[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=51698&w=s[/img]PreSonus Sceptre S8 CoActual Powered Studio Monitor Review for Home Theater Use
PreSonus Sceptre S8: $749.95 each
PreSonus Sceptre S6: $599.95 each
by Wayne Myers
PreSonus is not a company one normally thinks of for home theater gear. The 20-year-old Baton Rouge, Louisiana company, was once known mainly for audio interfaces and mic preamps for semi-pro and home studios, but now they make mixers, signal processors, recording software, studio and sound reinforcement gear, and studio monitors.
The S6 and S8 Studio Monitors caught my attention recently as an innovative design that might have interesting implications for home theaters. I contacted PreSonus with a review of the larger and S8 monitor in mind for home theater use, and in no time a pair was at my door.
Time, space, matter, and energy, the building blocks of existence as we know it, are addressed in the simplest way possible in the S6 and S8. Keeping it all in perspective, we are talking about loudspeakers here. But the 2-way coaxial design - CoActual, in PreSonus terms - is a true point-source speaker system, in spacial terms an ideal sound radiator, a natural for generating pinpoint imaging and a convincing, cohesive soundstage. The compact design also respects the space one has to work with in a medium or small room. The design is time aligned to ensure delivery of a sonic wave front with absolute simultaneity across its bandwidth, and that time alignment holds true across a wide range of listening angles without lobing issues inherent in non-coaxial designs. The horn-loaded compression driver delivers mid and high frequencies within a controlled dispersion pattern, directing that energy into the listening area in a way that enhances dynamics and impact and minimizes room interaction and placement issues. The naturally focused imaging also contributes to the energetic impact of soundstage from the S6 / S8.
The S6 / S8 design approach seemed elegant in so many ways that I could see it being a problem solver in the home theater world. Designed for midfield and nearfield monitoring in studios and mixing rooms, and finding its way into mastering rooms, it was easy for me to imagine them as home theater surrounds and even mains if they did their job well.
The S8 that I reviewed makes use of an 8-inch midrange / bass driver in a tuned cabinet. The front panel tuning port makes the S8 a candidate for being situated close to walls with minimal boominess. The coaxial tweeter is a 1-inch horn loaded transducer with true coaxial alignment. Onboard DSP provides temporal equalization with multiple FIR filters, overcoming problems that have plagued similar designs historically. Ninety watts of Class D amplification per transducer, 180 watts total, is built into each enclosure.
The S6 and S8 make use of DSP technology from Fulcrum Acoustics, and their trademarked TQ Temporal Equalization Algorithms, to overcome the compromises inherent to placing a horn coaxially within a mid-range driver, eliminating horn reflections and correcting linear time and amplitude anomalies. The design of the drivers and TQ algorithm settings were derived together to provide an optimized sonic delivery system. The DSP system operates at 32b / 96kHz,
With balanced inputs, RF shielding, current output limiting, over-temperature protection, variable high-pass filtering, and high- and low-frequency shelving adjustments to help the end user adapt S8 to his space and situation, the S8 is ready to pull out of the carton and put to work. The black vinyl laminated MDF enclosure is simple, but also not hard on the eyes, like a compact workhorse that you will not mind being noticed because you know how impressive its performance will be. The specs and output capabilities indicate that the S8 can deliver continuous SPL of 102 dB and peak SPL of 116 dB at 1 meter, easily supporting Dolby reference level settings.
Link to the PreSonus Sceptre S6/S8 Web Page.
Specifications and Measurements
Associated Review Equipment
I started out with the S8 in two-channel mode so I could really get familiar with its characteristics. Knowing from experience that a speaker that allows a wide range of setup possibilities can still demand careful placement for it to perform at its best, I was lucky to get a first listen to the S8 that was almost as good as any I would hear. One thing was obvious, though, the bass was a little soft and mushy, possibly indicating the enclosures would benefit from solid anchoring.
It took awhile to get that SS&I back while refining their positioning somewhat. Once achieved, with each S8 seated on enough mass to absorb its vibrations, I used poster mounting putty to anchor them in place.
That accomplished, the SS&I were again first-rate and the bass tightened right up. This positioning was so satisfying that it served for two-channel evaluation and as the mains of my 5.1 system during the evaluation. It was hard to get myself to move them in order to complete other parts of the review. Sub integration was also very good, including freedom from localization issues. A custom synthesized “walking bass line” track helped verify this.
