SVS MBS-01 Speaker System

Opening a whole new can of bass.

It took two fairly determined UPS delivery men to get the SVS PC-Ultra sub off the truck, up the five steps into my building, and up to my apartment. At least it’s an elevator building. They delivered it with a sunny smile, probably visualizing the red-faced sweat that would ensue when I uncrated the 85-pound product. Wondering what demented impulse made me agree to review this 4-foot-tall monster, I waltzed the massive carton into my work space, slit it down the broad side, removed a sheet of padding, tipped over the box, and wondered what the hell would happen next. The giant cylinder-shaped subwoofer obligingly solved the problem by rolling out of the carton. This seemed to be a good omen. It cheered me up immediately.

The massive cylindrical subwoofer arrived with the MCS-01 center and MBS-01 stand-mount speakers. They are part of the MTS-01 product family—that also happens to be the model number of a floorstanding model not reviewed here.

Midwestern Chic
Youngstown, Ohio–based SV Sound designs and manufactures loudspeakers in the United States. The company sells over the Internet and offers a 45-day in-home trial, which should give you plenty of time to make up your mind.

Before we start obsessing over the fascinating sub, let’s give the MBS-01 speaker and MCS-01 center their due. Although the MBS-01 isn’t terribly tall, its 10.5-inch width gives it a substantial appearance and heft. For vinyl-wrapped speakers, these look fantastic, thanks to side panels in gloss black or wood veneer. The rosenut and oak veneers are hand-finished.

One example of the SVS devotion to quality is the way the company makes its speaker enclosures. Normally, the arched top piece would be comb-cut with grooves on the underside, then bent into a curve. Here, on the other hand, several thin sheets of fiberboard are laminated and form-pressed. The interior is heavily blocked and braced to reduce resonance.

Another marvel is the magnetically attached grille. The magnets are machined into the grille back and embedded under the baffle, so there’s “nothing to break, loosen, or buzz,” as SVS’s Website notes. Cone rubber feet come installed; the speaker also ships with foam discs. Remarkably, these heavy speakers—including the 39-pound center—have threaded inserts for wall mounting. The company offers an optional bracket for the MBS-01 and recommends an OmniMount bracket for the MCS-01.

The drivers include a ScanSpeak silk-dome tweeter, propelled into action by a field created by six neodymium magnets. It’s an expensive part, and SVS claims it bought out the entire first production run available to U.S. speaker makers. A switch on the back attenuates the tweeter output by 0 to 3 decibels. I experimented and preferred the neutral position. The 6.5-inch Peerless woofer in both the monitor and (in duplicate) the center is made of a tough Nomex weave. It is chemically similar, though not identical, to Kevlar. DuPont developed both materials.

Altogether, the build quality of these speakers is extraordinary. It’s as though the bean counters were, if not divorced, at least distanced from the design process. Audio nuts live to discover products like this. And we haven’t even gotten to the subwoofer yet.

Why the Can?
What are the advantages of the sub’s cylindrical shape? I’ll take a few educated guesses: In a normal rectangular-solid sub, acoustical energy could bounce between flat parallel walls, creating standing waves in the enclosure and muddier bass. The cylinder not only minimizes that problem—it also potently loads the downward-firing driver with 4 feet worth of tube. Yet the footprint is only 16 inches in diameter. So while this sub can handle a large room, it can also fit into a small one. SVS recommends that you place it within 3 feet of a corner, although I got awesome results when I placed it 4 feet from the side wall and 1 foot from the front wall.

The fabric-covered enclosure is made of a fibrous material that’s subjected to pressure, machined, and wrapped in polymer. The 1.5-inch baffles are made of black birch. Despite my whining, it’s not that hard to handle because most of the weight—as my UPS guys noted—is concentrated at the bottom. The 13-inch driver’s cone is made from polymethacrylimide, as a stitched foam-core/glass composite structure.

Another fascinating aspect of the sub’s design is a trio of 3.5-inch ports at the top. Pop the metal grille lid, and you can fill some or all of them with foam bungs. This changes the tuning of the sub, trading off between frequency depth and volume output. Only the Ultra and Plus models have this functionality.

The ports correspond to a four-position subsonic-filter knob on the control panel, which is located halfway down the back. With no ports blocked, the filter should be set at 20 hertz; with one blocked, 15 Hz; with two blocked, 10 Hz; and with three blocked, the Sealed position. SVS warns that the filter setting must correspond to the number of bungs as specified in the manual, or damage may result. The measurements by our audio technical editor, Mark J. Peterson, should be especially fascinating.

