Ascendo Immersive Audio is a technology company as well as a speaker and subwoofer maker from Germany. Per its website, the company develops DSP, audio networking technology and audio measurement systems. But the product of greatest interest here is speakers. The company makes passive and active speakers as well as subs and amplifiers, with a focus on high-end home theater.
The “pro” nature of the gear makes it impractical for me to review a complete Ascendo Immersive Audio surround-sound system. Instead, I borrowed a 2.1 rig consisting of CCRM12-MKII speakers and the company’s SMS21 subwoofer, a combo that offers a strong taste of the performance the gear offers without overwhelming my apartment and creating a massive project.
When I moved into a high-rise apartment last year, I figured it was the end of reviewing systems that play at reference levels and beyond. Notably, one of the design goals for Ascendo systems is that they play 10 dB above reference, in a given installation, thus providing the headroom to achieve reference levels without coming close to maxing out the hardware. Oops! When the opportunity to check out the gear came up, I jumped on it.
Read about the technology found in Ascendo Immersive Audio Speakers by clicking here.
What makes Ascendo’s gear appealing to me is the way the company embraces the key ingredients for achieving top-tier audio reproduction. Namely, the CCRM12-MKII active speaker system is a 2-way coaxial design, in this case featuring a 12” woofer and a compression driver tweeter. The speakers are networkable via Ethernet and have built-in DACs so you can choose to stay in the digital domain right up until you reach the speakers, if your processor supports it. I used balanced XLR connections in my review, which worked great.
The CCRM12-MKII rear panel which 3 Ethernet ports and dual XLR inputs for flexible connectivity
The Ethernet connection is for more than just audio. It also lets you program the built-in, highly capable DSP contained in each speaker, so you could in theory skip ‘room correction’ with this system and instead tackle it with measurements and DSP EQ adjustment. For this review I also had access to a Trinnov Amethyst processor, which automates most of the room correction process and provides many options for tweaking the sound. It’s worth noting that the Trinnov itself costs more than the speaker system itself. If you know your way around REW (Room EQ Wizard) you can get a lot of your room optimization done inside the speakers.
There’s not much of a point in my doing a deep dive into the feature set of the CCRM12-MKII speakers, you can follow this link and get the full scoop.
One of the things I wish to convey in this review is that these Ascendo speakers manage to achieve a very specific, and rather sublime effect. Namely, they image very precisely, and the soundstage does not collapse when you are off-axis. Indeed, because I do not have a matching center channel for movies and surround-sound I opted to use a phantom center in a 4.1.4 configuration (KLH speakers serving as surrounds).
What I found was that in my living room, the CCRM12-MKII speakers were able to faithfully reproduce that phantom center effect, regardless of where I sat in my living room. This stands in stark contrast to most speakers I have heard, where at some point the sound field collapses if you sit off center.
Ascendo Immersive Audio CCRM12-MKII speaker.
When considering the fidelity of the CCRM12-MKII speakers, there is one huge caveat… these are not full-range speakers, nor are they designed to be. These are satellites, to be paired with one or more subwoofers. But, they are some of the most kick-ass satellites I’ve ever heard. As for specifications, the frequency range is stated to be 60 Hz to 20 kHz and the speaker contains two 500 W amplifiers (1000 W total). Ascendo states the speaker can output 125 dB SPL continuous and 130 dB peak.
The reason for this is that the output of the coaxial speaker is both time aligned tweeter and woofer that also exhibit ‘symmetrical’ dispersion characteristics, which is the hallmark of a point source. The result is sound that does not change in character due to listener axis, which is why the stereo illusion holds up and how it is able to present such a convincing and stable phantom center channel.
This “directivity plot” shows the intrinsic advantage of a concentric speaker design versus placing a tweeter above the woofer (image from aia-cinema.com)
Of course, this is a 2.1 system that includes a SMS21 21 inch subwoofer. And while you might think that’s a big cone, Ascendo makes several larger subs that are sealed units specifically designed for infrasonic bass reproduction. This 21 inch model is all about mastering the audible bass spectrum, consequently it comes equipped with a hugely powerful motor. But typically Ascendo will spec 24”, 32” or even a 50” subs for the really deep stuff.
