I've always had a soft spot for great-sounding big speakers, like the SVS Ultra Tower. It stands 45 inches tall, and the cabinet has a unique, aggressively styled trapezoidal shape. Decked out in a gleaming piano-black finish or black oak veneer, the Ultra Tower projects a distinctly high-end aura; it looks a lot more expensive than it really is. The three-way design features a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter sitting between twin 6.5-inch composite glass-fiber midrange drivers, and mounted on the lower side flanks, a pair of 8-inch woofers. All three drivers are proprietary SVS designs. The speaker weighs 75.4 pounds, but trust me on this, it feels heavier than that; unboxing the Ultra Towers is definitely a two-person job.
The speaker has a large flared bass port on its back, and SVS supplies a foam plug you can insert in the port to reduce bass output. I listened with the plug in and out, and liked what I heard both ways. In the end I left the plugs in because they firmed up bass definition.
The Ultra Towers sound great played low, loud, and cranked way up, but the sound stays clear no matter how hard you push the volume. I admit getting a little carried away, the effortless quality encourages high volume playback. So when I popped on the Cream's "Live at Royal Albert Hall, 2005" concert Blu-ray, the sound of Ginger Baker's drum kit, Jack Bruce's bass, and Eric Clapton's guitar were as much felt as heard. It's the sort of sound you'll never achieve from bookshelf speakers and a subwoofer. Big speakers, at least ones as capable as the Ultra Towers, take the sound to another level.
"The Wrestler" on Blu-ray packed a wallop; dialogue was natural, the fight scenes' atmosphere and crowd's cheers all sounded great over the Ultra Towers. They're ideal for high-impact two-channel home theaters; I didn't use a subwoofer and didn't miss it.
Next, I moved the Ultra Towers off to the sides of the CNET listening room and hooked up our reference PSB Image T6 tower speakers ($1,298/pair). The T6s are pretty big, but smaller in all dimensions than the Ultra Towers. The T6s' sound is more than respectable, but the Ultra Towers are more transparent and dynamically alive. The Ultra Towers' soundstaging was more precisely focused than the T6s'. The performance gap only grew wider when I played a few high-resolution Blu-ray music discs, but not by sounding more detailed; the Ultra Towers' sound was just more believable and realistic.
The Ultra Towers sell for $990 each direct from SVS, and shipping is free in the US. If multichannel home theater is what you're after, SVS offers a matching center-channel speaker, the $669 Ultra Center, $599 Ultra Surrounds, and a variety of subwoofer options.