To build a home theater, the user must give special attention to the sound. There's a love that goes into speaker selection, placement, and calibration, but in practical terms, there is an ever present question of size. Competitive movie theaters haven't thrived by going small, but even the most causal theater goer can be found noting a difference between loud and messy versus powerful and well presented.
Known for raising the standard with their subwoofers, SVS is no stranger to the need to balance size with refinement. Tapping into the company's engineering and material expertise, SVS has attacked home theater speaker design with serious gusto, while at the same time, always keeping in mind the importance of a subwoofer to a home theater. Amid all the options and configurations available in the Ultra and Prime speaker lines is the Prime Satellite 5.1 Surround System.
Within this speaker system, a single design -- an 8.85" high x 4.9" wide x 6.3" deep satellite speaker -- is used five times over. Left, Right, Center, Surround Left and Surround Right are all satellites. And even the sub, the 300w SB-1000, could be considered to have a small footprint at 13.5" high x 13" wide and 14" deep.
Prime Satellite (5) – The Prime Satellite is an 8 ohm speaker with a 1" aluminum dome tweeter, a 4.5" midrange woofer, and a 1" back-firing port. With the 2-way crossover, this all works out to a frequency response of 69 Hz-25 kHz (±3 dB) and 150w max.
The Prime Satellite has a built-in keyway bracket, 5-way binding posts and a removable cloth grill. The Prime Satellite checks in at 6.5 pounds and is available in Premium Black Ash and Piano Gloss Black.
SB-1000 – The SB-1000 is a 300 watt sealed subwoofer with a 12" driver and a frequency response of 24-260 Hz ±3dB. The sub has built-in stereo connections (RCA and speaker terminal), crossover, phase, and volume controls. There is a standby switch which can be used on its own or with the trigger input.
The SB-1000 weighs 27 lbs and is available in Premium Black Ash, Piano Gloss Black, or Piano Gloss White.
The satellite speaker, like its bigger brother the bookshelf speaker, uses a versatile design. While this review is focused on 5.1, add in two more Prime Satellites, and this system can go to 7.1 or even 5.1.2. At 6.5 lbs. each and with built-in keyhole brackets, the speakers are also quite simple to wall-mount.
The immediate question for the Prime Satellites involves size. Right off, the Prime Satellites appear to be powerful surround options, but that's really just the beginning of what SVS had in mind. Even after unpacking, admiring, and installing the system, I was skeptical of the Prime Satellites being able to shoulder the L, C, and R, load. I've become somewhat obsessed with the center channel's role in the home theater, and that left me wondering if the Prime Satellite would ever make sense.
I threw everything I could think of at the system to try to call out a flaw in the center channel. From blockbuster action movies to dialogue intense TV shows, I not only sought to catch the center channel letting me down, but I even resorted to blindfold tests. The results were impressive, in part because I found (as everyone does) that certain mixes are better with dialogue than others, but also because using the three Prime Satellites across the front makes for a wonderfully matched front soundstage.
One test I tried included 'Kingsman: The Secret Service.' The film on the whole is full of accented slang and lingo (and lisping), and it makes for a challenging mix. Particularly challenging is the dialogue in the high altitude skydiving scene, especially right before Eggsy jumps. I can honestly say that the Prime Satellite did as well with that sequence of dialogue as any speaker I've tried big or small. More importantly, the small speaker's ability to deliver to the whole width of the home theater and not just the sweet spot can be staggering versus expectations.
I'll come back to the center channel, but the key overall is that SVS seems to be going for a small form factor that could ape bigger speakers while being well distinguished from cube designs. Even so, to get powerful home theater sound, the subwoofer is essential. That's where the SB-1000 comes in. The powerful, compact, and sealed design reflects the SVS adherence to a strict subwoofer ideal. I've often found that sealed subwoofers have a tendency to go quiet until the volume is cranked, and then like many typical subs, the power thuds in. In contrast, the SB-1000 is quite capable of sustaining clean bass.
Popping in my Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics test Blu-ray and running the Subwoofer Phase check, SB-1000 had no trouble moving from 30 Hz to 80 hz (in 10 hz steps). The sub manages a smooth power band, and this is important when getting the most out of a mix.
The Craig Bond films are always a treat to test with, but they can almost be too good and too well produced. When I feel this uniformity become overbearing, I always end up putting in another Craig film, 'Layer Cake.' The movie and its PCM track are full of wonderful demo material, but the scene where Morty beats Freddy is one of the standouts. It goes from a very basic quiet exchange of words keyed by the hint of 'Ordinary World' to a full-on throng, punctuated by the backing song cutting in and out with the blows before ultimately taking over fully.
