B226 to novices. I wouldn't suggest the Revox B226 to audiophiles unable to appreciate the philosophy of a HiFi component which was quite different from the rest.
The Revox B226 requires some effort from its user, it asks for some extra care, it needs to be fully understood. If you're ready to break the rules of modern HiFi, try to listen to a 226, chances are you'll fall in love with it.
First of all, thanks to all the Revox fan websites on the Web, especially to Revoxjoschi.de, Revox.net and revoxonline.ch for infos, support and...pictures :-) [you need to read German to browse these sites].
Of course, I can't forget the complete Revox official website (also in English).
© Copyright 2003 Lucio Cadeddu - www.tnt-audio.com