My first encounter with ATC speakers was back in the good ol` 1970’s when I operated one of the largest (and most chaotic) PA hire firms outside London. Our staple diet was Midas outfront mixing consoles and humungous loudspeaker stacks – JBL or Cerwin-Vega bass bins, vicious JBL horns and astonishing nine inch midrange drivers mounted in pairs in horn loaded flares. These were manufactured by a small loudspeaker company called ATC, who shared North London premises with CP cases and Neil Grant’s Eastlake PA speaker company.
ATC were pretty unique for a UK company back in those days, having designed their own, radically different, loudspeakers rather than relying on the more conservative designs of American megaliths such as JBL, Electrovoice and Altec. In the cutthroat world of loudspeaker manufacturers, it should have been impossible for a minnow such as ATC to survive, but survive they did – a testament to the genuinely superior quality and performance of their drivers.
I spent much of the 1980’s managing bands and record producers, and was pleased to see ATC monitors cropping up in more and more of the studios I visited. It was hardly surprising, as they always sounded great. I was to learn the secret of their popularity with professionals, however, when tackling a disconcerting problem with the private studio of my friend and client, producer David Lord.
David had the best ‘ears’ of anyone I have encountered in this business, and his productions have stood the test of time (Peter Gabriel Four, Corgis, Echo and The Bunnymen ‘Killing Moon’ and countless others). He is the only producer I’ve ever worked with who delivered mixes that needed next to no eq’ing or compression at the cut (as Tim Young and others will confirm). However, when he relocated from Crescent Studios in Bath to a smaller, private facility, suddenly his mixes (which were glorious in the studio) sounded strangely dull at the cut. We eventually traced the problem to his monitors, a three way system with a sweet and sparkly ribbon tweeter made by a very famous and well-respected manufacturer. These monitors were a joy to work with – too much so, as everything sounded wonderful in the control room. In fact, the speakers were too flattering, particularly at the top and bottom end, which would have been fine for hifi speakers but was disastrous for accurate monitoring.
After extensive trials, Bob at ATC sent up a pair of SCM20’s for David to check out. At first they sounded harsh and cold compared to the previous incumbents. However, tracks mixed on them transferred seamlessly to the cutting room. The ATC’s stayed put.
I learnt a valuable lesson from this process. In particular, I realised the extent to which a studio monitor differs from a hifi speaker. Good monitors are crucial to recording. They must allow the engineer to hear every nuance, every whisper, every glitch and every tickle of the music, whether tracking or mixing. Definition must be precise and imaging accurate. More than anything, studio monitors must reflect the true sound of the mix and not smooth out the edges or flatter the sound. The best monitors may not be the most pleasing to listen to, and it may be a struggle to produce a mix on accurate monitors, but believe me, if your mix sounds good on ATC’s it’ll sound good in the cutting room and sound stupendous on a decent hifi. It is far better to choose truth in your monitors rather than fall back on more comfortable speakers that may well flatter to deceive.
Many of my clients rely upon ATC’s (not always supplied by me, I hasten to add). Check the spec of Europe’s top studios and you’ll be amazed how many use ATC’s. I’m delighted to say that ATC are increasingly making inroads into the US market, for obvious reasons – in my humble opinion, ATC are unrivalled for main monitoring.
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