SVS SBS-01 Speaker System and Pioneer VSX-1017TXV-K A/V Receiver

From Youngstown with love.

There are people who claim to read your future in your palm. Others reach conclusions about your income, taste, and character according to what type of shoes you're wearing. For my own part, I can look at your selection of loudspeakers and know exactly what kind of home theater person you are.

For some home theater buffs, bigger is always better. If nothing but floorstanding speakers will do, you're probably someone with lots of real estate, possibly a dedicated screening room, plus a muscle amp and a taste for accurate, well-distributed, perfectly integrated bass response. You might have gotten used to this with a high-end two-channel amp-and-preamp system, which would make you either late middle-aged, a bit old-fashioned, or both. Yours is a difficult quest because so many floorstanding speakers today are optimized for use with subwoofers and may not fulfill your bass-hungry dreams. But if you keep an eye on our lab's frequency-response and sensitivity measurements, you may get what you want.

At the opposite end of the sensibility scale is the home theater buff for whom smaller is better. If this is you, then you may be new to home theater in general and only grudgingly accept the notion of living with five to seven speakers plus a sub. Incidentally, I think this is a perfectly sane point of view. To you, speakers are an obscene intrusion into a lovingly designed room, so the less space they take up, the happier you are with them. In-walls, on-walls, and impossibly tiny satellites on metal-rod stands pique your interest. Yours, likewise, is a difficult quest, because, while there are some great sat/ sub sets out there, there are also plenty of underperformers with mediocre one-note subs. Our lab measurements might help you as well, but you're more intuitively oriented and therefore more likely to be swayed by good word of mouth or slick aesthetics.

Then there's the guy in the middle. That would be me. My reference speakers are 14-inch-tall stand-mount models with just enough bass to run without a subwoofer (and sometimes, I do run them that way). When mated with the right sub, they let out quite a roar, but they're also small enough to move out of the way when review samples arrive. In fact, they're sitting in a pile to the right of my desk as I type. This middling size category may sound like a compromise—but actually, if I weren't a reviewer, the speakers I have now would still be the ones I'd choose. They're not too big, not too small, and, as Grace Slick would say, they feed my head.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that, if I were in the speaker market today, I'd be looking for something about the size of SV Sound's SVS SBS-01 speaker package. Built around stand-mount monitors, it's just the right size for me. Its mate in this Spotlight System review is the Pioneer VSX-1017TXV-K A/V receiver. As the top model in Pioneer's more affordable line, this receiver offers a nearly definitive features set at an affordable price. That's another way to define moderation.

An American company, SVS was founded in the late 1990s on the outskirts of Youngstown, Ohio. Then suffering from the decline of the auto-making industry, the region was the perfect place for a budding speaker company to take root. SVS products are assembled in the U.S. from parts sourced from both inside and outside the country.

As I write this, SVS has one existing speaker line, a second about to make its debut in late 2007, and a third being readied for 2008. SVS also has a soft spot for subwoofers, as a half-dozen more existing lines indicate, including both cylindrical and rectangular models.

The SBS-01 package is based on a quartet of the SBS-01 "bookshelf" speakers with the SCS-01 center and the PB10-NSD 10-inch subwoofer. That word gets quotation marks because shelf placement usually hobbles a speaker. In our institutional wisdom, we often refer to stand-mount speakers as monitors, unless they're bass-shy, in which case they're called satellites. Life is complicated.

Rounded side edges give the SBS-01 a distinctive gapless look, obtained with computer-controlled machining, and the textured-vinyl finish is fused onto the enclosure. An informal knuckle rap suggests that the company is telling the truth when they claim considerable internal bracing. Normally, my first visual impression of a speaker remains constant, but I came to appreciate this set's quiet good looks over time. The longer they were around, the better I liked their lack of adornment. They're rigorously nondescript in an almost classical way, saying "speaker" in the same way my beloved IBM ThinkPad X60 says "laptop."

SVS provides two grilles. The speakers are shipped (in pairs) with an installed grille that produces what the company describes as a warmer sound with less upper-midrange emphasis. But the box also contains an optional grille with asymmetrical circular cutouts that are "slightly offset for the tweeter, by design" to produce a flat response. This is for tweakers what cuttlebone is to a parrot. (When I copy-edited for a living, my boss used to hand me manuscripts and say, "More cuttlebone.") The grilles have chrome mounting pins, so you can exchange them endlessly without fear of breaking off a plastic pin. I briefly tried both grilles, preferred the installed ones, and stuck with them.