- Manufacturer & Model
- SVS Ultra Series (Tower, Bookshelf, Center, and Surround), SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer, SVS Prime Elevation
- Ultra Tower ($999/each), Ultra Bookshelf ($499/each), Ultra Center ($699), Ultra Surround ($599/each), Prime Elevation ($199/each), SB16-Ultra Subwoofer ($1999/each)
Complete line of high-end speakers that can address widely variable configuration needs, capable of audiophile performance in both two-channel and Atmos realms, robust build quality, flexible mounting systems, eye-catching cabinet designs, extraordinarily powerful bass, stellar hi-fi sound quality.
AV NIRVANA assembled and reviewed the Ultimate SVS Ultra Series 7.2.4 immersive sound system, tackling the demands of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. Utilizing all four models from SVS's elite Ultra line, dual SB16-Ultra subwoofers, and four Prime Elevation ceiling channels, the system delivered some of the best Atmos performance we've heard to date. The company's Tower and Bookshelf speakers were also evaluated for two-channel performance, and the results were equally impressive. Polished with competitive pricing and buyer-friendly policies, SVS's speakers deliver an industry leading audio experience from purchase to playback.
When I originally pitched SVS to review “The Ultimate SVS Ultra Atmos System,” I knew my ears were in for a treat, but I had no idea that a certified sonic beast was about to be unleashed in my reference home theater. Yes, I’ve had exposure to the company’s popular products, however my only hands-on experience stemed from a 2016 review of its versatile Prime Elevation speaker. That review left a sweet taste in my mouth. In fact, it’s what piqued my curiosity and led to discussions of assembling a powerful 7.2.4 enthusiast-grade system, armed to the hilt with speakers designed for audiophile performance.
SVS was interested in playing ball and approved a 13-channel system comprised of the company’s most elite models: Ultra Towers and a sleek Ultra Center for the front end, dual configurable Ultra Surrounds and Ultra Bookshelf speakers for side and rear channels, four Prime Elevation speakers for height duty, and bass mercilessly controlled by two of SVS’s newly minted SB16-Ultra sealed infrasonic jackhammers. And to allow the system to seamlessly integrate into a light controlled environment, all speakers were designated to ship with a low-sheen Black Oak Veneer finish.
Yes folks, the kid gloves were officially taken off, tossed to the ground, and gold plated brass knuckles were gently slipped onto the fingers. This is a killer enthusiast grade system.
To add to the fun, SVS included early production samples of its newly tooled Prime Elevation Ceiling Mount Insert (now shipping). And, as if this review wasn’t designed to be grand enough, it’s engineered to have a forthcoming Part Two that explores the use of the speakers as a high-performance dual-purpose Dolby Atmos/Auro-3D system.
The resulting write-up is a lengthy one, and rightly so (the Ultra system is more than deserving of every word). If you’re the kind of reader that likes to skip ahead and discover spoilers, then you’re probably curious to know if the speakers were able to deliver as advertised. Let’s just say the Ultras jettisoned this reviewer’s theater room into a High Atmos orbit. So sit back, buckle-up, and prepare to launch into a world of mind-blowing sonic immersion.
Why Dolby Atmos?
(Image: Dolby Laboratories)
Before we kick this review into high gear, let’s run through a quick Atmos primer. Just a few short years ago, the home theater landscape was dominated by two legacy audio codecs: DTS-HD Master Audio (DTS-HD MA) and Dolby TrueHD. Created to offer playback over 5.1 and 7.1 speaker arrangements, both TrueHD and DTS-HD MA were designed to deliver the same quality found on a film’s master audiotape. And while capable of dazzling sound, both codecs are inherently shackled by two noteworthy restrictions: speaker arrays that reside on a two-dimensional plane and encode requirements that force studio techs to assign sounds to pre-defined speaker locations.
Dolby Atmos (and its competitor, DTS:X) is a next-gen “object oriented” immersive technology that utilizes 5.1 and 7.1 arrangements, in addition to height channels. Most consumer-grade Atmos capable AV receivers allow enthusiasts to deploy speaker configurations ranging from 5.1.2 through 7.1.4, however some upcoming models are specified to offer processing for up to six height channels (and that number should continue to grow in the years ahead).
Atmos grants studio technicians generous flexibility because sound is encoded to appear within areas of a 3D space, not from specific channels. The resulting audio meta-data is interpreted by a capable processor and used to generate sound through a room’s available speakers (this kind of unique scalability makes Atmos usable across both large and small speaker arrays, with lots of flexibility for future growth).
Height channels are deployed in one of two ways: ceiling mounted speakers aimed downward and add-on modules designed to bounce sound off the ceiling of a room. While convenient and easier to deploy, modules offer a step-down experience because beaming mid to low frequencies off a ceiling only works to a certain degree. The best performing Atmos systems utilize true ceiling mounted speakers capable of showering a listening area with full-range audio from above.
