"Mr Anderson...Welcome Back...We've Missed You" - Agent Smith (Matrix Revolutions)
I was first introduced to the Seaton brand around August 2009 ironically at the time I had completed a return to HT and audio in general. As many of you know my system comprised Paradigm S6's, Paradigm C5 & Paradigm ADP3's, NAD M-25 7-Channel amplifier and lastly a JL Audio Fathom f113 for Bass duties. The system was beautifully balanced and very musical with a leaning toward the "musical" part of that equation. Invariably whilst music is very important to me it's movies that garner most of my attention and is the primary reason why I spend my hard-earned on the components I do. With a view to building a dedicated HT room one day I started asking "What speakers would I use in a dedicated room"? This inevitably led me to a few usual suspects - Krix, Genelec & Triad. 2 of those are passive solutions (Krix & Triad) with the Genelec being an active speaker. The thought of "active" speakers always troubled me because as a traditionalist, speakers must be amplified externally and I could not see past that self-imposed roadblock. Many Hi-Fi experts urged me toward active speakers for various reasons but there was one aspect to their persuasion that kept getting in the way - cost. Genelec speakers are nice and they have a very nice price too. Triad have an enviable reputation with their silver and gold series cinema speakers but alas it was the platinum models I was most interested. Well damn my expensive tastes when I learned they were $11,500:00AUD EACH! Far too rich even for my blood. Krix were an option but their cinema speakers would look alarmingly out of place in a domestic setting and WAF would be very low indeed, although I dare say I could have made it fly.
I needed another option. A speaker designed from the outset for Home Theatre, capable of extremely high, sustained SPL's, a relatively small footprint and in a monitor style form factor. And Active. That was a tall order and I had no idea beyond D.I.Y options what could possibly be out there in the market. Then I happened to watch Mark Seaton's interview on "Home Theatre Volume IV" - a video magazine produced to show off fellow enthusiast Home Theatres. At this stage I had only read about the "Submersive" briefly on the AVS Forum and dismissed it out of hand arguing that a one man effort could not possibly match or exceed a company like JL Audio who had produced somewhat of a classic with their Fathom f112 / f113 model Subwoofers. It was this kind of insular/blinkered thinking that delayed further research into the "Seaton" brand beyond an admiration of his effort. I doubt anyone would blame me for this limited thinking that when distilled essentially reads "how could a one man band exceed the technical prowess/knowledge/experience of any large company with years and years of audio experience" (And a proven track record)?
So sight unseen I took the plunge and ordered a full system in late November 2009 - 3 Catalysts, 2 Sparks & 2 Submersives.
For HT aficionados and audiophiles we have a natural tendency to first evaluate a speakers weight/solidity/fit/finish and equate that with it's potential audio performance. If a car "looks" fast then surely it is right? You'd be forgiven then when looking upon the Seaton Catalysts, Sparks & Submersives and thinking they looked rather insipid and as I've described before "utilitarian". Like a venus flytrap these speakers lure and dare you to look a little closer until you realise they are created for one purpose and one purpose only - the creation of sound without fanfare or the gossamer trappings of other high-end speakers we have all seen or heard of before. The Catalysts look somewhat like an F117 Stealth Fighter - all oblique angles and sharply defined surfaces. Their presence is unmistakable as is their weight (60Kg's). Cabinet fit is equal to the very best I have seen (Wilson, Bose, or M&K to name a few). The Black Oak is understated and quite neutral - the finish is not a tawdry high-end gloss but a rather muted unblemished matt veneer. If ever a speaker were the manifestation of a movie character these would without a doubt be Darth Vadar - full of veiled menace. So it goes for the Submersives - precision cut, mm perfect cabinets that have been carefully constructed by somebody that clearly cares about their product. As a perfectionist in other disciplines I can plainly see the same trait here. The ICE amplifiers have been seamlessly integrated with each cabinet - in fact they appear to "grow" out of the wood itself such are the tolerances employed. The Sparks (At the moment) do not come with a veneer option but are rather clad in a tough vinyl-like finish akin to PRO speakers you might see in a rock band. This finish is very tough and you would be happy to have them in a room full of children or running dogs and not fear for their safety. All in all these speakers are finished beautifully (And to my eye that kind of purposeful/practical finish is indeed beautiful) and would blend into most rooms barring physical size restrictions. Also of note are the magnetically attached speaker grills for the Catalysts & Submersives which are a stroke of genius. There are no holes to mar the finish of the cabinet. The grills are simply aligned and the magnets do their thing and they snap into place - brilliant. Score 10/10.
