6/30/2015

SVS PRIME SERIES SPEAKER SYSTEM REVIEW


We’re all looking for the sweet spot — that coveted place when every element converges for the perfect blend of form and function, value and performance, brilliance and balance. It’s a beautiful thing when it all comes together. And it seems to be exactly what SVS was aiming for when designing its Prime Series speakers.
Borrowing heavily from the company’s flagship Ultra series, SVS’ slimmer Prime series comprises a full collection of home theater speakers aimed for the audiophile on a budget. Like most speaker families, the series is heralded by its towers: 3.5-way mini-monoliths designed to carve out exceptional audio performance at a price starting as low as $1,000 a pair. The Towers are accompanied by a three-way center channel speaker, two-way bookshelves, and smaller satellite speakers (not tested here).
Since SVS’ Ultra Series was such a hit, we were anxious to find out just how well the Prime series would hold up given their size and price point. Turns out, dollar for dollar, the Prime Series offers some of the best sound on the market.

Out of the box

You can save some dough by choosing SVS’ real wood veneer option over a pricier high-gloss piano black finish ($200/pair for the towers). However, while we don’t usually advocate dropping cash for glam, in this case we’ll make an exception — the towers’ gleaming finish was wonderfully executed for our review samples. Solid MDF cabinets with a rich facade reveal quality construction inside and out.
Few speakers stack up a sound signature as diverse, yet utterly complementary as the SVS Prime towers.
Glittering 5-way binding posts rest below dual ports at the back, giving way to cloth grilles along the front that cover an array of four drivers, including dual 6.5-inch woofers, a single 4.5-inch midrange, and the Prime series’ signature 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter at the top. The speakers look mildly serene with the screens on, but they look far more ferocious with the grilles off.
Included with the Towers for our 5.1 system evaluation was a girth-y 3-way center channel speaker ($350) loaded with two active 5.25-inch woofers, a 3.5-inch midrange driver, and the 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter. Completing the set are a pair of Prime Bookshelves ($500/pair), each one boasting a 6.5-inch woofer beneath (you guessed it) a sparkling 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter. Both the Center and the Bookshelves are ported at the back, and also feature 5-way gold binding posts.

Features and design

Prime Towers
Standing three feet tall, eight-inches wide, and 11-inches deep, the Prime Towers take up just enough space to command your entertainment center without becoming imposing. The rectangular cabinets are carved into soft right angles, apart from a 45-degree slice at the topside of the front face that rides deeper into the wood as it moves upwards for style points.
As mentioned, the Towers are split by a 3.5-way crossover setup, designed to allow them to punch with authoritative rigidity in the lower bass, yet glide smoothly into the lower midrange on the way to the upper registers. For curious gearheads, the setup includes a low pass filter for the low woofer at 165Hz, while the upper woofer hands off to the midrange at 350Hz. Taking things further, SVS separates each woofer into its own “rear-ported and individually tuned enclosure,” as well as offering each a discrete crossover to prevent waveform cancellation. The design results in luscious lower egister performance, with little clutter.

The 4.5-inch driver handles the bulk of vocals and midrange instrumental frequencies, combining with the upper woofer to create a rich, powerful sound that’s balanced roundly between warmth and clarity. The midrange driver (like the woofers) is cast in an ABS-fiberglass composite basket for precision, along with a vented voice coil designed to minimize audible artifacts. The 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter takes over at 2.1kHz, and offers a FEA-optimized diffuser that borrows heavily from the Ultra series. The design is credited with helping to create SVS’ signature “airy” treble. Total frequency response for the Towers is a claimed 30Hz-25khz.
Center speaker
The three-way Prime Center speaker loads up plenty of bass thanks to its dual 5.25-inch woofers on each side, supplemented by a 3.5-inch midrange, and signature aluminum dome tweeter set in a column in the center, with the tweeter on top. The speaker stands 7.6-inches high, 18.6-inches wide, and 9.2-inches deep.

The 3.5 inch midrange driver is set in a separate enclosure within the cabinet to minimize standing waves, but the two rear-firing ports makes placing the speaker inside a TV stand or other such cabinet difficult as doing so tends over-emphasize low frequencies. This particular ported design will work better in open air on an exposed stand, or even wall-mounted. Crossovers for the drivers are set at 350Hz, and 2.1khz, and the claimed frequency resnse starts all the way down at 45Hz, ending at 25kHz.
Prime Bookshelves
Designed as either a pair of monitors for smaller stereo systems, or a hearty addition to a surround sound setup, the 2-way Prime Bookshelves draw plenty of water in the lower register and midrange thanks to the 6.5-inch polypropylene woofers, which hand-off the upper frequencies to the 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter at 2.3kHz. The speakers stand 13.2-inches high, 8-inches wide, and 9.7-inches deep, and offer single ports at the back, as well as screw-on feet. Like the Center speaker, total frequency response is a claimed 45Hz-25kHz.

