-Stately in Piano Gloss Black
-Good Balance of size and heft
-Living room compatible
-Good for cinema and music
-Mid-range driver in center
-Pricey finish options
-Large for a Center
-Rear ports can be tricky to accommodate
When putting together a home theater, many us of tend to get passionate about the minimum number of speakers we want. But where things are a little less predefined is the area of size. This is especially true when it comes to the mains. Will it be satellites, bookshelf speakers, or towers? After seeing what SVS could accomplish with a good-sized satellite speaker (see here), I couldn't help but wonder about their (not small) Prime Bookshelf speaker. With a sizable left and right channel, it only makes sense to have a corresponding center, which in this case is the hefty Prime Center.
Even with their proud subwoofer reputation, SVS appears to be even more proud of their 1" aluminum tweeter design. This tweeter is featured in the both the Prime Bookshelf and Prime Center, and along with the crossover design, it's a big reason why SVS speakers are able to be airy without being diffuse. For the Prime Bookshelf, the power comes via a 6.5" woofer and 1.7" rear back-facing port. The reason I'm calling out the measurements here is that these bookshelf speakers skew towards the large end of the spectrum, but the goal is really the same -- get good mids and highs while leaving the lows for a sub.
The Prime Center takes this philosophy a step further with a three-way design. The tweeter sits in the center immediately above the midrange driver, and a pair of woofers off to each side. Like the bookshelf speakers, the Prime Center features rear-facing ports.
In terms of cabinet construction, both the Prime Bookshelf and Prime Center feature chamfered front, left, and right edges. In essence, the top front corners are sheared off, leaving the enclosure with an interesting shape beyond elongated cube. It's a shape that should help with diffraction, but it's more obviously stylish. Both bookshelf and center models are available in Premium Black Ash and Piano Gloss Black. (There is no white option.) The units I'm reviewing have the glossy piano look. It's an expensive step up over the black wood grain, but the step up in styling is commensurate.
I like the blue metallic SVS logos on the bottom center of the speaker screens, and I prefer to keep the speakers screens in their protective place. Still, the naked speaker faces are attractive without being tacky. The Piano Gloss look wraps around to the entire back, where recessed five-way binding posts reside.
The Prime Center in Piano Gloss Black is $449.99, while each Prime Bookshelf in Piano Gloss Black is $299.99. The Prime Center is SVS' smallest center speaker and is also offered as the center speaker to pair with the Prime Towers. The Prime Bookshelf is reviewed here as front left and front right channels, but another pair or two could also function as back or side channels.
The quick specs for the Prime Bookshelf include:
1.7" Port Size (back)
48 Hz-25 kHz (±3 dB) Freq. Response
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 87 dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz)
Recommended amplifier power: 20-150 watts
Dimension: 13.2" (H) 8" (W) 9.4" (D)
Weight: 15.5 lb
The quick specs for the Prime Center include:
Dual 5.25" Woofer
Dual 1" Port (back)
48 Hz-25 kHz (±3 dB) Freq. Response
Nominal impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 86 dB (2.83V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz)
Recommended amplifier power: 20-200 watts
Dimension: 7.7" (H) 18.6" (W) 9.2" (D)
Weight: 20.2 lb
The impressive performance of the SVS Prime Satellite is what caused me to seek out their bigger brother, and that's really what Prime Bookshelf is. It's also as big a Left and Right channel that I dared place into my revamped living room. (I used the strategy of smaller bookshelf speakers, then towers, then smaller bookshelf speakers, then a change in room layout, then smaller bookshelf speakers, and then the Prime Bookshelf. I used small media shelves for speaker stands, and thus, my better half barely noticed the gradual step up.)
The Prime Center requires a bit more accommodation as its 7.7" cabinet height and 18.6" width doesn't make for a small footprint and needs to be at the heart of the home theater. The other center channel option from SVS, the Ultra Center has 6.5" woofers (compared with the Prime Center's 5.25") but is only a half inch taller of an enclosure. In terms of footprint, I prefer the four woofer center speaker designs as well as the radiator/woofer mixes. At the same time, SVS stresses comparable on-axis and off-axis performance, and thus the tall enclosure for the center is hard to avoid.
Likewise, a Prime Bookshelf could also be a good center channel option.
I threw a mess of multi-channel content at the Prime Center and Prime Bookshelf speakers. Everything from modern classics like Mad Max: Fury Road to recent favorite flavors like Yakuza 0. The sound of the staunch left and right channels integrates well into the living room. Combined with the Prime Center and the front of the sound field is expansive but adroit. I particularly liked watching Rogue One on Blu-ray while getting the benefit of hearing the characters argue in the rain on Eadu right as the movie is getting into gear. It's the kind of scene where characters are stealthily crawling around in the rain at one moment, and then AA batteries erupt in the next. It takes quick response and intelligent crossover to keep from muddling the score and ambient noise. This is equally important later as characters make their dramatic exits on Scarif.
With what amounts to a war movie, I'm supremely happy to hand off the low-end to the sub, but I can see those rare breeds who prefer 5.0 set-ups being pleased by the Prime Center and Prime Bookshelf speakers. In a more low-key mix like Hell or High Water, the accented barbs are as easy to make out as the gun play.
And taking in the barbs amid the tunnel-shaking exhaust found in The Grand Tour is another treat. It pains me to think that so many viewers might see The Grand Tour in streaming UHD while relying on TV speakers. Likewise, the 5.1 mix of Westworld, with its ragtime hits, ought to have a proper Left, Center, Right set-up to help sell its southwestern living theme park premise.
I'd be remiss though if I don't mention the desert locals of Venom Snake. Crawling around in Afghanistan, listening to the Walkman and seeking out lost Mother Base soldiers, it's as amazing as ever hearing a big cargo truck stop, followed by a few door slams and radio calls, and ultimately the truck starting up again. It's a marvel of sound design that the Prime series delivers with aplomb. It's only sometimes that I am reminded that the Prime Center could be considered overkill for a medium sized room.
I'll often take my digital music collection and send it out to all channels of a home theater. With a track like 'Ground for Divorce' emanating throughout a home theater and stepping from an intimate bluegrass to a bass-filled barroom, it's a pleasing way to indulge. The power of the Prime series gets some of its heft from the sealed chambers within its open cabinet design, and matching several speakers together means that I can crank up 'The Trees' without distortion or outright vibration, but even at calmer levels with the Marantz SR6011, the arrangement comes through.
When I get more serious and dip into my Vinyl collection, it's left up to the Prime Bookshelf speakers in a 2.0 configuration to carry the load without clipping. I've been getting into vinyl game soundtracks lately, thanks in part to The Class of new 'Hitman' and the Spaceland part of 'Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare,' and throwing something like Ben Prunty at these SVS speakers has been a joy.
At the same time, with something like Philip Glass, these speakers can uncoil the sound, and reach well above their price point. Still, when looking for an even bigger soundstage, such as with Broken Bells 'After the Disco,' I can see users deciding to make the Prime Bookshelf a back surround channel while seeking out something like the Prime Towers.
The SVS speaker rep is alive and well with the Prime Bookshelf and Prime Center, and these are easy recommendations for the aspiring but sensible home theater enthusiast. The performance outpaces the price, and the in-home trial ought to bear that out. Of course, these solid, glossy cabinets do require some generous space, and the Prime Center, in particular, seeks to dominate the top of the under screen entertainment center.