Seaton Sound Catalyst 8C Powered Home Theater Loudspeaker Review
by Wayne Myers
Available by direct order from
Price: $2595.00 each.
by Wayne Myers
Available by direct order from
Price: $2595.00 each.
This review covers a loudspeaker and a person. The loudspeaker is the Seaton Sound Catalyst 8C, and the person is Mark Seaton, its designer and President of Seaton Sound. Why cover both? Because Seaton the man is a logical extension of Seaton the speaker. You could choose to order a set of Catalyst 8C's or the larger 12C's or a SubMersive subwoofer or two or three, plan out your installation, pay your bill, have them delivered, install and fine-tune the system yourself and elect to receive no assistance from Mark Seaton beyond taking your order and your money and shipping it to the correct address when it is ready. But you would quickly find that Mark is interested in delighting customers, not just selling speakers. His passion and expertise in nearly every aspect of home theater and audio technology are likely to infect your project and convince you to include him as an adviser on troublesome issues at least, and potentially as your final installer and audio problem troubleshooter, roles in which he truly excels.
I was introduced to Mark at the recent $2,500 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event at Sonnie Parker's Cedar Creek Cinema (owner of HomeTheaterShack.com), his personal home theater in southern Alabama. Mark drove five of his Catalyst 8C's from Illinois to Alabama for the evaluators to use during several evening cinema sessions.
We spent two days with Mark and his speakers. It was a full-immersion introduction to both, an experience I enjoyed and would recommend to anyone considering a high-impact home theater audio system.
This review has been written sequentially, like the story of that weekend as it unfolded. It is the best way I can think of to introduce you to Mark Seaton and his Catalyst 8C speakers.
Mark arrived at Sonnie's place during the first morning of the Speaker Evaluation Event and, after introductions, started to unpack the Catalyst 8C's. The Catalyst 8C speaker is a powered three-way design boasting 1000 watts of internal power. Weighing 66 pounds each, they quickly reminded us of the value of team lifts and adages like "lift with your legs, not your back." Even considering all that goes inside a Catalyst 8C, the weight is indicative of the "robust, multilayer MDF construction with extensive bracing" which Seaton Sound advertises. The set of 8C speakers that we worked with was finished with stained oak veneer, a common entry-level finish for speakers of this kind, a dark satin tone which works well close to a cinema screen where freedom from light reflections is a requirement. Cabinet construction boasts precision CNC cuts and first-rate assembly quality. I never saw any construction or finish flaws of any kind.
The drivers include two eight-inch woofers in a sealed cabinet and an Italian-made concentric midrange/tweeter. The low-, mid-, and high-frequency ranges are driven by three ICEpower channels rated at 500W, 350W, and 150W respectively. Built-in DSP (24-bit/96-kHz) provides crossover and response shaping functions and opportunity for customization. The sealed cabinet ensures tight bass and the DSP helps flatten and extend bass response to the 65 Hz range. An optional DSP setting can give an added low-frequency boost, extending bass response to 35 Hz.
A broad 1.25-inch bevel around the baffle edges helps eliminate diffraction and can aid flush in-wall installation. And it looks sharp. Actually everything about the appearance of the Catalyst 8C speaks of a tough, compact, all-business design with sharp, rugged, understated good looks -- an NFL lineman who channels James Bond on the side, and maybe even has a few tricks up his sleeve.
Mark Seaton and Seaton Sound
Mark started Seaton Sound eight and a half years ago after working informally for a time with fellow speaker design enthusiasts on various projects. Apparently the speaker design bug bit him pretty hard, because he has been doing it ever since.
Mark Seaton is a juggler of perspectives. When you step back to take in an overview, Mark steps back two levels farther. One minute, system designer, the next, the guy pulling cable, and then the wise philosopher sharing deep thoughts, Mark is adroit at shifting to the perspective at hand. He can switch from "Meaning of Life" to "gaff tape is better than duct tape" on a dime, yet with all that juggling going on, he seems to keep all the perspectives in perspective.