In addition to the usual controls, the back panel also includes a parametric equalizer with frequency, level, and Q adjustments. And there’s a four-position room-compensation switch that, according to the manufacturer, “alters the rolloff profile of the subwoofer to offset room gain to avoid a rising low-end response.” Tweakers will go to town.

The sub includes both RCA- and XLR-type line-level ins and outs but no speaker-level jacks. The BASH amp is provided exclusively to SVS by Indigo Manufacturing of Canada. Its 750-watt spec is RMS, not peak. In other words, it can generate a constant 750 watts and at peak moments would spew enough current to electrocute a herd of bison.

I ran the SVS system with a Rotel RSX-1065 A/V receiver, Integra DPS-10.5 universal player, Pioneer BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player, Rega Planar 25 turntable, Shure V97xE cartridge, and NAD PP-1 phono preamp.

Beatles and Bees
Across the Universe (Blu-ray) weaves new performances of Beatles classics into a sprawling 1960s drama-fantasia, using the songs to tell a story, which is generally how a good musical should work. Although the MBS-01 and MCS-01 didn’t fall into the Ruthlessly Revealing category, they were good enough to reveal the shortcomings of slightly excessive equalization in the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Still, that didn’t prevent T.V. Carpio’s slowed-down ballad treatment of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” from knocking me flat.

Bee Movie (DVD), in Dolby Digital 5.1, gave the SVS system a chance to show off an admirable set of priorities. In recent animated movies, dialogue is always dubbing-stage clear, and this one was no exception. What was more gratifying was the way the PC-Ultra sub seamlessly integrated thunking human footsteps and other low-frequency effects into the mix—they were audible, but they didn’t call attention to themselves. Jerry Seinfeld couldn’t ask for a more nuanced performance of his labor of love.

More Beatles, Russian Nights, Electronic Oboes
The sub adjustments came in handy for music. On the White Album—once I get started on the Beatles, it’s hard to stop—it became apparent that Ringo’s underrated drumming needed more sub output for some extra kick. So I pulled all three of the bungs out of the sub, adjusted the subsonic filter from Sealed to 20 Hz, and was thrilled by the key moment in “I’m So Tired,” when the drums get doubletracked, turning Ringo into a Sherman tank. It never sounded better. The jolly sing-alongs, though recorded with minimal ambience, had a nice live-in-the-studio quality on “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Bungalow Bill.” The MBS-01 worked as well in stereo as it did in Dolby Pro Logic II music mode. Not all speakers do.

I learned more about the sub’s percussive potential when the bass drum and tympani got busy in Russian Nights, a multichannel Telarc SACD compilation of orchestral war-horses with Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. The low-frequency information that flowed out of the sub was both awe-inspiring and excessive. I reinstated two of the three bungs and knocked the subsonic filter down to 10 Hz, which balanced out the bass presentation much better. The familiar contours of the Cincinnati Pops’ string sound came through with just the right tonal balance—and it remained fairly consistent regardless of the volume level. Playing it loud didn’t hurt.

The vinyl version of Return to Forever’s Where Have I Known You Before took me back to the mid-1970s and the flowering of fusion. In the opening track, Stanley Clarke’s “Vulcan Worlds,” the chimes and bell tree sounded slightly understated (I usually attribute things like this to my cartridge). The flat, airless, slightly claustrophobic soundstage was characteristic of the recording, but it didn’t prevent the speakers from summoning up a beautifully crisp piano sound when Chick Corea shifts from electronic to acoustic keyboards. “Song to the Pharaoh Kings” remains a mind-expanding fusion classic, kicking off with Corea’s scampering oboe-like keyboard solo. His ability to coax lyrical beauty out of electronic instruments has always been impressive. The SVS system did a comprehensive job of cataloguing all of this old LP’s attractive aspects, to the point where I resented having to take notes.

My last brush with SVS established the company as an American speaker maker worth taking seriously. This latest experience raised my estimation a couple of notches. Not only does this Ohio-based company make great speakers, it’s also got an innovative streak a mile wide. The PC-Ultra is a daring, brilliant, and idiosyncratic product design, especially in its use of a cylinder to achieve both deep low-frequency extension and high output from a small footprint. The MBS-01 and MCS-01 are also value overachievers with lovely build quality, and they’re clearly the brainchildren of someone who understands and cares about music. If you want your system to perform like a champion at an affordable price, this set of SVS products is an excellent place to start.

Monster cylindrical subwoofer rocks the house
Sweet silk-dome tweeter delivers painless, involving upper midrange
Excellent value

SV Sound
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