SVS Ultra Tower Speakers Reviewed
By: Andrew Robinson,
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- 4 Stars
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- 4 Stars
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While SVS may be better known for its subwoofers, that hasn't stopped the Internet-direct company from venturing into the often crowded waters of home theater loudspeakers. SVS' prior loudspeaker efforts were largely praised by both enthusiasts and the press alike, though they never really caught fire in quite the same way SVS' subwoofer offerings have. SVS has recently gone back and completely redesigned its loudspeaker line, coming up with a whole new offering in the form of the Ultra Series. Aimed at providing consumers with a truly high-end-sounding solution, albeit at an affordable price, the Ultra line is the finest loudspeaker SVS has made to date and, as a result, it's the only lineup of loudspeakers the company now offers. So the Ultra Series represents SVS' entry as well as its flagship effort.
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The Ultra Series is anchored by the Ultra Tower reviewed here. Retailing for $999 each, the Ultra Tower is the only floor-standing loudspeaker in the line, which includes the Ultra Bookshelf (499 each), Ultra Center ($699) and Ultra Surround ($599 each). Like all SVS products, the Ultra Series comes with a full 45-day risk-free, in-home trial with free shipping, both ways. Not bad. Additionally, they come with a one-year "no lemon" guarantee, as well as a one-year performance guarantee that accompanies the five-year unconditional warranty and one-year trade-up policy. The no lemon guarantee means that if your product malfunctions three times in the span of one year, SVS will simply replace it or give you full credit toward the same or a similar product. The one-year performance guarantee states that if SVS improves upon a product that you've purchased within a year of your original sale, then the company will update your product to current spec at no charge to you. The trade-up policy simply states that you can upgrade to a more expensive SVS product and receive the full credit of your original purchase towards the new product, provided you upgrade within the year and still have all the factory packaging. It's what SVS calls, "Your SVS Bill of Rights."
Getting back to the Ultra Towers, they are striking in their physical appearance, what with their high-gloss, piano black finish (black oak veneer also available) and chrome-accented drivers. The speakers themselves are not your typical boxy affair, but rather a sculptural collection of planes that taper and slope to create an interesting geometric statement. The angles, along with the cabinet's internal structure, are designed in such a way as to break up or otherwise reduce standing waves and coloration, both inside and out. Because the Ultra Tower isn't wholly symmetrical through and through, its measurements are a bit all over the place, though its footprint is constant at just under 14 inches wide by 16-and-a-quarter inches deep. The Ultra Tower is 45 inches tall at its highest point, which is just above the topmost driver. Weight is stated to be 75 pounds each, and having dragged both pairs up a full flight of stairs, I don't doubt SVS' claims.
The front baffle plays host to a pair of six-and-a-half-inch midrange drivers, with a one-inch aluminum dome tweeter between them. Down toward the bass of each Ultra Tower rest two eight-inch woofers, one on each side. Note I didn't say "subwoofers," as the dual eights are not. Around back there is a single rear-firing port, which further helps to augment the Ultra Tower's low-end performance. With regards to connection options, you'll find two pairs of gold-plated five-way binding posts.
Behind the scenes, the Ultra Tower's driver complement is good for a reported frequency response of 28Hz to 32kHz, with a nominal impedance of eight ohms. Sensitivity is stated to be 88dB, making the Ultra Tower suitable for amplifiers and/or receivers ranging in power from 20 to 300 watts or more. Yes, I said more.
Unboxing the Ultra Towers from their triangular-shaped boxes is a job for two, though it can be done solo if need be. The speakers themselves are well packed to ensure the utmost safety from their point of origin to your doorstep. Storing the un-used boxes is something of a consideration, given their unique shape and sheer amount of Styrofoam. Still, I'm not here to critique the speaker box, but rather the speaker itself.
For the purposes of this review, the Ultra Towers replaced both my reference Pendragons, as well as my newly acquired JBL Pro 3677 cinema monitors. Thankfully, the Ultra Towers seemed to work best (in my room) in roughly the same physical position as both the Pendragon and the JBLs. Physically placing them in my room went fairly quickly, with each Ultra Tower resting roughly 18 inches from my side walls and a full three feet off my front wall, putting about six-and-a-half to seven feet between them. SVS sent me the company's entire Ultra speaker line, meaning I paired the Ultra Towers with a matching Ultra Center, as well as Ultra Surrounds. Briefly, the Ultra Center is a three-way design, utilizing dual six-and-a-half-inch woofers on either side of a single one-inch aluminum tweeter sitting atop a four-inch midrange driver. The whole speaker is good for a frequency response (reported) of 45Hz to 32kHz, with a sensitivity of 87dB and an impedance of eight ohms.
The Ultra Surrounds are a bit different, in that they can be configured in one of three ways: as a bi-pole or di-pole speaker or as two discrete speakers, meaning it is possible to have a seven-channel setup from only five speakers. I experimented with all of the above setup options, including treating the Ultra Surround as two discrete loudspeakers and found that I preferred the Ultra Surround configured, more or less, like a dedicated rear speaker. This meant that I had to then position the Ultra Surrounds further back along my side walls, so that their angled, forward-facing drivers were aimed directly at my listening position, so as not to result in surround information "appearing" in front of me. In truth, I ended up using the Ultra Bookshelf speakers for rears longer-term, as that was just my personal preference, though they're not wall-mountable, so I had to rely on my trusty Sanus stands, which isn't ideal but is still sufficient in my room. Regardless, the Ultra Surround is a dual baffle design, each with its own five-and-a-half-inch woofer mated to a single one-inch aluminum dome tweeter. The speaker is good for a reported frequency response of 58Hz to 32kHz, with a sensitivity of 87dB and an impedance of eight ohms.
The center speaker was placed atop two Sanus speaker stands side by side in order to accommodate its rather large size - 22 inches wide by 10 inches deep - and was placed between the left and right mains. The Ultra Surrounds were hung from my ceiling using Monoprice ceiling brackets, though I had to fashion an adaptor out of wood in order for the mounting points to align with my Monoprice brackets. It should be noted that SVS does give you brackets with the Ultra Surrounds; it's just that the brackets didn't work for my unique setup.
Because SVS is a primarily a subwoofer company, it should come as no surprise that I would use one of its subwoofers during this review as well. The sub I chose was the SB13-Ultra, which writer Sean Killebrew reviewed earlier. While you can read his review of the SB13-Ultra for a full breakdown of its performance, let me just say it's killer, easily besting my (former) reference JL Fathom f110s. While the two aren't exactly a fair comparison to one another, the SB13-Ultra manages to do more for less than the JL's asking price, especially when you consider that the JL sub truly comparable to the SB13-Ultra is the JL Fathom f113 that retails for around $4,000, depending on finish. That's good value on the part of the SVS SB13-Ultra. While the SB13-Ultra does have parametric EQ functionality (2), I ended up needing two more bands, so I EQ'ed it using Room EQ Wizard feeding my filters, then into my Behringer Feedback Destroyer Pro before passing the signal onto the sub itself.
All of the speakers were connected to their respective amplifiers, which in this case were Parasound Halo A21 (stereo) and A31 (three-channel) amplifiers, via 12-gauge speaker cable from Binary, a SnapAV company. The sub was connected to my Behringer via a 10-foot balanced cable from Monoprice, with an additional one-meter balanced interconnect from the Behringer to my Integra DHC 80.2, also from Monoprice. Source components included my Oppo BDP-103 and the Dune-HD Max, both connected to my Integra via one meter HDMI cables from Monoprice. With everything set up and the levels matched inside my Integra, it was time to get down to business.
Read about the performance of the SVS Ultra Tower speaker on Page 2.