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post #1 of 31 Old 03-13-2013, 06:42 PM - Thread Starter
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(A rather long) Review of the Ascend CBM-170 SE Bookself Speaker from Ascend Acoustics

http://www.ascendacoustics.com/pages/products/speakers/cbm170/cbm170.html

Background

I am NOT audiophile. I am just an average Joe who likes movies and wanted more of the movie experience at home.

That is what really drove me to look for speakers.

I bought a Open Box TV from best buy (Panasonic 65VT50). Then I tried to make my current surround system
(Flaunce SX 5.0 with a Velodyne VX-10b) to sound better using an entry model Yamaha receiver from 5 years ago.

No amount of adjusting gave me anything close to the sound I wanted.

As I started looking for a new 5.1 system my whole family became much more involved in music.
My daughter loves to dance as I play music and my son too. My wife started going through her collection of CD's that were
pretty much delgated to the car.

We realized that music and good movies can actually make a positive improvement in all our lives...so we decided to make this
our special expense this year ... no home improvement, no big vacation, just once in a lifetime set of 5.1 speakers.

Research Prior to Purchase

I am like most people here... Am fairly anal and research everything to the nth degree. So I read here and several other forums.

After reading for a month I thought I had my dream system nailed down which was Klipsch Referance Line speakers for 95%
HT use. On paper they were perfect for HT. They fit the budget. They were popular. I was sure I would love them.

I am fortunate enough that I live down the street from World Wide Stereo. I listened to the RF-52 II, RF-62 II then finally the RF-7II.

I came back 4 times. First two times I came to hear the RF52 and 62. I liked the pumped up upper range. It was clear and dynamic.
To my shock...I did hear what some of the nay sayers said...the highs were a little too high and could get on my nerves. Something
harsh about them after only short time listening I didn't want to listen any more. When I became engaged in the movie it went away
for the most part but I for sure heard it.

The fourth time I went in and heard the RF-7II. They had all the nice things I liked about the RF-62II but the high end was smoother.
The harshness I heard in the 52 and 62 was not there.

During the interm from me auditioning Klipsch my search parameters changed some. I went from 95% HT to 5% music to 60/40.

I realized what everyone on the forums said... You can NOT buy speakers from researching on the forums or looking on paper at something.
You have to go listen. So I went on mini-road trips 10, 20 to 35 miles away to hear stores that carried other speaker brands.

I heard Paradigm, Dynaudio, Sonus Faber, GoldenEar, ML, Bose, DT, PSB, B&W and started to understand what I liked and didn't like.

I went back and listened to the RF-7II... There was texture to the music that just wasn't there in the RF-7II. Also, for me the sound stage
was very two dimensional. The imaging was there but the sound stage sounded flat to me. For their price I was not willing to comprimise.

If they cost the same as say the RF-62II I would have owned the RF-7II now. They pushed me into the next cost range for
speakers so I went back out to listen and research.

I then fell in love with the Sonus Faber Venere line. (I actually never even knew this brand existed before I listened to them)
They had flaws...a bit boomy, definately warm speakers that were colored, they had a very
slight cusping of vocals you can hear if you struggled...but if you stopped analyizing the speakers they were hella fun! I loved them.
The sound stage was AMAZING. The dynamic energy made me want to listen to my test music that I was frankly sick of listening to.

It was like they have a hidden DSP switch...and boom 3d.

Two things killed the Sonus Faber for me: 1) Cost ($3500 for L/R) and 2) Their center was a wimp.

Back to research... I will fast forward a little here as I am getting long and my main L/R I will save for another review.

So I basically went back to the drawing board again...and took a leap of faith...I broke all the rules I learned (don't buy without hearing).

That being said the well respected maker of my L/R speakers had some monitors. I told him I probably wanted his monitors as surrounds
and he wrote me back that would be a waste and I should save my money and get something like NHT speakers.

Ok..more research. Didn't want to go with the Sub Zero because they could not go down to 80hz and I didn't want to cross higher than that
due to subwoofer localization issues. I looked at the Classic One, Two and Three. For those prices I was getting close enough to
the other monitors..that I was just going to go with them instead.

Then knowing what sub I wanted (you guessed it..that will be another review) I found the Acsend CMB-170SE.

