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RBH Sound SVTR Tower Reference Speaker Review

by November 30, 2018
RBH SVTR Reference Tower Speaker System

RBH SVTR Reference Tower Speaker System

  • Product Name: SVTR Tower Reference Speaker
  • Manufacturer: RBH Sound
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: November 30, 2018 01:00
  • MSRP: $ 20,000/pair
  • Buy Now
Bass Unlike Any Other Tower Speaker? RBH Sound SVTR-FRS Review
  • Frequency response: 20Hz-35kHz (±3dB)
  • Sensitivity: 93dB (2.83V @ 1 Meter)
  • Recommended Power: 100-1000 Watts
  • Woofers: 2 x 12-inch (305mm) Reference Aluminum Subwoofers
  • Midrange: 3 x 8-inch (203mm) Aluminum
  • Tweeter: 1 x 4.72-inch by 1-inch (120mm x 25mm) Air Motion Transformer
  • Crossover Frequencies: 100Hz, 2000Hz
  • Crossover slopes: 6dB/Octave, 18dB/Octave
  • Impedance: 4 ohms
  • Cabinet/Color: Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)/Standard High-gloss Black and High-gloss South American Rosewood (SAR)
  • Dimensions: 15-3/16" W x 62" H x 22-3/16" D (386mm W x 1575mm H x 564mm D)
  • Weight: 230-pounds
  • Warranty: 5 years for cabinet and woofers

Pros

  • Mind-blowing, authoritative, anvil-like bass that will crush the performance of many stand-alone subwoofers
  • A true reference speaker for the demanding audiophile and cinemaphile
  • Big, sweeping dynamics
  • Uncanny ability to crate a tight image like a reference monitor speaker
  • A la carte configuration options
  • Impeccable build quality and finish
  • Hardwood floor spikes make moving and positioning the massive towers a breeze
  • An audiophile price/performance value

Cons

  • Massive physical footprint that won't pass some WAF households
  • Heavy, heavy, heavy
  • Requires at least two strong, able-bodied people to set up
  • No magnetic grilles or single grille option

 

RBH SVTR Tower Reference Speaker Introduction

How many enthusiasts have dreamt about taking a reference-grade monitor speaker and slapping it on a reference-grade subwoofer to create the ultimate tower speaker? Consider that dream come true. RBH's awe-inspiring SVTR Tower Speaker is here.

The SVTR Tower Speaker is part of RBH's Signature SV Reference Series. The complete SVTR Tower Speaker combines RBH's massive SV-831R monitor and anvil-like SV-1212NR subwoofer into a monolithic speaker standing 61.5-inches tall by 14.5-inches wide by 21-inches deep (sans grilles).  That’s taller than some kids and many adults. A rear-mounted steel plate physically bolts the two speakers together. Silicone pads placed between the surfaces prevent marring. This awe-inspiring, finished system could take on the Doof Wagon from Mad Max: Fury Road, sans flame thrower guitarist of course.

Mad Max Fury Road Doof Warrior

The RBH Reference Tower Speaker's performance could take on the Doof Wagon from Mad Max: Fury Road

Design and Build

The massive SVTR Tower Reference is a three-way, passive speaker system. The Tower Reference is made up of RBH’s SV-831R monitor and SV-1212NR subwoofer (N stands for non-powered and R for reference), which are sold as a package. The Tower Reference has a passive crossover network built in between the SV-831R monitor and the SV-1212NR subwoofer.

All crossover filters for the mid and tweeter are located in the SV-831 cabinet. Highpass for the midwoofer is on the terminal cup. Low-pass for midwoofer and highpass for the tweeter are on a PCB in the enclosure behind the middle midwoofer. Lowpass for the woofers is located in the Subwoofer enclosure on the bottom of the cabinet. This passive design is specifically engineered for external amplification and comes with a retail price of $20,000/pair.

Build quality of the Signature Reference Tower is simply impeccable. You’d expect that in a $10,999 speaker system. The baffle is 38mm thick; the rest of the cabinet, 24mm.

