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post #1 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 10:22 AM - Thread Starter
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SVS Prime Tower Speakers Official AVSForum Review



Mark Henninger checks out a new 3.5-way tower from SVS. In a world awash with competent speakers, does the Prime distinguish itself?

SVS is no stranger to AVS Forum members; its subwoofers are a popular choice for both music and home-theater applications. Recently, the subwoofer-centric company introduced its Prime series of speakers that promise high performance at a reasonable price.

For this review, I decided to see how the $1000/pair Prime towers perform when used for stereo music playback in both 2.0 and 2.1 configurations.

Features

The Prime tower is a 3.5-way design, which assigns a different crossover point to each woofer in order to minimize lobing. The speaker includes a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter, a 4.5" polypropylene midrange driver, and a pair of 6.5" woofers that use a long-stroke suspension. Each woofer operates in a separate vented chamber, isolating it from the other drivers.

The cabinets on my demo units feature an immaculate black piano-gloss finish, which adds $200 to the price of a pair. The Prime towers are substantial in both size and weight, tipping the scale at 40 pounds each and measuring 36.6"x8"x11.6".

SVS claims a frequency response of 30-25,000 Hz (±3 dB) for the Prime tower. Rated sensitivity is 87 dB/W/m, and each speaker handles up to 250 watts with 8 ohms impedance. There is no provision for bi-amping or bi-wiring, but the binding posts are easily accessible and accommodate banana plugs.

Setup

The Prime towers arrived carefully packed and in mint condition. There was no assembly required; even the rubber feet come pre-installed. I've never liked the look of speaker grills, so I performed all my listening and measurements with the grills off. Unfortunately, the grills do not attach magnetically, and at $1000/pair, I think they should. By the way, that's the biggest complaint I have about these speakers, and it's decidedly minor.

I used a Pioneer Elite SC-85 AV receiver—rated at 135 watts/channel into 8 ohms—for my testing. It includes Sabre32 DACs and sounds great with numerous different speakers, including the Elite towers. I used no EQ for this review; in fact, I set the SC-85 to "pure direct" mode for all of my listening.

I wired the towers using a pair of 12-foot, 10-gauge speaker cables. My source was a Sony Vaio laptop connected to the Elite SC-85 AVR via HDMI.

I placed the towers four feet from the back wall and two feet from the side walls, in an audiophile-approved equilateral triangle configuration with my main listening position. I included an SVS SB2000 subwoofer in the mix for 2.1-channel listening, since some of my favorite music dips well below the Prime towers' rated frequency response. Adding the SB2000 extended the bass response down to 16 Hz or so.

For comparison, I used a pair of Pioneer Elite SP-EFS73 towers. I've had the Elites for over a month, and I'm used to their sound by now. They are notably good at stereo imaging, and they have a smooth, subdued quality that flatters deeply layered music. While they do cost a bit more than the Prime towers, that's partly due to their Atmos compatibility, which I'll discuss in an upcoming review.

It's worth noting that the Pioneer Elite towers are less efficient, have lower power handling, and offer less bass and treble extension compared with the SVS Prime towers. The Pioneer Elites don't claim to outperform the Primes spec-wise, but there's no doubt the Elite towers excel at other tasks—in particular, they are very precise thanks to their time-aligned concentric tweeter/midrange driver. Besides, when you add a subwoofer to the mix, it levels the playing field quite a bit.

Performance

The Prime towers are lively and dynamic speakers; that much was clear the moment I plugged them in and hit play. As far as full-sized towers go, they are not very efficient, yet they offer a visceral and therefore very involving performance.

In my 11'x19'x9' space, the SC-85 AVR provided more than enough power to make the Primes shine. The first thing I noticed is how they energize the air in the room, even at a modest volume. These speakers disappear when music plays, and the imaging they provide is precise—it's easy to visualize individual instruments in the mix.

A pair of quick measurements confirmed that the Prime towers perform within published specs from 30-20,000 Hz, at least in my room. At frequencies above 20,000 Hz, my UMIK-1 measurement mic ceases to be accurate, but it did measure output above that frequency.

