After living with the sparks for a month and having opportunity to compare them to the following speakers in my living room Its time for some detailed impressions....
My listening room is here.... Its just a normal living room. It has some treatments but still has to much re-verb. We have tri traps in the corners and 4" panels in front of the tri-traps for bass absorption.
View from the Rear:
View from the Left Side:Speakers ComparedMirage M3si
$3500/pair in 1992 when new.AV123 X-SLS EncoreAV123 Rocket 450AV123 Strata MiniSeaton Sound Sparks
NOTE: The above links don't work on AVS because the keyword A V 1 2 3 seems to be banned
The links do work on the same post I made in the Seaton Sound forum here!
APC Power Conditioner
Onkyo 876 Receiver (all comparison were done with Audessy off)
Xbox running XBMC
DirecTV HR-20 DVR
Popcorn Hour PCH A-110
Variety of center channels (Mirage M-Csi, AV123 X-Voce, Spark, Onyx Ref 100)
12 gauge OFC speaker wire with banana plugs on both ends...
Panasonic TH-PZ5-80u Plasma TV
Acoustic Treatments from ATS Acoustics and GIK Acoustics.Background Info
All speakers were compared sighted in the same room. Each speaker was placed and calibrated for its optimal performance. Example. The mirage like to be farther apart than the mini's who like to be closer together. I did my best to optimize each speakers placement and performance in this space.
The sparks were setup by Mark Seaton.
All speakers were compared using an 80hz crossover and a Seaton Sound Submersive subwoofer with a behringer BFD eq. Placement and EQ of the sub was performed by Mark Seaton.
Source material was of a variety of types, and was listened to at a variety of levels over the course of the last month. The primary focus of this review is 2 channel performance but some comparisons were done using HT material....Home Theater Impressions
Lets get the HT info out of the way up front. As most who have heard the sparks or catalysts can attest to, The sparks/catalysts excel at home theater. I have never heard any other speaker that can provide the clarity and dynamics of the sparks while remaining refined, except for Seaton Sound catalysts which take it up yet another notch. I am not sure the sparks or catalysts have any competition for HT use at anywhere near their price point. I certainly haven't heard anything or can think of anything that can compare... Again I don't think I am providing any new info here....
So now that I have made my opinion on HT usage clear lets explore the question that everyone wants to know.... How do they perform as a 2.1 Stereo speaker used for music. A lot of users are considering these for HT usage but also listen to music a lot (like me) and want to know how they stack up in that realm....Dynamics:
No real surprises here... The sensitivity of the sparks combined with the 275W of ICE power make them a tremendously potent package. The can easily play at ear splitting levels.... (My room started overloading at 103db-105db at my listening position 8 feet back from the speakers.) They are also equally as happy with classical music humming along quietly and then exploding with loud crescendos. None of the other speakers I compared them can come close to the sparks ability to play loud or handle loud transients... The Rockets are probably second but a far distant second. The mirages and minis can soak up some power but they are just not efficient enough to produce the peak SPL's of the sparks. The X-SLS would come in last in the this test IMO..... Again, no surprise here and explains why they excel at home theater so much..... They certainly meet there design goals... I can easily see Sparks energizing very large rooms or outdoor areas with little trouble.... They certainly did at my house.
Another side benefit of this is not having to worry about melting voice coils... I was working outside a few weeks ago and turned the sparks toward the back screen door. Turned up the volume to +6db and left it that way for hours.... No problems.... Any of the other speakers would have suffered a voice coil meltdown at those kinds of levels.