On any home theater or audio topic, his thought process is probably a step ahead of everyone else's in the room. But he likes to stay in his role as a contributor. This is the personal characteristic that I appreciated the most about Mark during that weekend. He is a team player. A win-win solution kind of guy, happiest when his contributions fit in with those of others toward the accomplishment of some grand goal. Mark always keeps the goal of his business, his work, and his projects clearly in mind: enjoy the movie, love the music.
It is no surprise that his products are designed and made to do exactly the same thing: to fit nicely into a cinema system with plenty of horsepower and capability in reserve should it be needed, all without stealing the show.
Mark is intrigued by the idea of becoming an expert in a field through 10,000 hours of practice, in his case fitting that accomplishment into a 10-year span from the founding of Seaton Sound. I dare say he has put in that number of hours and to spare and is well deserving of the title.
Sustainability is a concept which Mark speaks of as a business owner, the importance of being able to support a product or design long-term. My mind immediately went to the topic of preserving Seaton Sound's most precious resource, Mark himself. He is a workaholic, as any entrepreneur must be to survive, clearly spread thin and playing many roles in his business. But two things I observed that weekend point toward the proper care and feeding of himself as a resource. He loves what he does and has fun doing it. And he is wise enough to sleep in and catch up on his rest when over-extended, whatever else may be going on. Master of many trades, keeping it all in perspective.
Expectations - A System Perspective
A modern home theater system is a marvelous matrix of coordinating technologies. A loudspeaker design specifically targeted for high-end home theater applications is likely to turn out somewhat differently compared to typical designs, reflecting those expected interactions. The Catalyst 8C on its own might strike you as a somewhat unique but solid design with a few standout characteristics and a few that bear pondering. When you understand how those characteristics will mesh with a home theater environment - some of it is obvious and some of it is not - and appreciate the value of a few special touches that have been added, then the Catalyst 8C design point makes very good sense.
The first thing I was told when I asked about Seaton Sound was that Mark does not try to be all things to all people. When asked how he targets his products, Mark will tell you that they are made to fulfill the requirements of high-end, high-impact home theater systems, with two channel sensibilities. Your basic expectations then are that they will play loud and sound great.
And play loud they do. The built-in amplification is not typical of speakers in this price range or of home theater speakers in general. Its purpose is clearer when you recognize how many home theater enthusiasts know very little about matching amplification with speakers. Making sure his speakers would be powered exactly as they should be so they could perform their best was obviously a priority - you eliminate one of the biggest audio subsystem variables and settle the "how do I power these speakers" question once and for all. Adding the DSP functionality for crossovers and for frequency response tailoring gives ideal driver control and caters to the ear of the two-channel-sensitive listener.
The sound of the Catalyst 8C's struck me as lively and just a bit raw, but when you 1) remember that any modern home theater for high-end use comes with some form of automated room tuning, Audyssey MultEQ being the most common, and 2) recognize that the design techniques that flatten and tame tonality often decrease loudspeaker efficiency, and 3) recognize that the components that seem "raw" will be easily tamed and become a reserve resource that can be unleashed if needed -- then that unbridled raw character makes perfect sense. Far better to have that extra power controlled by room EQ and available as headroom than to have to push the audio system harder when volume rises and risk distortion or clipping. Topping it all off, the DSP allows for careful time alignment, providing the kind of snappy transient response that a two-channel listener will appreciate.
The low-frequency cut off at 65 Hz is more than adequate where a subwoofer or, more than likely, a bank of subwoofers will handle the deep low-frequency duties.
Hearing how all these factors worked together once integrated with Sonnie's very capable supporting system, it was clear that the Catalyst 8C design left little to chance.
Setup - Part 1 - Two-Channel Configuration
Our first opportunity to hear the Catalyst 8C's would be with them set up in two-channel configuration, the same way we were evaluating the other speakers during the weekend. Our setup priorities for those sessions involve creating tight imaging and a wide, deep soundstage. This almost always involves wide speaker spacing set well into the room away from walls and aimed with very little toe-in so the listener is off the speaker's center axis.
