Terry London has always had a great passion for music, especially jazz, and has amassed a collection of over 7,000 CDs covering the history of this uniquely American art form. Even in his teenage years, Terry developed a passion for auditioning different systems and components to see if they could come anywhere close to the sound of live music, and has for the last forty years had great fun and pleasure chasing this illusion in his two-channel home system.
Terry is a practitioner of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy by day, and runs the Chicago Institute for REBT. He has also authored nine books on this of type psychotherapy and education.
There must be something in the water in the state of Utah that leads to the creation of great speaker designers. RBH Sound is one example of a Utah-based company that knows how to design and create wonderful, high-performance speakers. (Others include Tekton Design and Wilson Audio.) The model that I decided to review was the SV-661R stand-mount speaker, which retails for $2,700/pair and is part of the company's Signature SV Reference Series.
I chose this model for two reasons. First, the SV-661R uses a proprietary AMT (Air Motion Transformer) tweeter that was developed as a joint project between RBH Sound and Aurum Cantus. In the past, I have reviewed four Lawrence Audio models that use different versions of Aurum Cantus AMT drivers. They were all terrific transducers used either as a tweeter or midrange driver. Therefore, I was very curious to hear what RBH and Aurum Cantus came up with in their new proprietary AMT driver. Secondly, the SV-661R uses the classic MTM (midwoofer-tweeter-midwoofer) arrangement commonly called a D'Appolito design. When this arrangement is properly set up, it can produce pinpoint soundstaging, along with tight, accurate bass frequencies.
The SV-661R is a two-way D'Appolito design with two 6.5-inch reference aluminum midwoofers flanking the 4.72-inch-long by one-inch-wide proprietary AMT tweeter. My review pair arrived in perfect condition because RBH uses excellent padding in a thick, two-walled shipping carton. My samples were finished in a very high-quality black piano lacquer with black fabric grilles; a rosewood finish is also available. Each speaker weighs 27.25 pounds and measures 21.5 inches high by 7.75 inches wide by 11.63 inches deep. On the back are two ports and one set of high-quality speaker wire terminals. Its frequency range is 50 Hz to 40 KHz with a sensitivity of 90 dB. The nominal impedance is six ohms. It turned out that the SV661R was easy to drive with either solid-state or tube amplifiers.
I placed the SV-661R speakers in my smaller upstairs system where I evaluate all stand-mount models. I mounted them on Sistrum reference stands that are 24 inches tall and placed 3.5 feet off of the front wall. The speakers were located 2.5 feet from the sidewalls and spaced about six feet apart, with a very slight toe-in.
My upstream gear was composed of a McCormack Drive SST-1 CD transport, a Line Magnetic 502 CA-based DAC, a Schitt Audio Saga 6SN7-based preamplifier, and either the solid-state Usher Audio Reference 1.5 Class A amplifier or the tube-based AricAudio Transcend Series KT 120 SET amplifier. All the cabling in the system is MG reference Silver ICs and copper speaker wire. All power cords are Audio Archon reference power cords.
My first selection was Kenny Burrell's Blues: The Common Ground (Verve). I chose this album to see how the SV-661R speakers would handle the tonality/timbres of Mr. Burrell's Gibson hollow-body guitar, along with the brass section that backed him up. The speakers produced accurate and gorgeous colors for each individual instrument. Overall, the SV-661R has a slight warmth to it that makes it totally devoid of grain but does not interfere with transparency or the ability to easily hear the micro-details within the music. I attribute these excellent qualities to the custom-designed AMT driver that reaches down to the upper midrange and blends seamlessly with the midwoofers.
My next selection was tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine's That's Where It's At (Blue Note ST-84096), in order to evaluate how the SV-661Rs would handle the cymbal work of legendary drummer Otis "Candy" Finch. On this recording, his brush work and the air/decays of his wonderful use of the cymbals can really highlight any shortcomings in a speaker's high-end reproduction. Again, the SV-661R's AMT driver was up to the task. All the strokes using brushes on the different cymbals and how they radiated into the space around the drum kit were rendered with all their delicacy intact. The decays, which were clearly heard, lasted as long as they do in real life. None of this was delivered in an analytical/harsh way. The tonality was accurate and kept the silky smooth signature of the brass cymbals intact, regardless of how hard they were struck by Mr. Finch.