The materials that SVS sources and uses are meant to put much more expensive speakers to shame. My concern, however, was more in the realized performance. Amazingly, the Prime Satellite's 1" aluminum dome tweeter performance does lend credence to the idea that the design and materials have been lifted from much more expensive designs. Likewise, the tonal balance on the three fronts (always a challenge) and two surrounds is pretty exquisite.
Each time I changed AVRs, I needed to be sure that the AVR's crossover was in the right range. Hitting that spot ensures that the audio comes together, and once achieved, the results are without question a world beyond what the equipment size would suggest.
In a small to mid-sized listening environment (less than 15' x 20'), the SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 Surround System is poised and powerful. There's a range available here that tinny speakers and sub pairings lack. All of that uncompressed sound available in a movie's sound stage is able to breathe without anything getting crushed, washed out, or otherwise missed.
For example, watching 'Maggie' on Blu-ray makes for a zen-like audio presentation as each rumble and threatening sound of rain exists in the sound field while the characters are able to have their quiet discourse.
Another recent horror foray, 'Ash vs. Evil Dead,' can really work the speakers. In the show (as was signature in movies), evil has an array of sounds that come alive when the characters are either being stalked or directly being attacked. These sounds, such as the groan of a wood floor, the wisp of a swinging light, or the rush of wind, are the exact kind of modulating sounds that pan over the home theater to a tense but enjoyable effect. Getting to hear this stuff with such a high 2015 production value is pretty amazing, and having the kind of equipment on hand that can breathe such detail ought to give the listener that "man I love having an awesome home theater feeling."
Meanwhile, when entering into the frozen forest of 'Call of Duty: Black Ops III,' the combat zone can be bombastic and eerie in equal turns. There are enemy soldiers, mercenaries, zombies, killer robots, and walking tanks to deal with around each turn. In the campaign, there's also a trippy story to deal with, with lots of exposition coming through via radio calls and (yes) brain implant relays. All of this makes for a very crowded soundscape, and that's before factoring in the percussion. Again, it's a mix of quiet with all-out warfare. With all of this audio gymnastics going on, the tweeter at the heart of each satellite is not only wonderfully clear, but it also has an airiness that balances the surround action of an expert mix so effectively that the true position of the speakers is never given away.
The opening of 'Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain' puts the player in a horrific situation, forced to crawl and hide within a dark and sometimes fiery hospital. Unable to even think about fighting back, there are several moments when being able to crawl under a hospital bed or behind a privacy curtain or even among recently slain fellow patients quietly while avoiding the soldier teams that are sweeping these exact spots means the difference between success and failure. To deliver the tension of those moments where as a player all you can do is look, shifting the camera and soundscape correctly becomes crucial to the effectiveness of the scene, and I'd put the Prime Satellite 5.1 Surround System's delivery up against any 5.1 set-up in a small room. It's not the front channels versus the back channels, it's a 360 sound field.
Early in 'Mad Max: Fury Road' when the War Boys catch up to Furiosa, there's practically an orchestra of engines and energy (in contrast to the comparatively calm War Rig convoy), and this is exactly the kind of spot where small speakers fall short. It's also a spot where a clumsy sub pairing can make the audio mix's dynamic range seem like a problem. The sealed SB-1000 delivers gradations of bass that belie its small foot print without ever misbehaving with a rattle. Taken as a whole, the clarity and power of this $1000/$1200 5.1 set-up can make for a divine home theater. If taking the system into a larger room (larger than 15 'x 20'), the Prime Center and Bookshelf speakers become an obvious upgrade path. (A second SB-1000 would be worth considering as well.)
While the five Prime Satellites soar with Home Theater content, a stereo music presentation is not as much of a slam dunk. I can see taking two Prime Satellites to a desk environment and loving them, but in the living room, I'm too tempted to use the stereo DSP setting to activate all five speakers.
My preference was to keep the center Prime Satellite standing above the display and horizontally aligned with the left and right; however, I did toy with laying the center speaker on its side, which may be more practical for many users. With the center this way, I watched some of 'Broadchurch' Season 2, which like 'Kingsman,' is thick with tough to discern dialogue. The show is dialogue heavy, with characters regularly crying, screaming, and muttering in turn. I think this is certainly a viable way to use the speaker, but again, I prefer to keep the LCR channels as aligned as possible.
