SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 System Review

I’ve become a fan of SVS Sound’s Prime line of speakers. I’ve spent the last couple of months listening to a number of the company’s speakers, and I recently reviewed a pair of its Prime Towers. I found the Towers to be dynamic; imaging was precise, and I enjoyed listening to them.

A pair of Prime Towers costs $1000 (S1200 in Piano Black). For the same amount of money, SVS sells a 5.1 surround system based on five Prime Satellites. The speakers, combined with an SB-1000 subwoofer, make a complete system that’s suitable for cinephiles as well as fans of multichannel music. And if you need more channels—for a 7.1 or 9.1 system—you can add additional Prime Satellites to a package for $200 per pair ($230 for Piano Black).

Features

The Prime Satellite is a compact 2-way design that uses the same aluminum-dome tweeter as the rest of the Prime line. It features the same 4.5-inch Peerless driver used as a midrange on the Prime Towers, but on the Satellites, it handles both midrange and bass.

Each Prime Satellite weighs 6.5 pounds and measures 8.85″ x 4.9″ x 6.3″ (including the cloth grill and rubber feet). There’s a choice of finish, either Black Ash or Piano Black.

The cabinets feature a diffraction-busting chamfered front baffle and grill. The back of each speaker has a 5-way binding post and a 1-inch flared bass port.


Here’s a peek at the back of the SVS Prime Satellite

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.

The SVS SB–1000 subwoofer sports a 12-inch driver and 300 watts of power (720 watts peak). It’s a sealed subwoofer, making it rather compact. Overall dimensions are 13.5″ x 13″ x 14.6″ (with grill). It weighs 35 pounds and comes in three finishes: Black Ash, Piano White, and Piano Black.

SVS rates the sub’s bass response from 24 to 260 Hz +/- 3 dB (quasi-anechoic). The sub has a variable phase control as well as a variable (and defeatable) lowpass filter. In terms of inputs, it features 5-way binding posts as well as line-levelRCA inputs. It even includes a 12V trigger.

Setup

I connected the speakers and sub to a Crestron Procise PSPHD pre/pro and ProAmp 7×250 (250 W/channel into 8 ohms) amplifier combo that currently serves as my reference system. I used a classic 5.1 layout with side surrounds.

I placed the subwoofer in the front of the room. I set the front left and right speakers on 24-inch stands and positioned them approximately two feet from each side wall and three feet from the back wall—they sat seven feet apart.

The center channel was on a shorter (12-inch) stand and sat beneath a Samsung PN64F8500 plasma. The left and right surrounds sat atop 36-inch speaker stands.

I used an Audyssey MultEQ Pro calibration kit to set speaker levels and distances. For actual listening, I disabled Audyssey’s EQ feature, but I kept its level and distance adjustments. Also, I set the crossover for all the Satellites to 100 Hz.

Performance

The SVS Prime Satellites rocked the house. They are some of the best-sounding affordable small speakers I’ve heard. In fact, I found myself preferring their precision to the sound coming from considerably pricier tower speakers.

When I first played these speakers, I listened to the front left-right stereo pair with the subwoofer taking care of the bass. What I heard was almost shocking—there was little to no difference between their sound and what I heard coming from the much larger Prime Towers.

Without a subwoofer, the Prime Satellites don’t sound all that impressive. These are physically small speakers, incapable of producing deep bass. Unless you pair them with subs, their actual capability remains hidden. But if you add a sub or two, they blossom into beautiful conveyors of audio excellence. In fact, imaging was superior to what I heard from the Prime Towers, likely due to the smaller front baffle.

I quickly realized that I had underestimated the Prime Satellites because of their small size and low price. They sounded so good, I found myself choosing to listen to them instead of the numerous full-sized towers that I have in my studio.

Even in a 2.1-channel configuration, the Prime Satellites sounded tremendous. There was a cognitive dissonance between their diminutive size and the soundfield they created. Make no mistake—these are serious speakers for serious listeners.

Since I do most of my listening in surround as opposed to 2-channel stereo, I switched to the full 5.1 configuration. I tested the system with a variety of music and movies, and I used DTS Neo:6 to upmix stereo music to surround.

I spent several weeks with the Prime Satellites as my primary speaker system. It was surprising how often I forgot that I was listening to satellites as opposed to full-sized towers. Track after track sounded as if it was playing through far more expensive speakers. In fact, as I put the system through its paces, I quickly realized that the main limitation of the system was the subwoofer.

Simply put, the Prime Satellites performed spectacularly well when relieved of bass duties. My listening space measures 11′ x 19′ x 9′, and the five Prime Satellites filled it with sound—without breaking a sweat. I noticed that most of the time, the amp was cruising along at about 1W of output.

When I turned the system up to levels that typically draw complaints from my neighbors, the speakers drew 10 or 15W of power, and cone movement remained relatively minimal. When I pushed the system, I noticed the SB-1000 would run out of dynamic headroom well before the Satellites did.

