Listening Comparison Results - ATC / Kef

shug4476

Active Member
Had a quick chance today to compare three sets of speakers that I was considering buying:

- Kef LS50;
- ATC SCM-7;
- ATC SCM-11.

Both sets of ATCs were the v.3. These were driven by a Devialet amplifier, which I think is well beyond what any realistic enthusiast would spend powering any of these speakers. Source was a streaming service I hadn't heard of, feeding the Devialet direct (I assume it has a DAC in there somewhere).

In order of listening.

ATC SCM-7

First impressions - they're tiny. Probably a small as, maybe smaller, than my current Wharfedale speakers. The room is medium sized, but my hosts assure me the 7 will fill it easily. Small size is a positive, for once (easier to slip past the wife without complaints, innuendo not intended).

Listening - great with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Well-placed voices. On 'Can't take that away from me', where Ella's vocal section comes to an end, you can hear what sounds like Louis standing up from his chair to approach the microphone (never heard this before, even on Sennheisers in my sig).

Norah Jones - less good. The notes are all there, but it's a bit uninvolved. Lack of low end hampers it slightly, but maybe I've just listened to this song too many times.

Nina Simone - just wonderful. 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' sounds delightful. Voices are glorious and the timing of the key strokes on the piano is superb.

Nick Cave - great on 'Stagger Lee'. Can hear all the deficiencies and mysteries of the recording (such as the accidental feedback after the first transition from the simple bass guitar riff to the full band jumping in).

Lang Lang - this was mixed. Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor by Rachmaninov. The orchestra sounds simply glorious, but the piano lacks a little weight (which it definitely has through headphones). That said, the individual instruments are highly believable. The tremolo of the flute sounds utterly convincing.

Nick Cave (again) - 'Black Betty' from 'B-Sides'. Wonderful. There is very little going on in this track except some impromptu percussion. Even with this, I can 'hear' the room around the sound of the hand smacking a drum in the back of a large hall (I actually know where this was recorded and it is a very clear representation of the recording environment). Cave's voice sounds perhaps a little thin, with a touch of glare. My hosts assure me this is because hardly anybody listens to the '7, so it is not properly run in(!!).

ATC SCM-11

Switch over and re-play the Nick Cave track, 'Black Betty'. The '11 does all the things the '7 does well, and adds extra weight. You cannot 'hear' further into the recording than with the '7, but what you can hear just comes with that crucial bit more clout. The smacking of the drums just has that bit more bite to it. This is clearly a step up over the 7 as a result.

The Police - 'Roxanne'. Fabulous. Tight bass. Wonderful insight. This is the best I've heard Sting's voice sounding but for the glorious Audeze LCD-3 headphone.

The Police - 'Every Breath You Take'. All sounds present and correct. But it just could not match the insight of the fabulous Audeze headphones, which really hammered home that this is quite a disturbing song about an obsessive stalker (there was something about the almost metronome precision of the drum through the Audeze that communicated this sense of discomfort in the meaning of the lyrics). The ATC is very good here, just cannot match the headphones.

Nick Cave - 'Opium Tea', again from B-Sides. Fabulous. You can hear everything the band is doing. A wonderfully cohesive and insightful performance.

Jeff Buckley - 'Lover You Should've Come Over'. This sounds pleasant, but the voice is a bit underwhelming. Through good headphones, the voice is seriously impressive, as if sung by a man having an emotional breakdown.

KEF LS50

The Nick Cave track again, 'Black Betty'. I cannot hear the acoustic around the drum anymore. Nick's voice is rock solid in the centre, but has a touch of glare that wasn't there with the '7 or '11. It's as if the voice is so forward it is overwhelming the acoustic surrounding the backing instrument.

To make sure I've not made a mistake, I play Nina Simone's 'Mr Bojangles' quickly. Same conclusion. The key instruments are well placed in the soundstage, but nothing like the transparency of the '7 or '11.

Conclusion

The '11 is the best speaker of the three, easily. It did some things remarkably well, and in others, I actually preferred a headphone-based presentation. At £1,300, it is definitely worth the small extra outlay over the '7.

The '7 is wonderful. Particularly with an orchestra. It goes surprisingly low for such a small box. But voices lack a bit of body and the smack of a drum lacks a bit of bite. That can probably be rectified with a good subwoofer.

The LS50 for me was just not in the same league. I could tell this within about 10 seconds of it playing. It was a perfectly good speaker in its own right - easily well ahead of my Wharfedale pair at home (Diamond 220). But it was as if the Devialet was revealing more than it was capable of passing on to the listener.

What did I buy?

The '7, in the end. The idea being, if I miss the '11 that much, I can add them to the system and put the '7s at the rear.

I am looking to now compare (at home) the 7's with some PMCs - will write up results when this is done.

Additional Note - Wharfedales

Just as a postlude. I went home and listened to 'Black Betty' again on the Wharfedales. These are a £100 pair being compared with speakers costing between 8 and 13 times their price.

Nick's voice was characterful, but there were two things really of note. The first is that the lyrics were not as easy to follow (crystal clear through both pairs of ATCs). The second is that the smack of the drum in the background was very difficult to identify. It is obviously percussion, but (as a musician with a very good ear for such things), on the evidence of the Wharfedales alone, I could not tell you what was being played, what with, or who by. I equally could not tell you anything about the recording environment.

But what is impressive is how the Wharfedales really do all the basics 'right'. They were not a million miles from the Kefs (although with nothing like the soundstage precision). A clear bargain.
 
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