My review pair's beautiful, mirror-like, piano black finish is the result of a primer coat and eight coats of black polyester paint. Eight coats of clear polyester grace the South American Rosewood finish.  I did not have the opportunity to see the rosewood finish first-hand; but the rosewood finish looked gorgeous in the photos representatives from RBH showed me. And James Larson couldn’t stop gushing over the rosewood finish in his review of the RBH Signature SV-61R bookshelf speakers.

The stated frequency response for a pair of the Reference Tower system is 20Hz-35kHz. As you'll see below, the SVTR's bottom end frequency response is deeper than the subwoofer's rating. That's not a typo.  A representative from RBH told me that the series inductor in the woofer low pass filter affects the vent tuning frequency of the subwoofer. With the inductor in place, the tuning frequency is shifted down a few Hz compared to the subwoofer without the inductor, This accounts for the lower frequency response specification of the SVTR. Speaking of which, let's take a deeper dive into the Signature Reference Tower’s monitor and subwoofer modules.

RBH Tower Speaker mirror piano black finish

Did you do a double-take? That's not a shadow. Can you tell where the RBH speaker begins and ends?

The piano black mirrored finish is gorgeous. 

SV-831 Monitor Speaker

The SV-831R monitor's frequency response is 50Hz-35kHz (±3dB). The monitor's most distinctive feature is the dispersion-averaging alignment of RBH's three proprietary 8-inch aluminum cones flanking the 4.72-inch x 1-inch AMT ribbon tweeter.  For many, the driver array will be the speaker’s most distinctive feature. Most audiophiles are accustomed to seeing drivers in a vertical array.

Shane Rich, RBH's Technical Director, told me that on the SV-831R, the top and bottom midrange drivers are positioned to be closer to the tweeter. They would be further away in a vertical array. Shane says the closer positioning allows for better integration/smoother frequency response in the crossover region. The tweeter's frequency not only allows for a seamless crossover to the 8-inch aluminum diaphragms, but it also means that the lobing pattern caused by three separate dome voice coils in the previous generation T1 are now changed to a single line source tweeter.

I asked Shane about the interference effects of the three 8-inch woofers covering the same frequency range. Shane told me:

Because the midwoofers are all next to each other in what is essentially a truncated line array, the response is very uniform within the height of the array.  The frequency response with the 3 drivers is actually more linear vertically off-axis than it would be if there were only 2 midwoofers and a tweeter in a traditional MTM configuration.  Why? Because there is no physical separation between the drivers at midrange frequencies through the length of the array like there is in a MTM alignment.  The middle midwoofer in effect reduces the size of the frequency response dip in the region where you typically see a null in the response at higher midrange frequencies with an MTM configuration.   The fact that the top and bottom midwoofer are “offset” horizontally from the center midwoofer (dispersion averaging alignment) also helps minimize lobing.

The tweeter and midrange drivers are crossed over at 2000Hz with an 18dB/octave crossover slope between the mid-woofer and tweeter. The SV-831R's nominal impedance is rated at 4 ohms. Even at 4 ohms, the speaker is relatively efficient with a sensitivity of 93dB. The crossover point is at 100Hz between the subwoofer (SV-1212NR) and mid-woofer on the SV-831R.

SV-1212NR Reference Signature Subwoofer

Turning to the SV-1212NR Reference Signature subwoofer module, you'll find two of RBH's proprietary 12-inch aluminum cone woofers. You can only truly appreciate the SB1212NR's intimidating presence in person. The woofers sit in a massive 15-3/16-inch wide by 33-inch tall by 22-1/4-inch deep cabinet tipping the scales at 107-pounds!

The SV-1212NR is a passive subwoofer design. The SV1212NR (like all the SV-1212 models) has a 6-inch diameter tuned vent that runs nearly the internal height of the cabinet. By itself, the sub has a rated frequency response of 22Hz-180Hz (±3dB). The SV-1212NR is easy to drive, boasting a sensitivity of 92dB. If you're wondering how the SV-831R and SV-1212NR's integrate, there is a crossover slope of 6dB/octave between the 12-inch subwoofer drivers and mid-woofer. This crossover works because the sensitivity of the two units are so close.

