Bad sound from new ATC SCM19s

New SCM19s in the house, matched with Pass amplification, and an Auralic Vega straight in to amp with software volume control. Triode Wire Labs interconnect from DAC to amp. Audience AU24SE speaker cables. The sound is generally horrid. Grainy, ragged and rough with all but the best recordings. Yes these speakers are revealing but does that mean that only 25% of recordings sound good? At the dealer they were matched with Naim electronics and sounded super smooth. Pass is no slouch in this regard either. Thinking the cabling may be a factor and will try swapping in a few new ones. Dealer says more break-in needed, but another owner says break-in should not be much of a factor. Somebody else said it's a bad room interaction, but I somehow doubt this. This same set-up with my Revel speakers worked fine. Any thoughts? Thanks.
Yes, break in. And experiment with placement, and keep experimenting. If you are still unhappy, see if your dealer will make a house call and advise you. After that, if you are still not happy, see if you can return or exchange the speakers. ATC is definitely not for everyone.

Grainy isn’t usually a problem I associate with room acoustics, but with AC and electronics.

You don’t mention your source, Mac Mini? If so, there’s your problem.

If not, it may be an AC problem. Try turning off everything else in the house, via circuit breakers so you are left with nothing but audio. Same problem?

Make sure you turn off any dimmers, lights, etc as well.

Oh, even if off, disconnect any cable TV coaxial connections as well. Ground loops are notorious for forming there.  Cheap to fix.


Grainy isn’t usually a problem I associate with room acoustics, but with AC and electronics.

High- end home built server. AC not an issue.

Like I said, no problem with previous speakers. Switched them back in, glory days are back.

Set-up the new speakers just now with old reliable burn-in method, inverted phase of one speaker and faced them towards each other, 1" apart. Continuous loud play with a few break-in CDs. We’ll see.

Something besides break-in is the problem. I would bring the speakers back to your dealer and listen to them on the Naim set-up w/your CDs that currently sound bad. If they sound like crap next to the demos that sounded smooth, exchange for the demos or have your dealer contact ATC for advice and/or possible new pair.
jaybe, I fully understand your frustration because I have been there and done that.

Few years back I was in a ATC showroom to buy the SCM19. The showroom had the SCM11 and SCM40 on demo and both of them were nicely run-in units. They also had a 19 which was only a week old and less than 50 hours of burn-in. They first played the 11 and 40, both of them sounded wonderful and I was now rest assured that my next speakers are going to be a ATC. Then they played the 19 clearly stating that it needs a lot of burn-in. I was taken aback by the way it sounded, it actually sounded brash, somewhat thin, irritating in someway or the other. Mind you that it was using all the same ancillaries as the 11 and 40 but the sound of the 11 and 40 were smooth and clean and very neutral. The 19 was neutral but not at all smooth and not at all pleasant. It was so dissappointing that I decided to go with the 11 or 40 even though my room size and my budget was exactly fitting the 19 and every specification and review said that 19 was the better speaker. I finally bought the 40. It was not over though.

After I setup the 40 at my home I noticed the sound to be not very clean on many recordings. Some would call it revealing but I just thought that it was getting relentless in throwing junk whenever there was any. Well, I slowly sorted it out because I knew this was one of THE most honest speakers I have heard by a long margin. Here are the things to do:

1. Biwire your speakers with solid core copper cables. It will take away a lot of grain and make the sound very relaxed. 

2. Try to position them away from hard concrete walls or atleast place some soft cushionings at the nearest wall.

3. Even if you feel your AC is clean I would strongly suggest you try out some decent power cords. I found a lot of gains by sorting out the AC through this method. Dont have to spend thousands of dollars. Get something nice under $500, at least for your source and preamp.

4. I benefitted further by isolating my CDP and preamp with Symposium rollerblocks. A friend of mine also benefitted a lot by properly isolating his equipments. Big jump there.

5. Finally 500 hours of burn-in is the starting point for your ATC to show its potential.

I have not suggested anything for room acoustics though it helps. Only thing I did was put some nice cotton curtains around the bare walls in my room.

ATC speakers are one of those which when played well is better than 99% stuff out there but it is not plug n play.

ATC speakers are one of those which when played well is better than 99% stuff out there but it is not plug n play.

Which speakers have you heard?
pani and all, thank you for your great feedback. Hearing from another ATC owner is what I was hoping for.

Regarding electronics, although Pass and Naim have different sound characteristics, they are still both capable of very smooth sound. So I was ready to discount the differences between amplification. As for the Auralic DAC, this also has a reputation for smooth natural sound, so I didn’t consider this a source of the problem either.

My speaker cables are the top Audience. They fit my previous rig well, but may be contributing to the thinness or graininess now. A friend is bringing over some new Cardas speaker cables today for a trial, as well as Cardas IC for the DAC-to-amp connection. What solid core copper bi-wire cables can you (or anyone) recommend? I’m familiar with Clear Day, but these are advertised as "silver" (though I’d think they can’t be solid silver, so maybe silver-coated copper?)

I have some restrictions on speaker placement due to the small listening room. One speaker is a few feet away from a corner, the other has an open side but same distance to front wall. Not sure what to do for "soft cushionings".

I am using Triode Wire Labs power cables on all my equipment. A noticeable upgrade over OEM cables. I’d think these should be fine for now. Also a Blue Circle power conditioner.

My source and amp are not currently vibration-isolated. Been thinking of looking into Iso Pods or similar or maybe your Symposium solution.

I am starting a rigorous burn-in process using a few break-in CDs and a break-in sine wave I found online.

