Made by Sundown Electronic Engineering, Ltd. (also called The SEE Corporation) in Warrington, England, the Revolver turntable was aimed at a very specific niche of the nineteen eighties affordable audiophile turntable market. It sold through a network of small independent specialist hi-fi retailers that did not – as a rule – stock the market-leading Rega decks.
At £105 for the motor unit only, it was basically a direct rival to the £148 Planar 3, when you factored in the cost of an entry-level tonearm. If you as a dealer didn’t fit into the Linn/Naim/Rega cadre, you’d like sell Revolvers to your impoverished audiophile clients, and Roksans, Pink Triangles and maybe even Oracles to your rich ones. In other words, this turntable was in the right place at the right time, and offered a very carefully considered blend of qualities that endowed it to vinyl fans and dealers alike.
This was a British-built specialist belt drive that used cheap materials – primarily MDF – very cleverly to maximum sonic effect. A lot of people bought them, as their first ‘serious’ turntable, and/or as alternative to decks that were often raved about by the rather excitable hi-fi press of that time, but which were no better, or maybe even a bit worse. It is pretty crude, but its crudeness done in a thoughtful and intelligent way. The result is a really rather endearing little vinyl spinner than punches way above its weight; indeed you’d have to spend nearly a thousand pounds or so of today’s money to do better.
It is basically a sheet of medium density fibreboard that’s been split, and the two sections isolated from one another by two stiff foam rubber strips. The upper platform carries the motor, turntable bearing/platter and tonearm, and its rear corners have ‘rumble cancelling’ lead weights which go through clearance holes in the lower platform. This immediately puts it ahead of the Rega Planar series of decks, as they have no suspension at all, save three vibration absorbing feet. In a sense then, it attempts to give at least some of the isolation possible from a properly suspended subchassis deck, without going to the trouble of actual springs.
Like so many of the specialist British decks of its day, it is driven by a quite loosely fitting round section rubber belt – with a 1kg platter cut from MDF and topped off with a mat. The Saia motor is a pretty standard AC synchronous affair and you change speed by moving the belt on the spindle; the belt runs around the periphery of the platter. The dustcover is a decent quality plastic affair, as are the feet below. The first Revolvers were available in a choice of grey or red finishes, but soon black was introduced and it epitomised the look of specialist separates hi-fi of that period. The company suppled arm boards to suit; most decks were bought to use with a Linn Basik LVX or Mission 774LC, although it was also seen with ADC ALT-1s and indeed Revolver’s own Jelco-sourced tonearm, which was good enough to make a nice noise.
The steel shafted, brass sleeved main bearing required a fresh drop of the company-supplied oil before the new turntable could first be run, and because of its close tolerances, it took a while for the platter to descend down to correct operational height. Revolver also recommended that the deck be “run in” for a few hours before use; it’s safe to say that this will have been done on any deck you by now! The deck came supplied with what Revolver called the Starmat (for Standard Analogue Record Mat), a felt-type design made of polyester fibres with finely divided carbon particles. The idea was that being electrically conductive, it would drain off static electricity to the deck’s earth via the spindle. Because the mat was effectively full of air, it was thought this would further decouple the record from the deck, too. Finally, it was supplied with ‘the PIG’, a small rubber clamping device whose name was an acronym for Precision Instant Grip. The power switch is located at the front left of the upper platform.
In Hi-Fi Choice: Turntables and Tonearms, 1984, Martin Colloms described the deck as having “above average” sound, saying it was, “nicely balanced… bass was free of boom or emphasis… stereo depth was good and had pleasant perspective.” This is hard to disagree with; the deck isn’t in the top category of turntables, and nor would you expect it to be, but punches well above its weight and is arguably better than a similarly priced Rega Planar 3 of its day, when fitted with a decent tonearm.
There’s only one way that a belt-driven turntable made of MDF is going to sound, and that is warm and woolly. Yet the Revolver wasn’t as soft around the edges as you might expect, and was able to give quite a decent account of itself with powerful, energetic music. It certainly didn’t come over as the hi-fi equivalent of a pair of comfy old carpet slippers, not least because the two-tier plinth system didn’t store energy as much as some decks. Indeed it was actually pretty tight and lithe in the bass, with plenty of bounce to the way it handled a bassline.
Midband had a decent degree of detail, but was ever so slightly opaque all the same, giving a slightly soft-around-the-edges feel, but one nice aspect of this deck was its depth perspective. For some reason it was able to give a more three dimensional, immersive sound than anything else at its price, or even a little more. Up top, treble was sweet and smooth, if just a little curtailed.
The most obvious thing that dates it is speed stability, or lack thereof. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t sound wobbly but it doesn’t have the utterly pitch-perfect sound of digital audio we’ve all since got used to; there’s a touch of ‘fluffiness’ to its presentation that many will like and mark it up as positive, ‘analogue’ characteristic. In its defence, it was actually a little bit more solid-sounding than the Rega Planar 3 of that period, although in Rega’s defence its latest decks are way, way better in this respect.
Revolver was formed by Colin and Wyn Higham back in 1979, and for the next thirteen years the company produced a range of decks based around the Revolver concept. They offered better built ones with rosewood finishes, and the poverty-spec Rebel which was cost-cut in a variety of ways. By the end of 1990, illness forced Colin Higham to retire and he folded the company.
The trading rights were duly bought by Peter Ratchford and Ray Nugent, and in 1994 Revolver UK Ltd. duly launched a range of very agreeable sounding but slightly quirky speakers, made for them by JPW Loudspeakers. In 1998 the company was sold to an electronics company which discontinued the speakers, but this restarted in 2002 when former Heybrook man Mike Jewitt and Charles Greenlees previously of JPW, formed The Acoustic Partnership and brought the brand back – this included manufacturing the turntable. From January 2012 Graeme Holland, of Audion, took over. At this time, the Rebel 2 was selling for £995.
Overall then, this is an interesting curio of a turntable; a product that was almost ubiquitous back in the late eighties and early nineties, yet has now largely been forgotten. Perhaps it’s because the Revolver was always a stepping stone to something better; so many people used it as a foot on the hi-fi upgrade ladder; a transient tool to use until you could get a superior disc spinner. By today’s standards it’s an interesting and quirky little turnable that’s the sonic match of middle-ranking Pro-Jects, but it has something that they don’t. It’s full of character in its own minimalist eighties way, a likeable little vinyl spinner that’s plenty good enough to enjoy any decent LP collection with.