ATC C1 5.1 Speaker Package Review
Does a pro audio outlook work for domestic AV?
What is the ATC C1 5.1 System?The ATC C1 5.1 System is the name given to a system that comprises the smallest members of ATC's domestic line-up of speakers. It benefits from a recently launched and revised centre speaker and embodies the basic tenets of ATC studio derived design practise at a relatively affordable price point.
This means, hefty drivers, solid cabinets and merticulous attention to detail. It means power handling figures that suggest that you'll dismantle your hearing before you dismantle these speakers. It means that even though these are speakers designed for domestic use, there are enough pointers to the studio to leave you in no doubt what these speakers are all about.
A more searching (or leading depending on your viewpoint) question is whether the virtues of a pro audio speaker are exactly what you need in the house. Sure, you should be rewarded with exactly what is in the mix but in a world of commercial television, dodgy compressed movie channel mixes and any number of other horrors, is 'warts and all' exactly what the doctor ordered? Buckle up, this is going to be quite a ride.
Technology and SpecificationsThe ATC C1 5.1 system is listed as a package but comprises components that can also be purchased separately. This means you get two pairs of the SCM7 standmount, a C1C centre speaker and the C1 subwoofer. All of these items represent the smallest version of their given category that ATC produces and all of them are fairly sensibly sized. All the passive speakers share the same driver compliment and it is these drivers that make ATC products what they are.
ATC has long made all of its midbass and bass drivers in-house and recently added tweeters to this list. Everything is built with a view to being able to handle high power outputs and offer long lifespans. The voice coils are hand wound and the magnets used are hefty and comparatively large for the given driver size – in this case weighing 3kg per driver. The SCM7 and C1C use a 125mm mid bass driver – two in the C1C and one in the SCM7. In a world where exotic parts of the periodic table are cropping up in drivers, the ATC one can feel a little prosaic – and oddly sticky to the touch – but if you look at the way it has been finished and designed, this a seriously hefty piece of engineering for the asking price.
The tweeter is less burly – perhaps as you might expect – but no less thoroughly engineered. The first tweeter that ATC has built in-house, it is a 25mm fabric soft dome type and in the SCM series is built with a 25mm aluminium wave guide that helps to better shape the soundwave that the tweeter produces and better mate its output with the mid-bass driver. Fairly unusually in this day and age, the speakers all support bi-wiring – even the centre – although all testing has been undertaking with single wiring in place.
Another defining characteristic of the speakers is that they are sealed cabinet designs. Not all ATC speakers share this trait but the SCM series all have this as a basic design feature. This has immediate consequences on the performance of the speakers. On the plus side, while they unquestionably do their best work on a reasonable pair of stands, they are impressively unfazed by placement near (or even, on) walls and will even do a passable job on shelves or bookcases. On the other side of proceedings, the lack of a bass port does mean that the low end response of these cabinets is not huge. ATC is rigorous about the measurements that that quote and won't really entertain output past a -3Hz roll-off but the SCM7 still doesn't really do much below the 60Hz point and the C1C is similar.
This is where the C1 Subwoofer comes into the equation. Like the speakers, this is a sealed design but as it uses a 12 inch driver motivated by a 200 watt amplifier – that is like almost everything else here designed and built by ATC in-house rather than simply selected off the peg – and the low-end response is healthy. This might be seen as 'old school' subwoofer design, with a doped paper driver, class A/B amplifier and nothing in the way of EQ or other setup options but neither is it prehistoric. The most notable feature is that it is remote driven and uses a front menu controlled by rotary dial to control functionality. Not having to lean over the back to set the critical functions is very welcome indeed, as is tweaking the levels to suit a particular event.
The SCM7 and C1C present a benign 8 ohm impedance to partnering equipment but partly down to their hefty drivers and partly due to their sealed design, are not terribly sensitive. In practise this doesn't mean that are particularly hard to drive but they will need a fair amount of power to be driven to high volumes. The Yamaha RX-A3040 I use for test work had no trouble hitting any desired test level I needed and receivers at this price should be a good fit.
DesignThe C1 5.1 System is basically designed around the SCM series of speakers. This is ATC's entry level range of components and have to be considered fairly affordable by the standards of British built speakers. They are also elegant looking devices too. The SCM7 has the curved sides and a pleasant set of proportions that leave it looking elegant and room friendly. The wood veneering is of extremely high quality given the asking price and the result is a set of speakers that should not look out of place in most lounges – and black and white finishes are available if wood doesn't do it for you.
There are some studio throwback oddities to their design. all the passive speakers are supplied with a grille – and grille really is the right word in this case. This takes the from of a protective metal cage that should protect the drivers from all but the most wilfully obstinate toddler or Gallagher brother which effectively amounts to the same thing. This is held in place by magnetic trim tabs so there are no unsightly holes when not in use. As someone who lives in fear of discovering squished tweeters the moment I turn my back, I'm a big fan but I can imagine many people being less keen.
Otherwise, this is not a difficult set of speakers to live with and a set that is finished and built to the standards that are expected at the price. You can buy more stylish and radical designs for the money but you won't find much that is more solidly built or carefully thought out.
