Old School

Spica TC-50 Loudspeakers

When I first heard the Spica TC-50’s in 1985, they had already been on the market for some time.  I was impressed but I ignored them because I was a panel guy. Being the proud owner of a gigantic pair of Acoustat 2+2’s, I wasn’t going to put those tiny box speakers in my listening room.  Even so, I had become somewhat enamored with the Rogers LS3/5a’s, thanks to one of my neighbors.

But two years later, when I decided to abandon the Midwest for good and head to Arizona, I wasn’t all that excited about packing up an eight-foot-tall pair of speakers. That was how I became a TC-50 fan after all.  I was amazed at how much of the midrange transparency and three-dimensional imaging these tiny speakers were able to nail for $500 a pair.  I walked out of Quintessence Audio in Naperville, Illinois, with a demo pair of Spicas under my arm for $450 and left them boxed until I arrived at my new digs in Scottsdale, AZ, a week later.

Those little speakers served me well for the next four years while high-end audio had to take a back seat to getting established in a new city. But I actually found myself listening to music more.  They were a pleasure to live with and worked well in my small apartment.  While I swore off the audiophile scene for a while, it wasn’t long before the NAD 3020 that made the trip with me was replaced with a CJ PV-10 preamplifier and MV-50 power amplifier.  The relatively flat impedance curve made the small speakers easy to drive with a favorite tube amp; just start with the 4-ohm tap.

This took the sound from good to glorious, and I even managed to find the matching Spica eight-inch subwoofer at a local retailer in their used department. “This little thing doesn’t make any bass, who would call this a subwoofer anyway?” the salesman smugly told me.  I gave him $50 and hauled ass out of there before he figured out what he had actually sold me. It turned out to be the missing piece I needed, especially after moving to a larger space.

You can still pick up a nice, clean used pair of TC-50’s for about $200 if you keep your eyes peeled.  Make sure the owner hasn’t done any mods or swapped drivers, as there are no exact replacements for the tweeters.  G-R Research offers a Spica “upgrade,” so this might be an option for some of you. But it will sound different from the originals.

The key to this speaker was the extraordinary care taken in matching the drivers and crossover networks.  We listen to companies like Wilson Audio brag about matching their crossovers and drivers to .5 db tolerances, but Spica was doing this almost 30 years ago with their $500 per pair speakers!  Pretty impressive.

The unconventional (for the time) triangle shape kept the 6 1/2-inch woofer time aligned with the one-inch dome tweeter; both drivers were made by Audax in France. The woofer has a rubber surround, so there is no worry about the driver decomposing, but the tweeters are fragile. They always were fragile and now there are no more, so this is not a speaker to rock out with.  A little too frisky with the volume control and silence. The TC-50 doesn’t give you a bit of warning.

Because the drivers were so tightly matched to the crossovers, your chance of just popping in another driver from another speaker is slim to none.  Should you really like the TC-50’s, it’s probably not a bad idea to have a second pair for spare tweeters.  Madisound claims to now have an exact replacement tweeter for the TC-50, but I’m not sure how well this would work without being able to measure and match them.  I’d err on the side of caution for now.

Massive stands are a must with the TC-50 to get a modest amount of bass and to get the pinpoint imaging for which these speakers are capable.  Thanks to the resolution of the TC-50’s, I suggest better-than-budget cable as well.  Attention to the small details will be greatly rewarded.

I got a very friendly note from John Bau, the creator of the TC-50, on Facebook a few months ago, and he seemed genuinely pleased at the love that is still out there for his speakers.  “Just replace those electrolytic caps in the crossover and they’ll play for another 20 years,” he said.

In my reference system, everyone that stopped by was impressed at how well the TC-50 design has held up.  Only slightly grainy compared to modern offerings, this is still a speaker I could easily live with, especially with a decent small subwoofer.  Staff member Jerald O’Brien commented on the exemplary bass performance of the TC-50’s just as I remembered that the JL Audio Gotham was still on.  My bad.

When I shut off the Gotham, he remarked, “That’s exactly how I remember them…”  By far, the Spica TC-50 was one of my favorite memories of the ‘80’s.  High-end audio definitely needs another speaker like this, offering a huge helping of tonal accuracy and transparency in a small package.  Who knows, maybe John will come out of retirement someday…  -Jeff Dorgay