SVS SBS/SCS-01 Home Theater Ensemble: Good Things Come in Small Packages
Established for several years as heavy hitters in the subwoofer arena, it was greatly anticipated that SVSound would eventually expand their product line to include full-range speakers. Perhaps logically the company has initially focused on small budget systems, with the promise of (presumably) larger, higher-end offerings to come.
SVS’ premier speaker, the SBS-01 (which stands for “Small Bookshelf System”), is a two-way model featuring a 5.25” woofer and a silk-dome tweeter. A larger speaker, designated the SCS-01, features the same drivers in a woofer-tweeter-woofer arrangement, and is included as a center channel speaker for 5.0 and 7.0 packages.
Although SVS is now designing and building in-house the drivers for some of their subwoofers, the SBS/SCS-01 drivers are being supplied by OEM vendors, built to SVS’ highly exacting specifications. The woofer alone required no fewer than 14 design changes, I’m told, before SVS was satisfied.
The SBS-01 speakers weigh in at 11 lbs. and measure 12”h x 7”w x 9.5”d. The SCS-01 (center channel) speaker weighs 19 lbs. and measures 7"h x 20"w x 8.5"d. SVS’ published specs give frequency response as 68 Hz – 20 kHz +/-3 dB for both speakers.
The SBS-01 is available in stereo pairs for $225, as a 5.0 ensemble for $599, and as a 7.0 set for $799. As noted, these ensembles include a SCS-01 speaker for center channel duties, which is also offered separately for $185.
SVS recently began offering the SCS-01 as its own product line, slightly modified for vertical mirror-imaged orientation and rebadged as the SCS-01(M). It is available in stereo pairs for $350, as part of a 5.0 combo using a pair of SBS-01s as surrounds, for $740, and as a full 5.0 set for $875.
Any of the SBS/SCS ensembles are available as 5.1 and 7.1 packages that included your choice of the company’s PB10- or PB12-NSD subwoofers.
Covering all bases, SVS also offers accessories such as speaker stands and wall- and ceiling-mounting brackets for their speakers.
Our 5.0 package came with a matte-black finish; white and silver finishes are also available. SVS offers a three-year warranty against defects and workmanship for their full-range speakers.
We’ve come to expect quality construction and practical embellishments from SVS, and the little SBS-01 does not disappoint.
Right up front with the grille, the SBS eschews cheap plastic retainers (which are easily broken) for chrome-plated steel pins. The grille cloth is so sheer that you can see the tweeter underneath – which means high frequency loss will be minimal when keeping them on. SVS claims “[the] fabric was specially chosen to remain color stable in all light and stay good looking even [when] kicked around by pets, kids or party guests.” This was impossible for us to evaluate or verify, having precious little in the way of pets, kids, or party guests around the Pflughaupt household, but you can’t help but be impressed with the company’s acute attention to something most buyers don’t think twice about.
SVS isn’t likely to win any fashion awards for the SBS/SCS’ austere finish, a matte, slightly textured vinyl that the company says is vacuum-formed over the cabinet. However, some deference to appearance is given by rounding the side cabinet edges, as well as those on the grille. Another, more subtle embellishment, probably only noticed or appreciated by nerd-o-philes like myself, is the woofer. Please notice, folks – no visible mounting screws! I never did figure out how to get it out of the cabinet.
With the woofer apparently semi-permanently ensconced, the only ready access to the SBS-01’s internals for evaluation was to remove the tweeter and rear binding post panel. Doing so revealed 1/2” MDF construction with hefty 5/8” internal bracing. Some manufacturers upgrade to 5/8” cabinets for their better bookshelf speakers, but the highly scientific knuckle-rap test shows that between its diminutive size and substantial bracing, the SBS-01’s cabinet is plenty solid and resonance-free.
With the binding post panel removed, the crossover network can be seen; SVS claims to use audiophile-grade components. I don’t know much about the finer points of capacitors or air-core inductors, but the crossover looks much more impressive and high-grade than what I’ve seen in other popularly-priced speakers I’ve owned over the years.
The binding post panel seems light-duty compared to what I’ve seen in other small speakers. However, given SVS’ attention to detail in every other construction-related aspect of this speaker, I can easily overlook cutting corners here, where it matters least.
Trying to connect the SBS/SCS-01 ensemble in place of my regular speakers, I was irritated to find that the five-way binding posts are spaced too far to accept dual banana plugs. I get the impression from the internet Forums that I may be the last old-school audiophile still using dual bananas on the old-school speakers that accept them, so most users probably won’t be bothered by this.
But even if you use single banana connectors, the posts have plastic plugs that you will have to remove. Presumably the plugs are there to comply with the standards of some European countries, whose AC power cords can easily be plugged into some dual binding posts. The posts themselves are drilled large enough to easily accept bare 12 ga. wire, which is laudable, and perhaps even 10 ga., although I did not have any on hand to check.
In-room frequency response measurements were taken using John Mulcahy’s excellent Room Equalizer Wizard program with a calibrated Behringer ECM8000 mic. I also had an AudioControl R-130 1/3-octave real time analyzer on hand to monitor various aspects of the speakers’ performance. The primary measuring location was our large family room, which is open to other areas like the dining room, kitchen and upstairs landing. While the listening position is only about 10 ft. away, the total volume is a cavernous 9200 cu. ft.
