ATC SCM11 Standmount Loudspeaker Review
It's a case of less is more with this compact standmounter from an iconic UK pro audio specialist, says James Michael Hughes…
SCM11 Standmount Loudspeaker
AUD $3,299 RRP
For nearly fifty years, ATC has been making some of the finest studio monitor loudspeakers in the world, acclaimed by professionals for their quality and reliability. So when it sets its sights on doing something smaller and more affordable, you expect something special…
The company isn't really one for compromises. Obviously, you can't simply sell pro audio speakers into the domestic market, but ATC's hi-fi products still have a strong whiff of professional monitors about them. So it's no surprise to find that the brand's smaller, less expensive loudspeakers like the SCM11 are almost as full of ingenious design details as the more expensive models.
ATC was formed in 1974 and started out making high-quality drive units intended for studio monitors. Its wares were initially aimed at recording studios needing tough, reliable, accurate, detailed transducers for professional purposes. It soon became legendary for the quality and reliability of its drive units. While the company continues to offer its studio monitors, its range has broadened considerably of late. The petite SCM11 is a case in point, a two-way compact sealed enclosure standmounter costing $3,299 in Australia. It's one of six models in ATC's Entry Series, which starts with the SCM7 and goes up to the SCM40; there's even an active version of the latter, the SCM40A.
The SCM11 has a quoted sensitivity of 85dB for 1W at 1 metre; as this is on the low side, it's recommended you use an amplifier between 75W to 300W output. I partnered my review pair with Elipson's PF1/ A2700 pre-power combination, which features a Class D power amp delivering around 400W per channel. A maximum SPL (sound pressure level) of 108dB is claimed with a suitable amp. Although this little box is fairly insensitive, ATC says its impedance curve is relatively flat. This makes it easy to drive, with a nominal quoted figure of 8 ohms. Frequency response is quoted as 56Hz to 22kHz (-6dB).
While outwardly, the SCM11 looks superficially similar to many other 2-way standmounters, it's ATC's custom-designed drive units that make the difference. The tweeter is a 25mm soft dome type featuring a neodymium magnet and precision alloy waveguard. Interestingly, the company avoids the use of ferrofluid damping found in most similar 25mm soft dome tweeters. Although ferrofluid has several benefits, ATC believes it eventually thickens up and impedes the movement of the dome – so the company designed its tweeter to work without it.
The 150mm bass/mid driver swings into action from 2.2kHz and below. It features ATC's CLD (constrained layer damped cone) driver technology with a hand-wound voice coil using flat (rather than round) wire. The drive unit has a powerful motor assembly for magnetic linearity and low distortion. When designing a bass driver, you can either go for a stiff cone or a light, flexible type. A cone with high stiffness behaves more like a true piston over a broader range of frequencies and delivers an extended high-frequency response when listened to on-axis.
However, it suffers from a reduced high-frequency response and multiple resonance points when listened to off-axis. Increasing mechanical damping makes the on and off-axis response of the cone more consistent, but a heavy cone adversely affects transient response and reduces output level. CLD is said to be a revolutionary damping technology which significantly reduces harmonic distortion. It extends the cone's on-axis frequency response while improving off-axis dispersion, with no loss of transient attack.
The controlled relationship between the drivers ensures the phase response remains linear over the quoted horizontal and vertical angles. ATC claims the end result is a crisp, detailed sound that remains smooth and well-balanced, practically regardless of where the listener sits. The SCM11's 381 x 232 x 236mm cabinet is solidly made and nicely finished and weighs a surprisingly heavy 10.8kg. StereoNET's review pair came finished in Cherry veneer, but there's a choice of Black Ash, Black Satin, and White Satin. The speakers are designed to be used without grilles, but an open mesh-type 'honeycomb' grille is provided. Two sets of 4mm binding posts at the rear allow bi-wiring.
First impressions were of a smooth, tightly controlled sound that was solid and precise but a little constrained. However, after a few hours of use, the SCM11 began to open up, growing more transparent and increasingly dynamic. For example, Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid became a lot of fun. I had intended to sample just a few tracks but ended up listening to the whole album because the sound was so enjoyable. I find this recording tests the mettle of my regular Klipsch Cornwall IV speakers, pushing them to their limits…
Inevitably, the tiny SCM11 does not have anything like the scale or bass depth of the much larger (and more expensive) Klipsch speaker. It's actually slightly absurd to compare the two. Yet what I did like was the way the ATC was utterly unfazed by the extremes in this recording. The Cornwall can, on certain tracks, sound a wee bit uncomfortable at times, especially if the volume is set too high. But the SCM11 just reproduced each track without fuss or drama, never sounding stressed or under pressure. Nothing seemed to bother this baby box!
