SVS Prime 5.1.4 Atmos Speaker System Review

SVS Prime speakers are a surefire way to get high performance for your speaker-buying dollar. I know this because each time I review a Prime-based system, I have to remind myself that many speakers from other companies—sometimes costing twice as much or more for equivalent models—don’t offer the looks or performance of the Primes. When writing reviews of Prime-based systems, I’ve consistently found myself involved in engaging—and sometimes outright awesome—listening experiences.

The process of evaluating multiple Prime-based systems has resulted in the right speakers being in the right place at the right time to put together a killer 5.1.4 Atmos-capable system. While I already knew the individual Prime components perform at a very high level, I thought it would be a shame to send all those speakers back to SVS without testing an Atmos configuration.


Here’s a look at the front channels of the system including one of the Atmos height channels.

I called SVS and asked how I might go about creating an Atmos setup using the Prime Satellites as height speakers. Tech support suggested wall mounting the Satellites as high as I could, just below the ceiling. I took the advice, even though it’s technically not an “official” Atmos speaker configuration. Notably, I have attended DTS:X demos that used the same speaker layout. Regardless, what matters is whether the configuration actually worked. Did it? Read on to find out…

Features

The Prime series is the more affordable of the two speaker lines offered by SVS Sound, the other being the Ultra series. It consists of four different models, the Tower, Center, Bookshelf, and Satellite.

The Prime Tower ($600 each) served as the front left and right speaker for this review. It features a 3.5-way design, which assigns a different crossover point to each woofer to suppress lobing. The speaker utilizes the 1″ aluminum-dome tweeter that’s used throughout the Prime lineup, a 4.5″ polypropylene midrange driver, and a pair of 6.5″ woofers with a long-stroke suspension. Each woofer operates in a separate vented chamber, isolating it from the other drivers.

The Tower tips the scales at 40 pounds and measures 36.6″ x 8″ x 11.6″. SVS lists a frequency response of 30-25,000 Hz (+/-3 dB), and rated sensitivity is 87 dB/W/m. Each speaker can handle up to 250 watts of amplification and exhibits 8-ohm nominal impedance. There is no provision for bi-amping or bi-wiring, but the binding posts are easily accessible and accommodate banana plugs.

The Prime Bookshelf ($300 each) is a handsome 2-way design that employs the ubiquitous 1″ aluminum-dome tweeter. I used it for the surround speakers in this system. It sports a 6.5″ woofer and a second-order crossover centered at 2300 Hz. It is an 8-ohm speaker with a rated sensitivity of 87 dB/W/m.

The Bookshelf can handle up to 150 watts of amplification and weighs 15.5 pounds while measuring 13.3″ x 8″ x 10.3″. The cabinet includes a rear-venting tuned port.

The Prime Center ($450) features a sophisticated 3-way design with a vertically aligned 1″ dome tweeter and 3.5″ midrange flanked by a pair of 5.5″ woofers. Each woofer in the Center operates in a discrete vented chamber. The midrange driver handles frequencies between 300 Hz and 2400 Hz. The result is a center-channel speaker that avoids the lobing issues in 2-way MTM (midwoofer-tweeter-midwoofer) designs. The Center measures 7.7″ x 18.6″ x 9.2″.

The Prime Satellite ($175 each in Piano Gloss Black) is a compact 2-way design that uses the same aluminum-dome tweeter as the rest of the Prime line. I used four Satellites as Atmos height channels. This small but gutsy speaker features the same 4.5-inch Peerless driver used as a midrange on the Prime Towers. However, with the Satellites, it handles both midrange and bass.

SVS rates the Prime Satellite’s frequency response from 69 Hz to 25 kHz (+/-3 dB) and power handling at 150 Watts with an 8-ohm load. The speaker’s sensitivity rating is 85 dB/W/m. Each Prime Satellite weighs 6.5 pounds and measures 8.85″ x 4.9″ x 6.3″ (including the cloth grill and rubber feet), and the cabinet includes a rear-venting tuned port.

The sealed SB-2000 ($800) is a very competent and comparatively compact sub. The enclosure measures 14.6″ (H) x 14.2″ (W) x 15.4″ (D), and it weighs 34.8 pounds. SVS rates the frequency response from 19 Hz to 220 Hz (+/-3 dB) and the company rightly notes that room gain may result in some additional low-frequency extension.

