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SVSound S-Series 5.1 Speaker System Review (STS-02 / SCS-02 / SSS-02 / SB12-NSD)

Back in November 2005, I took possession of the 1st consumer set of the original S-Series SVSound 5.1 speaker set. It included the PB-10 ISD sub. Because of my insistent nagging and whining to Ron Stimpson (the “S” in SVSound), he relented and let me be the first to buy them. I previously had owned several sets of speakers, some of them brand matched, and some hit or miss unmatched. The most expensive speakers I owned (now owned by my Son-in-Law) were the Paradigm Studio 60 series with their Servo-15 sub. During my listening tests of the old S-Series set, I first noticed that the SVSound's speakers were NOT sibilant! One of the most annoying things for me to hear in a speaker is that hissy, tinny sound. The SVSound speakers were just right in my thinking. As I became more used to listening to them, I began to hear (for the first time in my experience, I might add) what I, and others call “the neutral sound”. I have heard some very expensive speakers from time to time, and some pretty cheap ones. In almost all cases, I perceived a “signature” sound that emanated from the speakers. That is, I would be able to recognize their sound as being from that particular manufacturers' speakers. I don't have a problem with that, except the fact that I want to hear the original material fed to the speakers, not the speakers' interpretation of that material. I perceived that original S-Series to be amazingly “uncolored”, presenting the source with very good accuracy.

And now, my review of SVSound's newest S-Series speakers...

Fit and Finish

SVSound is noted for their superb craftsmanship. These speakers are no exception. They even go so far as to cover the mid-range speaker mounting screws with a black cover just in case you want to leave the grills off. There wasn't a flaw anywhere. I personally love the non-glare finish as my HT room is basically blacked out. I think a shiny surface might reflect some of the light coming off the projected image. The surround speakers have keyholes for wall mounting. The floor-standers come with a 4-legged base, mounting screws, floor spikes that can to attached to the bottom of the stands, and even have metal discs that you can put the spikes on if you have a hard wood floor... a very nice touch. The floor standing towers have metal grills that are rare (or, non-existent) in this price range-they really are nice looking. I didn't unpack the metal grills for the STS-02's so as to not create any cosmetic damage caused by grand-kids! You will be happy with the extreme care that went into crafting these audiophile speakers.

Initial Impression

Since this comparison is between the original S-Series, and the new S-Series, I will be referring mostly to the differences. When I first got them hooked up (before I used my receiver's Audyssey EQ system to align them), I immediately heard a significant improvement in the tweeter. It has more of the high-end clarity that makes for more detail in the sound. After aligning the sub with my Audyssey AS-EQ1 (results below), and the Audyssey in my receiver, I re-listened to the effect of the new tweeter. It was the improvements made to the tweeter that are responsible for the improvement in clarity, along with the mid- range speaker improvements. The mid-range speakers are absolutely neutral with no "throatiness" so common in other mid-range speakers I have heard. Voicing (timbre, and level matching) is way above par. The center speaker handled dialog superbly with a clarity matching much more costly speakers, and better than most. I am happy to say that even with the improved clarity, there is nothing harsh, or tinny about them. So, my overall first impression is that they have everything the earlier S-Series exhibited, with greater high-end clarity, more articulate mid-range, and the bass... (well, I'll tell you more about that later).

Listening Tests - Movies

I decided to use some of the same material to test these speakers that I had used in my listening tests of original S-Series. First, I put in Finding Nemo on DVD to see how the front 3 speakers blended with each other. When Nemo is trying to wake his father, he swims from one side of the screen to the other, causing his voice to pan from the Left, to the Center, and then to the Right front speakers. On a mismatched set of speakers it would be very easy to tell which speaker was producing the dialog. In a well balanced system, it should be a smooth sweep of sound from one side to the other. I perceived that the new speakers actually handled it better than the old did. Keep in mind, the old were quite good at that test, some of the best I had heard. But, there is a noticeable improvement with the new. It is almost impossible to tell when the Left speakers merges into the Center, then to the Right. This is so important to proper Home Theater listening. I might add that the balance between the front and surround speakers is as smooth as it gets. I lost the feeling of 5 speakers, and heard the audio world of the movie around me in true surround sound!

Next, I put in Star Wars II Attack Of The Clones on DVD. I use the scene where Obe Wan jumps out of the window to chase the assassin's robot. Later on in that scene the shape shifter secures her weapon to the side of her speeder. It makes a slight tinkling sound that is easy to miss. I heard that quite well on the old speakers, even better on the new, but, what I noticed on the new speakers was the slight footstep sound she makes as she approaches her ship.

I did try the new movie How to Train Your Dragon which is fast becoming one of my favorite Blu-Ray discs. Since I never heard it on my previous speakers, I can only report how it sounded on the new. Just about every scene is loaded with directional sounds. The speakers did an amazing job of reproducing all the intricate details. The dialog was real enough to think the actors were standing behind the screen. This effect is something I really enjoy (the utter naturalness of the dialog). So many speakers I have heard (even in theaters) make dialog sound “canned”. In a darkened home theater room, the new S-Series speakers simply disappear sonically.

As an example, I recently listened to a 5.1 set of THX Ultra 2 speakers in a nice in-store set-up. They were great on the surround stuff, but, in my opinion rather “in your face” with dialog. I felt the new S-Series does a tremendous job of creating real-life sounds. I also noticed that the surround speakers blend in quite will with the main speakers. When I put in the Master and Commander DVD, the sounds of the canon hits from below decks is almost scary, especially when the sailors are running across the upper deck.

