ATC 5.1 speaker pack­age

FOR Spa­cious and de­tailed; great in­te­gra­tion; ex­pres­sive AGAINST You‘ll need to bud­get for ded­i­cated stands

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Ev­ery now and then prece­dent counts for very lit­tle, if any­thing; lis­ten to al­most ev­ery great band’s third or fourth al­bum. Thank­fully for ATC, and our eardrums, its C1 sur­round speaker pack­age does a dis­tin­guished fam­ily proud.

The set-up com­prises four ATC SCM7S, which are stand­mounter mon­i­tors sport­ing 25mm soft-dome tweet­ers and a 12.5cm mid/bass driver, a C1C cen­tre to match (though with a pair of those mid/bass driv­ers), and the C1 sub­woofer boast­ing an im­pres­sive 31cm, down-fir­ing bass driver.

“Thun­der and fly­ing ar­rows crack and sail be­hind us with ex­cep­tional de­tail”

Trade­mark look

Un­less you’re a com­plete stranger to ATC prod­ucts you’ll recog­nise the aes­thetic. Our test kit is in what ATC names cherry, which is es­sen­tially light brown, or there’s the op­tion of black ash (black), all in the com­pany’s tidy yet un­doubt­edly smart trade­mark style. We’re some­where be­tween want­ing to look at them and think­ing we'd hap­pily ig­nore them and let the mu­sic play.

As it's a pack­age built ex­clu­sively of stand­mounter speak­ers, you’ll also have to shell out for some de­cent speaker stands – but they shouldn't be dis­pro­por­tion­ately ex­pen­sive and the C1s' sealed-box de­sign means they are less fussy than some about po­si­tion­ing. In terms of phys­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions, it’s an ideal pack­age for any small to medium-sized room.

Stands to de­liver

We Blu­tack the C1 sys­tem to our Ata­cama speaker stands – the stand­moun­ters have at wooden bases so you’ll need to tack them down lest you lose some of the sonic body – wire up to a Yamaha RX‚A3060 AV am­pli‡er and, hav­ing let them run in over a week­end, play a Blu-ray of 300: Rise Of An Em­pire.

Im­me­di­ately we’re drawn to the way in which this pack­age in­te­grates its speak­ers – thun­der and fly­ing ar­rows crack and sail be­hind us with ex­cep­tional de­tail, while not dom­i­nat­ing the main ac­tion or di­a­logue. Given that we have mod­estly sized stand­moun­ters rather than big floor­standers here, you might ex­pect the sound to be lack­ing in weight. It's not. You’ll be pleas­antly sur­prised by how rich the sur­round ef­fects are.

You’ll likely re­quire some­thing big­ger if you’re fill­ing a large room, but we can’t deny the ATCS their im­pres­sively wide sense of space. De­spite per­haps not hav­ing the mus­cle to prop­erly fill an area the size of our lis­ten­ing room (8m x 6m), the sound is any­thing but boxed in, giv­ing a great sense of scale and dis­tance in tune with what’s hap­pen­ing on our pro­jec­tor.

In some ways you might have ex­pected us to be­gin by prais­ing the cen­tre speaker, given its smor­gas­bord of fortes. ATC says the C1C cen­tre is de­signed to com­ple­ment the SCM7S you have in the cor­ners of your room, and it cer­tainly shares their solid, bal­anced tone. Even in the heat of bat­tle, with a busy score and even busier list of sound ef­fects, their edges are nei­ther sharp nor smoothed: it’s a bal­ance that has us al­most for­get­ting to lis­ten crit­i­cally and just be­com­ing lost in the film.

Good ex­pres­sion

Per­haps the most im­por­tant as­set for any cen­tre speaker, though, given it will be han­dling most of a film’s di­a­logue, is

dy­nam­ics. We could prob­a­bly have picked a more dif­fi­cult film for the C1C’S exam, given the over-act­ing in 300 is rife al­most to the point of sec­ondary-school the­atre pro­duc­tion, but nonethe­less the level of ex­pres­sion is a de­light.

It’s easy to say the most im­por­tant as­pect of a film is its con­tent, but poor dy­nam­ics will ul­ti­mately leave all your char­ac­ters sound­ing achingly bored which, un­less you’re watch­ing some mid-2000s com­ing-of-age indie drama, is far from what your di­rec­tor in­tended. Es­sen­tially, it’s much more an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence if your speaker pack­age can ef­fec­tively ren­der vo­cal ex­pres­sion. The ATC C1 can.

Get ready to rum­ble

A word on the sub: it’s just about light enough for a few of our team to lift alone with­out putting their backs out, but packs more than enough of a punch that you won’t be suf­fer­ing from bass envy. Rum­bles are in­deed rum­bles – you can feel ships col­lid­ing through the soles of your feet, un­der­lin­ing the solid body of the rest of the pack­age with au­thor­i­ta­tive weight, and a dial on the front al­lows you to tweak the bot­tom end so you do or don’t mad­den the neigh­bours, whichever is your pref­er­ence.

En­ter­tain­ing with mu­sic too

We’ve men­tioned dy­nam­ics, which the C1 pack­age mas­ters both in terms of ‘quiet to loud’ and those more nu­anced lev­els of ex­pres­sion, but the ATC has also re­fined its unim­peach­able sense of tim­ing. If you’ve seen this 300 se­quel, you’ll know much mo­men­tum is lost through its ridicu­lous­ness, but this pack­age is able to claw some of that back through its pre­sen­ta­tion of the film's mu­sic. It’s ex­cep­tion­ally fast, build­ing an­tic­i­pa­tion as we head into each bat­tle and fir­ing each ar­row with uni­form pre­ci­sion.

Which all leads us to the point that this is not sim­ply a prod­uct for home cin­ema. If you have a par­tic­u­larly ac­com­plished AV amp, these SCM7S can be enor­mously en­ter­tain­ing with stereo mu­sic.

Us­ing the same Yamaha amp, we spin Lou Reed’s Trans­former on CD and al­low our­selves to be ser­e­naded with tales of New York cross-dressing. It’s a won­der­fully

Fine value for money

We sup­pose the high­est praise we can of­fer ATC here is that it gives our con­sid­er­ably more ex­pen­sive PMC ref­er­ence sys­tem a run for its money. By that we don’t mean the two sys­tems are ex­actly on a par, but that nei­ther is lack­ing in any de­part­ment – their char­ac­ters are equally ap­peal­ing. In a room a lit­tle smaller than the one we have for test­ing, at the mo­ment we can think of no bet­ter al­ter­na­tive for the money. A con­sum­mate tri­umph, to be sure.

Sub aside, all the speak­ers use the same tweeter and mid/bass units, en­sur­ing a con­sis­tent char­ac­ter be­tween chan­nels mu­si­cal per­for­mance, with all you’d ex­pect from so pro­fi­cient a man­u­fac­turer of stu­dio mon­i­tors, and one which could only be bet­tered by adding more stere­o­fo­cused com­po­nents fur­ther up the chain.

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