This is a speaker we’ve been fairly intimate with over quite a period of time. Designed by John Bau, the SC-50i started out three years ago as an inexpensive speaker system ($330/pair) not sold through dealers.
One of the factors allowing it to cost so little was the clever adaptation of cardboard tubes, normally used as forms for pouring concrete pillars, for use as speaker enclosures. They have a number of advantages, other than low cost: their circular form helps eliminate resonance of the back wave within the enclosure; the material is rigid because of its shape, and is non-resonant due to its construction. In the finished speaker the only tubular aspect of which you are aware is the round shape (truncated in front for the speaker baffle); the tube is covered with black acoustic foam and the top and bottom are of solid mahoganyquite a handsome combination.
There have been several price increases since the original SC-50 came out, primarily to cover in creasing parts costs and a more professional distribution setup (such as dealers through whom to sell). Considering the large increase in sound quality, the price changes have been modest. To my mind, this (the SC-50i) is the only one worth having; I strongly recommend that owners of the SC-50’s return them to Spica for a very reasonable ($75) upgrade which includes new woofer, tweeter, and crossover! As you can see, the only thing shared by both versions is the enclosure and the designer.
These are the best moderately priced speakers I have listened to. That is a strong statement, but I’ve compared them to most of the others we have recommended in the past, and that’s the way they come out. Their principal virtues are these: excellent high-frequency reproduction, good imaging, a sonic character at crossover that is more seamless than most, and a midrange which does not back off the sound to give a false illusion of greater depth. The SC-50i’s also play at surprisingly high volumes (much higher, say, than the little Rogers) and do the best job I’ve heard, from a small speaker, of reproducing the bass drum.
Their weak points are few, but one of them is significant enough to daunt some prospective purchasers. The imaging could be better (for instance, the little M&Ks are better); and (this is the one significant criticism I have) the lower midrange/upper bass range is diminished enough so that a significant warmth is missing from the music. It sounds as if they begin to roll off at a very gradual rate from about 200Hz, the effect being to make the male voice a little less chesty than in live music, the cellos a little less rich. It also makes the impact of the bass drum, or the kick drum, surprisingly more effective!
With a lower midrange reticence like these have, you might expect there to be nothing at the bottom. Not so! The woofer resonance is at 56Hzsee fig.1and you get good, solid performance down at least to there. Overall, this lack of richness is enough to be objectionable if you are particularly sensitive to this characteristic; otherwise, I think the speakers’ virtues strongly outweigh their defects. All these criticisms should be taken in light of the fact that these speakers offer a very pure version of the music at a price where purity is almost unheard of.
Fig.1, Spica SC-50i, on-axis frequency response (5dB/vertical div.)
It’s clear to me what the tradeoff is here. Speakers which don’t sacrifice the warmth region have a strong tendency to be overly loose in that region. In fact the Rogers LS3/5a has a significant frequency response rise in the 100150Hz region which gives the impression of more bassbut in fact it has less. Not only that, the looseness in the upper bass/lower midrange colors the entire midrange.
Listening to the Rogers by itself (I’m just referring to the Rogers because it’s become a standard to which many other speakers are compared) you’re pleased by the warmth and the “roundness” the music seems to have. But comparing it directly to what I would call a more accurate speaker, like the SC-50i, the looseness and roundness appears as a form of distortion, subtracting from the authenticity of the music. Here’s the tradeoff (I’m glad you weren’t holding your breath!): with a two-way design, of moderate price and using real world drivers, you can’t have both low bass extension, a warm lower midrange, and high SPL’s.
There are other tradeoffs: the crossover could probably be some what cleaner (it’s already better than other inexpensive speaker systems) if it used better capacitors, but this would launch it’s price into the $600’s. The drivers could be accurately aligned front-to-back for coherent wave-front arrival (I can’t simply use the phrase “time-aligned”it’s copyrighted), but again that would raise the price significantly. The somewhat minimalist appearance could be bettered, but again at increased cost. I think the compromises that have been made are the best assortment I’ve come across, particularly within this price grouping.
The one factor I’ve left out in reviewing these speakers is the electronics used with them. My first listens to them were done at the Spica factory (it’s only about a mile from the Stereophile office) under less than ideal conditions, using the electronics they happened to have around. Indeed, I thought they were much better than the SC-50’s I’d heard before. I didn’t know how much better until hearing them at the Las Vegas CES: using an Electrocompaniet amplifier they were great! Very clean, excellent preservation of detail particularly at the high end, and lots of dynamic range.
Since that time I’ve found that they’re very amplifier sensitive and, generally speaking, the better the amp the better they will sound, with many economy designs you reach a point beyond which you feel you’re wasting your time using better amplifiers, but not with these.
I like them. They won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, particularly if you like an over whelming amount of whomp in your cellos, or if you favor cartridges and amplifiers which are cool in this region (the new Acoustat amp is a perfect mismatch herethough it also was best at revealing the Spica’s high-end purity). But as an inexpensive start towards accurate reproduction of what’s on your records or tapes I think they’re unmatched.
And if Spica does the logical thing and comes out with a subwoofer well-matched to their frequency response characteristic (it shouldn’t be too hard since the SC-50i doesn’t go overboard in ways that are hard to compensate for), I think the combination should be a winner.
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