Bob Barrett is a versatile writer and knowledgeable hi-fi enthusiast whose work for HomeTheaterReivew.com runs the gamut from mid- to high-end home theater to audiophile components and speakers. He also specializes in high-performance and high-end headphones.
For those who may be unfamiliar, Utah-based RBH Sound has been manufacturing a complete line of high-performance audio products for residential and commercial applications since the mid-seventies. They've been known for both esoteric audiophile speaker designs, as well as affordable high-performance designs that far outperform their price points. Back at CES 2015, RBH first unveiled its Signature SV Series of loudspeakers. According to the company, the Signature SV Series was designed for both high-performance home theater and critical stereo listening. The series included a "Reference" upgrade option, with even higher-quality aluminum woofers and proprietary fixed-position phase plug aluminum midrange drivers to increase frequency response and thus extend power handling and improve sonic clarity. The upgrade also includes modified crossover networks to manage the upgraded drivers.
In late 2016, RBH made a further refinement to the Signature Reference lineup, replacing the Scan-Speak silk dome tweeter with a proprietary AMT (Air Motion Transformer) tweeter co-developed by Aurum Cantus and RBH Sound engineers. The AMT tweeter is a pneumatic transducer with a low mass diaphragm suspended in a high-intensity magnetic field. In contrast to a planar ribbon tweeter, the diaphragm of the AMT has a pleated shape similar to a bellows. The diaphragm incorporates an aluminum conductor and has optimal rigidity and self-damping characteristics. It moves air in an augmented, semi-perpendicular motion similar to that observed when an accordion is pushed in and out to pump air through the reed chamber. The Aurum Cantus AMT reference-grade tweeters provide a larger driver surface area, larger motor structure, increased power handling, and improved resolution. The AMT tweeter increases the upper frequency response to beyond 40 kHz and is said to provide a greater sense of air and realism.
This review is specifically focused on the Signature Reference SV-6500R tower speaker ($4,395/pair). However, because I would be auditioning the SV-6500R for both home theater and stereo listening, I asked RBH to send along the matching SV-661CR center-channel speaker ($1,345) so that the front soundstage would consist solely of timbre-matched RBH speakers. Daren Egan, Director of Sales and Marketing for RBH Sound, obliged, sending me the towers and center channel finished in a stunning high-gloss South American rosewood.
The SV-6500R tower speaker is constructed of layered medium density fiberboard (MDF), it measures 8.88 inches wide by 50 inches high by 14.13 inches deep, and it tips the scale at a substantial 72.7 pounds. The cabinet features a modern swept-back design with internal bracing to further reduce standing waves and improve cabinet rigidity for tighter bass. The front baffle has a total of six drivers mounted vertically, with the 4.72-inch-high by one-inch-wide AMT tweeter positioned between two proprietary 6.5-inch fixed-position phase plug aluminum midrange drivers in the upper half and three 6.5-inch reference aluminum cone woofers mounted below. Around back, the cabinet features a port and two pairs of high-quality, five-way binding posts for bi-wiring or bi-amplification. The black cloth grille completely covers the front baffle when attached. The speaker's frequency response, impedance rating, and sensitivity are documented to be 35 Hz to 40 kHz (+/-3dB), four ohms, and 88 dB (2.83 volts at one meter), respectively. The modified steep acoustic slope crossover networks (24 dB per octave) employed in the Signature Reference Series were computer designed to ensure seamless integration of the upgraded drivers. The crossover frequencies are 100 Hz and 2,700 Hz.
The Signature Reference SV-661CR center channel is also constructed of layered MDF. It measures 21.5 inches wide by 7.63 inches high by 11.69 inches deep and weighs 27.4 pounds. The cabinet baffle houses an identical 4.72-inch-high by one-inch-wide AMT tweeter located between two of the same proprietary 6.5-inch fixed-position phase plug aluminum midrange drivers, all covered by a black cloth grille. On the back of the center channel are two ports flanking a single pair of five-way binding posts. The center channel's frequency response, impedance rating, and sensitivity are listed as 55 Hz to 40 kHz (+3dB), six ohms, and 90 dB, respectively. The crossover frequency of the three-speaker, two-way design is set at 2,700 Hz.
RBH also makes a selection of matched bookshelf and subwoofer models that round out the Signature Reference Series and provide a multitude of options to construct a home theater system to meet your needs. The Signature Reference SV Series speakers also carry a five-year warranty.