I’ve had the pleasure of running a 7.2.4 system in my reference theater room for the past several years. In fact, I reviewed one the industry’s first 7.2.4 Atmos receivers (Yamaha’s RX-A3050) and was instantly sold on the technology. And while you’ll still find some experts claiming that 7.1 channel sound is just as pleasing (yes, 7.1 does deliver incredible sound), I’m a firm believer that true immersive sound speaker arrangements offer a noticeably better dynamic experience.
Why SVS Ultra?
SVS is a brand that needs little introduction amongst fans of great audio. The company’s roots trace back several decades to a birth in America’s heartland, and its reputation is built upon years of manufacturing reasonably priced high-performance subwoofers.
Buyers are treated to a brilliant consumer-friendly experience, with the company’s easy to navigate website leading the way. There, you’ll find tools such as Jeeves (an interactive speaker buying guide) and Merlin (a subwoofer/speaker matching service), a plethora of quality product images, extensive technical information, and a live chat link to friendly service reps.
All direct-purchase SVS speakers and subs are hitched with a free 45-day in-home audition period, a 60-day price guarantee, and a five-year warranty. And if a brick-and-mortar experience is what you seek, the company has dealer relationships with stores both nationally and internationally. In fact, if you live near Hi-Fi Sales in Cherry Hill (NJ), then you can experience a newly installed Ultra demo system that’s strikingly similar to the one detailed in this review.
Ultra is the company’s top lineup, loaded with audiophile technologies, aggressive looking cabinets, and price points that strike a tempting balance of cost for high-end performance. At launch, SVS proclaimed the Ultra Series was built to outperform competing brands that cost three- to four-times as much, with an end goal of “pure audio perfection.” By my best estimation, the company certainly didn’t miss that mark.
A look at the complete 13-channel review system.
The SVS Ultra Series offers four different loudspeaker models capable of handling the needs of nearly any room or configuration: Ultra Tower ($999/each), Ultra Bookshelf ($499/each), Ultra Center ($699), and Ultra Surround ($599/each). And the Ultra Series of subwoofers presents both sealed (SB16-Ultra, $1999.99) and ported (PB16-Ultra, $2,499) designs. Add the fact that the company’s Prime Series models have a similar voicing to its Ultra speakers, and that opens the door to adding additional players, like Prime Elevation ($199/each), to the mix.
The cumulative value of the system used in this review is $9,700. However, anyone purchasing multiple speakers from SVS will find the company has embedded various discounts into its sales model. For example, buying dual SB16-Ultra subs currently engages an instant $200 savings. Other generous package discounts are littered throughout SVS’s pricing, so be sure to contact the company before making a large purchase.
Let’s take a closer look at the speaker models used in this review.
The Ultra Tower is SVS’s flagship speaker, standing a haughty 4-feet tall (45.6-inches H x 13.8-in W x 16.8-in D) and weighing 75-pounds. Its chiseled cabinet features aggressive lines, uniquely angled non-parallel surfaces, and a steep backend that houses a single tunable port (plug included). SVS reports the Tower’s rated frequency response as 28Hz – 32kHz (+/- 3dB) with a sensitivity of 88dB. Audible differences between running the Tower in open versus sealed modes are mildly noticeable. I ultimately found a preference for sealed, which sounded tighter with more low-end punch.
The front side of the speaker carries a 1-in aluminum dome tweeter centered between two 6.5-in composite glass-fiber cone woofers, while the bottom of the cabinet houses horizontally opposed 8-in woofers positioned to cancel mechanical force (making for a clean low resonance response).
The speaker (like all models in the Ultra Series) features four quality speaker posts linked by stamped metal connectors and an acoustically transparent grille that attaches via small posts. The Tower also ships with swappable feet (hardwood friendly rubber nubs and metal rug spikes).
The Ultra Tower’s cabinet is radically unique in its appearance and looks fabulous to the eye, ditching the traditional lines of a tower speaker in favor of bold styling. It serves a purpose though, introducing asymmetrical surfaces to reduce standing waves and coloration of sound. SVS says the speaker’s front baffle is 1-inch thick, while its side woofer baffles are 1.5-in thick. That makes for seriously robust construction, which is readily apparent when handling the speaker. The Ultra Tower (along with every other Ultra model) sports excellent build quality and perfect fit and finish.
All Ultra speakers are available in two finishes: Black Oak Veneer and Piano Gloss Black. As previously mentioned, Black Oak Veneer was chosen for this review to help reduce distracting light reflections near a projection screen. The grainy finish is both attractive and pleasantly detailed (and yes, it offers a sheen that allows a speaker to disappear when the lights are off).
