Your thoughts about ATC loudspeakers

I’m interested in the ATC SCM-40 from their HiFi series and would like to hear from people who have owned or spent a lot of time with ATC speakers. This is a fairly new model and may be a bit of a departure from their classic sound.

At the show in Newport last weekend, I was quite taken by these speakers. I went back the next day and heard the same things that I liked about them, but a couple of red flags also went up:

Microdynamics – not sure these speakers do them well and microdynamics are critical to communicating inflection and nuance and to making music sound alive

Imaging, specifically wrt depth. Nothing much outside of the plane of the speakers, so recording venue info is not there and even instrument and vocal body may suffer a bit.

Were these shortcomings of setup or associated gear, or is this what ATC does?
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My bad. I indeed meant to say clarity increases and distortion drops as you go to larger models but the overall sound remains totally consistent. The super version (stronger drive motor) of their 3 inch dome mid range combined with the active amplification and phase aligned active crossover is really worth aiming for if you have the means - all the 50 and larger active models have this. Alternatively, passive 20 or 19 and a JL subwoofer might be a sensible way to go on a tighter budget. 

I have a pair of custom built active 110 ASLs that I bought from an orchestra.  It was part of a portable stage setup.  I had always wanted some ATCs since I first heard them in a shop in Chicago in 2001. 

They are a very matter of fact speaker.  They don't have a lot of character of their own.  They seem to change with the source.  Their most notable characteristic is the ability to play as loud as you want without any distortion.  I can watch an action movie as loud as it would be in the theater without any strain - it's quite an experience.  This makes them great for music that has big dynamic swings. 

The pair I have is from about 2012 so it predates the new ATC tweeter.  They are a little bit soft on top.  This can be a good or bad thing depending on your preferences but it's their most noticeable deviation from complete neutrality IMO.  It makes them slightly easier on the ears when you're listening to a recording with a bit of excess treble but it also detracts a little from something that is well recorded and that has a lot of atmosphere.  The new tweeter may have fixed this.

There is nothing quite like active bass.  The ones I have are sealed and don't have any hint of exaggerated bass but the bass quality is just better than passive.  The transients are razor sharp, the texture is fantastic.  Maybe there are passive speakers that can do it as well but they're definitely rare. 

As far as microdynamics go, I'm not sure myself if that's a characteristic of the speaker or it's that other speakers tend to exaggerate it.  I do think a lot of speakers exaggerate various things that can make them sound kind of magical but that also are a distortion that has a downside as well.  I think ATCs excel at higher volumes more than lower.  The ones I have sound fine at lower volumes but if you're going to listen to smaller scale music at lower volumes I wouldn't go with ATC since you're going to be paying for dynamic ability that you won't use.  My experience is with big ones so this may not hold for the smaller ones or the new tweeter may make a big difference. 

I've got a pair of Thiel 3.7s as well in another system and I'd have a hard time picking between the two.  They're both fantastic, both designed for accuracy, and yet significantly different.  The Thiels don't have near the dynamic capability, although they will play plenty loud for most people.  They sound better at low volumes and they do atmosphere better.  Whether this is due to the first order crossovers or more extended tweeter I don't know but I consider this a pretty easy distinction to make. 

The ATCs do better with a full orchestra or meaty rock n roll.  The Thiels are better with smaller scale stuff.  I listen to a fair amount of smaller scale string recordings and acoustic jazz and I prefer the Thiels for that.  They're really fantastic.  If I want to listen to Ozzy or a full orchestra I prefer the ATCs.  They can deliver a bass line or the scale of a large orchestra a bit better.

@mofojo the SCM 40 v2. has perfect integration, amazing mids and sounds great turned up. You can get carried away with them easily. The only negatives are that it’s not a full range speaker, for example entire sections of a Bjork album won’t be heard using them. The sound stage is narrow compared to other speakers but to me this is just an honest sound that is not trying make anything artificial. They require lots of power to perform best so careful pairing is mandatory. These issues might be a deal breaker for some listeners, it is an exemplary product regardless. As stated previously when I settle down it will be with a large pair of active ATC’s.

The DI sounds like a panel, people have said that about box speakers before but this time it is true. Side by side with my ESL 15A & Summit X makes for an easy comparison. It has huge dynamics, massive sound stage with the right amp and is a very well rounded performer. They are easy to drive and sound great at low volumes. It’s like getting the best of a few different speakers in one box at a ridiculously low price. The deal breaker? looks, finish and size. It was the first time I felt the need to sit down and discuss a speaker purchase with my wife. She still calls them "the weird looking speakers" but asks me to put on music so she can listen constantly. All this at half the price of 40 v2’s makes in the better speaker IMO.

@shadorne   Thanks for your additional thoughts. Appreciate it!

@jon_5912  Your in-depth discussion is very, very helpful. Thanks!!!
Our SF Bay Area audio club had a tour recently at the Dolby HQ offices and sound and theater rooms.

Dolby was running yuge studio monitor ATCs, powered by Bryston. So that matches what all are saying about the speakers needing lots of power to sound best. 

The dedicated critical listening room had the listening chair in the middle of the room, surrounded by a circle of 6 or 8 huge ATCs. 
It's nickname is "speakerhenge"! 

(Amazing equipment as you can imagine. very tightly controlled security and locked door entries throughout building. The big theater has active Meyer speakers doing surround sound, including from the ceiling)