ATC Multichannel Concept 7 Collection powered surround speaker system Page 3

The subwoofer was amazing. Rated at an awesome 118dB of continuous output (a claim I did not test but have no intention of questioning), it took everything I threw at it without flinching. I never heard it stumble on the most demanding material (the rock drop in Aladdin, the drums at the start of The Last of the Mohicans) at THX listening levels, which peak out at around 105dB. Also, for reasons I can't explain, the C7's bass in my room was unusually smooth—more so than with any other sub I've used, even though the sub was placed exactly where I always put subwoofers.

Filtered pink noise revealed no discernible low-frequency pitch, which is decidedly unusual in a room with no special bass treatment or equalization. Broadband bass sounds, like the reservoir spillways in The Fugitive and the submarine flooding at the opening of The Abyss, were virtually free from pitch—something you almost never hear from even the best theater sound systems.

And the bass seemed to have no lower limit. Extremely low effects literally shook the floor, but the sensation was more that of a teeth-jarring thud than the usual woolly boom. Some sounds I heard were so deep that I had to mute the system to reassure myself they weren't coming from outside my house. Bass like this is hard to come by at any price.

Listening to Music
Considering how well the C7 handled real-world sounds like voices and effects, I was not surprised that it reproduced music with astonishing realism. I'm a symphonic-music nut, and with season tickets to one orchestra each summer and a contract to record all the winter concerts of another, I probably hear as much symphonic music as any reviewer. The ATC C7 came as close as any other system I've heard to reproducing the real sound of a real orchestra.

My measure of reproduced sound quality is a system's ability to raise goosebumps, and the C7 raised them so often it was sometimes almost exhausting. With two small exceptions I'll get to later, every instrument sounded so much like its real-world counterpart that I had to pay very close attention to hear any differences. Audiophiles who claim that reproduced sound isn't remotely like the real thing are either listening to the wrong systems (and probably in two channels) or are unfamiliar with the sound of real music. The 5.1 C7 did it right. Even screechy old Columbia and Mercury LPs were more musical than I've ever heard; yeah, the steeliness was still there, but it didn't drive me up the wall the way it usually does. The system easily passed the merciless next-room test, wherein, heard from another room, a really good system will sound like real instruments heard from another room.

The C7 had tremendous resolution, even at prodigious volume levels. At 105dBC SPL, which is about as loud as I can stand, there was no congestion. I could listen right into the complex wash of sound and follow any instrument I wished. Above all, the sound was effortlessly clean, in a way I have never before heard except from the real thing. Bass detail was phenomenal: bass drum was a visceral thud without a trace of hangover; and bowed double-basses throbbed, their individual cycles so distinct I could almost count them.

Dynamic range was awesome! The system did not seem to compress crescendos at all, and that, plus its tremendously fast attacks, gave music a quality of vitality and excitement I rarely hear reproduced. The highs had that combination of smoothness, openness, and extraordinary attack speed that is unique to live acoustical music, and the system was truly awesome in its ability to reveal differences between recordings. Neither intrinsically warm nor cool, its sound reflected that of the recording as well if not better than any system I can recall having heard.

Of course, there's a price to be paid for this kind of accuracy: it does nothing to glorify the sound of recordings. It didn't exaggerate tape overload, scrape flutter, vinyl distortion, or surface noise, but it didn't much minimize them either. The bright side was that the better the recording, the more realistic it sounded. My symphonic recordings from last season (made with a single M/S pair of mikes mounted 4 feet above and 8 feet behind the conductor's head) sounded very much like what I hear from row G in the hall, including the locations of instruments.

The C7 did not, however, have quite the mercilessly analytical detail of the best professional monitors, and I'm not sure that's such a good thing. If I were to pick nits, I would say the C7 was slightly deficient in that part of the lower midrange that contributes the "aw" quality of cellos and the big brass instruments, and slightly less deficient in that part of the high end that contributes the staccato edge of crackling noises and a trombone's blat. (I've heard only two systems that surpass the C7 in these areas, and both were made by pro firm Westlake Audio. Steve Kregling implied that the C7 might be just a little less revealing than ATC's studio monitors, thus raising the possibility of reviewing one of their powered studio speakers in the future.)

There were a couple of other minor quibbles. For one, the center channel is about a foot and a half lower than the L/R speakers, which caused a slight but definite height discontinuity. Soundstage-wide rows of instruments sounded as if ranged in a shallow U. Raising the center-channel eliminated the discrepancy, but the screen was then too close to the unit's polished top, which reflected the picture—very distractingly. Black fabric draped across the top got rid of the reflection, but why a polished top to begin with? Perhaps some of the C7's styling features warrant reconsideration.

Breathless Conclusion
I have never before heard a system that does so many things so nearly perfectly. Despite my quibbles about the Concept 7's reproduction of cellos and the biggest brass instruments, everything else sounded so amazingly like the real thing that the differences hardly mattered. The C7 answered once and for all the question of whether any one system can do equal justice to music and soundtracks, and the answer is a resounding Yes. In fact, the C7 transcended any considerations of personal preference for one "kind" of sound or another. It just was. To anyone who knows the sound of real music, everything about the C7 should sound simply and ineffably right. The system was so much better than anything else I've heard that it makes more sense to compare it with real sound than with other systems.

Is it really worth $93,000? Only, to my mind, if there's nothing else available that sounds as good and costs less, and I'm not at all sure there is. I'm going to be auditioning more studio monitors in future—maybe I'll find something I can recommend to people who can't afford a $93,000 system no matter how good it is. Meanwhile, the Concept 7 is my nomination for best speaker system in the world. Recommended, of course.