ATC SCM40A Active Floorstanding Loudspeakers: Review
Inflation has had a real impact on consumer A/V companies over the past 16 months and we don’t have to tell our readership that everything from electronics, headphones, and loudspeakers became a lot more expensive. Global supply chain issues that started during the pandemic were compounded by shipping issues that kept some products outside of domestic ports for 6 months.
While inflationary pressure seems to be easing on some products, very few hi-fi brands have adjusted their pricing downward. ATC (Acoustic Transducer Company UK) might be one of the first to do so and they reached out to us recently to explain what was happening in regard to products manufactured in the UK and why they had decided to lower their prices on the entire lineup in 2023.
The British manufacturer has a rather sterling reputation in both pro audio and high-end audio circles for the engineering quality and performance of their passive and active loudspeakers.
The announcement that ATC would be lowering its prices created speculation that “less expensive” products translated to a reduction in quality. Having spoken to the company and its U.S. Distributor, Leland Leard, we’ve been assured that nothing has changed in regard to the products but that a reduction in freight costs and a stronger U.S. Dollar compared to the British Pound has created the opportunity to return to pre-pandemic conditions.
We hope that the rest of the industry follows ATC’s lead on this one.
The ATC SCM40A floor standing active loudspeakers are not inexpensive at $10,999 USD pair — but after spending a few months with them and comparing them to almost everything comparable in my own system, I’m more than willing to suggest that they represent rather incredible value if you are looking to create a system in the $15,000 to $25,000 range.
The SCM40A exist in ATC’s entry series line that also includes the SCM19A 2-way active speaker and 5 passive loudspeaker models that include both the SCM40 and SCM19. ATC’s flagship Tower range starts around $25,000 and climbs to almost $100,000; which makes the SCM40A a rather intriguing option in comparison.
ATC has been engineering and manufacturing pro audio monitors going back to the 1970s and one is likely to find their products in recording studios across the globe; including Abbey Road in the UK. Mention ATC to any recording engineers and you are unlikely to find too many dissenting opinions on their products.
That level of performance comes at a very specific price and one of the biggest differences when it comes to the pro audio and consumer products is the industrial design.
ATC wisely realized that the “studio” look was not going to be a big seller in residential settings and created an extensive range of consumer loudspeakers that are built like tanks and available in some beautifully finished cabinets.
If you ever have the chance to listen to a pair of ATC SCM200 or SCM300s while at an audio show or shop, you owe it to yourself to take a listen. Less than 1% of the human race can afford the $40,000+ asking price for these loudspeakers and that is why the SCM40A holds so much appeal in the audiophile system context.
ATC builds their loudspeakers with longevity in mind and shipped my review pair in two large and extremely heavy road cases that were 100 pounds apiece. The shipping company notified me in advance that the pallet would require some space in the driveway.
The cases come with casters which was a godsend because these speakers will require some extra help when it comes to unboxing and installation. Do not try to be a hero and unpack them yourself — your dealer should be involved in the process to help with setup.
There are 4 finish options available including Satin Black, Satin White, Black Ash and Cherry and all come with a black foot that extends the spikes wider than the body of the speaker in the front for better stability.
Screw-in spikes are provided with a simple nut used as a stop for adjustment to achieve proper height and alignment. We did use a bubble level on the top of the cabinet to ensure that the spikes were installed correctly and that the speakers were completely level.
With my Magnepan loudspeakers moved out of their normal setup positions, I carefully placed the SCM40As in the same spot as the large panel speakers and used that as a starting point.
While a good bit smaller in stature, the SCM40A still looked right at home in my listening room. I like the wide open grilles that allow you to see the drivers but I quickly removed them as the speakers are even better looking without the grilles installed.
The rear of the cabinet is narrower than the front baffle and the sides are gracefully curved which helps elevate the look above more pedestrian floor standing boxes.
The cabinet’s appearance might seem rather conventional with the alignment of the tweeter, midrange driver, and woofer and the placement of the plate amplifier at the bottom, but there is a lot going up internally that really sets these loudspeakers apart.
Everyone will have their own opinion about the industrial design, but there should be zero argument that ATC knows how to build world-class drivers. Everything is engineered and manufactured in-house and the quality really speaks for itself.
They have made midrange and woofers for quite some time now (the soft dome midrange drivers date back to 1976) with the tweeters being a more recent addition in 2015.
The plate amps are also made in-house and what’s clear is that ATC has chosen not to rely on off-the-shelf components for its products when it has the capabilities to engineer and manufacture everything internally. That also means that they are not reliant on outside suppliers for specific parts.
The SCM40A use ATC’s 25mm (1-inch) tweeter along with a 75mm (3-inch) soft dome midrange and a 164mm (6.5-inch) woofer. If you ever get the opportunity to see and hold these drivers, it becomes rather apparent that a lot of the speaker weight is connected to the physical construction of the drivers.
