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Set Up & Listening
The Ultra Bookshelf monitors were pretty straightforward to set up. They were used in two different rooms with two different amplifiers. First, they were set up on Sound Anchors stands driven by a McIntosh MA6600 integrated amp. For the second half of the review, they were on Atacama stands, driven by an Electrocompaniet ECI3 integrated amp. I replaced the stock jumpers with Anti Cable spade terminated jumpers. This is always an easy and cost effective upgrade, as most stock jumpers are generally not of the highest quality. Toe in was between 15 and 20 degrees, and cabling was Transparent MusicWave and QED Genesis Silver Spiral speaker wire.
The speakers' build quality, cabinet, finish, and overall look were very impressive. The attention to detail was obvious, which sadly can't be taken for granted for speakers priced at $499 each. They were easy to integrate into several rooms aesthetically, and gave off an air of being far more expensive in the looks department.
The Ultras took about a week to fully come into their own, as they sounded a bit dark and closed-in right out of the box. My experience with speakers using advanced driver materials is that they often need around a hundred hours to loosen up and sing. This is exactly the case here. Once they were worked in, the Ultras rewarded me with a very engaging, clean, and open midrange, and tight, very satisfying bass. I will say the first thing that struck me was the Ultras sounded bigger than stand mounts. With my eyes closed I could easily have guessed these were small floor standers.
The SVS Ultra Bookshelf had many attributes that make it a “music lovers” speaker. For me, this means coherence. Treble sizzle or bass bloat are deal killers for this listener, and there was no sign of this here. In fact, it has one of the most seductive midranges I've heard at this price range for a very long time. This was evident when listening to Jose Gonzalez’s In Our Nature, with its insistent rhythms and yearning melodies. The recording focuses on Gonzalez’s voice and nylon string guitar, with embellishments like percussion and harmony vocals. Everything on these performances gelled seamlessly.
The Ultras could rock too. Tuareg guitarist Bombino's new release -- Nomad, produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys -- is a world music tour de force. It features Bombino’s fierce bluesy, modal guitar playing, and chant-like songs, laced with heavy beats. The Ultra Bookshelves project a very wide soundstage, with instruments that have excellent body, seemingly unconnected to the speakers themselves. In other words, the speakers seem to disappear with optimal setup, which left me entranced by this brilliant album's song cycle.