Taking physical cues from the Tower model, the Ultra Bookshelf is an unmistakable little brother to its larger sibling. Its cabinet is more squared-off, but carries the same angled front edges (so design intent remains intact). It features a single rear port paired with a matching 6.5-inch composite woofer and 1-inch tweeter.
The Bookshelf has a rated response of 45Hz-32kHz with a slightly demanding sensitivity of 87dB.
Overall, the Bookshelf offers a manageable size (15-in H x 8.5-in W x 10.9-in D) and weight (19-pounds), allowing it to fit on shorter surfaces, average sized speaker stands, and wall mount brackets. The speaker feels great in the hands and looks stunning with its front grille removed. Performance wise, this little dynamo is off the charts, possessing the ability to throw a massive audiophile grade soundstage.
The dual-ported Ultra Center evokes the design flair offered by the Bookshelf, but does so in an elongated placement-friendly form factor (8.2-in H x 22-in W x 10.9-in D; 31-pounds). It taps the power of two 6.5-in composite woofers and a 1-in tweeter, while also bringing a 4-in composite midrange driver into the mix.
The Center speaker’s most important characteristic is its driver array, which carries a vertically aligned tweeter/midrange combination that’s closely flanked by its woofers. This type of design is known to combat issues of lobing and distortion that can degrade off-axis sound. That’s of particular importance because a center channel handles roughly 70-percent of key audio information during a movie (including dialog, music, and special effects). It also acts as a sonic bridge to seamlessly integrate audio produced by a system’s left and right channels, which means a poorly designed center speaker can crush a relatively good system’s perceived performance characteristics. Luckily, SVS got this one right.
Similar to the Bookshelf model, the Ultra Center has a rated response of 45Hz-32kHz and a sensitivity of 87dB.
This might be my favorite speaker of the bunch. Its funky cabinet angles, versatility, easy-to-use bracket system, and great sound quality are delivered in a space-friendly design that protrudes a mere 7-in off a wall (14-in H x 12.3-in W x 7-in D; 18-pounds).
The speaker can operate in one of three playback modes: dipole, bipole, and duet. Dipole mode directs each 5.5-inch composite woofer and 1-inch tweeter pairing to fire out of phase, while bipole fires in phase. Duet mode adds another dimension, essentially turning the Surround into two speakers for dual-purpose side and rear surround playback. I tested the dipole mode and confirmed it’s capable of a stretched-sound presentation, which is perfect for long walls and 5.1 systems (my evaluation used bipole mode).
The Ultra Surround configured to operate in dipole mode.
The Surround’s mounting system consists of two interlocking brackets that slide together, with the wall-mounted bracket possessing two safety pins that keep the speaker from sliding side-to-side; mounting the speaker was simple and straightforward.
The Surround's mounting bracket is easy to use and secure.
The Ultra Surround has a rated response of 58Hz-32kHz, with a sensitivity of 87dB.
Prime Elevation is the SVS speaker that brings immersive sound to life, while offering an insane amount of versatility because of its size and mounting system (9.4-in H x 5.44-in W x 7.88-in D; 7.8-pounds). It can be used as a stereo speaker in a two-channel or multi-channel system, mounted sideways on a wall for surround duty, hung along the edge of a ceiling for easy-to-manage Atmos placement, or affixed directly to a ceiling in a downward firing position. The speaker’s angled baffle makes it easy to direct sound toward a listening position (especially handy when hung from above).
Elevation is built like a small brick, sporting a single rear-port cut above two speaker posts, and a front baffle housing a 1-in aluminum dome tweeter and a 4.5-in polypropylene cone woofer. Overall rated response is 55Hz-25kHz with a sensitivity of 87dB.
During last year’s review of the Elevation, I noted: “As a standalone speaker in a 2.0 arrangement, the Elevations showed considerable pizzazz and soundstage capability… I was particularly impressed with the speaker’s controlled crispness as volume increased…making a great case for the Elevations to be used in a two-channel or three-channel set-up...”
Obviously, I liked its performance capabilities, and found it blended exceptionally well with a subwoofer (which is a preferred operating arrangement if used for stereo duty).
Elevation's unique mounting bracket can be used on walls or a ceiling.
The speaker’s unique mounting system utilizes two plates (one that attaches to the rear of the speaker and one that affixes to the wall) and a locking insert. The system allows the speaker to be hung at nearly any desired angle, and the fact that it works on a ceiling surface radically boosts the speaker’s desirability.
