Dayter: Sorry for the long time for reply (edit.. err.. and the long post...)
Basically, we have a show called FSI held each year in Montreal where hundreds of companies gather in a Hotel to show off their stuff. Somewhat like CES, except it's opened to the public and dedicated to Audio & Visual. Mostly Audio. Really a great opportunity to listen to all kinds of systems and I wanted to go there before I answered. Most systems there cost like 10000$ or more, minority costing under 5000$.
I know it's not really a blind test or direct comparison, but it's really a great chance of hearing a ton of systems. So I brought some demo cds and listen to a bunch of speakers :P Basically, for 560$, it's really amazing how close the 340SE can sound to the really super high end speakers. Add a good sub and you have a ridiculously good and cheap system.
I was a bit disappointed at the lack of affordable systems (which I wanted to 'compare' my system against). For each affordable system there was probably 5 ultra high end systems, and the budget setups were few and far between.
There were some good systems, but I'd say most simply weren't impressive at all. Well I don't know maybe I'm spoiled, but I was relatively disappointed at many system's performance.
There was quite a few MTM designs, many more than the last few years, seems they're getting more and more popular. But you can't really generalize... Highland Oran 4301
. I liked the Highlands at a last show, this year I wasn't so impressed... Not very dynamic, nor detailed... (last year I had Totems though.. this year 340SE.. heh) Linn Ninkas
, etc.. Very disappointing for something like 5k, especially given they were run with the latest Linn Majik stuff ($10k behind?).
Yet I was more impressed this year by some non-MTM speakers, for example I liked the Omega speakers (fullrange) with Red Wine tripath amp... Ok it doesn't do EVERYTHING great, but I was happy to hear the fullrange systems and will probably build myself a pair
Or the Era speakers weren't bad also, small bookshelf, 1150$, 2 way, sounded pretty good for the price. Unlike many bigger speakers, were at home in smaller sized hotel rooms.
But again, when you take the price, and the performance of the Ascends 340SE, really an amazing value at 560$.
Sorry I would have liked to hear more budget speakers, to get a better comparison of the other ~700$ speakers out there but there basically weren't any...
So basically all I can tell you is that after hearing MANY systems easily costing 10 times more than mine, I can honestly tell you that most of them weren't very impressive...
The 340SE are an incredibly good speaker and their 560$ price tag in no way reflects their high performance. After the show the last few years I remember thinking about upgrading maybe the amp... or cdp... or speakers... Because when I got home I found I somewhat missed the 'highend' sound of the show.
This year, it's a more of a side step. I mean, when I got home and listened, I don't think anything is missing, no thoughts of switching amps, cd, or especially speakers... I spent 10$ and bought some sands to fill my stands lol, but that's about it. Maybe try to find some more room treatment. But IMHO, given taste and all, I'd have a hard time finding speakers I'd find worthy to upgrade too. To get any real upgrade I'd need to spend a LOT of $$$, and the difference wouldn't be dramatic.
IMHO, it's about compromise. Ascend is about performance. Accurate, no BS (veneer, boosted bass, magic wires & binding posts, etc..), sound. Great drivers, engineering, solid enclosure, simply performance oriented speakers. Others use fancy veener, cables, high end binding posts, tune their cabinets for ultra low bass... Well.. it depends what you want. But if you want the sound quality of Ascend + veneer, etc... IMHO... You'll have to pay a LOT more than 560$ to get it... And IMHO, that's what you see in the show. Quite a lot of 'nice' speakers costing a fortune, and most don't have much in terms of performance against the 340SE...
When I think back, even some of the more expensive speakers do some things really well, yet don't do other things as well as Ascend... It's mostly compromises, and IMHO Ascend has an incredibly good formula for the 340SE. For sound quality it's an incredible value.