The subwoofer and monitor modules each have two pairs of binding post for a total of four per speaker. You’ll need a jumper speaker cable between the two units to drive them with a single amplifier. The Kimber Cable jumper cable Shane brought was in a shotgun configuration with a single set of spades on one end and two pairs of spades on the other. Shane connected the single set of spades to the sub’s top pair of binding posts. We supplied a Benchmark AHB2 power amplifier through the bottom set of the sub’s binding posts.

Detail view of the RBH SV-1212NR sub

Detail view of the RBH SV-1212NR subwoofer.

Of course, you could bi-amp the two modules or even quad-amp them with multiple channels of amplification per speaker. In case you’re unfamiliar with the technique, bi-amping uses a dedicated amplifier for different drivers in a speaker. A speaker’s designer needs to provide you with the binding posts for bi-amping to be possible. Should you choose to bi-amp a speaker, be sure to remove the metal jumper that typically connects the binding posts on your speaker. In the specific case of the RBH Tower Reference, you can drive each aluminum woofer in the sub as well as the tweeters and mid-woofers in the monitor independently.

In a bi-amping scenario, you preferably want to use the same amplifier for all binding posts. In case you do choose different amps for the monitor and sub, make sure you can manually adjust the level output of the amps and level-match them with an SPL. Whatever you do, never attempt to use room EQ for this!

RBH sells an outboard Class-D monoblock amplifier specifically for this purpose. The amp is intended to drive the SV-1212NR and delivers 250-watts into 8 ohms or 500-watts into 4 ohms.

RBH provided me with two of the SV-1212N amplifiers in case I wanted to use them. I did unpack and rack-mount the units. I was impressed by the DSP options including the ability to apply PEQ filters. The amps are really designed for the integrator or enthusiast who is looking to fine-tune the amp's performance manually. There's no automated EQ available through the amp. Ultimately, I didn’t put them into use for this review. I used a pair of Benchmark AHB2 power amps instead.

Other Aesthetic Observations

The SVT Modular Towers come with individual speaker grilles for each module. Aesthetically speaking, the individual grilles accentuate the individual modules. The extremely keen eye might notice some oh-so-slight difference in the fabric runs between the top and bottom grilles. I wish RBH offered a single grille option for the tower. It would make a big aesthetic difference in my book!

On the downside, the grills aren't magnetic. They use traditional pegs for securing them to the speaker's baffle. Due to the difference in the peg alignment, you can't use monitor grille on the sub or vice versa.

I should note that the SVTR Tower Reference Speaker isn't the first time RBH has embraced a modular approach. The SVT is an evolutionary improvement on the T2 and T30 reference system designs.

While the SVTR Tower Reference Speaker's primary audience is the two-channel purist, you can certainly use the towers as the anchors for an ultimate reference-grade home theater setup. There is no specific center channel made for this series. You could certainly use a single SV-831R for the center and surrounds. The ultimate reference theater would perhaps have SVTR Tower Speakers all around with the center playing through a perforated screen. If I had that setup, I don't think I'd ever need to step into an IMAX theater again or dream of another home theater speaker upgrade—ever.

Measurements

A speaker this large and heavy is impractical to measure outdoors so we did our best to pull in-room measurements to give you an idea of system performance.

RBH SVTR Frequency Response

RBH SVTR Frequency Response (1.5m normalized to 1m)

The RBH SVTR tower was measured on-axis and 15 degrees horizontally off-axis for best acoustical summation at  1.5m and normalized to 1m SPL. Notice how linear the response is in the critical midrange region from 200Hz to 5 kHz. The bass follows a 4th roll-off below the 20Hz tuning.

RBH SVTR Tower SPL vs. Frequency

RBH SVTR Signature Tower speaker Listening Window

This measurement is an average in-room listening window response comprised of on-axis and +- 15 deg vertical and horizontal off-axis  taken at 1.5 meters.

