Angel City Audio
Seraphim Prime Extreme
Back in April, 2015, I reviewed the new Angel City Audio (ACA) Seraphim speaker. As part of the review process I interviewed Hugh Nguyen, Chief Technology Officer of ACA and got a good understanding of the man and his design philosophy. Hugh took a proven driver topology from their Trinity speaker and asked Lee Matuszczak of MG Audio to help design a new floor standing speaker which used this proven driver and extend the frequency and dynamics up and down the scale. The thought was to improve the bass extension, enhance a cleaner and clearer midrange and further smooth out the hi-frequency performance. The design also afforded greater dimensionality within the soundstage including depth, width and height. No simple task but this ultimately was the design goal for the Seraphim.
My listening impressions were documented in the Stereo Mojo review. I really liked the speaker and thought they did a great job based on the speaker overall price point. The key in my mind is they didn’t back into a price but within “reasonable/sensible constraints” they put together the best combination of parts to arrive at their final sound. The designer and his listening panel took the correct value part and then listened to a dozen plus brands within some reasonable price limit to arrive at the right sounding part for the specific topology and location within the circuit.
So, the Seraphim was launched and as they say, the rest is history. Now fast forward to 2017 and we find ACA wanted to explore what could be achieved with this basic design if the “reasonable/sensible constraints” were removed from the design? Realistically the change centered around the crossover parts quality and what might be achieved with more ‘boutique’ parts. While the original crossover design was implemented using premium components, including foil inductors, film and foil capacitors, and non-inductive wire-wound resistors, they were not ‘boutique’ in nature but good value and sounding parts based on a price point. Component parts were selected to meet the sound objectives of the loudspeaker but nothing over the top or outrageous in nature.
Hugh again asked Lee Matuzczak to take the design concept to its logical conclusion and see what further improvements could be achieved by taking the crossover parts further, even much further. How far you ask? Take a look at the name of the new speaker and see both Prime and Extreme. Any questions? Lee was given an open book to really take the design down the track and see what could be achieved.
Since I had been part of the listening panel for the original Seraphim loudspeaker and got to do the “World’s First Review”, I was invited to hear what Lee Matuszczak had designed and give my impressions between the standard Seraphim and the Seraphim Prime Extreme. I had a few listening sessions with the new speaker/external crossover in the system I’m very familiar with and allowed me to compare directly between the two versions.
I will lay out my listening impressions and show the Seraphim and then the Seraphim Prime Extreme so it is easy to make the correlation.
Seraphim: projected a wide and deep soundstage with excellent image placement within the overall sound scape.
Seraphim Prime Extreme: the soundstage was both wider and deeper with the upgraded crossover network. The image placement was even better with a much greater degree of height placement within the sound scape. In comparison, I found the Seraphim to feel shrunk down and more restricted in overall scale and placement. The vertical height element with the Seraphim was restricted but could portray a sense of height. The Seraphim Prime Extreme was like an open window in comparison. The height element was much more real with improved depth/width and placement within the sound scape.
Seraphim: They are very transparent
Seraphim Prime Extreme: Transparent is a very hard concept to convey in words. Transparency has to do with hearing into the music and soundstage in a way which sounds and feels real. No electronic hash and grunge between your ear and the recorded music but real world quiet where you can hear ‘into’ and ‘around’ the note or the music. The Seraphim Prime Extreme seems to have reduced this hash and grunge to a point where you are able to suspend disbelief and hear both into and around the music in a way which reveals more of the musical intent.
Seraphim: They disappeared into the room
Seraphim Prime Extreme: Essentially the same. They either disappear or they don’t. The one element worth mentioning here is the sense of quiet the Seraphim Prime Extreme is able to convey. The dramatic reduction of electronic hash and grunge between myself and the recorded music makes the disappearing act even more musically realistic.
Seraphim: The overall nature of the Seraphim’s’ sound was very organic yet detailed in a musical versus hi-fi kind of way.
Seraphim Prime Extreme: The same as far as having an organic sound but to an even greater degree. More organic sound and an even more relaxed detail and sound retrieval. Note that what I might find organic and what another person perceives as organic are potentially different at least as it would relate to scale of differences. This was not night and day but a few degrees better to my ear.
Seraphim: The tonality of the speaker was excellent on female vocals and acoustic instruments.
Seraphim Prime Extreme: Tonality in the midrange was spot on. The new crossover extended the top and bottom of the speaker. The top end was smoother and more relaxed but there was also more apparent detail. The bottom end of the speaker was more controlled and exact. The deep bass got deeper and at the same time was more coherent and of a single voice. In essence, think the original Seraphim and extending both up and down the scale without adversely affecting the midrange. Nice improvement and a more overall coherent sound from top to bottom.
Seraphim: The speaker had a dynamic snap even with tube electronics which made the experience very special.
Seraphim Prime Extreme: The dynamic snap was very much the same but the control (start and stop of the note) was even more exact and apparent. Not a huge difference but still more pronounced and apparent.
Seraphim: The midrange was magical with the upper-mids and highs simply extending and supporting the special midrange quality. No overemphasis or tipped up top end.
Seraphim Prime Extreme: The difference here was the top end was smoother, more coherent and a quieter background than with the Seraphim. Think quieter overall and even less obvious when the tweeter came in over top of the midrange.
Final Listening Impressions: I would state the overall improvement was real and worthwhile but at a cost. Trying to fold these impressions into the increased cost of this upgrade is very hard and a personal decision for each person. What you might think reasonable and what I might think reasonable might be very different. As an example, let’s just assign the original Seraphim an overall score of 85% on a scale topping out at 100%.
The Seraphim Prime Extreme would receive potentially a score of 93 to 95%. If we take the original price of the Seraphim and double it to reflect the improved outboard crossover but only give it 8 to 10% improvement you might conclude it is not a good value. I on the other hand might think it is a reasonable increase for the improvement in performance. When you get toward the top end of the scale, relatively small incremental improvements can cost a lot of money.
When we get to the extreme end of what can be accomplished with improved super parts and lavish assembly, cost is often not ‘reasonable’ but that was never the intent of the exercise in the first place.
I have heard many external crossovers which changed the overall sound of the speaker to the point where I honestly thought I was listening to two different speakers. The neat trick here is the Seraphim Prime Extreme has kept the essential sound of the original but made improvements in elements allowing us to suspend disbelief and hear more of the music and the musical intent of the artist. When noise and grunge are reduced and the sound scape increases in every dimension, the net effect is more real and believable. I think the outboard crossover is a musically noteworthy achievement and worthwhile for the money.