Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.
RBH Sound is a Utah-based speaker manufacturer best known for its use of aluminum cone drivers and high-quality wood cabinets. In as much as the use of aluminum, drivers were considered out of the norm when RBH began to utilize them, RBH again pushes boundaries with their actively configured SVTR and SVTRS speaker systems.
Traditionalists need not worry as the SVTR can also be had in a more traditional passive configuration, the question is why you would choose one over the other.
The SVTR tower system ($15,900 in passive configuration) is available in active or passive models. Regardless of configuration, the SVTR is a commanding speaker with two twelve-inch woofers and three eight-inch midranges arcing around a large AMT tweeter. Each speaker is actually two separate RBH speakers connected by a special plate. The bottom half is an SV-1212NR subwoofer module, while the top half is an SV-831R. RBH makes an even larger version with a second subwoofer module on top of the SV-831R for those of you with exceptionally large rooms.
My review samples were finished in a beautiful high gloss black with eight coasts of piano black gloss paint that was so smooth and polished that it was easy to see reflections, high gloss South American Rosewood is another available option. The front baffles are completely covered by old school grilles made of black cloth wrapped around a beefy wood frame that attaches to the baffle with press-fit pins.
Each speaker is quite large, measuring 62 inches tall, 15-3/16 inches wide, and 22-3/16 inches deep and weighs in at 205 pounds per side. While a good portion of the weight comes from the cabinets which are heavily braced with one-and-a-half-inch thick front baffles and one-inch walls elsewhere.
While the grilles are old school, they conceal an intriguing array of drivers. A pair of forward-firing twelve-inch aluminum-cone drivers are housed in the bottom cabinet. The cones are damped to reduce ringing and attenuate any breakup modes. Outrigger feet were used on my review samples, but simpler cones are also available. Whatever foot option you choose, it will raise the speakers over two inches to give the massive six-inch diameter port that runs almost the entire height of the lower cabinet some breathing room.
The back of the cabinets, both top, and bottom, have dual, five-way binding posts. This allows bi-wiring which is necessary for the tweeter-midrange modules in the active configuration. The upper cabinets each have an Aurum Cantus AMT tweeter mounted on the inner edge of the baffle, halfway up with three eight-inch aluminum cone drivers, in a curved, semi-circular array.
I asked Shane Rich, the Technical Director of RBH why he selected this configuration, he called it a dispersion averaging alignment, explaining that it had more limited horizontal dispersion and that moving the midrange drivers closer to tweeter to minimize vertical lobing. The tweeter in the middle of this array is the Aurum Cantus AMT—which RBH co-developed with Aurum Cantus—that measures four and 7/10 inches high by one inch wide. This provides approximately six times the radiating area as a one-inch dome tweeter. The goal was to provide horn-like dynamic range, without losing the refinement that a ribbon tweeter can provide.
The active configuration also includes electronics. The Marani LPP-480F, which has four inputs and eight outputs, handles digital signal processing, including crossovers and equalization. Internal processing is carried out at 96kHz / 24-bit resolution using FIR filters and 1,024 taps per channel, which can be grouped for additional resolution as needed.
RBH’s own Unrivaled series amplifiers in either a six-channel configuration or eight-channel if you add a center-channel provide the power. The amplifiers are built around Pascal Class D amplification modules and are configured to put our 1500 watts per channel to the subwoofers, 500 watts per channel to the midrange, and 250 watts per channel to the tweeters. In light of the SVTR’s 93 dB sensitivity (2.83V @ 1 Meter), I cannot imagine needing more power in a residential setting. Frequency response is specified at 20Hz-35kHz +/- 3dB but that will be conservative for the active configuration.
Word of advice: Have your dealer do it or bring friends. I have set up many speakers over the years, some of which have been larger or heavier—but very few. Thankfully each channel is comprised of two cabinets and while this may sound like it would be easy to set up, each cabinet is about a hundred pounds and the size of a large subwoofer. Thankfully my SVTR system was initially set up as an active system because all active SVTR systems come with setup included. Scott and Shane of RBH worked together to move the cabinets into place and secure them with a simple, but effective mounting plate that mounts on the rear to join top and bottom. We also installed an SV-821 center channel, which is substantial in and of itself, but almost looks diminutive in between the huge towers.
The most complex part of the setup was the tuning. Shane used crossover points of 100 Hz and 3,000 Hz with asymmetrical slopes, this differs from the passive version which crosses over the mids and highs at 2,000 Hz. The DSP inserts a 108 dB FIR filter between the mid-woofer and tweeter. RBH provides some presets that get the tuning most of the way there, but these can be tweaked for the room and preferences. The Marani has numerous presets so you can program different house curves and experiment on your own without losing the original programming.
The active configuration setup requires a multitude of balanced cables in addition to the three sets of speaker cables necessary to tri-wire the speakers. Thank you to Wireworld for providing all the cabling from their Eclipse Series 8 lineup which I found to be well made, neutral, and flexible enough to work with. RBH also sent me outboard crossovers in small wooden boxes so I could evaluate the SVTRs in a passive configuration, in this case, the weight of the speaker cables was enough to pull the boxes down so I ended up placing them on the floor.
All listening was done in active configuration unless otherwise noted. Two-channel music was fed to the RBHs by a PS Audio DirectStream Mark II DAC by means of a McIntosh C-500 preamplifier. For movies and multi-channel music, I used a Marantz AVP8805 Preamplifier.
