SVS is an American audio company known mainly for its subwoofers, one of which I recently had the pleasure of reviewing. What is not mentioned in my review is the fact that I was so enamored with the sub's performance that I ended up buying it. As you'll soon find out, I had a similar experience with SVS's Ultra Bookshelf speaker.
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These speakers are actually part of a full line of SVS speakers, which includes the Ultra Towers, the Ultra Center and the Ultra Surrounds. The Ultra Bookshelf retails for $499 each; while my review sample featured a compelling high-gloss piano black finish, it's also available in a black oak veneer (real wood). It's a two-way monitor comprised of a one-inch aluminum dome tweeter with an FEA-optimized diffuser, which according to the SVS site is said to provide an "airy and unveiled presentation." FEA is a method of computer-modeling the design in order to produce a very specific type of performance. The key is that this happens prior to manufacturing. (That's an oversimplified explanation; you can certainly Google it if you want to learn more.) The woofer is a 6.5-inch composite glass-fiber cone and considering its performance, it was obviously a focal point for the SVS engineers. Frequency response is 45 Hz to 32 kHz; nominal impedance is eight ohms and sensitivity is rated at 87 dB. The Ultra Bookshelf measures 14.9 inches high by 8.5 inches wide by 10 inches deep, and each speaker weighs a stout 19 pounds.
The first thing I noticed, beyond the Ultra Bookshelf's exemplary finish, was the angular, wedge-shaped design of the cabinet. Beyond being aesthetically pleasing, the shape provides more accurate sound across the frequency spectrum. I began the hookup by stand-mounting each of the Ultras in place of my Epos ELS 3s. While the speakers come with jumpers attached for bi-wiring or bi-amping, I went the conventional route in hooking them up to my modest two-channel listening rig, which consists of an NAD C325BEE, an Oppo DV-980H and a MusicStreamer II DAC. For streaming from my music library, I used a MacBook Pro. As you make your way through this review, keep in mind that I paid $400 for the NAD, $170 for the Oppo and $150 for the DAC. Some of you might be asking if this gear is up to the task of reviewing a pair of bookshelf speakers that retail for about $1,000, and the answer is, unequivocally, yes. This is a compliment to the Ultras, as they're not the least bit power-hungry and played plenty loud with the rated 50 watts per channel that the NAD puts out. My USB cable came courtesy of WireWorld, and the analog interconnects for the DAC and OPPO were SVS's SoundPath cabling. For playback software, I used a combination of Amarra (for Apple Lossless files) and Decibel (for hi-res files). After about 14 hours of break-in time and some positioning experimentation, it was time to start the listening party.
To begin, I did a bit of A/B testing between my Epos ELS 3s and the Ultras. I noted that the Ultras exhibited much stronger bass and a marked advantage in terms of balance. While the Epos speakers were a bit thin in the lower frequencies and a bit etched in the upper, the Ultras were the polar opposite. Sure, one can argue that there's a significant difference in price point ($400 vs. $998), but the Epos speakers are highly regarded in their own right, winning Absolute Sound's Budget Component of the Year way back in 2003.
Read more about the performance of the SVS Ultra bookshelf speakers on Page 2.