SVS Prime Bookshelf 5.1 System Review

In my review of the SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 system, I promised a follow-up review of a Prime-based 5.1.4 Atmos-compatible system using every speaker within the line. That review is in the queue, but I want to hear more about DTS:X before I delve into it.

For now, I put together a compelling 5.1 all-Prime configuration based on the Bookshelf and Center models—I wanted to see how much of an upgrade it represents versus the Satellite-based setup.

SVS sells the Bookshelf 5.1 package for $1050. It’s up to the buyer to choose a subwoofer to go with it; for this review, I used an SB-2000 12″ sealed sub ($700). The rated frequency response of the entire system is 19 Hz to 25 kHz +/-3dB, which makes it truly full range.

Features

The Prime Bookshelf ($250 each) is a handsome 2-way design that employs the same 1″ aluminum-dome tweeter found in the rest of the Prime lineup. Sporting 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 handles up to 150 watts of power.

Each Prime Bookshelf weighs 15.5 pounds and measures 13.3″ x 8″ x 10.3″ (including grill and feet). Like the rest of the Prime lineup, it’s available in two finishes: Black Ash or Piano Black.

The Prime Center ($350) is a 3-way design with a vertically aligned 1″ dome tweeter and 3.5″ midrange flanked by a pair of 5.5″ woofers. It is the most expensive speaker in the Prime Bookshelf 5.1 system, but its sophisticated design merits the premium.


The Prime Center is a 3-way design.

Each woofer in the Center operates in a discrete vented chamber. Meanwhile, the midrange driver handles frequencies between 300 Hz and 2400 Hz. The result is a 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″ (including grill and feet).

Prime Satellites sport a compact 2-way design with the same 4.5″ Peerless driver used as a midrange in the Prime Towers. Prime Satellites weigh 6.5 pounds and measure 8.85″ x 4.9″ x 6.3″ (including grill and feet).

Cabinets on all Prime speakers feature a diffraction-reducing chamfered front baffle. Additionally, they all use ports that vent to the rear.

The SB-2000 is a compact sealed 12″ subwoofer with a built-in power amp rated at 500 watts (RMS)/1100 watts (peak). It weighs 34.8 pounds and measures 14.6″ x 14.2″ x 17.1″ (with grill), and its rated frequency response is 19 Hz to 220 Hz +/- 3dB. According to measurements published by SVS, it plays flat down to (about) 30 Hz, and the company says the sub’s roll-off slope is “optimized to take maximum advantage of available room gain.”


Here is the SB-2000 frequency response graph provided by SVS

On the rear of the SB-2000, SVS provides stereo line-level inputs and outputs, a variable-phase control, an adjustablecrossover, and a volume control. In addition, there’s a switch to toggle between automatic standby and always-on.

Setup

For this review, I used the same speaker placement as with the Satellite 5.1 system—a classic 5.1 layout with side surrounds just behind the main listening position. I connected the speakers and sub to a Crestron ProAmp 7×250 amplifier (250 W/channel into 8 ohms).

I placed the pair of Bookshelf speakers on 24-inch stands and positioned them approximately two feet from each side wall and three feet from the back wall, with seven feet between them. The Center sat on a shorter (12-inch) stand beneath aSamsung PN64F8500 plasma. The left and right surround Satellites were perched atop 36-inch speaker stands, placed near the walls and flanking my couch. I positioned the subwoofer in the front of the room. With most speakers, I get excellent results in both stereo and multichannel modes with that arrangement.

I used the same speaker layout when I wrote the Satellite 5.1 review; therefore, I did not have to adjust the delay (distance) settings for the speakers. Levels are a different story—both the Prime Center and Bookshelf speakers are more efficient than the Satellites, so I used Room EQ Wizard and a UMIK-1 to make minor adjustments.

The Bookshelf and Center play lower than the Satellites, so I set them to a relatively lower crossover point using theCrestron Procise PSPHD pre/pro. I used 80 Hz for the three front channels, and 100 Hz for the surrounds.

Performance

Compared to the Prime Satellite 5.1 system, the Bookshelf-based 5.1 kit kicks serious butt. It shares the same fundamental qualities with the smaller system—great imaging and a powerful sound that belies its size and price. However, the 5.1 Bookshelf system offers better performance in terms of dynamic range and frequency response.

