Spica TC-50 Speakers: Among the best imaging speakers I've heard
Jul 13, 2010 (Updated Apr 10, 2013)
Review by Horswispr
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Spica TC-50s were among the most talked-about loudspeakers of the late 1980s and early 1990s. They were introduced to rave reviews in 1983, updated in 1988 (called TC-50is), and continued to be manufactured and sold into the early 1990s. They were the speakers that put John Bau and Spica on the map, and they were also my main speakers (a role they shared with DCM Time Windows) from 1993 to 1995 or so.
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Spica TC-50s were (and are) small stand-mounted speakers shaped more or less like door jams. More accurately, their sides are triangles, angling the front baffles radically backward for time-alignment (the actual angle is about 37 degrees from the vertical, according to my calculations), while their fronts are squarish-looking rectangles. They are very small speakers, measuring only 15.5" (394mm) high x 13" (330mm) wide x 11.6" (295mm) deep and weighing about 20 lbs each. Remember that they are triangle shaped, do the math, and you realize that they don't have much internal volume. In each enclosure is a 6 1/2" Audax woofer crossed over at about 2khz to a 1" Audax silk dome tweeter. The sides are finished in real walnut veneer and the front grilles are black. That's it--small and elegant little speakers.
But how do they sound? To cut to the chase, Spica TC-50s are the best imaging speakers I've ever had in my system, and they may be the best imaging speakers I've ever heard, regardless of price. The image they throw is deep, wide, and accurate, with instruments convincingly suspended in three-dimensional space. When I first heard them go up against a pair of Thiels (I forget which Thiels but it may have been 1.2s) at a local stereo store, I was amazed. The Thiels sounded like great speakers, but the Spicas sounded like music. I knew I had to have a pair.
In my smallish apartment, the Spicas continued to sound great, especially on small-scale music. Driven by a B&K ST-202 and conrad-johnson PV-10, they threw a three-dimensional soundstage and sounded incredibly realistic on both male and female vocals, Baroque music, and instrumental jazz.
They played moderately loud, but if I tried to crank it up too much, they started to sound compressed and rolled off in the highs. Their ultimate dynamic range wasn't that great, but micro-dynamics were incredible at reasonable volume levels. Things like brushes on cymbals, fingers on guitar strings, and triangles at the back of an orchestra simply sounded real.
I was listening to a lot of Keith Jarrett Trio when I had my TC-50s, and on that kind of music (small-scale jazz) they sounded incredible. The piano had just the right amount of pling, the drums had snap, and the leading edge of bass runs was wonderful. I had to use my sub-woofer to give the bass the right amount of heft, but the sense of instruments suspended in space was scary-good.
On female vocals, like Sandy Denny or Judy Collins, the TC-50s were equally wonderful. I have read that some thought the highs of the TC-50s could sound tipped up, but I don't remember exaggerated sibilants or hard-sounding vocals. I just remember the depth of the soundstage and the seductiveness of the vocals.
On male vocals like Gordon Lightfoot or Jesse Winchester, the Spicas also sounded really good, though I liked listening with my subwoofer to add a bit of heft.
It was on larger-scale orchestral works and rock 'n roll (as well as the deep bass notes in Enyas's CDs) that I became aware of the TC-50s limitations. They did a great job with micro-dynamics, but couldn't really rock. I think it would be interesting to try TC-50s with a crossover that rolled off frequencies to the Spicas below 100 hz or so and let the sub-woofer take over at that frequency but I never had the chance to do that.
The downfall of TC-50s (at least in my system) was anything with deep bass. I used the TC-50s full range but supplemented by an M&K V-2B subwoofer crossed over at 55hz or so. I don't remember if it was the deep synthesized bass notes in Enya's Watermark CD or the organ pedal tones in Saint-Saenz's 3rd Symphony (New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein), but I finally blew a woofer. And then another a few months later. Spica was cool about it and replaced both, but after the second one was replaced, I sold my pair to someone who promised he wouldn't try to get them to play deep bass notes.
In the early 1990s, a pair of Spica TC-50s cost about $550. Today, a used but fully functional pair commands about $250 on eBay. If I find a cosmetically challenged pair around here for a song, I'll probably add it to my collection.
To conclude, Spica TC-50s are among the best small speakers out there for imaging. Their ability to capture the sense of musical instruments and vocalists suspended in space is remarkable. But they don't do deep bass, and they can't really handle power, especially in the lower bass region, so they wouldn't be the speakers to own if you like to rock out (including rockin' Romantic classical music). If you listen mostly to small-scale jazz, folk, and classical, and don't listen particularly loud, they're definitely worth a listen. I'd especially recommend them if you have a smallish living space, but have enough room to place speakers on stands a foot or more away from the back wall. If you have to place them on bookshelves against a back wall, some of their imaging magic is lost, though they still sound nice. If you like to crank it up a bit, or if you have to put the speakers against the wall on shelves, I would probably stick with the usual vintage suspects like Dynaco A-25s or KLH 6s, or high quality contemporary bookshelf speakers from companies like Paradigm or PSB.
Within their limitations, and properly set up, there really is something magical about Spica TC-50s, though. If a friend happens to have a pair, make sure you get a chance to listen to them.
(Note: I've heard both versions and can't remember noticing a difference between the two, though I didn't listen to one version right after the other. I believe mine were TC-50s, not TC-50is.)
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