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Basic Overview of the SW-520:
Here is where the real tale begins. The problem with the S-520 is that anyone who bothered to put it into a better than budget system discovered as did I that the speaker isn’t just good but out-of-joint good. Better ancillary equipment translates into higher and higher levels of performance which eventually make the lack of bass all the more disproportionate. What Usher had on their hands was well beyond a high-value budget wonder. Might its few normal limitations be addressable? Enter the subwoofer.

That would seem the obvious solution. For some it may in fact offer a viable alternative to Usher’s own SW-520 but most subwoofers have limitations. They operate best when least heard. That generally dictates the lowest possible crossover point the main speakers will allow. Here it would work flatly against the S-520’s limited response. In my experiments with the Paradigm Servo 15, the optimum crossover frequency was at a higher point where the sub began to become audible. Ideally this would have necessitated a pair of subs for stereo bass. At lower crossover points, the Usher S-520 was also being robbed of the secondary benefit of subwoofers - improved dynamics and power handling. This required a better solution.

It came by way of Stan Tracht, head of Usher USA. He envisioned a superior approach to this challenge and contacted designer Lien-Shui Tsai. Thus the SW-520 was born. Their solution was to integrate the original S-520 as one element of an elegant 3-way floorstander in a cosmetically unified modular design. The bass cabinet’s height was optimized for a proper elevation for the S-520s. The chosen woofer became Usher’s 7-inch 8945A carbon-reinforced design, a proven performer in their well-regarded CP-6311 loudspeaker. This was utilized in a rear-ported cabinet to extend the system’s F3 to a respectable 38 cycles (at -3dB). The woofers were mounted inward facing to maintain the narrow width of the mains. The crossover frequency became a high 200Hz to bestow some dynamic benefits on the monitors but low enough that the bulk of the sonic signature would still be imposed by the S-520. This was to be a plug ‘n’ play affair as an evolutionary design step with guaranteed matching and guaranteed potential for superior performance.

As finishing touch Usher added a 1-inch cast-iron base plate finished to match into which screw four oversized brass spikes. Keep in mind that we are discussing a bass module for a budget speaker. Such details do not usually belong to a budget-conscious approach. One would anticipate that the amount of detail lavished here should produce results well beyond the ordinary.

The arrival: The 2-piece speaker system loan came quite literally together through a collaborative effort between Usher USA via JPS Labs for the woofer sections and Canadian distributor AudioScape for the monitors. The S-520s arrived via Purolator double boxed and sandwiched between a pair of formed Styrofoam top and bottom pieces. Each speaker came in a soft cloth sack to protect its piano-black mirror gloss finish. The box also contained clear soft plastic feet to attach to the bottom of the cabinets for further protection of the finish and to provide some vibration isolation.

The S-520 is a front-ported two-way with a 1" silk-dome tweeter and 5" polypropylene mid/woofer employing Usher’s proprietary Symme-Motion technology. The crossover uses air-core inductors and audiophile-grade polypropylene capacitors. Internal wiring is OFC copper. The rear panel has two pairs of strapped gold-plated brass posts. Cosmetics and finish of the high gloss cabinets are first rate. The front grilles are removable.

The SW-520 bass modules I picked up from the distributor myself. Each speaker was single boxed weighing a stout 71lb and protected by a combination of hard Styrofoam inserts and a softer foam frame on the top and bottom. The finish was further protected by a white cloth sack of somewhat thicker material than the mains.

The woofer bases have a tall narrow front to match the 7-inch width of the monitors and are 29.5 inches high (plus spikes) to optimize the listening height. They have a deep 15-inch profile with the top back edge cut back at a 45° angle from the back edge of the monitor which aesthetically makes the combination appear like a polished single entity and from a practical standpoint gives easier access to the binding posts. A flush-mounted grill on the upper inside portion of each woofer base hides the single 7-inch woofer. Fit and finish matched the S-520 and execution was again flawless.

Usher’s choice to add integral plinths to the woofer sections was easily missed at first glance but certainly not on first attempt to move them. The massive cast iron gives the design greater mass and stability and combined with the large adjustable brass spikes makes it considerably less prone to transmitting of resonance. There is real attention to detail here indicating that this project was approached very seriously.

The rear panel may prove daunting at first as there are altogether four pairs of gold-plated binding posts, with each double pair joined with gold-plated brass jumpers. Normally this would indicate bi-amping or internal biwiring capability but not here. The arrangement is actually simpler than it looks. Only one of the input pairs is wired to the crossover and only one of the top-mounted pairs is internally wired to feed the S-520 with a 200Hz-up filtered signal. One could run single or bi-wire jumpers.

This allows for some degree of flexibility in system tuning. Substituting different jumper cables can fine-tune the character especially of the S-520s. To demonstrate this, JPS Labs was kind enough to include some of their own jumpers and several lengths of Ultraconductor 2 speaker cable. This gave me opportunity to see the S-520/SW520s performance in an array of mix and match circumstances.