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SVS Ultra Bookshelf Speaker Review

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the SVS Ultra 2-way Bookshelf speaker. It is on kind loan from a local member and costs US $999 for a pair on Amazon including Prime shipping.

The sample I received has wood grain but what is on sale is glossy finish:

SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater Audio Review.jpg


There are dual binding posts in the back:
SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater Back Panel Binding Posts Audio Review.jpg


There is not a lot of clearance to usncrew/screw the binding posts even for my narrow fingers.

Measurements that you are about to see were performed using the Klippel Near-field Scanner (NFS). This is a robotic measurement system that analyzes the speaker all around and is able (using advanced mathematics and dual scan) to subtract room reflections (so where I measure it doesn't matter). It also measures the speaker at close distance ("near-field") which sharply reduces the impact of room noise. Both of these factors enable testing in ordinary rooms yet results that can be more accurate than an anechoic chamber. In a nutshell, the measurements show the actual sound coming out of the speaker independent of the room.

I used over 800 measurement point which was sufficient to compute the sound field of the speaker. Measurement axis is the tweeter center.

Temperature was 78 degrees. Measurement location is at sea level so you compute the pressure.

Measurements are compliant with latest speaker research into what can predict the speaker preference and is standardized in CEA/CTA-2034 ANSI specifications. Likewise listening tests are performed per research that shows mono listening is much more revealing of differences between speakers than stereo or multichannel.

Spinorama Audio Measurements
Acoustic measurements can be grouped in a way that can be perceptually analyzed to determine how good a speaker is and how it can be used in a room. This so called spinorama shows us just about everything we need to know about the speaker with respect to tonality and some flaws:

SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater Klippel Spinorama CEA-2034 Frequency Response m...png


Response is generally smooth but deviations flat on-axis are quite broad. This means that more musical notes hit them and hence much more audible than "high Q" narrow variations. Emphasis is from a few hundred hertz to 2 kHz and then above 8 kHz or so.

Sensitivity is higher than typical reaching as high as 90 dB at some frequencies. Given the core business of SVS is subwoofers, perhaps the design goal was for these speakers to play loud and if that means deviating from flat on-axis response, so be it.

Interestingly, important early reflections add up to a smooth response:

SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater Klippel Spinorama CEA-2034 Early Window Frequen...png


Putting the two together we get what we already saw in on-axis response analysis:

SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater Klippel Spinorama CEA-2034 Predicted In-room Fr...png


We have simultaneous "warmth" and "brightness" depending on how you draw the trend line.

Impedance is on the low side as it is typical of this size speaker:

SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater Impedance and Phase measurement.png


I did not try to optimize the waterfall display so here it is with default parameters:

SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater CSD Waterfall measurement.png


As it is, it shows persistent resonances at a number of frequencies. Of course if I raise the display floor, they can be reduced or eliminated in the measurement.

Driver Responses
I put the microphone very close to the tweeter, woofer and port and recorded a full sweep:
SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater Woofer Port and tweeter frequency response near...png


It seems that the boost in upper frequencies to midrange is due design of the crossover and possibly the resonance in the port. The former could have been designed out so one has to assume it is intentional. Here is the crossover:



EDIT: looks like above is for their tower speakers, not bookshelf that I tested.

Lots and lots of parts in there although all inductors are iron core making me wonder if they will saturate.

Speaker Radiation Pattern
Let's analyze how the sound radiates horizontally relative to tweeter axis:

SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater horizontal beamwidth measurement.png


Focusing on the red line, ideally that would be horizontal and not have the ups and downs. The woofer is getting directional as we approach the 2 kHz frequency whereas the tweeter is at the other extreme, with wider directivity so we have a discontinuity. Beamwidth widens, then narrows, then widens again. Not a good thing in general.

This is less revealing in our heatmap graph of the same:

SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater horizontal directivity measurement.png


And here is our vertical performance which is less critical than horizontal:
SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater Vertical directivity measurement.png


Speaker Distortion Analysis
Let's start with Klippel system distortion measurement at 86 dB and 96 dB SPL @ 1 meter:

SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater Klippel distortion Frequency Sweep measurement.png


My threshold is 0.5% at 96 dB SPL and the SVS Ultra more or less meets that above 100 Hz which is good. Here it is at an absolute level:

SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater Klippel distortion Level Frequency Sweep measur...png


Switching to Audio Precision with our deep dive into distortion we have the following results (these tests are being refined):

Dynamic amplitude compression is very gradual and never falls off the cliff:
SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater Amplitudue Compression measurement.png


This should let the speaker play quite loud without bottoming out as small speakers typically do.