When used without a sub, the Primes still manage to muster a fair amount of deep bass. It's been more than two decades since I started using multiple subs with my system, and there's no going back for me. However, if you skip the sub with these speakers, you'll still get a lot of satisfaction out of them. Importantly, the bass produced by the Primes was always tight.

Listening

The SVS Prime towers presented an interesting contrast to the Elite towers. That difference has to do with character—the Primes are assertive speakers, and they put the music right in front of you. The Elite towers are comparatively subdued, with a tendency toward greater precision and imaging accuracy than what the Primes could muster. However, the Prime towers counter with their engaging dynamics—the payoff is that live recordings sound live, not recorded.

DJ Shadow's "Monosylabik, Pts. 1 & 2" from the album The Private Press is a great track for testing how well speakers image. It includes some fancy phase shifting that creates the illusion of sounds circling behind your head, and the Primes pulled off the illusion perfectly. Compared to the Elite towers, the Primes did not image quite as precisely, but they compensated for it with a fuller sound. Audiophiles will not be disappointed when they sit in the sweet spot and take a good listen.

Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" often makes my demo playlist, thanks to its near-ubiquity, even at high-end audio shows. It has a relatively simple, straightforward mix—drums, bass, keyboards, guitar, and vocals. But the production itself is impeccable. It sounded good without a sub, but the bass line was a bit buried in the mix—which is highly inappropriate for funk. Adding the SB2000 sub made the song sound sublime. If you get the Primes, do yourself a favor and pair these speakers with a good subwoofer, you won't regret it.

If I have a go-to track for judging a system these days, it's "Cotton Tail" from the album Duke's Big 4. It earned its spot through sheer repetition; I've memorized how it sounds on over a dozen different systems, including more than one six-figure 2-channel rig. Near the end of the track, there is a drum solo that sounds as real as any recording I've heard when played on a good system.

Without a sub, the Primes delivered a perfectly passable rendition of "Cotton Tail." But with the sub handling deep bass, the speakers made it sound like the band was in the room with me. I know, that's a tired cliché, but when a pair of speakers combines good imaging with engaging dynamics, that's the impression you get.

"I Am the Walrus" and "Baby You're a Rich Man" by The Beatles proved to me that the Prime towers have a lot to offer 2-channel listeners. The superb production comes through; the music sounds fresh and resolute. Also, in this case, a subwoofer added little to the music.

Classical and opera fans will be pleased to know that the SVS Prime handles these genres well. I own five different recordings of "O Fortuna," the best-known song from Carl Orff's epic opera Carmina Burana. My favorite among them is a 1991 rendition by the San Francisco Symphony—I've owned a copy since it was first released and played it on every stereo I've owned since then.

The tympani hit that starts the track immediately startled me, which was a good sign. Then the choir comes in, just above a whisper. Anyone familiar with the track knows that it builds to a tremendous crescendo, and the Primes handled that transition—from quiet and delicate to huge and forceful—effortlessly. I was surprised to hear so much depth to the soundstage; with the right production, these speakers can create the illusion of a stage.

On "O Fortuna" in particular, the Elite towers did a better job of rendering the depth of the stage; I found their presentation very appealing for the genre. The recording seemed to flourish and bloom with beauty, whereas the Prime towers were more literal in their interpretation. Still, I'd say it's more of a subjective choice than it is a quantifiable difference.

If a speaker survives Meat Beat Manifesto's "Return to Bass," that alone is enough to earn it my recommendation. The genre-spanning electronic masterpiece is a parade of triangle, square, and sawtooth waves coming at you from all directions. Deep and brutal bass provides the foundation for this HiFi torture track.

The Primes excelled at reproducing "Return to Bass." When I describe them as visceral, it's because they offer a hint of the feeling you get in a club with a million-dollar PA—it tingles afterward. In "Return to Bass," you can hear and feel the music's textures rendered with startling clarity. The Pioneer Elites did not come close to offering the same sort of satisfaction from that track, with or without the help of a sub.