True, the SCM11 couldn't reproduce the really deep bass found on certain tracks and tended to homogenise the sound tonally so that the individual flavour of one track to the next was diluted. But musically, the effect produced was musically consistent and highly enjoyable. Stereo imagery was very good, and the sound had an impressive sense of spatial depth. Vocals sounded very clear, and tonal quality was smooth and open, with low distortion and no cabinet resonances. It was a very precise, almost crystalline, sound that proved wonderfully transparent.
Being an infinite baffle design, you would expect the bass to be firm and tight, but, of course, not massively deep or voluminous due to cabinet size. On the plus side, things were solid and well-controlled. Whether played at low volume or pushed hard, the SCM11's bottom end was always clean and well behaved – a really likeable facet of this speaker's sound.
The human voice is always a good test of colouration, and the SCM11 proved excellent in terms of true-to-life naturalness with no unwanted sibilance. The speaker produces a very integrated, coherent impression. The drive units were seamlessly blended even when sitting very close to the enclosure.
Solo piano demonstrated the SCM11's immediacy and transient attack. Playing the recent live recital of Haydn and Schubert by Grigory Sokolov at Esterhazy Palace on Deutsche Grammophon, I was impressed by the clean immediacy of the sound and its effortless clarity. ATC's soft dome tweeter is very smooth and clean and seems free from edginess. Although producing crisp, precise stereo images, you don't have to sit in the sweet spot for the best results. Even off-axis, you still hear a coherent soundstage.
Playing West Side Story by the Oscar Peterson Trio on Verve, the SCM11 reproduced this vintage recording crisply, with focused piano and percussion. But Ray Brown's double bass was just a bit recessed compared to how it sounds on larger speakers. Of course, it's unrealistic to expect any small speaker – no matter how expensive or carefully designed – to reproduce the full woody richness of an acoustic double bass. Although you could always add a subwoofer to bolster low frequencies – now there's an idea!
As an owner of KEF's amazing little KC62 sub, I tried partnering it with my review pair of SCM11s. The improvement was remarkable. Not just in terms of added bass depth and weight but enhancing the sense of scale and spaciousness. Suddenly I was listening to a big loudspeaker, it seemed. Except the SCM11s and the KC62 aren't big – individually, they're small – yet together, they deliver a serious sound from three tiny boxes.
Moreover, having the deep bass reproduced by a physically separate box means powerful floor-shaking lows do not affect the SCM11's transparent midrange. As a result, Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid had much greater dimensionality. Suddenly there was a much more palpable impression of the room acoustic in which the recordings had been made – and this acoustic changed considerably from track to track. Oscar Peterson's piano feels quite close-miked when listened to with SCM11s on their own – giving a slightly dry shallow tonal quality. Yet much of this disappears when you add a sub, and predictably the double-bass line is enhanced considerably.
ATC offers three subwoofers, the C1 Mk II being the ideal partner. The C1 is also available in the same finishes; although bigger than the KEF KC62, it's still quite compact. So that would be my suggestion if you're in it to win it with this little loudspeaker. Yet within the constraints of size, the SCM11 delivers very accurate reproduction – clean enough to be used for monitoring recordings, as nothing would get past a pair of them. Smooth, open, crisp, and well-integrated, there's much to like about this natural, uncoloured sounding speaker.
An excellent, if slightly 'off the beaten track' design. ATC doesn't follow fashion; it just does superbly engineered, really well-built loudspeakers for grown-ups. It's not the latest and greatest in terms of styling, but who cares? The SCM11 is extremely capable at its price point and deserves auditioning if you're in the market for such a thing.
An avid audiophile for many decades, Jimmy has been writing about hi-fi since 1980 in a host of British magazines, from What Hi-Fi to Hi-Fi Choice. Based in London, England, he’s one of the UK’s most prolific record and CD collectors – no streaming service can yet match his amazing music collection!