SVS Ultra Tower Review by Ted Nicolakis

Discussion in 'Loudspeakers' started by internetmin, May 27, 2013.

  1. internetmin Audioholic

    internetmin
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    I'll be posting a review of the SVS Ultra Towers soon in this space.
  2. internetmin Audioholic

    internetmin
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    For reading, this is the complete review. Due to limitations in the forum in they way it handles videos and photos, I've had to split up the review into multiple segments

    SVS Ultra Towers Review
    I want to sincerely thank the folks at Audioholics and SVS for the unique opportunity to review these speakers. It was a blast. I had every excuse to play movies and music really, really loud at home (then again I guess I should thank my wife too!). The folks at SVS--especially Ed and Mark--were incredibly responsive to any questions that I had and I just want to express my thanks for making it easier to write this, my first speaker review.

    Philosophy, Design, and Testing:

    I’ve only known SVS from ads on Audioholics.com, enthusiast magazines, and other sites. If I were to try and describe SVS itself, it would be the speaker company founded by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. So, in many ways the “SVS” guys are one of us, the audio enthusiasts, and doing full time what we have as a hobbyist passion.

    I was therefore thrilled at the prospect of getting a review pair of SVS’ new Ultra Towers. Because I had never before auditioned a pair of SVS speakers, I contacted Ed Mullen, SVS’ Director of Technology and Customer Relations. I should emphasize that in any interactions we had, Ed constantly told me, “SVS wants you to be completely open and honest with your review of the Ultra Tower loudspeaker.”

    Ed answered any questions I had, and he passed on any technical questions to Mark Mason, SVS’ Ultra family speaker designer and Director of Product Development. I’m very thankful to Ed and Mark for always answering my questions promptly and thoroughly.

    I’ve always known SVS to be a subwoofer company, so why would they try and develop other speakers? When I asked Mark that question, he told me that SVS wanted to succeed in the full range audio realm as they had done with subwoofers. SVS’ vision he said, “...was to develop the best performing speakers possible and make them available at a surprisingly affordable price.”

    Since SVS wanted to succeed in making full-range speakers, I was curious about the speakers’ design. When it came to the cabinet structures, Mark said that FEA (Finite Element Analysis) modeled bracing was used to create an extremely rigid cabinet with no audible resonances. Later on in the review, I tested the cabinet rigidity and vibrations and I’d have to agree. Mark also told me that the front baffle is constructed of 1” thick MDF. The thickness of the side woofer baffle is 1.5”. When Mark told me those dimensions, I was amazed because there are sometimes speakers costing more than the Ultras that only use ¾” MDF, much less 1½” MDF! (If you’re interested, there’s an audioholics forum on the importance of loudspeaker bracing here: http://forums.audioholics.com/forum...tance-proper-loudspeaker-cabinet-bracing.html).

    While the Ultra Towers feature a vertical array of drivers with a tweeter in the center, Mark told me that it is not a D’appolito design array. Rather, the Ultras are best described as an MTM driver array with a tapered/cascaded midrange crossover network where both midrange drivers high pass to the woofers at 160 Hz, one midrange driver is low passed at 950 Hz, and the other midrange driver is low passed at 2 kHz to the tweeter.

    At the base of the Ultra Towers are two oppositional woofers. I’ve normally seen this kind of design in subwoofers—not towers—to cancel out vibrational forces exerted by the woofer movement. For subs, the oppositional design lends itself to a more inert cabinet design so that you can put a martini glass on the sub and not see any vibrations in the liquid! Mark, confirmed that the opposing orientation of the woofers was indeed chosen to neutralize the forces they exert on the cabinet, thus resulting in his words, “an acoustically inert cabinet.”

    [video=youtube_share;McBNBqGwGAM]http://youtu.be/McBNBqGwGAM[/video]
    See the attached video I made testing cabinet vibrations on the Ultras.

    That design also gets the Ultra Towers to perform full range, down to those low frequencies typically reserved for subwoofers. In fact, the two woofers supposedly move as much air as a 15” sub.

    Without question, the visually striking trapezoidal design of the Ultra Towers is their distinctive feature. They almost look like black onyx obelisks unearthed from Egypt. According to Mark, the Ultra Tower’s cabinet design is a great example of form following function. Mark said that the cabinet shape and the position on the drivers are first and foremost designed for optimal acoustics.

    The front-to-side facets reduce diffraction resulting in uniform on-axis frequency response. He also said that the sloping back side of the cabinet practically eliminates the internal top-to-bottom standing wave that would otherwise cause a notch in the frequency response. The tweeter’s positioning between the midranges drivers align it with standard seated ear height and to move it away from the top edge of the cabinet where it would be more susceptible to diffraction causing frequency response degradation. Mark also said that the multiple woofers and their position in the cabinet “...more evenly excite the model frequencies in a room resulting in smoother bass frequency response”.

    With all that great background info on the speakers, I was anxious to get my review pair delivered and take them for a spin in my setup.

    Arrival:
    Did you know they were going to be that big?” my wife said when she saw the speakers. “No, of course not”, I replied (with a bit of a smirk). The SVS Ultra Towers stand 45” tall and weigh in at a hefty 75.4 lbs. each. It’s therefore no surprise that the speakers need to be delivered by freight instead of your standard UPS or FedEX delivery.

    To say that I was like a kid in a candy store would be an understatement. My wife had become so accustomed to my anticipation that she started asking me about the status of the delivery each day.

    Unboxing:
    The Ultras come shipped and strapped sturdily to a wooden palette. There are nylon straps that wrap around the speakers. Plastic guards under the nylon straps that prevent the straps from digging into the boxes. I noticed that one of the boxes had been punctured. This would be a good test to see how good SVS boxed up their speakers.

    The boxes have a technical line drawing of the speaker. The drawing, along with the shape of the box give you a good idea of where the speaker is oriented. One small recommendation that I’d make to the folks at SVS is to provide an unboxing diagram right on the outside of the box as some other manufacturers do.

    I had to think exactly how to unbox the speakers since I couldn’t lift up the front of the box to open the speaker. Instead, the box opens from either side. So you’ll need to lay the speaker on its back, open up one of the sides, and then lift up the box to release the speaker and its custom-molded foam packaging.

    Speaking of the packaging boxes, the speakers are not double-boxed. Many manufacturers use double boxing and many don’t. Among the advantages of double-boxing is preventing damage to the corners of the boxes. SVS, in its packaging design, seems to prevent corner damage by cupping the inner, custom-molded foam, with hard cardboard corner protectors. In essence, these corner protectors serve the same purpose as a double-boxing to protect all the corners of the box and the speaker inside.

    When I unboxed the speakers, I found them to be in perfect condition and the custom-molded foam, which is several inches thick, easily protected the speakers from the puncture that occurred sometime during shipping.

    The speakers themselves come wrapped and sealed in plastic and are further wrapped underneath by a white felt covering that keeps the finish in pristine, shiny condition. This is a very common feature in high-end speakers and I was very glad to see that SVS adhered to this methodology.

    What’s Included:
    For those of you who are obsessed with consecutive serial numbers in speakers and think that there is some magic associated with consecutive serial numbered speakers, don’t consider SVS. Mine where not consecutively numbered and not even close.

    Each SVS speaker box comes with it’s own user manual, rubber threaded feet (already installed on the speakers), metal floor spikes, leveling nuts, and hardwood floor spike protectors. The user manual appears to be common for the entire Ultra line as it describes not only the ultra towers, but also the monitors, surrounds, and center channel. As far as manuals go, the Ultra series manual covers all the basics you need such as proper placement of the speakers, speaker height, wiring options, care, and maintenance.

