SVS has been known for their subwoofers but not associated with other speakers. Their Ultra line, released 2012, is a push to handle all the audio duties in a theater and not just the bass. Designed by Mark Mason, formerly of PSB and now head designer for Thiel, the Ultra Bookshelf speaker offers a lot for the money. A very large bookshelf speaker finished in a beautiful piano black, the Ultra Bookshelf has no trouble filling a room. For $1,000 a pair it is a very impressive speaker, even when compared to those costing 50% more.
Recently for a Wirecutter piece, I had 22 different pairs of bookshelf speakers in my basement home theater. Twenty-two different pairs of speakers. While most of these were $400 or less, I also brought in a few higher-end models for comparison. One of these was the SVS Ultra. With a 6.5” woofer it had no issues filling my 12’x25’ room without sounding strained at all.
Build quality on the SVS Ultra is very nice for $1,000. It feels very solid and the piano black finish on my pair looks great. There is a huge difference in build quality for speakers as you move up the line and the SVS are well built. Knock on the side and there is very little resonance to them. The only speaker here that felt as solid is the KEF LS50 that costs 50% more. What the KEF couldn’t do as well as the SVS is rock.
The opening bass line on The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” filled the room far better than any other bookshelf speaker I used. The SVS’s 6.5” woofer is able to dig deeper and put out bass that other speaker cannot. “Teardrop” from Massive Attack showed similar benefits, as those opening beats are felt in your chest. Not only does the bass extend deeper, it has better definition. Better bass isn’t just about bass lines and beats, it really enhances everything.
“Just The Way You Are” off Diana Krall’s Live in Paris is more realistic through the SVS than through a smaller bookshelf. The SVS has extra weight and authority behind the piano notes, which improves the soundstage and imaging as well. Her vocals are well defined through the SVS, only falling behind the UniQ driver of the KEFs when it comes to overall clarity. While the KEF offers a bit more clarity in the midrange, the SVS fits my tastes better as it performs better with rock and movies. It can fill the room in a way that smaller bookshelf speakers can’t.
After spending time with the SVS Ultra Bookshelf I decided to replace my current speakers. I came very close to picking the SVS Ultra for my room as they sound great and offer great value. The speaker I eventually went with costs almost twice as much as the SVS, which was the minimum I needed to spend to get a noticeable upgrade. Unless you’re a real bass head you’ll probably be happy with their low-end response. If you do decide to add a subwoofer to the SVS Ultra, the larger woofer size will make it easier to properly integrate with one than bookshelves with a smaller driver. Or you can step-up to the SVS Ultra Towers that reach down to 20Hz.
Looking at the in-room frequency response of the SVS Ultra Bookshelf speaker we see that the treble is slightly recessed in comparison to the midrange but only by 1-2dB. The overall frequency response is in the +/- 3dB window from 50Hz up to 20kHz with a couple room nodes at 250Hz and 500Hz making an appearance. There is very usable bass down to 35Hz here. This data is collected using RoomEQ from 6 positions in the room. This helps to remove most room issues from the data.
If you want a bookshelf that offers full-range sound, great depth to the music, and a good value then the $1,000 SVS Ultra deserves a look. SVS’s 45-day return program makes it easy to try and be certain that you’ll enjoy them as much as I did. I don’t think you’re likely to ship them back after using them, though.