One of my favorite jazz albums is A Musical Romance (Columbia/Legacy), which contains recordings that have the legendary Billie Holiday performing with her favorite tenor saxophonist, Lester "Pres" Young, on many ballads and blues selections. The sound quality of this anthology of different recording sessions is not the best; however, the raw emotionality and power of both her voice and his saxophone can test whether a speaker lets you experience the "human connection" in the music or just sounds like a device that puts the music in your listening room. When the SV-661R speakers were being powered by the AricAudio tube-based amplifier, two superlative qualities were very noticeable. First, the speakers completely disappeared into a soundstage that realistically gave the illusion of the size of where the music was recorded. Along with this wonderful rendering of space was the production of three-dimensional imaging of the players on that soundstage. Second, the "inner glow" of colors and the sense of being close to the musicians that a great SET amplifier like the AricAudio creates were passed on intact by the RBH speakers.
My final selection was Buddy Guy's Damn Right--I've Got the Blues (Silvertone Records). I used this album to test the SV-661R's prowess in overall macro-dynamics and low-frequency extension. There were no shortcomings in ultimate volume level; the SV-661Rs could play at very high dB levels while still keeping their sonic composure. However, they fell somewhat short with big, dynamic passages, in that they slightly compressed the sound. The speakers delivered taut bass in its grip, definition, and impact to around their rated 50 Hz. I'm glad that RBH Sound did not try to get the SV-661R speakers to sound like they produce deeper bass by adding the "upper bass thump" that many companies add to their stand-mount speakers, which tends to give an artificial sense of bass power or extension. Because the SV-661R is accurate down to its 50-Hz roll-off point, it will be very easy to seamlessly match with a quality subwoofer.
Click over to Page Two for The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
If you are a hardcore lover of rock, electronic, or rap music and you play at very high dB levels (around 95 dB or higher), you might find this speaker lacking in overall punch or dynamics. Also, the SV-661R has excellent bass, but it quickly rolls off at around 50 Hz; so, if you want bass to thump you in the chest or pressurize your room, you'll either want to mate these speakers with a subwoofer or consider one of the larger floorstanding speakers in the Signature SV Series, like the SV-6500R that we previously reviewed. The tower models will deliver more dynamics and deeper bass while retaining the other fine qualities discussed in this review.
Comparison and Competition
Two speakers with which I have experience that are at or near the price of the SV-661R are the Revel Performa3 M106, which retails for $2,000/pair and the Joseph Audio Prism, which retails for $3,699/pair. The Revel Performa3 M106 offers the same degree of transparency and micro-details as the SV-661R and is similar in its soundstaging abilities. The SV-661R is superior to the Revel model in its ability to reproduce beautiful timbres/tonality in the midrange and upper frequencies. The Joseph Audio Prism speaker has lower bass extension than the SV-661R, and it will play at louder dB levels. But, when it comes to soundstaging abilities and the rendering of timbres/tonality, I believe the SV-661R is the better performer.
If you are a lover of jazz, acoustic, classical, opera, or vocal-centric music, you will find RBH Sound's SV-661R to be a very satisfying speaker. It has excellent soundstaging, with accurate layering and positioning of players on that stage. Because of its proprietary AMT driver, the SV-661R delivers beautiful timbres/tonality/colors in the very important midrange and treble regions. This tonality is delivered in a slightly warm/silky way that allows you to relax into the music, but it doesn't get in the way of transparency or micro-details. Plus, the physical appearance of the SV-661R speaker is quite attractive, and its rather small size makes it easy to place in most listening spaces.
• Visit the RBH Sound website for more product information.
• Check out our Bookshelf Speaker Reviews page to read similar reviews.
• RBH Signature Reference SV-6500R Floorstanding Speaker Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.