    The Ultra Towers also come with a foam plug that will allow you to address any excessively strong base response. You simply insert the plug into the rear tuning port. It’s simple and effective. The majority of full-range speakers don’t give you this option and some manufacturers address this with a more elegant, physical “contour” dial on the speakers to compensate for the speakers being close to boundaries, elevated bass response, etc.

    The spikes were a complete shock to me. They were big, heavy, and came with hardwood floor protectors. That was completely unexpected and I appreciated that attention to detail. I’ve never seen hardwood floor protectors included with speakers. Normally, that’s a post-purchase add-on for another $20-$60.

    Design, Finish, and Build Quality:
    I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first impression when I lifted the protective felt covering off my review set of speakers, which were Piano Black. Some manufacturers will boast about their finishes and your reaction is… ehh.

    I confess that I was expecting the piano black finish to look like shiny plastic, but wow was I ever wrong. The finish is just gorgeous; it’s like a mirror as you can see in the accompanying photos. I’ve seen “piano black” on five-figure, famous speakers in stores and the finish on the Ultras equals or rivals those in every degree.

    Before we get to the rest of the speakers’ design aesthetics, let’s be honest: we guys tend to have high man-cave appeal and low sensitivity for speaker looks in a domestic environment. As such, I had several of my wife’s friends come over during various points of my time with the Ultras so that I could get a good feel of the “WAF-ability” of the speakers. WAF, of course = “Wife Acceptance Factor”.

    Let’s be honest again: there’s no such thing as a good speaker with a perfect score on the WAF-meter—especially one considered a full-range speaker. The best try I’ve heard was the apocryphal story of a husband trying to convince his wife to use a pair of Magnepan 3.6‘s as a dressing curtain. Well, there’s no need to try and make the Ultras into a dressing curtain because all the women commented positively that they looked “really good”, “very cool”, and “really nice...for speakers”. So in WAF-speak, that means these speakers scored very well ;-)

    So what about that trapezoidal design? I assure you that It’s just as cool in-person as it is in the pictures. In fact, the tapering of the top of the speaker makes it feel smaller and less imposing than it actually is. Again, from the WAF and aesthetics perspective, it all plays together very well.

    Regrettably, the grilles were a bit of a disappointment. Several, though not all, manufacturers have started going with magnetic grilles so that the plastic pegs don’t break over time. At this price point, I wish the Ultra Towers had magnetic grilles.

    Setup, Room Correction, and Test Environment:
    I setup my review pair of Ultra Towers with the tweeters about three feet from the back wall, 14.5 feet from the primary listening seat (measured with a laser), and a slight toe-in. I then applied room correction with Anthem’s highly acclaimed ARC (Anthem Room Correction) to address any room-induced issues and give me a flatter frequency response.

    I need to make an extremely important note about using room correction and the Ultras. If you have applied room correction and the Ultras do not sound right, then room correction has likely made a mistake due to the opposing woofer design.

    The user manual specifically mentions room correction and a possible false phase warning. Without mentioning it, the SVS folks are referring specifically to Audyssey—even the photo in the manual is an Audyssey microphone. In contrast, I used Anthem’s ARC, which is immune to this phase anomaly. Yet, even though I had a successful measurement, I got an anomaly that adversely affected the sound of the Ultra Towers.

    For some reason, Anthem’s ARC gave the Ultras over twice the room gain (let’s call it bass energy for simplicity)— 3.8 vs the real room gain of 1.4. This caused excessive bass bloom from the speakers. In other words, there was tremendous bass response but it sounded muddied. For a full week, I listened to the Ultra Towers thinking it was the design of the speakers without realizing that ARC had done this.

    As a consequence, I almost published a less than favorable review. By putting the proper room gain into Anthem’s ARC and re-uploading the new settings, the towers sound cleared and changed significantly for the better.

    Getting back to setup, you can see from the graph below that the in-room response wasn’t bad. I got the bass reinforcement typical of my listening room’s acoustics. I chose to try the included plugs for the rear port, which is supposed to tame this type of scenario. I tended to prefer the sound of the speakers with the plugs inserted and so I left them inserted for the majority of my listening.

    I tested the the Ultras with two different amplifiers: an Emotiva Mini-X a-100 50wpc amp to see how they would sound with lower power and with a 11-year old 140wpc Lexicon. I used the Emotiva for about half the time and then switched to the Lexicon. I was impressed with how well the Ultras played with the 50 wpc Emotiva.

    When I switched to the Lexicon, I felt the overall sound was better with more openness, detail and tighter bass. The important moral of the story here is two-fold: the Ultras are revealing of the electronics up-stream. Secondly, if you’re strapped to a tight budget, you can be confidently purchase the Ultra Towers, and mate them with a $219 Emotiva amp and be happy for a long time until you can upgrade to a better amp.
    During my entire time with the review pair of Ultra Towers, I chose to do all of my listening—both music and movies—in stereo without a sub so that there would be no timbre issues and no confusion with the true performance of the speakers.

    Music Listening:
    If speakers cannot play music well, then they are utterly worthless. Music, in my book, is the foundation for everything with speakers. For that reason, I initially chose to play only music through the Ultra Towers to get a good feel for them. When I say I listened to just about every genre under the sun, I mean it. I played classical, soundtracks, pop, rock, jazz, and even mixes.

    There were a few artists and tracks that I’ll highlight:

    Led Zeppelin, U2, and Rush
    I couldn’t wait to let “Kashmir” blast through the Ultras. My all-time favorite Zeppelin song, sounded rich through the Ultras. The pulsating drum beats and the weight of orchestral pieces were in full swing with the song coming across in grand scale. It was great.

    Likewise, the punch and pure emotion of U2’s “Beautiful Day” was palatable through the Ultras. I found myself sitting back and soaking up Geddy Lee’s bass riffs and Neal Peart’s drumming wizardry in Rush’s Tom Sawyer. Money and Time from Pink Floyd’s were and Once again, the huge soundstage and big presentation that I was now learning to expect from the Ultras came across in spades.

    Dark Knight Rises Soundtrack
    I haven’t traditionally been a Hans Zimmer fan, but his work has grown on me over the years. The Dark Knight Rises is a great movie with a powerful soundtrack that features intense dynamics, dark textures, and weight. Everything I played from the album was enjoyable through the speakers. The track, “Imagine the Fire” starts off with a visceral “bam”. As soon as the track started playing, my wife screamed and nearly jumped from the couch.


    I felt that the powerful bass and punch these speakers delivered was consistent with the company’s subwoofer pedigree. If you’re not already familiar, SVS’ story sounds like an audiophile and home theater fairy tale: The company’s original founders, Ron Stimpson, and Tom Vodhanel, met online in enthusiast forums. They swapped ideas about sub designs online. They hit it off and started their company in a garage with the initial goal of developing a better alternative to underperforming and overpriced subwoofers. At first, they shared designs and started with a DIY kit. Then, because of the demand for a finished product, they started manufacturing the subs. From that, SVS (Stimpson and Vodhanel Subwoofers) was born!

    Adele, Indigo Girls, Sarah McLachlan
    I love female vocalists and I feel as though how a speaker plays female vocalists is a good indicator of the speaker’s overall abilities. First, I turned to Adele’s Skyfall from the Bond movie of the same name and it came across in all it’s big, brassy, soulful grandeur. Adele’s sultry voice was well textured and tended towards the warmer side of neutral.

