SVS SBS-01 Speaker System Review
SCS-01 (Center) cont’d
- Stupendous Movie Performance
- Bookshelf Fronts/Surrounds blend well
- LOUD and DEEP
- Average music performance
- Disproportionate center channel
- HUGE subwoofer
SBS-01 Build Quality
They tried to deliver the speakers when I was out of town over Thanksgiving. When I got back, I had the "Tomorrow is the last chance before we send them back" notice (not a happy camper). I called UPS and arranged to pick them up the day after the last delivery attempt. On my way home from picking up my son, I saw the UPS guy driving away from my neighborhood and quickly flagged him down. It was raining but I gladly offered to pick them up from him right there and then... until I saw the size of the boxes. "Umm..." was all I could say as I contemplated how I was going to explain to my wife that I let my little one walk home in the rain just so I could get the speakers home one day sooner. Luckily, the driver must have caught what I was thinking because he offered to turn around and deliver them for me. Whew! Another potential "grounds for divorce" argument avoided.
After two delivery attempts, the boxes were pretty thrashed, but luckily everything was really well packed. The subwoofer was double boxed and the speakers were completely encased in Styrofoam. SVS was also kind enough to supply me with a couple of stands (the same as the ones displayed on the website with the speakers). This box had taken a severe beating as well, but once again nothing was really damaged.
Opening the subwoofer, I found it to be internally braced across the middle and corners and the box was lined with fiberglass insulation. The port was flared at both sides and extended over a foot into the enclosure. If you shine a light down the port, you can see the back of the amp. The sub is constructed out of 1" MDF at the front and 3/4" everywhere else with rounded corners. The fronts/surrounds are a sealed design constructed out of 15mm (close to 5/8") MDF and also possessing rounded corners. The woofers have a glued down trim ring giving the front a very clean look. Inside, the enclosure was filled with polyfill and seemed to be very well put together. Personally, I was surprised at the weight of the surrounds as they were heavier than I expected. The center was similar except for an extra woofer making it almost twice the size of the surrounds. The grills were all very sturdy and attached via chrome posts.
The subwoofer was equipped with six "compliant floor isolation points" aka - plastic spikes. They looked to be suitable for either short pile carpet or hardwood floors (they weren't sharp). In my longer pile carpet they just sank in. They are removable and threaded such that they can be replaced with more traditional metal spikes if one desired. The provided stands were black and easily assembled. They too were equipped with plastic spikes (also not sharp but much more tapered and longer). I imagine that they would have worked effectively if I could have installed them. I could fit none of the spikes (they were not threaded, simply push in) into the provided holes. The bases were large enough that they were plenty sturdy and I had no fear of them tipping over (even with a 2.5 year old running rampant). There was an installable plastic masking system to "hide" the wires but a hole in the front suggested that you not use brightly colored speaker wire. When I first assembled the stands I was sure they were too tall but even in a reclined position, they brought the tweeter to the proper ear height.
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.
SBS-01 Performance and Conclusion
Honestly kids, movies are where it is at for surround sound. I love my multi-channel music but there is just not enough of it and much of what is out there is garbage. 5.1 movies are a dime a dozen and 6.1 is becoming more and more common. To say that this package performed well for movies would be a gross understatement. Simply put, this system will blow you away for a lifelike and immersive movie experience.
Much to my wife's chagrin, I've been buying movies like Robert Downey Jr. buys drugs after rehab. One of my favorites of late is Robert Rodriquez - Sin City . This movie was definitely not for everyone but I loved it. I'm a huge fan of the comic books and the creator Frank Miller and was thrilled to see how well realized the books were portrayed on the screen. Every gunshot, every car crash, every fist fight was recreated in stunning detail by the SBS-01 system. Personally, the soft-domed tweeters really shined here as I found them to be less harsh and more suited for the range of volumes typical of movies. I found the sound to be very lifelike and not at all fatiguing.
My second (of many) movie for review was The Incredibles . This is just not a nice movie for subwoofers... it is an extremely nice movie for good subwoofers. The latter is definitely the case here. The PB10-ISD has extremely good Internet buzz and it is easy to see why. It didn't flinch at the opening explosions, the battle with the robot, the chase through the jungle (my favorite), or the final battle. It took everything I threw at it and didn't even hiccup. The fact that this is a $400 subwoofer absolutely blows my mind. The performance is completely unreal. I noticed no port chuffing or strain from the sub. It blended well with dialogue and absolutely disappeared into the room.
Performance - Music
If the SBS-01 has a weak point, it is music reproduction. This weak point is akin to the dragon in the hobbit (one itty-bitty scale missing) without the instant death thing which I always thought was pretty stupid anyhow. Most people that pick up a system like this are going to be floored by the multi-channel and two-channel music reproduction this system is capable of. This will probably be unlike anything they have heard before. But, given my experience with my own and other speaker brands, a few things immediately sprang to my mind. The first thing I played on the system was Porcupine Tree's Deadwing (I probably would have listened to In Absentia first but I lent it to a friend). As I stated in the review, this DVD is extremely demanding on a subwoofer and requires a lot of very quick and tight bass notes. There was just enough hold over on the PB10-ISD that some of the sections got a bit muddy and blurred. The Blue Man Group: The Complex revealed that the same "softness" of the highs that I so enjoyed for movie recreation tended to take away some of the detail associated with the cymbal hits and guitar notes.
Conclusions and Overall Perceptions
The hardest part of this review was remembering that the 5.1 system retails for less than $900 dollars. Simply stunning. At this price point very little compares with it. For true home theaters dedicated to movies this system will far outperform anything comparable that I have experienced, including several systems that are far more expensive. The music reproduction is admirable, the sub's performance is outstanding, and the movie reproduction is mind boggling. The only real chink in the SBS-01's armor is the size of the sub. While the larger center channel will probably pass the WAF test, the sub will have a hard time doing so. But, with the proper preparation (and maybe diamonds... and with the money you save you can probably afford them), this system will have your friends alternating between drooling and saying "SVS who?" Prepare to be the envy of your friends and the bane of your neighbors.
The Score Card
The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:
Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating
Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.
Audioholics Rating Scale
- — Excellent
- — Very Good
- — Good
- — Fair
- — Poor
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