I didn't like the old Salon sound. I do love the Watt Puppy 8 sound. I am using Sophia 2 speakers for my surrounds and they do sound excellent. IMO, better than Salons, but like I said, I didn't like the Salons the two times I had demoed them.
I definitely would spring for the Watt/Puppy 8s if you can spend the extra money, but if not, the Sophia 2s are better to my ears than the Revels. I would definitely demo and see for yourself. In particular, pay attention to how transparent, detailed and lifelike the midrange sounds in comparison to the Revel speakers. in my mind, to my ears, there is no comparison between them really....
I'm using my setup for HT as well, the nice thing about the Wilsons is they don't interact with the room as much as some speakers (such as my last speakers the B&W 802Ds), so you tend to get a more precise and pristine stereo image in comparison to a lot of other speakers. I don't know how that would compare to the Revels seeing as I never compared them as extensively in the imaging department, but I can say this....
When I demoed the Revels twice, they left no startling impression of being "real" and "lifelike" sounding to me. To me they seemed like speakers. My very first experience with the Watt Puppy 7 and consequently the 8s and the Sophia 2s did have that impression on me in terms of creating eerily phantom like apparitions in the soundstage. They seemed like they were recreating the real event more often than any other speakers I had looked at in the same price ranges.
Anyway, that is what motivated my purchasing power. Definitely let your own ears decide for themselves. That is always the best and final answer.
I ran the Revel Salons in my two-channel reference system for over three years. I sold them in March in anticipation of the arrival of my Evolution Acoustics MM-Twos, and I have run the WATT/Puppy 7s in my system for the past five months while awaiting the arrival of the new speakers. I know you are looking for a comparison to the Wilson Sophias, but I don't have any personal experience with the Sophias. For what it's worth, what follows is my perspective on the Salons as compared with the WATT/Puppy 7s.
My take on the two speakers is quite different than that offered above. I much prefer the sound of the Salons. The Salons excel at transparency and the accurate reproduction of timbre. By comparison, the WATT/Puppy 7s exhibited a treble coloration that made me all too aware that I was listening to electronically reproduced music. Paired with the right upstream electronics, the Salons sound relaxed and natural while the WATT Puppy 7s sound like hi-fi.
Nonetheless, the WATT/Puppies do outperform the Salons in certain areas. The WATT/Puppies are one of the best soundstaging speakers I have ever heard, so they live up to their reputation in this department. In addition, they are more efficient and dynamic than the Salons, so there is more of an excitement factor with the WATT/Puppies. The WATT/Puppies also have quicker, tighter bass than the Salons, whereas the Salons exhibit bass that is slower and less crisply articulated.
I found that the Salons recreated a better sense of air and hall space than the WATT Puppies. I'm not sure whether this was a function of treble extension or something else. I also found that the bass on the Salons was more extended than the WATT Puppies. The WATT Puppies exhibit a mid-bass hump that somewhat compensates for their lack of extension in the bottom octave. While I could hear the mid-bass hump, I did not find it off-putting, but I did hear a greater sense of weight due to the truly full range bass extension of the Salons.
In the end, I concluded that I could not personally live with the WATT/Puppy 7s given my personal listening preferences. I listen to a lot of orchestral music, and I place a high priority on the accurate reproduction of timbre. The WATT/Puppies were at their worst in the reproduction of massed violins, which always sounded electronic and reproduced to me. On the other hand, I often enjoyed the WATT/Puppies with rock music and with a lot of jazz recordings. Rock music and jazz featuring brass instruments and percussion really play to the strengths of the WATT/Puppies. So I could see someone with different listening preferences reaching a different conclusion.
One final thing I would note is that the Salons are VERY revealing of your upstream components. I went through a number of phases over the years where I would attribute a shortcoming in the sound my system to a problem with the Salons only to discover later that the cause of the problem was elsewhere. One of the drawbacks to the Salons is their low sensitivity and the need to throw some real juice at them. This limits amplification choices, and, unfortunately, many of the high powered solid state amplifiers that have the juice to drive them leave a lot to be desired in their overall musicality. However, if you make the right choices and do not compromise the selection of upstream components, the Salons can gove you truly world-class sound that is very close to the sound of live acoustic instruments.
Just my two cents. and YMMV. While not directly on point to your question, I hope this perspective is helpful.