    Next up were the Indigo Girls. All of the Indigo Girls’ albums are wonderfully recorded. The track, “Welcome Me” from the album, Nomads, Indians, Saints, is one of my favorite tracks to test how a speaker images and lays out its soundstage. Through the Ultra Towers, that song sounded simply luscious with solid imaging, depth, of stage, and lots of great detail. In fact, my brother-in-law happened to stop by as I was doing some critical listening that weekend. He’s a guy who has been to more live concerts in any given month than I’ve been in my entire life. He came and sat right in front of the speakers, then after a few minutes turned and said, “Wow”. He’s owns a pair of Vandersteen 1Bs setup with separates and he remarked how impressed he was with the speakers--especially how they imaged.

    Finally, I played Sarah McLachlan’s Bloom album, which is a collection of remixes of some of her most famous songs. While it’s not my favorite album, there are some great cuts that I thought would be a good test of the speakers’ dynamic capabilities and extension. The songs Ice, Vox, Just Like Me, and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (one of my favorite cuts on the album) all sounded great. Fumbling Towards Ecstasy has lots of synthesizers, deep bass, and Sarah’s sultry vocals. When I finished going through all the tracks, I found that I hadn’t really taken any notes but instead had just enjoyed listening to the music--a high complement.

    Aaron Copeland, John Williams and Erich Kunzel
    I turned to Aaron Copeland’s classic, Fanfare for the Common Man, to test out orchestral scale, impact of the bass drum and the trumpets. The Ultras gave plenty of dynamics, scale, and threw a huge and precise soundstage with the overall presentation leaning to the warmer side of neutral. Rachmaninov’s Symphony #1 in D exhibited the same characteristics.

    Next up, since I’m a big fan of John Williams’ film music scores, I played everything from Star Wars to the Patriot to Schindlers’ List. If you’re a fan of Williams and the space genre of music, then you also owe it to yourself to pickup Star Tracks, which is a collection of cuts from famous movies and it’s by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel. Both the recordings and the performances are exceptionally good. Once again, I consistently noticed everything I had previously experienced and described but now, I was truly appreciating the large soundstage that the speakers threw in my room. Dynamics were just great, the midrange was clear and free of any grain. Frequently, I was just lost in the music.

    I ended my music listening with Andrea Bocelli and some Jazz from Diana Krall. Diana Krall’s vocals were spot on and Andrea Bocelli’s Besame Mucho was incredibly involving and moving. The Ultras kept pace with everything I threw at them.

    If I had to pick out where I felt the Ultras didn’t quite make it into that hallowed “ultimate reference speaker” category, it would be in their the ability to convey the individual texture of instruments in complex orchestral passages; the definitive definition and sense of space around the individual instrument performer and their instrument; the finer details and nuances that you get with more exotic (and more expensive) tweeters; and finally, that holy grail of tightness and refinement in the bass. I’ve only experienced those elements when a HiFi dealer has played far, far more expensive speakers as a demo.

    Movies:
    With music out of the way, it was time to test out how the Ultra Towers would sound with movies. I decided to throw in a mix of BluRay movies including a Netflix HD stream.

    Star Trek: J.J. Abrams
    First up was Star Trek. In honor of the new Star Trek: Into Darkness movie, I popped in the J.J. Abrams’ reboot from a few years ago. It didn’t take long for the Ultima’s to say, “Hello, we’re here!” Not only did the Ultras shake my room, they shook my entire house—without a sub. All this impact was by simply letting the Ultra Towers play full range. The Ultras played as loud as I wanted--all the way to reference--while maintaining the same exceptional clarity and weight they had at lower volumes. In my setup, I didn’t notice any hint of speaker strain or harshness at any time nor did the speakers cause my amps to go into thermal protection. Then again, I value my hearing so I didn’t play the entire movie at reference throughout!

    The Ultras played deep into the 20Hz region in my room as Anthem’s ARC in-room response measurements showed. The opening battle scene and first encounter with Nero was intense; the bar scene with the deep bass techno pulsated; and the Enterprise’s encounter with Nero over the planet Vulcan all exhibited great dynamics. I played all these scenes with a half-full martini glass on top of the speakers to see if there were any cabinet vibrations resonating in the water. There was not a single movement of the water as you can see from the supporting video (video in the next post).

    I’ve heard expensive subwoofers in HiFi stores that will yield tighter and more detailed bass than the Ultras; however, to get that level of bass detail, you’d need to purchase a sub would cost more than the pair of Ultras themselves. My simple point here is this: with a good amplifier you could easily play movies with just the Ultra Towers and do without a stand alone sub.

    Playing in stereo, without a center channel, movie dialog was clean, clear, and intelligible. The Ultra Towers threw a large, massive, deep, and wide soundstage that is reminiscent of speakers far more expensive than the $2k price point of the pair. The only observation that I’d make is that the Ultras did not have the high frequency purity you’d get from a ribbon, beryllium, or diamond tweeter or the purity of instrument separation and definition you’d get with significantly more expensive speakers.

    Monsters’ Inc.
    Monsters’ Inc. is one of the kings of audio mixes in my book. With the Ultra Towers, the opening splash of the Disney BluRay intro with exploding fireworks and flyovers had great impact. The opening scene of Monsters’ Inc has crickets, ticking clock, wind, creaking door, and the loud, chest-pounding “thump” of a soccer ball. All those sounds were recreated in a beautiful space with adequate detail, ambiance, and noticeably dynamics. In my notes, I constantly wrote “Great low end extension and impact” and “never noticed there was no center channel engaged”. The phantom center created by the Ultra Towers had fantastic with intelligibility and clarity in all the dialog.

    The reason why I popped in Monsters’ Inc was to demo it for my brother-in-law after we had listened to some music. At one point in the movie, at the scene where Boo starts laughing and it blows out all the electricity in the city after a massive power surge, he stopped talking, turned to me and asked, “That came from those?”


    Another great scene is when Mike and Sully walk to work. That scene has lots and lots of details at all ends of the spectrum. When one of the monsters sneezed fire and burned up his newspaper, I noted that the fire burning up newspaper was deep, detailed, and controlled. A bit later, there’s a huge green monster, Ted, whose feet are the only thing you see when Sully and Mike meet him at the crosswalk. When he starts walking, his footsteps launch thunderous, earth-shaking booms. That scene again shook my whole house. Throughout the entire movie, I kept having to remind myself that there was no sub at all. I simply couldn’t believe how deep and impactful the speakers were.

    Star Wars Revenge of the Sith, Mask of Zorro, and Superman
    The opening scene of Star Wars III Revenge of the Sith stands as a home theater torture test with the audio complexity the battle scene. I cranked this scene up to reference level and it played cleanly, with a gorgeous and spacious soundstage, and the complexity of all the individual sounds, ships, and sub-battles played beautifully.

    http://youtu.be/U8gRjzTOIgk
    See the attached video I made to truly hear the clarity and impact of the speakers. Play this clip through good speakers to really appreciate what's going on.

    Neither Zorro nor Superman will ever make one of the top 10 movie demo lists, but they are both fun movies. The opening credits of Zorro feature the echoes of a a dancer’s steps across the soundstage. Unsurprisingly by this point, the Ultra Towers threw a huge stage and depth rendering great realism to the scenery. Dialog in Superman was always clean and extremely clear. John Williams’ score sounded great on the BluRay but showed its age.

    After all my movie watching, the only criticism of the speakers I could try and come up with was again the lack of ultimate transparency, detail, and definition that you get with far, far more expensive speakers.

    Summary and Final Thoughts
    I have to say that I very much enjoyed my review time with the SVS Ultra Towers. I tried to find faults with them, but once the ARC issue was solved, I didn’t have much to criticize. I found the Ultras to be lots of fun—especially with movies.