The SB16-Ultra is practically deserving of a dedicated review of its own. This sub is insanely good… and two of them? Off the charts! The SB16’s entire performance capability is anchored by a newly designed 16-in fiberglass resin cone driver matched to an 8-inch edge wound voice coil. Just to keep things in perspective, the driver weighs nearly as much (64-pounds) as a one Ultra Tower, and once you add together the speaker’s other components and thick MDF cabinet you’re facing a back-breaking 122-pounds out of the box. Its overall size (20-in H x 19.5-in W x 20.1-in D) is surprisingly manageable, and small enough that it doesn’t dominate a room.
SVS says the SB16 can dig down to a bone-crushing 16Hz with peak driver excursion reaching a mindboggling 3-inches! As you’ll see, my in-room measurement for duals extended well below that rating. Click on the video image below to see the SB16’s driver excursion at 20Hz (it’s impressive).
The subs rear mounted Sledge Amplifier is rated at 1,500 Watts (5,000 Watts peak), and offers dual RCA and balanced inputs/outputs. SVS gives owners an assortment of fine output controls, accessed via the included remote control and the sub’s front mounted display or a user-friendly iOS/Android phone app. The controls include volume, crossover, phase, room gain, and a handy three-band parametric equalizer (operational down to 20Hz). I can’t speak highly enough of the sub’s integration offerings, especially when used with software such as Room EQ Wizard – Bravo, SVS!
Out of the Box
Nearly 600-pounds of sonic weaponry doesn’t just appear on your doorstep; delivery requires coordination with a residential shipping service of a higher order. In my particular case, I received a drop-off scheduling call from a regional trucking service (R&L) within a day of SVS’s shipment confirmation.
The actual delivery event happened several days later. It was quite a sight, if you can imagine a mountain of palletized speakers rolled onto a lift gate, gingerly lowered to the ground, and forcefully yanked over an ungracious lip into the safety of a welcoming garage bay. SVS’s shipping crew did an excellent job stacking and securing the speakers on the pallet, even taking steps to protect box edges from straps with reinforced cardboard edging.
You can view a full array of delivery pictures, here.
Now, unless you're young, limber, and a person that takes pleasure in lifting boxes full of rocks, moving gear weighing this much technically requires the help of a friend. That friend could be a human with a spare set of hands and a healthy back, or a mechanical tool. I opted to tap the power of a commercial motorized stair-climbing dolly. Thankfully, the machine made short order of moving all of the gear into my office (not to mention keeping myself and my friends on a speaking basis).
SVS has poured a tremendous amount of pride into its speaker packaging, beginning with thick cardboard boxing clad in logos and artistic images. Internally, each speaker was protected by a cloth bag, a plastic bag, and form-fitting custom foam (with items such as speaker grilles, parts, and manuals individually wrapped and protected). I often like to comment on the customer experience offered by an unboxing process, and SVS has pulled together a package that delivers a sense of quality and purchase affirmation – I liked it, a lot.
Every single speaker in this 13-channel system arrived in pristine mint condition. And beyond the excellent packaging, it’s worth reiterating how good the Ultra speakers felt in the hands. They have a robust presence and an aura of exquisite quality. That initial impression held true for the duration of the review (which gave me plenty of opportunities to pick-up, place, and move the speakers into various positions).
The entire unboxing process was captured by an epic video (spanning nearly 15 minutes) that’s hosted on AV NIRVANA’s YouTube channel. However, for this review I created a condensed version (only 4 minutes long), which shows the unboxing event in high-speed. It provides a good look at the packaging, what’s contained in the boxes, and unique images of all the speakers. It’s certainly worth a watch, so click on the video image below and give it a whirl.
Edit: Just recently added... an Elevation specific unboxing video with a detailed look at the speaker's unique mounting system. Click below!
The system’s installation followed fairly standard Atmos deployment recommendations in a dedicated 18-foot L x 14.5-ft W x 8-ft T light controlled theater room. The Center channel was placed on IsoAcoustics Aperta stands at ear level with Ultra Towers to either side (approximately 20-inches from side walls and 20-inches from the front wall); the dual SB16-Ultra subs were placed at quarter points along the front wall (Crossover: 80Hz). The Ultra Surrounds were positioned two-feet above ear level on either side of the seating area, and the Ultra Bookshelf speakers were secured on wall-mount stands behind the left and right listening positions (angled inward, just slightly higher than the Surrounds).
The Prime Elevation speakers were ceiling mounted in “front” and “middle” positions (middle being directly over seating, while front was roughly 8-ft forward). All Elevation speakers were angled toward the middle listening position.
The Elevation mounts were easily secured to wood plates previously affixed to the ceiling, but the speakers did require a decent amount of force to lock into place. I’d recommend breaking-in the mounting system before attaching the plates to a wall or ceiling (just to loosen things up). The new Elevation Ceiling Mount Insert effectively locked each speaker into place by matching a small channel to a speaker’s protruding mounting pins. This channel traps the mounting pins, making it impossible for the speaker to jiggle loose.
