I get to visit a lot of high-end hifi factories in my line of work and love how, in what is quite a narrow field of endeavour, both premises and company philosophies can vary so very widely. But I have never been anywhere quite as different as hyperniche UK brand ATC’s factory, where, in wartime ex-RAF buildings near Stroud, 31 people, accompanied by several dogs and quite a few chickens, supply equipment to an extraordinary range of global clients, from Coldplay and Kate Bush to the BBC and the LA Philharmonic’s Walt Disney Concert Hall.
ATC is rarefied audio; only 50 per cent of its production is for consumers, and 80 per cent of that is exported. Oddly, though, ATC equipment is not that expensive – it is knowing it exists that’s the clever bit. You can pay £40,000-plus for its huge speakers with built-in amplification, but £810 buys the SCM7 entry-level bookshelf speaker, made to identical standards and incredibly sweet sounding. Mostly though, I’ve been listening to its SCM11 speakers with the SIACD integrated music centre and CD player, and my word – all that simplicity makes for something special.
Founded in 1974 by Australian jazz-pianist and engineer Billy Woodman, ATC is seriously old school. Its philosophy is one of “neutral fidelity”, based on the belief that hifi equipment shouldn’t colour the original studio sound. It also handmakes every component of its products, right down to the speaker coils and tweeters, which is a rare thing indeed. Each part is ruthlessly tested, with as many as one in 20 rejected for even minuscule faults.
You can hear the attention to detail. Listening to the SCM11 speakers, the astonishing clarity, separation and bass heft quite knocked me over. Wiring my Mac into the SIACD music centre and using the (superb) new Tidal high-quality streaming service, I played my sister-in-law, Louise Wener (who sang in the Britpop band Sleeper), some of her own songs and she grew quite emotional. “It’s the first time I’ve heard those tracks properly since 1995,” she said. “It’s like being back in the studio.” Which is, of course, exactly what ATC had in mind.