    Ultimately, isn’t the fun and enjoyment what it’s all about? The audio and home theater hobby isn’t all about the equipment. It’s ultimately about being moved by the music or the movie’s story. Audio is an incredible part of that emotive journey. Several times, I just found myself lost in the music or the movie and completely forgot about the speakers. That’s probably the best complement either I or anyone can give about a piece of audio equipment.

    The SVS Ultra Towers sport a stunning design. They have great top to bottom extension, impact, and imaging. Like high quality speakers should, they easily reveal the character of the electronics in the chain. If you set them up properly, then the Ultra Towers can pretty much disappear in your room. To try and define their sound, I’d say that they lean towards the slightly warmer side of neutral. They exhibit a clean midrange, and have a smooth, extended top end.

    Are these speakers worth it? For me, the ultimate question comes down to value for the performance and price. $2,000 is a lot of money to pay for speakers.

    So, what do you get? Well, for $2,000 you get superb-sounding, full-range speakers that go into the 20kHz range with unbelievable build quality, stunning looks, and piano-grade finishing. Let me say it again: a speaker that performs down into the 20‘s—and performs very well down to that range—for $2,000! That’s utterly crazy.

    I don’t know of a single product that can match the sleek look, specs, and build of the Ultima Towers at that price. Even to get something that looks and performs similarly (on paper), you can pay the same price for Paradigm Monitor 11s with no piano black option and they only go into down to 45Hz; spend $1,000 more for a set of B&W CM9s that don’t have nearly the same low frequency extension; or $1,500 more for PSB Imagine T2 Towers that again have no piano black finish and only go down to 34Hz. With any of these other models, you’d absolutely need a quality sub for the low-end, which would put you back yet another $900-$1,200 minimum.

    With the money you’d save by getting the Ultra Towers, you could get a high-end receiver or separates and still come out ahead. And, if you are in a situation where you need high WAF-appeal, you can use the towers without a sub and persuade your wife to let you buy a bigger and better amp because you’d be saving lots of money on the sub (come on guys, I’m right there with you and supporting you!).

    The SVS Ultra Towers are by no means the definitive word in speakers. However, you need to spend substantially more money (probably somewhere in the $5,000-$10,000 range) to get better overall performance, transparency, details, and even then not get the same low frequency extension.

    So, If you are looking for full-range speakers that can do both movies and music exceptionally well with both man-cave and WAF-appeal and compete with speakers 3x - 5x their price, then you need to call and get a free home demo of the SVS Ultra Towers immediately. You’ll be very glad you did. Highly recommended.

    SPECIFICATIONS:
    Loudspeaker Physical Description: 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.

    Driver Array and Technical Highlights:
    1" tweeter:
    FEA-optimized diffuser for airy and unveiled presentation.
    Aluminum dome delivers exceptional transient response and exceptional stiffness/mass ratio.
    6.5" midrange driver:
    Composite glass-fiber cone with excellent stiffness/mass ratio for high sensitivity and pistonic behavior beyond pass band.
    Aluminum shorting ring to reduce gap inductance, lower distortion, and enhance high frequency response.
    Cast aluminum basket to ensure precise alignment of critical components and additional heat-sinking capacity.
    Vented voice coil former to minimize air compression artifacts at high drive levels.
    8" woofers:
    Aluminum shorting rings to reduce gap inductance and lower distortion.
    Long stroke motor and suspension for high output.
    Vented voice coil formers to minimize air compression artifacts at high drive levels.

    ForceFactor Woofer Array:
    Dual 8" side-firing horizontally opposed SVS woofers result in mechanical force cancellation, enhanced modal density and reduced distortion for a smooth, accurate bass at all listening locations.

    SoundMatch Crossover Network:
    3.5-way crossover with premium-grade capacitors, air-core inductors and heavy-trace printed circuit boards.
    Unique tapered midrange array miniimizes off-axis lobing and enhances radiated sound power into listening space.
    Top midrange-to-tweeter crossover: 2 kHz.
    Bottom midrange taper frequency: 700 Hz.
    Dual midrange-to-woofer crossover: 160 Hz.

    Cabinet Construction Technical Highlights:
    Separate sealed midrange enclosures minimize top-to-bottom wall dimensions and shift standing waves beyond the driver pass band, minimizing negative driver interaction and associated frequency response degradation.
    Non-parallel cabinet panels reduces axial standing waves within the cabinet, reducing frequency response coloration..
    Acoustically transparent and FEA optimized grilles, wedge-shaped front baffle and flush-mounted drivers all contribute to reduced edge diffraction and improved on-axis high frequency response.
    FEA-optimized bracing, 1" thick midrange/tweeter baffles and 1.5" thick woofer baffles eliminates structural resonances and ensures the cabinet remains acoustically inert for uncolored response even at the highest drive levels.

    Frequency Response and Electro-Acoustic Data:
    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.


    Footnotes:

    Footnote 1:
    There are many enthusiasts who have been hesitant to buy direct for a variety of reasons. I fall into that category. I’ve always like the appeal of having gear in my home but I didn’t want to have to pay shipping if I didn’t like the product. I was pleasantly surprised to find that SVS has a truly risk-free, no cost deal as part of what they call their “bill of rights”. The SVS guys are so passionate and confident about their products that they will give you 45 days to try them at home, in your setup, with your equipment. Their motto: “Enjoy a full 45-day in -home audition with any item purchased from SVS. If you’re unhappy for any reason, return it for a refund… no questions asked.” They will even give you free shipping both ways. How’s that for confidence?! If you don’t like it, they’ll pay to take it back. The rest of their SVS bill of rights (www.svsound.com/bill-of-rights) is pretty impressive:

    • 90 day defective exchange guarantee
    • 1-year no lemon guarantee
    • 1-year performance guarantee
    • 60 day guaranteed prices
    • 1-year trade-up policy
    • 5-year warranty
    • and more


    One word of caution: if you are ordering the speakers the default method of delivery is “doorstep”. That means that you will need to carry the Ultras into your home. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this because of stairs or other difficulties, be sure to discuss this with SVS when you order your speakers.

    Footnote 2:
    Before doing background research for the review, I didn’t realize that Ohio-based SVS tests its speakers at Canada’s world-renowned NRC (National Research Council Home - National Research Council Canada) anechoic chamber and speaker testing facility. The NRC is Canada’s premiere organization for research and development. Dr. Floyd Toole of Harman International (which has among its brands Mark Levinson, Revel, JBL Synthesis, Lexicon) guided the acoustic and psychoacoustic program at the NRC prior to joining Harman. Many of the finest speaker manufacturers in the world use this facility.

    Mark told me that the precision the NRC’s facilities was what he needed for their speaker designs. “Our performance goals”, he said, “require the level of refinement and optimization that can be achieved by using the NRC facilities. I’ve been designing speakers at the NRC since 1998 and using the facilities for the Ultra Speakers was an obvious path to take.”
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  3. internetmin Audioholic

    internetmin
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    SVS Ultra Towers Review
    I want to sincerely thank the folks at Audioholics and SVS for the unique opportunity to review these speakers. It was a blast. I had every excuse to play movies and music really, really loud at home (then again I guess I should thank my wife too!). The folks at SVS--especially Ed and Mark--were incredibly responsive to any questions that I had and I just want to express my thanks for making it easier to write this, my first speaker review.
    SVS_Ultra_speakers.jpg Philosophy, Design, and Testing:
    I’ve only known SVS from ads on Audioholics.com, enthusiast magazines, and other sites. If I were to try and describe SVS itself, it would be the speaker company founded by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. So, in many ways the “SVS” guys are one of us, the audio enthusiasts, and doing full time what we have as a hobbyist passion.