The horn-loaded compression tweeters are definitely the centerpiece of the S8 design, both physically, of course, and sonically. Horns that are highly directive have a way of beaming at you, almost like forcing their will upon you, with a near-complete erasure of room effects and an in-your-face presentation, not necessarily a negative, just a way of approaching speaker design. The S8 has a broader, gentler directivity which feels more like being invited into the sonic presentation rather than having it imposed. In a home theater application with a number of listening positions to be covered, this degree of directivity seems an ideal balance of room effect elimination while providing even frequency response coverage across a broad listening area.
When listening for it, there were a few times I thought I did detect a tiny amount of horn sound in the delivery, but when I relaxed to enjoy the music, this never caught my attention, so it was probably my own expectations at work upon my imagination. The horns simply do not sound like horns, the whole idea of a well-executed design. The coaxial - or Co-Actual - drivers, with that 32b / 96kHz DSP support, acted as one, giving no indication that there had ever been any kind of issue to resolve with their integration.
Mids and high frequencies were admirably clean. Delivery across the entire frequency band was quick, tight, responsive, and with the S8 properly anchored, there was not a single flabby note or sound from them.
Their voicing, as one would expect from their breeding, is very flat and neutral. I used Dirac Live, by way of the miniDSP nanoAVR DL, as the polishing tool for the 5.1 surround system. My favored target curve added about 2 dB of bass in the lowest range and a 1 dB lift over a one-octave band centered at about 1.5 kHz, rolling off about 2 dB at 10 kHz. The change in voicing was barely noticeable, but added a little liveliness to the two-channel presentation and brought out dialogue in home theater mode.
The combination of the S8 as Left and Right mains, with phantom center channel, and a pair of very small two-way bookshelves for surrounds, with timing and impulse response polished by Dirac Live, yielded a finely integrated 5.1 system, including integration of the single subwoofer.
I also heard what the S8 could do in a pure two-channel configuration, with music server feeding directly into a DAC (two different DACs were tried) with no EQ or room correction. It was clear that the S8 themselves benefit very little from room correction, the tie-in with surrounds being an an area that did benefit from DRC application.
My first in-depth evaluation tracks were the 2013 surround mix of Yes's Close To The Edge. I had listened to this months before with an initial 5.1 setup, far from finely tuned, and had not been impressed. Now I was absolutely enthralled.
The point-source speakers in this setup tend to give a soundstage that is somewhat restricted to the horizontal listening plane, without much height information, as is often experienced with tower speakers. Absolutely nothing is lost from the experience, however, as the result is if anything more focused and cohesive. Every sound had a pinpoint source in that two dimensional listening plane, and the dynamics and detail were more focused as well. Add to all that the quickness and a sense of refinement in the upper mids and high frequencies as delivered by the S8 tweeters, and I was reminded of glitter, with every little sound in the mix a point of sparkle deserving one-on-one attention to fully appreciate all it had to offer. I am prone to a lot of jumping around between tracks during review evaluations like this, but this album got three beginning-to-end plays.
Awaken, from Yes's Going For The One, was another delight, and the closing passages, with pipe organ, choir, soaring steel guitar, and heavy bass and drum backup, seemed to invite putting the S8 to a volume test. I gave them a healthy push, expecting to get some indication that I should hold back a little, but they would not hear of it. Calculations showed a delivery of 94 dB at 1 meter average, 92 dB at the LP, with peaks at 107dB and 105 dB respectively. The S8 seemed eager to give more, as their specs suggest, and feeling adventuresome I reran that passage pushing the volume 4 dB (2.5x the power level) higher. It was clear that my ears were going to give out before the S8 ever ran out of gas in this configuration, and I decided the wiser course was to concede the match. I will add that the sense of refinement I had noted in the tweeter range from the S8 showed no signs of diminishing or weakening at higher volumes.
Paying particular attention to percussion, the S8 were snappy and tight, perhaps not quite what one might expect from a ribbon or electrostatic, but close to it.
Civil Wars, on their Civil Wars album, vocals seemed to receive a little emphasis around 200 Hz, and guitar and vocal sounds had a very nice sense of inner detail.
Sheffield Labs, Drive, Slipping Away by James Newton Howard, and Drum Improv by Jim Keltner, all percussive sounds had a sharp, crisp attack.