The Ceiling Mount Insert slides into place after the speaker is mounted.
Prior to installation, I took several informal near-field measurements of the speakers (outside, 15 feet away from structures). Please consider variable environmental noise (which is difficult to control) in addition to inaudible (but present) low-level noise that exists around my home while viewing these measurements.
Here’s a look at the Ultra Center (blue), Prime Elevation (Purple), and Ultra Surround (Green) with 1/6 smoothing applied. All three have usable bass below 50Hz.
And here’s the Ultra Tower (sealed, blue) and Bookshelf (Red). Once again, demonstrating excellent bass extension.
Finally, here’s a look at the marriage of the Ultra Towers and dual SB16-Ultra subwoofers (Crossover 80Hz), taken in-room from the primary listening position. This image shows pre- (blue) and post-equalization (red) measurements, illustrating serious room gain and bass extension. The SB16-Ultra’s built-in parametric EQ is quite effective and rather easy to use (assuming you have some form of measurement equipment). I used all three available filters to good effect (in addition to a little help from an outboard parametric equalizer).
Associated equipment used during this review included Yamaha’s new RX-A3070 AV receiver, an Emotiva XPA-5 amplifier (which powered the left, center, and right channels, along with the middle height channels), and an OPPO UDP-205 Blu-ray player.
A Stereo Ride
I couldn’t help but take the Ultra Bookshelf and Tower speakers for individual test drives before launching the system into the outer mesosphere of Atmos audio. To summarize, these speakers can individually deal with a high-end flavor that’s smooth and delicious. It’s always fun to hear speakers that maintain the ability to step back and disappear, and that’s exactly what both Ultra models managed to do.
The Bookshelf was first on the docket – it’s a speaker that plays twice its size. I was floored by its evenness of sound, low-end punch, tightness, and clarity. In fact, its bass capabilities might be its most surprising characteristic. The speaker’s rear port can move quite a bit of air when its woofer is pushed, but I never heard port or driver noise (even when driven to reference levels). The speaker projects an airy aura and composition of soundstage was exceptional.
Here are a few sample listening notes:
The Chainsmokers Something Just Like This - Single (TIDAL)
“Something Just Like This” is a smooth song with great flowing bass. The Bookshelf threw a beautifully composed soundstage loaded with depth that pushed the vocals away from a central existence. As the song breathed to life, the speakers issued an expansiveness of sound that was breathtaking –bass was controlled to a pleasing degree.
Skrillex Recess (TIDAL)
Skrillex’s squeaky-clean electronica presented the Bookshelf speakers with source material loaded with dynamic nuances, floaty high frequency samples, and songs that like to play wide. The speakers absolutely devoured “Recess,” delivering potent bass and a soundstage that appeared to blow through the walls. Similar to the Chainsmokers’ “Something Just Like This,” the presentation had considerable depth of sound. The wailing high-pitched siren unleashed during “Stranger,” was etched with crystal-clear definition – an audio knife slicing the air with absolute precision. Quite simply off the charts! “Stranger” also asked the Bookshelfs to issue elongated ultra-low bass, which the speakers happily did without a single hint of distortion.
Deadmau5 Stuff I Used To Do (TIDAL)
Keeping with a techno motif, I dialed-up Canadian progressive house producer Deadmau5 and his killer Stuff I Used to Do release. The Ultra Bookshelf speakers took “Digitol” and unleashed a presentation that dropped my jaw to the floor. The song’s expansive and dynamic soundscape was literally swirling in the air and dancing well outside of the speakers. The clarity of Deadmau5’s electronic rhythm was simply spectacular and perfectly balanced from top to bottom. It was layered with potent bass and composed mid-frequencies. Of particular note was the razor sharpness of the song’s keyboards and mechanized voice, which exquisitely existed squarely in the middle of the soundstage. Absolutely exceptional audio and a song that had me hitting repeat repeatedly!
Jewel Spirit (CD)
Jewel gave the Ultra Bookshelf speakers a chance to kickback and relax, weaving a less aggressive presentation anchored by the singer’s mellow vocals and detailed acoustic guitar. “What’s Simple is True,” had a textural softness that was finely tuned by the Ultra’s even presentation. Tonal balance was rich and warm. And “Down So Long,” was punctuated by an exceptionally impressive bass presentation that flowed with confidence and wonderful control.
Next up: the Ultra Towers. The Bookshelf speakers were removed and replaced with SVS’s proud floorstanders. I ultimately decided to run the towers with a toe-in just slightly wide of center, which produced a soundstage punctuated by blossoming life and crisp imaging.