    I was therefore thrilled at the prospect of getting a review pair of SVS’ new Ultra Towers. Because I had never before auditioned a pair of SVS speakers, I contacted Ed Mullen, SVS’ Director of Technology and Customer Relations. I should emphasize that in any interactions we had, Ed constantly told me, “SVS wants you to be completely open and honest with your review of the Ultra Tower loudspeaker.”

    Ed answered any questions I had, and he passed on any technical questions to Mark Mason, SVS’ Ultra family speaker designer and Director of Product Development. I’m very thankful to Ed and Mark for always answering my questions promptly and thoroughly.

    I’ve always known SVS to be a subwoofer company, so why would they try and develop other speakers? When I asked Mark that question, he told me that SVS wanted to succeed in the full range audio realm as they had done with subwoofers. SVS’ vision he said, “...was to develop the best performing speakers possible and make them available at a surprisingly affordable price.”

    Since SVS wanted to succeed in making full-range speakers, I was curious about the speakers’ design. When it came to the cabinet structures, Mark said that FEA (Finite Element Analysis) modeled bracing was used to create an extremely rigid cabinet with no audible resonances. Later on in the review, I tested the cabinet rigidity and vibrations and I’d have to agree. Mark also told me that the front baffle is constructed of 1” thick MDF. The thickness of the side woofer baffle is 1.5”. When Mark told me those dimensions, I was amazed because there are sometimes speakers costing more than the Ultras that only use ¾” MDF, much less 1½” MDF! (If you’re interested, there’s an audioholics forum on the importance of loudspeaker bracing here: http://forums.audioholics.com/forum...tance-proper-loudspeaker-cabinet-bracing.html).

    While the Ultra Towers feature a vertical array of drivers with a tweeter in the center, Mark told me that it is not a D’appolito design array. Rather, the Ultras are best described as an MTM driver array with a tapered/cascaded midrange crossover network where both midrange drivers high pass to the woofers at 160 Hz, one midrange driver is low passed at 950 Hz, and the other midrange driver is low passed at 2 kHz to the tweeter.


    SVS_MTM_array.jpg
    At the base of the Ultra Towers are two oppositional woofers. I’ve normally seen this kind of design in subwoofers—not towers—to cancel out vibrational forces exerted by the woofer movement. For subs, the oppositional design lends itself to a more inert cabinet design so that you can put a martini glass on the sub and not see any vibrations in the liquid! Mark, confirmed that the opposing orientation of the woofers was indeed chosen to neutralize the forces they exert on the cabinet, thus resulting in his words, “an acoustically inert cabinet.”



    [video=youtube_share;McBNBqGwGAM]http://youtu.be/McBNBqGwGAM[/video]
    See the attached video I made testing cabinet vibrations on the Ultras.

    That design also gets the Ultra Towers to perform full range, down to those low frequencies typically reserved for subwoofers. In fact, the two woofers supposedly move as much air as a 15” sub.

    Without question, the visually striking trapezoidal design of the Ultra Towers is their distinctive feature. They almost look like black onyx obelisks unearthed from Egypt. According to Mark, the Ultra Tower’s cabinet design is a great example of form following function. Mark said that the cabinet shape and the position on the drivers are first and foremost designed for optimal acoustics.

    The front-to-side facets reduce diffraction resulting in uniform on-axis frequency response. He also said that the sloping back side of the cabinet practically eliminates the internal top-to-bottom standing wave that would otherwise cause a notch in the frequency response. The tweeter’s positioning between the midranges drivers align it with standard seated ear height and to move it away from the top edge of the cabinet where it would be more susceptible to diffraction causing frequency response degradation. Mark also said that the multiple woofers and their position in the cabinet “...more evenly excite the model frequencies in a room resulting in smoother bass frequency response”.

    With all that great background info on the speakers, I was anxious to get my review pair delivered and take them for a spin in my setup.
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  4. internetmin Audioholic

    internetmin
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    Arrival:
    Did you know they were going to be that big?” my wife said when she saw the speakers. “No, of course not”, I replied (with a bit of a smirk). The SVS Ultra Towers stand 45” tall and weigh in at a hefty 75.4 lbs. each. It’s therefore no surprise that the speakers need to be delivered by freight instead of your standard UPS or FedEX delivery.

    To say that I was like a kid in a candy store would be an understatement. My wife had become so accustomed to my anticipation that she started asking me about the status of the delivery each day.

    Unboxing:
    The Ultras come shipped and strapped sturdily to a wooden palette. There are nylon straps that wrap around the speakers. Plastic guards under the nylon straps that prevent the straps from digging into the boxes.

    SVS_on palettes.jpg SVS_plastic_Guards.jpg


    I noticed that one of the boxes had been punctured. This would be a good test to see how good SVS boxed up their speakers.

    SVS_Box_Damage.jpg
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  5. internetmin Audioholic

    internetmin
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    The boxes have a technical line drawing of the speaker. The drawing, along with the shape of the box give you a good idea of where the speaker is oriented. One small recommendation that I’d make to the folks at SVS is to provide an unboxing diagram right on the outside of the box as some other manufacturers do.

    I had to think exactly how to unbox the speakers since I couldn’t lift up the front of the box to open the speaker. Instead, the box opens from either side. So you’ll need to lay the speaker on its back, open up one of the sides, and then lift up the box to release the speaker and its custom-molded foam packaging.

    Speaking of the packaging boxes, the speakers are not double-boxed. Many manufacturers use double boxing and many don’t. Among the advantages of double-boxing is preventing damage to the corners of the boxes. SVS, in its packaging design, seems to prevent corner damage by cupping the inner, custom-molded foam, with hard cardboard corner protectors. In essence, these corner protectors serve the same purpose as a double-boxing to protect all the corners of the box and the speaker inside.

    SVS_corner_protection.jpg

    When I unboxed the speakers, I found them to be in perfect condition and the custom-molded foam, which is several inches thick, easily protected the speakers from the puncture that occurred sometime during shipping.
    SVS_boxed.jpg

    The speakers themselves come wrapped and sealed in plastic and are further wrapped underneath by a white felt covering that keeps the finish in pristine, shiny condition. This is a very common feature in high-end speakers and I was very glad to see that SVS adhered to this methodology.

    SVS_Unpacked.jpg
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  6. internetmin Audioholic

    internetmin
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    What’s Included:


    For those of you who are obsessed with consecutive serial numbers in speakers and think that there is some magic associated with consecutive serial numbered speakers, don’t consider SVS. Mine where not consecutively numbered and not even close.

    Each SVS speaker box comes with it’s own user manual, rubber threaded feet (already installed on the speakers), metal floor spikes, leveling nuts, and hardwood floor spike protectors.

    SVS_rubber_feet.jpg


    The user manual appears to be common for the entire Ultra line as it describes not only the ultra towers, but also the monitors, surrounds, and center channel. As far as manuals go, the Ultra series manual covers all the basics you need such as proper placement of the speakers, speaker height, wiring options, care, and maintenance.

    The Ultra Towers also come with a foam plug that will allow you to address any excessively strong base response. You simply insert the plug into the rear tuning port. It’s simple and effective. The majority of full-range speakers don’t give you this option and some manufacturers address this with a more elegant, physical “contour” dial on the speakers to compensate for the speakers being close to boundaries, elevated bass response, etc.
    SVS_Bass_Tuning.jpg

    The spikes were a complete shock to me. They were big, heavy, and came with hardwood floor protectors. That was completely unexpected and I appreciated that attention to detail. I’ve never seen hardwood floor protectors included with speakers. Normally, that’s a post-purchase add-on for another $20-$60.