Conclusion

Overall, I think SVS got many things right with its new Prime towers. Any fault I found in their performance is more of a subjective judgment rather than an objective criticism. They played all the music I threw at them with a level of fidelity that I found satisfying and engrossing. They make music sound exciting, which is one of the best things a speaker can do.

In my tests, I never managed to stress the Primes before the overall volume became uncomfortably loud. I also know that I left 3 dB of headroom on the table—the Prime towers can handle up to twice the amount of power that I fed them. I could have used a Crown XTi-2002 to run them to the maximum, but I think I'll wait for the 7.1 system review before I do that.

I know some AVS members who own far more powerful speakers, and I know what it's like to listen to those systems. These speakers are not for that kind of listener. But in the real world, where space matters, aesthetics matter, and preserving your hearing also matters, the Prime towers get plenty loud in a normal-sized room—even when powered by an AVR. Also, while I always recommend adding one or more subwoofers to any stereo system, the Primes do quite well without one.

This review is only half the story. My next SVS-related review will include the Prime towers as part of a full surround system, and that will include movie soundtracks in the mix. This review is about using the Prime towers as a stereo pair, and they excel at that task. If your taste in speakers runs toward lively and dynamic, as opposed to polite and precise, you should consider auditioning a pair of Primes.


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Mark Henninger, Senior Editor at AVS Forum

Last edited by imagic; 03-18-2015 at 10:24 AM.
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post #2 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 11:01 AM
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I loved reading this review.

I tend to favor speaker comparisons over straight reviews. Though, I do like both.

Maybe the KEF Q500s vs these? Maybe a little more expensive, but we understand if the Q500s came out ahead. Something I would love to read about!
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post #3 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 11:24 AM
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I was able to hear these speakers as well and was impressed considering their cost. They had a rich, dynamic sound that the Pioneers couldn't match. In comparison, I felt that the Pioneers sounded thin. Not harsh but thin. The sub is a must though for the SVS towers to get the most out a full classical orchestral piece and a Prince groove.
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post #4 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 12:02 PM
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Nice review. Never heard those speakers before but i have a SB2000 on the way.

What size is your F8500? It looks huge.

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post #5 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 12:49 PM
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"Lively and dynamic"... that plus their soundstaging abilities makes them HIGHLY appealing to me. Especially for the price. $500 for the tower and $250 for the bookshelf version? Yeah, these might be popping up in my system in the near future.
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post #6 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 01:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by javanpohl View Post
"Lively and dynamic"... that plus their soundstaging abilities makes them HIGHLY appealing to me. Especially for the price. $500 for the tower and $250 for the bookshelf version? Yeah, these might be popping up in my system in the near future.
I was wondering if these sound similar to their Ultra tower. The tweeter looks very similar. One is 2 1/2 way design; this is 3 1/2 way. I'd consider either for my HT.
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post #7 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 01:30 PM
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"But in the real world, where space matters, aesthetics matter"

What... Why didn't anyone tell me these things matter.

*grumble* Oh wait, I don't live in the "real" world.. whew

Mark, you are quickly becoming a valuable resource on things and stuff.

Good review
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post #8 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 02:18 PM
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Classical orchestral? Prince groove? Daft Punk? For the love of God, man! Just once will you throw on some Cattle Decapitation, "Projectile Ovulation," and let us know if the speakers can clearly articulate Trevor's insanely deep guttural vox at the songs mid-section. Just once, I want to hear a speaker review that utilizes extreme metal. You want to give a speaker a workout and torture test, assault it with Dying Fetus and see if it can keep up. If it can, we've got something promising.

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post #9 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 02:53 PM
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Imagic did you experienced any ear fatigue ? How about sibilants? Can you can you give me a more inside description of the tweeter sound.
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post #10 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 03:03 PM
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morbidcorpse extreme metal is not an accurate music and not the choice for speaker tests.
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post #11 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 03:04 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by storman View Post
I was wondering if these sound similar to their Ultra tower. The tweeter looks very similar. One is 2 1/2 way design; this is 3 1/2 way. I'd consider either for my HT.
Hi storman -

The Ultra Tower and the Prime Tower are both 3.5-way crossover designs (but with different implementation for each model).