As an aside, you may rightly be wondering why go with huge subwoofer drivers when so many designs rely on 12 inch or perhaps 18 inch cones? The short answer is… because the resonant frequency of the huge drivers is lower, without the cone itself needing to be heavy, it solves the physics problem of what Ascendo wished to achieve better than other approaches. Anyhow, I did not have an infrasonic subwoofer to test out, but the (ported) SMS 21 model proved immensely capable and is spec’d at 23 Hz to 200 Hz, -3 dB, so in practice and accounting for room gain, it covers the entire audible spectrum, at output levels that could easily get me evicted.
Within its specified frequency range (24Hz and up), no one single subwoofer that I have ever reviewed has delivered this much sheer bass energy. In order to equal its “heft” in my system using my own gear, I had to stack a pair of GoldenEar SuperSub XXL dual-opposed 12” subs (4X 12″ drivers total) and run them as a single unit. Any way you slice it, the Ascendo SMS21 is a beast of a sub that is at once powerful (1600 Watts) and nimble. Bonus points for the expression on people’s faces when they saw it in my living room, I’m guessing it’s by far the largest subwoofer they’ve ever seen.
Measurements at the main listening position showed an intrinsic benefit to using properly designed high-performance speakers: They measure well without any room correction, which means the subsequent corrections performed by an AVR or dedicated processor will require less EQ to achieve.
Unsurprisingly, the subwoofer required the most correction because it is the most impacted by the room. Using Audyssey on the Denon AVR-X8500H that runs my home theater, the uncorrected speaker response curves for the CCRM12-MKII exhibited notable smoothness, with an almost textbook flat curve that rolls off a little as it approaches 20,000 Hz… and this is at my seat. Understandably, Audyssey had an easy time making the final tweaks required to perfect room response.
Whereas using the AVR and Audyssey gets the job done, in my humble opinion anyhow, there is no denying that the Trinnov Amethyst is the most sophisticated room correction solution. It also comes with a far more accurate microphone. These measurements revealed some issues with my room that Audyssey glosses over (at least in the graph provided), but the gist of it is the same, the speakers behave well but the room itself has its impact that needs to be medicated with the help of EQ.
Unsurprisingly, taking measurements with REW (Room EQ Wizard) and a UMIK-1 revealed essentially the same information in terms of how the room impacts the speakers. If you wanted, you could use that to create a custom Parametric EQ curve for each speakers. Whatever approach you take to applying room correction to the equation, the end result is utterly fantastic sound that, if viewed from a two-channel, high-end audio perspective “takes care of business” in terms of soundstage, imaging, dynamics, neutrality… you name it. Without a doubt, these are the finest sounding speakers I’ve had my home, and I’m not even able to come close to maxing them out.
When it comes to evaluating performance, the reality of my living room situation (mixed use, not a dedicated home theater) is that I can only speculate what a full Ascendo system would be capable of. I am inclined to believe the performance claims and the quality of the actual gear is top notch, so it would be up to the home theater designer and whoever performs the calibration to get the best out of it. The tools are there.
What I can speak to, directly, is what a phenomenal job the 2.1 channel system did with music. The performance is simply excellent, competing with the best speaker systems I have heard, full-stop. I won’t claim that it’s a revelation, because I’ve heard this sort of fidelity before coming from other active speaker designs based around “pro” coaxial drivers paired with maximum subwoofer firepower. And the concept has been around for a long time, just ask Tannoy. Nevertheless, it’s an approach that has its fans here on AVS Forum, and with good reason: The science of sound supports the notion that a point source is the ideal driver type, but to achieve realistic sound reproduction you need to move a lot of air, consequently you need a really powerful coaxial driver to get you there and the CCRM’s 12” woofer cone does the trick. The company also offers a six-inch coaxial speaker, the CCRM6, The company offers the six-inch option for applications were not as much output is needed. This smaller driver can fit into a very slender and tall enclosure, for on-wall applications such as use as surrounds.
This is the CCRM12-MKII driver. It is “strictly business, no bling” with the tweeter hidden behind the cloth dust cap.
As with any speaker, the cabinet is a key component. Here, the cabinet is as industrial is it gets. Surprise surprise, it’s a rectangular box. The minimum width and depth are defined by the driver itself, but beyond that the enclosure’s dimensions are customizable, so if you need a relatively shallow or narrow enclosure to fit the needs of a particular installation, it’s doable.
