ATC SCM40 Floorstanding Loudspeaker Review
Can you truly enjoy music and monitor it at the same time? ATC thinks so.
What is the ATC SCM40?The SCM40 is the largest member of the Entry series of speakers from ATC. The construct of whether a £3,750 speaker can truly be defined as ‘entry level’ is one for another time but this is the ultimate expression of the ideas that we have already had a look at from the other end of the range in the SCM7 that acted as the front and rear speakers of the ATC multichannel system we reviewed. When the dust settled on that system it was clear that whilst unquestionably a very accurate take on the material it was playing, it was also a very entertaining one.
Two channel listening is a different beast though. It has suffered greater indignities in terms of quality than film soundtracks have. Is the best tool for those no budget punk recordings of the seventies, bedroom mastered electronica and loudness war victims of the last few years really a speaker that is designed to show up the problems in the mix when it was still in the studio? The devoted following that ATC seems to have suggests that for many people it is, so it’s time to dig out some recordings good and bad and see where we sit at the end of it.
SpecificationsATC is nothing if not logical when it comes to the naming of their equipment. The SCM40 is so named because SCM is the prefix of every stereo speaker that the company makes and denotes ‘Studio Control Monitor.’ The number? That’s the internal volume in litres. And yes, I have briefly considered the arresting notion of pouting eighty cans of Becks into the ATC like a sort of deranged goblet. Critically, if you wanted to use the ATC as a drinking vessel, you technically could as the cabinet is sealed – something that is key to the design philosophy of the entire range of speakers.
The reason for this decision to use a sealed cabinet (and it is a true sealed design with no recourse to a passive radiator or similar) is down to trying to ensure a truly even frequency response. The idea is that the SCM40 will deliver its posted design figures pretty much regardless of where it happens to be placed at the time. Doing this comes with some side effects though. In comparison to a ported speaker of equivalent size, the SCM40 will lack the bass extension that some rivals will manage – ATC claims a figure of 48kHz at +/- 6dB which is something that a speaker like the similarly priced Sonus faber Venere S can better by roughly 10Hz.
The other issue is sensitivity. Sealed cabinets are generally a little less sensitive than their ported equivalents although the calculation is made more complex when you balance impedance against this (sealed cabinets tend to maintain their impedance more consistently than ported ones). The SCM40 is a fairly insensitive 85dB/w but it presents 8 ohms throughout the frequency response. Like the rest of its family, you are going to need a reasonable amount of power to see the ATCs deliver their best.
Their best does offer some tantalising possibilities though. Like the other members of the range, the SCM40 mounts a soft dome tweeter that is built in house by ATC. This is partnered with an exactingly specific 164mm bass driver which is also bespoke. The driver that sits between them on the front baffle is the one that is of greatest interest though. This is a 75mm midrange driver that takes the form of a large fabric dome – almost like a greatly enlarged tweeter. These drivers are complicated and difficult to make and as a consequence don’t turn up very often. They do however promise exceptional midrange performance when used correctly.
The ATC is extremely unusual in that it can be ordered as seen here as a passive speaker or – for roughly an extra £3,000 – as an active one. Possibly as a result of the crossover having the means of accepting three separate amplifier feeds as it does in the active version, it means that the SCM40 is one of a very few speakers that can be tri-wired if you are minded to do so.
DesignAs a company heavily associated with pro audio, ATC is not really about adornment or frippery. It’s debatable whether any of their speakers from the least expensive to the most really show any incidental styling anywhere on them. The SCM40 is a case in point. Nothing is there for any other reason than to ensure the continued operation of the speaker. What’s clever about this is that the SCM40 manages to work this to its advantage. This is a speaker that winds up looking great because it is so straightforward. The proportions are good and the ATC manages to look like ‘proper’ hifi without dominating the space it is in. The cherry veneer is handsome and the colour it offers is a fairly clever balance because it works quite well in the dark woods of my living room but would still be OK in a light wood space too. Black and white sheen finishes are also available.
The build quality is also exceptional. This review pair has clearly lived a busy life but everything feels as intact and well bolted together as they day they left the factory. The cabinet is incredibly solid and inert and the drivers – complete with that odd and slightly sticky feel – also feel like they’d shrug off everything short of a hammer attack. If you are worried about a hammer attack, the steel basket grilles would probably survive them. This is a very robust pair of speakers indeed but one that should work well in a variety of situations – not least thanks to their lack of a bass port.
This is a speaker that winds up looking great because it is so straightforward
How was the SCM40 tested?The ATC has mainly seen use with another example of the Chord 2800MkII amplifer reviewed recently as the two manufacturers seem to have an affinity for one another. The Chord’s internal DAC has been used for a large part of listening but so has the Auralic Aries Mini and PSU and Roksan Radius 7 connected via a Cyrus Phono signature phono stage. As such, test material has included lossless and high resolution FLAC, AIFF and DSD material as well as some streaming services and vinyl.
