SVS SBS-01 Speaker System and Pioneer VSX-1017TXV-K A/V Receiver Page 2
As for the sub, what immediately jumped out at me was its brawny size. For an enclosure harboring a single 10-inch driver, this thing is big. The spec sheet says it's 21 inches long, but with its grille, it's actually 22.5. Throw in 2 or 3 more inches for jutting power and other cables, and you're past the 2-foot mark. The mere sight of the carton nearly gave me a stroke. Clearly, SVS is a believer in the advantages of a big sub cabinet when it comes to delivering strong bass.
High End of the Low End
Pioneer, like Onkyo and Sony, maintains two receiver lines. I've always been a big fan of the higher-end Elite line, which includes models ranging from $650 to $1,500. But Pioneer also offers a more mass-market line with models starting at just $199. The VSX-1017TXV-K, at $499, is at the top of that line—the high end of Pioneer's low end, as it were. Buy an Elite receiver, and you get Pioneer's heaviest build quality and best performance. Buy from the mass-market line, and you get every feature a receiver could possibly have at that price point, plus a few more you might not expect.
The VSX-1017TXV-K delivers 120 watts per channel using the Federal Trade Commission's standard method of specification. The spec sheet claims continuous power of 110 watts at a full range of frequencies or up to 150 watts with a test tone at 6 ohms. I'm not sure what our lab will make of this, but I never felt that the system lacked power. As a THX Select2–certified receiver, the VSX-1017TXV-K is guaranteed to produce sound levels up to 105 decibels with THX Select2–certified speakers in a room of up to 2,000 cubic feet. In layman's terms, with fairly sensitive speakers in a modest-sized room, this would do it.
To truly appreciate the scope of the Pioneer is to enjoy long sentences with lots of commas. This receiver has automatic setup to make life easy for newbies and room equalization to compensate for acoustic deficiencies. It's both Sirius and XM satellite radio ready, and it accommodates an iPod with an optional adapter. And if you think that's verbose, it's a distillation of an online spec sheet with 36 bullet points. I was restraining myself.
The devil is in the details. This receiver has HDMI (two in, one out—or as it says on the French side of the carton, "2 entrée, 1 sortie"). However, it is for video switching only. There is no onboard decoding for new surround codecs delivered by Blu-ray and HD DVD—in other words, no Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, and so on. But if the player has a full set of analog outputs, you can connect them to the receiver's 7.1-channel analog inputs.
His Uncompressed Master's Voice
For the first time ever, I approached a review with an extra signal source. In addition to my trusted Integra DPS-10.5 universal player, I also used the Pioneer BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player. The latter source component handled all video-viewing duties this time out.
As a late adopter of Blu-ray and HD DVD, I'm just beginning to realize how they can improve surround sound. Even the simplest things take on a new feel—for instance, Will Smith's voiceover as the romantic Machiavelli of Hitch (Blu-ray). As I switched back and forth between the uncompressed high-data-rate PCM soundtrack and the compressed Dolby Digital, I definitely heard a difference in overall sound quality. True, there was also a difference in levels, and the uncompressed soundtrack was louder, so I had to make the switch several times to feel certain. Theoretically, I could also have been fooled if the two soundtracks were mixed differently. But my impression was that the PCM soundtrack had superior resolution, warmth, and presence.
Disturbia is a transposition of Rear Window to suburbia—in DTS 5.1—with the original's visual virtuosity and comedy of manners giving way to Blair Witch–like video and shock effects. The latter are accompanied by orchestral poundings, which were doled out with a surprisingly restrained hand, and only at a few peak moments. I attributed this to the mix, not to the sub, which confidently conveyed low pitches when called upon.
The House of Sand uses Dolby Digital surround effects to assert what director Warner Herzog once referred to as "the monumental indifference of nature." He didn't direct this Brazilian film, and he was actually referring to grizzly bears, but I couldn't help thinking of that phrase as the sounds of shrieking, whooshing desert sandstorms poured out of all channels. The size of the soundfield was not just large but intimidating—I almost felt lost in it. Waves crashing on the beach received the right low-frequency support from the sub.
While My Keyboard Gently Weeps
When I switched to the Integra universal player, I treated myself to a rare high-profile release in the struggling DVD-Audio format. Love is arguably the most elaborately mixed tape of all time. George Martin and his son Giles pieced together this kaleidoscopic trip through the Beatles' recorded leg-
acy, including both new surround mixes of whole songs and elaborately interlocking fragments, very much in the spirit of the boys' own "Revolution 9." Played at the Dolby THX reference level of 85 dB, the loudest passages sounded a bit edgy at times. After I compared my Rotel RSX-1065 reference receiver, I attributed the edginess to the Pioneer, not to the speakers, the source material, or the player. With the Rotel costing four times as much as the Pioneer, this admittedly wasn't a fair fight. Even so, through either receiver, the Martins' surround mix of "I Am the Walrus" was an answer to my prayers, and Martin senior's new string orchestration for "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" opened a whole new window into the song. Ringo's drum sound was full at the bottom and vivid in the midrange.
Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker: Favorite Selections is neither the famous suite nor the full ballet but an in-between, 73-minute set optimized for the playing time of an SACD (about the same as a CD). Telarc's 5.1-channel DSD recording of the Cincinnati Pops with Erich Kunzel turned this old warhorse into a frisky young pony, or perhaps I should say a series of dancing toys. It's impossible to imagine this recording sounding less than great on anything. I cross-checked again between the Pioneer and the Rotel, and I found that the latter brought out a lusher string sound and greater soundstage depth from the speakers. But with either receiver, there was still abundant detail and a strong sense of the recording venue, Cincinnati's Music Hall. The sub's integration of basses, cellos, and percussion into the orchestra was seamless.
Johnny Hartman, one of the greatest voices in both jazz and pop music history, offered the system an instrument to work with that's as distinctive as a Stradivarius. What I now recognized as the receiver's slightly forward treble emphasized the overlay of smokiness in the lungs, as well as the singer's precise enunciation. His rich baritone was well served by both woofers and subwoofers—full, not boomy.
If I have one regret about this review, it's that I underestimated the quality of the SVS SBS-01 speaker package in my first ears-on experience with the brand. No doubt, one of the higher-echelon members of Pioneer's Elite line would have proven to be a more suitable mate for what I now recognize as a stellar set of loudspeakers that transcends their $1,000 price tag. They deserve more than $499 worth of receiver. Still, plenty of folks will look at the features set and price of the Pioneer VSX-1017TXV-K and find just what they need to complement an average sat/sub set—and there's certainly enough power to drive any set of affordable speakers within reasonable bounds.
So, this month's Spotlight System partners weren't meant for each other after all. But I wouldn't have missed this for the world.
SVS SBS-01 Speaker System:
• Two monitors, center, and sub for a thousand dollars
• Two sets of grilles supplied for your tweaking pleasure
• Subtle look, fine performance
Pioneer VSX-1017TXV-K A/V Receiver:
• THX Select2 receiver with auto setup and room correction
• Enough power for most speakers
• HDMI video switching