Home Theater Evaluation
I started out with an old favorite, The Fifth Element. Dialogue stood out loud and clear, a little enhanced by that 1 DB midrange lift, and greatly enhanced by the clarity of the SS&I. This and all of my movie listening was done at reference level, and the S8 were never challenged in the least having to work at that level with gunshots, explosions, deep sound effects, or anything else that came their way.
I watched the first 40 minutes of Wall-E, almost entirely free of dialogue, except for Ben Burtt's sound-designed voices of two robots and a cockroach. I marvel at the degree of shear, delightful engagement passed over buy home cinema owners who do not insist upon coaxing the most precise SS&I possible from their systems. The life-like realism of this delivery drew me into that 40 minutes completely. I imagined a home theater system made up of S8 Main and Center, with S6 for surrounds, with proper subwoofer support, the delightful precision of SS&I that would result with minimal care and broad placement flexibility, and it seemed almost a no-brainer, especially for a medium- or smaller-sized room.
Blade Runner, The Director's Cut. Cinema mixing has changed a lot since 1982. Dialogue in this classic, rather than competing against sound effects, had to stand out from music and ambiance, a somewhat different challenge. Again the clarity of imaging and soundstage separation helped keep the dialogue accessible.
Porcupine Tree, Anesthetize, 5.1 concert video, and Muse, Live at Rome Olympic Stadium, another 5.1 concert video. These concert videos, especially the Muse, allowed the S8 to once again show their ability to draw the listener into the natural soundstage of the mix being played back. The sound and feel of Rome's Olympic Stadium, expertly preserved in this mix, made me feel like one of that vast crowd, only with a much better vantage point. I listened to half of this video with the S8 in their original listening setup, then moved them closer to the wall to finish listening there.
Positioned Against The Wall
Most conventional speakers, even well-designed models, simply do not sound very good when situated against the front wall of the listening room. I was confident that the horn would put the S8 in the category of speakers that perform well at that location.
The S8 were placed close to the wall with a 4-inch gap behind them, the minimum space needed to allow for cable connectors, and were toed in enough to aim directly at the LP. Right-angle connectors are available for XLR, TRS, and power connections, and would cut that gap down by about one-half, but there will always be a need to access the rear-mounted power switch, if not the acoustical tuning controls, on the back of the S8.
The first thing I noticed after moving the S8 next to the wall was the natural room gain at low frequencies. The built-in equalization helped control it, but it seemed difficult to completely tame the boomy kick drums on tracks from the Atoms For Peace Amok album. Next to the wall in my room, which has no bass traps or extra LF absorption, the underdamped resonance of the S8 woofer was ringing enough to stand out - clearly more a room treatment problem than a speaker design problem. The low percussion seemed a little mushier than it had been with the speakers out in the room where they started out. I had been spoiled by the tightness of the low frequencies in that former setup.
The situation provided a good opportunity to experiment with the low frequency controls built into the S8. Room modes being what they are, even the extensive high-pass filter and low-frequency shelving options could not quite tame the looseness of the low end. The deep, strong kick drum sound accentuated the challenge.
Switching to Broken Bells, tracks from After The Disco, with a more reasonable tonality range to control, I settled on the LF shelving filter 2 notches down from maximum (-3 dB) as my favorite setting. Along with the bass management of my AVR, this provided the right tone with minimum boominess.
Finishing off the Muse concert video, another challenge was presented. That happy medium of controlled directivity in the horn design of the S8 seemed to allow a little too much of the room sound to impinge upon the ambiant quality of the mix, and there almost seemed to be a competition between the sound of the mix and the sound of the room to dominate the ambiant nature of the listening environment. Remembering that the S8 design is primarily for midfield and near field monitoring, I concluded that the best use of the S8 in a home theater would be in a medium- to small-sized room where they stayed closer to the listener. This had been my hypothesis all along, confirmed by this portion of the listening test.
Applying Dirac Live again managed to re-emphasize the influence of the horn directivity somewhat, tilting the outcome of that competition back in favor of the horn design. I was able to rejoin the crowd at Rome Olympic Stadium for the rest of the concert.
