What is the ATC SCM40?
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.
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.
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.
How was the SCM40 tested?
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.
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.
- 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 Review
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