What I most remember about Savant launching back at CEDIA in the mid-2000s was that all of its products were called “Rosie.” As a journalist covering the show, this was incredibly confusing when trying to describe the system, and I recall the booth visit going a bit like an Abbott and Costello routine.
“So, what’s this called?”
“Okay, and what’s this called?”
“That’s also ‘Rosie.’”
“Wait, I thought the first thing was ‘Rosie’?”
“It was. They’re all called ‘Rosie.’”
The second thing I remember was the fantastic, customizable graphics Savant utilized for its user interfaces and the promise of greatly simplified programming compared to the other main automation solutions at the time.
While I’ve kept up with Savant over the years, it isn’t the automation system my company installs, so I honestly wasn’t familiar with the company’s recent offerings. Sure, I breezed through their booth at tradeshows, and I knew about their acquisition of speaker manufacturer Artison back in 2017 to bolster their audio offerings, and then the company’s acquisition of GE Lighting earlier this year to enhance their lighting solutions, but I’d never had a chance to actually play with any of Savant’s gear.
When I reached out to Savant’s PR team for a question regarding voice control, they mentioned the new Smart Series system that hit me with a ton of, “Why didn’t anyone else think of this?!?” and “I need to review that!”
Our customers already understand that audio from most TVs sucks, so getting them into a soundbar (when a full-blown surround system isn’t possible or wanted) isn’t much of an ask. But what if that soundbar not only offered fantastic sound, but also featured industry-leading wireless technology to add surrounds and subwoofers for a truly theater-like experience? And what if that bar also came with a super cool touchscreen remote that also did voice control? And what if the bar also featured an integrated automation controller that could control every function of a modern smart home, offering a gateway to add lighting, HVAC, shading, and everything else? AND, what if it all sold in a packaged price that was competitive with a typical entry-level surround setup?!
That is the premise behind Savant’s Smart Series WiSA Surround System, which is offered in a packaged bundle that includes the HST-STUDIO55WS-SUR soundbar, a pair of SPK-SUR3WS surrounds, a Nano subwoofer, and Pro Remote X2 for $3000 (or 30 percent off MSRP if purchased individually).
The brains of the system — or what Savant calls the “Host” — resides in the soundbar. Savant says this Host is equivalent to the company’s S2 Host, which is perfect for smaller projects or “the person just getting their feet into smart home” control. Even still, the bar is plenty powerful, able to control up to 32 lighting and shading loads, up to six audio zones, up to four thermostats, up to four IP cameras, up to 64 security devices, and two door locks. (Larger projects could add a separate, more powerful Host and then make the Host in the soundbar a subordinate.)
Along with the bar, surrounds, and sub, Savant also sent a second Nano sub, four A19 smart LED light bulbs, a lamp control, lighting keypad control, and a wireless fan controller. It just so happened that my test room has four lights and a fan, so I was able to get a pretty good glimpse into automated living with Savant.
Also Reviewed by John Sciacca: Enclave CineHome PRO THX Certified WiSA Surround System
Unboxing the bar, Artison’s audio heritage and build quality is clear. The bar is made of extruded aluminum, which provides a lot of cabinet rigidity, and weighs nearly 22 pounds. The bar is a tri-amplified LCR design with separate 125-watt amplifiers driving the dual sets of 3.5-inch long throw carbon fiber mid/woofers and single 1-inch Vifa XT tweeter of each channel. The left and right tweeters are positioned at the outer edges of the cabinet, with the center channel tweeter centered in a D’Appolito array.
The bar is designed to blend into its surroundings and features no markings, lights, or controls on the front panel. Note that it is pretty wide, being just slightly smaller than a modern 65-inch TV, so it might look overwhelming if paired with anything smaller. For larger sets, Savant offers custom grilles that can match it to widths of larger sets.
The surround speakers utilize the same midrange and tweeter as the bar and are powered by their own 65-watt amplifier and come in either gloss black or white. They offer provision for wall mounting, as well as optional stands available from Savant.
