When I recently moved from a stand-alone home (Philly rowhouse) to a high-rise apartment, I foolishly swore off auditioning monster subs and industrial-strength speakers. I figured that with the limitations of city living, my days of blasting a system in a dedicated home theater were over. However, as fortune would have it, I was offered a chance to check out this Ascendo Immersive Audio 2.1 system, featuring to hang on to it for a couple months, and here we are. This core system consists of one pair Ascendo Immersive Audio CCRM12 speakers
, one SMS21 subwoofer
and a Trinnov Amethyst processor.
I'm glad I said yes to this review! First impressions (admittedly subjective) elegantly support the hypothesis that a huge sub, well-tuned & powerful coaxial driver speakers, plus sophisticated room correction add up to something approaching "ideal" sound. One of the best things about this rig is that it sounds nothing like how it looks (it looks very industrial). Most impressive, to my ears, is the soundstage that genuinely holds up when you are seated off-axis. Normally you can only hear "phantom center" imaging if you are seated in a tight sweet spot. Here, the soundfield does not collapse until you are way off-axis. This is key because I did not just run this rig as a 2.1 system, I also integrated the speakers and sub (without the Trinnov) into my existing Atmos rig, making it a part of a 6.1.4 speaker system used for watching movies.
Given the limitations imposed by my current living space, this is going to be a bit of a "gonzo" hands-on type review. Before this week is out, I will run room correction with the Trinnov, currently I'm relying on Audyssey and my Denon AVR-X8500h to you handle base management and room correction. What I can say, unequivocally, is that this system make me not want to go back to the GoldenEar Triton 7 speakers they temporarily displaced. There's simply no comparison in terms of capability, and it's across the board improved: From a soundstage that is deeper and wider and holds up better, to their ability to play at live music/concert/movie reference levels with the zero hint of distortion or dynamic compression, the outclass everything I have heard in my home to date. You certainly wouldn't know by looking at them, but these are some of the finest sounding speakers that I've heard.
The Ascendo Immersive Audio SMS21 is the first 21” subwoofer that I have had in my home, and easily one of the most powerful subs. I am familiar with the joys of having such power on tap (a bit over a decade ago I ran a dual 18" sub). And more recently I reviewed both the SVS PB-16 Ultra and a dual-15" Rythmik G25HP, both offerings are no slouch in the output department. Nevertheless, this 21" beast is a professional-quality bass making machine with 1600W (RMS) power pushing a high-excursion 21” cone, equipped with a quadruple voice coil motor. The resulting performance absolutely amazes me with it's delicacy as well as its physicality.
Because Ascendo makes dedicated infrasonic subs (including a 50” model), the ported SMS21 does not focus on that range. What this sub does (masterfully) is present bass that’s in the audible range, free of coloration and distortion, with all the impact and definition you could ask for out of a live performance. Frequency response is rated at 23 Hz to 200 Hz at -3dB (note that +/-3 dB is the same as -6dB) and with room gain etc. there's no issue getting down to 16 Hz (as confirmed with both sine waves and real content that's confirmed to dig that deep). You can feel 16 Hz organ notes (Rutter, Pie Jesu - Turtle Creek Choir) as if you were in the auditorium with the real organ—I've demoed that track on some amazing systems over the years and this sub NAILS it.
Things actually get scary when I played my bass testing standby, the soundtrack to Tron Legacy. "Disc Wars" is one of my favorite torture tracks and it's one case where (after confirming my neighbors are out/at work) where I "stretched" the system to the point where the 21" woofer was getting "excited" and visibly moving. Turn's out the track is mere child's play for this sub; it was rendered with a throbbing verisimilitude. Even if I turned it down, the sub delivered the bass with a tactile solidity that escapes all but the best subwoofers. Some people call it "fast" but really what we're talking about is "clean and tight."
Having said that, there is absolutely no way that I can tap into this subwoofers claimed 130 dB peak output. Nor do I want to experience that level of output. But, much like enjoying driving a high-performance sports car does not require that you drive it at its absolute top speed, appreciating this subwoofer does not require that you constantly play it at top volume.
This review is not done, it's more like it has just now begun. Next step is to add the Trinnov to the mix and see if it can improve upon Audyssey XT32. I have yet to perform "critical listening" to this rig but even casual, sighted, biased, yada yada it's a "holy wow that's awesome" sort of system, more comparable to Seaton Sound or JTR than to any mass-marketed consumer speaker brand's product. I don't know if it's the same/better/worse than those ID companies that are popular here but I know it's all ballpark the same class and of course using similar technology (concentric active pro-driver speakers, huge subs).
More on this system coming soon...