(A rather long) Review of the Ascend CBM-170 SE Bookself Speaker from Ascend Acoustics
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
Moulin Rouge Sound Track
Various Classical Pieces
Shrek (all of them -- grr..darn kids)
Transformers Dark Side of the Moon