STUDIOSPARES SEIWIN POWERED STUDIO MONITOR (PAIR)
Reviews are funny things; the outcome rests as much on the reviewer’s expectations (prejudices?) and experiences (or lack of) as it does on the quality of the product so I’ll state up-front that I’m probably not the best person to review these items because I’m not involved in music production and these speakers are primarily intended as near-field monitors in smaller recording studios and home set-ups. That said, I haven’t found a review of these speakers anywhere and they so deserve wider recognition.
Seiwin monitors aren’t exactly common in the UK, in fact I only found the one seller – Studiospares – who have branded them as their own. I purchased a pair of these powered monitors last week and intended to use them as hi-fi/TV speakers. I took a risk as I hadn’t auditioned them first – but for £125, I would have used them as garage speakers if they turned out bad.
What you get
They arrived a few days after ordering over the Internet – within the very tight one-hour delivery timeslot specified – packaged superbly and in pristine condition. Build quality seems exceptional for the price. Two power amplifiers are built into each speaker, one for the bass, one for the treble, along with an electronic crossover and the power supply so I wasn’t expecting them to be lightweight, even so, they tip the scales at a hefty10kg each and feel indestructible. I wouldn’t describe the finish as beautiful but it is domestically acceptable in black wrap, wood effect vinyl (I think) with the front and rear panels in matt black. No grills, but that tends to be the norm with studio gear; these are functional items. An expensive finish on a cheap (and functional) product is worrying because it means money hasn’t been spent where it really counts. The front panel edges are chamfered and the drive units are neatly fitted. Rear panel inputs, volume control and mains input connector seem of good quality as are the supplied detachable mains leads. Even before plugging them in, it’s hard to reconcile the low price with the perceived build quality – the solidity and finish alone say £250+. Check out the (limited) specs at the Studiospares website for more detail.
I hooked them up to both a decent vintage Marantz CD player and a cheap modern DVD/CD player. I tested the speakers out in two rooms using different supports and sat both near (approx 2m away) and far (approx 4 – 5m). Before I go on about the sound, I’ll just say that although I know little about music production, I do have considerable experience in the area of hi-fi and audio reproduction. I’ve listened to more hi-fi systems than I care to remember over the years and my main hi-fi is a part self-built, three-way active system. Not new gear but it’s good. My preference is for a realistic sound although with a lot of recorded music, it’s difficult to judge what’s natural.
First thing worthy of mention is the initial delay that helps prevent nasty thumps at switch on (unexpected at this price and not mentioned in the very basic instruction manual supplied). Also, the volume control is full range, unlike some active monitors, taking the volume from silence to maximum. There are no ‘room compensating’ controls such as treble cut/lift etc. If you’re from a hi-fi background, you’ll probably feel that’s a good thing (extra circuitry usually has an overall adverse affect on sound quality).
Straight out of the box, the sound is good but not special (maybe 7/10). It’s unreasonable to expect too much of a 6” bass/mid driver but even making allowances they lacked bass. More subtly, there was something not quite right with part of the midrange – I’d describe it as congestion/restriction, like the speaker was holding back in some way. Still a decent sound though and I began to think ‘they’ll do fine’. However, things improved markedly after a few hours of music playing and the sound got better still the following day – I guess the bass/mid drivers in particular needed ’running in’. Perhaps they’re still not fully run in and there’s yet more to come, who knows?
How they sound
By now the sound had opened up and these little beauts really began to sing (I’m thinking 9/10). They do so many things well and will leave a smile on your face. First thing that strikes is their sheer impact and verve, sounding larger than they actually are. They’re very clear, transparent and tonally pretty even. The bass response is decent for the size/price and top end is extended and clean. Dynamics and transient response are a particular strength and at least on a par with my main hi-fi. Impact isn’t achieved by sheer volume alone or a particularly forward sound balance (although to my ears, they have a slightly forward midrange), it’s more to do with a superb sense of control. Really, it’s extremely impressive. In fact, on some well-recorded, non-compressed music, the vast dynamic range coupled with transient attack can make them sound quite threatening. I think this is because the speakers make you feel as if they have limitless volume on tap (of course, they haven’t). It’s not a feeling I’ve experienced since listening to a massive stack of active monitor speakers at a hi-fi show some years back.
Play the opening bars of ‘Cry Me a River’ by Michael Buble from the CD ‘Crazy Love’ (no, it’s not to my taste either but you can stop the track after 30 seconds before he starts to sing). Talk about impact! Or try ‘Green Shirt’ by Elvis Costello & the Attractions from the CD ‘Armed Forces’. That snare drum has never sounded so realistic!
To my surprise and delight, they handled most types of music with the same aplomb. I tried rock, jazz, orchestral, experimental and electronic. Very impressive. Vocals really work too – not lispy, not chesty. Stereo imaging was top drawer, even really close up, instruments and vocals were pinpointed in space between the speakers. I don’t know of any passive hi-fi speakers that can image that close – a bit of distance between speaker and listener is usually necessary – but then again, these are near-field monitors. These speakers picked out the sound differences between the cheap CD/DVD player and the vintage Marantz. By and large, they take on the character of the source signal and that is a sign of a revealing speaker. It does this at all volume levels up to ridiculous. My only regret is that I don’t currently have suitable stands to support them securely and at the right height.
The fact these monitors bear comparison with expensive kit makes them amazing value for money so the following criticisms should be taken in context of the size and price; for £125 they can’t be perfect and they’re not.
I don’t generally listen to music that relies heavily on a big bass sound (like D&B) but I imagine that any speaker with a 6” bass unit wouldn’t satisfy (could always add a subwoofer though). Bass is a little subdued, not as expansive as the rest of the frequency range. There is a little deep bass that helps create a sense of acoustic, or space/air, around performers but inevitably, it doesn’t have much impact. That said I didn’t have solid stands to support the speakers, which can make a huge difference (must get some). Positioning them fairly close (30cm) to a rear wall helped augment bass output.
If you really wind up the volume, the treble becomes a little prominent, it’s as if the bass/mid unit can’t keep pace with the tweeter at such high volume. At this point though, you’ll be plastered against the far wall! Finally, although stereo is pinpoint in a line between the speakers, I didn’t detect much depth behind the speakers. Perhaps this is because they have a slightly forward balance.
I’d love to hear direct A-B comparisons with established monitors of similar ilk like KRK, Adam, Behringer etc – maybe that would show up some subtle colouration I’ve missed? Interestingly, when compared with my main hi-fi, I would say these monitors have more verve, better integration of the drive units and superior midrange. My main system is a little more laid back, has greater refinement yet a slightly ‘cupped-hand’ midrange, punchier and deeper bass and higher maximum volume. It’s a close call overall which is quite galling given the time (and money!) I’ve spent assembling my main set-up.
These monitors are far too good for the sound recording community to keep for themselves – they deserve a wider audience. That’s why I’ve placed this review under the hi-fi,loudspeakers category (I hope!) – they’re great for hi-fi and home cinema. Simply feed line-level inputs (like CD/DVD player outputs) directly into these units and use the volume controls on each speaker, no pre-amplifier necessary (provided you don’t require phono amplification & equalisation). If you have several line-level sources then just purchase a switch-box (from about £10). If using the speakers’ volume controls is inconvenient (it is a bit), then wire up a suitable stereo potentiometer and a few resistors as a volume control between source and the speakers (about £5).
If you’re contemplating purchase of a cost effective pair of small, active speakers/monitors, you won’t be disappointed with these. In fact, you’ll be amazed at the quality £125 buys – value for money is off the scale. Unreservedly recommended (9/10).
|Studiospares Seiwin Powered Monitors (Pair)||