One more example that helps to illustrate how these speakers work is the halo jump from 'Godzilla.' After the chaplain speaks, there is no dialogue, and no monster sounds until after the team rallies on the ground. Instead, there is the guttural environmental sounds which lead into the MUTOs issuing a challenge that Godzilla answers. At no point in this wonderful sequence does the SB-1000 and Prime Satellite combo falter with distortion. This is only possible with excellent materials and well-crafted crossovers.
The current line of SVS products has a very distinct look that manages to be stylish without calling too much attention to itself. Gradations of black make up every surface, and so in theory, all of the SVS products cultivate a non-threatening traditional audio look with the lone qualification that the materials, surfaces and so forth have been meticulously finished. The Prime line is less pretty than the Ultra line, but it nevertheless maintains a nice standard. They bear no hint of a missed rough spot whether from virtue of design or of manufacturing. The logo itself is very sedate.
Within these shades of black, there is a spread of detail to discover and appreciate. Most obvious on the Prime Satellites are the angular bevels that grow from the base to the right and left of the enclosure's face. The speaker screen matches the isosceles trapezoidal shape of the face, which makes the speaker look partially like it's presenting a fully screened front, and partially like a full bevel design.
The SB-1000 is cuboid in abstract, but the four main body edges have been rounded off, leaving the sub without anything like a sharp corner. The full front side screen is removable. With the screen on, the front has a rounded shape, and the power light is masked (but visible). With the screen off, the sub has a flat front.
Where the style factor gets amped up is in the color choices. I chose the Piano Black Gloss finish on the Prime Satellites and SB-1000 even in spite of the resulting increase in cost. ($1199.99 versus $999.99 for Premium Black Ash). I had some concerns over the glossy finish, and when I mentioned to my wife that we would soon have glossy black speakers in the house, she was not thrilled. Fortunately, after I received the speakers, removed them from their protective soft covering, and installed them in place, all of our concerns were alleviated. Glossy finished speakers are a different animal than glossy plastic electronics. These SVS speakers are, as the name implies, like a beautiful piano, and indeed the Piano Gloss injects an enviable amount of style -- but without the shouting that can come with more garish colors and shapes.
I normally think that subs are pretty utilitarian in look at best, but the SB-1000 is extremely stylish. Rather than being hidden, it's a sub that adds to a room's looks. I'd like to use it without the screen cover, but it being on the floor at home, I keep the cover in place.
As is normal for me, I have no strong desire to keep the screens off the Prime Satellite speakers. A quick peek now and then is good.
With everything installed and in place the gloss can make the typical black woodgrain pattern seem drab. This gloss finish is much heartier than some piece of shiny plastic; however, if I were moving the speakers every day I would worry. In terms of dust, it doesn't seem to be worse than any black wood surface.
While I'm quite taken by the looks, both in terms of style and in terms of these items fitting in with everything else, I can't fault anyone who wants the system's performance without paying extra for the fancy finish. Just bear in mind that the in-person effect is at least as dramatic as the pictures. (And yes, those glossy surfaces make pictures a challenge.)
With every piece being so compact, this is a very simple system to unpack and arrange with help. The SB-1000 came double boxed, and though I opened the wrong end of the inner box, it presented little trouble. Aside from the SB-1000 power cable, no other cables or speaker wires were included in the package.
The $1199.99 price on this package is $275 cheaper than buying each piece its own. I also spied a 2.1 Piano Gloss Black package that was priced at $849.99.
If the SB-1000 24hz response bass seems high (I don't think it is), the larger ported PB-1000 is an option.
As with everything that the company offers, the SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 Surround System is covered under the SVS customer Bill of Rights (see here), which is quite comprehensive. There is a 45 day in-home audition benefit, which should let we finicky users decide what works, but there is also a 5 year warranty, a 1 year trade-up option, 60 day price protection, a 1 year new product protection, and more. I can't speak to much of this beyond the shipping and unboxing of review units, but the thoroughness is nevertheless impressive. At the very least, this seems like a good way to weigh a five Prime Satellite configuration versus a Prime Center, Prime Bookshelf, and Prime Satellite set-up.
The SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 Surround System manages to be that rare bit of home theater kit that is suitable as both a first serious home theater purchase and as a quality upgrade, and can also work in a space that is constrained either by size or décor without compromising the performance. The Prime Satellite works surprisingly well as a center, and can be bought individually to suit the needs of seven or nine channel set-ups. The SB-1000 could be the cornerstone of many home theaters, and together with the Prime Satellites, the blend is enviable.