SVS SBS-01 Home Theater Speaker System

Though SVS is relatively unknown in the world of big-name hi-fi speakers, that world is connected by ample word of mouth, which has helped the Web-based manufacturer build a strong following for its high-value, high-performance subwoofers. That's how it works: Audition some product for golden-ear listeners, maybe get a nice write-up or two in the online forums or one of the magazines, and get a buzz going. Pretty soon, it's the speaker that no one has heard but everyone has heard about.

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So when the company recently announced its first full-range subwoofer/satellite system - the affordable 5.1-channel SVS SBS-01 home theater speaker system ($1,149 with optional 12-inch sub) - you can bet I was intrigued. After hearing the buzz, I wanted to hear the speakers ...

SETUP Sometimes you pull speakers out of the cartons and admire their beauty. Things like aluminum cabinets or sculpted side panels encourage oohing and aahing. But don't kid yourself: Appearance has little to do with sound quality, and in a budget speaker, styling means that the money the manufacturer spent on cosmetics came out of the budget for drivers, crossovers, and cabinet integrity. In other words, all things being equal, the better a speaker looks at any given price - especially a low price - the worse it probably will sound. Sure, I like good-looking speakers, but I like good-sounding speakers more.

These sturdy little SVS speakers do not encourage oohing. The SBS-01 satellites, used here for left, right, and surround, are standard-issue two-way woofer/tweeter bookshelf speakers; their only concession to style is rounded cabinet edges. The SCS-01 center-channel speaker is similarly spartan but adds another woofer and includes a simple tilt stand. I'm not being critical; I'm congratulating SVS - as long as I'm repaid in sound quality.

As might be expected from a company that made its name in subwoofers, the matching PB12-NSD sub is a monster, measuring 18 x 21 x 25 inches and weighing 74 pounds. Its digital amplifier is rated at 325 watts and drives a front-firing 12-inch cone.