Well here’s a recap of my visit two weeks ago of Ascend Acoustics HQ, located in San Clemente, CA.
Sorry it took so long. Lol!
Disclaimer: To start off, my ears are not anywhere near audiophile quality. I also had just came from a 8 hour car ride that consisted of many elevation changes, one of which was the Grapevine in which I went from sea level to 5000 ft back to sea level in about 90 miles. To say my hearing was and is far from perfect would be an understatement. I plan on returning in the near future for special reasons, in which I will correct these issues.
Now the goodies.
I heard the Sierra Luna Duo’s, Sierra 2Ex’s and then A/B’ed the Sierra Towers w/ Raal with the Sierra 2Ex’s.
Electronics (for those wondering):
Rotel RSP-1068 Surround Processor
AVA ABX Comparator
Oppo BDP-105 Disk Player
ADA PTM-6150 Amplifier
ATI 1800 Amplifier
Synology NAS DiskStation (Music Server)
I had a listen to a pretty large range of music, all of which were FLACs found in their music server. Artists include Miles Davis, Daft Punk, The Eagles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gorillaz, Bob Marley, and some others.
Sierra Luna Duo Listening:
Let’s talk design. It’s an MTM using dual 4.5” Curv woofers from Seas and a Raal 64-10. Dual front slot ported, tuned to 60hz or so. Now these were the first speakers I heard, they were setup when I first came in.
Throughout my listening, I really could not ignore the fact they sounded like my own CMT340’s. My eyes kept picturing a ginormous stand mount speaker using 6.5” woofers, but I would realize that the sound was coming from this tiny little speaker. Listening, I came up with a word to describe them. Aggressive. These things punched like a 6’5” football player, but looked like a 5’10” tennis player! I must say, I’m a pretty big fan of the Raal tweeter. It’s nothing special up front, but in listening you can really appreciate the differences between a heavier dome and a lightweight ribbon.
I was really impressed with how the Duo did. The bass was very exact, never lingering longer than it needed to be, but was well extended for a pair of 4.5” woofers. Like I said, they made me think it was a pair of 6.5” woofers up there. The highs, obviously were great. I did not find the Raal to be laid back or the speaker warm sounding, just neutral. Proper, balanced sound, from a well designed speaker. I wish I could say more, but I spent the least amount of time with these.
Sierra 2Ex Listening:
Well, this is the main event right here. The all new, Sierra 2Ex. I know some of you will think, huh? There’s no Sierra 2Ex on their website. There hasn’t even been talk of them like the Sierra Luna Duo. Well let me tell you, once these are released, you will not stop talking about them. This new Ex woofer, made by Seas once again, is the best woofer Dave has ever seen/used in his 30 years of working in this industry. To put this woofer’s impressiveness in perspective, to produce this woofer, it costs 2.5 times more than the already phenomenal 6” Curv woofer used in the current Sierra 2 woofer.
This woofer brings a few things to the table...
The Excel motor systems are known for having extremely low inductance (this woofer has less than half the inductance of the standard S2 woofer, which is already low), and this combined with a lower mass cone and more powerful magnet system provides exceptionally deep bass and much improved transients and dynamics.
This woofer hits hard - there is more punch and bass extends lower than much larger woofers. Even with an 80Hz crossover, you will sense the greater impact.
The extremely low inductance combined with the new damping treatment being used on the Curv cone provides improved self-damping (which is already superb with the S2 woofer and why I chose the Curv cone in the first place) and greater high frequency extension and detail.
The huge copper phase plug improves off-axis dispersion, greatly reduces any beaming, works in conjunction with the pure copper upper and lower Faraday rings to reduce distortion, linearize magnetic flux and improve power handling and thermal compression by acting as a massive heat sink...
In simpler terms, mids are cleaner - smoother sounding with more weight to them (they sound warmer, fuller with more detail). Because of the upper end improvements, we can use a steeper high pass filter slope on the tweeter, easing the workload on the ribbon tweeter which in turn increases power handling, lowers distortion and provides for an even better overall blend between the woofer and tweeter.
Now that looks great on paper, and many different manufacturers can claim this about their speakers, but how does it sound?