SBS-01 in-room frequency response, with one-octave smoothing
Top: One-meter nearfield
Bottom: Listening position
REW measurements for a single SBS-01 shows response extending slightly beyond 20 kHz, although we can’t be certain the Behringer mic is accurate that far out. Listening-position measurements show somewhat rougher response, as could be expected. It’s commonly accepted with in-room measurements that the room greatly influences readings below about 500-1000 Hz.
The AudioControl real time analyzer’s readings were more forgiving when showing 1/3-octave response. The LED display showed very smooth and even response down to 100 Hz, falling off below that point. The listening-position peaks that REW shows at 300 and 800 were barely there, if at all, even with the RTA displaying a tight ±2 dB window. In fact, the 1/3-octave display looked remarkably similar to this chart SVS publishes for their center channel speaker, showing the same gradually upward-tilting response.
Unfortunately, we neglected to take a reading of the SCS-01 center channel speaker while we had the calibrated Behringer mic at our disposal. However, our listening tests (that follow) and graphs on SVS’ web site confirm that its response is virtually identical to the SBS-01.
SUBJECTIVE LISTENING EVALUATION
Rather than go into details on the gear used for this evaluation, readers can refer to my equipment list at this link (yes I know, some updates are in order ). Subjective listening tests were conducted in our 9200 cu. ft. family room.
Dave Grusin, Homage to Duke
Track 3 “Satin Doll”
Track 9 “Sophisticated Lady”
Track 1 “A Hit By Varese”
Special EFX, Collection
Track 13 “Dancing With A Ghost”
Track 14 “Hands Of The Healer”
Mary Black, Babes In The Wood
Track 9 “The Dimming Of The Day”
Basia, London Warsaw New York
Track 2 “Best Friends”
Track 5 “Ordinary People”
My initial reaction to the SBS-01s upon firing up the CD player was, “wow!” The speakers exhibited great highs and a natural sound overall, with smooth midrange and very clean sibilants. SVS’ Ron Stimpson advised doing serious listening with the grilles off, but I couldn’t could tell a difference either way. Probably because – as noted - the grille cloth is ultra-sheer.
The opening refrains of Basia’s “Best Friends” track features sharp, staccato guitar and synthesizer parts in the left and right speakers that are rich in treble content. My wife noticed that this passage really “popped” with these speakers, compared to what we’re used to hearing with ours. Most noticeable and delightful was the fact that imaging didn’t collapse when you moved away from the sweet spot – you could hear both parts very well sitting anywhere on the sofa. With the Dave Grusin disc, an exceptionally well-recorded jazz CD, piano, trumpet, sax, and drums all sounded excellent. The SBS-01s also did a superb job with Mary Black’s “Babes In The Wood” disc, which features a very dynamic and well-recorded vocal track. Ms. Black’s lovely voice was faithfully conveyed, including subtle details like the soft “f” and “th” sounds. (It’s surprising how few recordings faithfully render soft speech elements like those.) Peter Cetera’s Fender Precision bass sounded nice and full on the Chicago CD, but overall the 35-year-old recording sounded a bit gritty, indicating the SBS-01s may not be forgiving of poorly-recorded material.
Naturally, I wanted to directly compare the SBS-01s to my regular speakers, an early version of LRS Electronics’ hand-made Human Model 61, a two-way speaker with a 6-1/2” woofer that currently lists for $625 a pair. I situated one SBS and one LRS speaker side by side, and connected them to both channels of a spare integrated amp that I situated on the sofa next to me. This would allow me to quickly switch between the two for an instant comparison.
Well, it didn’t take long to see that my speakers were in trouble! I knew going in the SBS-01s were brighter than mine, but I found I had to move the treble control from flat to the 3:00 position to get the highs at a comparable level! A quick check with the RTA confirmed what my ears were telling me, that my speakers rolled out the highest frequencies, while the SBS-01s remained relatively flat all the way to 16-20 kHz.
For this direct comparison, I ran through most of my reference tracks again, paying particular attention to the “Hands Of The Healer” track from the Special EFX disc. At 1:36 there is a single strike to a percussive instrument that the album credits as an “energy chime,” which takes several seconds to decay. I don’t know what an energy chime is, but its sound resembles a higher-pitched hand bell, like you hear at Christmas concerts. If you’ve ever heard hand bells, you know they are rich in lower-high frequency resonance and detail. Back in the early 90s I had a set of Acoustic Research 1CS plate speakers in my car (remember those things? ) with silk dome tweeters, and the texture and resolution those speakers would generate with that chime was simply jaw-dropping. Absolutely stunning. I’ve yet to hear a speaker, home or car, that resolves this passage like those AR’s. When I find some that can, I will own them.
No, the SBS-01s didn’t rise to the level of the ARs, but they did as good a job with the chime as most other speakers I’ve demo’d with that track over the years. With the treble control compensated for my speakers, it was a toss up as to which rendered the chime better, although mine seemed a bit fuller with its lower registers.