You can buy more stylish and radical designs for the money but you won't find much that is more solidly built or carefully thought out
How was the C1 system tested?The ATC system has principally been tested with a Yamaha RX-A3040 AV Receiver, Cambridge Audio 752BD Blu Ray player, Sky HD, Netflix and Amazon TV. Some additional testing has been carried out with a Chord Hugo connected to a Melco N1A NAS drive. Material used has been Blu Ray, Broadcast and TV on demand, Spotify, Tidal and some internet radio services.
Sound QualityThe speakers arrived having already done a fair bit of running-in so with the SCM7s placed on Soundstyle Z60 stands and the C1C placed on a Quadraspire QAVX rack, I was able to crack on with listening pretty much from the outset – and with Masterchef The Professionals in the offing, these speakers make a convincing case for themselves. It might not sound like the most promising testbed for AV speaker work but there is a method in the madness. The program is densely layered, heavily edited and due to the nature of how the contestants are working, some of the dialogue is easily lost in the more hectic moments.
Not when the C1C is present though. If the ATC has a prime directive in life, it is that not one word of dialogue that is supposed to be intelligible is ever anything but. The clarity and detail it can eke out of even very ordinary bits of broadcast material is deeply impressive. When you do give it something more carefully mastered like the original Blu Ray release of Oblivion, the results are exceptional. The C1C locks in the information on screen and makes sense of it in a way that only a very few sub £1,000 centre speakers have been able to do.
All of this would be fairly irrelevant if the SCM7 wasn't as good and the handover between the two speakers was less than perfect but the news is equally welcome here too. With the same drivers used across the five passive speakers, the handover between them is absolutely perfect. If you have less than four metres between the front three speakers, the front soundstage is absolutely sensational. The handover from front to back is no less assured and makes an interesting point that in many cases five good speakers can sound more immersive than seven poor ones.
During the drone attack in the library, this system shows off its abilities to full effect. Firstly, you can select a volume level from barely audible to 'the police have been called' and these speakers will still get every detail out of the mix in a perfectly self explanatory way. They are absolutely unflappable too – pushing them as loud as I dared, they are still refined, controlled and completely free of harshness and aggression. If you want to behave like a hooligan, these are speakers that will shrug off that behaviour without incident.
They are impressively forgiving too. Nothing I've asked them to play while in place has left them sounding harsh or forward and they maintain most of their positive traits even when being asked to play poor material. Some of this will be down to the smooth and controlled nature of the Yamaha but unless you partner them with something really aggressive, I can't see them being problematic in this regard. They are revealing enough to show you what is happening with your electronics but not so forensic that material becomes off limits.
Of course, if they didn't sound any good while they did this, it would rather miss the point but there is a lovely balance of accuracy and refinement to how the ATCs go about their business that is seemingly pretty much unflappable. Voices sound consistently real and believable and have the weight and scale to be convincing under all conditions. This is tied to a level of tonal realism across a variety of effects that means that when the soundtrack deviates off into fantasy sounds, you know that they will at least be sounding like the director intended them to.
The C1 subwoofer does a fine job of keeping up with what is a very dynamic quintet of speakers. With a 60Hz crossover set, the handover between speakers and sub is absolutely seamless and entirely convincing. The tonality of the low bass notes is no less capable than the speakers and with no port and plenty of power, there is very little trace of overhang or bloat. It's an impressive performance but whereas, I feel confident in saying that there isn't much at the same price that will convincingly outperform the SCM7 and C1C, I cannot truthfully say the same about the sub. Some quick side by side tests with the BK P300SB, suggest that the BK – which is a veritable bargain it must be said – has most of the same attributes for rather less cash, although I have to be honest I have come to rather enjoy having quick and easy volume access on the front and via remote.
Where the C1 sub claws back a little ground is the performance as a 2.1 system. If you intend to use these speakers for music as well as movies – and why wouldn't you? – the performance of this trio of speakers is absolutely sensational. That effortless handover is maintained and it helps to ensure the performance sounds like it is coming from two speakers rather than three. You get the feeling that a huge amount of time and effort has been spent on getting the speakers to work this way and it shows.
If the C1 has a prime directive in life, it is that not one word of dialogue that is supposed to be intelligible is ever anything but
- Exceptionally cohesive and engaging performance
- Beautifully built
- Unfussy about placement
- Somewhat insensitive
- Sub can be outperformed by more affordable rivals
- Won't flatter poorer supporting equipment
ATC C1 5.1 Speaker Package ReviewThis summary begins with a small but important confession. When I unboxed this pack, I was expecting to find much to commend but to find myself thinking some of the same things I did when I have listened to ATC SCM models in stereo where I've found them to be periodically ruthless and possessed of a bass response that while fast and detailed, lacked a bit of final punch. This is not the case. This is a phenomenal set of speakers with performance that is truly exceptional even judged at their relatively lofty price point. You really do get a taste of what the engineer in charge of the soundtrack wanted you to hear.
What makes these speakers truly brilliant is that they do this while being fairly unfussy in placement terms. They benefit from a reasonably beefy amplifier but a competent AV Receiver should be able to drive them correctly. They are built like tanks but are finished to an excellent standard. This is a truly exceptional speaker package for film, TV and movies and even judged at its relatively lofty price point, has to be considered an effortless Best Buy.
Value For Money9
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