Review: REL Acoustics Britannia B-1 Subwoofer

Category: Speakers

I rarely write reviews if I don’t think they will be much needed. I have noticed a great chasm in the lack of info on the REL Britannia series subwoofers so I thought I should write one in this case. Before I begin, please note that I am the one who posted the ‘Velodyne – Incredible’ posts (about the DD series) when not much was out about those.

Anyway, I had a Velodyne DD-12 some time ago but lived in a townhouse whereat my neighbor complained about the noise, so I have not had one since. But those are wonderful subs, and their ability to control the room (which for most of us is the problem!) is the part that is incredible. From the time I had the Velodyne until the time I had the REL B-1 is about 2 years. I should also mention that I have owned and enjoyed a REL Storm III in the past (before the Velodyne) and in a different house. I should also mention that my passion is organ music. And I am an organist who has played organs throughout the country and abroad.

Some more background. The REL ‘ST’ Series (strata – storm – stadium – stentor - studio) really are excellent. For many years (see all the posts) as the ST series went through its mark II, III, etc variations, audiophiles continued to tout them as the most “musical” subs or the ones that were fast enough to keep up with electrostatic speakers. And this is the truth. Really great stuff. Through these 10-15 years or so the line went through a great following/loyalty. I was one of them. The Storm III I had gave life to music, adding the bass depth I needed, but even more importantly the spacial cues and “size of venue” that REL owners love.

So after a few years of not owning a sub, and looking for a new one, I saw the Britannia series from REL (and noticed the old ‘ST’ series was gone (retail) in the US, and highly competitive on the used market). I was torn between the Velodynes, which had such accuracy, and the RELs, which loaded the room so well (if you don’t know what I mean by that, get a REL. Generally, subs like Velodyne and others ‘shoot’ the bass at you like a dynamic (cone) loudspeaker, whereas REL makes the air in the room “loaded,” or pulsate with the music – a very realistic effect that makes the music sound more real). Both can be excellent, and this review is ultimately not about Velodyne vs. REL.

So my problem was that I had experience (very positive) with the ‘ST’ series, which were gone, and thought that the new Britannia series was some kind of attempt by REL to appeal to the new U.S. HT market; they were forward firing, whereas the ‘ST’ series was down firing, and bigger (all the old REL ‘ST’ Series were 10 inch drivers, but the B-1 has a 12 inch). What was this new Britannia series and why did they get rid of the ‘ST’ series ?!

I don’t know. All I can say is that (and this is why I am writing this review – because I assume many of you are asking the same questions I did ) the B-1 is the next generation of the ST – not a compromise - Forget that it is forward firing. It loads the room like the Storm (but with much, much more power) and is absolutely incredible – like the ‘ST’ series are. It gives all the spacial cues and the incredible extension (13 Hz!). The controls are improved over the ‘ST’ series. BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY (and again why I am writing this review – and the main reason I bought the REL over a Velodyne) is that you can simultaneously connect the REL B-series into a 2 channel (via their famous neutrick connection from your amp) configuration AND a .1 channel. REL says they are the only sub to be able to do this. It’s great, because you can listen to your beloved CD’s with the classic REL sound and then watch a movie without touching a thing. But even if you just have 2 channel, the B-series gives nothing up to the old ST series (and in fact adds more power/FR per dollar).

Again, the reason I wrote this review is that I think Sumiko has done a poor job (other than putting nice pics in the magazines of the B-series) promoting the new line. They should have advertised its comparison to the old ST series knowing their audience (and it’s betterment of the same) while also touting its dual nature of music and HT. It is worth the money, let me tell you. Good stuff….

That said, I know a formal review says more about specs, sound, and comparisons. My main point here was to communicate to fellow REL audiophile fans that the B series have not lost anything (as I feared) and do in fact improve on the old. For a more detailed description on the sound, read any reviews on the Storm, Stadium, or bigger REL’s and the B-1 will match. And I already spoke about the increased flexibility and added frequency response (13 Hz). Cabinetry is, as usual, beautiful… The B-1 weighs 100 lbs. Anything else? OK – I do think the B-3 is a great bargain, though I have not heard it. Strata fans, this is your answer…

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Nice review, Jimmy. Which Tyler speakers are you using, and where do you set your sub crossover point?

Do you feel the REL or the Velodyne has an advantage over the other at higher XO points, say at 100Hz or so?

