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  • ATC SCM40A speakers - What Streamer/DAC/Preamp

    I am new on this site, and am located in Germany.
    I have finally decided buying the ATC SCM40A powered speakers but need some advice on Streamer/DAC/Preamp solutions.
    I am planning to have my music solely digitally – I am not going back to vinyl.
    Mostly I wish to stream Music via Tidal, Qobuz etc
    As peripheral equipment I might decide to add a CD player, and NAS for owned music
    I am likely to connect my TV monitor at some stage for home movies but there is no need for a multi speaker setup.
    The prime purpose of the installation is for music.
    Because of the constant developments in the streaming area, I’d prefer a setup where only part of it becomes obsolete relatively quickly or where the system can be upgraded easily. I suspect that as far as pure streaming goes the Blue Node would offer a super value for money streaming solution for the start.
    I’m ideally looking at spending no more than about €5.000 for such required hardware over and above the ATC speakers, cabling etc.
    I am testing the following at home with the speakers:
    • NAD C658 as a single unit option
    • Anthem STR Preamplifier with the Bluesound Node purely as streaming device
    • Auralic ALTAIR G2.1
    My initial findings:
    I found the NAD adequate for a start, but it’s a single box solution. Price wise its almost unbeatable

    The ANTHEM was better than the NAD for me – There was more detail and a fuller sound, but it is in many ways an overkill for my needs, because it is a full chameleon with all its connection possibilities. It seems good value for money
    I have only started testing the Auralic so cannot comment on it yet other than that it is an expensive one box solution for me.

    Are there any suggestions:
    Possibilities which I am considering are (in alphabetic order – not inorder of preference)
    ATC CDA2 with the Blue Node
    Benchmark DAC3HGC plus Blue Node
    Cambridge AZUR 851C – but it’s a one box solution again
    Cambridge Edge NQ – but also a one box solution
    PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC plus Blue Node

    look forward to your views
    Best regards
    Reke

  • #2
    Hi Reke

    I use the RME ADI DAC Fs as a preamp and DAC. I've heard it on the scm40a and of course on my SCM45A, which are similar with a little more bass than the 40a. The RME fits in very well and is available for around €1000. I don't need more for good sound. Add a streamer like the Bluesound and you're done. I use a Metrum Acoustic Ambre as a streamer with roon.
    Regards tom

    Comment


    • #3
      Welcome Reke

      I use the CDA2 Mk2 + ATC SCM50 actives + various digital sources. A system that I have been using since early 2018. I am very pleased with it. I can comment in more detail about the good and less good aspects if anyone wants.

      I note that you don't anticipate needing analogue inputs so the CDA2 analogue inputs aren't needed. I did have analogue sources when I set up my system but now I rarely use any analogue source so they may practically be wasted here too. So I could now use a multi-input DAC with volume control such as the Benchmark you mentioned. I would just have to check it for the right mix of inputs for me.

      I completely agree that digital streaming sources today are likely to become obsolete much faster than excellent analogue components. So I decided to assemble my own streaming system from inexpensive small computers and free/inexpensive software. That's not for everyone but for me the objective was to learn how streaming components worked together as a system so I could become a much more informed buyer of an inexpensive commercial product. However, it worked so well for my needs that I haven't yet felt the need to change. Otherwise, a Bluesound Node would have been on my list of things to investigate.

      Regards

      John


      Summary of my complete system FYI
      • System: Network (5 GHz WiFi) >> R.Pi 3A+/piCorePlayer/Squeezelite (network bridge) >> ATC CDA2 Mk2 via USB (CD player & preamp) >> Rothwell 10 dB pads >> ATC SCM50ASL classic (active 'speakers)
      • Cables: USB = Tripp Lite U023-003; XLR balanced = Van Damme XKE starquad cable & Neutrik connectors
      • System mains power switch (IR controlled): Ecotek Standby Saver Compact with generic power cables and official R.Pi PSU
      • System control: Logitech Harmony Elite & hub (via Elite handset, or via Harmony app. on iPhone)
      • Server: R.Pi 4/piCorePlayer/LMS (Music library & Qobuz app. & BBC Sounds app., …) <> network (Ethernet = generic Cat5 cables)
      • Server control: laptop & browser or iPhone & browser or iPhone & iPeng
      • Wireless modem-router: ASUS DSL-AC68U <> WiFi, Ethernet, VDSL (FTTC)

