SVS is a company most well known for their contributions to the low end of the frequency range. They have traditionally offered a fairly wide selection of subwoofers, even going so far as to package matching pairs together on their direct-to-consumer web site. Their newest entries dubbed the “Ultra” series broaden their sonic grasp into the rest of the spectrum. The new collection of loudspeakers includes a full array of floor standing, surround, center and bookshelf varieties. This reviews musings will be based on the bookshelf monitors which use a 1” aluminum dome tweeter and a 6.5” woofer to communicate their sultry tones to your face receptacles.
The SVS Ultra Bookshelf ($1000/pair) falls into an interesting price range where expectations start to grow beyond simple desktop and computer audio applications. Their relative size alone echoes this sediment, for it takes a fairly large desk to accommodate their 15” x 8.5” x 10” dimensions comfortably. The ultras live up to their bookshelf namesake, no doubt. The UBS comes in both gloss piano black and black oak veneer finishes. The pair I reviewed were piano black and closely resembled the appealing finish of your typical high gloss black speakers. The high gloss finish can be somewhat polarizing, but I found the look to be very polished and refined. The tweeter is surrounded by an engaging machined-styled plate that complements the design nicely. The overall build is solid and lets you know that you are dealing with the elevated regions of hifi.
One of the first concerns when dealing with speakers of this size is bass. One of the first concerns when dealing with speakers in this price range is clarity. The SVS UBS delivers on both these fronts with performance consistent with its cost (which for many should be a fairly high bar). The bass presentation is surprising robust. The low frequencies that emanate from the 6.5” woofer are tonally balanced and do not crowd the mids whatsoever. Of course the size does limit the overall low-end extension. The bass from the UBS just barely misses that in-your-chest thump feeling associated with deep bass. Even so, while listening to Everything is Broken by Billy Burnette I felt the UBS still managed to grab a huge chunk of the bass guitar that sits unusually low in frequency mix on that particular track. As with many rear radiator or porthole bass designs the UBS benefited from a little extra breathing room between the backside of the cabinet and the wall.
I put the SVS Ultra Bookshelf through the paces using the similarly priced Rega Brio-R integrated and the new Oppo BDP-105 as a source. The treble the UBS offered up showcased great extension. The 1” tweeter added some great sparkle to upper regions. Regardless of where you fall with your audiophile burn-in beliefs, I did notice a significant change in the treble within the first few hours after I pulled it from the shipping box. I would recommend giving the speakers a little while to warm up before passing any serious judgment, especially if just came in from the 19 degree Chicago cold. After quite a bit of “warming up” the treble appeared quite snappy. Indeed, the UBS does a great job of marrying great vocal clarity to a crisp topside. Friday Night in San Francisco is an very interesting guitar exclusive instrumental album. The cascading classical guitars of Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola drive amazing energy and improvisation across the collection’s five live tracks. The definition of the recently released 24/96 version made for a lively and believable tromp through each song. The SVS Ultra Bookshelf was able to accurately render the attack and snappy tone of the dueling guitar notes as they intertwined each other. The detail of the loudspeaker even pushed the presentation to the point where it was easy to identify the same loud member of the audience shouting in the background of every song (you can make out other concert goers telling him to be quiet by track 4). Vocals also rang equally true, perched cleanly on the sonic wall of sound.
The sum of all this is a very audiophile “direct” signature which I find very desirable. It leaves the listener with the sensation that they are sitting in the front row, not the back. When listening to the equally priced full-size Zu Omen towers (which sport a 10” full range driver), I did notice a slight treble-forward analytical lean from the UBS by comparison. Conversely, the Omens had a touch more presence in the small space that lies between vocals and bass, but not a completely apples to apples comparison considering the extra size and real estate the floor-standing Zu Omens occupy.
The jazz inspired cover of Pink Floyd’s Money by Sam Yahel, Mike Moreno, Ari Hoenig, and Seamus Blake features a creative intro to the well-known tune. When the instruments start to break into their respective solos, I noticed that the organ sounds were hauntingly familiar to standing next to an actual speaker cab while performing, a feat not easily or often attained. The SVS UBS offered a rich detail and hearty grip on the tone that I associate with live performances.
Considering their size, the UBS have all the detail, tone and styling that you would expect from a speaker that costs a thousand dollars. I feel that statement is quite a complement by itself. The SVS Ultra Bookshelf met my expectations for an audiophile bookshelf speaker, and in the course of achieving that standard, exceeded my overall expectations. If you are in the market for a bookshelf loudspeaker you might want to check out the Ultras, they currently offer a 45-day trial with free shipping both ways.