SVS Ultra Bookshelf Loudspeaker Review 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers
Written by Andre Marc   
Tuesday, 07 May 2013

Founded in 1998 and quickly making a name for themselves in the subwoofer market, SVS is now a global maker and distributor of complete speaker systems. They are a unique organization, with a design team and warehouses spread across North America, and manufacturing based in China. The products are sold direct with a generous in-house audition period because, according to SVS, there is no place better to hear a speaker than in your own listening room. The company touts its engineering muscle, commitment to quality, and customer service as a reason for its longevity.

I have only heard about SVS products from audio show reports and a few reviews, but I had not had the opportunity to hear one of the products until now. I received a review sample of their brand new Ultra Bookshelf model, priced at $499 each, or $998/pair. The Ultra Bookshelf is part of the Ultra line, which includes the Ultra Center channel, Ultra Surround, and Ultra Tower models. SVS says the Ultra Bookshelf shares much of the technology found in the larger Ultra Tower floorstanding model.

A Closer Look

Mark Mason, Director of Product Management, is the driving force behind the SVS speaker and subwoofer designs. Before joining SVS in 2011, Mason spent time at highly acclaimed speaker manufacturer PSB, among others. Be sure to check out my interview with Mason and SVS CEO, Gary Yacuobian, at the conclusion of this review.

SVS Ultra Bookshelf rearThe Ultra Bookshelf speakers are not “mini monitors” in the sense that they are fairly substantial, weighing in at 19lbs each. Available in piano gloss black and real black oak veneer finishes, my review samples appeared in a very attractive gloss black. SVS claims bandwidth of 45 Hz - 32kHz (+/- 3 dB).  The Ultra Bookshelf uses proprietary drivers, equipped with a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter in conjunction with a 6.5-inch composite glass fiber cone woofer for midrange and bass duties.  The speakers come equipped with a black cloth grille, which was left off for all listening.
The Ultra Bookshelf features a wedge-shaped front baffle, and what they call an “intelligent” Sound Match Crossover. According to the SVS technical literature, when engineering the Ultra Bookshelf speaker’s design the company envisioned “a two-way monitor that would fill small to medium sized rooms with an encompassing, coherent soundstage; deep, dynamic bass; and sparkling mid and high-frequency details, whether they were being pushed to extreme volumes or played at moderate levels. A combination of premium build materials, FEA optimization, cabinet innovation and careful selection of crossover frequencies brought this vision to life.”

Around back, there is a rear port and two sets of high quality speaker binding posts for bi-wiring. The speakers' published specifications indicate it is not difficult to drive, rated at 8 Ohms, and 87dB efficiency. This turned out to be the case, as the amplifiers I used with the Ultras barely broke a sweat.


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.

SVS Ultra BookshelfThe 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.

The Ultras provided an excellent framework for Anglo Indian folk rock performer Raghu Dixit. Indian percussion, acoustic guitar, violin, and a hybrid of rock and Indian melodies fills the music. The multilingual lyrics are joyful, and the Ultras captured the music's spirit so beautifully I could not help but get lost in the hypnotic beats. Goosebump moments, for sure.

Finding places where the SVS Ultra Bookshelf speakers fell short is a tough task. They were highly coherent, sympathetic to all kinds of music, and easy to enjoy. Incidentally, my favorite amp pairing was with the Norwegian-made Electrocompaniet ECI3. The only place I was left wanting was the rickety stock binding post jumpers. Seriously, that's all I could come up with!

SVS Ultra BookshelfI was able to do a few comparisons with speakers in the Ultra Bookshelf's general price range. Compared to the recently reviewed Opera Mezza, the Ultras had a bigger sound and a weightier bottom end. The Definitive Technology SM65 and the Ultras were way more similar than different; however, the SVS offered up more resolution and slightly better dynamics. The Polk LSiM 703 and the Ultras were very similar in bass performance, resolution, and image size, however the Polk had a slightly more vivid treble presentation.


With a proven track record of successful speaker designs and a direct-to-consumer model, SVS has a great product in the $998/pair Ultra Bookshelf stand mount monitors. The in-home trial period trial is generous and, according to SVS, the best way to audition speaker is in your own system, at home. That is a hard premise to argue with.

The Ultra Bookshelf proved to be a very fun speaker to review, as it hit all the right notes. Its priorities were definitely coherence and seamlessness in a good-looking package. The Ultras were, as noted, amplifier friendly and unfussy to set up. The Ultras have a big sound not often found in stand mount designs. Before spending a bunch more, I highly suggest checking out SVS -- you might just find that far more expensive brands offer little, or nothing, more. Highly Recommended.