ATC drivers are made for professional use in studios and as such are over-built with huge magnets, and baskets that are braced for increased stiffness and stability. All 3 amplifiers use a line level crossover network that then feeds the individual outputs to distinct amplifiers designed specifically for each driver.
There is an active line level crossover network and the correct phase of each drive unit is matched prior to the signal being sent to the amplifier.
The woofer to midrange hand-off is at 380Hz and the midrange to tweeter crossover is at 3.5kHz. This minimizes noise, improves crossover accuracy, and allows tailoring each amplifier to the task it will be performing.
Because of this, it is hard to give the SCM40A a conventional wattage rating.
The bass driver is powered by a 150W module, while the midrange uses a 60W dedicated module and the tweeter uses a 32W unit, totaling 242 watts of internal grounded source amplification per speaker or 484 watts total for the pair.
The SCM40A also utilizes a sealed cabinet design; bucking the modern trend of most floor standing loudspeakers that are ported designs.
While the ported designs go lower before rolling off and are a touch more efficient, the closed box designs roll-off more slowly and often give audibly cleaner decay as a result.
The SCM40A reaches down to around 48Hz in the bass range and 22kHz in the treble and one thing that became apparent is that bass depth isn’t lacking despite the sealed cabinet.
The SCM40A is the least expensive model available from ATC that combines all of the things they are doing into a single package at $11,000 USD.
After installing the spikes and making sure that the power cords were long enough to reach their respective receptacles, I located a pair of balanced XLR Mogami Gold Studio Cables and connected them between the out pre-amp output on my Bryston pre-amplifier and the plate amplifiers on the SCM40A.
With the weight and the spikes it takes a good bit of effort to adjust the speakers positioning and unless you want a floor marked with some deep gouges, I would suggest once again that you have someone help you with your adjustments.
Having heard and loved several pairs of ATC Studio monitors over the years, I had an expectation that the SCM40A would be somewhat neutral sounding in its presentation.
After a few hours of listening, I came to the realization that I was completely wrong to think that the studio monitors and consumer models were voiced the same way.
These are wonderfully detailed as expected but there is nothing sterile about the sound at all. The tonal balance actually leans in the opposite direction and while the departure from neutrality is only a small one — the more liquid, organic tone and timbre was utterly captivating.
EIC Ian White is a big proponent of the Spendor “Classic” Series and I think I finally understand what he’s referring to in that regard; the big difference between those loudspeakers and the SCM40A is the detail retrieval and the ability of the ATC to really deliver the explosive dynamics of some music.
I was so enamored with the SCM40A’s ability to perform at the same high levels with classical, jazz, blues, and rock music, that I intentionally tried to trip it up with music that I felt would be less than its comfort zone — and I failed miserably at that as well.
Hip-hop, rap, dubstep, and electronic music barely gave this loudspeaker any type of issue even with the volume raised to uncomfortable levels.
The dynamics are excellent with passages from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition going from almost imperceptible to thunderously loud and then back to somewhere between. Likewise, Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite was equally impressive both in dynamics and transients.
Considering the size of the loudspeaker, the SCM40A image incredibly well and the soundstage is very well defined in both depth and width. Musicians are firmly carved out in space but the music is not constrained in-between the two loudspeakers.
They don’t try to create an unrealistic sensation of space and that makes them utterly believable when a recording offers it up.
One of the most impressive aspects of the SCM40A’s overall presentation was its off-axis response throughout my room. Not only was it impressively even from multiple listening spots, but it didn’t lose any of its impact when I stood on a step ladder to gain some height.
Nothing I did seemed to make the sound less cohesive or out of phase.
Somewhat perplexed, I took out my test mic to measure its response at different spots in my room.
The SCM40A has to be the best off-axis loudspeaker I have had in my listening room and by a really large margin. There is no “magic” sweet spot with these loudspeakers and that’s unique in my experience with some high-end loudspeakers in this price range.
Listening at lower listening levels does remove some of the impact and resolution and while that might seem like a minor criticism, it’s certainly noticeable.
Above 75dB, these are capable of utterly breathtaking sonic performance depending on the quality of your pre-amplifier and sources. Reference level in some cases.
It’s very hard to call the ATC SCM40A an entry-level loudspeaker at $11,000 a pair.
Most people will look at that designation and wonder if their marketing department have a cruel sense of humor.
The reality is that you would have to spend a lot more on separates and a high-end pair of loudspeakers to achieve what ATC has accomplished with the SCM40A at that price point. The SCM40A prove that active loudspeakers can outperform comparable passive designs and by a very wide margin.
ATC have thought through every aspect of the SCM40A’s performance and engineered drivers, amplifiers, and high-end crossovers that create a vivid, detailed, and high resolution presentation that will only improve as you upgrade your source components.
These are definitely an investment for the long-term and worth every cent.
For more information: atc.audio | Where to buy: $10,999/pair at Music Direct
Tip: The ATC SCM40 (passive) loudspeaker is $5,999/pair, but requires external amplification. For an in-depth review on it checkout what Tarun, A British Audiophile had to say.
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