In the Ultra Tower, the bottom midrange driver is low passed at 700 Hz, and the top midrange crosses to the tweeter at 2 kHz. This tapered array provides a smooth frequency response through the entire midrange bandwidth, and a more uniform power response off-axis.

In the Prime Tower, the bottom woofer is low passed at 165 Hz, and the top woofer crosses to the midrange driver at 350 Hz. In addition, each woofer has a separate enclosure with a slightly different port tuning frequency. This results in excellent low-frequency extension, and a smooth frequency response through the entire bass/lower midrange bandwidth.

The Prime series absolutely benefits from the design and driver/crossover technology of the Ultra series. While the Ultra Tower is definitely our flagship, the Prime Tower sounds quite similar - and this is by design. With Prime we wanted to capture the essence of the Ultra series, but at a more affordable price point with outstanding performance value. Thanks!

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post #12 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 03:17 PM - Thread Starter
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Imagic did you experienced any ear fatigue ? How about sibilants? Can you can you give me a more inside description of the tweeter sound.
No fatigue. No issues with sibilance on anything I listened to. Suggest a track you consider a good test and I will audition it.

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post #13 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 05:27 PM
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Did you compare these to your Behringer 215XL's?
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post #14 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 05:45 PM - Thread Starter
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Did you compare these to your Behringer 215XL's?
Yes, but I decided it was an unfair comparison for the review. In a nutshell, the B215XL's are hard to beat of you accept their limitations. Namely, they are large, they absolutely require a subwoofer, and they are aesthetically challenged. But the truth is they sound a lot like the Primes in terms of the dynamics.
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morbidcorpse extreme metal is not an accurate music and not the choice for speaker tests.
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post #16 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 06:09 PM - Thread Starter
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Classical orchestral? Prince groove? Daft Punk? For the love of God, man! Just once will you throw on some Cattle Decapitation, "Projectile Ovulation," and let us know if the speakers can clearly articulate Trevor's insanely deep guttural vox at the songs mid-section. Just once, I want to hear a speaker review that utilizes extreme metal. You want to give a speaker a workout and torture test, assault it with Dying Fetus and see if it can keep up. If it can, we've got something promising.
I have no problem with that. I still plan to review these speakers as part of a 7.1 (7.2, actually) system, and as a result I will also be able to revisit them in a 2.2 configuration. And I am open to listening to any genre, as long as the track serves the purpose of testing the system. Genres exist precisely because of fan bases, and as far as I'm concerned every genre of music deserves respect when it comes to speaker reviews. I like reggae dub, dubstep, rap, industrial, and ambient. But I appreciate almost anything that shows artistry.

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post #17 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 07:45 PM
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I have no problem with that. I still plan to review these speakers as part of a 7.1 (7.2, actually) system, and as a result I will also be able to revisit them in a 2.2 configuration. And I am open to listening to any genre, as long as the track serves the purpose of testing the system. Genres exist precisely because of fan bases, and as far as I'm concerned every genre of music deserves respect when it comes to speaker reviews. I like reggae dub, dubstep, rap, industrial, and ambient. But I appreciate almost anything that shows artistry.
That response makes me have a whole new appreciation for what you do. If you're looking for suggestions in regards to extreme music that is recorded and mastered extremely well, I highly recommend anything off of the new Rings of Saturn album, "Lugal Ki En." When you hear it, you'll note how crystal clear the production is, in spite of the 300bpm drum blasts and 8-string guitar virtuosity that never sounds muddy, even though they are tuned to bowel quake.

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morbidcorpse extreme metal is not an accurate music and not the choice for speaker tests.
So other forms of metal are more accurate and thus better choices for speaker tests? What is accurate music?
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post #19 of 86 Old 12-23-2014, 09:35 PM
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So other forms of metal are more accurate and thus better choices for speaker tests? What is accurate music?
I'm a guitarist I mainly play jazz and classical but I also play rock and other music genres ,I was too fast on the comment ,Metal,Death metal ,any type of Rock genre that is extremely fast and loud with vocals that are hard to understand are not my music preference.

morbidcorpse mentioned an excellent track that I will hate to listen lol.