"I say what I mean and I mean what I say" - Al Pacino (Heat)
I will preface this section with what Fugeness over on Seaton Forum said to me via PM recently. He's had the Catalysts now for 1.5 years so has had far more experience with them than I have. However, before I had read his PM's I had already formulated the same opinion and started using the same descriptive audio terms to describe the Catalysts. Some of my comments may be controversial but then audio is an individual thing and tastes vary wildly. Here's what Fugeness said to me (Reproduced with permission):
Yes indeed, the Catalysts are gems! The active DSP makes a HUGE difference. The whole active vs passive thing is often overlooked. I've gotten so used to the active sound that passive stuff just sounds so slow and uninvolving to me now. This is a difference that grows and becomes more noticeable with time and experience with active speakers. I actually stopped by my local audiophile shop not long ago and listened to a bunch of stuff just for fun. I was surprised by what I heard - the same speakers I'd auditioned years ago now sounded incredibly slow and muddled. There is a reason why recording artists and motion picture sound editing/mixing/recording use active speakers. It's why I've been using Mackie HR824's in my post production studio for years. They come closest to recreating reality. I keep saying, once you go active, you can't go back. That is the biggest advantage that Mark's designs have over everything else out there. They are a poor man's Genelec, although in some ways I prefer the Catalyst sound to the more clinical Genelecs! The active/passive thing may seem subtle at first (you might need more than a week), but live with an active design long enough, and you'll see what I'm talking about!
At my meet last year, <name>, superstar HT designer, was joking with one of his engineers that it was a good thing one of their recent clients declined to attend the meet because they would have had their hands full trying to explain why they'd installed $100K Genelecs.
Integra DHC-9.9 Pre/Processor
ASi modified OPPO DV983 CD/DVD/SACD player
Sony BDP-S5000ES BD Player
Thor PS10 Line Conditioner
SVS AS-EQ1 Subwoofer EQ
XLR Cables from Marktech
PowerCon Cables (Custom) from Factory Sound
Dual Dedicated 20Amp Circuits
3 Seaton Catalysts, 2 Seaton Sparks & 2 Seaton Submersives (Specifications can be found at the end of this review).
Listening material - Music: Alan Parsons "On Air" (DTS CD), Pink Floyd - The Dark Side Of The Moon (SACD), Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms (SACD)
Movies: Bladerunner (BD), Watchmen (BD), The Incredible Hulk (BD), Knowing (BD), U571 (BD), Master & Commander (BD), Monsters Inc (BD), Lord Of The Rings - The Fellowship Of The Ring (DVD), The Incredibles.
Star Trek (BD), This Is It (Michael Jackson)
Movies are created to invoke an emotional response. They take you from the mundane and catapult you to another time or place. I found these speakers "disappeared" whilst I watched material. That is probably the highest praise I can give them. They did not draw attention to themselves, did not distract unnecessarily, did not have you second guessing their capabilities.
When you first turn on these speakers there is the inevitable image that springs to mind when in Back To The Future Marty McFly is testing out Doc's Hi-Fi system and the camera slowly pans back to reveal the GIANT Woofer. However there's no "power hum" with everything turned on, just a certain amount of anticipation. The Seaton Speakers aren't showing their cards just yet with any unwanted background electrical shenanigans. Utter silence. My first thought was "Are they even working"? Well there's a power light so I suppose yes they are! So after calibration, Audyssey MultXT EQ performed for 8 positions and the 2 Subwoofers calibrated via the SVS AS-EQ1 (20 positions - 2 x 10 different heights) it was time to test.