RBH SVTR Tower Speaker Impedance vs. Frequency

RBH SVTR Signature Tower speaker Impedance vs. Frequency response

The SVTR system measures 4 ohms as stated by RBH. It dips down to 3.5 ohms at 20Hz, 60Hz and 2kHz so make sure you use a stout amplifier that is truly rated to deliver power into 4-ohm loads continuously. Tuning appears to be around 20Hz as indicated by the impedance saddle point.

A La Carte Configuration Options

Even though the monitor and subwoofer are sold separately, RBH only sells a single SVTR Tower Reference Speaker system. The word system is important.

There are three other a la carte configurations you can assemble, though they are not called “SVTR Tower Reference.” Those are:

  • Configuration 1: SV-831R and SV-1212N
  • Configuration 2: SV-831R and SV-1212P
  • Configuration 3: SV-831R and SV-1212PR
  • Configuration 4: SV-831R and two SV-1212NR

Here are the key differences between an SVTR Tower Reference Speaker and the a la carte configurations. If you make any a la carte configurations, there is no built-in crossover network between the SV-831R monitor and SV-1212x subwoofer and there is no steel joining plate or silicone pads included. However, you can order the steel plate, silicone pads, and necessary cabinet preparation for a la carte configurations by contacting RBH at the time of your order.

RBH SVTR Tower Speaker with dual sub modules

Here's a picture of the SV-831R with the SV-1212NR subwoofer module on the bottom and another SV-1212NR subwoofer module on top!

We did NOT test this configuration but imagine the bass would be epic.

If you opt to do things a la carte, you need to use your pre-pro to provide the crossover between the monitor and sub modules.  There’s no internal crossover network between the two speakers. You're treating them as separate monitor and sub units.

Depending on your pre-pro, you'll still be somewhere in the same crossover range of 80Hz-120Hz, but your pre-pro will likely impose a steeper crossover filter, such as 12db/octave—though some pre-pros will allow you to customize the slope of the filter.

The subwoofer model is the key differentiator between the three a la carte configurations.

  • Configuration 1 sports the SV-1212N sub, which is the non-powered, standard edition.
  • Configuration 2 features a powered version (designated with a "P") of the SV-1212 standard edition with a 500W Class-D amplifier built-in.
  • Configuration 3 has a 2400-watt amplifier built into the SV-1212 reference edition.
  • Configuration 4 (though not listed on the web site but part of my side discussions with representatives from RBH) can sport an additional SV1212NR subwoofer on both the top and bottom of the SV-831R for a total of four 12-inch subwoofer drivers!

I wish RBH had given different model numbers to the subwoofers to avoid confusion!

Even though the standard and reference subwoofers (designated with an "R") look the same on the outside with dual 12-inch drivers, the motor structure is completely different between the two.  In the Reference models, the driver has higher power handling, higher excursion from the longer voice coil, and the motor structure is bigger and deeper with better magnetic motor strength. Of course, the SVTR Tower Speaker comes with the reference version of the SV-1212.

Note: Our testing revealed the SX-1212P/R sub,  which the SV-1212NR is based off of, to be a monster in performance, achieving our Extreme Bassaholics room size rating.

RBH regular vs. reference 12-inch subwoofer driver

You can immediately see the differences in the motor structure differences between RBH's regular 12-inch subwoofer driver (left) and the reference 12-inch aluminum subwoofer driver (right). 

The SVTR tower has two of the reference drivers in the SV-1212 module.

Get out the Aquarium Sand for Tweaking

Aquarium SandAllow me a side note. On-site and during my review period, I had several back and forth conversations about the SVTR Tower Speakers and their design with RBH's Technical Director, Shane Rich. During one of our conversations, Shane told me about an ultimate “tweak” you can perform.

The back of SV-831 has an empty chamber that is separate from the chamber that houses the front-mounted drivers. By removing the screws from the speaker’s rear terminal cup you can pour approximately 100-pounds (that's not a typo) of pre-cleaned aquarium sand into the chamber to further dampen any cabinet resonances. Shane suggested using a long automotive funnel to make pouring the sand easier. The mass loading should also help the SV-1212 it sits on top of. Do the math, you're now pushing the weight of this system to over 600-pounds!