Sound QualityGiven the review samples of the SCM40 appear well run in, I have wasted little time trying to get a handle on them and what that pursuit of accuracy and transparency means in real life. As I’m something of a sadist, I made a beeline for the harshest, most compressed and jarring lossless rip I have in my collection – a FLAC version of The Dirtchamber Sessions by Liam Howlett of The Prodigy. This is as overcooked and mangled an album as I have every purchased and… played though the SCM40 it as fine. Don’t be under an illusions – the ATC makes it clear that there are some serious limitations to this recording but they manage to do it in a way that also lets you enjoy the bonkers ‘smash two tracks together and see if they fit’ school of mixing that this album has in spades.
In fact, having had an unsually luxurious two weeks with these speakers, the most unusually consistent thing about them is that partnered with the Chord, they are impressively forgiving speakers. The top end remains civilised even with the levels well up and even when provoked with the worst recordings going, the SCM40 stays listenable. Critically, in many ways they stay more than listenable. This is an extremely detailed and revealing speaker. Listening to Calexico’s Algiers, they find details in the mix which can elude even competent rivals and they proceed to work this into the overall presentation in a very natural and appealing way. Compared to the extremely open and airy Monitor Audio PL100II, the ATC feels a little more constrained and focussed but with a huge recording like Underworld’s Everything Everything it still sounds big and confident.
Below the treble though, that 75mm dome driver grants the SCM40 a tremendous ability with key parts of a musical mix. Voices in particular have an effortlessness and scale that can make most rivals seem boxy and two dimensional. As it has very little mass, it has the immediacy and lack of overhang that vocal chords do and this effect is sufficiently unusual in a speaker that it can take a little time to acclimatise to. Once you are though, it is truly lovely to experience. Just as importantly, the integration between the drivers is excellent. The ATC manages to sound like a single point source for all but the most complex of material.
For a speaker that notionally rolls off just below 50Hz, the ATC also has impressive bass. The heavyweight low end of Boards of Canada’s Telephasic Workshop is potent and extends down to the point where you feel it as much as hear it. Like the rest of the frequency response, there is a detail and naturalness to the SCM40’s presentation that is deeply impressive and the integration is also very good. Lean on it very hard and ask for very fast, deep bass at very high tempos at firmly antisocial levels and there is the faintest sense of overhang but the ATC is still dazzlingly fast for a big floorstanding speaker.
Above all, there is a sense of fun when you want it that makes the SCM40 more than a simple monitor. Listening to the snarling eighties masterclass of Soul in Isolation by the Chameleons is something that is a proper experience that delivers on an emotional level as well as satisfying a need for accuracy. The harder you push them, the better they get too. In comparison to brands like Neat who put more emphasis on listening pleasure over absolute accuracy, the ATC can still come across as a little matter of fact but never to the extent where it forgets how to entertain. It also has the ability to slow down and deliver non-beat related material in a way that never sounds forced or artificial.
There is also the slightly intangible sense that a speaker this revealing will always be as much a reflection of the amplifier it is connected to as it is anything else. The lack of another suitable amplifier to drive the ATCs means it isn’t possible to establish if that fractional bass overhang is the ‘fault’ of the Chord or something that the SCM40 will do under most conditions. It does mean that this speaker is not a quick fix to make an underperforming system better. This isn’t shorthand for the system needing to be expensive but you have to be happy with what it does as the SCM40 is simply going to clarify those characteristics while adding very few of its own. This is a speaker with ‘Monitor’ in its abbreviated title from a company with a long history of monitors. Really you should expect nothing less.
Above all, there is a sense of fun when you want it that makes the SCM40 more than a simple monitor
- Exceptionally detailed and revealing
- Superbly built
- Flexible in terms of placement
- Needs plenty of power
- Won't relish poor recordings
- Fairly bulky
ATC SCM40 Floorstanding Loudspeaker ReviewATC is not a company who jump on bandwagons or change what they do in response to fashions of the moment. The SCM40 has been in production for a fairly long time now but this is a demonstration that the principles it was designed to are pretty timeless. The provisos for getting greatness from the ATC are simple enough. They need plenty of high quality power and they will show up limitations of your source equipment. Give them decent partnering equipment though and the ATC will shine. It is able to take pretty much any piece of music you can think of and tell you everything you need to know about it without losing the joy and emotion of the material as a whole. If you want a monitor that hasn’t lost its musicality, the SCM40 comes highly recommended.
Ease of Use8
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