Topic: STUDIOSPARES SEIWIN ACTIVE STUDIO MONITORS (ST-6a)
STUDIOSPARES SEIWIN ACTIVE STUDIO MONITORS ST-6a (PAIR)
(6” bass/mid, 1” tweeter)
I purchased these speakers over a year ago so this user review is a little overdue but at least I’ve had the opportunity to use them in four locations with five different audio source feeds.
I’d been attempting to assemble a cheap amp/speaker combination, with reasonable sound quality, for a TV/music system and became disillusioned with the perceived lack of value from traditional budget hifi. So, after a bit of ‘googling’, I found myself immersed in a world of professional audio where I stumbled across these interesting little actives sold by Studiospares.
I’m not new to actives having made the switch from passive over two decades ago. My main music system is a part self-built 40ltr three-way active speaker system so I’m aware of actives’ capabilities.
My performance vs. cost expectations have been shaped by the hifi industry over many years so with the Seiwin’s selling for £126 per pair, I wasn’t expecting much. Studiospares have a good reputation and their description made them appear halfway decent. I was intrigued and took a risk by ordering a pair without auditioning - reckless really. I told myself I’d use them in the garage if they turned out bad. They’re not in the garage.
Seiwin are a Chinese company that specialise in the manufacture of pro audio equipment. Uncommon in the UK, I found only the one UK seller, Studiospares, who have branded them as their own. I’m guessing that Seiwin were extremely keen to get their name into the UK and that Studiospares managed to broker a superb deal. To my knowledge, this particular model (ST-6a) was the first Seiwin speaker to become available in the UK. Studiospares now sell several Seiwin active speakers.
We’re all aware of China’s aim to become the worlds’ manufacturers so perhaps to that end, their government subsidizes Seiwin in some way? I really wouldn’t know but I’m speculating because I don’t understand how something of this quality ended up in my living room for £130 (incl del.) - currently £141.
The Seiwins arrived packaged superbly and in pristine condition. Build quality is excellent for the price. Two power amplifiers are built into each speaker along with an electronic crossover and a power supply so I wasn’t expecting them to be lightweight; even so, they tip the scales at a hefty 10kg each and feel really solid.
Proportions are distinctly squat. The finish is domestically acceptable in black wrap, wood effect vinyl (I think) with the front and rear panels sprayed matt black. No grills, these are functional items designed for near-field monitoring in music production environs. They may not be the most desirable piece of hifi furniture so if you value form above function then I guess they’re not for you. The front panel edges are chamfered and the drive units are neatly fitted with rebated tweeters. Rear panel inputs (balanced XLR and ¼” jack), volume control and mains input connector seem of decent 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. Limited specs are available on both the Seiwin and Studiospares websites.
(Check the reviews on the Studiospares website – note the consistency of the comments and generally, unequivocal praise)
I don’t posses any audio measuring equipment so can’t substantiate the specs but I’m suspicious of one claim: Seiwin give the –10dB point at 50Hz which I would expect to yield a bass-light sound, whereas in practice, they have reasonable bass extension that’s commensurate with speaker type.
Initially, I hooked them up to both a decent vintage Marantz CD player and a cheap modern DVD/CD player. Most listening was conducted in two rooms using different supports. I sat both near (approx 1.5m away) and far (approx 3.5m).
First thing worthy of mention is an initial switch-on delay that helps prevent nasty thumps (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. At this price, there are no ‘room compensating’ controls such as bass and treble cut/lift etc. The input sensitivity, unlike some pro actives, perfectly suits the output of most domestic audio sources with 0.775V required for full output, evidently.
Straight out of the box, the sound was 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, as if the speaker was holding back in some way. However, things improved markedly after a few hours of music playing and the sound further improved the following day - perhaps the bass/mid drivers in particular needed ’running in’?
By now the sound had opened up and these little actives really began to sing (around 9/10). They perform well in so many areas. Not an easy speaker on which to conduct detached analysis of the sound because they’re highly engaging and keep drawing you into the music.
First thing that strikes is their sheer impact and verve, sounding much larger than they actually are. They’re very clear, transparent, tonally pretty even and very focused/controlled. The bass response is decent for the size and top end is extended and clean although not quite silky smooth. Dynamics and transient response are a particular strength and at moderate volume, at least on a par with my main hi-fi.
Impact isn’t achieved by sheer volume alone or a particularly forward sound balance, it’s more to do with a superb sense of control and coherence. Really, this aspect of their performance is impressive at any price point. On some well-recorded, non-compressed music, this vice-like grip they exert on music can make them sound quite intimidating, even at low to medium volume. At twice the price, I’d still be a very satisfied customer.
