You'd think that, after so many decades of speaker development, we'd have settled on a perfect driver complement. Actually, we kind of have. Once you look carefully at what kinds of speakers work best in most rooms, with most music, and for most listeners' tastes--and also tend to produce the best measured performance--you end up with three-way designs. These typically combine a dome or ribbon tweeter, a midrange driver in the four-inch range, and one or more 6.5- or eight-inch woofers. This isn't necessarily "the best," and I've heard many other driver configs that sounded world-class. But from what I've observed, this is the one that most dependably delivers a great result. One example of a speaker built like this is my usual reference, the Revel F206. Another is the new Prime Tower from SVS.
SVS made its reputation on building some of the best subwoofers you can buy...and making them affordable to the average audio enthusiast. Beginning with the Ultra Series speakers launched in 2013, the company started to get serious about frequencies above 80 Hz. The Ultra Series, while delivering astoundingly good performance for the price, was not inexpensive; the Ultra Tower cost $1,999 per pair. I expected a company that's best known for awesome, affordable subwoofers to deliver something a little more real-world in price. With the new Prime Series, SVS has done just that. The $999/pair Prime Tower is the top-of-the-line model; there's also the $499/pair Prime Bookshelf, $269/pair Prime Satellite, and $349-each Prime Center.
The Prime Tower conforms to the pretty-much-ideal driver complement I cited before: two 6.5-inch polypropylene-cone woofers, a 4.5-inch poly-cone midrange, and a one-inch aluminum-dome tweeter. It's a 3.5-way design, with each driver covering a different frequency range. The tweeter handles everything from 2.1 kHz and up. The midrange reproduces frequencies from 350 Hz to 2.1 kHz. The top woofer covers everything below 350 Hz. The bottom woofer comes in only at frequencies below 165 Hz.
Why not have both woofers covering the same range? Because if you did that, the distance between the lower woofer and the midrange would allow them to interfere with each other, reinforcing some frequencies and canceling others. With the 3.5-way design, the lower woofer helps out only in the bass, where its extra muscle is needed, and otherwise stays out of the way.
From the standpoint of visual aesthetics, the Prime Tower is just as well conceived. It's an eight-inch-wide speaker that stands just three feet high, so it can fit into an ordinary room without destroying the look, especially if you spend the extra $200 per pair for the gloss-black version (pictured here).
The Prime Tower imposes no special demands for setup: Just take it out of the box, screw in the spikes (or the rubber-coated feet if you have a tile or wooden floor), stand the speakers up, and plug 'em in.
Thanks to the use of a relatively small midrange driver and the low crossover frequency on the tweeter, the Prime Tower has broad, consistent dispersion through most of the audio band. Thus, it didn't make much difference whether I toed the speakers in to point straight at me or twisted them to point straight out into the room. However, the midrange sounded very subtly smoother in the former position, so I stuck with that. The balance between the mids and treble sounded just right with the grilles off, so as usual I didn't do much listening with the grilles on. (I did measure the speaker both ways, though--more on that later.)
As usual for my tower speaker reviews, I started with the speakers in the same position I use for the F206: front baffles 38 inches from the wall behind the speakers, speakers eight feet apart and nine feet from my head when I sit in my listening chair. This sounded good enough for starters. During my listening tests, I ended up pushing the speakers back one foot closer to the wall behind them. This gave the bass more oomph, at the expense of making the bass sound a bit boomier. Not that the Prime Towers needed more oomph in the bass; I just wanted to see how it would affect their tonal balance. Turns out that little bit of extra bass helped balance out the treble better, at least in my room, so I left them that way for the rest of my listening.
I started with my usual test rig: Krell S-300i integrated amp, ProJect RM-1.3 turntable with NAD PP-3 phono preamp, and Sony PHA-2 DAC/headphone amp connected to a Toshiba laptop that holds my music collection. This time, though, because I was starting to work on a review of some new electronics, I also used Classé Audio CP-800 and Krell Illusion preamplifiers and Krell Solo 375 mono-block amplifiers.
As luck would have it (for both my ears and the speakers), the very first thing I heard through the Prime Towers was "Bassics," from the new Levin Brothers LP, a recording that perfectly suited the speakers' capabilities. "Bassics" is a jazz trio recording with Tony Levin on electric upright bass, Pete Levin on piano, and Steve Gadd on drums. The bass largely carries the melody in this tune, and the Prime Towers beautifully portrayed all the subtleties of Tony's fingering, including little buzzes and intonation twists that aren't heard much his work with Peter Gabriel and King Crimson, almost all of which is on fretted instruments. The drums in Gadd's small jazz kit sounded truly lifelike; I could hear all the body and resonance of the kick drum and brushed snare as if they were right over behind the right speaker.
Realizing that I use way too much jazz in my reviews, I decided to put on something completely different: "Carry On" from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's 4-Way Street live album. In that circa-1970 era, recordings of rock concerts were rarely very good because the gear was primitive and the techniques usually casual. Yet "Carry On" sounded at least as good through the Prime Towers as I've ever heard it sound. The group's multiple guitars typically sound like an indistinguishable mess on this album, but the Prime Towers' clean and mostly uncolored midrange and treble let my ears pick out the individual parts to some degree. The same was true with the voices, which can be hard to pick out but weren't here. Voices also imaged surprisingly well, considering the source.
On a rock recording that does sound good, Band of Skulls' "Nightmares" from Himalayan, the Prime Towers' tonal balance sounded just right. They delivered the ample helping of bass that this tune needs to groove, without at all obscuring the treble. The distorted rhythm guitar had just the right amount of bite, but no annoying edginess.
Wondering how well-integrated the bottom woofer, the top woofer, and the midrange would sound, I put on the toughest bass integration test I know: the late Hawaiian vocalist and slack-key guitar master Rev. Dennis Kamakahi. Kamakahi's deep baritone and the detuned lower strings of his guitar tend to make a lot of full-size speakers sound bloated, and they tend to push the woofers and passive radiators of Bluetooth speakers into spasms. But on 'Ohana, an album Kamakahi did with his uke virtuoso son David, the Prime Towers didn't bloat or distort once on the challenging "Ulili'E" that opens the album, nor on my favorite of Kamakahi's tunes, "Ka'Opae."
Considering that anything wearing an SVS logo would probably find its way into more home theater systems than two-channel systems, I played a couple of movies through the Prime Towers, most notably 21 Jump Street. Its rock/hip-hop soundtrack pounds hard, especially in the intro, and on this soundtrack the Prime Towers pumped out so much powerfully deep bass that I never for a second wanted a subwoofer. I also found the dialogue clarity excellent, even in places where the music was really blaring.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...