We started with the Catalyst 8C's pointing directly at the listening position, "on axis." On first listen, the imaging was a bit soft and the soundstage had no depth. After a couple of angle adjustments outward from the on-axis starting angle, we achieved what we were looking for. This had the speakers pointing well outward from the LP, a common final arrangement for monopole speakers with wide dispersion.
That was all we had to do in terms of setup. We often have to move loudspeakers to different locations, trying many different angle/location combinations before we are satisfied. But the Catalyst 8C's turned out to be quite easy to set up and get the sound we wanted. This speaks of a dispersion pattern that is wide and fairly even through the frequency range, in our experience.
Mark had already told us that the Catalyst 8C's would probably not be our first choice for high-end two-channel speakers. But they actually sounded pretty good. They would have stiff competition in their price range, even adjusting for the on-board amplification, but they were very listenable as we had them set. The track list used for this part of the evaluation is documented here.
The raw forwardness was pulled well back by virtue of the off-axis setup angle. A common result of the setup we use to get the deep sound stage we like is some high-frequency loss above 7 or 8 kHz or so. With the Catalyst 8C's, we got a steady but gentle downward slope above 400 Hz, down about 10 dB at 20 kHz, a gentle- and even-enough slope, amounting to less than 2 dB per octave, that hardly calls attention to itself. And by "steady" I mean impressively flat along that downward contour. The slope is not all that different from house curves that some home theater owners like to use.
Frequency Response, Bass Extension
Frequency Response, Bass Extension
They did not give us bass as deep as we might have looked for, but again, they are designed to work in a system with a subwoofer or two, so it could not be held against them. Their solid performance down to the 65 Hz range almost seemed deep enough for most of our program material.
The steadiness of that slope helps preserve the tonality of instruments and voices. The tonality of Sarah's fiddle on Ode to a Butterfly was very smooth and natural. On Reasons Why, it became apparent that the upper-bass response was a little forward, another result of our positioning approach. On the Cincinnati Pops track, the line between just enough detail and a little over-bright got crossed once in awhile.
The soundstage was very wide, extending well beyond the speakers, and fairly deep, and the depth acuity was good but not great - although a speaker that can do better in this regard is very rare. Imaging was very sharp and stable. In fact, the Catalyst 8C's were the first speakers I have ever heard pull off one particular imaging feat. For some reason, the harmonica near the beginning of Ain't it a Shame is almost impossible for speakers to image properly, and the four different notes played in that little melody appear to come from four distinctly different points in the soundstage. With the Catalyst 8C's, all four notes came from precisely the same point, and the impression of a harmonica being in the room was completely real for the first time. This is a track I listen to with every speaker I evaluate and every time I set up, reposition, or EQ speakers, and I had given up long ago on hearing that harmonica properly imaged. The Catalyst 8C's did so perfectly. The only other speaker I have heard this occur with - later on that same weekend - was a high-end $20,000 electrostatic system. This clearly is the result of using quality, well-matched drivers in a concentric/symmetrical layout, a cabinet designed for minimum diffraction, and a well-controlled dispersion pattern.
Imaging and Soundstage
Imaging and Soundstage
The Catalyst 8C's had more than enough headroom to handle anything we could throw at them. They played with the kind of responsive snap that results from careful time alignment and fast transient response. Able to support 120 dB SPL's short-term, the Catalyst 8C's had headroom to go well beyond any listening level we desired to expose ourselves to. With the Catalyst 8C's, you do not have to worry about their ability to handle the rough passages in a movie or the loud passages in music. They are ready to run but easy to control -- like Captain Call's feisty horse in Lonesome Dove, a little on the wild side, but ready to chase the bad guys all day long if called upon.