Interview with Mark Mason and Gary Yacoubian of SVS

1) Mark, can you tell our readers about some of the tools used to design SVS speakers, and what your design goals were with the Ultra Bookshelf?
Mark Mason: Our most valuable tools are our ears! There’s no substitute for final voicing of the speaker in multiple environments. Canada’s National Research Council facilities in Ottawa allowed us to reach a high level of refinement and performance. Those facilities include an IEC calibrated listening room with the ability to audition speakers in an unbiased manner using the principles of double blind screen testing. We were able to switch between up to four speakers at any time during the test track. The anechoic chamber at the NRC allows us to measure frequency response and distortion of the speaker. Multiple frequency responses taken from many different angles around the speaker are then used to calculate listening window, frontal lobe and sound power graphs. Measuring distortion in a low noise environment is critical especially when the distortion is extremely low as is the case with the Ultra speakers. The chamber’s noise floor is below the threshold of human hearing and this low noise floor allows us to accurately measure distortion down to about 0.1%. Long before the speaker is ready for final voicing, much of the initial frequency response testing is performed in typical listening environments and outdoors. Cabinet vibrations are tested using an accelerometer located on multiple surfaces of the speaker. Drivers are tested using PC based audio measurement equipment.  The cabinets and drivers are designed, simulated, and optimized in 3D CAD and FEA software. Initial crossover designs were also created using simulation software.
The Ultra speaker design goals were to provide a high end experience at affordable price points. We wanted customers to be surprised and delighted when they hear these speakers… and very surprised when they hear the price.
Part of the high end experience includes:

  • Neutral frequency balance
  • LF extension
  • Low distortion
  • Dynamic capability

2) What is the typical time frame from product concept to final prototype?
Typical is about 9 months but the Ultra speaker development was far from typical. The entire development process time frame was just under two years.
3) Can you tell us about new developments at SVS?
We’re always developing new products at SVS I’ll answer that question by saying that new products are on their way.

4) What are some the challenges of selling direct to consumers?

Gary Yacoubian (President and Managing Partner) - I love the model of having direct relationships with our customers, and I think in many ways, it may be the future of high performance audio.  That being said, there definitely are challenges.  The first issue is that you have to earn the credibility yourself in establishing a new relationship with a customer, instead of the old model where a dealer recommendation gives you instant credibility.  This is one reason we extensively submit our products for reviews, and also extensively feature our user reviews on our site.  We know they are great products, especially when the reviewer takes price into consideration, and the positive reviews build our credibility.  By the way, we do not edit or omit any user reviews from our site, so potential customers get the unvarnished truth; good, bad or indifferent.
The other issue is the lack of the ability to demo our products prior to purchase.  We overcome this with our 45 day audition period, which allows the customer to experience the product in the best possible environment for evaluation risk-free:  the exact location where it will be if the customer keeps it!!  We think spending 45 days living with our products in far superior to 10 minutes in a noisy, distracting store environment.


SVS Ultra Bookshelf Speaker: $499 each
●    Rated bandwidth: 45 Hz-32 kHz (+/-3 dB).
●    Nominal impedance: 8 ohms.
●    Sensitivity: 87 dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz).
●    Recommended amplifier power: 20-150 watts.

●    Dimensions: 14.9" (H) X 8.5" (W) X 10" (D).
●    Weight: 19 pounds.
●    Real black oak veneer and piano gloss black finish options.
●    Dual gold-plated 5-way binding posts
●    1.7" wide-flared rear-firing port.
●    Cloth grille with pin/cup retention system.

Review System 1

CD Transport: Musical Fidelity M1 CDT
Server: Squeezebox Touch w/ CIA VDC-SB power supply
via Ethernet to MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate
external drives.
DAC: Bryston BDA-1
Headphone Amp: Pro-Ject Head Box II
Headphones: Grado SR60
Preamp: Audio Research SP16, Music First Audio Classic Pre V2
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Bob Carver Black Magic
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables:  Stager Silver Solids,  Darwin Ascension (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC), Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Shunyata Venom (AC) Element Cable Red Storm (Digital AC), DH Labs TosLink, DH Labs AES/EBU, Audioquest, Forest, WireWorld Ultraviolet, DH Labs USB(USB) DH Labs (USB)
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner,Salamander rack

Review System 2

CD Player: Onkyo C7000R
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch via Ethernet to
MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate external drives.
DAC: Musical Fidelity V-DAC II, Rein Audio X3-DAC
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh  MA6600, Electrocompaniet ECI3
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3, Opera Mezza
Cables: Darwin Cables Silver IC, Kimber Hero HB,  DH Labs White Lightning (IC),QED Transparent MusicWave (Speaker),PS Audio (AC), Mojo Audio (AC), DH Labs TosLink, Audioquest Forest USB, Wireworld Ultraviolet USB
Accessories:Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Sound Anchors Stands, Wiremold, KECES XPS

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