The ATC SCM19A active loudspeakers have onboard amps and active crossovers more often seen in pro audio, but these £4990/pair speakers are designed most specifically for the home environment. Dan Worth plugs them in and assesses their merits. 

The Acoustic Transducer Company, ATC for short, is one of a handful of pro-audio companies to have crossed over successfully into the Hifi arena, winning many fans in the process. Its latest product, the SCM19A, introduced to me by ATC’s Technical Sales Manager Ben Lilly at the Bristol Show in February, is here for review today.ATC_SCM19A_loudspeaker_review_4

Imagine a passive SCM19 monitor with the footprint of the SCM40 floor standing system, complete with onboard bi-amplification rated at 182W: 150W for the low frequency/midrange Super Linear (SL) driver, and 32W for ATC’s wonderful SH25-76 tweeter, which, if you’ve read any of our previous ATC reviews, is a revelation for the brand.

Be prepared for a double trolley ride from store to car or delivery truck to listening room. The boxes that protect the 19As are large for what essentially is a 19 litre speaker. There must be at least six inches of packaging around the cabinets and a huge chunk of shock-resistant foam top and bottom. Remove the outer and inner boxes and the protective packaging and a more modest floorstander is revealed, having cabinet dimensions of (HxWxD): 980x370x344mm (spikes add 25mm to height, grill adds 34mm). Weighing in at just over 30kgs they are easily manageable when unpacked.

Also worth noting is that, according to ATC, the 19A’s magnetically-fixed grills have virtually zero effect on overall sound performance. My own reference loudspeakers have fixed metal grills that similarly have no obvious effect on sound reproduction – a feature which is very important to me and I’m sure many others. Cloth grills collect dust, fade in sunlight, are a constant attraction to little paws, and their flexibility can lead to driver damage. A metal grill, especially one that can enhance design elegance such as the 19As, means there’s one less thing to worry about in our busy domestic environments.

The 19A review samples are finished in ATC’s trademark cherry veneer finish but there’s also a black ash alternative. At the bottom of the speaker is a black fixed plinth, which requires the installation of an underside outrigger board with a simple two allen-screw fitting. Also supplied are M8 spikes. I opted to use Soundcare Superspikes in order to protect my granite surface and I like what they do.

ACTIVE DESIGN

Here’s what ATC has to say about the electronics: ‘the 19A’s proprietary two-way on-board amp pack design has been revised to reduce noise and distortion (a further -10dB @ 10kHz), while achieving a lower operating temperature for improved reliability. The design includes protection circuits for both DC offset and thermal overload.  Mid frequency THD is vanishingly low at 93dB/0.002%, and a very wide bandwidth of 200 kHz ensures the accurate reproduction of musical transients. ATC’s Grounded Source output stage modules are fed by a newly developed two-way active crossover section featuring 2nd order modified Butterworth circuitry with phase compensation for each crossover point. The advantage of active crossovers is that their response remains unaffected by variable voice coil impedance, while the use of phase compensation enables phase coherency at the crossover points, improving the 19A’s tonal balance and enhancing imaging for a pin-point stereo field. As usual system input is via balanced XLR.’ATC_SCM19A_loudspeaker_review_1_s

Being an active speaker the crossover is placed before the amps rather than after, allowing the amplifiers to work accurately within the frequency response designated by the design team and making for a more efficient drive of the transducers with lower distortion levels. Even though the 19A is a floor-standing system, the acoustic design remains the same as the passive 19, retaining the 2.5kHz crossover point from mid/bass driver to tweeter and the frequency range of 54Hz to 22kHz.

USING A PRO/HIFI CROSSOVER SYSTEM 

Although gear with a pro heritage has not always had the greatest following in Hifi, it’s been proven again and again that a product which achieves this balancing act can bring extraordinary results. For this review I’ve put together a system which could live in either world and is also very minimalistic and family friendly.

As a source I’m using a Mac Mini, with the ability to play music from iTunes, stream from local devices such as network attached storage, tablets and smartphones. The Mac is connected to a Mytek Brooklyn DAC which has a similar footprint to the Mac Mini and all cabling has been graciously provided by Studio Connections. This system would be as much at home in a small studio as in any domestic living space.

THE SOUND

The system as a whole works incredibly well. It has great connectivity through the Mac’s wireless abilities and the Brooklyn’s vast array of inputs and outputs, and it produces music with fantastic insight and clarity. This set-up is a little out of the ordinary for typical Hifi at home but has inspired me to explore other similarly cost effective system ideas. The DAC and cables will be the subject of future reviews; now however it’s ATC’s time in the limelight.

After screwing in the spikes and getting the 19As upright I noticed four posts on the corners of the rear-mounted amp-pack standing about 15mm proud of the cooling fins to protect the metalwork and the XLR and IEC connections for signal and power.ATC_SCM19A_loudspeaker_review_3s

I positioned the speakers in my room as I would any other speaker of similar size and scale. When playing the first track by CeCe Winans I was treated to a wide soundstage which instantly brought back fond memories of the imaging and timing of the stand-mount 19s. Through the 19As Cece’s vocal conveyed more of the emotional essence of her performance, drawing me closer to it. The combination of ATC’s amplifier and speaker technology is simply a match made in heaven, instantly producing better depth and acoustics than I remember being able to achieve through the passive crossovers of the standard 19s. Damien Rice’s vocals on the ‘O’ album also delivered terrific emotion together with strong venue reverb and spaciousness that lent the whole performance more realism overall, allowing the in-room sweet spot to generate an authentic space around each piece of music. I’m a huge fan of a systems ability of pull off transparency, accuracy and imaging combined to recreate the performance and not just the music. The 19As dishes out this reward in spades.

