SVS refers to its Prime Elevation speaker ($199 each) as “the world’s most versatile home theater speaker.” While that reads like blanket marketing jargon, it may in fact be true. Elevation, you see, is a highly adaptable and well-designed dynamo that delivers big on performance and practicality. In this review, we test Elevation’s mettle with two-channel stereo and Atmos duty challenges, and take an in depth look at what makes this little speaker tick. If you’re looking for an Atmos solution that doesn’t require the hassle of installing true in-ceiling speakers, then stick around because this might just be the speaker you’ve been looking for.
Decades of Quality
The name SVS needs little introduction in the audio world. The company is widely revered as one of the Internet’s premier ID speaker manufacturers, with a reputation of reasonable price points, excellent quality, and extreme performance. Add to that a super clean website experience, free in-home trials, and a no-hassle return policy, and it’s easy to see why the company is thriving. When SVS first arrived on the scene, it largely designed and manufactured subwoofers. Times have certainly changed, however, and SVS now offers two different series of highly acclaimed loudspeakers. Prime is the company’s more budget-friendly option (with Ultra laying claim to flagship status).
The company’s Prime Series is comprised of five speaker models, including tower, bookshelf, center channel, and satellite designs. Elevation, the fifth (and newest) edition to the series, is a multifunctional hybrid speaker with a unique trapezoidal shape intended to address the needs of immersive audio users who’d like to avoid in-ceiling installations. It also can double as a surround speaker (capable of being mated for dipole duty) and can even be used to create two- or three- channel frontend configurations.
SVS’s proprietary mounting system allows Elevation to be mounted ultra close to a ceiling.
The name “Elevation” implies height, and that’s exactly what SVS’s design delivers. The speaker’s angled baffle and driver array, along with a slick mounting system, allows Elevation to be perched high on a wall for height-channel duty (a ceiling mount is in the works). This is particularly interesting because true Atmos channels require on-ceiling or in-ceiling installation (which can be messy, time consuming, and frustrating). The standard alternative option to ceiling channels (Atmos add-on speaker modules that bounce sound off a ceiling) offer convenience but deliver less than optimal performance. Elevation currently occupies a middle ground solution that eliminates the hassle of an in-ceiling installation while mimicking the physical height of an Atmos channel’s placement.
The speaker also introduces the possibility of building a combined Atmos/Auro-3D arrangement. That kind of performance configuration wasn’t specifically tested in this review, however one could easily see how using Elevation speakers could result in a compromise layout that would allow users to enjoy both audio formats (stay tuned for more in this department).
Part of Elevation’s unique utility is the speaker's proprietary multifunctional wall-mount bracket. This mounting system allows for installations incredibly close to a room’s ceiling, but can also be employed to hang the speaker at angles appropriate for surround channel duty. Interestingly, SVS is in the process of custom tooling a special ceiling mount bracket (due end of March). This is fantastic news and further diversifies the speaker's unique flexibility.
For those owners looking to use Elevation as a standalone front channel, simply flip the speaker over (or on its side), apply the included elastomer sticky feet, and place the speaker on any flat surface or stand.
Elevation’s in room measurement.
The speaker’s small size (9.25-in H x 5.44-in W x 7.88-in D) is instrumental in keeping the speaker discrete once hung on a wall (not to mention manageable while installing). It doesn’t feel unsubstantial in the hands, however. Elevation’s rock-solid and heavily braced cabinet (available in Black Ash, Piano Gloss Black, and Piano Gloss White) has a solid feel and weightiness (7.8 lbs.) that screams quality; a simple knock with the knuckles confirms those impressions. In fact, everything about the speaker looks and feels right, including quality 5-way binding posts and an attractive cloth grille with a rotating magnetic SVS badge.
The driver array consists of a 1-in aluminum dome tweeter and a 4.5-in polypropylene cone woofer, managed by a two-way crossover loaded with premium-grade capacitors, air-core inductors, and a heavy-trace printed circuit board. There’s also a single rear firing port to help boost low-end output. SVS says Elevation has a rated bandwidth of 55 Hz-25 kHz (+/-3 dB), which my in-room single speaker measurements (REW, UMIK-1 microphone, 2-meters from speaker, tweeter level) showed to be reasonably accurate.
SVS delivered the Elevations in durable and attractive packaging that featured high quality materials. I received four speakers (shipped in pairs) for this review and each one arrived in mint condition. The included in-box goodies were a printed manual, a wall-mount template, mounting hardware (including screws and anchors), and eight elastomer feet.
