Loudspeakers and PB10-NSD Subwoofer
Reading the SoundStage! Networks CES coverage this
year, I was surprised and a little dismayed to see that one of the areas of tremendous
growth was in the category of cost-no-object loudspeakers. Some of those models may well
be worth their sky-high prices, but I also know that many people, consciously or
subconsciously, immediately equate higher price with higher quality. The
misperception isnt limited to audio gear; a recent study showed that people believed
that universities who charged more for tuition were more desirable, even when there was no
other discernible reason for it. So there are good economic reasons for pricing speakers
at a gazillion bucks or more: people want them.
At the other end of the price spectrum is the SBS-01
bookshelf speaker from SVS. It costs only $225 USD per pair and is available directly from
SVS at their website, www.svsound.com.
One common concern of those buying bookshelf speakers is whether or not theyll
provide enough bass. Not to worry -- SVS has been making accomplished subwoofers for
years. Their PB10-NSD sub perfectly matches the SBS-01, and puts out all the bass you
could want for a reasonable $429. The speaker and sub each carry a three-year warranty as
well as a 45-day money-back guarantee -- if you want to just audition them, youre
out only the shipping costs.
The SBS-01 is a sealed design that measures a compact
12"H by 7"W by 9.5"D and weighs a hefty 11 pounds. SVSs
specifications for it include an impedance of 8 ohms, a sensitivity of 85dB, recommended
amplification of 20-120W, and a frequency response of 68Hz-20kHz. The rear panel has
threaded inserts for a wall bracket, a keyhole insert for mounting the speaker directly on
the wall, and adequate, plastic-capped speaker binding posts. More expensive speakers
often have beefier, more durable posts, but unless youre unduly rough with your gear
or change your speaker cables often, this will have little or no impact on you.
The SBS-01 has a 1" tweeter with a ClearSilk
diaphragm, and a 5.25" polypropylene woofer. Both drivers have been customized by SVS
to meet their standards. The internally braced cabinet of MDF seemed rock-solid, and its
textured vinyl finish is vacuum-formed over the fiberboard, which means there are no
visible seams. Im often dismayed at vinyl-clad speakers -- no matter how good they
sound, they often look cheap. Not so the SBS-01: its seamless appearance and rounded
corners make it look as if it belongs in a higher price class. I was also happy that SVS
has avoided the cheap-looking faux-wood grain of so many inexpensive mass-market speakers.
My review pair was black; the SBS-01 is also available in white or silver.
The PB10-NSD, SVSs entry-level subwoofer, measures
19"H by 15"W by 21"D and weighs 60 pounds. It was no easy task getting this
sub down to my home theater by myself, but luckily, I regularly work out at a gym. If you
dont and need to lug this thing up and down stairs, you should probably get a friend
to help you. The sub relies on a proprietary, long-throw, 10" NSD woofer driven by a
300W RMS BASH amplifier, the latter a high-output digital switching device. Because both
the cone and port fire to the front, through a 1"-thick baffle, you can place this
sub as close to the wall as you like. The 3"-diameter port is above and to the right
of the cone.
Along the top of the subs rear panel are a single RCA
input, an Auto On/Off switch, and dials for setting phase and gain. Near the bottom are
the power switch and a receptacle for the supplied 8 power cord. The PB10-NSD shares
the SBS-01s good looks.
I spent a good deal of time using the SBS-01s in three
different systems. First, I used them in my living room, where they were connected to a
Rogue Audio Tempest II integrated amplifier by Kimber 4PR speaker cables. The music came
from a Slim Devices Squeezebox feeding a Benchmark DAC1 D/A converter via a DH Labs D-75
coaxial digital cable. The Benchmark and Tempest were interconnected with Analysis Plus
The PB10-NSDs size meant that it was suitable for
only my home theater, which meant that I also used the SBS-01s with my B&K AVR307
receiver and Denon DVD-2900 universal player, with Analysis Plus Silver Oval-In
interconnects and Big Silver Oval speaker cables. The PB10-NSD was connected with a DH
Labs subwoofer cable. It was this setup that I used when taking notes for this review.
I also used the SBS-01s as computer speakers, feeding a USB
signal into a HeadRoom Total BitHead headphone amplifier so that I could use the BitHead
as a preamp with an ancient Onkyo amplifier. In this system I used throwaway cables, but
the sound was great compared with standard computer speakers. The bass was slightly
pronounced, and the imaging was better when I sat away from my desk -- but if you have an
old amplifier collecting dust, this $225 investment in computer sound may be well worth
One of my favorite songs from the past year is Of
Montreals "Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games," from their album The
Sunlandic Twins [2 CDs, Polyvinyl PRC 088]. The song is driven by an upbeat bass line
that the SVS subwoofer brought right into my room, with bass that was both deeper and
tighter than Im used to hearing. The excellence of the SVSes was not limited to low
frequencies -- the outputs of sub and speakers integrated to create a seamless soundstage
in which the percussion that begins about 30 seconds into "Wraith" hung in the
air, far from the speakers. The next track, "Forecast Fascist Future," showed
off the SVS speakers ability to reproduce both electric and acoustic guitars with
finesse, and without blurring the multiple instruments into a single sound.