I first heard these speakers during a visit to the ATC PR man’s studio. We’d arranged to listen to his 100ATs, and although 19As were missing the bandwidth and scale of the larger siblings, I was instantly impressed by how big a space they could manage to fill while retaining focus and strong energy in the room. My listening space is a smaller domestic living room and I listen in a nearer-field scenario, but their audio character remained true to my earlier impressions and gave me a consistency of spread and dynamics which I am used to from my higher-ticket reference system, albeit with slightly less bass extension.

Tonally the ATCs express a sonic capability which is clean, lively and insightful without hardness or brightness. MP3 music will have the speakers showing grain in the top end, but play anything of reasonable recording quality and the top end is expressive and airy with good treble density and inner detail.

Provided it’s been recorded by a semi competent individual, live music from Tidal through the Mac for instance will present the listener with a recreation of the venue in their listening space. I am not a huge fan of Candy Dulfer, but her live version of ‘Nikki’s Dream’ in Amsterdam is an absolute favourite of mine. Crowd interaction and applause is delivered through the 19As with spatial accuracy and her saxophone just simply swings around centre stage rather than holding one fixed point. This is not a busy piece of music but it’s very much about the tone and timbre of the sax and electric guitar, which serenades Candy half way through. Being able to image securely and retain individual focus points is an ATC performance virtue, and the active version of the 19s adds even more insight and transparency over the sound of pricey amplification driving the stand-mount passive model. It goes to show that after a strong design, amp and driver synergy is king.

With a 54Hz roll off (-6dB) it’s surprising how much air these closed boxes move. In-room response feels deeper and although the bottom octave doesn’t have as much welly as a larger speaker might have, the 19As can still dig down deep when required. For instance, through the 19As ‘Blanket’ by Urban Species can deliver real room rolling bass coupled with a dynamic thump to the body, leaving an impression and appreciation of deep bass response.

Newton Fulkner’s cover of Maroon 5’s ‘Payphone’ from his ‘Live in London’ performance was simply stunning. Newton and his guitar did something for me I didn’t think I’d feel with these ATCs. Their ultra-transparent midrange imparts a subtle fluidity to the vocal and even the softest guitar notes sound slightly liquid on the leading edges whilst retaining speed and authenticity.

All home-orientated stand-mount passive ATCs have good punch with a spritely nature, but the addition of what is effectively a veneer-lined floor stand to passive 19 cabinet adds a good deal of solidity to the lower most frequencies with beat-driven Dance and Electronica music. Of course this may be the active crossover of amp and drivers working its magic again, but I also think that the rigidity of the extended cabinet contributes to a sense of greater confidence and composure.  If I owned a pair of standard 19s with the best matched stand I could test this idea objectively, but I have a pretty good memory for sound and it hasn’t failed me yet – I think…

Hooking the ATCs up to a computer and DAC of lesser quality immediately showed in their performance, so I’d suggest treating the 19As with some good source electronics in order to bring out their awesome abilities. There is more potential for even greater performance from the 19As, but whatever front end is used, the core system is already ready and waiting to spring into action. 

CONCLUSION

I believe that this system demonstrates that there are huge opportunities in mixing products from a range of manufacturers beyond the traditional Hifi brands. The sound I obtained from the Mytek/Studio Connections/ATC combination is transparent and accurate, non-fatiguing or over analytical, truthful and honest: a very engaging listen that would give some of our most highly regarded Hifi only systems some serious competition.

I am accustomed to ATC’s abilities, but listening to the transformation of a speaker from a passive stand-mount design to an active version has been truly informative. Although ATC has removed the choice of amplifier and stand away from the listener in the 19As, they have also solved the problem of finding the ideal combination of driver/amp/stand with an outcome that always delivers music which is exciting and engaging.

If you’re looking for a no brainer approach to high fidelity sound at a reasonable cost with great looks and build quality, and one that lowers the box count I’d strongly recommend a demo of the SCM19As. Any reasonably sized domestic space will be confidently filled by their ability to offer a bigger and finer performance than their size would suggest. ATC has a range of speakers that in my experience steps-up in audio scale but retains its revealing character. In short, and as demonstrated by the 19AT, it’s simply honest and insightful.

AT A GLANCE HIGHLYRECOMMENDEDLARGE300DPIONLINE

Sound Quality: very engaging, exciting and honest 

Build Quality: strong solid build, nice veneer and amp pack integration 

Value For Money: in the grand scheme of finding a great sonic match  amplifier and stands, ATC take away the burden of wasting money and time with the designs synergy 

Pros: 

Honest and insightful sound

Incredibly transparent midrange

Confident stable soundstage

Lovely design and finish 

Cons: 

Low quality recordings are exposed 

Price: 

£4990/pair 

Dan Worth

Specifications 

Drivers: HF ATC 25mm dual suspension Tweeter, Mid/LF ATC 150mm SL
Matched Response: +/- 0.5dB
Frequency Response (-6dB): 54Hz-22kHz
Dispersion: ±80° Coherent Horizontal, ±10° Coherent Vertical
Max SPL: 108dB
Crossover Frequency: 2.5kHz
Connectors: Male XLR
Input sensitivity: 1V
Filters: 2nd Order critically damped with phase compensation
Overload Protection: Active FET momentary gain reduction
Fault Protection: DC fault protection and thermal trip. Fault indication on rear panel mounted LED
Amplifier Output: 150W LF, 32W HF
Cabinet Dimensions (HxWxD): 980x370x344mm (spikes add 25mm to height, grill adds 34mm to depth)
Weight: 31kg

Previous ATC Reviews

ATC SCM7 Loudspeakers

ATC SCM19 Loudspeaker

ATC SCM 11 Loudspeakers

 

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