My speaker upgrade journey - and a few questions

So I have been running Linn Majik 140 speakers since 2015.  Started with a Rotel integrated, then Hegel 160 and currently the Hegel 390.  I like the Linn speakers as they have great presence and clarity, but (like most of us) wondered if I could find new speakers that provide a significant upgrade in sound.  Over the last three years I have listened to many, many speakers - Spendor, Vandersteen, Boenicke, Wilson, Sonus Faber, Focal, B&W, Borresen, Klipsch, Golden Ear, etc.  Just for fun I listened to some that are well over six figures.  Most were very good, but I just did not notice enough of an improvement over my current speakers.  I even found a dealer with my Linns on the floor, so I was able to do a direct A/B comparison.  Again, nothing justified an upgrade.  Last year I took a shot on some Tekton Double Impact speakers I had never heard as many on these forums love them.  I cancelled my order after about 2 months and no communication or speakers from Tekton. 

I figured I would never upgrade and perhaps my hearing is just not that good - why don't $100k Wilson speakers sound dramatically better than my $4k Linn speakers??

Until today.  I was sitting with John Rutan at Audio Connection listening to the Vandersteen Quatros and again had the same feeling - nice, but not worth it.  Then John sat me down in front of a pair of ATC SCM40A (the active version) and I was stunned.  These speakers are so much better in almost every way than everything I had heard before!  And since they don't need an external amp, the sale price of my Hegel 390 will just about cover the difference between the active and passive versions.  I hope they sound as good in my home as they do in the store.

Finally, here is my question.  To keep things as simple as possible, I would like to use my Yamaha RX-A6A (AVR) as the preamp for these speakers and connect the speakers via XLR cables to the pre-outs on the AVR.  Both the AVR and speakers have XLR terminals.  This means using the pre-amp section and DAC of the Yamaha.  The DAC in the Yamaha is the ESS SABRE ES9026PRO Ultra.  Would I be compromising these awesome speakers with the Yamaha electronics?  Thanks for your input. 



They're in different leagues,  The Yamaha would likely be the weak link. It’s worth a trial while you plot your "optimization plan" for your new ATCs.



I must admit to be somewhat surprised at your impressions of all the speakers you have heard… but clearly these ATCs appeal to you. So, given the speakers,you are going to want to supply them with the best signal possible and an AVR is really no likely to do that. They tend to sound terrible. I would start by looking at whatever the dealer was using to demo the ATCs… and think of no less as a part of your investment.


Otherwise, maybe stick with your Linn speakers. 

To keep things as simple as possible, I would like to use my Yamaha RX-A6A (AVR) as the preamp for these speakers and connect the speakers via XLR cables to the pre-outs on the AVR.

No. NO!  You CANNOT do this. It’s a total insult to the rest of your system.

I guessed the response to my proposed use of the Yamaha would be negative.  What about an external streamer with a high quality DAC into the Yamaha (as pre-amp only) and then out via the pre-out XLRs to the speakers?  I would really like to keep the speakers hooked to the Yamaha so I can use them as the fronts for home theater or for two channel listening.

Never mind my question. After more research, I see that my solution is to get a high quality preamp with HT bypass.

I’ve heard those active speakers too, and they sound really good, especially with the rels with them. Anyway did John show you the Maggie’s with the belles amp? He also had that50 watt AR tube amp. He ran that for me with the magnepan 20s. Way out of my league tho.

I heard the Maggies a year or two ago as part of my quest, but did not love them.  I don't think the ATCs need any subs.  

Since your Yamaha AVR is both preamp and DAC why don’t you bring it with you and have John hook it up to the ATCs?  Then you would have a much better idea of what the combination sounds like.  That’s what I would do.