The Ultra Tower offers a listener serious power – thickly textured and finely tuned power – loaded with an amazing depth of sound. Much like the Ultra Bookshelf, the Tower model has a noticeable balance from bass to treble that keeps its presentation sounding even and natural. The high-end does have a relaxed hint of sharpness that can easily please ears that enjoy a brighter sound, but the speaker never trips into a world of brightness that’s overly sharp or uncontrolled.
Deadmau5 Stuff I Used To Do (TIDAL)
I derived so much enjoyment from Deadmau5 during the Ultra Bookshelf demo that I decided to dip my toes into the Tower’s waters from the deck of this album first. The moment “Digitol” sprung to life, it became evident I’d entered an entirely new ocean. The thickness of low to mid-range frequencies was significant, searing the room with a harnessed power. And the soundstage blossomed into a much larger canvas. The same imaging and placement of sounds existed, but on a much – much – larger scale. Yes, more time was spent hitting replay as I reveled in this song’s detailed presentation.
Orbital Orbital 2 (CD)
More electronica? Why not! After all, one of my top demo discs is a must play, especially with a distinguished guest guiding the presentation. “Lush 3-2” is a repetitive (yet finely nuanced) track loaded with a mid-song anthem capable of exposing a speaker’s dynamic soundstage capabilities. It presents electronic pulses that should appear to explode outside of the speakers’ positioning. The Ultra Towers delivered sweet audio, with a very powerful yet relaxed presence, punctuated by the expansive sound I was seeking.
The entirety of this album might as well be called ‘rolling thunder,’ as its bass is demanding, potent, and pounding. The Ultra Towers put on a controlled show that never once felt challenged. Extension, power, and tightness were on full display, as was attention to sharp sounds and the most minute of details.
Pink Floyd The Wall (CD)
As is frequently the case, The Wall was a standout demo disc and the Ultra Towers confidently delivered a superb sonic performance. The haunting edge of Water’s voice in “Mother” was simply sublime, smooth, naked, and pristine. The Ultras presented the song with total elegance and a touch of warmth that helped to give the song a refined presence. That same theme was present during “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2,” where the Ultras maintained just enough zing to keep the song snappy, but gracing the presentation with a hint of warmth. Soundstage and imaging were excellent during this particular track, with pinpoint precision of voices and samples. Overall, the entire disc was a stunning listen.
Third Eye Blind Blue (CD)
For the last act, I reached for an often-overlooked Third Eye Blind album: Blue. This is a distressed and sharp recording, so I was interested to see how the Ultras would handle playback presentation. “Never Let You Go” led to a pounding bass line flanked by simple rhythm guitars. Stephan Jenkins’ vocals were delivered with their intended fuzz, peering through the song’s edgy and raw nature. While hardly a reference recording, the Ultras held the song’s brightness in check while issuing plenty of razor sharp sonic chaos. “1000 Julys” produced a grinding presentation with growling guitars reaching forward and Jenkins vocals lying in the background; bass lines injected potent energy that drove straight through my seating. And the hidden track “Darwin/Red Summer Sun,” saved the best for last with a squeaky clean presentation full of swirling guitars, highly intelligible vocals textured with a hint of echoes, and a perfectly balanced bass guitar attack. The song’s crescendo was electric with guitar riffs alternating from channel to channel and an ultimate sonic scream of rock-and-roll. Overall, the Ultras handled this album delightfully.
Mission Control: Atmos is Ready For Liftoff
(Image: Warner Bros)
Now for the most difficult and taxing part of this review: endless hours of watching films loaded with some of the slickest audio encodes ever committed to disc. Admittedly, it was a tough job… and I’d gladly volunteer to do it again.
The finely tuned performance factors heard during the two-channel demo sessions carried over to the system’s immersive audio experience. Every single Ultra Series speaker has the innate ability to step back and let the audio happen. And when played in unison, the experience is seamless. Precision of sound was on full display, quenching my ears with a purity that – at times – didn’t sound real. And that was true for each of the four Ultra models.
The Ultra Center lived up to its billing, delivering a sonically matched sound capable of equaling its Tower mates; off-axis performance was also excellent. It’s quite amazing that SVS has managed to cage such great potential in a space friendly speaker.
The sealed subs combined to create a formidable duo capable of slaying every punishing bass challenge I tossed their way. I ran several non-Atmos bass torture tests (chapters from Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Interstellar, and War of the Worlds) and the SB16s didn’t flinch, hammering away to levels that you’d expect from a flagship product. And taking the subs beyond reference levels isn’t a problem (I was never able to reach a breaking point). To note, the SB16s revealed a quick and tight side when demoed with stereo music tracks. The crossover from subwoofers to speakers was undetectable, blending with a seamless grace that truly picky enthusiasts would appreciate.
