SVS Prime Tower Loudspeakers
by John Crossett | October 13, 2015
I dont know how many of you have been in my shoes, although I suspect there have been quite a few: you have limited space for your audio system and a similarly limited budget for purchasing loudspeakers to complete said system. I have always been left with small stand-mounted speakers as my only option because bigger floorstanding speakers would be, I was told, overkill in my room, and I couldn't afford them anyway. I was concerned that a speaker in my price range would be compromised; corners would have to be cut, often just to deepen the bass. Ive had some excellent small loudspeakers grace my listening room, but each and every one of them suffered from the same limitation: a lack of low bass. And I missed that; it set the foundation for the music I love. But I always thought that I didnt have much choice -- that small stand-mounted speakers were all that I could accommodate and afford.The good folks at SVS have recognized this problem too, and with their Prime Tower speakers have set about giving audiophiles with both budget and space limitations a real choice: a floorstanding speaker with honest deep bass at a size and price that audiophiles like me can handle. This is completely in keeping with the company's founding in 1998 by a small group of audio enthusiasts who began designing and building high-value subwoofers. SVS is now a worldwide brand with new headquarters in Ohio, and they've added a wide array of speakers to their robust line of subwoofers and accessories.
The Prime Towers, at 36" high by a mere 8" wide by 11.1" deep and 40 pounds, are understated yet quite nice-looking in the high-gloss piano-black finish the review samples came in (they are also available in black ash). No, they wont wow anyone at first glance -- at least until they start playing -- but they stand up and say, quality, not compromise. They are solidly put together, as my knuckle-wrap test showed when I banged on the side.
The Prime Tower is a three-and-a-half way rear-ported design with a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter crossed over to a 4 1/2" polypropylene midrange at 2.1kHz. Twin 6 1/2" polypropylene woofers take things from there. The bottom woofer crosses over at 165Hz, the top one at 350Hz. Both woofers and the midrange have their own specially designed internal enclosures to help keep internal standing waves from muddying the sound. Both the midrange and woofers have ABS fiberglass baskets specially designed to minimize resonance and distortion. The crossovers use premium-grade capacitors, air-core inductors, and heavy-trace printed circuit boards to yield lower distortion, according to SVS. The speakers have gold-plated five-way single-wire binding posts low on the back panel.
The Prime Tower has a stated frequency response of 30Hz to 25kHz with a nominal impedance of 8 ohms and a rated sensitivity of 87dB, so it will need some power, but not an excessive amount, although the better the amplifier, the better these speakers will sound -- so dont skimp. The speakers come with both metal spikes and rounded rubber feet, which you'll use depending on the surface youre placing the speakers on. I used the spikes on my carpeted floor. The drivers are flush mounted to the front panel and covered with acoustically transparent grilles (which I left off during my listening).
I gave the Prime Towers a good two weeks burn-in time with both music and white noise to make sure the drivers were well loosened up before I began taking notes, but I found that the speakers continued to improve incrementally throughout the time I had them. Be sure you get enough time to really let the speakers run in before drawing any conclusions or borrow a well-burned-in pair for audition.
While you can find SVS speakers at a number of major retailers, most of their business is via mail order. I know the thought of doing business by mail can be scary to some potential buyers, so SVS has provided a "Bill of Rights" for any and all who wish to try the speakers in their home. SVS provides a 45-day in-home trial with complete return privileges no questions asked, and they will even pay return shipping if youre not satisfied. Oh, and speaking of shipping, that's free both ways -- to and from. Not bad, huh? Free shipping would certainly make me feel better about giving SVS speakers a shot. They even offer a one-year trade-up policy that says that within the first year of ownership, if you wish to trade up to a better model, youll receive full credit toward the speaker you wish to own. Cant be much fairer than that.
The area in which one would expect the Prime Towers to have an edge over their stand-mounted brethren is the lower frequencies. Now, as we all know, getting low bass out of any small loudspeaker is an engineering feat. When the speakers are also used in a small room, generating deep bass can be problematic at best and impossible at worst, due to the space not being great enough to allow those larger low-frequency sound waves to develop. The SVS Prime Towers dont defy the laws of physics; they just use them to fullest advantage. I was pleasantly surprised by just how deep the Prime Towers went. Aaron Coplands "Fanfare For The Common Man" from the Reference Recordings CD [Reference Recordings RR-93CD], with its deep, thunderous tympani crashes, offered far more weight to those whacks than I expected, and did so while not allowing them to sound mushy or thin. Instead, the Prime Towers gave a fairly deep, tight, full sense of the percussive strikes. John Patituccis electric bass on the CD Directions In Music -- Celebrating Miles and Coltrane [Verve CD 314 589 654-2] was tight, full, detailed and yet never overblown, setting a fine foundation for the band to play over. No, the Prime Towers will not go deep with the power to make organ aficionados happy -- they werent designed to plumb the very depths of the musical range -- but the Prime Towers cleared the major hurdle that had always tripped up the stand-mounted speakers used a small room.
For all that the bass impressed me, if the balance of the full sonic spectrum isnt realistic then, no matter how good the bass is, the speakers fail. Fortunately the Prime Towers dont fall down once your attention wanders above the bass line. On the Copeland disc I mentioned above, the strings and horns had a sense of rightness to them when I moved to Appalachian Spring. While there was bite and sheen, there was also a silky smoothness to the strings and power behind the horns that said, "Listen up. We can get the midrange right too." The Prime Towers got the nuance of the strings and horns right despite not being the last word in overall resolution.
That bite to horns and brass was portrayed again when I listened to the XRCD of Miles Davis's album Bags Groove [JVC JVCXR -- 0046-2]. Miles' trumpet had just the right amount of brassy bite while still having the breathiness that one hears live, and Milt Jacksons vibes had a healthy dose of shimmer and sparkle, proving that the top end wasnt neglected in the design of the Prime Tower.