While talking about this tweak with my colleague Steve Feinstein during our multi-peer review of this review (all Audioholics reviews are double-peered), Steve recalled that in the early 1960s, Wharfedale had speakers with cabinets that could be sand filled in much the same manner (check out pages 5-6 of this 1962 manual). Most audiophiles are probably familiar with adding sand to speaker stands.

Shane told me that sand-loading the cabinet helps bring out more detail in the low midrange and midbass frequencies.  While I was tempted, I had to assume that these speakers would need to be moved out of the room. I didn't dare add any more weight!

The RBH SVTR have a massive footprint

Setup: Make Room for the Freight Truck

Now comes the obvious question: “What about shipping?” Forget wimpy shipping services. These speakers can only be delivered on a pallet, via freight. I've received several 7.x and 5.x review systems on pallets before, but nothing—and I mean nothing—prepared me for what I was in store for here. The size and weight of this system are massive: equaling the volume of a 5.x channels system and tipping the scales at 410 pounds... unboxed! 

Unfortunately, I had severely injured my knee when we began talking about the possibility of reviewing the SVTR Signature Towers. RBH flew out Daren Egan, RBH's Marketing Director, and Shane Rich, RBH's Technical Director to help me with the setup. Daren and Shane did yeoman’s work unpacking the pallet and setting up the speakers.

Be warned that setting up the SVT Tower Speaker is a two-to-three person job. And I mean able-bodied persons. Remember, the assembled speakers tip the scales at 205-pounds each. Some of you might test fate by setting up other heavy speakers or subs by yourself. You will injure yourself or damage the RBH speakers should you attempt it here!

I sat there in awe watching Daren and Shane move these massive boxes into my listening room.  Shane and Daren first set up the SV-1212NR subwoofers with the included spiked feet. In the box, you have the option for traditional spikes and spikes made for hardwood floors that have non-marring tips. I had them install the latter.

 RBH SVTR Tower speaker spike feet installation

The spiked feet are hefty. We installed the version made tor hardwood floors, that has a non-marring surface beneath the spike.

The hardwood floor spikes made it a breeze to move these 205-pound monsters easily for fine tuning. They never once marred the hardwood floor. What's more, the spikes were an almost perfect balance of ease-of-movement yet cement-like placement. I never had to worry about someone bumping into them and moving them out of place.

RBH 1212NR setup

With the SV-1212NR modules set up, it was time to unpack the SV-831R.

Once the subwoofers were in place, Daren and Shane put six large silicone discs on top of the SV-1212NR modules. There’s no mythical dampening magic in those discs. The purpose of the silicone is to give some grip and prevent scratching the gorgeous finish on the top of the SV-1212NRs.

RBH SVTR Tower Speaker Silicone discs

You place the included silicone discs between the monitor and subwoofer modules.

Take note, the SV-831R modules are not interchangeable. You need to pay attention to how you attach the SV-831R monitor on top of the SR-1212NR. There is a distinct left and right speaker. The tweeter should be facing inward with the three aluminum woofers to the outside.

RBH SVTR Tower Speaker monitor setup

Forget your inner Hulk. Setting up the SVTR Tower Speaker is a two-person job.

Next, Daren and Shane unboxed the steel joining plates and affixed the monitor to the sub with six screws. At first glance, I thought that the steel plate wouldn't have the stability to hold the two units firmly together. Boy was I wrong. I moved these speakers around countless times to fine tune placement without fearing that the top module was loose or shifting in any way.

RBH Tower Speaker jumper cable connection

With the Kimber Cable jumper connected, we connected the RBH speakers to the Benchmark AHB2 amplifiers with Kimber Cable 8TC speaker cables.

Daren and Shane’s setup methodology was clinical.  From start to finish initial setup took just over an hour.

