The SVS Prime series speakers have been getting a lot of buzz in the home theater world for their attractive price point, starting at $499 to $599 each as tested in a great piano black finish. But how do they stand up on their own merit for sound quality alone? On the SVS website it claims that the Prime series speakers were designed to produce "audiophile precision and cinematic dynamics" and it is obvious they share design cues from the higher end Ultra series. So how do they sound, what kind of value are they? Well, I was in luck and got a pair of them plus some time to really dig into an awesome new speaker (and potential gift idea). I came into this review hoping to get out of this speaker a serious upgrade to what most people would call a home theater system as it sits squarely in the price range of the big box offerings from Polk, Klipsch, and Def-Tech. SVS speakers are offered via the Internet direct, and so customer will be taking a slightly larger leap of faith. Of course it must be said that SVS' 45 day return policy is world class. I would also hope that these speakers deliver reasonably well in both two channel and multi-channel audio. They are also only medium efficient at 87dB/W/m, yet are coherent through the critical dialog frequency range, refined and musical throughout.
With those things in mind, value proposition was important. Many people loosely use the phrase ‘giant killer' and ‘bang for the buck', but what other offerings are these loudspeakers stacked up against. Clearly they are in a class above something like the Andrew Jones line from Pioneer (an uber value pick) so they are probably targeting some of the best Internet direct home theater/audiophile speakers out there as offered by Aperion, Golden Ear, and Axiom. SVS subwoofers have been on the market since 1998 and have an acoustic pedigree that goes almost without question, but they are newer into the speaker business. This is especially true within the two channel market. I was very interested to hear what the Prime Towers sounded like in a good quality stereo setup plus how they would perform in a 2.1 home theater system with a subwoofer added to the main front speakers.
Unboxing And Setup
Connections to the loudspeaker were Blue Jeans cables that were employed with my usual Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC and an assortment of several amplifiers. Even an old Yamaha surround sound receiver was put to use during this review. The banana connectors on the back of the speaker are of the quality to be expected at this price range and seemed a little cheap in feeling comparatively, but exactly the types of components you would expect in a $1200 set of speakers. The pair I had for testing were in the upgraded piano black finish, which was impressive as the quality of the finish on these was immaculate. There were no bubbles, warps or evidence of any distortion of the substrate mirror like polish. The cabinets gave a nice low-resonance thump when rapped on with your knuckles.
The cabinet benefits the drivers, which are mounted in three separate chambers with three separate crossover points making this speaker a true 3.5-way, the blend from the bass to the midrange is as sold, almost seamless and the bass digs very deep hitting some of the low 30 Hz notes with ease, not just the usual emphasis at 50 to 80 Hz that gives the perception of more bass. I would not say it is a true full range speaker as the drivers are working quite hard below 60 Hz to produce anything so when I used it in a home theater system I crossed them over at around 70 Hz to avoid distortion. They do well enough with bass that if you are watching a low frequency scene in a movie without a subwoofer they can give you that rumbling sensation and all of the low frequency information that is available in most movies, but not quite enough to give you some of the super low frequency rumble below say 45 Hz with any sort of amplitude. Overall, the sound is very coherent but maybe not quite as flat as I would like a speaker to be for the highest level of two channel audio, but far better than most offerings at this price point, and head over heels better than anything you could get from a big box store within $2000 of its price point.
As a two channel speaker, the SVS Prime Towers really exceeded my expectation, as they are by no means resolving or analytical through the upper and mid-range. Instead, they are very musical and enjoyable. The tweeter is one of the better sounding aluminum domes I have heard. If you had the grills on you would swear it was a silk soft dome tweeter. It manages to hold on to that wonderful musicality that some low priced metal domes lack. Overall, the SVS Prime Towers have a sound down to about 150 Hz reminiscent of Danny Richie's designs (AV123, GR Research, and Onix). The point being musicality above all else so they are endlessly easy to listen to. Below 150 Hz is where the parts choices and some of the compromises in footprint of the speaker become evident. Although not terrible by any means, the bass below 150 to 200 Hz is somewhat bloaty with more distortion than I would like. This probably due to some padding in the crossover network and cabinet porting to get the 6.5" drivers to deliver bass down to 30 Hz. Even though the mid-bass, midrange, and treble are exceptional enjoyable and musical, the bass is just sort of "there"; present without being particularly tactile or adding additional layers to music.
With drum and bass, dubstep, etc, this sort of lets you down as a lot of the fun effects are in that range of punchy 70 to 120 Hz region. With acoustic recordings, this is where some of the lower strings on the guitar and bass will resonate. It can be a bit off-putting, but overall the sound is phenomenal compared to other speakers within its price range. I wish loudspeaker manufacturers, and probably more importantly consumers, would allow manufacturers in this price range to deliver a narrower bandwidth speaker which did everything within that frequency response very well. Subwoofers that can handle the 40 to 120 Hz range, very capably, are not very expensive nowadays. However, due to the complexity of integration as well as the additional challenges in integration, some audio enthusiasts are understandably discouraged from going the 2.1 (two mains and one subwoofer) route.
Beyond just a flat frequency response, a two channel system also has to deliver sufficiently low distortion and coherency to produce a great stereo image. The SVS prime does a great job at conveying space in a recording of instruments that have space around them. These instruments can be heard placed within the sound stage; with the sound stage having a more than expected depth for a floorstanding speaker in this price range. It seems the engineers at SVS took a lot of measurements on the Prime Towers and delivered a very low distortion final product within the critical pass band that really faithfully reproduces a good recording while also having the musicality to make anything you play on them listenable. Some of the rock recordings I normally don't get to listen to on some high-end ultra-resolving speakers were listenable, and even enjoyable, on the SVS Prime towers! For more about the design check out SVS featured interview with lead engineer Smith Freeman about the design of Prime, you can check it out here to learn what exactly it took to build a world class loudspeaker.