A 500-watt amplifier (1100W peak) powers a 2000-series 12″ aluminum-cone driver. The amp offers a set of stereo line-level RCA inputs and outputs, while the right-channel input doubles as an LFE input.

The cabinets on all my demo units—including the sub—feature a Piano Gloss Black finish, and the listed prices reflect that. A Black Ash finish is also available at a lower cost.

Setup

I placed the front channels and surrounds in a 5.1 configuration, with the center of my couch serving as the main listening position. Then, I mounted the four Satellites eight feet up on the walls—as close to the ceiling as possible. Additionally, I pointed the front height channels toward the primary listening position. I tucked the SB-2000 subwoofer into the front-left corner of the room.

The front left, center, and right speakers were each located eight feet away from the sweet spot. The left and right speakers were situated 7’6″ apart from each other, with the center directly between them. The surround speakers were located to the sides and just behind the couch. Each surround was about six feet away from the sweet spot.

I used my Pioneer Elite SC-85 AVR to perform all audio processing and room correction. The Elite AVR handled amplification for the height channels, while a Crestron Procise ProAmp 7X250 provided amplification for the other five channels. I chose an 80 Hz crossover for the subwoofer, and set all the speakers sizes to “small.”

Pioneer’s MCACC Pro room correction did a great job of setting speaker distances and levels as well as a good job of taming the peaks in bass response that result from room modes. After running the automated setup, I performed a few measurements using Room EQ Wizard (REW) to confirm its effectiveness. Ultimately, I felt satisfied that the system did not require readjustment.

A Samsung BD-H6600 Blu-ray player served as the source for Atmos content. My formal evaluation used the January 2015 Dolby Atmos demo Blu-ray, which includes several Atmos trailers as well as clips from Transformers: Age of Extinction, Where the Trail Ends, and On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter. The disc also contains Enrique Iglesias’ “Bailando” video with the music mixed in Atmos. Additionally, I watched the final chase sequence in Mad Max: Fury Road multiple times. Ralph Potts’ recent review of the Fury Road Blu-ray says it possesses the best Atmos mix to date, so I’ve added it to my review rotation.

Performance

Let’s go straight to the point: This system sounded excellent reproducing immersive audio. As far as Atmos 5.1.4 systems go, it offers an extremely high performance/price ratio. None of this came as a huge surprise to me, since I’ve already reviewed all the speakers contained in the system, except for the SB-2000 sub.

The Prime Tower, Center, and Bookshelf speakers put on a great show. All are capable of clear, loud, dynamic, and precise audio reproduction, and they look good doing it. Indeed, one of the best things about the Prime system is that you do not sacrifice build quality or aesthetics for such a low price.

The power of the Towers takes this system to another level. During action movies, there was a lot of adrenaline rush thanks to the crisp delivery of sound effects and soundtracks. Plus, the Center was no slouch when it came to pumping out great cinema sound. The Center kept up with the Towers in terms of output; thanks to its 3-way design that reduces lobing, movie and TV dialog was very clear.

The Prime Satellites turned out to be an excellent choice for use as Atmos height speakers. The suggestion SVS offered—to mount them on the walls, just underneath the ceiling—worked like a charm. The demos on the Dolby Atmos disc offered immediate gratification in the form of an immersive 3D soundfield. I perceived a superior sense of height—with greater precision in terms of object tracking and an enhanced sense of space from ambient sounds—than what I heard from the Pioneer Elite Atmos speaker system I reviewed earlier this year. I suspect the superior performance is the result of using speakers mounted at ceiling height—instead of reflected sound—for the height channels.

The biggest surprise in terms of performance is how well the single SB-2000 subwoofer handled its bass duties. I must admit, I underestimated the potency of that subwoofer based on its compact size and affordable price; its performance was quite impressive. In-room measurements and ears-on scrutiny from the main listening position revealed audible output down to 16 Hz, useful output down to 18 Hz, and strong output from about 22 Hz on up.

The subwoofer does have its limits; when you push it hard and approach reference levels with content that digs down to 20 Hz or below, you run into the inherent limits of what a single, sealed 12-inch subwoofer can do. As long as your room isn’t of palatial dimensions, and you are not watching War of the Worlds nightly at reference levels, the SB-2000 is more than enough sub to reproduce music and movies at very satisfying volume levels. Moreover, you can always double up if you want more (and smoother) bass—the SB-2000 is certainly of sufficient fidelity that investing in multiple units would be very rewarding.