You have been on a long speaker quest. You have auditioned many top line brands and found them all unworthy contenders. Then finally one day you found the perfect speaker upgrade that checks all your boxes, great! BUT,  will they sound the same in your room as they did at your dealer's? Are your room dimensions similar, and treated similarly? Are your electronics and cables capable of getting the best performance out of the speakers? In other words, you are going to need to budget for multiple improvements in your audio chain to avoid being disappointed. jc4659 (above) offered you the very best possible advice. It is the best next step for you. Good luck! 

Since your Yamaha AVR is both preamp and DAC why don’t you bring it with you and have John hook it up to the ATCs? Then you would have a much better idea of what the combination sounds like. That’s what I would do.

Brilliant idea. Will be a bit of a PIA to lug it down there, but it is worth the effort.

@jcs01 I have the passive SCM40s, driven by a Benchmark DAC3/AHB2 combination, and I love the speakers. The sealed cabinet design allowed me to place them closer to the rear wall than my previous ported speakers.  To my ears, there’s no shortage of low end.

I'm toying with adding a preamp to the chain, as driving the speakers directly from the DAC may not coax the best out of the ATCs, but even in this configuration, I’m really enjoying the music - especially well-recorded material.

Welcome to the ATC family. I’m sure your 40As are going to be great in your home.


This is why you buy from a reputable dealer like John. Lean on him (not us) to help you get the most out of the ATC’s in your room. Ask him to set them up and dial them in with what you have and maybe a few pieces that would become later upgrades and then work with him over time as budget allows to upgrade your system around speakers that you enjoy. 

I have been using Linn Nexus speakers since I bought them new in 89 for $1100. Most if that time as fronts with my Yamaha AVR in 5 channel mode. 

Enter Covid 2019, I brought out my old Technics TT and vinyl and started back down the 2 channel trail. I always liked the Linns and never felt they were the weak link in my system. I decided to try to upgrade and bought some Tekton Lore Be's with all the upgrades. I really like the Tektons but they sound different than the Linns. Not better or worse, just different. I then gave my beloved Linns to my son for his system. About a year ago, I found a set of Linn Nexus locally for $150 in mint condition. I am ecstatic as they are now in my rotation again. 

In my latest 2 channel quest, I am currently using a factory upgraded Audible Illusions 3A with a LSA Warp 1 amp. I put a Gustard R26 DAC in front and am very happy with the sound. I am amazed at how well the Linns scale up with each new upgrade. I added an Eversolo A8 a couple weeks ago and now the Linn's are singing for joy, again easily reflecting the upgrade. 


NO, NO, NO. Please do not use your Yamaha as a preamp for those speakers. 
1. Not good enough for those powered speakers. 
2. XLR might not be truly balanced as most Marantz, Yamaha, and Onkyo are not. 
3. you are worried they will not sound the same in your home. 

You would be better buying a nice balanced used preamp. Not the old Hegel P20 preamp. It will not do it justice because Hegel was way to sterile in the past. It’s amazing now. 

look onn no line for an older preamp if that is all you can afford right now. Also, You should test your components in your listening room. This hobby is way too expensive not to do your due diligence. Later if you want to upgrade those I would recommend the Puritan XX power cables. They are perfect for those ATC speakers 

If I read your post correctly, you cancelled an order for speakers because not many people here "love them" which is as much of a mistake as believing someone when they tell you your Yamaha would be an "insult" to your system. I'm no Tekton shill but the one's I heard were pretty good and since you listened to many other speakers but didn't find them that much better than your Linn's, you may have missed some great speakers by not hearing the Tektons.

Good luck with your search but try not to be too influenced by the people who recommend something too excitedly or the people who say your Yamaha "isn't good enough." Absolutes rarely are. 

If I read your post correctly, you cancelled an order for speakers because not many people here "love them"

Sorry, but I was not clear about this. I cancelled them because I waited for two months and heard nothing from them.

So I did go down to Audio Connection today with my Yamaha AVR. I spent about three hours with John trying different options to find the best sound. I guess it is no surprise that the best option is an external DAC and a preamp with HT bypass. Would also need an external streamer. This adds about $5k to the price! Plus I would need to run about 30’ of XLR cables (two) from the preamp to the speakers and this appears to be about another $1k for each - assuming Audioquest.

