Sunday, November 25, 2012

Review: Spica TC-50 speakers

A new house has forced me into a smaller listening room.  Since the full-range sound of the UREI 813A speakers would overwhelm this new space, I decided for an interim, ultimately deciding on a pair of mini-monitors placed on stands.

The Spica TC-50 was a popular budget mini-monitor speaker from the 1980s.  Featuring a sloped 45 degree front, a 6.5" woofer and a small tweeter, it is renowned for it's imaging capability.  Part of this performance is from the time-aligned drivers (from the sloped front) and the special crossover with matched drivers.  Of course such now vintage units suffer from aging components and drivers that are long out of production.

I bought my pair via Ebay for $250 and purchased the 29" VTI speaker stands via an online seller.

Going from a massive full-range speaker - sporting a time-aligned 604 driver combined with a 15" woofer - to a small mini-monitor takes some time getting used to.  Of course the majority of this change is the considerable lack of dynamics and bass extension with the smaller speaker.  It's simple physics - a 6.5" woofer just can't move the same amount of air as two 15" drivers working together.  In comparison, this lack of "slam" and macrodynamics makes the Spica sound rather thin.  For example, on Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon, the sense of urgency as the music shifts into overdrive is essentially lost.  Simpler recordings, like The Immortal Otis Redding fare much better.

However, there is one area that both the UREI and Spica meet - it's the driver consistency - that sound of being cut from the same cloth.  Much of that has to do with the time-alignment since the output of the drivers meet the ear at the same time.  It's a hard effect to describe, but you know it when you hear it.  This is part of the reason that I enjoy KEF Q series speakers.

Anyway, at reasonable levels treble extension is fairly non-irritating though lacking in the best shimmer and detail.  The Spica does sound slightly tilted in this range, though part of that could be the comparison to my previous speakers.

The midrange is the strongest point - though not quite in electrostat territory, it's also no slouch in this department.  I tend to think "Poor man Quad ESL-63" performance.  This leads to good soundstage width and depth, though my old Magnepan 1.6QRs and even the UREIs, with their massive box, had a more realistic scale.  Vocal presence is quite good, though not scaling the heights of the best I've heard.  However overall coloration is still quite low - low enough to be called 'audiophile'.  A good example of the soundstaging depth and relative neutrality can be heard on Willie Nelson - Stardust where the location of the instruments and the vocalist are easily determined.

Bass, as to be expected, is the weakest point.  A decent subwoofer here would improve the sound, freeing the woofer from doing the heavy work.  Stock, it's sort of there, not going particularly deep.  I've heard more extension from the little, but thoroughly modern, KEF iQ30, which coincidentally also sports a 6.5" driver.

So what to think of the Spica TC-50?  It's a good little budget design that may have been a real champ in earlier days.  If you come across a pair for a good price and they haven't been modified, then go ahead and take a chance.  Having said that, a few more dollars will get you a KEF (or other) monitor speaker that will have a warranty, new capacitors, and drivers that can be replaced if you get a little out of control with the volume levels.

VPI HW19 Mark III with SDS Power Supply
Rega RB300 with Cardas wiring
Denon DL-110
Quicksilver preamplifier with Mullard short-plate12AX7s, RCA 12FQ7s, Raytheon black-plate 5814
Cardas Cross 1M interconnects
EICO HF-60 monoblocks with Mullard XF2 EL34s, GE 6SN7GTBs, Genalex CV4085s
Cardas Hexlink 2M speaker cables
Spica TC-50 with VTI UF29 stands
VTI BL503 equipment rack