Then there’s the performance of the Prime Elevation speakers, which brought Atmos to life in away that I’ve not experienced in my theater room. Make no mistake about it: my former in-ceiling channels will never be reinstalled. The Elevations have a breadth of sound and wide dispersion that literally creates a blanket effect. Voice matching with the Ultra channels was spot-on.
Here are a few select notes from Atmos demo sessions:
Dolby Atmos Demo Disc and DTS 2016 Demo Disc (Blu-ray)
To kick off the Atmos demo, I reached for Dolby’s original 2014 trade show disc. Two versions of this disc exist: Demo Lite and Demo Insane (my titles). The Insane disc has two of the best Atmos demo clips I’ve yet to hear, Star Wars Battlefront and an Atmos mixed song called “Balliando” by Enrique Inglasias. I selected “Balliando” first and proceeded to have my mind blown. Blown! The song immediately engulfed the room with rhythmic clapping, calling voices, and an infectious rhythm guitar. The presentation – from top to bottom – was perfectly balanced with absolute purity. It seemed to swirl in the air above my head with a 360-degree attack, defined with soft backing vocals that were tuned with the finest of details. The experience is nearly impossible to convey with words, it was a moment of auditory beauty.
Battlefront offered a more bass heavy experience and a chance for the ceiling mounted Elevation speakers to shine. In comparison to my room’s reference in-ceiling channels, the Elevations completely unshackled the upper sound field; gone was the appearance of individual channels projecting audio in a spotlight fashion. Echoes of alarms extended high into an airy thinness, speeding TIE fighters flew directly overhead with seamless passage, and explosions blossomed into massive multi-layered auditory experiences. The Ultra Surround and Bookshelf speakers combined to produce an intricate side and backend presentation that kept my head on a swivel. And did I mention the bass attack? Let’s just say the SB16s lowered the boom, pounding their subsonic fists with tight and punctuated low frequency power. The Bass Surplus Store was open for business, and Star Wars Battlefield was on sale.
While Atmos has become the genericized trademark for immersive sound, let’s not forget about DTS:X. It just so happens that the DTS 2016 Demo Disc has several audio gems. My favorite is Nigel Stanford’s “Cymatics.” The opening moments of the song sent a voice bouncing around the room in a dizzying fashion (what a delight!). The Ultra Towers were, once again, given a primetime music roll, throwing a richly textured image that morphed into a dome-like experience as the rest of system came into play. Echoes and finer details seemed to hang in space with an airy purity, and thunderous bass pounced with a tightness that sounded shaped and well crafted. This was a delightful track and great example of the polished nature the Ultra system is capable of creating.
While rather lite on dynamic Atmos demo material, Unbreakable’s action rich bombing chapter carries deep bass and intense immersive activity. As the scene opens, an Air Force B-24 Liberator bomber roars overhead, and the Elevation speakers and SB16 Ultras combined to place that roaring object exactly where it was intended to be (soaring through the ceiling, right down the middle of the room). Within moments, the onscreen image panned toward one of the bomber’s side gunners. This activated the right Ultra Surround, which combined with the right Ultra Tower, to place the roar of the plane’s engine down the side wall, creating a lengthy curtain of sound. Later in the scene, the SB16 Ultras issued a thunderous “boom” as bombs fell, followed by fast hitting thumps and thuds as the bomber’s gunners shot at approaching enemy planes. Surround and height channel activity was spectacularly layered and truly immersive.
Gravity Diamond Luxe Edition (Blu-ray)
Gravity, by my estimation, is the most immersive Atmos film released to date. Its atmospherics, sound pans, and overall sonic nature are spectacular. Chapter One begins with George Clooney spacewalking as his Shuttle crew converses with mission control – as the earth shifts locations during various camera shots, mission control’s transmissions shift locations within the room. Of course, Clooney’s voice also shifts as he zooms around space. This presented the Ultra system an opportunity to demonstrate its ability to create a seamless 360-degree sound bubble. Score another one for the Ultras. The presentation was simply fantastic as sounds simply flowed, seemingly detached from specific channels. Notably, balance of dialog was excellent as voices shifted from the Center channel to other speakers; changes in voice pitch and depth were undetectable and intelligibility remained excellent.
The SB16-Ultra subs were tasked with producing subtle low frequency thumps and bumps as astronauts worked on a damaged satellite. As the scene intensified, the Ultras issued a room-rattling rumble that eventually progressed to a pounding heartbeat rhythm. The tightness of low frequency sound was beautiful.
Despite all of the dazzling dynamic audio activity present during this chapter, the highlight Atmos moment occurred when the camera entered Sandra Bullock’s helmet. The front height channels leaped into action, stretching Bullock’s panicked breaths and distressed dialog into incredible height and thinness, bringing the sensation of being inside the helmet to life. The Ultra system nailed this scene perfectly, with all of its subtle details on full display – simply sensational!