I love this hobby, but I don’t think the active ACTs are worth all this extra cost. I think I will go with the passive version of the speakers and continue to use my Hegel H390 to drive them. I will also get the center channel speaker. I think the ACTs will be a nice upgrade from my Linns.

And I wanted to mention that we thought Spotify was just about as good as Tidal when we had the best equipment in use.  I was surprised.


As long as you’re lugging amps around, bring the H390 next and hook it up to the ATC’s W/O the built in amps. You know it will easily power them and it has an okay DAC in it.  I have had a H390 for two years now and for the money, I am very happy with it. Later when you have had time with everything and you are used to the sound, then consider an external DAC.

All the best.

Have you listened to SALK speakers?  Heard than at RMAF in Denver and they sounded really good.

Sounds like my journey.  But I lugged most of my system including my Gryphon Diablo 300 amp to a different city, a ferry trip away, to listen to 7 different speakers worth $25-$40k USD, over a period of 3 years.  And like you, found none that impressed.  Until the very end when I tried a pair of speakers that were actually designed and voiced with Gryphon and potentially even my amp (Audiovector R6 Arrete’s).  All of a sudden everything clicked, and it was like I was listening not to a collection of components, but a system designed to make music.  Everything was more musically engaging and the bass really came alive vs all other options I tested.  And even terrible recordings sound great now.

Best of luck and my and my advise is do not compromise, or you will be searching again soon. I almost did with one particular pair of speakers and it would have been a big mistake!



jcs01:  Qobuz has, in the opinion of a great very many, better SQ than any iteration Tidal or Spotify.  I feel the same way in my admittedly MidFi setup.

@jcs01 seems that you have already made up your mind, but I am a big fan of upgrading one component at a time, in this case, get the speakers you want, then upgrade the other components to match as your finances allow! Or go further and upgrade your pre amp to a level above to prepare for the next speakers above. 

I am not sure what you have heard and how you define the sound you are looking for.  I have heard a pair of ATC's at John's and they sounded sort of boxy to my ears.  Not very open or layered so that is what I look for to begin with.  But I also like hearing a warm boxy type of sound also so it comes down to the preference you prefer always.  When you took your preamp to John's did you compare it to something John had to see if you hear a difference?  IMP the preamp is the weakest link but you need to hear and compare for yourself.  Upgrading your equipment you may discover that the improvement with your current speakers was what you are looking for.  It is hard to know what you are hearing and what sound you are looking for as you have net described that for us.  There are plenty of times I have heard something in a system, at a dealer or at a show and was not impressed like you and thought the upgrade was not significant.

That is where understanding what makes sound do what it does and how you prefer components in your system.  We have several systems in our listening room and since we repair audio components, we get to hear so many different components in the various systems.  Plenty of times we get surprised at what changes the sound of a system.  For example, we repaired an older model Art Audio stereo tube amp 20wpc.  Tested them on Vandersteen Sevens and the sound was excellent.  We never would have thought that 28wpc would work that well on 83.5db speakers.  It was better than many top end 100wpc power amplifiers from other well known manufacturers.  So you need to understand the sound you are searching for and experiment to find what works for you.

We have also heard many higher end speakers and components and were no that impressed.  Like you, we have heard Wilson speakers in one system and thought nothing special.  Then we heard them in another system and were impressed with how they sounded.  We have also heard various set-ups at reviewers and sometimes we were not impressed but people read their reviews and think they all have golden ears.  Go Figure!

This hobby is not hear something once and that is it.  Try, try and try again and you will discover new things that you prefer.  Then try again!  LOL

Happy Listening.



My first impression would be to use a tube pre with those speakers. But if you’re sticking with the Hegel then it’s a moot point.

I have passive SCM 40s, a Musical Fidelity A308 integrated, a Moon Mind 2 streamer, and a Pontus 2 DAC. I’m very happy with my system.