We set up the speakers in the usual place where I have my Revel Ultima2 Salons. We confirmed their placement with a laser measure and fine-tuned the toe-in by listening to some vocal arrangements. When we were satisfied, Shane took some measurements to get a baseline for the speaker's in-room performance. It was finally time to fire up some music tracks to see how things sounded.

RBH SVTR Tower Speaker measurements at listening seat

We took some measurements at the primary listening position to get a gauge on how the speakers were interacting with the room.

Aside from a room resonance at around 45Hz that could be EQ'ed out, this is a very linear response. Notice the excellent output and extension below 30Hz.

RBH Sound SVTR Listening Tests and Conclusion

Associated equipment consisted of a Benchmark DAC3 HGC pre-amp/DAC connected to two Benchmark AHB2 power amplifiers. The AHB2 amps were set to bridged mono and used as monoblocks—one amp for each speaker. In that configuration, they deliver 380w into 8 Ohms and 460w into 6 Ohms. I did not bi-amp the Tower Signature speakers during my review period; I treated each tower as a single, passive 3-way speaker, using the SVTR’s internal crossover.

Benchmark DAC3 and AHB2

I used a Benchmark DAC3 and two Benchmark AHB2 power amplifiers configured in bridged mono to have them function at monoblock amplifiers.

My primary sources for the RBH and Benchmark setup consisted of an Oppo UDP-205 connected to my Roon media server. My Roon server served up hi-res music files and Tidal streams. The Oppo was connected to the Benchmark DAC3 HGC via S/PDIF. Towards the end of the review period, I also used my Anthem AVM 60 (sans ARC room correction) as a stereo pre-pro for watching some 4K/UltraHD Blu-ray content downmixed to stereo.

RBH SVTR and Salon2

RBH Sound SVTR System Installed (note how much larger they vs. the Revel Ultima2 Salons, which are pushed out to the sides)

Utah-based Kimber Cable (a close neighbor of Utah-based RBH) was kind enough to provide the speaker wire and interconnects for the review. The speakers were connected with a pair of 20 foot Kimber Cable 8TC with spades to the speakers and bananas to the amps. The cable jumper between the speaker modules was also an 8TC. 

Kimber Hero XLR cables connected the DAC3 and the AHB2 amps. I used single-ended Kimber Cable Hero interconnects between the UDP-205’s analog output stage and the Anthem’s analog inputs.

We're not accustomed to gushing over cables here at Audioholics. Our approach to cables rests heavily on measurements; from that perspective, the Kimber Cable 8TC is simply an outstanding cable, delivering both low inductance and low capacitance. And it’s certainly worth tipping our cap to Kimber’s outstanding build quality and aesthetics.

Listening Tests

I’ve never heard the bass drums reproduced with more visceral impact, life, and dynamics than through these RBH Towers.

I played a random selection of familiar tracks to get a feel for the SVTR Reference Towers.  With Shane and Daren still around for a few hours, I could also confirm things sounded right to them since they know the speaker intimately.

I started off with the 16-bit/44kHz version of Holly Cole’s cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” in order to gauge the system’s bass performance. The Signature Tower didn’t disappoint, rendering the bass with outstanding clarity, body, immediacy, and presence.

Next, we fired up 24-bit/192kHz version of “Imagine the Fire” from the Dark Knight Rises soundtrack. The intense slam of percussive notes and deep bass glissando literally jolted me upright in my seat. I instinctively yelled out, "Wow!" eyes wide open from the instantaneous, mind-numbing experience. “Can I quote you on that?” Daren asked. You bet.

Dark Knight Rises ALAC

The hi-res 24-bit/192kHz version of the Dark Knight Rises soundtrack, which features a dynamic range of 13db was intense.

I love the nobility and power expressed in Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” (and by extension Symphony No.3). It’s a favorite that I’ve heard played live by the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. We fired up the Minnesota Orchestra’s rendition conducted by Eiji Oue. Trumpets sparkled and brass instruments rang true. But it was the bass drums that were the star of the show. I’ve never heard the bass drums reproduced with more visceral impact, life, and dynamics than through the RBH Signature Towers. The experience was intoxicating.  The bass performance was explosive with pure pistonic performance.

