Our review of REL’s entry-level TZero III subwoofer appeared in mid 2023. We liked it, suggesting it as a good match for speakers typically found in a starter system. Rather than returning it to base afterwards we cooked up an idea with REL. Why not send the TZero III out into the real world for people to try in their own system. A walkabout; different systems, different requirements. Would the little sub add value to all of them?
It means the recipients get to play reviewer. The sub gets a bit more profile. And you get another perspective on the TZero III. Win all round.
First up was a trip to Manchester for a visit to Sam, best mate of my son Oli. A doctor by profession, Sam’s also a bit of a musical polyglot; drummer, band leader, arranger, all round passionate musician. Enough to make me jealous even before you throw in his man-cave, a converted cellar in his house where he can indulge his hobbies (witness the guitar, Warhammer figures et al!) After a couple of months with the TZero III in situ it was time to visit and see what difference it was making.
The main system comprises a Rega P1 turntable (with RB110 arm and Carbon cartridge – £299) and Marantz PM6007 amplifier (£350), both bought new. Playing into Mission 780 standmount speakers that are all but family heirlooms; they were bought circa 1990 by Sam’s dad with his first pay cheque.
CDs get a regular outing through a Denon DCD720AE player (£350 ish). Occasional streaming is courtesy of Spotify on an iMac, via a Cyrus soundKey dongle DAC. A pair of Presonus Eris 5 active speakers (£200) are used on the desktop for semi-pro duties.
For the main system everything bar the speakers sits on wood & copper pipe shelving made by Sam. It looks good, and there wasn’t much feedback through the turntable despite what some might see as a sub-optimal support for the Rega (which can be a bit fussy on placement).
The TZero III sat beside the left speaker, in the same plane. It was wired in via an RCA phono connection to keep things simple. Were it staying, REL’s preferred high-level connection would probably be used.
To switch things up Oli took along his Isoacoustics Mini-Puck speaker supports (around £80), which usually prove worthwhile. As they did here; placed between speaker and stand they tidied the sound up a little, bass slightly firmer, musicians better delineated in the soundstage. Worth the £80 cost? In my view yes, particularly as they work whichever source is in play.
Unlike the Dragonfly Cobalt that I’d brought along. Playing Tidal on my Pixel 7 phone via USB Audio Player Pro the changes gave a noticeably more controlled and airier sound. It’s just that Sam doesn’t stream much, preferring vinyl and CDs. Better to invest spare funds elsewhere.
Both changes stayed for the listening session though; they made it easier to assess the impact the REL was having.
I’d heard the system before. With a Rega driving a Marantz amplifier it’s never going to be a rich sound (observation not comment). There’s an occasional tendency to harshness too though, particularly with poor recordings, something I lay at the door of the speakers (sorry Sam!) On the plus side plenty of detail is on show, and the soundstaging is very respectable. Overall it’s a nice listen.
Better, slightly warmer, speakers would be worth trying. Sam’s emotional investment in the Missions has so far precluded this. Hence the interest in a subwoofer, would it enrich the tone of the system as well as delivering more bass?
Enter the TZero III
When I arrived for this visit the REL was in place and clearly making a difference – bass went much lower than before. It was an engaging listen, particularly as the tonality had filled out slightly, as hoped. The low end was a little loose though, slightly ill-defined. Might the small & square nature of the room (3m x 3m x 2.4m WDH) be a problem?
It seems not. Cue a little fiddling with the settings on the TZero III; a lower crossover point, slightly less gain. Bingo, everything tightened up. Clearly the subwoofer and main speakers had been overlapping, both producing bass in the 50-100Hz region (if the REL was calibrated I could be more specific). With everything dialled back slightly the Missions just sounded like they went lower, the subwoofer didn’t stand out in itself. Just how you want it.
And so to focused listening, starting with the usual low-end warhorses; pipe organ music and movie soundtracks. Indeed both together on the first track – Anna Lapwood’s transcription of the ‘Cornfield Chase’ from Interstellar. It’s a short piece that builds, the full range of the instrument slowly being revealed. The TZero III captured the power of the organ as the music swelled. Without it there was less majesty, the sound was underwhelming. Playing Hans Zimmer’s OST version was similar, the vast spaces depicted just shrank when the subwoofer was switched off.
Next up, the ‘Imperial March’ from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Oli’s stalwart track.) With the REL in circuit the tension ratcheted up, the sound more authoritative. The soundstage was also noticeably expanded. The OST to Inception, a regular bass test track here, followed the same path; more dynamic, greater vigour. Just more effective with the REL playing.
Whilst studying Sam took over the Manchester University Jazz Orchestra, so some big-band jazz was inevitable. And welcome, it figured in my youth too. The opening ‘Give It One’ on Maynard Ferguson’s M.F.Horn Two majors on some very dynamic brass, music you wouldn’t expect a subwoofer to impact. True, what bass there was remained limited. The soundstage was larger though; taller, wider. Not something you would expect but it’s a key facet of my own, bigger REL. The TZero III followed the trait, albeit not quite so strongly.
More jazz followed, in the form of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Chameleon’ from Head Hunter; a classic from 1973 that clearly still has the ability to move heads. The REL added more bounce. Fast forward 50 years for Kham Meslien’s double bass on Fantomes Futurs, which was clearly more fulsome through the REL. Richer as it should be. The opening ‘Ta Confiance’ had all three of us transfixed; Sam in particular, as the album was new to him. The subwoofer communicated the music to him better.
Then onto some hard hitting Rage Against The Machine, with ‘Guerrilla Radio’ from The Battle of Los Angeles. It was my turn for unfamiliar music. The REL gave the track more urgency, more raw power. Altogether more fun.
Where to go from here?
Sam, Oli and myself concurred. The REL was making quite a difference to the system, elevating its performance a good level or two. But what to do?
At £450 the TZero III may be the baby of the range but it’s still a fair chunk of cash to drop; in Sam’s system it would be the dearest component. Might he be better with new speakers instead?
Even putting aside his obvious affection for the Mission 780, I think not. The Missions sounded good; not quite up to modern standards but in their day they were lauded and they haven’t lost their essential qualities. And £500 on new speakers just isn’t going to plumb the depths as well as the REL. Something like Monitor Audio’s Silver 100 7G would go some way towards it. But they’re £700-800; even more of a stretch.
The second option is to do nothing. I’m getting to know Sam, that isn’t going to happen!
And then there’s the left field option of going one up the REL range for the T/5X (£699). For which money he could get the Monitor Audios. But then the T/5X would be something of an end-game subwoofer. Maybe he should optimise that component for now, upgrading the speakers later when funds permit.
All of which are under consideration, I’ll report back when decisions are made. It was a useful exercise leaving the TZero III in Sam’s system for an extended stay though. Enough time for him to get to know it well, to live with the improvements it gave, to evaluate it properly. Much the same way that reviewers assess equipment. Not something that retailers can afford to do. Consider it all part of the Hifi Starters service!
So we shall repeat the idea, with the REL’s next stop already pencilled in. Dorchester to be specific. Meaning in 6-8 weeks we should have a second home-visit to report on. Here’s hoping the REL gets as good a reception there.