The Center’s higher power handling and greater efficiency result in a 2 dB boost in output versus the Satellite, and over a wider frequency range. Having good bass extension is important if you use a subwoofer crossover of 80Hz or lower. This speaker is well equipped to handle the task.

SVS Prime Bookshelf speakers are destined to become classics—that’s how good they are. Pairing a 1″ dome tweeter and a 6.5″ woofer in a vented cabinet is a common approach for bookshelf-style speakers; doing it well results in acoustic excellence.

I was afraid that the Bookshelf model would not image as precisely as the Satellites, but that fear proved to be unfounded. Instead, I found myself in awe of how transparent these speakers sounded. I also thought the SB-2000 blended very well at 80 Hz; it was not localizable.

For movies, the system performed admirably during intense scenes. Deep movie bass takes a lot of power to reproduce properly, and the SB-2000 did a great job for a subwoofer of its size. Mind you, there’s no such thing in my book as too many subs or too much bass extension, but the SB-2000 is likely to satisfy most listeners.

Surround sound is my default listening mode, even for music. When I listened to upmixed music, I used the same settings as for movies: an 80 Hz crossover for the front channels and 100 Hz for the surrounds. When I ran a frequency sweep and measured it from my listening position, I found that all the SVS speakers in the system met their specification.

For grins, I pushed the system to its limits to see what would happen. As a stress test, I blasted Die Antwoord’s “Never Le Nkemise II” from their album Ten$ion. I clocked 150 watts for the Center on the Procise PSPHD while using Dolby PLIIx inMusic mode. The average level at my listening position was 101.7 dBC—significantly above what I find comfortable. The speakers did not falter, even when pushed that hard.


I pushed the Prime system hard, to see how it performed near its power handling limit.

The Center worked especially hard during loud passages on a variety of tracks. I checked out some dubstep tracks like Bassnectar’s “The Future” and “Don’t Hate the 808” from the album Noise vs. Beauty—I could see its woofers pumping away. It was clear that a single Satellite could not match the Center’s overall output and bass performance.

On a mellower note, Boards of Canada’s album Tomorrow’s Harvest showed off the system’s capacity to paint complex aural collages, featuring soundscapes that seem to expand beyond the boundaries of the room. I love hearing the nuances of intricate, layered ambient music—the Bookshelf 5.1 system helped me experience all the little details that make attentive listening a gratifying experience.

When it comes to movie soundtracks, the Bookshelf 5.1 system delivered the goods—it’s definitely suitable for home-theater use. The landing scene in Interstellar starting at 1:06:13 is a very chaotic and intense sequence that envelops you in audio chaos. It’s full of shaking and groaning, with a near-continuous deep bass throb that lasts for two suspenseful minutes. The Prime system rendered it with precision and poise, even when the going got rough.

Conclusion

The Prime Bookshelf and Center sound excellent, with the same sonic character as the Satellites, but with greater overall capability. When I fed them enough power to experience their full potential, I heard a very capable set of speakers. The only catch is they are not very efficient, so you need ample power if you plan to play them loud.

I’ve been to enough audio shows to know a good bargain when I hear one, and the SVS Prime Bookshelf 5.1 package with an SB-2000 is just such a system. For less than two grand, you get full-range sound along with enough dynamic headroom to make watching movies a visceral experience. At the same time, the Primes have the finesse needed to reward the music listener, whether it’s 2-channel or multichannel.

Finally, the SB-2000 is a solid sub. It’s not the last word for bass addicts, but remember that you can choose the sub you buy with the Bookshelf 5.1 system. I think twin SB-2000s with the Bookshelf package would make a great system. Moreover, if you have room for larger subs, you can’t go wrong with either the PB-2000 or PC-2000.

The SVS Prime Bookshelf 5.1 system is a great choice you want a compact, capable set of speakers that looks and sounds stunning. It offers a level of performance that is outstanding for the price.

REVIEW SYSTEM

Sources

DIY PC (Windows 8) running Tidal and iTunes
Oppo BDP-103 Universal Disc Player

Amplification and Processing

Crestron Procise PSPHD pre/pro
Crestron Procise ProAmp 7×250

Cables

Monoprice 12-gauge OFC speaker cables
Mediabridge Ultra Series subwoofer cable
Mediabridge Ultra Series HDMI cable

Additional Components

Samsung PN64F8500 HDTV