Basically highly rated inexpensive speakers that for sure could cross at 80hz (or lower) was in my budget and were shown to be very flat.
Ascend had an excellent rep and they are very transparent with graphs and stats.

So the order went in...from the start customer service was great..

The Ascend CMB-170 SE arrive

Double boxed and packed well we took them out. Ok...they are fairly large black boxes. Nothing to win any awards but we knew this going
in. They are not ugly either..neutral and very plain. That was fine by me. I bought them for how they sound. As for WAF I had free reign.
(Lucky man I know!) They were for sure bigger than we expected.

In the end I will compare them to various other speakers I heard and I don't mind fielding A/B comparison questions if I can answer them.

So I hook them up to my Yamaha entry level receiver (RX-V559) and my cheap Amazon banana clips connected to low gauge copper clad wire.

My room is 12wx22l with 8 ft ceilings. It is carpeted and open to the kitchen and a hallway with a sliding glass door on the left. No room treatments.

The first think I noticed when I played the 170's is that the mid-range is full and detailed. The bass for such small speakers was outstanding.
(The bass of the 170SE is actually a double edged sword for these guys as I will explain in a moment.) I also noticed I could play these very loud without distortion or
breakup. To say we were impressed would be an understatement.

The sound stage is the thing that really sold us. It was solid and convincing and again the mids were detailed and lush with the nice bass output.

Everyone says these are very neutral speakers and I can attest to that. But when I listen to Barbra Streisand sing I want the hair on my arms to
stand up when she hits those high notes in Memories. I want to feel the energy of the singer when I hear Soul Sister from Moulin Rouge. I want
the speakers to transport me. I can't say these speakers did that for me.

A wise man wrote on the forums (he is wise because I agree with him)...sometimes a flat frequency response produces a speaker that sounds
lifeless. I would not go near that far here. It is not like these speakers equalized everything making them seem lifeless and monotone. Not at all.
But they couldn't bring me into the music either. The 170's full sound stage, lush mids, good bass and accurate highs took me 80 percent of the
way there but couldn't take music from detached listening to being in the middle of the stage.

Now there is something I want to stress here.. That is not necessary a negative against these speakers. The fact that a set of $350 speakers
could take me 80% of the way is outstanding. We can't compare these to the Sonus Faber Venere (which had it's own flaws) but cost 10x
as much. Literally 10x as much.

These speakers are so good that they make you want them to be as good as the $5000 dollar speakers.

Another thing to remember is I liked the Klipsch RF-7II ...and the Sonus Faber Verener both of which I don't think can be characterized as
neutral speakers. In addition, although the purests are going to hunt me down and strap me on an angry 3000 pound Rhino (no not my wife -
..and if she reads this I am a dead man) but you can always adjust things with your nifty receiver.

Now as I was testing these speakers my new Onkyo 818 came in as well as my Monoprice 12 ga speaker wire with Sewell deadbold banana
plugs. That on top of about 50 hours of break in did improve things marginally but all my observations remained in tact post changes.

A few other things to know abou the 170 SE. They do have great bass but in a heavy bass song the speakers can start to sound slightly
boxy. Nothing really bad...it is slight and I would like to stress slight. With a subwoofer I doubt you would ever hear this or care.

Also, the sound stage was full and 3d. There are other speakers that have a more convincing sound stage but none that I have heard at
this price level. The imaging within this sound stage was slightly muddled though. I could tell the drums were playing someplace in
the upper right of the stage but I could only give you a vague direction.

Again, this should not be held against the Ascends. The fact that a $350 set of speakers had such a believable sound stage was again
a slightly double edged sword. It is so good we want it all... Not fair really. Sort of a victum of their own sucess.

Finally, these are rear ported which help sensitivity and output but make people nervous about wall mounting. Even Ascend promotes
hanging these on a wall and using fairly a-typical mounts I did not see any problem with them being rear ported.

Conclusion

Since I am not a professional reviewer I don't have to temper my reviews...

Straight out...would I be happy with these as my mains? No.

They are missing too much energy, the details are just a tad bit too muddled...

To be exact, I want to listen to the song and be compelled to be emotionally connected there was a slight veil that prevent that
from these speakers.

If your budget is $350 to $600 dollars though... I would and do highly recommend these speakers.