Dynamics and Headroom
Dynamics and Headroom
That dynamic punch was apparent on the final chorus of Joan of Arc, a good example of a crescendo recorded with dynamics preserved instead of compressed and crunched into submission. Jennifer's vocals along with the backing chorus, drums, and guitar had room to hit you at their peak levels and the Catalyst 8C's pitched in just the right amount of extra "detail" emphasis at 1.6 kHz.
A nice example of the Catalyst 8C's showing their dynamic transient ability was Keith Don't Go, where each guitar note started with a clear transient impact.
The Cincinnati Pops track was a fun one for cranking up the volume. The triangle strikes hit the air with impact and remained perfectly clear. With the entire orchestra playing at peak level, there was no doubt that they could be pushed to the level of the orchestra playing live.
The Rifle's Spiral at high volume elicited no indication of compression or limitation. The Catalyst 8C's never got close to saying, "That's it, that's all there is to give."
It was not the most refined two-channel listening experience, but it was a very enjoyable one. I noted at one point how much fun they were as rock-music speakers. The session also served to show us how ready the Catalyst 8C's were to integrate into Sonnie's home theater system and get busy with some serious cinematic sound delivery.
Overall Listening Experience
Overall Listening Experience
There are those who have chosen Catalyst 8C’s or 12C’s as their main two-channel speakers. If I was to do so, I would set them up as we did in this test, and use a small amount of parametric equalization in my media server to keep the high frequencies flatter out to 5 kHz or so. Then that slight droop above that (remember that the wide off-axis listening angle is the cause of this rolloff) would be only 4 dB at 20 kHz.
Setup - Part 2 - Mark Seaton, Subwoofer Charmer - 5.1 Cinema Configuration
The first issue that came up while Mark was setting up his five Catalyst 8C's as part of Sonnie's 5.1 cinema system was ground loop hum from the rear speakers, which received their line-level input signals via cables run across the floor from the equipment rack at the front of the room. It is not unusual to get a ground loop in a situation like that. It is unusual to resolve it in a few minutes - well under half an hour as I remember it. Mark moved cables, lifted grounds, rearranged power plugs, and had the issue put to rest in under that amount of time. Even an experienced ground loop chaser would be impressed.
The real fun was in watching Mark tame Sonnie's subwoofer issues. Sonnie's Cedar Creek Cinema, several years old, has four 18-inch subwoofers built into the rear of the room, an LLT (large low tuned) design which includes space under the riser for the rear seats, and 2 large cabinets with a pair of 18-inch subwoofers in each of them at the front corners of the room. From day one, Sonnie has battled subwoofer frequency response unevenness, as seen in the plot below with all subs running and no special EQ applied. Sonnie is no novice when it comes to tuning subwoofers. He has been doing it for more than a decade, and has even written guides about sub taming techniques. And having personally witnessed Sonnie's never-give-up approach to completing tasks and projects, I can attest that it could not be for lack of trying that those subwoofer issues remained. Mark came for the weekend with the task of taming Sonnie's subwoofers on his to-do list.
The first plot (Plot #10) shows the starting point of the low-frequency response with all subwoofers active, no EQ, and no delays. The peak at 45 Hz had been manageable with an outboard EQ device such as the popular Behringer DSP1124P. But the cure for the notches at 28 Hz and 78 Hz had been elusive.
Mark quickly surmised that the port for the built-in rear LLT subwoofers needed to be plugged (there were actually two ports, one was already plugged). The enclosure space extended under the seating riser with the tuning ports at the front edge of the riser, and the out-of-phase wave from the remaining port was causing the cancellation at 28 Hz. Plugging the port with a pillow made the 28 Hz notch in the response disappear (Plot #20). This was something that Sonnie had tried before, but guessed he had not gotten the port stuffed tightly enough to get the desired effect.
After turning off the rear subwoofers, we could see the front subwoofer contribution more clearly, shown below (Plot #30).
