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ATC SCM40 passive speakers

ATC SCM40 passive speakers

Click an image to enlarge.

6 November 2019 - With the change of the seasons comes possible changes in loudspeakers. The second set of replacement panels supplied by MartinLogan lasted only seven months before displaying signs of near death…

A HUGE thank you to everybody who responded to my ‘Joy & Pain’ diary of MartinLogan ESL issues (MartinLogan Owner Scenario Owner Experience 1) earlier in the year. The response from owners as well as other speaker manufacturers was interesting and varied. MartinLogan definitely have loyal fans, who it appears do not want to read, or hear a bad word against MartinLogan ESL’s . All MartinLogan owners have one thing in common ‘We love the natural open sound and three dimensional sound quality of the MartinLogan ESL’. However, many of us have encountered similar breakdown issues, but at least some owners have received a better quality of service ‘generally’ outside of the UK. I am hoping the change of distribution & support network to PMC will mean we all receive a high quality service if (and when) we encounter issues.

After contacting MartnLogan to inform them of the recent panel failure, Scott Gribble (MartinLogan Service Manager) advised he would organise for a ‘third set of replacement panels to be manufactured, he confirmed the wait time of around 8 – 12 weeks. Unfortunately, I have lost confidence in the panel reliability. It is now time for me to seriously look for another pair of loudspeakers. Obviously, this will be a difficult journey. The longlist began with the following;

Golden Ear Triton 2 / 3 (£4000) Magico, JansZen Valentina zA2.1 Floorstander (£8000), Magico (£Expensive)
Focal Aria 926 (£1800), Focal Kanta No2 (£7000) Focal Sopra N2 (£10000) & the Dali Rubicon 6 (£2999)

After further investigation I quickly established the Golden Ear Triton range would not suit my needs and the Magico range (though lauded) were way out of my reach (just as is a date with Jennifer Lopez). I was able to listen to a pair of the beautifully designed JansZen Valentina ZA2.1 ESL’s, earlier in the year, however, it was very difficult to judge the full capability of this speaker due to the limited ‘streaming only’ set-up in the owners’ home. . I was intrigued by the initial ‘hint’ of a natural and open sound created by the JansZen’s and may attempt to further explore the possibility of listening with my own set-up at some point in the future?

Though I was never overly impressed with any Focal loudspeaker at the h-fi shows I attended to date, I felt impelled to lend them another ear (or two) due to the many recommendations from trusted viewers. At this point it is important to stress that I always recommend a home demo of any hi-fi component (for many reasons). Particular component choice such as amplification interconnects, source and room characteristics obviously play a major factor on outcome, but I felt I could at least get a flavour of any speaker characteristic (if any) from a showroom demo situation before making the next home demo step. My favoured source is vinyl, so I set-out with various well played jazz, classical and up-tempo albums ready to spin. We are all aware our ears, taste and expectations are different, therefore, the intention of the below brief noted experiences are not meant as an individual ‘loudspeaker critique’. I will save such energy for the final loudspeaker choice (if any). I have however previously mentioned ‘the natural open sound quality of the MartinLogan ESL’, so, with this in mind, you should get an idea of the type of experience I am hoping to achieve!

Focal Kanta No2

 

 

I was able to set up a demo of the Focal Aria 926 and Focal Kanta No2 models at a local hi-fi chain in South London. Unfortunately, I was still unimpressed with either model so did not feel impelled to progress to exploring the higher priced Sopra N2.

 

 

Dali Rubicon No2

 

Slightly dejected, thankfully, I only had to walk a few metres across the road to my next arranged demo. Though the outlet only had the Dali Rubicon 5 in stock and the salesman could not set up the only turntable in the store (Technics SL1210) due to a damaged cartridge, at least I could again get just a flavour of the Dali award winning design via TIDAL streaming. Now, this short demo proved the Dali design was a ‘clear room filling experience’ worthy of further exploration.

 

 

Further exploration has now led me to include the below speakers to the shortlist.
Dali Rubicon 6, Epicon 6 and Audiovector QR & SR range

Mid November through to December is always a positively busy time for me. The London Jazz Festival allows me to completely immerse myself into the great jazz musical tapestry. Venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, Cadogan Hall, Barbican Centre and PizzaExpress Jazz Club (to name just a few) will host some of the best musical performances of the year. I always tune into my favourite artist performances as well as the photography aspect of the festival. At this point I was also especially drawn to the artist sound-checks and the communication between the musicians and sound engineers. Musicians asking for “more cymbals in their monitors…”, “less volume on their microphone…”, or a specific saxophonist requesting “less of a shrill sound…” from his sax. Listening to such communication certainly hit home with regards to the possible control a sound engineer has at his fingertips and the connection with regards to what the listener may (or may not hear)? I returned home each night and occasionally played specific vinyl recordings of compositions by the musician he or she performed that night. Of course, these recordings will differ in delivery, mood and sound quality for obvious reasons, but these experiences, as well as the experiences I have encountered in recording studios assist in fine-tuning my ears.

