December 16, 2010

De Tonemeister, ATC SIA2-150 Integrated Amplifier.

The ATC SIA2-150 integrated amp is all UK made, and feels built to last forever.

I find it rather unfortunate, that I have to use a German term, to describe a very English product. However, that is exactly how I felt after giving the ATC SIA2-150 integrated amplifier a spin. Kenny of Hi-Way Laser, the local distributor of ATC tells me that the amplifier range is still all England made, unlike some of their economically priced speaker models. ATC speakers have a reputation of requiring a lot of quality watts to sound great, and this amplifier is designed to drive such speakers. My PMC Fact 8's load factor is a stroll in the park for this ATC amp.

I first came across the description of a Tonemeister, from the CD inlays of Deutsche Grammophon recordings. The Tonemeister's job, is to ensure the accuracy of tonal quality is reproduced on the final mix process just before the CD stamper making stage, as he heard it during the recording session.

The ATC SIA2-150 integrated amp is a beefy design, weighing in at 26kgs! The bulk of the weight is located just aft off the aluminium front panel, where a huge power supply transformer is located. This amp certainly looks like it's built to last, based on the reputation of ATC's pro-market roots. All switches operate with an re-assuring solid "click" and all sockets are of high quality and setting up the amp is a cinch. I must say that I did find all the black plastic vertical lines decorating the front panel quite un-necessary, serving only to clutter up what is otherwise a relative clean(or perhaps plain) looking face. As it's model no.SIA2-150 would suggest, this amp puts out 150W x 2 chanel at 8 ohms. I also some how suspect this amp is probably happier driving 4 ohms speaker loads, of which my PMC isn't.

The model no. says it all!

The ATC amp takes unbalanced RCA signal from my Marantz CD 7 player via a pair of DIY-ed interconnects, whose cable stock originated from Belden(another pro-market application fav). My usual Siltech Classic Anniversary 330-L pair of speaker cables connects the ATC to my PMC Fact 8 loud speakers. A big red JPS In-Wall power cord completes the complimentary of cable line up in use for the ATC amp. A rear power switch puts the amp on standby mode and from there on all the front panel functions are duplicated on a sheepishly cheap looking, if functional in use remote made of grey plastic.

The first thing that struck me about the sound of this ATC amp is that mid centric beautiful tonal quality. The highs are smooth and laid back, complete with subtlety. The warm, rich mid range gives vocals an excellent sense of presence and body. Bass is relatively tight, if a little lite. There are no lumpy, or fat, unwieldy bass lines to complain about here either. I did find the kick drums, like the high hats and cymbals sounding a little more distant(or laid back) than usual. I suspect this ATC amp running on some sort of high bias class A/B topology, which contributes to the rich, warm tonal palette. The heat sink ventilation slots on both sides of the top panel, and the whole amplifier casing runs rather hot, after a long musical work out session, so make sure to place this amp with good air flow in mind.
The ATC SIA2-150 allows RCA inputs only. The speaker terminals are silver coated and very grippy! I found the roundish ventilation slots on the top panel making the styling a little more fuzzy than it needs to be, just like the front panel black vertical plastic stripes.

The ATC amp is capable of giving good sound staging and imaging properties, even if the separation of musical instruments at the back end of the stage are less then convincing. It's transparency factor, frequency extension at the extremes and dynamic contrast factor is competitive for a component with high end aspirations in the sub $20k price range. Noise floor is rather low too, which is good. I also like the fact that the ATC amp exerts total control over the cone driver movements of the PMC Fact 8 speakers. I've rarely seen such tightly regulated cone movements on the PMC speakers, which I could attribute to perhaps, the excellent damping factor of the amplifier.

The beauty of this ATC amplifier, lies not so much on each of the individual hifi parameter of averaged qualities mentioned above, but rather, how it's all summed up in the final presentation. Aside from the beautiful tonal quality, there is utter coherence from the sound that is seemingly cut from the same cloth, making it easy to appreciate the music. It's poise and musical balance is never in doubt.
The headphone socket is at the back panel, an odd choice of place. The ATC amp has 5 inputs, a pre out and a sub out, plus a record out RCA socket in pairs.

There was a time when made in UK integrated amps from the era of Audiolab 8000A, Mission Cyrus 2 and the original Exposure Classic Series used to cost no more than RM$5k in the 1990's hey days of British hifi. General inflation and escalating hifi prices in the last few years have pushed the price tag of all the above mentioned products(of which none are now UK made) markedly up wards and this ATC SIA2-150 integrated amp does not escape that cruel reality as it retails for RM$17k today.

In fact, I felt this amp pretty much follows the sonic path laid by the above mentioned classic British designs, but executed in today's modern interpretation which results in a much more refined, authoritative and powerful sounding product. A British amp designer used to say that "the mid range is key to musicality, once you get the mid range right, everything else will fall in to place!" I think that kinda sums up the ATC SIA2-150 very nicely.

ATC amps and loud speakers are sold by Hi-Way Laser, contact Kenny at 019-2813399.

3 comments:

Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...

Big E,

Nice reading.

Wow...looks like a beautiful amp. It would be interesting to hear how they perform with their own ATC speakers.

Any perception?

Big E said...

Felix,

The amp was virgin sealed when I got it, and during it's 3 weeks time with me, the new circuit board burn in smell was still evident.

I regret that I did not have enough time to access the product that is fully burned in, other wise, I believe the review would have better reflected the amp's sonic qualities.

But there was a waiting customer and the amp needed to be returned a.s.a.p. which means I have not fully explored the amp's full performance potential just yet!, but it was enough to give our readers a good impression of it's sonic qualities.

You should head over to Hi-Way Laser in SS2, PJ to check out this amp's sonic performance with the intended design partners, ATC speakers.

Kel Heng said...

just came across your review of this excellent amp..also notice you have reviewed pmc 22 before..i'm an owner of PMC 22..from your experience of both, do you think the atc amp would be a good match for pmc 22?

AG83