Test Music and Movies

I will not list it all as I listend for well over 75 hours now...but as an idea:

Yentl sound track
Broadway Musical CD
Prince
Moulin Rouge Sound Track
Alanis Morrisett
Loverboy
Maroon 5
Bruno Mars
Various Classical Pieces
Some Jazz

Die Harder
Independance Day
Shrek (all of them -- grr..darn kids)
Toy Story
Transformers Dark Side of the Moon
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post #2 of 31 Old 03-13-2013, 07:33 PM
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Since Ascend gives you 30 days to try them out do you think you might try the larger 340's? I like using Walk The Line as a Demo disc also.

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post #3 of 31 Old 03-13-2013, 07:39 PM - Thread Starter
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I am still debating if I should upgrade or not. Although I was comparing them for mains...these are really for surrounds.

I don't think the 340's will give me much more than the 170 SE since they are almost identical but with another woofer. (If someone has heard them both A/B please speak up.)

So that means i would have to step up to the Sierra which is a whole other level. I am sure that is way overboard for surrounds.
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post #4 of 31 Old 03-13-2013, 07:50 PM
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Yep, I have heard the cmt340s and that is one outstanding speaker!

Set up #1: EMP e5ti, e5Ci, and SLS Q line Audio surrounds, EMP 10i10i sub
Set up #2: Def Tech SM450, CLR2002, SLS Qline surrounds and Klipsch 12wD sub
Set up #3: JBL130, JBL120C and Klipsch synergy sub
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post #5 of 31 Old 03-13-2013, 08:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Newbie01 View Post

I am still debating if I should upgrade or not. Although I was comparing them for mains...these are really for surrounds.

I don't think the 340's will give me much more than the 170 SE since they are almost identical but with another woofer. (If someone has heard them both A/B please speak up.)

So that means i would have to step up to the Sierra which is a whole other level. I am sure that is way overboard for surrounds.

While similar in timbre to the 170's, the 340's use:

- Different woofers
- Different tweeter
- Different cabinet (obviously)
- Different cabinet tuning and baffle compensation
- Entirely different radiation pattern
- Different crossover

smile.gif

David Fabrikant

audio professional and soft spoken representative of www.AscendAcoustics.com

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post #6 of 31 Old 03-13-2013, 08:29 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ascend View Post

While similar in timbre to the 170's, the 340's use:

- Different woofers
- Different tweeter
- Different cabinet (obviously)
- Different cabinet tuning and baffle compensation
- Entirely different radiation pattern
- Different crossover

smile.gif


Wow... Ok..I thought the Woofer and Tweeter were the same! Dave I may contact you tomorrow to discuss further.

Thanks for the response! I hope my writing was clear enough..that I did like the 170 SE and bang-for-buck they are an outstanding value, still I am always searching for the next level.

I just went back and checked Dave... So this is why I thought the woofers / tweeters were the same:

340 SE -- Dual 6.5" Long throw composite polygel woofers
Advanced 27mm wide dispersion soft dome tweeter

170 SE -- 6.5" Long throw composite polygel woofer
27mm soft dome chambered neodymium tweeter

And of course you say: 340SE..."Based on our award-winning CBM-170 technology"

So...I did do the research but obviously not enough.
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post #7 of 31 Old 03-13-2013, 08:38 PM
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Nice.
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post #8 of 31 Old 03-14-2013, 07:33 AM
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I have the 340's up front and the 170's as surrounds. I am curious how the 170's would do as fronts and maybe I'll find the motivation to swap and try it at some point out of curiosity sake.
This is a brand new setup with very little time on it, but we watched Life of Pi last nite and I was amazed during the Storm scene! No buyer remorse whatsoever.

Nice review!
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post #9 of 31 Old 03-14-2013, 10:28 PM - Thread Starter
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I am interested in what the "wide dispersion adds" as well as the differences in the tweeter between the 170 and the 340.

Just to be 1000% clear with everyone... I have not heard a better sounding speaker in the $350-600 dollar price range that these go for. I would recommend them in a second with someone that only had 350 dollars to spend.

On top of that customer service has been outstanding. There are always trade offs...everyone's acceptable trade-offs are different smile.gif
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post #10 of 31 Old 03-15-2013, 03:56 PM - Thread Starter
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I listen to allot of Barbra Streisand two songs specifically when auditioning speakers: Papa Can you Hear Me from Yentl and Memories from Cats.