FYI, the tweeter is completely different between the Watt Puppy 7 and the Watt Puppy 8 (as well as the Sophia 2). The crossover was also completely altered (making a Watt Puppy 7 comparison to an 8 or Sophia 2 sort of moot). Also some other changes were made as well. Overall the combination of these changes is a fairly large alteration in the sound character between these speakers. I would recommend listening to them and judging them separately from the Watt Puppy 7 rather than being hasty and assuming they will sound a lot a like. It is possible a lot of the qualities you described and didn't like have been eliminated with a changed tweeter and crossover design. (Though if the original poster is referring to the regular Sophia speakers and not the 2s I don't have experience with those to be of much help, much like I have none with the Revel Salon2 speakers as well).
I don't seem to have those kinds of problems with orchestral music on the 8s and 2s, nor with violins and "fiddles." This was important to me because I love Bela Fleck Bluegrass albums (Mark O'Connor) and I listen to Julia Fischer and Joshua Bell fairly often as well. Perhaps I never got to extensively experience the sizzle on the 7s that people have referred to a lot in the past, which they attributed to the old tweeters used in the W/P 7s. Of course, YMMV. So it is imperative that you demo everything personally before making the decision. Obviously based on what is being said, bringing some orchestral music, including violins and violin sections would be a wise decision.
Here is a side by side comparison of the 7 and the 8:http://www.wilsonaudio.com/product/watt_puppy_8/innovations/3.php
I am surprised you feel that way about the bass on the Revels though... I thought that was one of the true strengths the Revels had. I have two Sub 30s in my system and they are both fast and tight. They also integrate well with any speakers you are using because of their excellent fine tuning options (phase and level settings, as well as crossovers) and parametric EQ settings. Of course, the Salons don't have that fine tuning option, but they use the same materials.
I'm also surprised at your experience with acoustical ambience using the Wilsons, as in my room (given, it is a dedicated and excellently designed/treated room) you can see right though to original venues, albeit with the obligatory acoustical coupling, especially with surround music. Perhaps this too is a difference between the 7s and the 8s, or perhaps my room makes the difference. I tend to hear more of the speaker itself because of my room.
I didn't hear anywhere near the same midrange transparency from the Revels compared to the 7s. Or top to bottom transparency between the revels and the 8s. Again, YMMV, I guess.
The thought occurred to me Cincy. Did you have a trained Wilson dealer voice those Watt Puppy 7 speakers for your room? They are very specific in terms of their placement needs. I have heard people complain about the tweeters sound on the 7s before, but it sounds like the problems you had might be more complicated. When I placed them myself, the 8s didn't sound so great, but once they were profesionally voiced everything lost the disconnection between frequency ranges and everything integrated well. Even a few inches can change the sound completely!
Unfortunately, my room has two dimensions with a shared multiple (~9' and ~18') so I have a terrible bass reinforcement mode in the high 60 Hz region. I'm still deciding how I will deal with that (likely I'll build a Helmholtz resonator, or buy a Rives PARC).
Jeff, I did not have a Wilson dealer place the WATT/Puppies in my room, but I did follow the Wilson procedure quite carefully myself. The speakers were easy to move around in my room, and I experimented quite extensively with the placement of the speakers. I found that the placement of the speakers significantly affected the bass frequency response, the soundstaging and the imaging. However, as you might expect, the midrange and treble frequency response were not affected to any noticeable degree.
In the end, my biggest problem with the speaker is that it could not be made to sound "natural," in the context of live acoustic music, in my system. My electronics and source components are exceptionally revealing, so my system had the effect of shining a very bright light on the performance attributes of the speaker. My take on the WATT/Puppy 7 is that Wilson achieved excellent dynamics, speed and soundstaging at the expense of flat frequency response and timbral accuracy.
As you suggested earlier, however, this may have no relevance whatsoever to the performance of the WATT/Puppy 8 or any of the other Wilson speaker models, including the Sophia. I would also expect that the 7s might show better with electronics and source components that are more forgiving.
Jeff, I should add that I admire what you have done with your room and your system. I have a lot of respect for your Ayre electronics. I am currently in the process of completing construction on a new two-channel listening room that was designed by Rives, and I like what you have done with yours.
Thanks for the compliments. I'm looking forward to seeing what you are having done in your Rives Audio designed space. I can tell you from my personal experiences with the room so far, that the difference in sound quality is tremendous between the before and after.
I was surprised how an acoustically treated room could change so much in the perceived character of a speaker. Room interference and reflections in the initial 50 ms or so sum up with the direct sound and alter the timbre of the speaker output, creating a hybrid sound of the speaker character and room character. So I got a lot closer to the actual sound of my speakers once I had the room completely treated and finished. I got even closer than ever in the last week while eliminating some of the opposite wall 1st order reflection points and ceiling reflection points that weren't covered properly due to not having found the final speaker and listening position placements.