      Comment


      • #4
        Hi Tom and John,
        Thank you for your constructive and useful comments.
        I plan to still test the CDA2 Mk2 and also considered RME - my dealer does not have the latter so I'll have to hunt it down somewhere else.
        As I mentioned, I have only just started testing the Auralic G2.1. and will test further over the weekend, but my first impression was that it was offered considerably more detail/texture and especially richness of sound and "body" than the combination of Anthem plus BlueNode. I was surprised as I did not expect the sound to differ so much. I played the Love over Gold track by Dire Straits in a blind test. (My wife switched the speaker cables form one Preamp to the other without my watching). Previously we set the volume for both systems pretty much identically.
        The Auralic is quite a jump up in price from the Anthem/Blue Node and of course is a all in one solution, which has made be wonder whether that might be part of the explanation for the unexpected jump in sound quality. Another question is what influence a relatively low priced streaming device like the Blue Node could have when one basically only uses it as the link to Internet/Tidal and simply feeds it through to the Anthem DAC/Preamp as I did. Might I still be losing (Bit) detail right at the start compared with "better" hardware like the Auralic?
        I am a technically lost to assess things like these - and then the niggling doubt remains whether the Blue Node actually does not do some own processing in my setup.
        Am I barking up the wrong tree with my considerations?
        Best regards
        Reke

        Comment


        • #5
          Hi Reke,
          I have a pair of SCM40 Passive speakers which at the moment are driven by a Linn Majik DSM 3 and Linn Majik 4100 power amplifier, and Roksan K3 CD Di, I have had a home demo of the ATC P1 amplifier and the sound was not much difference but due to the extra power it was better all round than the Linn, I listen to a lot of CD's and also stream Hi Res through the DSM, so I had a home demo of the ATC CDA2 Mk2 this made a major difference in all my CD's so then I just used the DSM as a streamer and that also went up a few notches, so my opinion is that the CD transport /DAC and Pre Amp of the CDA2 make such a difference to all the source's I used, point is you may not need a high level streamer, so I have ordered the CDA2 and the P1

          Steve

          Comment


          • #6
            Hi Reke ,

            You will love your Active 40's, they are wonderful speakers , I've had mine 4 years now and would only change them to go up the ATC ladder if I had more space . I think I can give you some good advice on a DAC . I started with a Benchmark DAC3 HGC which is excellent , the only negative was that the sound quality really improved at higher volume levels , something to do with the signal to noise ratio was how it was was explained to me by Benchmark , it was good at low volumes but really came to life higher up . The Benchmark with a good analogue Pre would be amazing I feel . I now have an Auralic Vega G2.1 which is a really really good match with Active ATC's , the G2.1 series have a superb Analogue pre section which drives the Active's perfectly . The Altair G2.1 wasn't available when I bought the Vega but I would have auditioned it for sure . The Auralic really digs deep into the music , is very musical and the lightning DS app is very easy to use with qobuz etc . No need for Roon with Auralic . I've read in other places of people matching an Altair G2.1 with Active 40's with very positive results . Otherwise ATC's own CDA2 sounded wonderful with Active !00's at a show and I've heard excellent things about the forementioned RME DAC . Overall I think you'd be very happy with the Altair G2.1 and you would have to spend a lot more money to better it .

            Hope this helps ,

            Peter .

            Comment


            • #7
              Steve, thanks. My thinking is currently also going towards the ATC CDA2 Mk 2. possibly with something like the Blue Node. My ATC dealer does not have the CDA2 as demo model, but can get it for testing.
              However, also see my next message to Peter which might upset the apple cart of my thinking completely...

              Comment


              • #8
                Dear Peter,
                Thanks to you too for some very valuable inputs. I'm most grateful to each of you for your work.
                After your comment on the Benchmark, I may save myself the bother of finding a dealer where it is available. At home we normally don't listen all that loudly unless we are seriously sitting down for a concentrated listening session. Probably the CDA 2 Mk2 on its own without a further DAC could manage the job as DAC/Preamp.
                Now to something that surprised me: Parallel to the Auralic Altair G2.1 I've been testing the Anthem STR plus Blue Node.
                I noticed fairly easily that Auralic was outperforming the Anthem/Blue Node combination. The sound simply had more body and the treble highs were smoother.
                Then I took the Blue Node and plugged it into the Auralic by Coax, as it is done with Anthem. In that way the DAC and pre-amp of the Blue Node is bypassed. I expected no difference in sound to that of the Auralic on its own. I was wrong. The Blue Node reduced the overall quality noticeably. That "proved" to me that even at this first stage of the streaming process the hardware plays a bigger role than I anticipated. Mess it up there, and the rest can be as good as you want, it won't recover that loss.
                (It's a bit like statistical calculations - if your base calculation only goes to 2 decimals, you gain nothing in your statistical analysis by going to 5 decimals).
                Not having the technical knowledge, I have no explanation why the Blue Node performs worse than the Auralic in passing the digital stream further. I did not expect any "work" to be done on the stream in that early stage...