There are always parts of those songs that give me goose bumps if the music is "right"... The songs were "nice" the mid lush, music sound stage was good, but when she hits some high notes..no goose bumps. The top range energy just isn't there for me.

Some people call it sparkle but I don't that is the case here... Sparkle sort of implies more than neutral... My mains are very neutral and flat line but I feel that extra energy at the top... However my mains cost 6.5 times as much too.
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post #11 of 31 Old 03-15-2013, 04:03 PM
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Maybe it is not a fair fight, but how do your Phil 2's compare to your CBM-170 SE's Newbie?
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post #12 of 31 Old 03-15-2013, 04:51 PM
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You are being unfair. But of course we all love hearing comparisons dont we? smile.gif
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post #13 of 31 Old 03-15-2013, 05:13 PM - Thread Starter
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Not fair at all...

1) Phil 2's are Transmission Line Towers
2) Phil 2's are 3 way
3) Phil 2's use the Raal tweeter
4) Phil 2's cost $2900 now (that makes them 10x as expensive)

I will give a full review of the Phil's in a couple weeks...however I have to say I love them. They are absolutely positively wonderful.

Now to even the playing field are they 10x as good as the 170 SE? Very hard to say... tongue.gif That is not to take anything away from the 170 SE but the Phil 2's are just that good.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Newbie01 View Post

I listen to allot of Barbra Streisand two songs specifically when auditioning speakers: Papa Can you Hear Me from Yentl and Memories from Cats.

There are always parts of those songs that give me goose bumps if the music is "right"... The songs were "nice" the mid lush, music sound stage was good, but when she hits some high notes..no goose bumps. The top range energy just isn't there for me.

Some people call it sparkle but I don't that is the case here... Sparkle sort of implies more than neutral... My mains are very neutral and flat line but I feel that extra energy at the top... However my mains cost 6.5 times as much too.

Well, some people think that the 170SE is a little too bright for their taste, as well as brighter than neutral (I disagree, but I don't have their ears, only my own), so it's probably not because the speaker is so warm and mellow (it's not). Both of these speakers are rather neutral, so what may be going on is that the Philharmonic 2's RAAL 10D ribbon tweeter has much wider horizontal dispersion than the 170SE's conventional 1" (actually 27 mm) dome tweeter, so even if you listen to both on-axis, the Phil2 is putting more treble energy into the sides of the surrounding room, which of course is a placement- and acoustics-dependent effect. I suppose it is possible that this is what you perceive, at least in part, as the elusive "sparkle"--well maybe, it's just an hypothesis.
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Maybe it is not a fair fight, but how do your Phil 2's compare to your CBM-170 SE's Newbie?

Ya think? wink.gif
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Newbie01,
Did you decide to try the 340's?

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post #16 of 31 Old 03-20-2013, 04:11 PM - Thread Starter
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After talking with Dave...he convinced me the 340's would not give me what I was looking for. He did suggest an upgrade to the Sierra though... Big price jump so I was just looking for some more input.
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post #17 of 31 Old 03-20-2013, 04:32 PM
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Did you also consider the Philharmonitor's as surrounds? They are in the Sierra price range...
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post #18 of 31 Old 03-20-2013, 06:16 PM - Thread Starter
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Yes...I sure did ProfD. In fact, it was my first instinct. Dennis thought that the Phil monitors would be over kill as surrounds. He suggested NHT Sub Zero. I did some research and although they are sealed and very small...they don't go very low and I was warned you want to cross your sub at 80 with your surrounds to avoid localization.

More research and the 170 SE came into play. To be 100% honest the 170 SE should be absolutely fine as surrounds... I am too much of a perfectionist sometimes. With the trade up ability from Ascend though...it would be cheaper for me to go with Sierra then to get Dennis to build me a set of Phil Monitors.