Listening

The main thing I listen for in an Atmos speaker system is whether or not it can provide a complete sense of immersion. An ideal system is one that nails the reproduction of both ambience and discrete sounds, without ever drawing your attention to the speakers. The good news is the SVS system was quite effective at rendering a realistic dome of sound.

The Dolby Atmos demo Blu-ray serves as a very useful reference for subjective comparisons. I’ve heard the trailers from that disc on over 20 different Atmos-capable systems. Overall, I thought the SVS rig was very successful at creating a complete sense of audio envelopment. The Enrique Iglesias “Bailando” video possessed the same snappy sound and immersive effect that made it a crowd favorite at CEDIA 2014. The catch is the SVS Prime system costs less than any 5.1.4 speaker system I heard at that show.

Perhaps the most outstanding quality of the Prime rig was how it handled playback at low to moderate volume levels. Not only did it preserve crucial details—movie dialog remained clear—but I could also feel the impact of blasts, gunshots, door slams, and other sound effects that have a tactile element to them—even at what I’d consider late-night levels. You don’t have to crank the volume to hear deep into the mix. Nevertheless, with this system, there is sufficient headroom to satisfy people who enjoy playing music and movies loud.

In order to get a good sense of how much intensity the system could handle, I played the final chase sequence in Mad Max: Fury Road multiple times, at various volume levels, with and without Atmos activated. Despite my statements in the previous paragraph, there’s no question about it—while the Prime 5.1.4 system is notably good at modest volume levels, the greatest satisfaction came from cranking it up and letting it flex its muscles.

The verisimilitude achieved by the Prime 5.1.4 system when watching Mad Max: Fury Road at roughly reference levels triggered an acute case of dropped-jaw syndrome. It also provoked several outbreaks of goose bumps—always a good sign. Ultimately, it was the resolution of the speakers that most impressed me. There are many discrete sounds to keep track of in the midst of the furious Mad Max action; the Primes parsed it all out, which helped amplify the already extreme intensity of the film.

Another Atmos scene that I found quite compelling is the opening scene of The Expendables 3. It features an elaborate chase sequence that includes a train and a helicopter. The helicopter is of greatest interest, providing plenty of opportunity for pronounced overhead panning effects. It’s also the sort of scene you watch with the volume turned up to 11! I’m happy to report that the SVS system managed to make the most of the macho mayhem and rendered that helicopter perfectly.

Last but not least, I’m a big fan of using the Dolby Surround Atmos upmixer with music. This SVS prime system managed to make the most of the effect, rendering an accurate front stage while performing excellent ambience extraction. When listening to good recordings, I was transported to various venues, from small clubs to concert halls. The system rendered the ambience with great fidelity, and the Satellites were never localizable. The ability to perfectly emulate jazz clubs in live recordings was one of the Prime system’s most beguiling qualities.

Conclusion

SVS has achieved a great balance of price, performance, aesthetics, and physical size with its Prime-series speakers. The company also has a reputation for building great subwoofers, and nothing I’ve heard coming from it contradicts that.

When I put this system together, I was already optimistic about its performance potential thanks to my prior Prime series speaker reviews. Still, it was my first time using standard satellite speakers in the Dolby Atmos configuration. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I quickly discovered that it was as effective as any approach to Atmos immersion I’ve heard before.

I highly recommend SVS Prime speakers for surround applications, including Atmos. It’s fairly amazing that Prime is the least expensive line of speakers I’ve reviewed this year. When I look at them and listen to them, I tend to forget how affordable they are. There’s simply no sign of any cut corners; SVS Prime speakers exude nothing but pure competence with style to match. It is an Atmos-compatible speaker system that I am going to miss listening to.

Check out my other reviews of SVS Prime speakers:

SVS Prime Tower Speakers Review
SVS Prime Bookshelf 5.1 System Review
SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 System Review

REVIEW SYSTEM

Source

Samsung BD-H6600 Blu-ray player

Amplification and Processing

Pioneer Elite SC-85 AVR
Crestron Procise ProAmp 7X250 Amplifier

Cables

Monoprice 12-gauge OFC speaker cables
Mediabridge Ultra Series HDMI cable
Monoprice RCA-to-XLR interconnects