If you’re going to call a floorstanding speaker the Ultra, then you’d better have a set of brass balls backing up that particular claim. If you’re going to design it so that it looks like something out of a feverish Batman fan’s nightmare, then you definitely better have a set of brass balls backing it up. Still, this is SVS – the people who designed the frankly jaw-dropping 1500 watt PB16-Ultra subwoofer – and if anybody can pull off one of the maddest pairs of speakers we’ve ever seen, it’s them. After a month with two of them on either side of our television, we are convinced that while they won’t be for everyone, the Ultra Towers are easily among the best floorstanding speakers out there. Presence of brass testicles: confirmed.
Most floorstanding speakers are – how shall we put this? – a little bit boring. They are tall black/brown boxes with a few drivers on them. If they have one overriding design mission, it’s too blend into the background as much as possible.
Not the SVS Ultra Towers. To say these things dominate the room would be an understatement. It’s not just that they are tall, standing 45.6” high when most other speakers in this particular category tend to be closer to 40”, or 42” at the most. It’s that they are wide. Instead of dropping straight down to the floor, the back end of the speakers flares out, creating a design reminiscent of a flowing gown, or – yes - Batman’s cape.
It’s a dramatic and eye-catching design, one we haven’t really seen elsewhere in the world of tower speakers. And while it might not be for everyone – something we’ll go into a little more below – it certainly puts the speakers in a class of their own.
The reason the bottom end is flared the way it is is to accommodate two 8” woofers on each speaker, one on either side. The slight toe-out effect is to ensure that the woofers fire in different directions, which SVS says helps accentuate and sharpen the bass. The two low-end drivers are helped along by two standard mid-range ones on the front of each speaker, with a cute little 1” tweeter nestled between them. All business upfront, party in the back, although calling these the mullets of the speaker world is perhaps a little unfair - and besides, we like our Batman metaphor a little more.
These speakers have been available since 2013, and in all that time, it’s actually a little extraordinary that not one other speaker manufacturer, as far as we can tell, has emulated this toe-out, flared design. Not one. It’s an intriguing and occasionally revolutionary bit of design thinking, and it’s a shame that it hasn’t been taken up by the rest of the industry. To find floorstanding speakers that upend the orthodoxy in a similar way, you have to look far more expensive models, like the since-discontinued Beoplay A9, or monstrously expensive numbers like the Goldmund Apologue.
There’s also a 3.5” open port on the back of each speaker, which you can plug with the included foam insert – something we’ll talk about a little more in the accessories section. Ditto for the multiple feet options, which are an easy screw-in design. What is worth mentioning here are the multiple binding posts at the back of the speaker – two per channel, connected by a removable jumper tab. It’s an easy and intuitive way of wiring the speakers exactly how you want, allowing you to do things like wire each channel to separate amp channels, or to monoblock amplifiers. It works very well indeed, and is a mark of how much care and thought has gone into the speakers.
However, their unique design is also their biggest flaw. Because most floorstanding speakers have all the drivers upfront and at the top, you won’t see a dramatic decline in sound if you squirrelled them away on either side of your TV, towards the back. But because of the flare at the bottom end of the Ultra Towers, you can’t. The shape is just far too awkward. Even if you could somehow wedge these into place, you’d be completely negating the effect of those wonderful twin woofers on the side of each speaker.
What that means, unfortunately, is that these speakers will be serious overkill for anybody operating in a small space. Trust us, we know: we had these in our living room for a month, and they absolutely dominated the space. By the very nature of the kind of furniture we had, they had to sit slightly forward from the television, which was less than ideal.
It’s a problem. These are terrific speakers, and we had an absolute blast using them…but their shape and size and weight (a backbreaking 75lbs per speaker) makes them an acquired taste, and far more suited to bigger spaces, or to listeners with dedicated home theatre rooms. We really, really want to give them full marks for design, but we can’t get past the shape, and the issues it might cause.
Something good to end this part of the review off with: SVS not only offer a five-year warranty, but offer a 45-day in-home trial period to see if these speakers are a good fit. You can also put together your ideal system with their dedicated online builder.
Here’s something that the folks at SVS probably aren’t going to be too pleased to hear. They do, after all, make some mind blowing subwoofers, like the PB16-Ultra (full review here). But we believe it, so we’re going to say it: the bass on the Ultra Towers is good enough that you could quite conceivably get away without ever having a subwoofer.
Don’t get us wrong. We always recommend having one, because subwoofers are awesome. But with four angled 8” woofers pumping out ear-melting low-end, you could make a very good argument for spending the money you would spend on a sub on…we don’t know, whiskey. Beer. A Game Of Thrones boxset and matching life-size Daenerys Targaryen statue. Because at top volume, the Ultra Towers put out some utterly magnificent bass. It didn’t have the volume or sheer power of a dedicated subwoofer, but it anchored the sound with the deep, roaring low-end, and was a titanic amount of fun to listen to.
It helps that the other three drivers on each speaker do a very good job. For the most part, we tested the speakers as part of a dedicated 5.1 setup (although we did spend a little time with them in hifi mode, which we’ll discuss below), and they performed brilliantly. They delivered fluid and captivating articulation in the mids, with warmth and clarity to voices, and not once did we find ourselves getting confused by muddy and unfocussed sound. For the most part, their performance was top notch, no matter how violent or explosive the film was.