                Despite its wonderful sound, a few thing frustrate/concern me somewhat with the Auralic - especially when considering its price:
                • The menu on the screen is so tiny that its almost illegible, and it seems that one cannot do all the adjustments by its Lightning app.
                • It has no remote control
                • The app is only compatible with Apple IOS. I have an IPad, but my mobile phone is Android driven.
                • This is a very personal and perhaps ignorant concern about Auralic. It seems to be investing a vast amount of its production cost in the casing of the unit, which might bring some technical benefit, but seems like an overkill to me.
                • In a similar very personal prejudiced vein, Auralic, in this game, really still is very much of a startup - compared with many others. Of course all top names set out as startups...but in this case I'm not too sure who is providing the brains. (In the case of Kii three speakers which I also "lended an ear" and also is a startup, the brains clearly is that of Bruno Putzeys who has a remarkable track record.
                These things also flow into a final decision.
                Thanks again for all the wonderful suggestions.
                Reke


                Comment


                • #9
                  Just to clarify I think the Benchmark DAC3 is brilliant and great value . Its just that I tended to find the volume was on the high side . I tried a DCS Bartok last year , also with a (very good) digital Pre section and again I felt it was better at higher volumes . The Auralic G2.1 is much much better at lower volumes , due to its Analogue Pre section . I've no doubt the CDA2 would be the same .

                  Streaming is really interesting as standalone Streamers really do make a difference . I tested an Aries G2.1 streamer here with my Vega and it. gave a nice uplift to the sound . I didn't buy it but that was more to do having to change racks to accommodate and the Vega is really very good on its own .

                  You're right about the menu screen , it is quite small but to be honest once set up you don't need to change anything . You can change things on the app like sound filters (I use Smooth) and I think the Altair has more in App features than the Vega .Auralic's forum is a good place for information , there's a few of us on there with Active ATC's and Altair or Vega G2.1 . I also wish there was a remote but you can use any remote , I use my TV remote for volume as the TV's internal sound is disabled . My dealer who I've known a long time thought the change in casework from G2 to G2.1 was very beneficial but the in my opinion the greatest benefit of the G2.1 range is the Analogue Pre section .

                  A very good option would be Auralic's standalone streamer the Aries G1 with less fancy casework together with ATC's CDA2 DAC/Pre . In fact I'm sure that when I heard the Active !00 with the CDA2 at the Acoustica show , Richard from ATC was using an Auralic Aries mini as a source .

                  Good luck with your search .

                  Peter .

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    This is how Rory from Benchmark described the benefits of adding their Analogue Pre amp to a DAC 3 in an email .

                    Hello Peter,
                    Good question. When using the DAC with the LA4, you set the DAC to the HT mode which allows it to operate at it optimum performance (best SNR, no digital volume).
                    The difference is quite significant. More air, soundstage, and low level details.


                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Hi Reke,
                      I found the DAC/Pre Amp of the CDA2 was excellent, with that you could demo a Auralic Aries G1 transport only, they would feed straight to a pair of SCM 40A speakers with great results.

                      Steve

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Reke View Post
                        Steve, thanks. My thinking is currently also going towards the ATC CDA2 Mk 2. possibly with something like the Blue Node. My ATC dealer does not have the CDA2 as demo model, but can get it for testing.
                        If you are going to test the CDA2 may I suggest things to try out that others have reported as annoyances?
                        • The ATC remote control is said to change the volume rather quickly making setting it to just the right level more tricky than it could be. I have a Harmony universal remote set to minimum command duration and this is no problem for me.
                        • If you listen fairly close to the loudspeakers, below 2m, you may find that modern compressed pop CD recordings with low dynamic range and high average mastering level need the volume turned well down, and this exaggerates the above point. I have no problem with classical music - my preference - as it has high dynamic range and so has low average mastering level. I do see the problem a little with TV sound into the optical input. In UK this is mastered at a high average level and low dynamic range (other than audio concerts etc.). It is for this source I have the 10 dB Rothwell XLR attenuators in my system list above to move the volume control up about one clock hour and that fixes the low TV volume control setting.
                        • There is an internal muting relay for the DAC. I can just hear it but it's OK for me. You may be more sensitive. And sometimes it mutes and unmutes between tracks of certain CDs and streamed files that are mastered in a particular way.
                        I am not trying to put you off. I like my CDA2 a lot, but everyone has their own list of things they like and dislike. Do check out the above matters (which happen with many pre-amps anyway).