The A308 line is great value, including their preamp. The integrated puts out 150 watts. I don’t think you’d want anything less with the SCM40s. All of my components are hard to find used, but you could try.

I agree with much of what other posters have written.

pair of ATC's at John's and they sounded sort of boxy to my ears.  Not very open or layered so that is what I look for to begin with. 

@bigkidz very well said. I think it has to do with the dome midrange. Detailed and uncompressed dynamics are impressive but dispersion not so good. They are made for studio monitors not so much home use so of course different design goals to begin with.

We are a long time atc dealer no the yamaha preamp will not suffice 



Audio intellect Nj


I have the Hegel 590 pushing Magico A3s and extremely happy. Everyone says put subs with them but, to my ear, not needed. If heavy base resides in the track, it’s there. I have a fully treated 15’ sq room. I think the A3 is a bargain on the used marked ie can be had for less than 10k.

Re your concern that a quality streamer would add $5000 - I think the BlueSound NODE 130 when modified to use a decent LPSU (a mod you can do yourself) works very well as a streamer when used with a good external DAC. All in, the cost is about $1200.

Just an option for now. Your Hegel has RCA pre outs. You could buy some Mogami RCA cables. I like the idea of the Blue Sound Node with the upgraded power supply. Use the USB output since this is the best input on the Hegel. I hope this helped. 

@jcs01 What would you say are the characteristics of sound from the ATC’s that you like? And, what are the characteristics of sound that you heard from the ATC’s that you didn’t hear from the other brands you mentioned?

I ask because I may be having an experience similar to yours. I was at an audio event recently and got to hear some of the recent 800 series B&W towers. I currently use run B&W CM9S2’s, and I feel like the 800 towers are more of what I’m already getting--big soundstadge, great imaging and space between the instruments, high resolution and transparency, great tamber especially with percussion. I talked to one of the other attendees who didn’t like the B&W sound because he felt the B&W’s didn’t have enough "impact," and this attendee runs ATC active speakers.

I’ve also listened to some of the speaker brands you mentioned in your post and have largely walked away thinking they sounded so similar to what I’m already hearing and that I wanted to hear something different. I haven’t heard any ATC speakers yet, but I recently heard the Macintosh ML1 Mk 2s, and I was smitten by their sound. The ML1’s prioritize mid range and upper bass frequencies, and they have lots of impact. And, I didn’t understand how important impact was to me until I heard the ML1’s.

I would say that the ML1’s are imperfectly great. I immediately realized that they didn’t provide the insight into the music that B&W, Focal, Wilson, Sonus Faber, et al provided. But the ML1’s provided a fun factor that I hadn’t heard before, and that’s a compromise I’m willing to make. Also, the ML1’s are a sealed enclosure, which I attribute to the bass qualities that I love in Magico’s.

I heard the ML1’s with a guy who owns Zu’s, and he greatly preferred the ML1 sound to his Zu’s. Another guy recommended that I look into some models by Harbeth, Spendor, and Tannoy to hear some other variations on the ML1 sound. But, I believe ATC is a brand I have to hear before I make a purchase decision.

From what I understand the OP listened to older R&R music which typically are poorly recorded.  If that is true, then the ATC speaker probably did float his boat.  That would explain a lot to me.

So here is an update. I am a bargain/cheap/value oriented audiophile (pick one) and just could not get there on the cost of the ATCs and the associated equipment John recommended. I have heard such great things about the Arendal speakers that I am going to give them a shot. They are mail order only and you get a 60 day in-house trial and a 10 year warranty. I have ordered the 1723 Monitor S speakers. If I like them I will order the center channel to go with them.  If not, they will go back.

I also ordered the Wiim Pro Plus (another value pick) to stream Qobuz . Not sure if I will use the DAC in the Wiim or the Hegel as they appear to be comparable. I have two Wiim Minis on other systems so wanted to stay with the same app. I also have a Rhythmik sub that is hooked to the Hegel and helps fill in the low end.