    SVS_spikes.jpg
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  7. internetmin Audioholic

    internetmin
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    Design, Finish, and Build Quality:
    I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first impression when I lifted the protective felt covering off my review set of speakers, which were Piano Black. Some manufacturers will boast about their finishes and your reaction is… ehh.

    SVS_model_received.jpg


    I confess that I was expecting the piano black finish to look like shiny plastic, but wow was I ever wrong. The finish is just gorgeous; it’s like a mirror as you can see in the accompanying photos. I’ve seen “piano black” on five-figure, famous speakers in stores and the finish on the Ultras equals or rivals those in every degree.

    SVS_Piano_Black_Finish.jpg


    Before we get to the rest of the speakers’ design aesthetics, let’s be honest: we guys tend to have high man-cave appeal and low sensitivity for speaker looks in a domestic environment. As such, I had several of my wife’s friends come over during various points of my time with the Ultras so that I could get a good feel of the “WAF-ability” of the speakers. WAF, of course = “Wife Acceptance Factor”.

    Let’s be honest again: there’s no such thing as a good speaker with a perfect score on the WAF-meter—especially one considered a full-range speaker. The best try I’ve heard was the apocryphal story of a husband trying to convince his wife to use a pair of Magnepan 3.6‘s as a dressing curtain. Well, there’s no need to try and make the Ultras into a dressing curtain because all the women commented positively that they looked “really good”, “very cool”, and “really nice...for speakers”. So in WAF-speak, that means these speakers scored very well ;-)

    So what about that trapezoidal design? I assure you that It’s just as cool in-person as it is in the pictures. In fact, the tapering of the top of the speaker makes it feel smaller and less imposing than it actually is. Again, from the WAF and aesthetics perspective, it all plays together very well.

    Regrettably, the grilles were a bit of a disappointment. Several, though not all, manufacturers have started going with magnetic grilles so that the plastic pegs don’t break over time. At this price point, I wish the Ultra Towers had magnetic grilles.
    SVS-grille.jpg
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  8. internetmin Audioholic

    internetmin
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    Setup, Room Correction, and Test Environment:
    I setup my review pair of Ultra Towers with the tweeters about three feet from the back wall, 14.5 feet from the primary listening seat (measured with a laser), and a slight toe-in. I then applied room correction with Anthem’s highly acclaimed ARC (Anthem Room Correction) to address any room-induced issues and give me a flatter frequency response.

    SVS-laser_meter.jpg


    SVS_TV_View.jpg

    I need to make an extremely important note about using room correction and the Ultras. If you have applied room correction and the Ultras do not sound right, then room correction has likely made a mistake due to the opposing woofer design.

    The user manual specifically mentions room correction and a possible false phase warning. Without mentioning it, the SVS folks are referring specifically to Audyssey—even the photo in the manual is an Audyssey microphone. In contrast, I used Anthem’s ARC, which is immune to this phase anomaly. Yet, even though I had a successful measurement, I got an anomaly that adversely affected the sound of the Ultra Towers.

    For some reason, Anthem’s ARC gave the Ultras over twice the room gain (let’s call it bass energy for simplicity)— 3.8 vs the real room gain of 1.4. This caused excessive bass bloom from the speakers. In other words, there was tremendous bass response but it sounded muddied. For a full week, I listened to the Ultra Towers thinking it was the design of the speakers without realizing that ARC had done this.

    As a consequence, I almost published a less than favorable review. By putting the proper room gain into Anthem’s ARC and re-uploading the new settings, the towers sound cleared and changed significantly for the better.

    Getting back to setup, you can see from the graph below that the in-room response wasn’t bad. I got the bass reinforcement typical of my listening room’s acoustics. I chose to try the included plugs for the rear port, which is supposed to tame this type of scenario. I tended to prefer the sound of the speakers with the plugs inserted and so I left them inserted for the majority of my listening.

    SVS-Anthem.jpg


    I tested the the Ultras with two different amplifiers: an Emotiva Mini-X a-100 50wpc amp to see how they would sound with lower power and with a 11-year old 140wpc Lexicon. I used the Emotiva for about half the time and then switched to the Lexicon. I was impressed with how well the Ultras played with the 50 wpc Emotiva.

    When I switched to the Lexicon, I felt the overall sound was better with more openness, detail and tighter bass. The important moral of the story here is two-fold: the Ultras are revealing of the electronics up-stream. Secondly, if you’re strapped to a tight budget, you can be confidently purchase the Ultra Towers, and mate them with a $219 Emotiva amp and be happy for a long time until you can upgrade to a better amp.

    During my entire time with the review pair of Ultra Towers, I chose to do all of my listening—both music and movies—in stereo without a sub so that there would be no timbre issues and no confusion with the true performance of the speakers.
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  9. internetmin Audioholic

    internetmin
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    Music Listening:
    If speakers cannot play music well, then they are utterly worthless. Music, in my book, is the foundation for everything with speakers. For that reason, I initially chose to play only music through the Ultra Towers to get a good feel for them. When I say I listened to just about every genre under the sun, I mean it. I played classical, soundtracks, pop, rock, jazz, and even mixes.

    There were a few artists and tracks that I’ll highlight:

    Led Zeppelin, U2, and Rush
    I couldn’t wait to let “Kashmir” blast through the Ultras. My all-time favorite Zeppelin song, sounded rich through the Ultras. The pulsating drum beats and the weight of orchestral pieces were in full swing with the song coming across in grand scale. It was great.

    Likewise, the punch and pure emotion of U2’s “Beautiful Day” was palatable through the Ultras. I found myself sitting back and soaking up Geddy Lee’s bass riffs and Neal Peart’s drumming wizardry in Rush’s Tom Sawyer. Money and Time from Pink Floyd’s were and Once again, the huge soundstage and big presentation that I was now learning to expect from the Ultras came across in spades.

    Dark Knight Rises Soundtrack
    I haven’t traditionally been a Hans Zimmer fan, but his work has grown on me over the years. The Dark Knight Rises is a great movie with a powerful soundtrack that features intense dynamics, dark textures, and weight. Everything I played from the album was enjoyable through the speakers. The track, “Imagine the Fire” starts off with a visceral “bam”. As soon as the track started playing, my wife screamed and nearly jumped from the couch.

    I felt that the powerful bass and punch these speakers delivered was consistent with the company’s subwoofer pedigree. If you’re not already familiar, SVS’ story sounds like an audiophile and home theater fairy tale: The company’s original founders, Ron Stimpson, and Tom Vodhanel, met online in enthusiast forums. They swapped ideas about sub designs online. They hit it off and started their company in a garage with the initial goal of developing a better alternative to underperforming and overpriced subwoofers. At first, they shared designs and started with a DIY kit. Then, because of the demand for a finished product, they started manufacturing the subs. From that, SVS (Stimpson and Vodhanel Subwoofers) was born!
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  10. internetmin Audioholic

    internetmin
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    Adele, Indigo Girls, Sarah McLachlan
    I love female vocalists and I feel as though how a speaker plays female vocalists is a good indicator of the speaker’s overall abilities. First, I turned to Adele’s Skyfall from the Bond movie of the same name and it came across in all it’s big, brassy, soulful grandeur. Adele’s sultry voice was well textured and tended towards the warmer side of neutral.

