British specialist manufacturer ATC (Acoustic Transducer Company) outfits some of the world’s elite recording studios, mastering facilities, and concert halls with its powered, or “active,” monitoring speakers. But the company’s pro reputation has unfairly overshadowed its lineup of active and passive consumer models, which brim with audiophile credentials. In filling the need for a more traditional, entry-level design that delivers the brand’s high-performance “house sound” to a broader base of home enthusiasts, the new SCM 35 stands as one of ATC’s most significant offerings.
A three-way acoustic suspension floorstander, the $4075 SCM 35 is rooted in the classic design for which ATC has been known since the active SCM 50 became a studio standard over two decades ago. (SCM stands for studio control monitor.) It extols a brawny, midband- dominant sound that echoes the output and precision of its pro-line brothers. Yet unlike some audiophile gear, it doesn’t need to be coddled like a piece of Lalique crystal.
The SCM 35 is a control speaker— more so than my reference SCM 20 SL and newer SCM 20-2 (see sidebar). In the fashion of a true studio monitor, it has a direct, analytical personality and reacts with a velocity more associated with electrostats than dynamic speakers. In revealing every dusty corner, it doesn’t sweeten or lay a Krispy Kreme glaze over troubled recordings. Coherence and integration between the bass and midrange drivers is superior. If the woofer wasn’t this fast and pitch perfect, the midrange’s ribbon-like speed would leave it at the starting line. Similarly sized bass-reflex floorstanders can surpass the SCM 35 in extension, but few will turn the trick without port or enclosure artifacts.
The SCM 35 makes the most of solo instruments and vocalists. During the Kol Nidrei [Channel Classics], I could almost see a puff of rosin powder float off cellist Peter Wispelwey’s bow. The speaker’s focus is unshakable, with a deep soundstage that picked up every distant percussion cue on Holly Cole’s “Train” [Temptation, Alert]. Listening to Norah Jones’ cover of “The Nearness Of You” [Come Away With Me, Blue Note], I noted how clean the leading edges of piano transients were—pristinely delineated yet almost buttery in the way they tickled and massaged the ear. And Clark Terry’s horn blasts during “Liza All The Clouds Away” [One On One, Chesky] were striking in dynamism and clarity.
Contrasting the SCM 35 with the compact SCM 20-2 proved interesting. Although I wouldn’t have predicted it, the 20-2s have a slightly deeper tonality and a more laterally expansive soundstage but lack the 35’s front-to-back depth. Not surprisingly, the 20-2 couldn’t match the SCM 35’s punch on the drum fills and guitars from Green Day’s mini punk opera “Jesus of Suburbia” [American Idiot, Reprise]. In a perfect world, I’d wish for a little more weight and extension from the SCM 35’s bass, and a tweeter with the range of expression to match the splendid midrange. The soft dome lacks a high level of fluidity and openness, which unfortunately undermines integration with the whole.
For those who insist on being carried away on a romantic, cushiony carpet of sound, ATC’s latest will probably not be your ride. The SCM 35 embodies the exactness of a diagnostician— it’s a precise performer that will not retouch reality with impressionistic brushstrokes.