I am fairly satisfied with the 170 really...I should probably just let things go.
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post #19 of 31 Old 03-20-2013, 08:14 PM
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That seems like good advice... surrounds don't kick in that frequently also.
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post #20 of 31 Old 03-20-2013, 08:33 PM
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I'm curious. How did you find the CBM-170 SEs compared to other bookshelves in say the $300 to $800 range? I wonder if that that level of "energy" you are looking for is in other speakers that are otherwise comparable in SQ and closer in price. For instance, as I posted recently in the Ascend SE owners thread, I thought the Energy Veritas V5.1s has a little bit brighter, sparkly high end that definitely gave them an edge with songs where female vocals are the main focus, but for pretty much all other music, I like the CBM-170s better.

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If you try the Sierra-1 with the NrT tweeter they will take you to a 100% great speaker although I think I need a better avr now... I just wished they were front ported for easier placement.
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post #22 of 31 Old 03-21-2013, 06:14 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I'm curious. How did you find the CBM-170 SEs compared to other bookshelves in say the $300 to $800 range? I wonder if that that level of "energy" you are looking for is in other speakers that are otherwise comparable in SQ and closer in price. For instance, as I posted recently in the Ascend SE owners thread, I thought the Energy Veritas V5.1s has a little bit brighter, sparkly high end that definitely gave them an edge with songs where female vocals are the main focus, but for pretty much all other music, I like the CBM-170s better.

And I think you hit the nail on the head... It is female vocals where I am caught on.

Compared to the few other speakers I heard in this range these are far and away the best. Like I sort of posted...if they were just slightly ahead of the pack but still with the group of the other 400 dollar speakers I looked at...this would probably be a nice review and I would just move on. They are so far ahead of them and give me ALMOST what I want in those 800-1000 speakers... I want it all now.

Greedy I know.

As for the porting... The 170 SE are rear ported too..but I understand the Sierra 1's need more breathing room from wall than the 170 SE ...probably because they have allot more bass?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Newbie01 View Post

And I think you hit the nail on the head... It is female vocals where I am caught on.

Compared to the few other speakers I heard in this range these are far and away the best. Like I sort of posted...if they were just slightly ahead of the pack but still with the group of the other 400 dollar speakers I looked at...this would probably be a nice review and I would just move on. They are so far ahead of them and give me ALMOST what I want in those 800-1000 speakers... I want it all now.

Greedy I know.

As for the porting... The 170 SE are rear ported too..but I understand the Sierra 1's need more breathing room from wall than the 170 SE ...probably because they have allot more bass?

I recall that the 170's need only a few inches for port room when wall mounted if proper xover is implemented usually ~80hz you should be fine smile.gif

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post #24 of 31 Old 03-21-2013, 08:44 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
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I recall that the 170's need only a few inches for port room when wall mounted if proper xover is implemented usually ~80hz you should be fine smile.gif

Dave got back to me told me 3'' is fine ...more is even better but at 3'' with 80 xover I would be fine. I have about 5-6''. I have not heard any boom...but AVR set my surrounds to -5...I just upped them to -2 and probably will up it some more.

I want to hear those surround sounds not have them be that subtle.
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post #25 of 31 Old 03-21-2013, 09:43 AM
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Newbie01, could you describe how your surrounds are set up? Are they aimed directly at your viewing position? The 170SE has very good off-axis response characteristics for a standard 6.5" midwoofer + 1" tweeter configuration, but when used as a surround speaker (by those who demand high-fidelity from their surrounds, like you and me) it still would often benefit from optimizing its placement, direction, and in some cases orientation. For example, my 170SE surrounds are mounted higher than ear-level and slightly behind the viewers (out of necessity, although I prefer surrounds to be placed this way in general), so I toe and tilt them toward the central viewer and orient them horizontally for the widest dispersion across the main seats. And yes this does make a positive difference for movie soundtracks that have full-range, high-fidelity surround content, as well as multichannel music, without negatively affecting other movies, in my opinion. Just checking.
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post #26 of 31 Old 03-21-2013, 06:57 PM
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And I think you hit the nail on the head... It is female vocals where I am caught on.

I can definitely see that. I don't listen to much music where female vocals dominate that much, so for me, all the other characteristics of the 170s are awesome for my musical taste. I do listen to some EDM with female vocals, but for that music, midbass is often very important, and consequently the 170s still shine with the vocals ever so slightly recessed at the very high end.