All in all, we played lots of different music before Daren and Shane had to leave to catch their flight back. We reveled in female vocalists such as Adele, Natalie Merchant, Dido, Patricia Barber, and more. But we paid special attention to Utah-native Loren Allred’s “Never Enough” from the Greatest Showman soundtrack. Lush and alive. The Tower Reference speakers breathed life and energy into that track. “Ah yes,” I thought, “That’s how it’s supposed to be played.”

Aaron Copeland Fanfare for the Common Man

Bass drums from Copeland's Fanfare for the Common Man were spectacular.

I had the opportunity to settle in with the Tower Reference for over five months. What I can tell you with absolute certainty is that addictive dynamics and massive bass output of the RBH Signature speakers are probably their most formidable characteristics.

In fact, the bass output downright frightening—and that’s no hyperbole. The dual 12-inch woofers in each tower unleashed an unforgettable assault I didn’t think was possible from tower speakers. Test after test, track after track, the RBH were fearless in the face of every bone-crushing track I played.

On several occasions, I dared to play the audiophile bass torture track: Track 3 of Saint Saëns Organ Symphony from the Boston Audio Society Audiophile Test CD-1.  The track comes with a warning that reads:

“When playing this track for the first time, lower the volume as your woofers may be at risk. The bottom octave of this recording may damage vented or planar loudspeakers....This was one of the last times that the Jordan Hall organ, already showing signs of serious asthma, was heard in a public performance.”

Organ notes dip down to 16 Hz. The RBH Signature literally shook the very structure of my home. Subsonic bass reverberated with an authority that no other speaker system has previously reached.

Saint Saens Boston Audio Society CD Bass Test with Organ

Boston Audio Society Test CD-1 track 3 has one of the best audiophile bass tests with Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony.

The insert includes a warning that the track may damage your speaker's woofers.

The same was true of Lorde's “Royals” where those chest-thumping bass lines performed with absolute control and immediacy. Bass notes started and stopped on a dime. Perhaps best of all, I could discern the texture of instruments. When a speaker can convey texture it’s a whole different experience that I find more engaging and emotive.

Perhaps what struck me most during my listening sessions was how coherent the SVTR Signature Tower sounded. I've tried several subwoofers with my Revel Ultima2 Salons. In every case, the subwoofer hasn't perfectly melded with the Salon2s. For that very reason, some audiophile purists will meticulously seek out the perfect tower speaker. And so that begs the question: Does the Tower Reference sound like a separate monitor and sub. The answer is: no, it sounds like a single, coherent speaker. And perhaps that's one of the most amazing things about this setup. I never once got the impression that I was listening to two conjoined speaker units—the subwoofer never called attention to itself as a separate entity. Rather, the musical engagement was as seamless as any other speaker I've auditioned.

But these speakers aren’t just about all that bass. The SVTR Signature Tower can image as well as any fine monitor speaker. Track after track, program after program, and movie after movie, the soundstage imaging was stellar. In fact, the phantom center channel in non-music programming never once had me yearning for a dedicated center channel speaker—not an easy feat to accomplish!

RBH SVTR drivers

View looking up at the RBH SVTR Tower Speaker driver array.

Perhaps what struck me most during my listening sessions was how coherent the SVTR Signature Tower sounded.

Realistic piano notes are one of the hardest things for a speaker to deliver. And yet, the RBH SVTR Signature Tower aced that test on track after track. The opening notes of Tony Bennett's and Lady Gaga's "Lush Life" from Cheek to Cheek served as a perfect example. Piano notes had that intangible, full body and presence to them. Listening from another room, you’d almost swear there was a real piano playing. That’s the kind of intangible character the RBH’s brought to the table.

If you plan on using these speakers for both reference two-channel music and home theater, then have no fear. Home theater performance was nothing short of spectacular.