Upon carefully unboxing the SV-6500R towers and SV-661CR center channel, I was immediately taken with the beautiful high-gloss South American rosewood finish. From my experience as a longtime woodworker, it was obvious that there had been numerous coats of hand-buffed lacquer applied to the Rosewood veneer to produce such a deep luster. Rapping on the cabinet with my knuckles, I confirmed the solid, well-damped construction claimed by RBH.
Now it was time to carry these robust speakers upstairs to my dedicated listening room. The speakers would take the place of my reference Aerial Acoustics 7T towers and CC3C center channel. After moving out the Aerials, I installed the included outriggers and spikes to the bases of the SV-6500R towers. I then placed the RBH Signature Reference towers in the same positions previously occupied by the Aerial 7Ts, with the baffles 58 inches from the front wall, 20 inches from the sidewalls, and slightly toed in. I placed the SV-661CR center on my Sound Anchors stand. I connected the Signature Reference speakers with a single run each of WireWorld's Silver Eclipse Series 7 speaker cable from my Classé five-channel amp. The remaining speakers in my system included two wall-mounted Aerial Acoustics 5B bookshelf speakers as surrounds and two JL Audio Fathom F110 subs on Sound Anchor stands. Other electronics included a Classé CP-800 stereo preamplifier, a Marantz AV-8801 11-channel pre/pro, an Oppo UDP-205 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player for physical media, and a Mac Mini music server for digital media.
Next I hooked up the calibration microphone and ran the Audyssey MultEQ XT32 auto room correction software in the Marantz pre/pro to prepare the 5.2-channel speaker system for home theater surround sound listening. With the system calibrated, I queued up some two-channel music from the TIDAL HiFi streaming service in order to break in the RBH Sound towers for the next couple of weeks. I meant to spend the next 10 to 15 minutes in the room just to make a quick initial assessment of the speaker positioning. I ended up spending the next two hours just sitting there dumbfounded as I listened to many different selections. I was so impressed with what I was hearing that I was sure that RBH must have broken in the speakers before shipment. Upon asking Mr. Egan if that was the case, he responded that lead engineer Shane Rich had only hooked them up long enough to make sure they worked properly.
When evaluating a set of speakers, I like to start off simple by listening to acoustic tracks. For critical listening of the Signature Reference SV-6500R towers, I chose Bay area R&B singer Kehlani Parrish's single "Honey" (Atlantic Records) streamed from TIDAL HiFi (16-bit/44.1-kHz). The tune just has an acoustic guitar track banded around Kehlani's close-miked vocal, with two backup harmony singers that come in at about the 1:30 mark. Through the SV-6500R towers, the definition of Kehlani's vocal was incredibly pure. I could hear every little detail of every lyric without any harshness. The quick response to the acoustic guitar transients by the RBH drivers and the tonal accuracy of the guitar created a sound that seemed more like live music than a recording. There was a seamless transition between the AMT tweeter and the midrange driver, too. The soundstage width was impressive, with the finger snaps at the 2:30 mark emanating from far outside the speaker boundaries. The snaps were distinct and sharp, bringing a further sense of realism to the tune.
Next I wanted to see how the SV-6500R's three bass drivers would respond to a more complex, bass-filled piece of music. For this test, I looked to Imagine Dragons, one of my current favorites among rock bands. Lead singer Dan Reynolds and the band bring a lot of emotion and powerful energy to their music. I listened to the tune "Believer" from their Evolve album (Interscope Records), streaming the MQA Master version of the tune from TIDAL HiFi (24-bit/88.2-kHz). The tune starts off with a powerful drum beat that continues throughout, serving as the undercurrent for a staccato vocal filled with raw emotion and pain. The three 6.5-inch bass drivers combined to present the drumbeats with all of the clarity, strength, and low-note authority I had hoped for. There was never any muddiness. With the Classé preamplifier, I have the ability to quickly switch back and forth between engaging and disengaging the JL Audio subs. In doing so, the difference in bass energy was so subtle that I never felt like I was missing anything without the subs engaged. And again, the soundstage was wider than I expected, extending way beyond the width of the speakers. There was also good depth and height to the soundstage, with plenty of space between individual instruments. There is so much going on in this tune that, with lesser speakers, I've heard smearing of instruments and voices, resulting in a congested sound. Not so with the SV-6500R towers. Vocals were always distinct and clear, as were the individual instruments in this high-energy piece of music.
RBH claims that the SV-6500R speakers are designed to perform equally well as part of a home theater surround sound system. To evaluate the speakers' performance in such a setting, I also spent considerable time watching (and listening to) movies using the Signature Reference towers as a part of the aforementioned 5.2 speaker setup.