With the above in mind, once the London Jazz Festival was over, I quickly set about arranging for the delivery of Audiovector QR 5 & SR 3 Avantgarde floorstanders to start with. I reiterate, this shared experience is not intended as an in-depth speaker review, until (if) a particular pair of loudspeakers are chosen as a replacement for my MartinLogan Scenario ESL’s?

 

Audiovector SR3 Avantgarde

 

The Audiovector SR 3 Avantgarde’s were placed in the same footprint as my beleaguered MartinLogan Scenario ESL’s. Within a few seconds of vinyl playback I did comment positively to a colleague sitting closely regarding the clarity of the high frequencies, however, after ten minutes of varying speaker positions, I removed them and replaced them in their boxes. I could not recreate “the natural open and three dimensional sound quality….” I am used to hearing.

 

 

Audiovector QR 5

“The QR 5 is now the biggest speaker in the QR series and by far the best performer…” – Audiovector. The white QR 5’s certainly stood out amongst my black components. Obviously if these were going to be the replacements for my MartinLogan ESL’s I would need to beg for a pair in black ash! First impressions were… They definitely sound more relaxed than the higher priced SR 3 Avantgarde’s, higher frequencies were again delivered with clarity through the lauded gold leaf air motion tweeter (AMT). Overall the musical delivery was smoother and more cohesive than the SR 3’s. Bass definition and depth was also good, but overall musical depth, imaging and transparency was still not a patch on the MartinLogan ESL’s. Time to move on...

 

 

Neat Acoustic Momentum SX5i

After the home demo of the Audiovector SR 3 Avantgarde and QR 5, I decided to save my aching back and return to assessing ‘the flavour’ of my next chosen speaker from a comfortable South London demo room. The Neat Acoustics Momentum SX5i’s (£4250) were the first floorstanders to be placed in front of me. Unfortunately, this outlet did not receive my determined hurried morning message advising of “vinyl being my choice of sources…” So I had to contend with a few minutes of a hurried swap from a very capable Moon 390 streaming preamplifier… Actually, this was not too painful. I was struck by the smooth and easy delivery of high frequencies through the Momentum’s! After changing sources to a Rega Planar 8 turntable, I continued listening with John Coltrane’s “My Favourite Thing” and Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Water From An Ancient Well” albums. These albums will challenge any systems’ higher frequencies, timing and musicality. Again, higher frequencies were delivered with ease and smoothness. However, midrange and lower frequencies were not as rich and cohesive as I would have hoped for from the SX5i’s isobaric bass unit and dedicated rear-firing port. Obviously, I could have experimented further with positioning? AND the PMC Cor amplification (though trusted and revered) was not my preferred choice. However, I decided to move on and hear what the ATC SCM40 Active’s had to say for themselves…

 

ATC SCM40A speakers

ATC monitors are revered in the recording studio environment (rightly so). I have had various discussions with sound engineers at various venues during this years’ London Jazz Festival regarding the viability of using ‘the right’ ATC speaker in my more ‘homely’ listening room environment. I was relieved to be able to stay seated on the comfy listening sofa as each 36kg ATC SCM40A (£6800) unit was carefully manoeuvred into position onto granite slabs. As these are active speakers, they only needed to be connected to the Moon 390 streaming preamplifier, allowing for each of the three dedicated built in speaker amplifiers (one for each driver) to run under their own steam (so to speak). Due to ATC’s reputation, my expectations were very high! Thankfully, these speakers did not disappoint. As soon as the needle touched down onto the record I got a sense that I was about to hear something special…

 

 

ATC SCM40A speakers

Steve Davis’ bass, Elvin Jones’ drums, McCoy Tyrner’s piano coupled with John Coltrane’s soprano sax on the track “My Favourite Things” (from the same titled album) arrive with a commanding rhythmic drive, insisting you stop what you are doing and pay attention! These speakers clearly deliver music in a muscular controlled fashion. Continued listening also confirmed their tonally accurate highs, mids and lows.

Obviously this was an impressive start and I continued to test the ATC SCM40’s at various volume levels to hear if their tonal qualities and musicality would change in any shape or form. Transparency and the ability to deliver musical depth was also part of my criteria? I also wanted to know if I would feel fatigued due to their accuracy. So far so good at high to medium levels, though, of course, this was not a lengthy, or home listening experience. Requesting a home demo was the next step.

The ATC SCM40A (£6800) speaker is also available as a passive (£3750) speaker. As I am accustomed to the transparent qualities of my M8-500S power amplifier & M8PRE preamplifier, it was important to discover which speaker option would work best in my home environment. I therefore requested a home demo of both speaker models…

 

ATC SCM40 passive speakers

The ATC SCM40 passive speakers were delivered (direct from ATC) 16 January 2020. Interested on-lookers peered quizzically as UPS couriers wheeled the miniature coffin shaped trusty Sigma flight cases through my front door into my living room.

My initial rushed set-up and quick listen highlighted the importance of insuring you stick to specific set-up protocol and detail - such as ‘speaker floor spikes’. ATC neglected to include the floor spikes in the packaging, but I thought I would ‘give the speakers a go’ without them. I can now confirm… listening to the SCM40’s without their isolating floor spikes is akin to watching your television thorough a netted curtain. Thankfully, the floor spikes were delivered the following day so normal service resumed!

