These days $500 doesn’t buy much in the world of audio.
Reflecting back on a pair of ADS L400s, that had a retail of $400 a pair back in the late 1980s, the SVS Prime Bookshelf speakers are indeed impressive. There are speakers with an extra zero on the MSRP that have nowhere near the level of fit and finish that the Primes offer, especially the piano black model. (which actually cost $600 a pair, a matte black ash finish is standard) Whether you want to fork over the extra hundred bucks for the shiny speakers is up to you. When it comes to hifi on a budget, I’d spend an extra Benjamin on a better amp or phono cartridge, but that’s me.
The Primes make an excellent showing with any source. I ran them through a wide gamut of music with a Paradigm MRX510 (2ch mode only), Simaudio ACE integrated, PrimaLuna ProLogue One integrated and a recently refurbished Marantz 2245 reciever. While all provided a different feel, due to the differences in amplification, all were enjoyable.
Elvis Costello’s rendition of the Burt Bacharach classic “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” from The Spy Who Shagged Me soundtrack instantly reveals the smooth yet revealing character of these speakers. A little softer when rendered by the vacuum tubed PrimaLuna and a little punchier through the solid state choices. Chrissie Hynde’s lead vocals permeating Pretenders 2 has the same effect. These little speakers do a great job of keeping fairly dense tracks well sorted. Of course those audiophile vocal jewels, should you choose that mission, will convince your buddies who haven’t heard of SVS that you spent a lot more for these speakers than you did. And that’s pretty awesome isn’t it?
Switching the faire to acoustic music is even more impressive. When playing Brad Mehldau’s latest, Blues and Ballads the soundstage created between the Primes vastly exceeded the boundaries of these speakers on their stands, going all the way out to the side walls of my modest 11 x 17 foot listening room. Mehldau’s piano is reproduced with timbre and texture – something you don’t usually get with $500 a pair speakers.
Pace and timing is also quite good on a record like this – the cymbals hang in the air with a lot of shimmer and the bass accompanying Mehldau has some texture and not only keeps the groove going, but goes fairly deep – a major achievement for a small, budget loudspeaker. Should you be a fan of more bass heavy tracks, consider adding one of SVS’s subwoofers, which is exactly what I did, being that we have their SB-2000 powered sub ($699).
Giving the volume control a mad twist, playing Claude Challe’s Select 9 had the house shaking like the time SpongeBob invited the jellyfish home to party at his pineapple. If you step it down a notch to the $499 SB-1000, you’ve got an amazingly capable system for a thousand dollars, and if a sub is not in the cards right now, I can’t think of a better pair of $500 speakers to put on your short list. Those wanting a full home theater system can keep it in the family with a matching center channel and possibly a pair of Prime Towers for just under a thousand bucks a pair. The crew at SVS offers a 45 day trial, so if you don’t like ‘em as much as I do – send em back. But I’m guessing hardly anyone ever does.
The SVS Prime Bookshelf speakers sound as great as they look. They are the perfect anchor for a reasonably priced, high performance audio system. Highly recommended.
And in honor of our first year, we are now going to start handing out a few awards and the Prime Bookshelf speakers get our first “Year’s Finest” award for 2016.