With a glance at the 78 Hz and 90 Hz notches on that plot, Mark could tell that the location of the front subwoofer enclosures coresponded with reflections off nearby walls causing those notches. He made a few calculations and a few quick tape measurements around the front subwoofer enclosures and started to move them around, calling out for fresh response plots after each move. I am sure at this point the thought in Sonnie's mind was, "Well I tried that already, but let's see what he comes up with." After a few tries, they were turned diagonally and pointing directly into the corner bass traps, with about a four-inch gap. The 78 Hz and 90 Hz notches were gone (Plot #40). Elapsed time so far working on the subwoofers, according to REW measurement timestamps: eight and one-half minutes.
Big grin from Sonnie at this point, who declared that he had tried many subwoofer positions before, but not that particular position and angle. Mark briefly explained how the wave from the subwoofer drivers had been reflecting off the front and side walls of the room and causing the cancellation at 78 Hz and 90 Hz respectively. (Example: the distance from the front of the sub to the front wall of the room was 1/4 of a wavelength at 78 Hz, so the reflected wave reached the front of the sub out of phase and there was a cancelation).
I was simultaneously thinking, "That was not so hard," and, "That was masterful." Of course it had never occurred to me or anyone else who claims basic acoustical knowledge to actually try what Mark had tried. I was reminded of the old joke about the locomotive repairman who shows up to repair a locomotive which no one else could fix, picks up a large wrench, carefully takes aim, and gives the locomotive a sharp whack on the side. The problem is solved and the locomotive now works perfectly. The local foreman comments, "Well I could have done that," and the locomotive repairman winks and says, "Sure, but you didn't know where to hit it." It is one thing to know the theories and do a few calculations once in awhile, quite another to walk into a strange room and know where to take a swing with one's problem-solving wrench to make a difference like this.
The next step, with all subs running again, was to adjust the delay times for the front and rear subwoofer sets to achieve a smooth peak that could be easily shaped with parametric EQ. This involved a number of calculations, attempts, and measurements, ultimately giving us the plot seen below (Plot #50).
Next a pair of parametric filters was applied using the DSP1124P designated for subwoofer taming. That peak would be too much for Audyssey MultEQ XT32 to manage, Sonnie had figured that out a long time ago and Mark agreed with the approach. The plot below shows the result (Plot #60), with bass management active.
Big grins from Sonnie at this point. And no doubt we were all thinking that Mark had done all of this many times before. It was almost like performance art, although he was just doing what needed to be done. At each point along the way the theories and technology interactions were explained - Mark Seaton, the teacher.
The final steps were to run Audyssey MultEQ XT32 and boost the bass a little at the DSP1124P per Sonnie's personal taste, giving us the bass response shown below (Plot #70).
All of these calculations and changes and measurements were made in a period of one and one-quarter hours total. I was not sure what to expect at the beginning of the process, but by the end it was clear that we had all witnessed a masterful display of the use of the knowledge of all the many technologies that come to play in a high-end home theater. So that's what he has been doing for the last ten thousand hours.
Masterful really is the only word I can think of that describes what we witnessed, and I told Mark so afterward while we were in the kitchen getting treats for watching a movie. He was appreciative, humble, and matter-of-fact all at once. Then we all went in and watched a movie together. All things kept in perspective - it was all about great movies and great music.
There are a lot of people out there who know bits and pieces about acoustics, subwoofers, speakers, AVR technology, and the like, but not very many who can swing that proverbial wrench and whack an ailing home theater system as accurately and effectively as Mark Seaton. Mark says he gets involved in system- and room-level details in 80% of his sales, and tries to be available to customers with integration problems. He limits his "Audio Guy For Hire" accessibility to consulting on installations using his products to keep from getting spread too thin and to stay focused on building his company and base of loyal customers.
Home Theater Evaluation
Hearing Mark's Catalyst 8C's work in an Audyssey-tuned 5.1 home theater system, one might think, "Okay, what is the big deal? Won't any decent set of speakers sound great once Audyssey MultEQ has done its tuning thing on them?" The answer is partially yes, at least until you get to the high impact part of the movie. And even then they are easy to overlook because they perform as such transparent team players in the overall home cinema system. And that is the best compliment that a set of speakers can be paid in this type of environment, that you simply don't think about them being there, unless you are listening specifically to evaluate them, and even then you have a hard time thinking of much to say.