Thanks for posting that fine review. I still own a Rel Storm 3. Great unit.
Footnote: I listen to some organ music, but have almost zero knowledge and sophistication about the genre. Almost all of what I've listened to has been something by Bach, starting, of course, with Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. It must be fun and exhilarating to be be able to command a powerful organ as you do. For me, that's just a pipe dream.
Very nice balanced review. I read that REL's direction under Sumiko is for future products to include digital software-based EQ & xover features similar to the Velodyne DD series. Also, Velodyne has recently unbundled its microphone, spectrum analyzer, digital xover and other software-based features into a standalone box that can be used with any manufacturer's sub. So these sub manufacturers appear to be converging.

I am currently using a Velodyne DD-15 in a 2CH system that I plan to combine with my HT system. The Velodyne DD is reasonably well suited for dual use. This can be done with the HT processor's front L/R outputs as inputs to the 2CH system's preamp during HT play. With the processor set full-range for front L/R, there is no need to use the .1 output to the sub. The DD series allows customizable presets with varying xover, EQ, phase, sub volume level, etc.. One can switch these around as necessary for varying programs such as CDP, TT, King Kong, or dinosaurs.

Have fun, Dave
Thanks for the writeup. It's definitely reassuring. I live in Belgium and own a Stampede. It's the smallest of the ST series, and one of three of the fifth generation ST's (the last ones designed by Richard Lord) - one of the biggest differences from the older ones being that it has an IR remote control for configuring all settings.

I spoke to someone at Sumiko shortly after their buyout. They basically said that they didn't feel that the added cost of the remote control and its related logic were worthwhile. That was part of why they discontinued the ST series and introduced the B series. I kind of suspect they felt that the 100, 150, and 200 watt amps of the ST 5's might not be impressive enough to sell in the US HT market.

Anyway, I am extremely pleased with my Stampede. It melds seamlessly with my Mangepan MMC's, and the combination is really outstanding. It's mainly used as a stereo hi-fi setup, but still works pretty nicely for the occaisional DVD as well.

As far as I can tell, the ST series is still available over here, although I've been told that the ST 5's will never be introduced in the US. If I bring my Stampede to the US, I guess I'll either have to wire for 230V or use a transformer. I do like it enough, though, that I think I may pick up it's bigger brother, the Storm V, while it's still available. My local dealer did mention something about getting incentives from his distributor to move the ST stuff.....
Nice review, especcially in regards to the 2-channel.
I am not so convinced by this review on the ST series. I have read quite a few reviews from dissapointed buyers, saying the exact opposite. Nothing like as good as the older range, depth and slam not up to previous audiophile standards.

My view, don't believe the hype. Listen before you buy, and try it at home before handing over the cash. I preferred the older understated units, real wood, down firing. No wonder they fetch good money second hand. If the newer range is better, why ain't folk out there queing up?
"If the newer range is better, why ain't folk out there queing up?"

Could be a lot of reasons. Better marketing from Velodyne and JL and others?

I have heard the B1 more than once, and it is completely awesome. The reviewer is right, they are similar to the old ST series (incredibly tight and fast), but even more dynamic.

I had Velodyne DD15, and I sold it because it never sounded as fast and tight as a REL (ST series or B series).

I'll look into a B3 at some point most likely.
One distinguishing feature of the older REL subs is that they generally all have low group delay (sealed box). This is at the expense of higher ouput capability but is probably responsible for the "musical" sound. (the 12 db/octave roll off actually works well in a room - so there is a lot going for a sealed box and not just "tight" bass)

I have not heard the B-1 but this design is ported - so it may be more competitive with the usual fare in terms of SPL output.

Thanks for the review.
I have been looking to add another (I already have one) to my system to enable me to move the first one from the corner to next to my main speaker(s)or possibly used as speaker stands under them. Those whose qualified opinion I respect say this adds an additional cohesiveness by minimising the time delay in the complex bass info in all instruments & voices as well as deep pipes & synth.

I have used the B1 primarily with speakers that are ported also which may contribute to the success in matching the B1's bottom end to the main speakers (Harbeth SHL5's, Coincident Super Eclise III & Reimer Grand Teton's) . I have also heard that sealed speakers may mate better to sealed subs. As in all things dependent on other factors YMMV.
Enjoy your music!
Jimmy2615: I also love organ music and tuned a REL Storm to very realistic effect. I wonder if you heard the JL Audio f113, I would be most interested in an organist view on that subwoofer since all the magazines are so ecstatic about it.

Thanks for the great review, your assessment has a lot of weight for me because you are an organist.

sorry, just saw your post - no, I have not heard the JL subs. I'm sure they would be great also from what I have read anyway. Some have said for pipe organ music tube/cylinder subs (like the older Hsu's and SVS) are great. But I have not heard those either. I realize that does not help answer your question much... I think overall most well made subs are going to be enjoyable for music that outputs low-freq pitches. At that point perhaps a lot comes down to taste or speakers the sub is mated with.