Test Report: SVS Ultra Tower Surround Speaker System Page 2
Seeking the instant gratification of a home theater thrill ride, I popped the Blu-ray Disc of Rise of the Guardians into my player and cranked up the volume. Honestly, if you’d have blindfolded me and asked if there was a sub in the system, I’d have said yes.
The most dynamic scenes of Guardians had an effortlessness I’d normally associate only with custom home theater audio systems like CAT MBX and JBL Synthesis. Not only did the low end have a ton of punch, but the dialogue remained listenable and distortion-free even during super-loud passages such as the sleigh ride in the middle of Chapter 5. I also noted that the scene’s hyperactive surround-sound effects seemed especially intense with the Ultra Surround, a result of either good timbre-matching, great dynamics, or both.
Another super-dynamic-sounding movie, Æon Flux, proved the system’s performance on Guardians was no fluke. Even without a sub, the bass impact in Chapter 4, in which Charlize Theron’s character and a colleague run through a booby-trapped lawn, pressurized my room just as a good sub would, while the dialogue sounded lifelike and undistorted. Anyone who has ever driven on a racetrack can understand the feeling I got: It’s that joy and freedom and sense of power you get when you know you can mash the pedal to the floor (or crank up the system crazy-loud) without worry.
The Towers do reach their limits, but only in bass extension, not bass volume. When I played my fave deep-bass test scene, Chapter 3 from Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, I got impact; the “tearing” sound you hear when the ship explodes came through cleanly. But the Towers seemed to ignore the bottom half-octave or so of bass.
Of course, achieving intense dynamics in a speaker often requires compromises that sacrifice sound quality. So I switched to something on the opposite end of the sonic spectrum: my vinyl copy of guitarist Ralph Towner’s Solstice. This is a classic 1970s jazz recording on the ECM label, known for ambience, detail, and a proto-New Age ethos. The Ultra Tower nailed Solstice, from Towner’s harmonics-heavy acoustic playing to drummer Jon Christensen’s cymbal-dominant solo at the end of “Piscean Dance.” On “Sand,” Christensen’s percussion instruments seemed to travel around the sides of the room and wrap behind my head — something I’d expect more from audiophile planar speakers than from a slam-bang home theater speaker.
A somewhat heavier piece of music, Holly Cole’s cover of Tom Waits’s “Train Song,” suggested the Ultra Tower’s bass was a little wild ’n’ wooly, but the solution was simple: I stuffed the included foam plugs into the rear ports, which tamed and tightened the bottom end. Yeah, I could’ve gotten tighter, better-defined bass with a subwoofer, perfectly positioned in my room, but for tower speakers the performance was excellent.
So do I have anything to complain about with the Ultra system? Sure: It’s big, black, and bulky, with a frighteningly low WAF. I’ve heard stuff in the same price range with a slightly airier sound, like the GoldenEar Technology Triton Three, but the Ultra’s dynamics are better. Basically, this is a great home theater sound system at a great price.