Nightmares on Waxs In a Space Outta Sound [CD,
Warp CD 133] has recently been my music to relax to. The SBS-01 gave the percussive snaps
of "Passion" real presence, but they were a little more pronounced than
Ive heard through more expensive systems. This songs mix comprises many tracks
all playing at once; I could easily delineate each and every sound through the SBS-01s.
One sample, of a female voice, sounds rather indistinct through other inexpensive
speakers; with the SBS-01s, I could hear exactly which notes the woman was singing. And
the PB10-NSD beautifully rendered this tracks lazy bass line.
A Love Supreme, by Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln
Center Jazz Orchestra [CD, Palmetto PM2106], presents an arrangement for large jazz
ensemble of John Coltranes classic suite. The SVS system threw out a very enjoyable
sonic picture. Each instrument had the right timbre and could be easily picked out in
space and in relation to the other instruments. In general, the speakers seemed to
slightly favor the upper midrange, especially when the sub was removed. This was not an
unpleasant sound, and if I were listening for pleasure and not reviewing, I wouldnt
give it a second thought. But the opening drum solo on "Pursuance" did seem a
bit congested, and not laid out in space as clearly as by the more expensive speakers
Im familiar with. Sometimes, more money does buy more speaker.
Because the SVS combo forms the nucleus of 5.1- and
7.1-channel home-theater packages sold by SVS, I also tried it out with some movies. I was
preparing a lecture about The Matrix, and played the film with just the SVS trio. I
expected to miss the surround soundtrack, but the sound was very involving without it. The
movies most violent scene, toward the end, involves hundreds of bullets fired -- the
little SVS bookshelf speakers had shell casings landing all over my room. With a tight
budget or a small space, this combo of bookshelf and sub can make a very nice system for
music and movies.
The fairest comparison I could make with the SBS-01 was
with AV123.coms x-ls bookshelf speaker, which I recently reviewed. While
AV123s x-series includes a subwoofer, it costs less than half the price of the SVS
PB10-NSD, so I limited my comparison to the speakers. The x-ls costs $219/pair, has
real-wood veneer, and was named GoodSound!s Product of the Year for 2006 --
But the SVS SBS-01 was more than ready for the challenge.
In my review of the x-ls, I stated that it seemed to prefer moderate listening levels, and
that "if youre looking for loud party speakers, these might not be the
answer." Well, if youre looking for loud party speakers at this price point,
the SBS-01s might be the answer. They held together beautifully, not suffering as
the x-ls had when I played them at loud party levels. My son and I had no problem cranking
up Rob Zombies greatest-hits collection, Past, Present & Future [CD,
Geffen 0006553], loud enough to annoy my wife three floors away without the sound breaking
up or noticeably degrading.
On the other hand, at low listening levels and in direct
comparison with the AV123 x-ls, the SBS-01 had a congestion problem that obscured fine
details that the x-ls got right. On the classic Duke Ellington & John Coltrane
[CD, Impulse! IMPD166], the tenor sax, piano, bass, and drums seemed on top of one another
and flat, which was not the case with the x-ls -- or with the SVS speakers when played at
higher volumes. If I had to pick one of these pairs of speakers, Id likely go for
the SVS system based solely on the music Ive been listening to lately. In a more
classical or jazzy frame of mind, I might go the other way.
The PB10-NSD is the best subwoofer Ive had in my
house. I currently use an Axiom EP175 ($560) in my home theater, which is perfectly
adequate, but the SVS had tighter and cleaner bass, and a sense of authority the Axiom
lacked. That may well be explained by the difference between the Axioms 175W
amplifier and the SVSs 300W unit. If youre seriously style-conscious, the
Axiom may more easily fit your décor. Regardless, next time I need a sub, I think
Ill go directly to SVS.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the SVS speakers, and
continue to use them in my computer setup as I write this. They offered great sound for a
reasonable price, and the subwoofer provides all the bass you could want. If youre
thinking of moving to a multichannel system, add another pair or two of SBS-01s and
SVSs matching SCS-01 center-channel speaker ($185 each) as funds or space permits.
For some time, SVS has been known for making great-sounding subwoofers at reasonable
prices, and the SBS-01 bookshelf speakers live up to that reputation as well. There are
other speakers in this price range that are worth auditioning before making a final
decision, but, for many people, these will come out on top.
Reading about those megabuck speakers at CES and writing
this review, I kept asking myself: If I were in the market for $45,000/pair speakers,
wouldnt I get at least as much pleasure from buying $20,000/pair speakers, and then
using what Id saved to buy 100 of my closest friends pairs of SVS SBS-01s?
Prices of equipment reviewed