    Next up were the Indigo Girls. All of the Indigo Girls’ albums are wonderfully recorded. The track, “Welcome Me” from the album, Nomads, Indians, Saints, is one of my favorite tracks to test how a speaker images and lays out its soundstage. Through the Ultra Towers, that song sounded simply luscious with solid imaging, depth, of stage, and lots of great detail. In fact, my brother-in-law happened to stop by as I was doing some critical listening that weekend. He’s a guy who has been to more live concerts in any given month than I’ve been in my entire life. He came and sat right in front of the speakers, then after a few minutes turned and said, “Wow”. He’s owns a pair of Vandersteen 1Bs setup with separates and he remarked how impressed he was with the speakers--especially how they imaged.

    Finally, I played Sarah McLachlan’s Bloom album, which is a collection of remixes of some of her most famous songs. While it’s not my favorite album, there are some great cuts that I thought would be a good test of the speakers’ dynamic capabilities and extension. The songs Ice, Vox, Just Like Me, and Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (one of my favorite cuts on the album) all sounded great. Fumbling Towards Ecstasy has lots of synthesizers, deep bass, and Sarah’s sultry vocals. When I finished going through all the tracks, I found that I hadn’t really taken any notes but instead had just enjoyed listening to the music--a high complement.

    Aaron Copeland, John Williams and Erich Kunzel
    I turned to Aaron Copeland’s classic, Fanfare for the Common Man, to test out orchestral scale, impact of the bass drum and the trumpets. The Ultras gave plenty of dynamics, scale, and threw a huge and precise soundstage with the overall presentation leaning to the warmer side of neutral. Rachmaninov’s Symphony #1 in D exhibited the same characteristics.

    Next up, since I’m a big fan of John Williams’ film music scores, I played everything from Star Wars to the Patriot to Schindlers’ List. If you’re a fan of Williams and the space genre of music, then you also owe it to yourself to pickup Star Tracks, which is a collection of cuts from famous movies and it’s by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel. Both the recordings and the performances are exceptionally good. Once again, I consistently noticed everything I had previously experienced and described but now, I was truly appreciating the large soundstage that the speakers threw in my room. Dynamics were just great, the midrange was clear and free of any grain. Frequently, I was just lost in the music.

    I ended my music listening with Andrea Bocelli and some Jazz from Diana Krall. Diana Krall’s vocals were spot on and Andrea Bocelli’s Besame Mucho was incredibly involving and moving. The Ultras kept pace with everything I threw at them.

    If I had to pick out where I felt the Ultras didn’t quite make it into that hallowed “ultimate reference speaker” category, it would be in their the ability to convey the individual texture of instruments in complex orchestral passages; the definitive definition and sense of space around the individual instrument performer and their instrument; the finer details and nuances that you get with more exotic (and more expensive) tweeters; and finally, that holy grail of tightness and refinement in the bass. I’ve only experienced those elements when a HiFi dealer has played far, far more expensive speakers as a demo.
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  11. internetmin Audioholic

    internetmin
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    Movies:
    With music out of the way, it was time to test out how the Ultra Towers would sound with movies. I decided to throw in a mix of BluRay movies including a Netflix HD stream.

    Star Trek: J.J. Abrams
    First up was Star Trek. In honor of the new Star Trek: Into Darkness movie, I popped in the J.J. Abrams’ reboot from a few years ago. It didn’t take long for the Ultima’s to say, “Hello, we’re here!” Not only did the Ultras shake my room, they shook my entire house—without a sub. All this impact was by simply letting the Ultra Towers play full range. The Ultras played as loud as I wanted--all the way to reference--while maintaining the same exceptional clarity and weight they had at lower volumes. In my setup, I didn’t notice any hint of speaker strain or harshness at any time nor did the speakers cause my amps to go into thermal protection. Then again, I value my hearing so I didn’t play the entire movie at reference throughout!

    The Ultras played deep into the 20Hz region in my room as Anthem’s ARC in-room response measurements showed. The opening battle scene and first encounter with Nero was intense; the bar scene with the deep bass techno pulsated; and the Enterprise’s encounter with Nero over the planet Vulcan all exhibited great dynamics. I played all these scenes with a half-full martini glass on top of the speakers to see if there were any cabinet vibrations resonating in the water. There was not a single movement of the water as you can see from the supporting video.

    I’ve heard expensive subwoofers in HiFi stores that will yield tighter and more detailed bass than the Ultras; however, to get that level of bass detail, you’d need to purchase a sub would cost more than the pair of Ultras themselves. My simple point here is this: with a good amplifier you could easily play movies with just the Ultra Towers and do without a stand alone sub.

    Playing in stereo, without a center channel, movie dialog was clean, clear, and intelligible. The Ultra Towers threw a large, massive, deep, and wide soundstage that is reminiscent of speakers far more expensive than the $2k price point of the pair. The only observation that I’d make is that the Ultras did not have the high frequency purity you’d get from a ribbon, beryllium, or diamond tweeter or the purity of instrument separation and definition you’d get with significantly more expensive speakers.

    Monsters’ Inc.
    images.jpeg Monsters’ Inc. is one of the kings of audio mixes in my book. With the Ultra Towers, the opening splash of the Disney BluRay intro with exploding fireworks and flyovers had great impact. The opening scene of Monsters’ Inc has crickets, ticking clock, wind, creaking door, and the loud, chest-pounding “thump” of a soccer ball. All those sounds were recreated in a beautiful space with adequate detail, ambiance, and noticeably dynamics. In my notes, I constantly wrote “Great low end extension and impact” and “never noticed there was no center channel engaged”. The phantom center created by the Ultra Towers had fantastic with intelligibility and clarity in all the dialog.

    The reason why I popped in Monsters’ Inc was to demo it for my brother-in-law after we had listened to some music. At one point in the movie, at the scene where Boo starts laughing and it blows out all the electricity in the city after a massive power surge, he stopped talking, turned to me and asked, “That came from those?”


    Another great scene is when Mike and Sully walk to work. That scene has lots and lots of details at all ends of the spectrum. When one of the monsters sneezed fire and burned up his newspaper, I noted that the fire burning up newspaper was deep, detailed, and controlled. A bit later, there’s a huge green monster, Ted, whose feet are the only thing you see when Sully and Mike meet him at the crosswalk. When he starts walking, his footsteps launch thunderous, earth-shaking booms. That scene again shook my whole house. Throughout the entire movie, I kept having to remind myself that there was no sub at all. I simply couldn’t believe how deep and impactful the speakers were.

    Star Wars Revenge of the Sith, Mask of Zorro, and Superman
    The opening scene of Star Wars III Revenge of the Sith stands as a home theater torture test with the audio complexity the battle scene. I cranked this scene up to reference level and it played cleanly, with a gorgeous and spacious soundstage, and the complexity of all the individual sounds, ships, and sub-battles played beautifully.


    [video=youtube_share;U8gRjzTOIgk]http://youtu.be/U8gRjzTOIgk[/video]
    See the attached video I made to truly hear the clarity and impact of the speakers. Play this clip through good speakers to really appreciate what's going on.

    Neither Zorro nor Superman will ever make one of the top 10 movie demo lists, but they are both fun movies. The opening credits of Zorro feature the echoes of a a dancer’s steps across the soundstage. Unsurprisingly by this point, the Ultra Towers threw a huge stage and depth rendering great realism to the scenery. Dialog in Superman was always clean and extremely clear. John Williams’ score sounded great on the BluRay but showed its age.

    After all my movie watching, the only criticism of the speakers I could try and come up with was again the lack of ultimate transparency, detail, and definition that you get with far, far more expensive speakers.
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  12. internetmin Audioholic

    internetmin
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    Summary and Final Thoughts
    I have to say that I very much enjoyed my review time with the SVS Ultra Towers. I tried to find faults with them, but once the ARC issue was solved, I didn’t have much to criticize. I found the Ultras to be lots of fun—especially with movies.