Tower stereo performance

It’s no secret that the towers are the moneymakers in any premium sound system. But SVS’ Prime Towers are extraordinarily exceptional, earning them their own segment of our evaluation — they’re just that good. We spent the majority of our time with them spinning our music collection through the Peachtree Nova 220SE, which matched up with the warm, yet luminous sound of the towers like bread with butter. Tunes included a wide collection of MP3, FLAC, and WAV files played via direct USB connection to a Macbook Pro, as well as Blu-ray, DVD, and SACD discs played through a Pioneer Elite BD-88FD Blu-ray player.
The warmer low end slides silkily into an utlra-clear midrange, accented with just a touch of bite in the upper mids.
There are few speakers that stack up a sound signature as diverse, yet utterly complementary as the SVS Prime Towers — even those pushing towards double the price. The sound begins in the basement with rich, authoritative bass, then moves effortlessly into a smooth and sumptuous lower midrange. The warmer low end slides silkily into an utlra-clear midrange, with just a touch of bite in the upper mids — the kind that puts the extra slap on brass shots, and carves out the crunchy tips of electric guitar tones. The speakers then finish at the top with an airy sparkle of treble extension that floats effortlessly into the ether.
While bass is authoritative across a wide array of genres, there’s no doubt that these speakers expose the open, organic sound signature in the middle of the sound upon which SVS prides itself. There’s a lot of space and dimension here, allowing for exploration of the silence around notes, and long, lingering reverb tails. Cymbal crashes — from jazz recordings to rock tunes — thrive in that open space, exhibited in smooth, powdery puffs. Electric guitar tracks from albums like the Black Keys’ Brothers absolutely glow, sparkling like sunlight off polished chrome, while the speakers dig deep into the gritty textures as deftly as you’d expect from audiophile gear.

Bouncing back and forth between the Prime Towers and the GoldenEar Triton Five towers (which run double the cost) you can hear where that extra money goes, no doubt. The Triton Five’s ribbon tweeters launch much deeper into instrumental attacks, exposing the dimensionality of, say, a mandolin solo as if zoomed in, allowing your ears to explore each pluck of the string like a – dimensional object. The same sound is definitely flatter and less exposed with the Prime Towers. The Triton also have a bit headier bass response thanks to a loaded lower end.
Still, there’s something a bit sweeter in the Primes that, as we outlined in the intro, just hits the sweet spot for our ears. That luminous glow in the mids mixed with the ruddy warmth down below is a dangerous combination. Add in the effortlessly clear extension into the treble — and a $1,000 entry fee — and it’s really hard to beat these speakers on an even playing field.

5.1 system performance





It’d be a hell of a trick for the entire Prime system to match the brilliance of the towers, and while the bookshelves and center channel offer admirable performance, the center in particular doesn’t drop your jaw quite like the towers. The speaker is just a bit heavier in the bass and lower mids than we’d like, and, as mentioned the rear-firing ports make placement a little more challenging. We also could’ve used just a bit more precision at the attack of dialog, and some effects — like the cracking wand in the first battle between Harry Potter and Voldimort in the series’ final installment — just didn’t cut as intricately as we’d hoped. Those looking for home theater perfection might just want to consider jumping up to the SVS Ultra series for the center channel.
That being said, we’re mostly splitting hairs — there’s no doubt the Prime center offers admirable performance for its price point. What’s more, the still manages to blend well with the towers and bookshelves, offering a seamless spin around the room to enhance the most striking action scenes (delivered via our Yamaha Aventage RX-3040a receiver.) Immersion is the name of the game when it comes to surround setups, and even in a 5.1 configuration, the Prime series excels there, shifting elements to the side and back of the room in a swirl of fluent movements that seem to sway like seaweed in a current.
Part of that easy fluidity is thanks to the Prime bookshelves helming the surround duty. The speakers squeeze a lot of power in the bass and midrange from their 6.5-inch woofer, and still save some of that open air for the upper register via the aluminum tweeter. The well-struck balance between the lower and upper registers allows the sound to move from the towers to the bookshelves almost without incident, and once you’re locked into the scene at hand, all thoughts melt into a suspension of disbelief, just as they should. One of the most striking examples of congruency came from a rain scene in our Nature Blu-ray, which seemed to encompass the room with that same powdery glow we heard from cymbal hits earlier, cut with striking realism and dimensionality throughout the room.
Add a solid subwoofer – SVS has plenty, so we employed the PC-2000 for this review — and you’ll have one of the most impressive systems on the block, drafting up an expanse of engaging immersion to rival virtually any system at this price point, and several above it.

Conclusion

With a warm, yet vividly clear sound signature, elegant design, and striking value, SVS’ Prime Series Towers hit the ultimate sweet spot in the audiophile segment. Add in brilliantly balanced bookshelves, and a formidable center speaker, and the Prime Series provides some of the best value available in the home theater marketplace.

Highs


  • Ruddy, authoritative bass
  • Airy, natural sounding upper register
  • Warm, yet luminous midrange
  • Elegant, stylish design (especially with gloss finish)
  • Excellent value

Lows


  • Center channel not quite as balanced as we’d like
  • Don’t reach some of the deeper details of dialog and instrumental attack