Frequency response was very flat and neutral, as expected with Audyssey MultEQ in action. Of course the Catalyst 8C's do not present a big challenge for a room correction tool. The slopes of the curve to be corrected are the most important factor, and they all were gentle enough to be easily manageable by MultEQ XT32, the version in use (XT would surely have worked fine, too).
Frequency Response, Bass Extension
Frequency Response, Bass Extension
There were some brief listens with Audyssey MultEQ deactivated. At one point during a movie we turned off the Audyssey MultEQ correction, thinking we would listen for a bit with the Catalyst 8C's running raw, then turn it back on and repeat those scenes. The raw sound from the speakers really stood out in contrast though, and we quickly turned the correction back on again.
Mark estimates that roughly 75% of his speaker installations are used with some variety of room correction. While the raw tonality of the off-axis two-channel setup the night before had been very listenable to me, the raw tonality of the on-axis home theater setup was a little "too raw" for me. I would be one to go for the flatter room-corrected sound for home theater, using a tighter MultEQ mic setup pattern that preserves imaging. This is a borderline call, the response of the Catalyst 8C's is smooth enough head-on that many will love them just as they are.
Only three measurements points were taken around the listening position for the Audyssey MultEQ setup, so timing information was preserved in the way that lends itself to good soundstage and imaging within the 5.1 context. It is intriguing how few home theater systems using Audyssey MultEQ, which is very capable of preserving imaging information when set up properly, do not make use of the techniques that will accomplish it. The result in our case was a sound delivery system that was clear, concise, and presented music and sound effects with sharp accuracy, snap, and impact.
Imaging and Soundstage
Imaging and Soundstage
We started out with the 2009 concert BluRay Chris Botti in Boston. It was not too far into the concert when I jotted in my notes, "This is the way to watch a concert video." The performance was superbly recorded with a lot of dynamic changes and instrumentation mixes and there was never a failure on the part of the Catalyst 8C's to deliver all the nuances the source had to offer. On another night we heard most of David Gilmour Live At Royal Festival Hall. There were times during each of these concert videos when we turned up the volume to real concert levels - not for long, mind you - and this is where the Catalyst 8C's - well, what can I say, they remained pretty much unnoticeable. We reached SPL levels easily up to 110 dB, and, if anything, the Catalyst 8C's put on their best "kinda bored" act. If they could brag, it is at this volume level that they might strut a little. But being team players, they kept their cool.
Dynamics and Headroom
Dynamics and Headroom
The first movie we watched with the Catalyst 8C's in the system was Pacific Rim, and we really put the speakers through their paces. We were not gentle on them, we turned up the volume to a generous level and let the dynamic soundtrack go where it would take us. I decided to listen from different points around the room through the movie to check the coverage of the Catalyst 8C's. It was really hard to tell much difference in the sound, they filled the room so evenly. And Mark was not kidding when he said they would play at volume and with impact! I can not think of a more stressful movie for a set of home theater speakers, and the Catalyst 8C's never acted like they were working hard. All of the subtleties and all of the raw power were right there when called upon. Music sounded musical and dialogue was clear and easy to follow. At one point there was a loud "clank" of a metal pipe being struck, clearly a high-transient event -- it was precisely localized and popped at the eardrums with a delicious sense of reality. One could only be impressed by the Catalyst 8C's after hearing their delivery of that movie. I certainly was.
The animated movie The Croods, watched after most of the crew had left for their respective homes, was lots of fun, full of dynamic action sounds, and we had it running at a good volume, too. All this was easy duty for the Catalyst 8C's, with never a sign they were exerting themselves, nothing left out and nothing added.