I fired up Tron Legacy on Blu-ray and down-mixed the output as LPCM so it could be played on the Benchmark DAC III. Chapter 4 is a great demo and the RBH displayed its mastery in stunning fashion. The opening features Sam Flynn falling into the Grid. The RBH unleashed the deep rippling bass in all its glory and impact as the scene begins. The RBH didn’t miss a beat with the Recognizer’s thrusters as they land to pickup Sam Flynn. Dialog was superbly rendered: Crisp, clean and immediately intelligible—though almost too etched at some points. There was nothing bombastic or loose at any point in the RBH’s sonic reproduction.

The opening of Live, Die, Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt features low frequency bass that goes into the subsonic range down to about 16Hz. It's a home theater demo to be sure, but it can bring some systems to their knees. Not the SVTR towers. The subsonic frequency effect was intense.

Jurassic Park DTS:XDTS sent me the newly remastered release of the Jurassic Park movies with the DST:X sound track. I couldn’t resist. In Chapter 11 of the original Jurassic Park, T-Rex’s footprints thundered. I felt and heard the T-Rex’s footsteps as the king of the dinosaurs makes its ominous appearance.  I felt as though if I put a glass of water in front of the speakers the bass would have rippled the water like in the movie! The RBH played the rain and surrounding thunder with a superb sense of depth and realism. As T-Rex snaps the deactivated power lines the RBH articulated every cable snap with exacting precision. But the T-Rex’s intense, guttural growls and first roar were frighteningly awe-inspiring. These are reference speakers rendering a reference track to its fullest potential.

Whether I was watching The Empire Strikes Back, Thor, Avengers: Infinity War, the MLB playoffs and World Series, or regular programming, the phantom center channel  produced by these speakers was outstanding. Dialogue was highly intelligible. The Signature Towers excelled at creating a rich, layered soundstage teeming with easily identifiable sounds.

On the downside, perhaps my major sonic observation lay with the upper frequencies. As great as the speaker’s top to bottom performance was, I sometimes wished the SVTR had Beryllium dome as opposed to ribbon tweeters. After years of listening to the twice as expensive Revel Ultima2 Salons as a reference, there’s something just oh-so-right about the Revel's top end that the RBH just couldn’t surpass. The difference was subtle, with the RBH being slightly more dull by a hair. To my ears, the shimmer of cymbals and tubular bells was crisper and airier with the Salon2s. Of course, one could always step up to RBH’s Status Acoustics 8T Speakers, which feature Beryllium tweeters... for a $60k price tag!

Conclusion

 

RBH SVTR Tower Reference Speaker hero

even at $11k/pair, this system is an audiophile bargain.

Every once in a while there’s a review product that comes along that’s head and shoulders above the rest. RBH’s SVTR Signature Speaker falls into that category. Build quality is impeccable and its performance, formidable. Even at an asking price of $15,900, this system is an audiophile bargain. This is a speaker where you experience music, not just listen to it. In fact, the SVTR Tower Speaker may just be a permanent cure to audiophile upgrade-itis.

Practically speaking, the only significant drawback is the speaker’s imposing size and weight. It will dominate whatever room you put the speaker into and isn’t anywhere close to spouse-friendly. If you’re looking for something less imposing and more spouse-friendly in the RBH family, take a good hard look at the R-55E or SV-6500R towers.

But if you have the funds, space, and complementary electronics to boot, once you listen to the RBH SVTR Signature Tower speaker you’ll be hard-pressed to listen to anything else. Rest assured, though RBH may not be a household name, everyone who comes into your house will surely never forget it.

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

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
MetricRating
Build QualityStarStarStarStarStar
AppearanceStarStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
ImagingStarStarStarStarStar
SoundstageStarStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStarStar
PerformanceStarStarStarStarStar
ValueStarStarStarStarStar
About the author:
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Theo Nicolakis has been reviewing high end audio, video, home theater, headphone, and portable music products for the past 14 years. His reviews have appeared here on Audioholics as well as Techhive.com, PCWorld.com, MacWorld.com, and more. His reviews span high end two-channel and home theater systems, AVRs and immersive audio processors, headphones, DACs, DAPs, music servers, sound bars, and display technologies.

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