SBS-01 Fit and Finish and Sound Quality
Honestly, I don't know how I feel about the aesthetics of these speakers. Let me explain why. They come in any color you want - as long as it's black. Some claim that black is best because it will blend into any decor. OK, I'll give you that. But... who are these speakers marketed too? The small size of the bookshelves suggests that they are looking to please the more Feng Shui among us (read: wife). The larger (nearly twice as large as the surrounds) center is certain to raise an eyebrow while the size of the sub (just as big as the EP500 which I consider to be HUGE) may provoke paroxysms (and not the good kind). I've asked various guests their opinions of the looks of the speakers and have received varying answers. My suggestion: Know what you are getting yourself into. If the "black box" look is what you like, you'll be fine. The center is definitely larger than you'll expect and you may want to prep your wife well in advance about the sub (you'll both still be shocked). Proper placement and some advanced planning should help a great deal.
Mounting options were numerous. All speakers (with the obvious exception of the sub) had threaded holes and keyholes in the back for wall mounting that the center had threaded holes on the bottom as well. The center had a provided stand that raised the speaker a couple of inches but allowed for vertical tilt. The stand was in two parts. The base was simply flat with a concave piece cut out of the center. The speaker sits on a piece of wood with a flat side and a convex side. The convex side fits in the concave cut out which allows the speaker to be tilted a few degrees up or down. The convex piece is lined with a sort of velvety material which provides enough friction so that once positioned, the speaker would be unlikely to move (depending on how loud you pump that sub I suppose). Let's just say it didn't move on me - your results may vary. While this is not the most high-tech audiophile solution I've ever seen, I felt it was a really nice touch and shows the consumer the level of commitment SVS has to the surround experience. More often than not, in my experience, the center channel is the more horribly misplaced speaker in a system. Fronts are floorstanders or on stands, surrounds are on stands or wall mounted, but the center is tucked away in the entertainment center or on top of the TV. This encourages the user to point the speaker directly at the listening position, something that users at this price point may not otherwise think to do.
Loudspeaker Placement and Set up
After waiting the Audioholics suggested break-in period of approximately 5 seconds, I got right to the testing. All the speakers were wired from my Denon 3805 with the crossover set at 80Hz (factory suggested). Personally, I found this to be a good setting as any higher and the sub could be localized in the room and any lower I felt the mids were thinned out. The sweet spot was small but not vise-like. I found a fairly severe toe-in to be the best for the sound stage (just over each shoulder at the prime listening position).
I used the test tones from the Denon AVR-3805 to set the speaker levels. The center channel was between 5 and 7 dB lower than the mains (fairly similar distance from the main listening position). According to the specs, it should have been only 2 dB difference but in my room and setup it was apparently more. It is my contention that this center will end up doing double duty in one of the other speaker systems that SVS lists as "coming soon" on their website. As I previously mentioned, the provided stand allows you to adjust the angle, making targeting the prime listening position from above or below your display a breeze.
I set up the speakers in a traditional 5.1 arrangement except that I had the sub in my normal (and believe me) optimal location - midway on the side wall. I have moved my reference sub (all 70+lbs of it) more times than I can count and this is the only (feasible) location in my room for a sub that will not excite the room modes to the point of making a mess of the frequency response. I had to play with the phase a bit but eventually I got a fairly smooth response. I found the sub to be an exceptional performer justifying all the faith the SVS-ites have in their cult... ah... speaker manufacturer. I literally, couldn't believe that this was a $400 sub. My biggest problem in this review was that the size of the sub, being so similar to the EP500, tricked my mind into making a direct comparison. Comparing a $400 sub to a $1200 sub is not exactly fair, but the SVS still held its own! Impressive!
Music and Movies are completely different animals making different demands on loudspeakers. First I'll deal with my overall impressions which cover both worlds and then I'll get into the specifics with each. My Axioms are known to be a tad bright. Personally, I think of them as detailed but now that I've experienced the SVS speakers with their soft-dome tweeters, I'm starting to see where other people are coming from. To me, this is a personal preference more than a "one is better" thing. The soft-dome tweeters articulated all the sounds I was used to, things just weren't as crisp as I generally experience.
The impact from the speakers was wonderfully full bodied and robust. There was never a doubt that these speakers could handle much more than I was throwing at them. To prove it, I shoved the wife and child out of the house for a few hours while I tortured the speakers, my ears, and the neighbors early one Sunday morning. Needless to say, I have little doubt that my room would break before the speakers would give out. I also feel confident that they will easily fill a medium sized room and perhaps even larger. I know that the sub and center will hold out, I'm not sure about the surrounds. The only distortion I experienced was some attenuation of the highs though that is to be expected at such ridiculous volumes.
One of the nice things about a speaker system that is composed mainly of the same speaker is that they mesh well. Thus the soundstage was well unified. I found that the rear and side effects were slightly more detailed than the front without the fairly severe toe in that I used. This created a small, but convincing sweet spot. Out of this spot, though, and the front stage tended to get a bit confused while the back and side effects maintained their integrity.