Distortion at 100 Hz tone is reasonable which we could tell from previous Klippel measurements:
SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater 100 Hz distortion measurement.png


Sweeping the full audible band at five different levels we get:

SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater  distortion Frequency Sweep measurement.png


I am not trusting the above graph much as it seems to show distortion his higher than lower levels??? I did have to re-calibrate my system so maybe something went wrong there.

Here is our 32-tone test simulating "music" at two playback levels:

SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater Multitone distortion Frequency Sweep measurement.png


Distortion sadly increases where our hearing is most sensitive (2 to 5 kHz).

Here is IMD distortion versus level:

SVS Ultra Bookshelf 2-way Speaker Home Theater IMD distortion measurement.png


Subjective Listening Tests
My instant reaction to the sound of SVS Ultra was that it sounded "warm." The upper bass frequencies that exaggerated give an immediate pleasant impression. Alas, that quickly went away and while I could hear the appeal of it, it caused everything I played to have the same characteristic which was not right. At the same time, female vocals had very sharp extensions that were almost painful to listen to. This would come and go of course as the singing went along.

I played with EQ but after a while I gave up. Strangely no matter what I did, I could not get rid of the brightness in vocals. I did bring down the upper bass and lower mid-range level and that mostly helped but then it exaggerated the highs.

On positive front, the SVS Ultra can play really loud with good bass capability. I could get it to start to bottom out but that was at every high playback levels.

Conclusions
Having looked at the measurements first before listening, I thought they would either sound good "out of the box" or do so with just a bit of EQ. That did not happen. Try as I did, I could not like the sound with or without EQ. Yes, I could see the appeal of boosted upper bass in giving "warmth" to the speaker. But too much of that was well, too much of a good thing. I am puzzled where the sharpness was coming from seeing how I could not tame it. Perhaps directivity error was causing this.

I can't recommend a speaker that doesn't sound good to me and that is where I stand with SVS Ultra. I suspect measurement score will be good, making me look bad. So be it! :)

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thewas

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#4
Lots and lots of parts in there although all inductors are iron core making me wonder if they will saturate.
Not the one on the upper photo corner which probably is the series inductor of the tweeter.
I am puzzled where the sharpness was coming from seeing how I could not tame it. Perhaps directivity error was causing this.
My guess would be the slow decay/ringing in the 5 kHz region which possibly belongs to the woofer which has a bump there.
 

MZKM

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#5
I am puzzled where the sharpness was coming from seeing how I could not tame it.


As it is, it shows persistent resonances at a number of frequencies. Of course if I raise the display floor, they can be reduced or eliminated in the measurement.
Maybe the ringing at 1.5kHz and around 5kHz, which looks like real ringing as I don't see any peaks at Time 0.

EDIT: @thewas_ beat me to it.
--------------
If SVS had made the crossover steeper, maybe it wouldn't have this issue.

Either way, not what I expected by looking at the Spinorama.
 
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#6
I use these on my desk and they sound fantastic to me there, even better if you blast em straight at your ears.

In the far field though, I've never been able to make them sound correct...
 

Dialectic

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#7
Thanks to Amir for this review, but I think his ears were in a bad mood today. These seem like a good option and reasonable value for a home theater.
 

MZKM

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#9

zermak

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#10
The rating is not bad but it looks like that with a better crossover (less messy and simpler? Meaning less components but of summed specs and maybe with a higher order) and a little EQ it could seriously work, despite the vertical spin (but don't we usually set the tweeter on our ears height when we doing some proper listening?).
 

MZKM

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#12
On another note, I got a sensitivity 1dB higher than spec, and they even state they use the same frequency range (maybe they use the listening window).

However, their frequency response is totally off, no idea how they can claim +/-3dB down to 45Hz, given them the benefit of rounding down, the lowest you can go on this model is 56Hz.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #14

Dialectic

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#20
Dang, this is the best objectively measuring speaker that Amir doesn't subjectively like, isn't it?
On ASR we get extensive data and can reach our own conclusions...
 
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