Elevation’s instruction manual and thick glossy paper mounting template provides simple and straightforward installation steps that just about anyone with a drill and screwdriver can handle. Installation ultimately proved to be super easy.
Audio equipment used in this review includes an OPPO UDP-203 4K Blu-ray player, a Yamaha RX-A3050 AVR, an Emotive XPA-5 amp, dual Power Sound Audio XS30 subwoofers, and a 7.x.4 multichannel array of Polk RTiA speakers. Dimensions of the demo room measure approximately 18-ft long x 14-ft wide x 8.5-ft tall.
Let Stereo Reign
Image: Doug MacLeod / Sledgehammer Blues
SVS’s marketing literature (and the included User Manual) tout Elevation’s ability to be used as front and side channel speakers. So, before I mounted them for height duty, I put them through a strong two-channel workout. Following a break-in period of 30 hours, I placed two speakers on stands (toed inward, set to large, no sub) to get a sense of their overall musicality, capability, and breadth of sound. The results were quite shocking, as these mighty-mites more than proved their worth as candidates for standalone speakers in a small set-up.
Here's a sample of song notes taken during a listening session:
- Lou Reed, Walk on the Wild Side (The Best of Lou Reed, CD): This song was punctuated by a depth and warmth that didn’t feel clipped or constrained. The overall sound was neutral with a decently wide soundstage. Bass was tight and punchy, producing quite a bit of silent air movement from the ports. The song stayed composed when taken to reference levels.
- Doug MacLeod, Bring it on Home (Come to Find, CD): The Elevations demonstrated a surprisingly open sound with quite a bit of airiness. Once again, bass did not take a back seat as the speakers delivered decent depth. MacLeod’s voice was expansive and fine details within the track were revealed.
- Gorillaz, Tomorrow Comes Today, (Gorillaz, CD): Tomorrow Comes Today is a torture test track that I keep in my toolbox because of its rather weighty and aggressive bass. The track produced some audible port chuffing as volume was increased during playback (this is the only song that conjured port noise). The speakers performed flawlessly at a reasonably loud level (87 dB peak) once I dialed back the volume. Overall, the song sounded crisp and well rounded; imaging was quite nice.
- Yello, The Expert (Touch, CD): The Elevations threw a huge and expansive sound stage while playing The Expert. Highs were super smooth with lots of sizzle and snap. Warmth and composure was noticeable through mid-range frequencies. Depth of bass was on full display.
As standalone speakers in a 2.0 arrangement, the Elevations showed considerable pizzazz and soundstage capability. I did find that they required a decent amount of power to achieve reference levels (Sensitivity: 87 dB), so you’ll need to have a good amp section on hand if you’re considering using them in a stereo or LCR configuration.
I added my dual XS-30 PSA subs to the mix (Crossover: 80 Hz) for the second half of my listening session, and the Elevations blended seamlessly. This 2.2 system was able to achieve significantly higher volume levels (hovering around 100 dB) while delivering pinpoint performance. I was particularly impressed with the Elevation’s controlled crispness as volume increased. The sound stage also opened up quite a bit, making a great case for the Elevations to be used in a two-channel or three-channel set-up with an integrated subwoofer. That being said, they performed admirably without the subwoofers (something to take into consideration).
Off axis performance (both horizontally and vertically) was also good, and the Elevations maintained their musicality when oriented on their sides. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to place the Elevations on a low-lying table or television cabinet for front channel duty.
The excellent sounds I experienced during my two-channel demo session made me eager to take the Elevations on an Atmos test drive. To begin, I affixed the speakers to SVS’s mounting brackets on front and rear wall positions at ceiling height (see image below). This kind of deployment is one of SVS’s recommended speaker configurations (the other suggests mounting the speakers at ceiling height along side wall positions, which, due to ceiling inconsistencies in my theater room, wasn’t possible).
As referenced earlier, the mounting process was straightforward and simple. The brackets provided an extremely tight fit that necessitated small amounts of jostling and wiggling during installation, but in each case the end result was a secure installation. It’s worthy to note that wall mounting the speakers eliminates the ability to use banana plugs on the backside terminals (they stick out too much, making it impossible to attach to the mounting plate).
Aesthetically speaking, the Elevations appeared unassuming once mounted on the walls. In fact, their black ash finish blended perfectly with my theater room’s dark walls. And the speakers’ overall small size certainly helped them to disappear.
One of SVS’s suggested installation configurations.