The Nano subwoofer might be the smallest sub I’ve ever seen, but definitely don’t let its size fool you. At only 8 inches high and 7.5 inches deep, this can be discreetly placed in virtually any room, but at nearly 20 pounds it doesn’t chintz on the goods. The sub features dual active 6.5-inch woofers driven by a 300-watt amplifier, utilizing Artison’s Reactance Cancelling Configuration (RCC) to cancel any vibrations. While the sub features a bevy of inputs and controls, the only ones really used when paired with the bar are volume and phase. My only nit with the sub is that all of the controls are placed on the bottom, making them a bit awkward to access and tweak.
Both the surrounds and the subwoofer utilize WiSA technology to communicate with the soundbar, which features the WiSA hub. This means there is no wiring required beyond the power cable. WiSA stands for Wireless Speaker & Audio, and it is a combination hardware and software technology that has been around for some time, now supported by more than 60 manufacturers. WiSA uses 24-bit/48–96 kHz wireless technology to beam up to eight channels of audio to individually powered speakers with delay synchronized to within 1/1,000,000 of a second. In my testing I never experienced any dropouts, sync issues, or other wireless related glitches.
Once all the speakers are powered on, it is simply a matter of opening Savant’s Pro app (iOS/Android) and identifying and pairing all of the speakers with the bar. To adjust delays, crossovers, levels, and more, you log into the bar’s Web GUI where you can run test tones and make adjustments.
As a fully capable system controller, the bar includes the connections necessary to control any connected AV devices, and connects to the local network either via hardwired Ethernet (preferred) or Wi-Fi. IP control is supported across a variety of devices, and worked perfectly with my Sony TV and Apple 4KTV, but there are also two sets of wire terminals in a recessed cavity in back of the bar for connecting up to three IR emitters (included), as well as two RS-232 connections. There is also a mini-jack connection for the included IR learner in case a component is not in Savant’s code set library.
Brackets are included for both wall and tabletop mounting, but I’m a bit concerned that the Toslink audio cable — which inserts straight into the back of the bar and then protrudes more than an inch — looks like it might pose wall mounting issues. (To be fair, I did not wall mount my review unit, so this worry might be unfounded.) [Editor’s Note: Savant responds, “With thousands of soundbars already deployed in the field, and many of them mounted to the wall, we have found that the clearance provided by the bracket is plenty of distance for all wires concerned.”]
Bucking the trend of nearly all modern bars, this bar only has the single Toslink digital audio input; that means no analog, and (more importantly) no HDMI ARC. Via the Toslink input the bar can accept and decode Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1-channel audio, however lack of ARC means no lossless audio support for Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master, or Atmos. Also, the bar currently converts all 2-channel signals to all-channel stereo, with no option to play in straight stereo, or apply Dolby or DTS processing. The upside to that method is that music has a really room-filling quality as it plays from all speakers, but the downside is that all-channel mode isn’t suitable for any kind of critical listening. Also, some TV shows encoded in stereo caused voices to boom unnaturally out of the surround speakers. The current “fix” is to just unplug the surround speakers from power, which likely won’t fly with a lot of customers. (Or they’ll forget to plug them back in and wonder where their surround sound went.) Savant says a firmware update is in the works that will give users access to different options when listening to 2-channel signals, but they don’t have a date for when that will be available.
Beyond the digital audio connection from the TV, the soundbar offers native support for streaming Pandora, Spotify, TIDAL, TuneIn, Deezer, Google Music, Plex, and SiriusXM. If your favorite isn’t in that list, the bar also includes Apple AirPlay streaming. Savant allows the end-user to add or remove visible services from the Savant Pro app, meaning a truck roll won’t be necessary if a new service like Apple Music is added, or the customer starts a new subscription.
The Host in the bar can also distribute audio throughout the home over the IEEE AVB (Audio Video Bridging) standard. By adding Savant networked AVB amplifiers to drive speakers in other rooms, any audio signal in the system can be played out of the bar and audio signal sent into the bar could be listened to on any other audio zone. I told you this bar was impressive!
Configuration and Remote Control
Fully configuring a Savant system requires training and access to the company’s Blueprint programming software, neither of which I had. Fortunately, Savant remotely logged into the bar’s Host once it was connected to the network and completed the configuration for me, just needing me to make physical connections and tell them where devices were plugged in. The entire process took less than two hours, and that included a lot of Q&A as well as descriptions of different features or capabilities.