Recognizing that the room was to blame for the difficulties situated so close to the wall, and appreciating the tremendous flexibility provided in the high-pass and shelving filters built into the S8, I must say that few speakers provide tools so readily available to tailor their characteristics to room position. The home theater user with this kind of setup in mind will quickly appreciate having those controls at his beck and call. Room treatment - tuned bass traps - would help tame the boominess that would not succumb to tuning controls alone.
As mentioned, I definitely preferred the S8 being closer to the LP. Their ability to involve you in the natural sound of the recording excelled there. Also note that more directive horns virtually lock the imaging in place in the room. The gentler directivity of the S8 will not accomplish this. Moving seat-to-seat or even shifting the head left or right very far allows the center image to shift pretty much as it would with conventional speakers. A single-seat home theater like mine can get along fine without a center channel speaker using phantom center channel mode, but a regular home theater for more than one person will need that center channel speaker to lock down the center image. Let there be no doubt that the center image was sharp and clear and totally satisfying for my own use. In fact, I prefer the soundstage cohesiveness of a phantom center channel setup for personal listening, and the S8 imaging, especially with Dirac Live, was perfect for that application.
Shifting left and right while listening also verified the frequency response consistency within the 30-degree listening angle as measured for the S8. That should give plenty of flexibility for the S8 in a typical medium to small home theater. One of my main home theater setup rules is to always spoil the main listening position by aiming mains, center channel, and surrounds directly at the LP. In doing so, there will be excellent frequency response coverage of surrounding seats as well by the S8 or S6.
Turning to music tracks, Eleven Small Roaches and The Funky Avacado, acoustic guitar tracks by Mike Hedges, almost jumped right out of the horns of the S8, demonstrating their dynamic nature.
A final movie, District 9, the S8 at reference level delivered clear dialogue and handled the soundtrack impact drums and generous sound effects effortlessly. I listened for awhile with the subwoofer, which definitely was carrying a big share of the load, turned off. By feeling the excursion on the S8 8-inch driver, I could tell that it was shouldering a healthy contribution, though. Reference level playback in a home theater, even located away from the LP, is easy duty for the S8. Their design headroom leaves the user plenty of leeway to experiment with levels, placement, LF tuning controls, and EQ without fear of running up against its spec limitations.
Clarity at High SPL Listening Levels
There are two major contributors to clean delivery in the S8 design that are worth mentioning: the Class D amplifiers and the compression drivers for the tweeters.
I had read through the specifications for the S6 and S8, but somehow it completely slipped my mind that they made use of Class D amplification. As I listened in both two-channel and home theater modes, I was thinking in terms of Class A/B amplifiers that were performing very cleanly, but wondered where the heat was going because the amplifier chassis never got very warm to the touch. Only upon rereading the specifications while writing up this report was I reminded that the amplifiers are Class D. There was absolutely no indication during listening tests that there was anything second rate or compromised about those amplifiers.
I paid careful attention to the tweeter's compression driver characteristics, especially with program material that became dense at high frequencies, played at higher listening volumes, for any signs of a congested sounding dynamic distortion indicating stored energy issues, indicating an inability to return to “rest” quickly and be ready for the next input.
The S8 tweeter delivered very clean high frequencies throughout my testing, although they did give me a minor scare at one point. A mixup in my notes had me thinking that two recordings had sounded equally clear on the S8. It turns out that the older of the two had an edge to it that bothered me when listening again later on to the same track, an edge that I had missed the first time around. After numerous re-evaluations of both recordings, including with my reference electrostatics, I concluded that the problem was, indeed, in the older recording. It also became clear that the S8 tweeters have a finesse about their delivery that is more often found in ribbons or electrostatics and remains clear even at very high volumes. When your tweeters are helping you discover previously unheard distortion in favorite recordings, I can't think of a higher compliment. Of course, in the case of the S8, it is the combination of the Class D amplification with the compression driver that deserves the compliment. It takes a village, so to speak, and all needed hands were on deck for a very transparent HF delivery at volumes I rarely submit my ears to unprotected.
The S8 will not compete with the larger power-laden speaker models made to push Home Cinema levels into the 120+ dB range sometimes insisted upon in larger rooms or to satisfy high-impact tastes. But a medium- sized home theater running at reference levels and even higher, especially where there are placement and coverage issues to be solved, would benefit from considering the S6 and S8 Scepter Powered Monitors from PreSonus.
Go to the PreSonus Sceptre S8 CoActual Powered Studio Monitor Review for Home Theater Use Discussion Thread.