I’m trying not to let my subjectiveness get in the way but I absolutely loved these speakers. These are sitting at the top of my list right now. I may be upgrading to these in the near future. But as far as they sounded. The bass was unheard of. I’ve said this multiple times but it needs to be emphasized. The bass was clean, defined, extended, and just all around phenomenal for a 6” woofer. I’ve heard towers with larger woofers that couldnt dream of this kind of extension. Now this bass does come with a slight drawback, and me and Dave talked about this for a little bit. It causes the speaker to sound warmer than usual and admittedly I loved how this sounded. It wasn’t warm to the point you’d have to turn the bass down or the treble up, but it made listening to songs that normally would be a bit harder on the ears so much more pleasing.
Sierra Tower/Sierra 2Ex A/B Comparison.
Well this was where the fun part happened. Comparing possibly the two best speakers Ascend has. Other than the Sierra 2Di. At first we had the speakers set up A-B A-B so it was fairer when comparing but later switched to A-B B-A so I wouldn’t have to move every time I switched.
I heard some differences between the two. Both speakers had similar bass extension but the S2-EX sounded like it had a bit more midbass in the 60-80Hz range, neither had sloppy bass. Now as far as the midrange, the Sierra Tower sounded more filled out (perhaps even slightly more detailed) in that area than the Sierra 2Ex. Dave says it’s due to the warmth the woofer provides. Its prominence causes a spectral balance shift making the mids sound slightly recessed. Both the tower and bookshelf have flat measurements. Here is the spin of the bookshelf to verify this:
Green = On Axis
Yellow = Listening Window
Red = Early Reflections
Light blue = Total Soundpower
Dark blue = Directivity Index
Purple = Early Reflections DI
Fantastic listening window, as always.
But throughout my listening, I really enjoyed this warmth from the Sierra 2Ex. Neutral is good, which is what the Sierra Tower provides, but the Sierra 2Ex was just so much fun to listen to. Every song was great. I didn’t spend enough time at Ascend Acoustics to really discover the resolution of the Sierra 2Ex, as every speaker I had listened to was way up there on resolving chart, but I’m sure if I eventually took them home and listened to them for multiple days, I would indeed discover that the Sierra 2Ex is that great of a speaker.
Finishing up, I preferred the Sierra 2Ex over the Sierra Towers. Despite the Sierra Towers costing almost twice as much and being the better performing speaker, the sound signature of the Sierra 2Ex was just right to my ears. Slight warmth with plenty of bass and extended highs only presented by a Raal. From a purely objective standpoint, the Sierra Tower is superior, and the price reflects that.
Some will note that I forgot to mention some very key aspects to a speakers performance. Imaging and soundstage. I thought they were very similar (better soundstage going to the speakers on the outside obviously) and not any huge differences to be made between them. But being completely honest it has been my experience that imaging and soundstage are commonly a function of the room treatment and acoustics and placement regarding toe-in, depth from wall, etc. all things that will change from personal preference or necessities (can’t have speakers 7 feet into a room that is a walkway right?). So, sorry but I will not be commenting on that.
I ended up listening at pretty loud volume levels (I believe I was at 95/100 on the Rotel Preamp), and unknowingly switched from a track that was recorded at low levels (Hence the 95/100) to a song with a very strong kick drum that was recorded at very hot levels. The woofers were really moving and began “popping”. Dave came running into the room, lowered the volume a bit and informed us that was the woofer's former hitting the backplate. I would have expected that to be the end of the woofers right there and then, which would not have been a good thing as these were the only pair Dave had left at this time, but Dave told us not to worry and those woofers actually took the abuse like a champ and we went back to listening (at lower volumes, hah) with no issues.
Dave and Dina also took me into the back of the office and walked around their factory/storage area. Got to see all the fabulous finishes and tech they have back there. This was a great add on to my listening time and really appreciated it. BTW, the domestic natural finish cabinets are the bomb!
I also saw a snapshot of their new website and it looks sweet! I’m excited to see the finished product which hopefully will be coming soon!
If there’s any questions you may have about my visit, feel free to ask and I’ll answer to the best of my ability!