If hometheater.com's measurements are right, the Sonus Faber Venere series that you liked would seem to have some hot treble. I'm guessing you probably tried the CBM-170s with the grills off (that does make a little difference), but did you try giving them a little EQ magic with a few extra db somewhere in the 10K and above range? Might not get you all the way to what you were looking for in female vocals, but could make a difference. Does for me.

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post #27 of 31 Old 03-21-2013, 07:43 PM - Thread Starter
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I can definitely see that. I don't listen to much music where female vocals dominate that much, so for me, all the other characteristics of the 170s are awesome for my musical taste. I do listen to some EDM with female vocals, but for that music, midbass is often very important, and consequently the 170s still shine with the vocals ever so slightly recessed at the very high end.

If hometheater.com's measurements are right, the Sonus Faber Venere series that you liked would seem to have some hot treble. I'm guessing you probably tried the CBM-170s with the grills off (that does make a little difference), but did you try giving them a little EQ magic with a few extra db somewhere in the 10K and above range? Might not get you all the way to what you were looking for in female vocals, but could make a difference. Does for me.

I need to figure out my new receiver to start tweaking things some...I would guess that a little EQ hit would do the trick.

That was the first time I saw that review...seems I like good things. The 3.0 was in another league than the 2.5 too. World of difference to my ears... that is for another $1,000 though. So you are talking retail with tax etc over 3,700 for L/R speaker alone.

Now if you look at that center ...you see that they did not even have the decency to use a raised tweeter design. They might tell you it is fine...but it really isn't. Now the center is 800 bucks but it was a sad afterthought. That and the fact that the surrounds are very low sensitivity. So I really really liked them but for 3700 and not a total HT package...I walked away.

I honestly feel that the Phil's while different give me everything the Sonus Faber Venere gave me. I think the Sonus Faber Venere 3.0 do better on some types of music like Rock / Pop...but for everything else my vote goes to the Phil's.

Now back to the 170 SE. I honestly think that doing an comparison the 170 SE beat out the 1.5 Sonus Faber which go for 1.2k a pair. I think the 2.0 edge them out...very slightly..but darn it it is a close call. Not bad to say it is 40/60ish when the 2.0 cost 2k...not to mention the expensive custom stands these require.
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post #28 of 31 Old 03-21-2013, 07:48 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Robert Cook View Post

Newbie01, could you describe how your surrounds are set up? Are they aimed directly at your viewing position? The 170SE has very good off-axis response characteristics for a standard 6.5" midwoofer + 1" tweeter configuration, but when used as a surround speaker (by those who demand high-fidelity from their surrounds, like you and me) it still would often benefit from optimizing its placement, direction, and in some cases orientation. For example, my 170SE surrounds are mounted higher than ear-level and slightly behind the viewers (out of necessity, although I prefer surrounds to be placed this way in general), so I toe and tilt them toward the central viewer and orient them horizontally for the widest dispersion across the main seats. And yes this does make a positive difference for movie soundtracks that have full-range, high-fidelity surround content, as well as multichannel music, without negatively affecting other movies, in my opinion. Just checking.

Hi again Rob:

I was able to come really close to "optimal" as we just installed the in wall wiring and speaker placement. They are sitting at about 10 degrees off 90 (slightly behind us) sitting about 3 feet above sitting ear level puting down at about a 25 degree angle..so that if you had a laser from center of speaker it would hit mid-sofa and about 1 foot behind my ear.

So I think we are pretty much on the same page where our surrounds are placed. I am still adjusting them though... I found my receiver set my surrounds to -5 too... I upped it to -2 and may goof with it more.

The majority of this review came when I was reviewing the 170 SE as mains. I really think I am way over thinking all this and they will not only be fine for surrounds...they will be exceptional. It is that little thing nagging at the back of my head now..

It does not help I come to these forums too often to double, triple and quadruple guess my choices.
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How would these compare to Arx A1b's ???
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post #30 of 31 Old 05-27-2013, 06:01 AM
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How would these compare to Arx A1b's ???

Theres a couple of users that has Arx A1b and Ascend 170SEs. From what I gather from each thread, both have their strong points and weak points. Arx seems to have better/more bass, while the Ascend is more efficient. One has a larger wider soundstage, while the other is more pinpoint. Lively sound vs a more studio sound.



http://www.avsforum.com/t/1446006/ascend-acoustics-cbm-170-se-vs-arx-a1b
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