SVS SCS-02(M) Speaker System Page 2

Easy Listening
These speakers were easy listening all the way. They were as close to fatigue-free as you can get without gross rolloffs in the mids and highs. The SCS-02 mated with the sub to make voices sound unetched and organically whole, with admirable restraint of sibilants. However, to maintain perfect clarity, the center speaker required higher-than-average volumes for all content, indicating restraint in the presence region. The soundfield produced by the SCS-02(M) LCRs and SSS-02 bipoles stressed unity over layering, not only in the bipole-diffused rear but also across the front. It was not terribly revealing, but if you find more analytical speakers murder to dissect—or they just plain get on your nerves—you’ll probably prefer the SVS approach. Surround effects from the SSS-02 were, as to be expected from a bipole, subtle most of the time but strongly felt at high levels. This had the effect of keeping attention focused on the action in front. Control over the subwoofer crossover was absolute, with an expert handoff of voices and other events occurring above and below the 80-Hz setting. The sub’s input gain was generous. I often used less than a third of its volume control’s range.

In the DTS-HD Master audio soundtrack of Bunraku, a graphic novel–inspired, contemporary samurai movie, the speaker system quickly hit its stride, handling immense amounts of power to deliver high-volume content without breaking a sweat. In fact, a high master volume level turned out to be a must with these speakers, given their sensitivity (on the low side of average) and almost too-well-mannered top end. At low volumes, dialogue and soundfield definition were sometimes elusive. Cranking up the juice banished those problems. That just seems to be the way these speakers were designed to be used. Deep synth tones in the end-credit music let the sub show off its ability to hurl a pitch with precision.

Trespass (in Dolby TrueHD) features a home-invasion scenario with Nicolas Cage. The movie’s primary sonic event was yelling. There was so much that it undercut the plot’s numerous twists and turns. But by this time, I trusted the system to keep its cool under extreme vocal assault, and I was glad for the opportunity to keep the volume high, because otherwise I would have missed the rest of the soundfield events. Even in quieter, voice-dominated content—like some public-library DVDs of the psychiatric drama In Treatment, I kept the volume fairly high, not only to hear all the lines, but also to enjoy the timbre of voices. Again, the word unity surfaced in my notes: Approaching the voice of Gabriel Byrne as the tension-racked shrink, the center speaker juggled elements in compelling (if not ideal) proportions: the gentle rasp of the throat, the undercurrent of warmth in the chest, and to a slightly lesser extent, the enunciation.

Good Neighbors (in DTS-HD MA) couched its urban tale of intrigue among apartment dwellers with interesting bits of music, each of which the speakers handled differently. A wash of orchestral music was warm and pleasant but gauzy. At the other extreme, recurring snatches of keyboard-based music were deliberately abrasive, and notably louder than everything else, making me glad of the system’s cautious top end. Again, voices came to the fore, naturally processed in a variety of acoustic environments reflecting (literally) the walls of various rooms in apartments. These variations in ambience gave the center, and indeed all three front speakers, a chance to shine.

Live and Well
Procol Harum: Live at the Union Chapel had the slightly bright and opaque quality of a close-miked and/or out-of-the-soundboard recording, presumably to bypass the venue’s 12-second delay, which would be more suitable for ethereal choral music than for rock. But thanks to the subtle sugarcoating that SVS brought to pretty much all demo material, I was able to play this sterling concert document as loud as it deserved. In fact, when I took a break and returned, I was surprised at just how loud I’d been playing it. The sub’s lack of overhang encouraged me to turn up the bass to better hear the rhythm section. Besides the unexpected vigor of the band, I was also struck by how uncannily Keith Reid’s lyrics about greed and folly prefigured the financial crisis years before it hit the headlines. And don’t miss the extra lost verse of “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” a melancholic song that the sheer love of the audience turns into a triumphant anthem

The Nobel Peace Prize Concert brought together the Argentine pianist Martha Argerich with Yuri Temirkanov and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic in Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G Major” and other works by Prokofiev, Chopin, and Shostakovich. Here the speakers surprised me by playing against the manner in which I’d been in danger of typecasting them. Instead of the amiably novocained presentation I expected, I got a sparkling piano sound accompanied by detailed strings and brasses. This alternate window into the SVS experience must have been opened by the close-up nature of the recording—the on-the-podium perspective of the orchestra and the at-the-keyboard POV of the piano—which remained consistent down to the pianissimo.

The David Grisman Quintet’s Swingin’ with Svend (CD version) featured jazz fiddler Svend Asmussen, recorded live at Fat Tuesday’s in New York in 1988. Grisman’s mandolin came through the silk dome tweeters and plastic-coned woofers with a warm ringy sound—ringy in a good way, like a bell—in contrast to the thinner and slightly raspy tone of Asmussen’s violin. Using the Dolby Pro Logic II music mode compensated for the recording’s airlessness, imaging the two main lead instruments on either side of the center speaker. In stereo, the soundstage was not as strong.

The SVS S-Series speakers have a discernible character that will appeal to certain human personalities. The top end of these Midwestern-accented speakers is notably gentle and reserved, encouraging the listener to employ high master-volume levels with everything from action movies to sotto-voce psychological drama to all kinds of music. The lack of a stop sign in the presence region helps open up the listener’s perception of lower midrange and bass, which is where these speakers really excel. Two kinds of people will love them: the frazzled listener who gets listening fatigue and irritation from the etchier presentation of many products, and the extrovert who just wants to crank it up and feel good.

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kelsci's picture

I am not a lover of D'Apps. for the main left and right speakers. I have a pair of Old Garrards that I tried in this fashion. I just do not think they were "right" Now of course this may be dependent on the positions of these types of speaker relative to ear level which in my mind would take some real experimentation. To confuse the issue of the SVS is the fact that the tweeter of the left/right speaker is a design that is not in line with the woofers as many D'Apps. are. The photo shows the tweeters facing towards each other on stands. You could call this a mirror image. I would switch the L/R speaker to see if they should be more opposite each other. Again this is a mirror image. The problem I have with mirror image of these types is that to my ears the phasing of the speakers or the whole surround system could be out of wack.

There is another factor that I never seem to hear of anyone testing. What wiring scheme is used in those speakers relative to the woofers. Some clowns put 2 four ohm speakers in series to make 8 ohms. This could make an awful sounding L/R speaker. The right thing is to wire two 12 to 16 ohm woofers in parallel. Your impedance will be 6 to 8 ohms and your speakers at the very least will phase correctly with the system. Fortunately those old Garrards were wired the latter way and have made a good center channel speaker for my system.

micahspoop's picture

Hi Mark,

I noticed you rated the performance of this system as moderate. What alternative would you suggest around the same price? Also, can you explain to me what exactly it was that led you to rate the performance as moderate? Also, I am just beginning to learn more about the wonderful world of audio. Thanks in advance.

Mark Fleischmann's picture
"Not terribly revealing" was one of the phrases I used. There are several other descriptions that point in roughly the same direction. For alternatives you should look to our Top Picks. One item within a few hundred dollars of the SVS system is the RSL 5.1 Theater system. The speakers are smaller but due to their enclosure design they still have some bass response. In general I hesitate to make this kind of A-vs.-B comparison in the comments section because it disserves all the manufacturers as well as the reader himself. Read the review text, check the measurements, and to the extent possible, hear the products with your own ears. Both SVS and RSL both have generous money-back return policies which enable you to try their speakers in your own home for several weeks before making a permanent commitment.
micahspoop's picture

Mark, I appreciate the advice, which I will most definitely take.