My wife and I had seen the movie Wonder Woman in the theater during the summer and decided we would like to watch it again in our home theater. We purchased the 4K UHD Blu-ray version (Warner Bros. Pictures) but played the HD Blu-ray version for this review, since I have a Sony 1080p projector in the theater room. On the HD Blu-ray, the audio is offered in both Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD 7.1. As impressive as this movie was in the local cinema, I think we enjoyed it even more in our own theater. In chapter seven, an Allied Battalion is entrenched at the front with the German forces on the other side. Diana decides to cross No Man's Land to rescue the enslaved people in the town of Veld, located just beyond the Germans. The Signature Reference SV-6500R speakers and SV-661CR center channel reproduced the dialogue, gunfire, explosions, and Rupert Gregson-Williams music soundtrack with great intensity, emotion, and clarity. The bass-heavy scene was no problem for the RBH speakers. The SV-6500R towers in tandem with the JL Audio subwoofers delivered all of the chest-thumping, sonic impact I hoped for, while also delivering the emotion of the continually building, powerful soundtrack. All of this combined to draw me further into the action, putting me on the battlefield with the heroine Diana and her friends. The ultimate test for the RBH speakers was the scene's climactic end, where Diana smashes the bell tower serving as the lair for a German sniper. Together the RBH towers and the subwoofers moved an insane amount of air with ease, hitting me square in the chest while debris from the explosion fell all around me.
Next I decided to watch Spider-Man: Homecoming (Sony Pictures) because I had heard that the movie was better than expected (really, another Spider-Man movie?). After viewing the trailers, I anticipated that the active soundtrack would be a good test for the SV-6500R speakers. The HD Blu-ray that I used for this review comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack. In chapter eight, Peter Parker's classmates enter the Washington Monument elevator for a tour, only to have an explosive device go off, putting them in grave danger of falling. Spider-Man scales the wall of the monument to save his friends. In the process, a police helicopter swoops in to try and stop Spider-Man, who they think is a terrorist. The aggressiveness of the scene's soundtrack when played through the RBH Signature Reference SV-6500R towers and SV-661R center channel presented every element with as much width, depth, and seamless movement as possible with a 5.2 configuration. There was a great balance between the RBH front-end, the Aerial Acoustics surround sound support, and the JL Audio low-end intensity that, all together, they provided one of the film's most demanding action scenes with sonic clarity, precision, and intensity. The dialogue was always clear and detailed, with unwavering spatially accurate positioning. The music was reproduced with seamless spacing and pinpoint clarity. All we can hope for from loudspeakers is that they reproduce movie effects and music in a way that draws us into the story on a deeper emotional level, and this RBH system certainly delivered.
I watched numerous movies and several sports events in the theater using the Signature Reference SV-6500R towers, and I encountered similar results time and again. Dialogue was always crystal clear through the SV-661CR center channel, and both movies and sports were simply more enjoyable when hearing them through the RBH speakers.
While admittedly a minor point, I'd prefer the speaker grilles attach to the front baffle via magnets rather than the pin and grommet arrangement of the SV-6500R towers--it allows for easier attachment/removal and a cleaner look when the grilles are removed.
Comparison & Competition
Potential buyers of the RBH Signature Reference SV-6500R towers have several other comparable options to choose from, albeit at slightly higher price points. Three previously reviewed and highly regarded floorstander speaker models that come to mind are the Monitor Audio Gold 300 ($5,700/pair), the Revel Performa3 F208 ($5,000/pair), and the Paradigm Prestige 95F floorstanders ($4,998/pair). I reviewed the Monitor Audio Gold speakers, and I've heard the Revel speakers on multiple occasions. Both are terrific in their own right, but both are also more expensive than the RBH model. It's my opinion that the RBH speakers reproduce an equal volume of bass more effortlessly, due to the inclusion of three 6.5-inch bass drivers.
The RBH Signature Reference SV-6500R speakers are top performers that truly deserve to be called "Reference" speakers, outperforming any speaker I've heard around this price. The SV-6500R represents a tremendous value in terms of build quality and fit and finish, too. You would have to spend considerably more to find a speaker that outperforms the RBH SV-6500R, which begs the question, "Why would you?" If you are in the market for a set of high-performance speakers in the $5,000 to $6,000 range, I recommend you save some money and audition these RBH speakers first.
• Visit the RBH Sound website for more product information.
• Check out our Floorstanding Speaker Reviews category page to read similar reviews.
• RBH Adds AMT Tweeter to Its Signature Reference Speakers at HomeTheaterReview.com.