My room acoustics are not ideal, but I’ve made some room mode adjustments using a microphone and software. But it’s not so much the room-mode frequency response, it’s that damned rough grainy sound that’s the bigger problem right now.

Although I auditioned the speakers at a local dealer, I purchased them online. Better price as well as better return policy. So I can’t get a dealer to help in the setup. (Yes I support local brick-and-mortar merchants, but if the prices are substantially different and the online merchant’s policies are better, I’ll go online if necessary.)

Thanks again and looking forward to more feedback. I’ll keep the forum updated.

Return them . They just might not be your cup of tea!  
Well after swapping in some better cables there was no significant change. I'll start an intensive burn-in for a while and look for changes. If not, back they go.

Any suggestions for burn-in in addition to music? I have the IsoTek and Tara Labs CDs, and a file from online doing a full frequency sweep over about 3 minutes. Have the music player set to repeat play.
Had the same problem with Thiel 2.3.

After trying virtually everything I realized they were just not for me.  Actually painful to my ears......

Replaced with Proac 2.5, and eventually Quad ESL57.  Both were heaven compared to Thiel.  

Yes, that's a common problem with Thiel's. I you feed them junk, they sound like junk. I've never had a problem with them. I must be doing something right.
If speaker does not sound great out from box, after break in it will be better but still not great.
So waste your time first on break-in till the return/refund time expires.
Speakers need at least 100 hours than see what it sounds like. For example I got the Rethm Maarga and believe me they sound terrible at the start. I had to run them in for about 200 hours. Then they just sounded amazing. But if 100 hours no change then it could be the synergy between the speakers and amp, pre, source.
Interesting to hear, some say break-in, some say don’t bother. In any case, thanks to all for chipping in.

But I will burn-in at least 100 hours or until the return time comes.

The one cable I didn’t mess with was the USB. This is a digital only system so everything goes through this cable. Now it's about a $50 cable. Ordered a couple of expensive ones for trial today and hope these may have an affect as well.
yep, keep a/b and if fail -- return before time expires.
Amp.  It's definitely the amp.  Pass amps are great quality, but system matching between amp and speakers is vital.  Not all amps work well with all speakers, and ATCs are demanding (and not just in terms of power).  See if the dealer will let you borrow one of their Naim amps - or better yet, an ATC amp.

Test various positioning and listening distances in other rooms of your house/apartment. If you find a combination of the three factors (room, position, listening distance) that works, then the culprit could be early reflections in your small room.

I use active ATCs. They sound best in active mode. 
Leave your system on and keep playing music all day even if you’re not in the room... It’ll be fine in about a week...

Tip : always use OFC speaker cables only...
Tip : always use OFC speaker cables only...
Hi Alex, thanks and why do you say this? As opposed to non-ofc copper, or as opposed to silver wires or something else? And in regard to only this speaker or all speakers (in which case it becomes a subjective matter of taste and opinion).
Which pass amp are you using & what Cardas did you try ?
Although breakin IS absolutely necesarry with these speakers (I own them, besides pairs of Dynaudio C4 & Proac Response 1sc); unless it is of XA or older Aleph lineage I suspect the main culprit may be synergy.
IMO & experience Pass X series do not mate well with revealing speakers like the ATCs, all the more so with digital.
BTW definitely stay away from silver.

The SCM40's have one of the most revealing midranges I have ever heard in any speaker. They also throw a holographic image like no other speaker I have ever heard. They were by no means grainy and or harsh sounding. Not sure about the 19's though. They may just not be what you are looking for. However, if you can up it to the SCM40's you will be rewarded with some of the most impressive sound you have heard with the electronics you have.
I have a Pass XA30.5. I'm considering an amp change now. Although these can drive the speakers, the question is can they do it well? Maybe not.

@paul79, agree with the holographic image. This has come through despite the other problems.

Meanwhile the break-in continues.
Just a thought, but I noticed that you’ve started a thread relating to REL subs. Have you had a REL sub connected during these evaluations of the new speakers, and if you have connected its inputs at speaker-level have you observed proper practice when connecting to a balanced amp by connecting the black wire from the sub to the white binding post on the rear of the XA30.5, that provides a circuit ground point? If instead you have connected the black wire to one of the amp’s negative output terminals that could conceivably cause sonic issues with a balanced amp, even if the sub is turned off.

I realize that there were no issues with the previous speakers, but perhaps you weren’t using the sub with them, or perhaps the amp was behaving differently due to differences in speaker sensitivity and/or impedance.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al

Hi Al, the sub was not connected during the speaker listening sessions. I was careful to connect to the white binding post on the amp, so no problem there.
Glad folks are coming up with all the tips, though. The devil is in the details as they say.

I doubt very much if the amp is the problem....  bring the speakers to your dealer and compare them to the speakers you heard and liked.  I also don't think its a break-in issue.  Break-in time doesn't change anything dramatically...just makes it all work better.
You might need a bit more current delivery than the 30.5 will swing. That very well could be the problem. ATC Speaks typically like high current amps.
I have to plug this product, as it is what I heard playing the SCM40's.

Don't look like much, but I can promise you, this integrated is a MONSTER! One of the most amazing listening experiences I have had to date, was this system, in Acoustic Sounds Sound Room.
You might need a bit more current delivery than the 30.5 will swing. That very well could be the problem. ATC Speaks typically like high current amps.
I'm thinking amp as well.
I made a booboo... It was not the integrated Leema. It was the Pyxis and Hydra II amp that I heard, playing Vinyl.
Now you have to decide if you want to keep the ATC's or get something a bit more sensitive. There are so many excellent qualities with the ATC though, and you know it, or this thread would not exist  ;)

Best of luck to you! And I always prefer a world class preamp in the system, no matter the DAC.