They did give me a peek into the software, and I was definitely impressed; it appears both powerful and user-friendly, and once programming is completed, it can generate a full system hook-up/wiring diagram that could either be given to the customer or left in their file for future reference.
While I found the Savant Pro app great for things like searching music and playing with lighting levels, no matter how good an app is — and the Savant Pro app is quite good — it can never replace a handheld remote for daily operation, especially when channel or stream surfing. The X2 remote really has great hand feel; with just enough heft from its full aluminum body construction, nice balance that puts the center naturally at your thumb, and width that fits well in the hand, and a magnet that pulls it into the docking/charging cradle.
The bottom of the remote is filled with 24 backlit commonly used hard-buttons (D-pad, volume +/-, channel +/-, transport, etc.), while the top third of the remote is filled with a 3.1-inch color touchscreen with sharp 480×800 resolution that is highly customizable. Arrange activities in your preferred order, select favorite channels, create and order scenes, select activities that are available, etc. You can even create profiles to personalize it for different users, such as creating a “stripped down” profile that just has access to Apple TV to simplify use for a visitor.
Beyond that, the remote incorporates a microphone and push-to-talk voice control button. Those concerned with privacy will love Savant’s solution, as anything said to the remote is processed locally, meaning nothing is sent up to the cloud. (The system also works with both Alexa and Google voice control.) This voice control can be used for activating scenes and activities, adjusting lights/fans, or turning to a favorite channel. In practice, I found the voice control a bit slow and clunky, and by the time I picked up the remote, pressed the mic button, slowly spoke the command, and waited for the remote to process and execute it, it was far easier — and faster —to just press the button.
However, when paired with an AppleTV, the mic feature is used for Siri voice control and I found this worked great. When using AppleTV, it was faster to search for movies or shows, open a service, use voice instead of the onscreen keyboard, or ask it to do things like turn subtitles on/off, and it quickly became my go-to way to navigate AppleTV.
My only gripe about the remote is its battery life; if left off the cradle overnight, it was often dead — or close to it — the next day. So, just remember this isn’t a remote you leave lying on the couch for days waiting for use.
I don’t want to get too into the weeds on the lighting control aspect of the system, but there are a couple of key things worth mentioning. The fully tunable smart bulbs allow for the latest industry buzzword, “human-centric lighting,” (also “circadian rhythm”) or what Savant calls “Daylight mode.” With this, the bulbs can be programmed to automatically adjust to different brightness levels and color temperatures throughout the day to mimic natural lighting and supposedly benefit our emotional well being.
Savant’s lighting has another super-cool feature called TrueImage where you can take a picture of the lights/room and then as you adjust the light level or color — whether via the app or in the “real” world — it also changes in the image.
I had four smart bulbs in my room, and there are options for making them all work as one group, making them all work individually, or pairing them in groups. I installed them as independent lights, letting me individually adjust the color and brightness of each bulb. My 4-year-old loved this and liked the room to be in “rainbow” or “mermaid” mode with different colors at each corner. This was also great for turning front-of-room lights off when watching movies, but keeping back-of-room lights super dim. The one drawback to them being independent is that, when turning them all on or off, you get some serious popcorning as they each “pop” on at different times.
A huge part of Savant’s control philosophy is using “scenes” to capture and then quickly recall specific house-wide settings that are frequently used. The great part of this is that scene creation is totally in the hands of the end-user; just set the room (or house) exactly as you like, and then add a new scene that captures all of the settings. I created an “AppleTV” scene with the lights all set the way I wanted, the fan set to low speed, and the volume at a comfortable level. Then with the push of a button on the remote, the app, the wall-mounted keypad, my voice, or at a scheduled time, I could instantly fire up the room and have everything the way I liked. (It won’t let you jump straight into a specific app…yet.) With a whole-home system, scenes could affect lights, music, temperature, etc. all around the home.
Related: Making the Automation Connection
How It Sounds
Of course, all of the above features would just be the proverbial lipstick on a pig if the bar didn’t have the sonic goods, but fortunately that isn’t the case. Vocals have a very natural quality and are nearly always intelligible. (Really, you can’t blame a speaker for some of Christopher Nolan’s audio mixing choices.) The speakers have a neutral, laid back quality that makes them easy to listen to for lengthy periods and at high volumes without ever sounding shrill or forward.