    Ultimately, isn’t the fun and enjoyment what it’s all about? The audio and home theater hobby isn’t all about the equipment. It’s ultimately about being moved by the music or the movie’s story. Audio is an incredible part of that emotive journey. Several times, I just found myself lost in the music or the movie and completely forgot about the speakers. That’s probably the best complement either I or anyone can give about a piece of audio equipment.

    The SVS Ultra Towers sport a stunning design. They have great top to bottom extension, impact, and imaging. Like high quality speakers should, they easily reveal the character of the electronics in the chain. If you set them up properly, then the Ultra Towers can pretty much disappear in your room. To try and define their sound, I’d say that they lean towards the slightly warmer side of neutral. They exhibit a clean midrange, and have a smooth, extended top end.

    Are these speakers worth it? For me, the ultimate question comes down to value for the performance and price. $2,000 is a lot of money to pay for speakers.

    So, what do you get? Well, for $2,000 you get superb-sounding, full-range speakers that go into the 20kHz range with unbelievable build quality, stunning looks, and piano-grade finishing. Let me say it again: a speaker that performs down into the 20‘s—and performs very well down to that range—for $2,000! That’s utterly crazy.

    I don’t know of a single product that can match the sleek look, specs, and build of the Ultima Towers at that price. Even to get something that looks and performs similarly (on paper), you can pay the same price for Paradigm Monitor 11s with no piano black option and they only go into down to 45Hz; spend $1,000 more for a set of B&W CM9s that don’t have nearly the same low frequency extension; or $1,500 more for PSB Imagine T2 Towers that again have no piano black finish and only go down to 34Hz. With any of these other models, you’d absolutely need a quality sub for the low-end, which would put you back yet another $900-$1,200 minimum.

    With the money you’d save by getting the Ultra Towers, you could get a high-end receiver or separates and still come out ahead. And, if you are in a situation where you need high WAF-appeal, you can use the towers without a sub and persuade your wife to let you buy a bigger and better amp because you’d be saving lots of money on the sub (come on guys, I’m right there with you and supporting you!).

    The SVS Ultra Towers are by no means the definitive word in speakers. However, you need to spend substantially more money (probably somewhere in the $5,000-$10,000 range) to get better overall performance, transparency, details, and even then not get the same low frequency extension.

    So, If you are looking for full-range speakers that can do both movies and music exceptionally well with both man-cave and WAF-appeal and compete with speakers 3x - 5x their price, then you need to call and get a free home demo of the SVS Ultra Towers immediately. You’ll be very glad you did. Highly recommended.

    SVS Ultra Summary Box.jpg


    SPECIFICATIONS:
    Loudspeaker Physical Description: 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.

    Driver Array and Technical Highlights:
    1" tweeter:
    FEA-optimized diffuser for airy and unveiled presentation.
    Aluminum dome delivers exceptional transient response and exceptional stiffness/mass ratio.
    6.5" midrange driver:
    Composite glass-fiber cone with excellent stiffness/mass ratio for high sensitivity and pistonic behavior beyond pass band.
    Aluminum shorting ring to reduce gap inductance, lower distortion, and enhance high frequency response.
    Cast aluminum basket to ensure precise alignment of critical components and additional heat-sinking capacity.
    Vented voice coil former to minimize air compression artifacts at high drive levels.
    8" woofers:
    Aluminum shorting rings to reduce gap inductance and lower distortion.
    Long stroke motor and suspension for high output.
    Vented voice coil formers to minimize air compression artifacts at high drive levels.

    ForceFactor Woofer Array:
    Dual 8" side-firing horizontally opposed SVS woofers result in mechanical force cancellation, enhanced modal density and reduced distortion for a smooth, accurate bass at all listening locations.

    SoundMatch Crossover Network:
    3.5-way crossover with premium-grade capacitors, air-core inductors and heavy-trace printed circuit boards.
    Unique tapered midrange array miniimizes off-axis lobing and enhances radiated sound power into listening space.
    Top midrange-to-tweeter crossover: 2 kHz.
    Bottom midrange taper frequency: 700 Hz.
    Dual midrange-to-woofer crossover: 160 Hz.

    Cabinet Construction Technical Highlights:
    Separate sealed midrange enclosures minimize top-to-bottom wall dimensions and shift standing waves beyond the driver pass band, minimizing negative driver interaction and associated frequency response degradation.
    Non-parallel cabinet panels reduces axial standing waves within the cabinet, reducing frequency response coloration..
    Acoustically transparent and FEA optimized grilles, wedge-shaped front baffle and flush-mounted drivers all contribute to reduced edge diffraction and improved on-axis high frequency response.
    FEA-optimized bracing, 1" thick midrange/tweeter baffles and 1.5" thick woofer baffles eliminates structural resonances and ensures the cabinet remains acoustically inert for uncolored response even at the highest drive levels.

    Frequency Response and Electro-Acoustic Data:
    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.


    Footnotes:

    Footnote 1:
    There are many enthusiasts who have been hesitant to buy direct for a variety of reasons. I fall into that category. I’ve always like the appeal of having gear in my home but I didn’t want to have to pay shipping if I didn’t like the product. I was pleasantly surprised to find that SVS has a truly risk-free, no cost deal as part of what they call their “bill of rights”. The SVS guys are so passionate and confident about their products that they will give you 45 days to try them at home, in your setup, with your equipment. Their motto: “Enjoy a full 45-day in -home audition with any item purchased from SVS. If you’re unhappy for any reason, return it for a refund… no questions asked.” They will even give you free shipping both ways. How’s that for confidence?! If you don’t like it, they’ll pay to take it back. The rest of their SVS bill of rights (www.svsound.com/bill-of-rights) is pretty impressive:

    • 90 day defective exchange guarantee
    • 1-year no lemon guarantee
    • 1-year performance guarantee
    • 60 day guaranteed prices
    • 1-year trade-up policy
    • 5-year warranty
    • and more


    One word of caution: if you are ordering the speakers the default method of delivery is “doorstep”. That means that you will need to carry the Ultras into your home. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this because of stairs or other difficulties, be sure to discuss this with SVS when you order your speakers.

    Footnote 2:
    Before doing background research for the review, I didn’t realize that Ohio-based SVS tests its speakers at Canada’s world-renowned NRC (National Research Council Home - National Research Council Canada) anechoic chamber and speaker testing facility. The NRC is Canada’s premiere organization for research and development. Dr. Floyd Toole of Harman International (which has among its brands Mark Levinson, Revel, JBL Synthesis, Lexicon) guided the acoustic and psychoacoustic program at the NRC prior to joining Harman. Many of the finest speaker manufacturers in the world use this facility.

    Mark told me that the precision the NRC’s facilities was what he needed for their speaker designs. “Our performance goals”, he said, “require the level of refinement and optimization that can be achieved by using the NRC facilities. I’ve been designing speakers at the NRC since 1998 and using the facilities for the Ultra Speakers was an obvious path to take.”
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 19, 2014
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  13. internetmin Audioholic

    internetmin
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    SVS Ultra Towers Supplemental Video Review

    In addition to the written review below, I put together a very brief video overview which you can watch here below that gives a very brief description of the Ultra Towers and how they perform.

    [video=youtube;_YaZkJ0hyqE]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YaZkJ0hyqE[/video]

    Last edited: May 28, 2013
  14. GranteedEV Audioholic Ninja

    GranteedEV
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    Nice to see that I wasn't the only one hearing this. :)
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 19, 2014
  15. internetmin Audioholic

    internetmin
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    Thanks all for the opportunity to do this review! It was a ton of fun. And sorry to Tom Andry for driving him nuts :)

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