Rob Tavaglione is left impressed by the latest innovation from PreSonus.
There’s just no way around it: I’ve never seen – or heard, actually – a monitor quite like this before. Leave it to PreSonus to find a new way to combine materials, modern design, and a touch of oft-forgotten classic design into a reasonably priced and effective yet unusual nearfield monitor.
The Sceptre S8 employs an 8in (glass-reinforced paper) woofer and a 1.73in horn-loaded high-frequency transducer with its most notable design feature: a time-aligned, coaxial, concentric woofer/tweeter arrangement that is highlighted by the use of a square horn. Time-aligned coaxial drivers were largely popularised by Tannoy, but the S8’s design will trigger fond memories from veterans of 70s Urei 813B mains with their blue styrofoam-coated horns.
Beyond this nostalgic aspect, the S8 exhibits all modern, or post-modern, traits. They’re self-powered (90W of Class D amplification per driver, crossed over at 2.2 and 2.4kHz for the S6 and S8 respectively) with input level trim (non-stepped), three filtering/voicing options (low-end ‘boundary’ attenuation, tweeter level with boost or cut, and HPF at 60, 80, or 100Hz), and front-ported with self-protection (both thermal and current-output limiting). Cabinet construction is where PreSonus broke the mould with an ABS-type plastic enclosure and a similar (yet harder) faceplate/baffle, weighing in at a mere 24lbs.
The considerable DSP required to achieve consistency and eliminate acoustic issues inherent to a coaxial speaker design – diffraction and reflection of low frequencies off the horn create distortion, frequency response, and imaging issues – is courtesy of Dave Gunness at Fulcrum Acoustics, whose TQ (Temporal Equalization) is claimed by PreSonus to be the key to S8’s performance.
I set up the S8 pair before a mix session and found them to immediately have that coaxial cohesiveness, stability, and depth of soundstage I recalled from my early work in the 90s on coaxial Tannoys. The time-alignment and equilateral radiation from the horn indeed provide imaging, placement, and frequency balance that remains trustworthy even as you move from side to side (or up and down) within the S8’s rather large sweet-spot.
The second most notable characteristic of the S8 was its frequency response. Without my sub, I found reasonably deep bass extension, good punch despite a slight lack of note definition, and an overall bottom end that was rather smooth and absent of the peaks/valleys often found in affordable monitors. In addition, the top end was not shrill or brash, but instead subdued and ‘natural’. However, the S8’s midrange qualities did not inspire such trust; I heard numerous non-linearities and colour that was not at all familiar, or comfortable, to me.
Deep in a week of serious mixes, I loaned the S8 pair to colleague Jeff Long for a second opinion. Long commented that the S8s “made everything sound nice” with excellent imaging, but the frequency response threw him for a loop, too. I agreed, but felt like I could use some additional opinions – time for a group listening session.
Having invited four engineers into my control room, I sought to most accurately calibrate the S8 pair with my sub for a demonstration. Upon feeding the S8’s tone and adjusting the input trims, I realised just how troublesome these small adjustment pots are. Small, jumpy (un-stepped) and not exactly aligned to their legend, obtaining exactly equal output from both speakers was very difficult. Integration with my subwoofer, however, was smooth and musical, with the S8 pair clearly benefiting from the release of 80Hz and below. We unanimously agreed the S8 pair benefited greatly from a sub (a rarity for me, as subs will often divide opinion, in my experience). We noticed ‘puffier’ bass response at low levels. We all also agreed that imaging within the wide and tall sweet spot was fantastic.
Beyond that, the group seemed confused in their assessments, not unlike me. The S8 has a fairly uneven frequency response through the mids; there’s a noticeable 200Hz bump that is quite the opposite of the scoop found in many affordable monitors, and that bump is followed by a scoop and another bump. The result? It was hard for me to make midrange EQ decisions while using the S8 pair.
But get this: I mixed on the S8s for a couple of weeks and got great results. I experienced limited fatigue, well-informed clients sharing the large sweet spot with me, and mixes that were right on point! As unconfident as I was, and as coloured as the mids are, I still received fine results: a fact worthy of consideration, if vexing.
Despite success in both tracking and mixing, I cannot confidently endorse the S8. The difficulties I experienced in calibration and the minimal voicing controls gave me reason for concern. My biggest concern is clearly the unevenness of the midrange response, though the 200Hz abundance doesn’t bother me that much (I’d rather hear mud and tame it, than go on unaware).
Despite my concerns, these S8s crank out good mixes and do a fine job of even radiation and imaging in the nearfield. At a price of £1,300 per pair, street, they are not budget priced, but are truly mid-priced monitors.