I can also say I found myself listening to movies and to music at higher levels with the sparks than the others... The effortless nature of the presentation at higher volumes just makes me want to turn it up. Tonal Balance:
This is where things start to get interesting. Lets work from the top down....Treble
: The sparks are quite a bit more forward in the treble than any of the other speakers I had on hand. They are far brighter than the X-SLS's or the mini's (the most laid back of the bunch) and even more than the Rockets and Mirages.... Certainly not my first choice for music but I did not find them fatiguing... If anything this forwardness added to their revealing nature, they really reminded me of watt/puppy 5's in this respect. To me this is a minus, to others it might be a plus. It all depends on what you like.... Most of this forwardness in the treble was corrected by the audessy curve with audesy enabled.... Despite the compression driver not being known for their refinement the sparks held their own here.... Not quite as fluid or subtle as the VIFA tweeter in the Rockets or the planar tweeter in the mini's but again never tiring like some other speakers I have heard (Klipsch, Infinity, B&W,Wilson's)....Midrange
To me one of the most important characteristics of a speaker. The sparks here were surprisingly refined. easily beating the X-SLS's and even the rockets... In most cases though at moderate levels I preferred the mirages here despite 15 years old. But the true star is this area are the mini's.... They are silky smooth, luscious and warm.... They are like sweet honey.... Think magnepan and martin logan all the way.... I did not expect that a 8" driver would do as well as the spark did though. Especially when coupled with the mid bass. I have generally found that 2-way designs start distorting the midrange when the bass content rises. I did not hear any trace of that in the sparks. Their midrange presentation is definitely hi-fi but not quite as refined as my mirages and or the mini's but managed to outclass the less expensive speakers in this comparison. I will also note I did not hear any of the lower midrange thickness in male vocals that some noticed in male vocals in the catalysts at Peter's GTG. It was not an issue.Bass
: All speakers were crossed over at 80hz so I am talking about the midbass... The midbass on the sparks in one of their strengths they can provide midbass on par with the M3's from a quality perspective and can outpace them in quantity. The mini's fall in somewhere behind those 2 and the rockets and x-series bring up the rear. The X-series tend to be a little fat here (which i dint mind) where as the attack and decay of bass notes on the sparks and mirages is exceptional. I'm not sure if they are in same league an LS-6 or a catalyst but incredibly impressive for a speaker of its size... The sheer volume of midbass these little guys can produce is impressive. Integration with the subwoofer was flawless mark dialed everything in sweetly and I could never isolate the sub and here anything weird going on here. I just got an abundance of tight clean bass. Nothing bloated. Nothing hanging... Attack and Decay were exceptional. The Mirages again also excelled in this area... The atom midbass driver in the minis performace well at reasonable levels but crossover on it is not steep enough to filter out enough low bass content at high levels....
Off axis both horizontally and vertically the sparks remain very listenable. They seems to have a very wide dispersion pattern very much the opposite of the mini's and their planar Miran and tweeters....Imaging:
To me this is probably the most critical aspect of a 2 channel speaker. I like speakers that offer big spaces, yet provide specificity in the image.... I like speakers that can just disappear..... The sparks do an admirable job here... They present a nice 3-d sound stage with good image specificity. They are on par or better than the X-SLS's. They easily beat the rockets IMO. They provide a very up close and personal view. Think front row at the concert hall.... The rockets and mini's have more of a mid hall presentation..... The mirages are front row+... As well as the sparks did they were outclassed by the mirages and the mini's..... The mirages throw the biggest most spacious image of the bunch. They can flat out disappear and have the best 3-d depth of any of the speakers here.... This is easily heard on any of the "Jazz at the Pawnshop" discs. They lack a little of the image specificity of the mini's but they make up for it in spades with their sonic holography. The minis's also can just disappear and they provide the best image specificity by far but they can't produce an image as deep or as a wide mirages but this detail is down right spooky on tracks like the ballad of bill hubbard from Roger Water's "Amused to Death" Album. All the speakers here can reproduce the q-sound tricks but mini's even out pace the Mirages because of how specifically you can locate all the crazy surround effects. I can't tell you how many people just don't believe that is a 2 channel track. It sounds like 7.1! really!
The mirages here have the biggest sweet spot followed by the mini's and then the others... I found the sweet spot on the sparks to be a little narrow.... comparable to the rockets and X-SLS's..... Dunno if the fact that they were setup so wide and toe'd in quite a but had something to do with it. Not something that I find terribly important but notable none the less.....Aesthetics:
All the other speakers here are either wood veneered and/or piano lacquer. This is certainly a personal preference but the matte black nature of the sparks lend themselves more to dark theater's than prominent display in the listening rooms. I have seen Seaton Sound's new veneered submersives in person and can say they look great and imagine we will see the catalysts and the sparks get the same treatment in the not too distant future.Summary:
The sparks are a world class speaker in most regards. They are absolute stars at home theater. They can play quietly and loudly and reproduce the most demanding transients. They offer a lot of detail (forward treble), a good midrange and excellent midbass. Their imaging is far more refined than i expected.. If I were searching for my perfect speaker for a pure two channel setup would I choose the sparks? No, the Stata mini's are just too darn good in that regard. On the other hand the Mini's and Mirages don't hold a candle to the sparks for home theater. The forward presentation coupled with surround sound added spaciousness and intelligibility to the dialog in a very positive way.
As a crossover product I think Seaton Sound has a real winner here... From a value perspective they are an excellent value considering what you are getting. forget about matching with the right amp and worrying about the integration. Simply plug em in and your done.... The sparks provide a nice dose of high end sound. They are far more refined than I expected given their design goals... I think that many people could easily live with these in a as dedicated monitors for music with no regrets. They do the music crossover better than any of the music speakers I have heard trying to do Home Theater.
They offer a lot of performance in both realms. Clearly they are biased towards home theater but their performance against 2 channel monsters like the Mini's make them a real contender for anyone considering them for an all in one solution. Highly recommended and a great value....
Please feel free to ask any questions.....
Have a great weekend.... I am going home to watch a movie tonight on the Sparks and then off Yoshi's tomorrow night to see Chuck Mangione....