After adjusting volume to what I "normally" listen at (Between -7 to -1 on the Integra) and the gain on the Catalysts/Sparks set to 12 and Submersives set to 16 it was time to go (Master reference set and all speakers @ 75dB SPL).
The very first thing I experienced was fear. These speakers do not produce a laid back sound. As is my taste these speakers are very "forward' (Likely due to a humped Midrange where for me all the action happens in a soundtrack). And fast? Incredibly fast - they seemed to run up and down their available frequency range in a nano second barrel rolling and showing off their alacrity whilst thumbing their nose at convention. In audio terms this "attack" is relentless. A vast wall of sound confronts you but it's a subtle conglomeration of everything the soundtrack is presenting and nothing more. There seems to be a vast pool of unending power reserves they are drawing from. Never phased the Catalysts reproduce a crystal tinkle and concussive force with equal aplomb. They're like Carrie Fisher in Blues Brothers - all sweetness and girl next door innocence until you look down and see the M16 she's wielding! As you all know Centre speaker duties account for 70% of the front stage of a movie soundtrack. In a movie (for me) dialogue is king. If I have to strain or replay in my head what I "thought" I heard an actor say it takes me out of the moment and it's subsequently ruined for me. Let me say this right now - The Catalyst is the best centre speaker I have ever heard. Nothing else even comes near it for clarity. Fugeness said at one stage that the Catalyst was his "new" reference and I can understand why (And he was considering having a custom Grand Utopia built as a centre speaker!) . The dialogue is so utterly, unwaveringly, unflinchingly clear . It's as if the actors are sitting next to you. With many of the soundtracks we enjoy the dialogue is often drowned out in a cacophony of supporting "noise" which ruins the soundscape. Not so with this speaker. It anchors and reprocesses the spoken word like nothing else I've ever experienced to date. It's as good as a professional cinema speaker such as a Krix. It's that good. There is no other way of describing the sound but that of a movie theatre. Vast, fast, effortless, dynamic, full, rich, concussive, crisp & coherent are just some of the ways I can describe this sound. I've watched Bladerunner probably 200+ times in my life on everything from a tape deck recording, home made speakers, Horn loaded floor standers, electrostatics, drive-in theatres, M&K THX certified and Krix cinema. I have now heard things in this soundtrack I have literally never heard before. When Deckard is using his chopsticks to tuck into his trailer meal at the start of the movie he "clacks" them together. I have never actually heard that "clack" before until I watched it again last night. I thought I was hearing things. From subtle to explosive the Catalysts reproduce everything in the soundtrack. Is this the best HT speaker I have heard to date? Absolutely.
As I have said in my AS-EQ1 review the Subwoofer is the gestalt upon which all great audio experiences rest. The Submersive is my new reference. I had read everything there was to available regarding this Subwoofer and there was nothing I read that conflicts with what this Subwoofer can achieve. First of all the cabinet itself is utterly inert. I placed a glass of water on top of one during a fusillade of Bass when watching knowing and the surface remained untroubled. That in itself is quite an engineering achievement. So there are no cabinet vibration that will colour your Bass - that's important. The Submersives present a ridiculously huge punch that travels up your legs and down your spine lending a not so unpleasant sensation. These Subwoofers are not rampant, boomy, undisciplined beasts but rather represent (Strictly) the Bass information as it's meant to be. There is no bloat or overhang - they start and stop as required. Nothing more and nothing less. Listen to "This Is It" (Michael Jackson) BD and the chapter "Billy Jean". You will be stupefied by the bass line. It's as if you're sitting atop the kick drum itself. It's punishing, involving and devastatingly addictive. I found myself wanting to get up and moon walk across the lounge-room it was that engaging (As disturbing a sight as that would have been). Apart from movies this is the "best" musical experience I've yet had. This BD is positively electrifying and I am not a Michael Jackson fan per se! From the deep explosions of depth charges (U571), the deep growl of The Hulk, to cannon balls smashing into the deck of Master & Commander (Which had me ducking) the Submersives shrug off the effort required to reproduce these sounds with apparent ease and a nonchalance not matched by any Subwoofer I've experienced to date. In the sweet spot of 15Hz - 20hz the Submersives destroy anything I've heard to date except the SVS B4+ which it matches for pure output. As for control & restraint I cannot recall a Subwoofer even close to it's abilities.