I don’t want to come across as boring but… there’s no real point in my listing all the movies and music I listened to through the system, except to say that since I had it for about four months total, with over two of those months occurring under “stay at home” orders. The list includes my entire regular rotation of albums, as well as every major Hollywood sci-if, action and drama movie that came out this winter or spring.
On top of music and movies, I did my usual Grand Theft Auto 5 sessions and checked out some other games including Marvel’s Spider Man and Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s hundreds upon hundreds of hours of listening and there was never a moment where the system faltered, in any way. Indeed, there is so much spare capacity in the gear that I auditioned, I never got to the point where the woofer cones visibly moved. Again, there are limits to what I can do in my home and checking to see what 125 dB continuous output sounds like is not one of those things. Nor is 115 dB. But you don’t buy a sports car just to drive it at top speed, right? You buy it for how it performs at all speeds.
Can you tell I am impressed with Ascendo Immersive Audio? A taste of its CCRM12-MKII speakers and SMS21 subwoofer is enough to let me know this is a company that has put together a compelling solution for high-end home theater. It’s worth consideration and serious investigation, especially if a top-level dedicated home theater goal of yours is to achieve sublime sound. Ascendo’s is a very nicely engineered system – and by system I mean the whole package, speaker, DSP and amplification – that’ll take a home theater experience to the outer limits.
Ultimately, I’m not saying “this is it, buy no other system but Ascendo.” There are other companies that offer gear of this caliber, but it’s not a copycat of anything. This system has its own distinct aesthetic and logic behind it. That’s a fancy way of saying that 12”, time-aligned coaxial-driver speakers of this fidelity are not something you find often.
What I am saying is Ascendo Immersive Audio has a very cool, thoughtful, well engineered approach to speaker systems, one that I think will be very appealing to those who can afford it. Therefore it should be considered by anyone shopping out a performance-first, no-holds-barred home theater system. Maybe it’s not what you choose. But maybe it is! What I do promise is if you talk to Ascendo, you’ll get real answers about how and why it works the way it does.
While Ascendo speakers are not “inexpensive” per se, that does not prevent them from being a good value. Since it is a custom install product, there is no precise MSRP. Rather, the company will quote out a whole job. However, I’ve seen the mock invoice showing what the 2.1 system I auditioned sells for (in Euros, anyhow) and the quality and performance are there, sufficiently so to justify the cost relative to the concentric-driver high-end home theater competition at this performance level (think Seaton Sound, JTR, KEF). In other words, you’ll get what you pay for. In this case, total system cost – and remember this is system is active (3600 watts total) with DSP, so you don’t need amps – is just under $9000.
If you are thinking “OK, these sound like great speakers but I really, truly do not need active speakers…” Not a problem. Ascendo offers 5”, 6”, 10” and 12” coaxial speakers (monitors, Ascendo calls them) as passive models. The company also offers 10 inch and 12 inch passive subs, but sells its larger sub models as active systems. Still, it is the active speakers that are the stars of the show here because the approach allows you to get the absolute maximum performance out of the hardware.
If you made it this far, you are probably asking “what about that Trinnov, did you use it? How did that sound?” – Survey says… it sounded phenomenal. What do you expect? “The better the room correction, the better the end result” is practically an axiom with speakers of this quality. And regardless of whether you use a Trinnov or the Ascendo’s own speaker management software, you’ll be editing settings through a network interface and you’ll have tons of options as well as preset slots to work with. Let’s face it, Trinnov is kit for the cost-no-object crowd but if you can afford it, why not.
Ultimately, this is a system where “you have to hear it to appreciate it” because one thing is for sure, the speaker CCRM12-MKII speaker, whether the grill is on or off, in an all-business top-performance speaker that, due to its ultra subdued design (all black with no shiny surfaces, ideal for home theater) offer no hint of the precision and delicacy it can achieve, even at live concert and movie reference levels.
With its impressive offering, I’m giving a Top Choice award to the Ascendo Immersive Audio CCRM12-MKII speakers as well as the SMS21 subwoofer. Together they delivered superior sound matched by few other 2.0 or 2.1 systems that I’ve heard, and furthermore played a starring role in a 4.1.4 Atmos system that gave a hint of the performance that a full-on Ascendo-equipped home theater can deliver.
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