There are a multitude of choices when pulling the trigger on good surround sound, and chief among them is the decision between performance and panache. The SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 System has the arduous task of being a wholly attractive package without too much compromise.
It’s a typical dilemma but to our ears and tastes, the Prime Satellite is one of the stronger first-time systems around, but more so if full-on gaming and brand recognition are deciding factors.
Big things, small package
The Prime Satellite 5.1 is the first budget orientation from SVS, utilizing five identical satellite speakers — for left, right, center, and surrounds — instead on the regular-sized bookshelf, center, and tower modules from the revered Ultra lineup. SVS produces a complete arrangement that looks good. The soft edged body and cloth speaker grilles are distinctly contemporary to blend into the décor, and even add some acceptable flourish to a living space. The default trim is black ash vinyl for $999 but is also available in black (our tester) or white piano gloss — this hikes the price up to a noticeable $1,199.
Many of the internals are directly transplanted from the bigger Prime towers with a single 4.5-inch polypropylene driver and 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter, while a frequency response of 69Hz-25kHz (+/-3 dB) and ported design back up the 6.5-lb credentials. To compliment the satellites, the included SB-1000 subwoofer is equipped with a 12-inch “lightweight” driver, 300-watt PMS amplifier, and 24Hz-260Hz of frequency response.
A humbling setup
The setup is relatively straightforward but the installation was a decent refresher course. We had to take the time to get reacquainted with the uncommon compact satellite/large subwoofer pairing, and did it feel similar to the Monoprice 10565 system we had long ago.
Out of the box, we immediately noticed the ensemble has some separation gap, and had to be reined in during the initial phases. The quirk happened to be that the SB-1000’’s LFE eagerly brings anticipated power and deep bass to the aural forefront, but doesn’t naturally meld within the satellite’s overt crispness without some manually tweaking or dialing the sub’s crossover frequency right down the middle (100Hz). Our current AV receiver was a Pioneer VSX-1130 and did a good job of minimizing separation through its MCACC calibration, we’re confident that any other automatic tuning mode should put the overwhelming subwoofer in its proper place.
The quintessential extras
But if you’re a beginner, investing in the connections is also required. SVS was kind enough to provide us with a threaded 6.5-feet SoundPath RCA Subwoofer Cable, and a 100-feet spool of Soundpath One Speaker Cable. The speaker cable in particular is made of thicker 14-gauge (14AWG) wiring for better noise shielding and insulation for purity, guaranteeing that a clear signal is possible no matter how expensive your build is. It can be done cheaper, but the quality and futureproofing is probably worth the extra $60 spent.
Performance: Gaming proper
Before we continue there are a couple of things to take note of. Rather than doing the usual impressions we devoted much of our attention on playing video games, mainly to hear how well the Prime Satellite 5.1 handled itself. Admittedly, the home cinema market has grown crowded and companies are looking to diversify, hence one of the reasons why SVS brought out a budget system like this. In some ways though, the possibilities of gaming can often be more demanding for many surround setups.
For its role, the Prime Satellite 5.1 is pumped up and hardly backs down when things get loud. Even in a compact frame these satellites perform well above its own weight, almost like an acoustic sucker punch when playing Doom. The soundstage is equally expressive for other games like Uncharted 4 and Forza Motorspor 6: Apex, with an unrestrained profile that’s gleefully direct. However, the Prime doesn’t lack in composure, with an innate ability to replicate height channels that are often portrayed in films such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Independence Day.
The SB-1000 and its 12-inch subwoofer are a different kind of beast, it’s fantastic and feels right home when the action in Call of Duty: Black Ops III turns into a blustering calamity of bullets and mech hacking. It really does have a looming presence thanks to a seemingly limitless low-end that’s rich in detail. Aside from soaking up audible carnage the SB-1000 is probably one of the few subwoofers that matches the package, and delivers more than enough dynamic oomph as a whole.
The Prime Satellite is a surround powerhouse, but one of the undeniable weaknesses of this package is in the music department. We believe that SVS didn’t fully intend this for stereo, and it can be heard in Alana Davis’s “32 Flavors” as tonal balance and rhythmic guitar strokes came off as lean and too bright during our listening tests. But if you want to enjoy the magnificence of stereo tracks, you’re probably looking at Bower & Wilkins, ELAC, and larger offerings from SVS anyways.
I’d like to think that SVS conceived the Prime Satellite 5.1 similar to how popcorn blockbusters and AAA video games are produced: Obtuse, blunt, and enveloping where it counts. Actually, I’m quite fond of this system in a different way because it’s about intensifying the experience beyond home theater, in an ecstatic effort to attract the gaming collective. Besides, if you’re going to engage in loud first-person shooters or fiercely comedic bouts of Super Smash Bros. you might as well do it right.