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Peter, Steve and John, thank you for your further comments. I hope that my dealer manages to get a trial model of the ATC CDA2 soon. In the meantime I've also found the German importer of Benchmark and am awaiting his reply on local dealers too.
                          I'll keep you all posted. Thanks you for the wonderful assistance.
                          Reke

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Hi to you all,
                            One hardly knows how to speak of such irrelevant things as music listening equipment, when we are all experiencing one of the most devastating post WWII times in Europe (and here I include the Russians who don't stand behind the military action of their leadership), and the West.
                            However, I had my listening test at our dealer on Saturday for streaming/DAC/Preamp equipment for my ATC SCM40A speakers.


                            The test in theri studio was with the following equipment:
                            The Auralic Altair G2.1 was used as my reference as at our home tests it proved the best that we had.

                            As pure streaming device the Silent Angel Munich was used, as, according to our dealer it is a better system than the Bluesound Node. The Auralic Aries unfortunately was not available on Saturday as it was out for a home test somewhere.
                            The following Preamp/Dacs were tested
                            • ATC CDA2 Mk 2
                            • RME ADE 2 DAC FS
                            • Chord Hugo TT2
                            I first tested the ATC. I found it very pleasing in all respects, but musically it probably showed a bit less definition than the Auralic. It performed very well with the Silent Angel as streaming bridge.
                            As John mentioned before, adjusting the volume accurately by remote proved to be quite a challenge especially as I tried to adjust the volume on all devices identically by use of a decibel measuring app. At the end I had to use the adjustment knob on the ATC to do the fine tuning.

                            Next the RME was tested. The test unfortunately was only conducted with the standard settings and as the RME comes from the professional studio realm it was noticeably more “unmusical” than the ATC or Auralic. To me the sound was very accurate but rather clinical. If one could spend the time making fine tuning adjustments, it is likely that one could reach results similar to those of the ATC and Auralic.

                            After the RME
                            I moved on to the Hugo. The first impression was that it was barely distinguishable from the Auralic. On more careful listening, it showed a somewhat rounder but detailed soundstage than the Auralic, which seemed a bit more “mechanical” in its rendition.
                            The Chord was then tested against the ATC. Here a surprising difference showed up. I used the 8th movement of Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss. I paid particular attention to the strings and noticed a slight "muddiness" in the sound where multiple instruments were involved and where the triangle was also used. The triangle was identifiable but could have been a bit clearer. This "muddiness" and clarity of the trangle was cleared up beautifully by the Chord. The Chords was most impressive with its detail, clarity and simultaneously its musicality. Having said that, one must bear in mind that the Chord, without a separate power source, would be a good €2.000 more expensive than the ATC. Value for money wise the ATC is hardly to be bettered.

                            Now comes the difficult decision once the offer has been made by our dealer.

                            Any comments from you will be most welcome. Thank you for all your help to date.

                            Best regards from a very concerned European as to where our world is heading

                            Reke


                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Hi Reke, Agreed it's not the greatest moment in history, but we still love music ! can I ask did you play any CD's on the CDA2 or was your music streamed to compare the DAC's/Pre Amp's ? the reason I ask is that when using my CD's as source I found a great improvement over my Roksan K3 cd di, and yes the CDA2 has some oddball design's but hey it's made in England !!!!!!!!

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Yes, let the music play...
                                I did not test any CD at my listening session, solely streaming. Although I have a CD collection, I do not plan to expand it and probably shall rip the best ones to my NAS. For me the CD player is no more than a nice to have.
                                I must say that I was incredibly impressed with the detail of the Chord. Fortunately the visual design plays a minor role for me - I do not plan to put the equipment on display. I've always loved British Hifi. My very first hifi in the late 1970s included a Quad 33/303
                                My one concern about the Chord (which I'm seriously considering) is that it might prove tiring to listen to over extended periods.Every sound is so exceptionally clearly defined that it wont allow ones concentration to drop into neutral. There is nothing that is fuzzy or distinctly "old school warm British" about it at all. It is round, but not particularly warm - I'd rather describe it as creating a clear soundstage for the music to unfold beautifully. It's only the detail in some passages which lifted it for me above the ATC CDA2, otherwise they fall in the same category.

                                I'd love to hear from anyone who has had experience with the Chord Hugo TT
                                Best regards
                                Reke

                                Comment

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