SVS Ultra Tower Review by Brian Wood

Discussion in 'Loudspeakers' started by varkeast, May 28, 2013.

  1. varkeast Junior Audioholic

    varkeast
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    Location:
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    Specifications:
    Floor Standing Tower Loudspeaker
    Dimensions: 45" (H) X 13.8" (W) X 16.25" (D).
    Weight: 75.4 pounds.
    Real black oak veneer and piano gloss black finish options.
    Dual gold-plated 5-way binding posts.
    3.5" wide-flared rear-firing port.
    Cloth grille with pin/cup retention system.
    Rated bandwidth: 28 Hz-32 kHz (+/-3 dB).
    Nominal impedance: 8 ohms.
    Sensitivity: 88 dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz).
    Recommended amplifier power: 20-300 watts.

    Initial Thoughts
    The SVS Ultra Tower speakers have made me rethink some very long held beliefs about audio equipment. I have spent years convincing myself that bookshelf speakers plus a decent sub couldn’t really be topped. I have been missing out...

    Since I have spent the last decade with silk dome tweeters on my Ascend Acoustics, I was concerned about the harshness that might come from an aluminium tweeter. In reality I think the SVS Ultra Towers provide more clarity at higher ends without any of the listener fatigue I worried might have crept in. Surprisingly the Ultra Towers blended in fairly seamlessly with my Ascends.


    Packaging
    I don’t know why SVS bothered to arrange a truck to deliver these towers. They were packaged so solidly and strapped down to a pallet, they could have just dropped them out of a plane and onto my driveway, except their 175lbs shipping weight would have shattered the concrete. The artwork showing the inner workings of the cabinets on the outside of the box is a nice touch. It was enough to get the delivery guy excited, and he just looking at the picture, the neighbors are just going to have to deal with how awesomely loud these are going to be.
    SVS-Ultra-2.jpg SVS-Ultra-3.jpg

    Design
    These towers will create a dominating presence in any room. Thankfully for my set-up, SVS sent the Black Oak Veneered instead of the Piano Polish finish. The towers are so tall that they actually reach a foot above the base of my projector screen, and the reflections from the screen off the speakers with the Piano Polish finish would have been overly distracting. Make sure you have the room for these big things; they definitely won’t work in just any space. Since they are so tall, I ended up having to place them further apart than I would have liked to accommodate my screen (first world problems for sure).

    With that said, I really like the design. It didn’t seem apparent in any of the photos or information I have read that at the base the rear is ~50% wider than the front, creating a wedge shape. I really like all the attempts made to reduce parallel surfaces internally to prevent standing-wave issues. If the cutaway artwork on the outside of the box is accurate, each 6.5” midrange cone is isolated in its own sealed enclosure, with the tweeter in a separate sealed space.

    The cabinet is incredibly solid, with enough bracing so that there are no noticeable areas of vibration even while playing ear splittingly loud. It is really interesting to get right up close to the speakers and hear the different crossover frequencies of each 6.5” midrange. The top midrange goes up to 2kHz, where it blends over to the tweeter, while the lower midrange only goes up to 700hz before tapering off. Once you are more than a foot or two away this is totally transparent.
    SVS-Ultra-9.jpg SVS-Ultra-7.jpg

    Accessories
    The rubber feet that come preinstalled on the towers are nice and solid. Since my floor is a berber carpet with padding over a concrete floor, I chose to swap them out with the provided metal spikes. Combined with the tower’s 75lbs heft, these spikes really anchored the speakers to the floor. There were also some small pucks provided if you wanted to use spikes on a hardwood floor.

    The included speaker grills are useful if you want to tone down the authoritative appearance of the Ultra Towers. Since both 6.5” woofers and the tweeter are encased by a real metal surround, it can pick up some reflections, and the grills reduce this. About the only problem I had with the SVS speakers was getting the grills attached. Aligning all four of the posts and inserting them into the rubber cups was difficult since the rubber cups would get pushed in on one side. This is incredibly minor though, since the grills will probably be attached once or twice.
    SVS-Ultra-6.jpg

    Placement
    Placement is everything with these towers. Get them too close to the back wall, or corners and the bass becomes boomy and overpowering. That is where the foam port plugs come in handy. SVS ships the Ultra Tower with a useful foam port plug to dampen the bass response in rooms with a lot of room gain. Running low frequency tone sweeps from the DVE test disk, without the port plugs installed the towers were easily hitting 28hz just like SVS claims. When the port plugs were inserted, they started to run out of bass around 35hz, so there is a tradeoff when using them. In situations where the towers must be positioned close to the back wall, or near a corner, the plugs will help prevent unwanted boominess, and it probably makes sense to cross them over at 40hz.If you can place the speakers in a more ideal position, I would leave the plugs out.