If we had one criticism of these, it’s that they lacked a little bit of detail at the very top. We never felt like kicks, punches, and gunshots had quite enough ‘snap’ to them, as if the puny little tweeter just couldn’t keep up with the absolute monsters thundering away below it. These impressions were magnified when we connected the speakers up to a Peachtree nova300 amp (full review here) further music listening. The sound was still terrific, but it definitely lacked a little bit of detail in the highs – and on occasion, felt a little sharp and harsh. It’s not a major problem, but it’s a puzzling misstep for a speaker that does so many other things so well.
It’s worth talking about the port at the back a little bit. The included foam inserts let you plug the port, which lowers the overall volume but helps improve clarity. We didn’t notice a significant difference when doing this, and for the most part, we left the foam pads out.
What we did like, and what we thought the speakers also did really well, with the sense of space and imaging they delivered. This is due to, we are convinced, the toe-out design to angle the woofers, but even if that hadn’t been the case, we’ve no doubt that they’d do a very good job convincing us of the place of the individual elements of the mix. And if you can forgive the slight misstep with the highs, which will probably end up getting fixed the next time SVS release a new iteration of these, you have to applaud their overall sound quality. In terms of floorstanding speakers, they deliver audio that in our opinion is beaten by perhaps only one or two other models in the same price range. It’s a very good look.
As mentioned, you get two main accessories with the speakers.
The first are the set of thick foam plugs that you can use to block the ports of the rear of each one. We had mixed results with these, described above, although we can totally see how they might change things up in different-sized spaces. Regardless, it’s nice to have these as an option, and although we didn’t get a huge amount of use out of them, it wasn’t a chore to keep them around.
What we did like were the various options included for feet. These included two sets per speaker of different-length isolation spikes, intended to not only elevate the speaker off the floor and reduce unwanted vibrations, but allow you to level the speaker off if, for some reason, your floor is tilted. While we never use this particular feature, the feet themselves were easy to attach and remove, as long as you don’t mind lowering the speaker onto its side. We couldn’t detect a huge difference in sound between when they were on and when they were off, but we weren’t too concerned about this.
The packaging for the speakers is…sizeable. There’s some intelligent padding inside, meaning there’s very little danger of the speakers being damaged in transit, but all the same, until you unpack them, you are going to have two very large boxes in your living room. You may want to get a friend over to help – something of a theme with products from this company.
In summary, these are excellent speakers that are among the best of their kind – but they’re not going to be for everyone.
We’re not even talking about the slight issue we had with the highs, which was mildly annoying but hardly a dealbreaker. It’s the shape. It might result in some truly incredible sound quality, but there’s no denying that if you don’t have the right kind of room, these speakers can be very difficult indeed. The imposing size and shape means that they are very difficult to hide, and they certainly don’t blend into the background. If you are thinking of buying a pair of floorstanding speakers, you should definitely take this into account.
Regardless: we consider these among the top three floorstanding speakers available right now. Their biggest flaw only comes about because their design is so unique, and we think there’s something to be said for that. If you’re the right kind of person, with the right kind of room, you are going to absolutely love these. They’re at a good price, too, at $1,000 each on Amazon at the time of writing.
And yes: they definitely deserve their name.
- Intriguing and creative design.
- Thunderous bass.
- Great stereo imaging.
- Versatile wiring options.
- Their shape restricts their use.
- Uninspiring highs.
This is what you go for if you want the absolute best on the market. There may be a lot more traditional than the Ultras, but they make up for it with glorious, block-rocking sound quality that absolutely blew us away when we heard them.
They are only a little bit more expensive than the Ultras, and despite their more traditional shape and the somewhat-unsightly horn, we really like the trademark Klipsch black-and-gold color scheme. If you have a little bit more to spend, go for these. And the III is coming soon, too!
These are, at the time of writing, priced identically to the Ultras on Amazon. The latter are definitely superior, with more accurate low-end and design that is easily more eye-catching. To be honest, the Motion 40 is kind of fugly.
But: the traditional shape means it’s easier to slot into most setups, and the sound when you pump music through them has to be heard to be believed. We still consider the Ultras to be superior, but these are a worthy alternative.
These definitely aren’t the best Paradigm speakers available - we prefer the 95F – but they have a comparable price, and with their triple-woofers, the low end is comparable to the Ultras.
We suggest looking at the above two options if you have a little bit more money to spend, as we think they are slightly better, but there’s no question that these are a great option. And they look superb, too.
|SVS Ultra Towers||$1,000||45.6"||16.8” x 13.8”||2 x 8"||1 x 1"||2 x 6.5"||20-300W/8Ω|
|Klipsch RF-7 II||$1,599||48.5"||11.6" x 16.3"||2 x 10"||1 x 1.75"||N/A||250-1000W/8Ω|
|MartinLogan Motion 40||$999||42.5"||12.8” x 7.6”||2 x 6.5"||1 x 1.4"||1 x 5.5"||20-300W/4Ω|
|Paradigm Prestige 75F||$1,300||37"||12" x 11"||2 x 5.5"||1 x 1"||1 x 5.5"||15-220W/8Ω|