I also went to a local high-end audio store. I listened to both music and excerpts from a movie in their very expensive demo rooms. The speakers are well known and cost many thousands of dollars per set. Again, I heard some great sounds from their speakers, but, when you consider the price of the SVSound speakers, you have to believe that the law of diminishing returns applies. There were some differences in sound, but, not anywhere near the huge price difference. The more I listen to the SVSound speakers, the more amazed I become. The level of sophistication is so high that it is beyond belief how inexpensive these are. The balance of sound between the STS-02's, the SCS-02, and the SSS-02's is simply as smooth as it gets. I had been using some mismatched side surrounds that are much more efficient (taking less power to reach the same sound level) than my earlier SVSound speakers. It did OK as long as I kept the audio level at close to reference, as that is where they were aligned. If I dropped the sound level, the surrounds stuck out like a sore thumb. The SSS-02's are especially good at the surround effects, very smooth and detailed.

My wife and I have been enjoying our Netflix, and have watched several British made-for-TV movies; Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Lewis, etc. The new SCS-02 center speaker renders the dialog so clearly, that we can understand the British accent better than we had with the earlier SCS-01 speaker. I wasn't expecting this, until I realized it was the better clarity of the new SVSound speakers!

Listening Tests-Music

One of the minor criticisms of the original speakers was their music performance. I didn't agree with some in that regard. I felt that they were good for music, but, best for Home Theater. Of course, I have a dedicated HT room with acoustic treatments which may have aided in the old speakers' music ability. I will say that the new speakers are noticeably better in the following areas: Sound stage, depth of sound field, separation, definition of instrument timbre, and reproduction of human voices (especially female). I selected the stereo mode on my receiver to use only the STS-02 tower speakers. Listening to a well-recorded CD by Diana Krall, I felt her voice was reproduced with accuracy, without the hissiness that can come across with some speakers. The small combo backing her up sounded well balanced. I was able to hear each distinct instrument in its proper place. The piano actually sounded like a piano! The sound stage had depth to it, and was as wide as the recording permitted. These new speakers should satisfy the critics of the older speakers in regard to music.

I put in the new Star Trek Blu-Ray to listen to the music which opens the film. As an amateur trumpet player of 50+ years, I have been exposed to an abundance of live music. I have played in many a band, and even a few orchestras. I am quite familiar with live musical instrument sounds. The beginning of that movie has a wonderful French horn solo. I know what a French horn sounds like as I sit right behind several of them in the community band I play in. One can't miss the sound of a French horn if one is sitting behind it, as the bell of the horn points backwards. (I once saw a man dumping a whole truck load of French horns into the river. I asked him what that was all about. He said “well, it's a start!”). I was thoroughly impressed with the speakers ability to reproduce the french horn's sound as if he/she were sitting behind the front speakers in the room with me. I invite you to try the same listening test with whatever speakers you have, then go to the home of whoever wins these speakers and listen again (assuming they will let you). I think you will come to the same conclusion as I have.

The Subwoofer

I expected, knowing SVSound's stellar reputation for high quality at a fair price, the 2 towers, center, and surround speakers to better my original speakers. I wasn't disappointed. Honestly, Though, the thing that really caught me off guard was the new SB12-NSD sub woofer! I have the PB12-Plus/2 monster. I assumed it would be far superior to the diminutive box sealed 12” sub. BOY, WAS I WRONG!!! This small sub is truly a “giant killer”. I am equalizing these subs with SVSound's Audyssey AQ-E1 sub EQ'ing device. You will see the “before” and “after” graphs below. The first thing I heard was incredible definition. My PB12-Plus/2 is no slouch when it comes to definition; however, this little NSD is better by a very apparent amount. If my big sub's definition is 7 out of 10, this little sub is a 9 out of 10 (I only give it a 9 lest there be a sub with better definition, of which I am unaware). Of course, my monster will summon whales when turned loose; this little bugger will hold its own right to the level of wall destruction. I can't wait to upgrade my system to the newest SVSound speakers, especially their new Sledge amplified subs. I think if you are budget limited, and have a HT room around 2000 Cu Ft., you will be bragging about this sub to all your friends, and flaunting it to your enemies. I am wondering if two of these subs wouldn't match or even beat my Sherman tank sub...?

Summing It Up
I would say that the new S-Series speakers with the baby monster sub are definitely worth the new “02” designation. They add nothing of their own to the sound, and are therefore neutral, producing what is fed to them. The original were most likely the “best in class” winners. The new are even more the greatest “performance per dollar” winners. If you could hear these speakers in a good setup, then listen to any other speakers in almost any price range, you will see (or hear) why I say they are incredible buys. The smoothness, clarity, response, dynamic range, balance, and sound quality are second to none. All in all, in my opinion, these speakers are hands down, the best sounding speakers in their price range, which is saying a lot as there are “billions and billions” of similarly priced speakers. If you are hesitant about buying speakers “sound unheard”, have no fear. They are going to give you far more quality sound than your dollars would get you otherwise. Their price-to-performance ratio is out of this world!

I need to say a word about their customer service, and that word is: “Superior!”

Ratings (based on speakers I have heard recently, in any price range including 2 sets that cost over $5,000 a speaker!)

Construction Quality Speakers and Sub :5stars:

Finish-Charcoal Black Speakers and Sub :5stars:

Response Speakers :5stars: Response Sub :4.5stars:

Performance Speakers and Sub :4.5stars:

Value Speakers and Sub :5stars: (and then some!)

Customer Service :5stars:

Note: if I were to compare this 5.1 set with speakers sets in its price range only, it would have been 5's all the way, IMHO there just isn't anything out there that can match this kind of quality at this price.

See all review pictures here.

This system was given away here in the forum compliments of Home Theater Shack and SVSound.

Please see the SVSound S-Series 5.1 Speaker System Review (STS-02 / SCS-02 / SSS-02 / SB12-NSD) for Questions and Comments
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