I just eliminated all of the final 1st reflections that were still lurking in my room last night (there were 1st reflection points on the ceiling that I had yet to put absorption on). It is incredible what a difference in focus and detail something that seemingly simple can have on the music. As I eliminated the reflection spikes in the impulse response one by one, I could hear the fog slowly being lifted from the sound. It is remarkable, and well worth the money (even if it did end up costing me more money because I didn't like what it revealed character-wise about my old speakers...).
Rives' design work is top notch. The cool thing is, at the HE2007 demonstration you could experience that night and day difference first hand between his two demo rooms (one well treated, and the other untreated).
So, whether or not the OP decides to go with Revels or Wilsons, I hope he does look into treating his space acoustically as well. I'm grateful I posted here that fateful day sometime in the last two years about my issues with getting 3D imaging in my system, as following through on the recommendations to treat my listening room have improved my audio listening experiences 100%. For that I am grateful to the people here on these fora.
I ran Salons for three years in a reference two-channel system (amps were either VAC Renaissance 140 Mk. III monos or Rowland Model 6 monos with batteries, and cabling was Kimber Select 3038 and 3033). I have friends (one of whom is Cincy_Bob) who have run either Wilsons, Salons or both, and I have logged a fair amount of hours listening to Wilsons at one of my dealers, Innovative Audio in Manhattan (everything over the last ten years but the WP 8 and Sophia 2). I ran Vienna Acoustics Mahlers in a second two-channel system for six years, which feature the Scanspeak carbon-fibre pulp midbass driver found in WattPuppys and Maxx's (although the speakers do not share the same crossovers, cabinets or tweaks).
My overall take on your question is that moving to Wilsons from Salons would be a sideways move at best. They are both very good $10-$20 speakers with different strengths and weaknesses. As you will use them primarily for home theater, you will have more ultimate headroom with Salons compared to Sofias, as Salons can handle enormous amounts of power, go deafening loud, cleanly, and produce 15 Hz. bass in many rooms, which is important for the dynamics and dinosaur stomping found in film soundtracks. As you say, the WP's are a better comparison to the Salons, and they likewise can go very, very loud cleanly, but are not full-range speakers, lacking the last half-octave of bass (while not so important for music, this could leave one wanting for film).
Regarding the ability to make speakers work in a reflective room, the Revels were built with excellent power response (reflected sound mucking things minimally) as one of their chief design goals. They reward good placement, but are relatively easy to set up as a result, assuming that speaker/room interactions as to bass performance do not excessively limit placement options. Although lacking in personal experience, my understanding is that Wilsons can be quite finnicky to set up.
Regarding midrange performance and clarity, I find the Salons to be among the very best performers I have heard, regardless of price, for their truth of timbre and transparency. A byproduct of the transparency is detail, which may be the best I have heard. I am afraid that, at least with WP 7's (and WP 6's and previous iterations of that speaker, as well as a couple of versions of the Grand Slamm, the Maxx II's and the Alexandrias), I, like Cincy_Bob, cannot get past the hot Focal tweeter which, to my ears, throws off timbre throughout the midrange and highs and makes the speaker unlistenable with symphonic music. I will defer to other posters regarding the WP 8 and the new tweeter, but it is still a Focal titanium tweeter and still a Wilson, so I remain skeptical.
The Wilsons are the much better buy if resale value is important to you, as they are the Rolex of speakers (...).
If I were putting together a new system in a large room and listened to a lot of symphonic or other dynamically challenging music, I would pair Salons with a really top-flight solid-state amp -- they are an incredible bargain given their used prices, and given their fundamental neutrality, resolution and dynamic headroom, are perfect for big symphonic music, which is what I listen to. The Wilsons are efficient, lithe and have great jump factor, which, in tandem with the tizzy tweeter, is why critics over the years have disparagingly labeled them as "disco speakers". That is an exagerrated take on them, I believe, but unless the WP 8's and Sophia 2's are a complete departure from the previous Wilson house sound, I see no reason to move to Wilsons from Salons given your expressed needs.
PS - After much wandering in the audiophile woods, I have returned to my time-aligned, phase-correct Dunlavy roots, with the Karl Schuemann-designed Ultimate Monitors, which are unparalled in my experience at coherence, accurate timbre and imaging.