REL HT1205 MkII Cannon subwoofer review: ‘a bargain for lower-cost AV install projects’

Compact, powerful, affordable and easy to install, is REL’s new HT1205 MkII Cannon the subwoofer to fire into your budget AV instals? Richard Stevenson lights the fuse…

REL’s long-standing reputation for subwoofers was born from the late Richard Edward Lord’s desire to fill in the bottom octave of music – exploring depths where few full-range speakers had gone before: high-level subwoofer inputs hooked into the stereo amp terminals, relatively small and subtle drivers and complex, large-volume cabinets were designed to ensure the music bass was tuneful and articulate.

While the brand has done very well offering subwoofers to the home cinema market over the years and effectively designed models that work in both camps, the designs have always retained the music-first DNA, right down to the high-level inputs. Until that is, the HT (Home Theatre) series came along: stripped down LIFE-focused machines with attractive price points, black-only finish and forgoing the high-level input. They even gained distinctly cinema-esque names like ‘Predator’ and ‘The Hammer’. With some irony, they sounded damn fine with music too.

Fast forward a couple of years, and we have here the first of the HT second-generation models, the middle-of-the-range HT1205 MkII. The 12 represents the 12in(300mm) custom REL CarbonGlas driver, and the 05 bit indicates the half-kilowatt class D amplifier within. It also gets an all-action pseudonym: The Cannon.

For budget home cinema instals, it ticks all the key boxes, being relatively compact at a roughly cubic 41cm x 39cm x 44cm, finished in black, and with a sealed and braced box design. The forward-facing driver makes integration at the front of the room and/or back to the wall very easy. The line-grained composite around the sides gives way to a gloss black top plate, giving the design a classy look, if not ideal for screen reflections in some positions. The feet are very nicely crafted in a brushed metal finish, with REL logos on the front, albeit incapable of being ‘stacked’ like the top-spec HT1508 MkII model.

The outsourced amplifier is a MOSFET design Class D rated nearer 800W, so it is simply cruising along at the 500W stated, with plenty of headroom. The onboard filter network and crossovers remain in the analogue domain, including analogue subsonic filters to minimise infra-noise from soundtracks that dip well below the resonant point of the driver.

Connectivity is stereo RCA line level or LFE inputs with daisy-chain RCA outputs, and the controls are limited to gain, crossover, 0/180 degree phase and auto power on switch. 

That covers all the essential ingredients for a basic cinema subwoofer cake, with the icing being the price. Currently retailing at £699.00 (down from £849 for a while) makes The Cannon a material bargain for lower-cost AV install projects.

Connection and setup are as easy as it gets, not least of which is that, at under 20kg, you can wiggle the HT1205 MkII around the room to find the sweet spot without risking several vertebrae. It is compatible with REL’s wireless HT Air system, so it doesn’t matter if your sweet spot is far from the AVR. That said, being a sealed design with the forward driver, it wasn’t that critical of room position. I ended up with the unit at the front of the room, back to the wall beneath the screen, just off-centre. With a quick flick of the phase switch, a tweak of the gain and letting the AVR do the legwork with the LFE crossover, the Cannon is ready to fire at will.

And fire it does. The HT1205 MkII is the sort of subwoofer that cuts straight to the chase scene, delivering punchy, aggressive LFE with minimal bloat and overhang. The car chase and the bomb explosion in The Batman give the REL a thorough workout, and even at the limit of its not-insignificant SPL volume abilities, it remains supremely well-composed and enjoyable. With the sofa shaking with big LFE thumps, you must remember that all this performance is being delivered by a subwoofer comfortably under £1,000, even at its full RRP.

Switch to music and, like its predecessors, this MkII’ Home Theater’ (spelt incorrectly as REL is now American-owned) sub is remarkably articulate with stereo thanks in no small way to its super-tight bass control across the low-frequency spectrum. It thumps out rap

and rock with the best of them and does an excellent job of filling out the lower registers with gentler content.

Of course, some subs go deeper than its claimed 22Hz at -6dB, and louder than its 12in driver, 70-litre enclosure and 500W amp will allow physically, but none at anything like the REL’s appealing price. In my installation, the 22 Hz @ -6db figure would be a little ambitious, but given the bulk of LFE content is in the 30-80 Hz region, that will not make a hill of beans difference at this installation level.

The great value opens further opportunities to up-sell the customer and upscale the installation. One could easily create an impressive front sub ‘array’ using the daisy-chain facility for less than the cost of a single, premium, larger driver/larger cabinet design from other manufacturers. 

Four or six HT1205 MkIIs along the front wall beneath the screen, naked or concealed with fabric-over-frame like commercial cinemas, would deliver a very ‘pro’ cinema cosmetic. Given this model’s pseudonym, we could call this setup a battery.

It could deliver stupendous LFE output in a more discreet format and at a lower cost than one premium, fully-featured 15-inch sub from other brands. Sprinkle in some compensation LF EQ from, say, Dirac Live or Audyssey MultEQ-X on the AVR, and you could easily trim back the prodigious output above 25-30Hz to reveal greater depth below. If we can convince REL to loan us another five units… we will keep you posted on the results.

REL’s HT series was a great success, and the theme continues into the MkII incarnation with aplomb. As the middle unit in this discrete, compact, frill-free and well-put-together line-up of subwoofers, the HT1205 MkII arguably sits at the sweet spot for sheer value too. With the current 20% discount only running for the summer, it might be time to charge up your REL batteries now.

No more articles