The powered nearfield studio monitor market is constantly expanding, with products currently available at virtually every price point. In an ideal world, everyone would be able to afford the top brands, such as PSI, PMC, ATC, or Barefoot speakers, but most people, (and budding producers/musicians in particular), have more modest budgets. Nevertheless, they rightly demand the best bang for their buck, and lately the market has started to pay attention.
There are many brands catering to the budget market, such as Yamaha, Tannoy, Behringer, and KRK to name a few. However these days, several resellers also release their own brands, often beating them in terms of price. The question is, are they any good?
Studiospares currently has two ranges, namely the Seiwin and SN lines. They mostly overlap in terms of features and price point, with the most notable differences being a smaller 4″ SN model , and a larger 8″ version in the Seiwin range. All models have balanced XLR and unbalanced 1/4″ jack inputs, as well as a volume control. Neither feature any tone controls. They can of course be plugged into an EQ for any tonal adjustments.
These speakers are tiny! They are some of the smallest monitors we’ve seen, compact enough to fit into a large backpack. However, the size of these monitors noticeably impacts the sound as they do lack bass, both in extension and volume. There is also a rather large resonance in the upper mids that could be unpleasant on dense music styles such as rock or metal, although they would be fine for use in a field such as voiceover monitoring.
We would recommend these to people who may have their studio in a confined space, and who just need a small pair to monitor. But if your main constraint isn’t size, you might want to keep reading…
The SN5A’s are just over £20 more than their smaller brethren, so we expected a similarity in terms of sound quality and tonality, with some additional bass response. However, as soon as we fired these up, we all looked up in astonishment. We had to check the cabling to make sure we weren’t listening to the Genelecs! The difference in frequency response was truly surprising; whilst the 4As sounded their size, these gave out an impressive low end depth and quality, sounding big and authoritative. This impression remained as we turned the volume up, which is no mean feat for monitors of this size.
Whereas most speakers in this price range, (and really, almost anything below £400), almost invariably have resonance peaks somewhere in the upper midrange, these remained incredibly restrained in that area of the frequency spectrum, being slight scooped if anything. A broad but small bump in the low treble (6–10 kHz) tended to exaggerate sibilance in some recordings, but this sibilance was also perceived on the Genelecs, although more politely. Another nice surprise was the very top end (13 kHz onwards), which very few speakers will reproduce naturally at this price point. They might not be ADAM-ribbon-smooth, but they certainly hold their own!
One thing to note: although the SNs have a look and a name reminiscent of the classic Yamaha NS10s, the sound is in many ways its polar-opposite. If you are looking for that sound, you should read the description of the Seiwin 8A’s below instead.
If you are on a budget and are looking for smaller nearfields as your main monitors, you can stop reading right now. The features of most of the other speakers in this article may be more useful for alternative monitoring, but as a main or only pair these are the best in the range – and an absolute steal. They genuinely do compete with the Yamaha and KRK Rokit ranges and in some aspects, and in some respects they best them.
Whereas the SN5A impresses with its top and bottom end, these speakers are slightly recessed at both ends, being more of what one could call a “midrange box”. These can be very useful to check tonality in that frequency range, which they do pretty well. They do suffer from slight megaphone-style resonances at times, but otherwise they present the midrange of vocals, electric guitars, and strings remarkably accurately, which can be a struggle for many cheaper speakers that try to do too much at once.
If you are looking for a “B pair” specifically for double-checking your midrange, or for a monitoring solution for voiceover work, (for which these are a particularly good choice), these are as good as it gets for the price. As your main pair for full-range mixing, the SN5A might be a better choice.
Comparing both models to their 5 inch alternatives is slightly disorienting. The first thing one would expect from larger speakers is more bass, however this was not the case with the either model, which surprisingly had less bass than their smaller counterparts. However, they were both quite a bit louder, so if you are looking for speakers to be placed in bigger rooms or a bit further away (on top of a large-format console for example) you may wish to consider these.
The SN6A sound is more reminiscent of that of a PA speaker than a studio monitor (which raised some eyebrows), but they can be very useful in some instances. For example, they are very useful when tweaking backing tracks or guitar sounds for live use. The Seiwin 6A’s sounded much brighter, than any of the aforementioned models, which can be useful specifically for editing work – any clicks and pops in careless edits or truncated vocal takes are rendered very clearly.
The biggest in the range, the Seiwin 8A, is one of the very few 8″ monitors in this price range. Like all speakers of its size, these can go much louder than any of the above models without distorting or tonally falling apart. However, in terms of mere sound quality, we would also rank these higher than all the others, bar the SN5A.
In many ways, they are their tonal opposite; whereas the SN5As are bright and lively, the Seiwin 8As are smooth and dialled back on the treble. The bass is leaner, but extends lower, cleanly exhibiting frequencies that are almost impossible to reproduce with a 5″ diaphragm.
The more obvious difference is in the midrange. The SN8As seem to follow the “NS10 philosophy”. Whereas the SN5A might be considered slightly scooped in the upper mids, the 8A proudly projects them, making these very helpful tools when balancing sibilant vocals. Unlike the other speakers in this article, however, the midrange boost felt less like a resonance (usually a bad thing) and more like an emphasis of these frequencies. They sound wider at lower frequencies (1–5 kHz), and rather less tonally intrusive. If you need more volume and bass extension than the SN5As, we would advise skipping the 6″ models and considering these. Alternatively, as a combo, a pair of each of these monitors would be a great addition to any home studio setup.
There are more options than ever for the budding producer, and in many ways, there has never been a better time to start making music. However, it is always good to start with quality equipment, and these models are a good option for many.