The one area I took note of was with high-transient sounds, the drums, bells, plucked guitar notes, and cymbal crashes during the concert videos, and the explosions, crashes, thumps, and snaps during the movie. There was always that snappy impact you would expect from a properly time-aligned speaker design with top-rate transient ability. The Catalyst 8C's can move the air and move it quick and stay clean while doing it. Cymbals, a good sound test for clarity, always were delivered with all the rich, complex harmonics ringing true, even at high volumes.
It was so easy to forget the Catalyst 8C's were there even when running loud, even when listening to a concert video. Actually, it was embarrassingly easy to forget that I was writing a review at times and at others to wonder what there could be to say.
Overall Listening Experience
Overall Listening Experience
But as easily as they disappear, it is not hard to find things to appreciate about them when you listen close: the tight imaging of sounds coming from between speakers, the fast transient response at a gunshot or sharp sound effect, the ease with which dynamics are handled.
All in all, perhaps the best that can be said was they never lost the beat, never felt strange, never failed to give a sharp, clear, fast home theater experience, all at very high volumes if called upon.
Bottom line, the Catalyst 8C's drew little attention to themselves. Enough said.
I see the Catalyst 8C's as a good choice for the home theater enthusiast who values well-defined, clear, tight, impactful sound at high volumes, and appreciates the value of a compact package with well-matched DSP-tailored power amplification on board. The refinement of a room-tuning tool will probably be preferred by most. Two-channel use is not out of the question with room correction applied or - for the more adventuresome - an off-axis setup can provide a wide, deep soundstage with laser-sharp imaging. Definitely think in terms of a setup or installation that will not move around - they are heavy. And they are not budget speakers, although you are getting a kilowatt of power and precision active crossovers all on-board. And probably some expert assistance from Mark Seaton himself.
I finally had the chance to meet Mark Seaton at RMAF this past October. I had talked to him on the phone a few times, so it was good to put a face with his name. Automatically when I think Seaton, I think big bad subwoofer. I guess I had been out of the loop as far as his Catalyst speaker systems are concerned. I think I may have heard about them before RMAF, but they were not ringing a bell. He and I got into a discussion at RMAF and his Catalyst speaker system came up. We were looking for a home theater setup to review during our speaker evaluation, so it made sense to hit him up for a set to review. He scratched his chin a few times and decided he could work it out and even make the trip from Chicago to Alabama for the event.
At first sign of the Catalyst 8C speakers... they look impressive with those three large drivers on the front and that huge amp on the back. However, not nearly as impressive as when you pick them up... they are HEAVY! You better be sure to eat your Wheaties the morning before you set these up... or bring some spinach with you.
It was not really complicated to get the Catalyst 8C speakers setup in my room, however, we did do quite a bit with the subs to get their response smoothed out better, which Wayne does a great job of explaining. Mark is brilliant when it comes to figuring out issues with speakers and subs, and knows how to get issues resolved with simplicity. I was super impressed with how well he was able to figure out a few issues I was having in my room with my subwoofers, and how he knew exactly what to do to fix those issues. There is no doubt this is the smoothest my bass response has EVER measured, and it is the best it has EVER sounded. Mark might be interested to learn that I have since purchased a Behringer DEQ2496... using the distance/delay settings, parametric filters and a shelf filter... now only requiring one sub preout from my Onkyo 5509, thereby eliminating having to use Audyssey's Sub EQ HT. As far as the Catalyst 8C speakers... they were simply phenomenal in home theater use. The dynamics for every movie we watched were incredibly good... superb to be more precise. We watched Pacific Rim at what seemed like (might have been) a little above reference level and it was loud... no... it was LOUD... extremely LOUD... and crystal clear. There is just not much more I can add that Wayne has not already covered, and I pretty much echo everything he has written without any argument (not that I would argue with him anyway - he would make me look stupid-er).