I started with an audiophile classic, Jennifer Warnes “Bird on a Wire” from her album Famous Blue Raincoat (Tidal, Private Music) and was surprised by how well these huge speakers disappeared. The soundstage started just behind the face of the speakers and went back beyond my front wall with each individual instrument solidly in its position. With four, twelve-inch drivers I was not surprised to find the drums were reproduced with clarity and impact. The triangle was clean and detailed without any harshness, but I think it fell just behind the Revel F328Be in nuanced detail.
I wanted to see if I could push the SVTR speakers into losing their composure with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (Tidal, Telarc) – when listening at moderate levels there was a large soundstage behind the speakers with good individual localization. The strings were slightly recessed in comparison to the Revel F328Be and Vivid Kaya 90 speakers but similar in resolution and image. I played the speakers at increasing volume levels until I put on some hearing protection and never noticed any signs of increased distortion or compression.
I have listening notes from over a dozen songs from describing guitar riffs from Rage Against the Machine, Jeff Buckley’s vocals on “Hallelujah” and many more but to sum it up, there was some, very rare localization most of the time these immense speakers would simply disappear from the sonic soundstage. The imaging and very good but at times just shy of the very best speakers I have heard in my room such as the Vivid Kaya 90, Revel F226Be/F328Be, and Magico A3.
My family and I have enjoyed many movies with the SVTR speakers, they mesh well with the SV-821 center channel and did not suffer at all when I configured my processor to have them handle the LFE channel material as well. Their performance with movies and multi-channel music was just as good as their stereo performance and would be well suited for even the largest home theaters.
The speakers are extremely big and heavy. If you take advantage of the hollow cavity in the back of the upper module to add sand for additional stabilization, they can get up to close to 300 pounds per side. In addition to their sheer size, they are blocky despite the tapered, curved cabinets. I do not mind the old-school pin-style attachment system on the grilles, but they are aesthetically plain and boring. That said, my main complaint with the system is with the electronics, they need refinement. They will offend the purist as all signals are digitized and processed. On an operational note, with no triggers, you need to manually switch on the Marani and amplifier.
I know you are thinking “just how lazy can this guy be?” Wait, the Marani only has a power switch on the back and I normally have my gear rack mounted. The Marani processor also had an extremely bright display that cannot be dimmed. I ended up ordering some tinted film off of Amazon. More importantly, the configuration and setup of the processor is complicated and must be done from a computer. Thankfully the speakers come with setup by RBH included but if you move it or simply want to tweak the settings it can get frustrating. Howveer, RBH has excellent customer service that can help walk you through it. RBH also advises that it is working on some options to simplify setup and adjustments without sacrificing capabilities.
The actively configured RBH SVTR system is pretty unique. I understand the JBL M2’s ($13,320 per pair without electronics) are often sold with a DSP processor/crossover and amplification which would result in a similar type of setup. I remember hearing these years ago at some shows and being impressed but unfortunately cannot recall specifics. The Dutch & Dutch 8C ($12,500) and Kii Three ($16,995) are both active speakers with various levels of built-in processing but are relatively compact speakers that will not be able to match the RBH’s dynamic capabilities or extension.
The newer Kii BXT system ($32,975) adds bass modules to the Kii Three system and would be a better match. I have not heard these but hope to soon once the shows are back in force. Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention B&O’s BeoLab 90 ($100,000), it is significantly more expensive, but I remember listening to them at CES several years ago and being impressed with their holographic imaging in a problematic room. If I recall correctly, they also had a plethora of setup options and configurations but also included a friendly user interface, something missing with the RBHs.
RBH’s SVTR speakers overcame my initial skepticism about having an asymmetrical array. When I saw them, I was concerned that no matter what I did with the equalization there was no way it would sound good across a larger listening space. I was wrong. I have been using the SVTR speakers in two different rooms, a twelve by eighteen-foot dedicated listening/theater room and a much larger living room in an open floor plan. They were able to produce balanced sounds in a well-formed soundstage in both rooms.
The ability to tune speakers to different rooms or different listening preferences can indeed be done with other outboard processors but this is one of few systems that have this capability included within the system. The initial setup took a couple of days to get it dialed in to my satisfaction and when I moved them to the other room, I had to take some REW measurements and adjust the bass.
When I was playing with the Marani, it reminded me of swapping tubes to see what impact it may have on sound, perhaps this is the 21st-century version of tube rolling. One speaker that can be set up to deliver very similar performance in remarkably different rooms makes it easier to anticipate what you will end up with in your own room.
Utilizing different presets, I could easily switch between curves or move the speakers back to a prior location without compromising their performance. True this could have also been done with a third-party processing system with any passive speaker but the active setup provided other benefits. In their passive configuration, the SVTRs could not disappear as well or image as precisely as the Magico A3s or Revel F328Bes do in the same space. However, in their active configuration, they are extremely close with the added benefit of seemingly limitless dynamics and immediacy, coupled with bass that is not only extremely deep and prodigious with as much detail as you would expect from a top tier subwoofer with absolutely no loss of composure at any volume.
If you have the space and the budget, I highly recommend you audition the RBH SVTR speaker system, particularly in its active configuration. The combination of speakers that disappear, precise imaging, and unlimited dynamics with speakers tuned to your preference is very hard to beat.