Deadpool (4K UHD Blu-ray)
Time to shift gears and talk dialog for a moment. The Ultra Center is designed to be a star performer and Deadpool’s dialog heavy presentation was a perfect testing ground. Using the OPPO-205’s A-B replay feature, I was able to loop short dialog clips for quick listening impressions across the entire seating area of my room. While sitting dead center proved to produce the absolute best results, off-axis listening was nearly as good. I noted an ever so slight thinning of mid-frequencies, but it was well within reason and difficult to hear.
Overall, off-axis listening didn’t result in a bulging or collapse of the front soundstage. Nor did it create nasally dialog or unintelligibility. Two thumbs up!
Back to the action, Deadpool’s climatic shipyard battle scene launched the SVS Ultra system into overdrive. The SB16s dished out super clean bass that thundered with precision; the ship’s final fall sent a shockwave through my theater room’s seating. And the system’s side and back surrounds wrapped the room with the cacophony of raucous battle. It all combined for a massive sonic attack that was simply stunning and fun.
SVS’s Ultra speakers can make audiophile dreams come true, possessing the ability to tackle discerning two-channel listening and the dynamic demands of full-on Atmos presentations. They do everything exceptionally well while offering enthusiasts a price to performance ratio that ranks at the top of the industry. The reviewed Ultra package blew the doors off my reference theater system, making it easy for me to give it an enthusiastic stamp of approval. If you’re looking to transport your theater room into the bowels of a creaky ship, onto a battlefield with weapons galore, or into the outdoors where trees sway in a summer breeze, the Ultra Series can deliver you there with astounding realism. And because the Ultra Series offers a speaker design for every need, Atmos can be experienced with matched sonic perfection in nearly any room configuration.
Well done, SVS. Atmos has never sounded this good!
Ultra Tower Specifications
Dimensions (H x W x D): 45.6" x 13.8" x 16.8"
Weight: 75.4 lbs.
Midrange: dual 6.5"
Woofer: dual 8"
Frequency response: 28Hz - 32Hz ± 3dB
Port: 3.5" wide-flared rear-firing port
Top midrange-to-tweeter crossover: 2kHz
Bottom midrange taper frequency: 700Hz
Dual midrange-to-woofer crossover: 160Hz
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 88dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz)
Recommended amplifier power: 20 - 300 watts
Ultra Bookshelf Specifications
Dimensions (H x W x D): 15" x 8.5" x 10.9"
Weight: 19 lbs.
Frequency response: 45Hz - 32Hz ± 3dB
Port: 1.7" wide-flared
Tweeter-to-woofer crossover: 2kHz (12 dB/octave slopes)
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 87dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz)
Recommended amplifier power: 20 - 150 watts
Ultra Center Specifications
Dimensions (H x W x D): 8.2" x 22" x 10.9"
Weight: 31 lbs.
Woofer: dual 6.5"
Frequency response: 45Hz - 32kHz ± 3dB
Port: Dual 1.7" wide-flared, rear-firing
Midrange-to-tweeter crossover: 2.2kHz (12dB/octave slopes)
Woofer-to-midrange crossover: 500Hz (12dB/octave slopes)
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 87dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz)
Recommended amplifier power: 20 - 225 watts
Ultra Surround Specifications
Dimensions (H x W x D): 14" x 12.3" x 7"
Weight: 18 lbs.
Tweeter: dual 1"
Woofer: dual 5.5"
Frequency response: 58Hz - 32Hz ± 3dB
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 87dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz)
Recommended amplifier power: 20 - 250 watts
Tweeter-to-woofer crossover: 2kHz (12dB/octave slopes)
Prime Elevation Specifications
Dimensions (H x W x D): 9.25" x 5.4" x 7.9"
Weight: 7.8 lbs.
Frequency response: 55Hz - 25Hz ± 3dB
Port: 1" wide-flared rear-firing
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 87dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz)
Recommended amplifier power: 20 - 150 watts
Tweeter-to-woofer crossover: 2.5kHz (12dB/octave slopes)
SB16-Ultra Subwoofer Specifications
Dimensions (H x W x D): 20" x 19.5" x 20.1"
Weight: 122 lbs.
Driver size: 16"
Frequency response: 16Hz - 460Hz ± 3dB
Amplifier: Sledge STA-1500D DSP amplifier; 1500 watts RMS continuous power (5000 watts peak dynamic power; High-efficiency, cool-running Class D topology; Auto-On/On switch with "green" standby mode; Input impedance: 22kΩ (unbalanced line-level RCA)/22kΩ (speaker level); RoHS compliant, lead-free construction, worldwide safety certifications