Another aspect of the Prime Tower that had me smiling was the ability to convey the rhythm and drive of the music. There was never any sense of lag, as if the speakers were holding the music back from playing at its given pace. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals album This Is Somewhere [Hollywood Records CD D00038502] and the cut "Stop the Bus" demonstrated this to me. This song just wants to get up and boogie with the way the drums lead off the number and the band hits the groove as it joins in. From the bass line that underpins the song to the drums and Potters vocal and guitar work, the Prime Towers kept everything moving right along.
The extra size of the cabinets allowed for a more full-sized presentation. Listening to the Johnny Hodges/Duke Ellington classic Back to Back on SACD [Analogue Productions/Verve CVRJ 6055 SA] let me hear Hodges' alto saxophone as more of a full-sized instrument in context with the soundstage, and Ellingtons piano also sounded correct, not diminished to toy sized as some smaller speakers have been known to do. Here was proof (at least to me) that the old adage "bigger is better" held more than a grain of truth when it comes to loudspeakers.
But the main aspect of a speaker that tells me the most as to how well it was designed and built is vocals, both male and female. The Stockfisch Records SACD Closer to the Music [Stockfisch SFR 357.4003.2] and the song "The Beat Hotel" by Allan Taylor showed me that the Prime Towers' bass depth was put to the proper use, as there was a chestiness to Taylors voice that made it sound more like a real male voice. On the opposite end of the spectrum was Alison Krauss from the SACD Now That Ive Found You -- A Collection [Rounder SACD 11661-0325-6]. Ms. Krauss has an angelic quality to her voice that only a top-quality speaker (read: expensive) can reproduce correctly. The Prime Tower missed just a bit of that quality, reducing upper-register air, but still managed to make Ms. Krauss sound like the angel Im used to hearing. Her vocals on the song "When You Say Nothing At All" have just a tad more chestiness that detracted from the upper registers that make her voice so unique. This, to me, is not a deal killer; its just a case of the Prime Tower imposing its sound on that of the music, instead of completely conveying what's there.
But please remember that these are floorstanding loudspeakers that cost $1000 a pair! Compromises have been made to reach both the price point and design plan. While the Prime Towers go deeper into the bass than most stand-mounted speakers in their price range, they still dont go that deep. You will notice their limits. They also arent as resolving of detail as more expensive speakers (both stand-mount and floorstanding designs). Also, while I noticed only a little added coloration, there was a sonic signature to the Prime Towers -- they tended to sound a little darker than absolute neutral.
But the real question we have to ask is this: are the shortcomings fatal flaws that detract from musical enjoyment? And the answer to that is an emphatic no. The design is such that the compromises are so cannily integrated that until you really listen to the Prime Towers stacked up against better (and more expensive) speakers, you probably wont notice what they don't do. I know I didnt. I was too busy enjoying what these speakers were doing right.
Compared to my Paradigm Reference Studio 100 v3s, which when new in 2005 sold for $2300 a pair, the SVS Prime Towers showed both their limitations and their strengths. No one in his right mind would expect the Prime Towers to match the Studio 100 v3s, which have more drivers and are bigger in size and internal volume. The Paradigms went lower, with more cleanliness and weight, had a clearer midrange, and a top end that extended far beyond the level of my aural ability to track. But the Prime Towers werent all that far behind. They had enough depth on the bottom end to satisfy, they had better-than-expected midrange cleanliness, good detail retrieval and dynamic range, and enough top-end detail and air to keep me listening. The Prime Towers demonstrated that they come far closer to the Paradigms than Id gone into this review thinking they would, and they showed what can happen to preconceived notions if one is open-minded.
What you get, what I got, with the SVS Prime Towers was the music -- enjoyable and realistic enough to make me want to listen to disc after disc. These speakers had enough resolving power to keep me interested all during the review process. They dug deep enough into the bass, and did so cleanly, to make them a sure-footed step up from their equally priced stand-mounted brethren. Their shortcomings are mostly of the subtractive kind, and if a speaker is going to make mistakes, those are the kind you want. Their sonic footprint does not detract from musical enjoyment.
And while I wont be replacing my current speakers with the Prime Towers, I do look back on all those stand-mounted speakers I went through and wish the Prime Towers had been around back then. Had they been, I would have spent far less time and money trying one after another, seeking one that could satisfy both the midrange lover in me while offering my inner bass head a large enough dose of the deep bass I craved. If youre looking for a loudspeaker in the SVS Prime Towers price range and you fail to give these speakers a good, long, honest listen, dont blame me if you find yourself on the audio merry-go-round trying this speaker and that and still not finding true satisfaction. The SVS Prime Towers are good enough to become search-enders.
Price: $1000 per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
260 Victoria Road
Austintown, Ohio 44515
Analog: VPI HW-19 Mk IV turntable, SME 309 tonearm, Lyra Argo i and Audio-Technica AT-OC9ML/II moving-coil cartridges, Clearaudio Maestro moving-magnet cartridge, Audio Research PH6 phono stage.
Digital: Oppo DV-981HD universal player.
Preamplifier: Audio Research LS17.
Power amplifier: Parasound Halo A 23.
Loudspeakers: Paradigm Reference Studio 100 v3.
Interconnects: Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval.
Speaker cables: Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval 8.
Power conditioner: Blue Circle BC6000.
Power cords: Harmonic Technologies Pro AC-11, Analysis Plus Power Oval 10.
Equipment rack and platforms: two Archetype Salamander three-shelf racks; Symposium Svelte shelves, Ultra Platform, Isis shelf, Roller Block Series 2+, Roller Block Jrs, and Fat Padz.