The big surprise with this direct comparison was the SBS-01’s bass performance. Despite having smaller woofers, they handily bested my speakers there too, giving fuller bass that was noticeably deeper and better-extended.
Suffice it to say, the SBS-01s handily dusted my speakers, which cost almost three times as much.
My only subjective-listening complaint with the SBS-01 was found in smaller rooms, such as one of our secondary bedrooms. I expected bass response would improve, but instead the otherwise excellent highs proved to be too much of a good thing, due of course to the listening position being at a much closer proximity. If you intend to use the SBS/SCS system in small rooms, you’ll probably want to ratchet down your receiver’s treble control, as I did.
You can learn a lot about a speaker with pink noise that doesn’t readily translate to a graph or chart. It’s an unforgiving signal source that can reveal subtle changes in timbre, for instance, that are easily missed with program material.
With pink noise playing through the SCS-01 center speaker, I moved from the primary location on the sofa to the two side positions. There was virtually no audible timbre change at any location on the sofa – evidence of excellent off-axis response and a wide horizontal dispersion pattern. These are desirable qualities in a center channel speaker, in order to assure uniform sound for as many viewers as possible.
With a more real-world signal – i.e. program material - and again moving back and forth to different locations on the sofa, the SCS seemed to exhibit a hint of timbre change in the midrange. However, it’s so subtle it’s doubtful most people will even notice it, much less find it objectionable.
Interestingly, there was noticeable vertical timbre shift as I moved up or down from my seated position. So, if you find yourself cheering on the protagonist during a movie or TV show, you might want to refrain from bouncing up and down on the sofa. :laugh:
The Fugitive is considered passé as a demo disc by home theater buffs these days, but it has some good scenes for evaluating both imaging and timbre-matching between the main and center channels.
In the Chapter 6 train crash scene, at 0:18:07, the runaway train engine drags the prison bus down the tracks, while the sound pans from the center to the right speaker. The pan could be clearly heard from the leftmost seat on sofa, once again confirming the SBS-01’s excellent imaging capabilities.
In Chapter 8 at 0:20:34, Tommy Lee Jones and his crew of U.S. Marshals approach a guard from the prison bus who is giving his statement to the local sheriff. As they approach, the guard’s voice slowly pans from the left to the center channel. The voice panned virtually seamlessly, showing excellent timbre matching between the SBS main and SCS center speakers.
U-571’s famous Chapter 15 depth charge scene is well known as a torture test for subwoofers, but it’s also an excellent test for high frequency performance as well. At 1:19:53 and 1:20:00, when the barrage of depth charges break open the submarine’s water pipes, the sound was effortless, with no strain, even at the fairly high volume level I typically listen at. No grimacing or grabbing the ears - testament to the SBS/SCS ensemble’s smooth upper frequency response.
The main things I look for in a speaker are linear response and uncolored sound, followed by a broad soundstage. If certain frequencies are prominent, or under-represented, I can usually tell. And I really dislike pin-point, head-in-a-vice imaging, for music as well as movies. If the speakers in question can deliver great resolution, detail and dynamics as well, it’s icing on the cake.
Why do I put smooth response at the top? Well, what good is a speaker with to-die-for imaging and resolution if it has honkin’ midrange, or a big spike at 6 kHz that has you grabbing your ears in pain?
How does the SBS/SCS ensemble stack up? Response is very linear. The highs are excellent, as is the imaging, and overall the sonics are virtually uncolored. Detail is note-worthy as well, surprisingly good for a speaker in this price range. With music, the SBS-01s can even deliver fairly decent bass, depending on how the program material is recorded.
As a 5.0 ensemble, the SBS/SCS-01 system shines in home theater as well, delivering excellent imaging from the main speakers, great horizontal dispersion from the center speaker and first-class timbre matching between the two. It all adds up to a great listening experience to anyone sitting on the sofa, not just the person in the center. In addition, the mains’ excellent dispersion ensures they will deliver an enveloping, non-localized soundfield in rear-surround duties, as long as you keep them several feet away (which is good advice for any monopole rear speaker).
Without a doubt, SVS has hit a home run with the SBS/SCS package. It’s hard to find any significant fault with them. I don’t see how any audiophile could be unhappy with these speakers, especially for a secondary system. And they’re an excellent value to boot. I’ll bet my speakers aren’t the only ones costing many times more that the SBS-01s give a serious run for the money.
The SBS/SCS-01’s no-frills finish isn’t going to win any “best dressed” awards, but you can’t fault SVS for putting their R&D dollars into performance rather than appearances with a budget-conscious, entry-level model. But since these speakers deliver better-than-entry-level performance, I’ll bet customers will soon be clamoring for more finish options, if they aren’t already. After all, we audiophiles are a vain lot – we’re proud of our speakers and want them to look good when we show them off. Naturally, upgraded finishes would drive up the price, but I’m sure anyone demanding won’t mind paying. Even adding $100 to the price of a 5.0 set, the SBS/SCS-01 package would still be a great deal.
Wayne A. Pflughaupt
John Mulcahy, for the excellent Room Equalizer Wizard program.
Sonnie Parker, for taking the REW measurements.