And the Hegel is hooked to my Yamaha AVR via XLR cables and serves as power for the front channel in HT bypass mode when watching movies. I love the flexibility of being able to watch movies in surround or have high quality 2 channel with the same system.

Regarding the sound of the ATCs, I thought they did it all - nice refined tweeter, very present mid-range and fantastic low-end.  I think the actives sound better than the passive version, perhaps due to the three built in amps (one for each driver) that are perfectly matched to the drivers.  

However, I have been very excited about speakers before after auditioning in the store and then disappointed after getting them home.  I bought and returned a pair of Gershman Acoustic Studio IIs a few year ago.  

I will report back on the Arendals after I spend some time with them.

I have a feeling that when all is said and done, that you're gonna miss those Linns.

…bargain/cheap/value oriented audiophile…


Better speakers often use more expensive parts and costlier construction.  Even buying used would only drive the price down to a certain point.  Often, high-end components have a similar sonic signature “voicing” within a brand.  Also, speaker sonic preferences are highly subjective.  Generally finding a speaker/brand that resonates with you is a very good thing, but can be at odds with one’s budget in this niche often expensive hobby.

As you may have already surmised, speakers are only a part of the audio chain.  You could upgrade to the ATCs then upgrade the rest of the audio chain as budget allows, but if it’s just the speaker then the rest of your audio chain would be the sonic bottleneck.

As suggested above, you could take your electronics to try on the ATC to see if satisfying enough, otherwise it usually wiser to lift your audio chain in a more balance way.

Good luck

@jcs01 you not far from me, you can come over to my showroom in Brooklyn or we  make A/B comparison `with my brand speakers in you room

@cdc I caught that comment about the ATC dome midrange having an effect on dispersion- you are right it does- you are wrong in that drastically improves it, not degrades it.  This wider dispersion aspect of performance is a core value of ATC engineering.  If you would like I can direct you to a white paper exploring this topic.  

Everything is designed to offer consistent dispersion on and off axis.  In some studios, many people are working at once and standing or sitting in different places within the control room.  At home, we want a person to hear the same thing on one of the sofa or the other.  



Why would they sound boxy and not open? Maybe there is another reason then. Soundstaging was not so good on the active 100’s I heard. Like Naim, part of the "flat earth audio" sound?

You are a "US Importer/Distributor of ATC Consumer Loudspeakers and Electronics"?


Yes I am the importer for ATC pro and consumer and have been for 20+ years.  Worked for JBL and EV before that and repped many high end consumer lines going back to the 80s including Dahlquist Genelec any several more.  I dearly love hi fi and music.  It’s fun to be involved in the recording side too and meet the people who make these great records.  Nice to see behind the curtain if you will. 

Active configuration should improve on imaging over passive.  The reason is better phase linearity and miles less wire between amp and driver.  I have no doubt you heard what you report but rooms play a major role in our perception of the sound of any speaker.  You must be in the same room and same exact position to hear a true A/B.  I visit many shows and see people set up speakers close to side walls which is a big no-no.  This messes with image big time. 


@lonemountain I agree about set-up. The active 100’s were set up in the owners house so no problem there. Could it have been the Naim pre-amp?

Thinking about this some more, maybe it is the wider front baffles and square box (resonant?). Comparing this to Joachim Gerhard’s Virgo’s, it makes sense.

Ran the ATC 40 actives for 4 years and they are terrific!  ATC preamp, then Sugden and now Luxman.  They like Gaia footers and Townshend platforms.  XLR cabling definitely recommended.

What you heard that is right is immediate attack, dynamics and space around vocals and instruments.  Now have ATC 50A floor standers.  Best of luck on your journey to great sound.


I know its not about baffles or or square boxes.  100s sound very open in a proper environment.  Was the room small?  Its the room Im guessing. 

@cdc This is the biggest issue with demos, trying to [sonically] relate one space to another when you really cannot.