As the supporting cast the Sparks produce (Albeit with less impact) most everything the Catalysts can achieve. Employed as rear speakers they produce a life-like sound-field and as a direct radiator are a joy to listen to. I can understand why some people are using them as LCR's. Larger than you would expect for a "bookshelf" speaker they are quite imposing in their own right. Weighing it at around 16Kg's they are rock-like and sturdy.
All in all this has been the best decision I've made regarding Hi-Fi speakers. As dedicated HT speakers they are unmatched in my experience. Are they the best music speakers? That is arguable since I have heard some of the best music from dedicated 2-Channel systems. However, I would very much like to experiment and have some 2-Channel experts evaluate them on their own merits (The Catalysts). I think they'd be rather surprised. Dark Side Of The Moon (Which is my benchmark recording on SACD) is an "experience" in itself. It's the best I've heard it to date revealing layers of detail that I have not heard before (again). And these speakers were built with HT as a priority? At $3495:00USD each the Catalysts represent a significant investment. When they are compared to the likes of "Triad Platinums" though they are are ridiculous bargain. My recommendation? If you love your movies or if you are building a dedicated room and don't want to be short changed then buy these speakers. They have a presence, clarity, punch, & dynamism that I have never experienced before in HT. Ever. Buy them if you can.
To Mark I can only say you are a genius who clearly knows what it takes to produce a GREAT speaker. This is an unprecedented engineering feat for the asking price. Many many thanks indeed for finally bringing home the true meaning of "Home Theatre". An incredible achievement.
A Few Photos:
SubMersive Subwoofer - (availability of in stock to 3 weeks to ship depending on finish- see below)
DSP Controlled (manufacturer only) 1000W ICEpower amplifier
Dual 15" sealed subwoofer.
$1,995 + shipping (typ. $115-135 shiping cost)
$1,895 each + shipping for multiples or for current SubMersive owners.
Black Satin - economy finish w/magnetic grills (3 weeks)
NEW real wood veneer options with magnetic grills
Black oak finish - +$100 (3 weeks)
Golden Cherry + $300 (3 weeks)
Red, Merlot, or Espresso stained cherry + $300 (Red - 1 week, Merlot - In Stock, Espr - In Stock)
Catalyst Powered Loudspeaker (3-4 week lead time)
Internally tri-amplified (1,000W-700W-300W) loudspeaker
8" coaxial midrange w/Neodymium magnet 1" HF driver
dual 12" sealed woofer
38" H x 16" W x 14" D
$3,495 each + shipping
Premium veneer options now available - Pricing TBA
Spark Powered Loudspeaker (3-4 weeks)
Internally Bi-amplified (160W-140W) loudspeaker
8" coaxial midrange w/Neodymium magnet 1" HF driver
Compact vented 2 way design
17" H x 11" W x 11" D
$1,495 each + shipping (typically $25-35 within US)
$1,395 each + shipping when four(4) or more are purchased together. (intended per customer, ship to single address)
$1,395 each + shipping for current Seaton Sound product owners (SubMersive, Catalyst, etc)
Note - I received the speakers in 2 lots. The Submersives first which cost $592:00AUD in Customs Duty/Fees (144Kg pallet) and then The Catalysts/Sparks which cost $1400:00AUD in Customs/Fees (234Kg pallet).
Thanks for reading!
Edited by BladeRnR, 06 April 2010 - 03:06 PM.