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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 00:00
  • MSRP: $ 10,999/pair
  • Buy Now
  • 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 $10,999/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: $8,257.90/pair
  • Configuration 2: SV-831R and SV-1212P: $9,897.90/pair
  • Configuration 3: SV-831R and SV-1212PR: $15,637.90/pair
  • Configuration 4: SV-831R and two SV-1212NR: Call for pricing

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.

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About the author:

Theo is a serious audiophile and home theater enthusiast—a passion he's enjoyed for over 20 years. He heads up many of our speaker system and receiver reviews as well as covering the latest in streaming technologies and Ultra HD video.

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