During pre-review discussions with SVS, we talked about using this review as an opportunity to compare the Elevation’s Atmos performance (while wall mounted) to true in-ceiling speakers. My reference system, as it’s configured, has seven multi-channels (LCR, side surrounds, rear surrounds) in addition to four height channels (two top middle, two top front) and dual subwoofers. I’ve found Atmos tracks to have a delightful height to their sound, often times with front soundstage material appearing to stretch upwards into thinness, along with pinpoint sound effects that can hammer away from above.
I’m a huge fan of Atmos.
The problem with this kind of Atmos arrangement lies in its installation. I spent hours of time cutting my room’s ceiling, hacking on dust, and cramping in the shoulders while attempting to blindly fish wires, all in the name of gaining ceiling channels…something that the average consumer probably would never consider tackling. That’s what makes a solution like Elevation so interesting. It’s also intriguing because proper deployment of Elevation speakers could potentially allow a customer to install a blended Atmos/Auro-3D configuration that appeases those techs’ substantially different layout requirements (as mentioned earlier, that evaluation has a number of complexities and will have to wait for another review).
Once installed, I reoriented myself to several different Atmos movies (Gravity, John Wick, Unbroken, Insurgent, and Jupiter Ascending) and a few of the more revealing marketing clips contained on a Dolby Atmos Demo Disc (Amaze, Helicopter, Santera, and Rainstorm) using my room’s reference system. Following listening sessions and detailed note taking, I disengaged the ceiling channels, engaged the front and rear Elevation channels, recalibrated the system using YPAO and a manual SPL meter, and began the process of re-viewing each movie and demo clip.
Well, let’s just say they were exciting (especially for those of you looking to avoid an in-ceiling speaker installation). In fact, there were a few moments that the Elevations actually sounded better than my reference in-ceiling channels.
The Elevations were adept at stretching sound on an elevated horizontal plane. This played well for sounds such as a helicopter flying overhead (as heard during the Helicopter clip). In the case of Helicopter, I could hear the flying machine move from speaker to speaker with a slight sound drop (or gap) during transitions between speakers while using my reference system. Sound placement during that listening session was fairly precise; in fact it may have been too precise! The Elevations took the same demo clip and also delivered realistic overhead movement, but the gaps in sound as the helicopter moved about were non-existent. The helicopter's sound placement was stretched and more diffuse (perhaps smeared), but not to a detriment, and the result was quite pleasing.
The Elevations excelled at reproducing sounds that weren’t intended to be pinpoint. By that I mean domes of sound (such as background music, thunder claps, atmospheric wind, and other ambient factors). Again, the best description is something akin to a horizontal plane of sound hovering overhead. Its stretched diffuseness was very pleasing to the ear.
The Elevations’ were less adept at convincingly producing pinpoint overhead sounds powered by the front height channels. Plane engines, birds chirping, gunfire, and the like sounded a tad bit too forward as compared to my reference overhead channels. Sounds emanating from the rear Elevation channels (which were positioned significantly closer to my seating position) much more closely matched the performance of the in-ceiling speakers. This leads me to conclude that optimal placement of the Elevations would be along a room’s side walls (closer to primary seating), which would likely minimize the distant forwardness of singular front channel activity.
Sound quality wise, the Elevations did not disappoint during Atmos playback. They projected a thick and rich sound, full of vibrancy and life (everything you’d expect from a well-made bookshelf sized speaker tasked with surround duty). They're truly fantastic little speakers.
SVS should be applauded for delivering such a versatile and consumer friendly speaker solution. Not only did Elevation impress with its musicality and high level performance characteristics, but it’s also a well-made speaker that’s attractively fashioned. Buyers in the market for height channels or smaller system arrangements should definitely give Elevation a fair shake (especially considering the fact that SVS is on the cusp of releasing on-ceiling mounting brackets). After all, with SVS's generous in-home demo return policy, what do you have to lose?
Dimensions: (H x W x D): 9.25-in x 5.4-in x 7.9-in
Weight: 7.8 lbs.
Frequency response: 55 - 25Hz ± 3dB
Port: 1" wide-flared rear-firing
Rated bandwidth: 69Hz - 25kHz (±3dB)
Nominal impedance 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 87dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz)
Recommended amplifier power: 20 - 150 watts
Tweeter-to-woofer crossover: 2.5kHz (12dB/octave slopes)
For more information, visit SVS by clicking here.
Image Credits: SVS, Todd Anderson / Home Theater Shack, Doug MacLeod / Sledgehammer Blues, Dolby