I played ‘Cry Me a River’ by Michael Buble from the CD ‘Crazy Love’ - talk about impact, then ‘Green Shirt’ by Elvis Costello & the Attractions from the CD ‘Armed Forces’ - that snare drum has never sounded so realistic!
To my delight, they handled most types of music with the same aplomb. I tried rock, jazz, orchestral, experimental and electronic - all very impressive. Vocals really work too – female vocals weren’t lispy or too sibilant, male vocals not chesty. L-R stereo imaging was top drawer. Even at very close quarters, instruments and vocals were pinpointed in space between the speakers. I’ve never heard another speaker that can image that close - a bit of distance is usually necessary - but then again, these are near-field monitors. If you have desk space, I can imagine them working well either side of a PC monitor.
These speakers picked out sound differences between the cheap CD/DVD player, a mid-range CD player and the vintage Marantz. Most listening was done using my Marantz player which is transparent and slightly forward sounding such that after an hour or so, I become aware of a slightly relentless, mechanical quality. The speakers replicated these characteristics perfectly, which could be interpreted as a strength or a weakness. For example, I connected them to the analogue outputs of a budget Samsung PVR/DVD recorder and they sounded heavy, dull and lifeless – had I not known, I’d have sworn I was listening to different speakers. Can’t blame the speakers for taking on the character of the source signal they’re fed; it simply makes them revealing, honest speakers. They appear to have very little character of their own.
My only regret is that I don’t currently have optimum supports for them. The best sound I achieved was sitting just under two metres away with the speakers 1.5m apart on a hefty, protector-covered table – probably more akin to a recording studio situation. They sounded almost as good on too-low stands, angled upwards and 2m apart with me sitting about 3.5m away in a 4 x 5m room. I also gave them quite a workout over 4 hours in a 100sq m hall where, not unexpectedly, they lost much of their impact and sounded ‘small’. Still a pleasent sound nonetheless that drew many positive comments from non-hifi types. I’d guess these speakers wouldn’t be suitable for any listening space much larger than about 30sq m, but if you added a subwoofer, it could be a different story.
In many ways, these monitors bear comparison with my significantly more expensive main system. This makes the Seiwins amazing value for money so the following criticisms should be taken in context. For £130/pair they can’t be perfect and they’re not. One of the most difficult aspects of writing a review is to accurately convey the degree to which a particular characteristic applies but I’ll try.
I don’t generally listen to music that relies heavily on a big bass sound (like D&B or dubstep) but I imagine that any speaker with a 6” bass unit wouldn’t satisfy - could always add a subwoofer though. The lowest couple of octaves are not quite as expansive/dynamic as the rest of the frequency range. There is some reasonably deep bass that helps create a sense of acoustic or space/air around performers but inevitably, it lacks impact. That said I didn’t have ideal supports for the speakers (must get some). Positioning them fairly close (30cm) to a rear wall helped augment bass output. Bass though has been clean and drone free in all four listening environments I’ve tried them in and upper bass definitely has impact in reasonably sized rooms.
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 the Marantz CD player has a slightly forward midrange/upper midrange? I should add that my main system also has little depth when using the Marantz as the source.
I wish I’d been able to conduct AB comparisons with other actives in their peer group or with a modern hifi amp & passive speakers as that may have shown up some subtle colouration I’ve missed – who knows. A mid-range mini system I have falls laughably short of the Seiwins sound quality.
Interestingly, when compared with my main hi-fi, I would say these monitors have more life, better integration of the drive units and superior midrange. My main system is a little polite, has greater refinement/smoothness 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 (maybe showing its age though?).
These Seiwin monitors are far too good for the sound recording community to keep for themselves – they deserve wider recognition. They’re great for hi-fi and TV use and I’m sure they’d work brilliantly with PC’s and Mac’s. These days, source components often come with remote controls which can be used to control volume (amongst other things) – saves rummaging round the back of each speaker to adjust volume. If you wish to connect several line-level sources then just purchase a switch-box (from about £10).
If you’re contemplating purchase of a cost effective pair of small, active speakers/monitors, you won’t be disappointed with these. In fact, if your expectations have been shaped by the hifi industry, you’ll be amazed at the sonic quality available at this price point - value for money is off-scale. Unreservedly recommended.
Last edited by dogfonos (2012-05-20 22:10:25)