Due to my long-time MartinLogan ESL experience, my immediate instinct was to place the SCM40’s in a ‘toed in’ position. The mushy presentation and soundstage suggested I should readjust. Once I placed the speakers in the straight-ahead position, I could hear most of what I experienced from the Active range during the showroom demo.

 

ATC SCM40 passive speakers

As I listened to various albums on CD as well as vinyl from morning through to night… then morning again, I found my listening experience was different than with my MartinLogan ESL’s. I found my listening, but my thoughts and feelings had become more analytical. ‘YES, this is what I set out to do and is a normal process when introducing new components or cables into your system!’ BUT, I expect to be able to switch from ‘analytical listening to emotional’ within a relatively short time after set-up. To me, this analytical to emotional switch is a good indication to suggest I have made the right choice (and what I experienced with my MartnLogan Scenario ESL’s when I introduced them into my home nearly twenty years ago). This is not a complete negative assessment of the ATC SCM40’s and at least my lengthy listening periods proved these speakers were not fatiguing. I feel it is important to add, during this listening experience, I used three different speaker cables. My original Chord Legend, Chord Epic and Russ Andrews 8TC speaker cable. With the Russ Andrews 8TC speaker cable in line, my analytical side was slightly tamed, but overall, it never disappeared completely.

Overall, I enjoyed my experience with ATC SCM40 passive speakers. I did not get that ‘I cannot move from my listening chair’ feeling, or ‘only call me if you can offer me the key to Jennifer Lopez, or Halle Berry’s bedroom’ feeling when listening to music with them. I missed the emotional & spiritual connection I feel when my MartinLogan ESL’s are in place. This is not a criticism of the ATC SCM40’s in any shape or form. In discussion with friends and colleagues I am reminded of ATC’s studio monitor heritage! I am clearly addicted to the ESL large holographic three-dimensional soundstage. I also miss the detail and musicality I get from my ESL’s at low volume.

 

ATC SCM40 passive speakers

As I viewed my faulty MartinLogan Scenario ESL’s perched in the corner at the other end of my room, I did actually consider the possibility of purchasing the ATC SCM 40’s, as well as considering various amplifier driving options for them. (Which just might bring me closer to my dream)? The SCM 40’s can be tri-amped. However, I could consider utilising two amplifiers (one amplifier for bass and the second for midrange and tweeter drive units). Or, I could just purchase the Active version of this speaker and utilise my balanced Musical Fidelity M8 preamplifier for control only?

 

The ATC SCM40 passive (and active) speakers are extremely accurate and capable performers, but perhaps I am just too old and set in my musical ways to change to conventional cone speakers? I decided against a home demo of the active model as I felt I needed to move up the ATC range perhaps? During the above listening experience, listening to music using the SCM40 has certainly sparked my interest in ATC speakers generally. Perhaps ATC will allow me to explore other speakers they have in their range?

I decided against further exploration with the Dali Rubicon and Epicon range (as mentioned earlier) after further research into their characteristics (and price). Considering how impressive the ATC SCM40 performed overall, I would consider exploring other ATC speakers as well as other speaker companies who have a studio monitor history. Though, I may just hear MORE of the same characteristics above?

18 February 2020 – Replacement panels for my MartinLogan Scenario ESL’s were finally delivered. I fitted the new panels within an hour and sat back in my listening chair to enjoy. Even though these new panels require several hours to run-in, I will admit it was great to get back to that trademark natural open and three dimensional sound quality, however, I will continue the search for a more reliable speaker…

Thank you to Erik from Premium Sound HI FI & Audio Equipment & ATC for their assistance throughout this experience.

Complete system details:

Turntable
AMG Viella V12 turntable with AMG Teatro MC & AMG reference tonearm cable
Phono stage & interconnect cables. Whest PS.40RDT Special Edition phono stage with Russ Andrews Timbre XLR interconnect cables.

CD player
Musical Fidelity A3 CD player (internally upgraded). Van Den Hul The Second Analogue Interconnect cables.

Amplification
Musical Fidelity M8-500S power amplifier with Musical Fidelity M8PRE preamplifier
Luminist Revision Poseidon XLR balanced cables.

Speakers
ATC SCM40 passive speakers.
Chord Legend speaker cable, Chord Epic speaker cable & Russ Andrews 8TC speaker cable.
REL S3 subwoofer in photograph (but not in use for this experience)

Table
Quadraspire Q4 EVO turntable wall bracket. Quadraspire Q4 EVO 4 tier shelf.

Power & mains cables
Russ Andrews BMU 3000, Michael Valentine Studio Silver Gold Special Edition BMU,
Powerkord 300 mains cables for BMU, amplifier & preamplifier

Robin Francis
© Michael Valentine Studio
November 2019 – January 2020

Further
Recommended
Viewing

Use the link below to read the “MartinLogan Scenario Owner Experience 1”...

MartinLogan Scenario Owner Experience (click to go to this page)

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