I also agree that these are tailored more so for home theater than two-channel music, although they were still fairly impressive for two-channel. If I were not such a die-hard electrostatic fan and MartinLogans were not so expensive, I might have the Seatons in my room as well, but there are limits to my spending (my wife shakes her head and says, "Yeah, right!"). I know at least one of us on the review panel was impressed enough with the Catalyst 8C speakers to purchase them, which is about as good of praise a speaker system can get. I do not think anyone would ever be unhappy with a full compliment of Seaton speakers, and I can only imagine how spectacular of a system it would be if a couple of those Seaton Submersives were added to the mix. Kudos to Mark for designing a very unique and fine sounding home theater speaker system.
Wayne did such a good job telling the story that it is hard to add much. I think he is correct that it is important to discuss both the speaker and the man behind it. Were I to purchase his speakers, I would very much want to involve him in the design and installation of the system in any way that I could. Mark is truly an impressive system guy. Seeing him work with what Sonnie had and connect the locations of the speakers and ports to the response we were experiencing was simply a treat.
So what about the 8C as a speaker system? In the two channel listening I was impressed with the spatial performance and the seamless integration of the drivers and amplifiers. I never got the impression that I was listening to speakers at all. I will be very interested to see anything that Mark might design with two channel performance as the priority. With the very low distortion and excellent imaging that these presented with, a speaker that extends that to a more nominal response curve will be a very intriguing product.
As a theater system, these were a delight. Never did even the most challenging material test the limits of the system. The sound field was balanced across the front and surround performance was exceptional, with seamless transitions in effects. What can I say but that this was fun. I have heard Sonnie's theater system quite a few times with the MLs, but frankly, I would take the Seaton system over them with no reservation for HT use. It was no surprise when I heard that Joe bought them for his system. I really am excited that I may get to hear them again at his place on one of my trips up there.
There are certain products that just hit a spot and find a niche where the really make sense. This is one that will be a classic to consider for years. They are not cheap, but when you consider the amplification and the DSP built in, to build a system that could deliver both the dynamics and the quality would be very difficult with discrete speakers and amps.
These get a WOW!!! from me. Yep, all caps AND three exclamation points.
I have met Mark a number of times now at various GTGs and at a couple of shows, and he does not cease to amaze me with his knowledge and energy. As Wayne said in great detail, watching him work with Sonnie's system was a real treat - I would love to have him come to my house and do the same!
These speakers are designed more for home theater use, and the finish on these specific cabinets is perfect for that application. There was no noticeable light refraction during any of our movie sessions, and the speakers just completely disappeared allowing the viewer to solely focus on the visuals which is exactly as it should be. The Seaton Catalyst 8s use a standard box design with the front baffle having some contouring which helps to break up the face and the black oak finish also helps these disappear. They have an open, aggressive sound very well suited to an HT setup and the 8Cs melded really well with Sonnie’s subs – they were not overpowered by the 8 subs at all.
Our first movie night we watched Pacific Rim, which was a great choice for reviewing the 8Cs. It is a very aggressive soundtrack that showed off the dynamic capabilities of the Catalyst speakers. The 8Cs switched dynamics on a dime – went from a beast getting clobbered to the quiet sounds of a child crying in a blink with great tonal balance across the front stage.
We did some two channel listening and I was really impressed with the 8Cs in two channel mode – they do what I love in a speaker with open, airy vocals and exquisite detail in the instruments. They go to about 35 Hz with the DSP on, although I think I would prefer to cross them to a sub and run them as a 2.1 system. They do well as a two channel speaker, but if I were looking to build a system strictly to be used as two channel, I would likely not go with these. That said, that is not how they are meant to be used anyway - these are designed for home theater with the added ability to use the DSP to swap them to two channel use. For a person looking to set up a system with mostly movie usage and some music listening, these are the perfect choice in my opinion.
That said, that person I described above is me - as alluded to by Wayne and Sonnie, I am the one who walked away with three of these for my home theater. I am waiting for the stands to be completed to get them installed in my room, and I will plan to give more impressions when I have them up and running. So, in conclusion, I guess the best I can say is that I thought highly enough of these speakers that I bought them.