Since the bar is pretty much a straight-forward LCR without relying on any phasing trickery to try and expand or widen the soundstage, you don’t get a lot of information extending out much beyond the bar. The same goes for the lack of any upfiring drivers, meaning there isn’t really any vertical dimensionality to the imaging. This isn’t nearly as apparent when the surround speakers are providing rear and sidefill during TV/movie watching, but the constrained soundstage is noticeable when listening to music with the rears disengaged. You definitely get a clear sonic soundstage, with jazz players clearly positioned left, center, and right in the mix as they should be, it’s just that the left and right sit pretty close to the sides of the bar.
Two things that really impressed me with the system’s sound performance were the surround cohesion between front and back and the performance of the subwoofer. A correctly positioned, tonally balanced 5.1-channel speaker system can provide an almost perfect 360-degree surround experience, and that is what I heard from the Savant system.
Whether it was movies with aggressive surround effects like Ready Player One, Blade Runner 2049, or Inception, or content with subtler audio effects like Apple TV originals Ted Lasso and Little Voices or the Netflix series Away, I always felt the surround processing was on point, placing me right in the midst of the action. Things that are supposed to whiz or streak past you do so convincingly, but the little ambient sounds like room dynamics and outdoor space is replicated equally well.
As previously mentioned, the Nano subwoofer’s performance far outweighs its size, and the bass energy produced by these micro cubes was startling. Bass was not only low and deep, but also dynamic, punchy, and tight. Whether it was the texture of a jazzy double-bass note, a funky deep bass line, or some electronic pop synth, the subs handled it with aplomb. Having two really helped to smooth out the bass response in the room, and created a tight cohesive pairing with the bar. While the micro Nano duo couldn’t compete at the lowest octaves of a full-sized sub, for smaller rooms it delivered a truly cinematic experience with low frequency information I could feel in my seat, able to hit that subsonic bass note from the opening explosion in Unbroken in convincing fashion.
There’s a ton to unpack and explore in this system, which is why this is by far the longest Residential Systems review to date! And I’ve only touched on some of the technology and features! For Savant dealers, this surround/automation combo is an incredibly compelling solution that should be included in every client proposal. It offers an incredibly affordable price and lets clients enjoy great sound, while giving dealers a Trojan horse to add-on a host of whole-house automation features.
Kudos: Engaging surround experience; powerful all-in-one solution; gateway to full-home automation; simple install
Concerns: No HDMI connections for lossless surround/Atmos; bar is big; Toslink connector location; no 2-channel listening (currently)
- Smart Audio bundle includes soundbar, surround speakers, Nano subwoofer, and Pro Remote X2
- WiSA technology wirelessly sends audio to surrounds and sub using 24-bit/48-96 kHz
- Integrated Host capable of whole-house automation control (lighting, shading, security, HVAC, etc.)
- Soundbar LCR design includes nine drivers (six 3.5-inch long throw carbon fiber mid/woofers, three 1-inch Vifa XT tweeters) and two .75-inch silk dome stage tweeters; powered by 375 watts total
- X2 remote features highly customizable 3.1-inch touchscreen with 480×800 resolution with built-in voice control with Siri integration
- Decodes Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1-channel audio; 2-channel signals play in all-channel stereo
- Native music support for Pandora, Spotify, TIDAL, TuneIn, Deezer, Google Music, Plex, SiriusXM; Apple AirPlay streaming
- Inputs: Toslink digital, 10/100 Ethernet RJ45, 3.5mm infra-red learning port; Outputs: two 6-pin Phoenix terminals (3 IR, 2 RS-232); 3.5mm analog audio subwoofer; detachable power connection; Wi-Fi
- Soundbar: 61 x 53.41 x 2.40-inches (HxWxD); 21.7 pounds
- Surrounds: 29 x 4.84 x 4.68-inches (HxWxD); 5 pounds
- Subwoofer: 8 x 10.2 x 7.5-inches (HxWxD); 19.55 pounds