    Crossover
    At one point I flipped off my subwoofer for a while just to make sure that all the bass was coming only from the towers. I also toyed with crossover settings for a while. Going in, I expected to like a crossover of 40hz, letting the sub tackle those lower frequencies even though SVS claims a -3db point all the way down at 28hz. It turns out they were telling the truth. These things go almost as low as my HSU vtf2-mk2 (it falls off at 25hz). It seems like the towers respond much faster, as well, so they were easily up to the task of running as full range. Having the four 8” woofers reproducing the full range of bass across the whole front really created an even soundstage.

    Amplifier Differences
    I did a few experiments to see how the SVS Ultra Towers react to different amplifiers, using my Onkyo TX-SR805 (130watts), an Emotiva UPA-2 (125watts), and an older Sony STR-DE695 (100watts). Both the Onkyo by itself, and the Onkyo combined with the Emotiva sounded great. The addition of the Emotiva 2 channel amp brought out some subtle enhancements with the towers, creating a more even and responsive soundstage.

    Including the older, low end Sony was not a fair comparison. When hooked up to the inferior DACs and amplifiers in the Sony, all the shortcomings of the receiver were brought to the forefront with the SVS Towers. Mid and high range frequencies blurred together, and all the beautiful detail and richness the SVS are capable of reproducing were lost. If you don’t have at least a midrange receiver to drive these towers, I would consider upgrading before thinking about auditioning them.

    Music
    Two channel stereo is where these Ultra Towers really shine. I listened to such a wide range of music, revisiting my entire music collection while testing these speakers. It is strange how songs that really stood out on my bookshelf speakers didn’t have the same feel on the towers. Instead, totally different styles and formats took their place. The rich, deep bass and mid-range of the SVS Ultra Towers really exploded on Leonard Cohen’s “Going Home.” The bassy details echoing out of his deep voice was haunting to say the least.

    Listening to Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out” SACD in stereo was awesome. Each instrument can be isolated. Each hit of the drumstick on the snare drum with the reverberating buzz sounds like it is being played live in the room. The sound of fingers working notes of the bass creates the feelings that Eugene Wright is right there pulling on the strings.


    Movies
    Some movies benefitted more than others. It seems like the bulk of movies exercise the center channel and subwoofer and don’t send much bass to the left and right, even in full range mode. The Dark Knight Rises was an exception to this. The opening scene where Bane is taking over the CIA plane is amazing. The entire room shakes and Bane’s odd, deep voice resonates throughout.

    Audyssey
    After flip-flopping for a while, I decided these ran much better with the Audyssey MultEQ equalizer adjustments on my older Onkyo TX-SR805.When Audyssey was enabled, it sounded like all of the body and depth of sound in the music had been sucked out with the tower speakers. I think the deep bass response of the Ultra Towers is best when it is let loose for music. This is in contrast to my bookshelf speakers where I feel that enabling Audyssey bailed them out and made them sound more whole. For watching movies with the towers integrated into my system, Audyssey sounded great.

    Direct/Pure Audio
    With the Ascend speakers, I always wondered why anyone in their right mind would ever use the Direct or Pure Audio modes on a receiver. By disabling the crossover and any Audyssey enhancements, these modes were basically unusable with my old bookshelves. Switch in the SVS Ultra Towers, since they can handle full range with no trouble, and now I actually prefer these modes over stereo for most music.


    Conclusion
    If you are in the market for a set of $2,000/pair speakers, there isn’t much out there that can beat these SVS Ultra Towers. Specifically, if you are looking for a tower speaker that is capable of truly serving as full range, finding anything that can realistically go <30hz, like the SVS Ultra Towers easily accomplish, is next to impossible. If your interest is more for a “natural” midrange and high frequencies and less in the low range, there might be something better out there. The SVS towers are more precise than some people might care for, revealing more than is desired, sort of like news anchors in HD before they figured out how to properly apply makeup.

    Pros
    Fast, deep bass easily capable of running full range
    Port plugs included to increase placement flexibility


    Cons
    Monolithic, they won’t fit in everyone’s room
    Speaker grills are slightly annoying to attach
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 19, 2014
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  2. highsounder Audiophyte

    highsounder
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    A very concise and informative review. This one really puts this system through its paces and comparatively shows the speaker's outstanding performance. This review could be rolled straight into the basis of a marketing program. Makes me want to buy.
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  3. spedmunki Audiophyte

    spedmunki
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    A very informative review
  4. payl Audiophyte

    payl
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    Great review Varkeast!
    payl,
  5. vtphilk Audiophyte

    vtphilk
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    not bad..nice job

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