Thanks the use of DSP control, the SB-1000 maintains its composure at normal listening levels. It won’t bottom out or distort, but there are definite limits to its capabilities. For example, it can’t reach 20 Hz, nor does SVS make any such claim. The SB-1000 starts to make bass right around 24 Hz—I found its specs accurately reflected what it delivered in my studio. However, due to its limited displacement and modest power rating, there’s only so much bass you can get out of the sub.

On a separate note, I’m always quick to recommend two or more subwoofers for any system. It’s not all about more bass; it’s about better bass. Multiple subs fill in the peaks and dips that result from room interactions. Also, smoother bass makes it easier to integrate the main speakers with the subs.

A number of modern action movies feature sound effects that will test any speaker system’s mettle. I recently started using an extended fight scene from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a reference for cinematic surround sound. It starts at 1:07:46, which is chapter 14 on the Blu-ray.

The sounds and textures in that sequence include a lot of growling engine sounds, whizzing bullets, deep thuds, and a bass sweep at 1:12:00 that pushes most subwoofers to their limit. It’s an extended scene with continuous action for over seven minutes—it doesn’t let up until 1:15:10. I’ve heard that scene play in numerous high-end home theaters with much more expensive speaker systems, but the base 5.1 Prime Satellite package handled everything but deep bass with impressive fidelity.


This is the moment in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that tests your subwoofer’s mettle.

During the most intense moments of the scene, sound levels at my main listening position hit 100 dBC or higher. I glanced at the power meters on the Procise PSHP and saw that the center-channel power draw peaked around 50 watts, and the Satellite serving as the center channel did not struggle with the task. I’ve heard many dedicated center-channel designs that did not perform as well as the diminutive Prime Satellite.

When I compared the deep bass output of a single SB-1000 to my current reference subs—a pair of JL Audio e112subwoofers—it was clear that better bass improved the overall audio experience provided by the system. Since the Prime Satellites worked so well with the JL subs, I figured it was worth trying the two higher-end SVS subs I had on hand: an SB-2000 ($700) and a PC-2000 ($800). Swapping the SB-1000 for either one resulted in a significantly more satisfying audio experience. The most notable difference was tactile—a single SB-1000 can’t rattle your bones the way either of the 2000 series subs can.

Between the three SVS subs that I tried in the system, the PC-2000 was the winner. That ported cylindrical sub—which I will review in the near future—had sufficient range (16-260 Hz +/- 3 dB) and raw output to transform a big-budget movie on Blu-ray into a visceral experience. Revisiting the scene from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles confirmed what I suspected—you need bass extension down to 16 Hz to get the most out that movie.

When I used the PC-2000 with a pair of Prime Satellites for 2-channel listening, I heard a system that can handle every note used in musical compositions, right on down to the 16 Hz organ note, not to mention the bass you find in modern electronic music.

Deep, visceral bass is fun, but this review is primarily about the $1000 Prime Satellite package. So I reconnected the SB-1000 and put the 5.1 system through one of the toughest musical tests I know of—playing the soundtrack from Tron: Legacy. The recording incorporates near-continuous deep bass tones and drones—as well as symphonic arrangements—that combine to truly tax subwoofers, speakers, and their amplifiers.

Tracks 17 and 18 from Tron: Legacy are among my favorites. On the right system, “Disc Wars” can make it feel like the walls in my studio are about to collapse. With the SB-1000 on bass, the effect was far more subtle. According to the Procise pre/pro, the Satellites only consumed 1 watt of power while the sub itself ran close to its performance limits. It didn’t sound bad, but the shortcoming of the single compact sub were readily apparent—the Satellites had a lot more oomph left in them but the SB-1000 could not quite keep up.

“C.L.U.” takes the bass onslaught of “Disc Wars” and ups the ante with a grandiose denouement in which Daft Punk and the London Symphony Orchestra conjure a monolith of sound that overwhelms lesser systems. Once again, the SB-1000provided a somewhat restrained performance. A switch to the SB-2000 and then the PC-2000 again confirmed that the Satellites could keep up with a more robust sub.

Conclusion

Swapping the SB-1000 for a larger, more powerful subwoofer elevates the overall performance of the Satellites. The little Primes reward subwoofer upgrades, and in my opinion, they rival the sound of $1000+/pair tower speakers.

There are many ways you can improve upon the $1000 5.1 Prime Satellite system—for a price. On its own, the package presents a tremendous value for the performance you get. Even so, ever-greater sound quality is just one sub upgrade away.

I have not touched on what happens when you use the Satellites in conjunction with some of the larger speakers found in the Prime lineup. I’ll save those details for my next SVS review, which will feature a 5.1.4 Atmos-capable speaker layout, several 7.1 surround-sound configurations, and every model of speaker in the Prime line.

Right now—as I write this—the five Prime Satellites remain in my system. I felt no need to swap the Satellites out for something better, and that is the ultimate testament to how good they are.

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

SVS SB-2000 subwoofer
SVS PC-2000 subwoofer
Two JL Audio e112 subwoofers
Samsung PN64F8500 HDTV