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post #20 of 86 Old 12-24-2014, 01:51 AM
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To quote Duke Ellington ( Mark did mention Duke's Big 4 after all) "There are only 2 kinds of music, good and bad. Which is which depends on one's personal preference."

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I'm a guitarist I mainly play jazz and classical but I also play rock and other music genres ,I was too fast on the comment ,Metal,Death metal ,any type of Rock genre that is extremely fast and loud with vocals that are hard to understand are not my music preference.

morbidcorpse mentioned an excellent track that I will hate to listen lol.
Thanks, understand its not your preference....not mine either but some of those guys are pretty damn accurate and would imagine it does make for good test material if you know what you're listening for.
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post #22 of 86 Old 12-24-2014, 11:46 AM
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Sorry to be off topic, but I'm intrigued by your AV rack. Are those pioneer bookshelf speakers laid face down under a piece of glass?
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post #23 of 86 Old 12-24-2014, 11:49 AM - Thread Starter
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Sorry to be off topic, but I'm intrigued by your AV rack. Are those pioneer bookshelf speakers laid face down under a piece of glass?
Yes, that's exactly what it is. I used adhesive felt pads to make the whole thing work.

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No fatigue. No issues with sibilance on anything I listened to. Suggest a track you consider a good test and I will audition it.
Nickel Creek, The Hand Song

Sara had a little gap in her front teeth and there was a little whistle that would happen sometimes when she was singing. In Hand Song it was captured on tape. I use it to test HF drivers, you should hear the whistle but it should not sound overly sibilant.

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post #25 of 86 Old 12-24-2014, 03:17 PM
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Just thought I'd mention that SVS have made speakers prior to the Ultras. M-series and S-series.
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post #26 of 86 Old 12-24-2014, 04:20 PM
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imagic, any idea why you never reviewed the ultra towers?

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Quote:
Originally Posted by storman View Post
I was wondering if these sound similar to their Ultra tower. The tweeter looks very similar. One is 2 1/2 way design; this is 3 1/2 way. I'd consider either for my HT.
prime and ultras are both 3.5 way's, and it's the same tweeter as well.

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Thanks very much for an excellent review. I have had my eye on these since they were released but was waiting until someone with far more audiophile prowess had an opportunity to demo them. Just one question, were these brand new, never broken in? How do you feel they might "open up" after a hundred or so hours of playtime?
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post #29 of 86 Old 12-26-2014, 05:51 AM
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Originally Posted by airgas1998 View Post
prime and ultras are both 3.5 way's, and it's the same tweeter as well.
Sorry everyone - I should get my facts straight before I make a comment like that. I'm thinking of upgrading my 7.1 speaker system in my HT in a few months. I'm thinking of Ultras for the front 3, (I have the PB Ultra 13 sub already) but for surrounds and rears I like monopoles. (I position the sides just behind the listening position) That could mean Ultra bookshelves, but I don't think SVS included a wall mount for them. If the prime's are voiced nearly the same, I might be able to save some money by using them for sides/rears.
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post #30 of 86 Old 12-26-2014, 06:14 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by groundtrac View Post
Thanks very much for an excellent review. I have had my eye on these since they were released but was waiting until someone with far more audiophile prowess had an opportunity to demo them. Just one question, were these brand new, never broken in? How do you feel they might "open up" after a hundred or so hours of playtime?
AFAIK I tested a brand new pair. There's nothing about the drivers that signals to me a long break-in would make any real difference.

If there was any significant mechanical break-in (there always is some, but not it's not necessarily audible) I'm confident the speakers were past that point when I performed my critical listening. I don't just test speakers for a few hours. Before I even get into the review I put about 50 hours of play on 'em since—based on what I've read—that's as long as it would ever take to loosen up the the driver's suspensions.

Mark Henninger, Senior Editor at AVS Forum
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