In recent days, Internet direct speaker companies have received a black eye due to the fraudulent actions of the owner/CEO of one popular brand. What makes this tough to shake is the company in question, AV123, produced some high quality equipment and often had excellent pricing. Fortunately, there are dozens of other such brands out there offering equipment and pricing as good or better with customer service and operational stability not rivaled by even the largest brick-and-mortar manufacturers. SVS, one of the original internet direct manufacturers of high value subwoofers, falls squarely in the safe-bet category.
SVS has been manufacturing big (literally and figuratively) bang for the buck subwoofers in cylinder form for more than 10 years. While these cylinder subs introduced many an unsuspecting theater owner to the sub-20hz range at prices unheard of, their unusual shape didn’t win them and awards with spouses or interior decorators. It wasn’t long before SVS branched into the more traditional box subs with equivalent performance in more aesthetically palatable packages. The next step took things up several octaves into speaker manufacturing.
The latest addition includes full-range speakers featuring the STS-02 floorstanding speaker, SBS-02 bookshelves and SCS-02 center channel.
At first glance, the STS-02 looks like a hundred other dull black-box speakers on the market. The main reason? Flash costs cash, and the STS-02 is all about packing in every bit of performance with the given price tag. While wood veneers, machined phase-plugs, high-gloss lacquer, and carbon-fiber cones can make a speaker look outstanding, more mundane materials can do the job at a much lower cost. But don’t mistake a lack of bling for poor build quality. The entire S-series is built as solid as they come, with computer-milled MDF construction and vacuum-formed textured finish. While not abnormally heavy for their size, the STS-02’s cabinets are extremely inert with little to no “knock-test” resonance thanks to generous CNC-milled internal bracing. The function-over-form approach was applied with driver selection as well, with the selection of “ClearSilk F2” tweeters and matte black 6” “SoftCap” poly woofers, though the “ClearSilk” gets an upgrade in ferro-fluid to facilitate the extra output from the larger floor standing model. The 2-way design is simple and well implemented.
The no-frills design would lead many to expect the SVS S series speakers’ sound to stand out. It doesn’t. In no single performance characteristic do these speakers draw attention to themselves. The simply reproduce any given sound neutrally and effortlessly. High frequencies are clear and detailed with no ringing. Midrange is smooth without losing snap, but without over-accentuating it. Midbass and bass, to the extent that the STS-02 attempts to reproduce it, is clean with no unwanted boom or bloat.
Low frequency extension, however, is not the STS-02’s strong point. This may be somewhat surprising given the floorstander’s size, but it’s intended to be used with a THX-standard 80Hz crossover. Looking beyond the STS-02’s large footprint, this makes sense coming from a company whose niche was forged with highly capable subwoofers. The STS-02 doesn’t try to reach far beyond 80Hz because it’s all but given you will be pairing them with a capable subwoofer. This limits the STS-02’s usefulness in 2-channel music listening, but makes them nearly ideal for home-cinema applications. Their sealed design controls mid-woofer excursion, opens up placements nearer boundaries (mainly rear and side walls), and allows them to integrate extremely well with standard THX filters.
In the same way that the STS-02 blends away, only drawing attention to the sound being reproduced, the SCS-02 center and SBS-02 surrounds blend naturally with the STS-02 mains. Their similar sealed design allows them to roll-off properly when paired with the same 80Hz THX crossover, with the main trade-off being total output. In their roles as center and surround, this trade-off is made well and their limits are rarely approached. The SBS-02 would not be my first choice as a main speaker, but with a capable subwoofer, they could make due in a small room or secondary system where reference level is not a frequent requirement.
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Stephen Hopkins is chief technology editor for EH Publishing. He writes product reviews, features, and focuses heavily on 3D TV, iPhone and iPad apps, and digital content.