Tonight I had the great opportunity to listen to Curtis’ Ascend Acoustic system in his home. He goes by the handle CurtisSC on this forum and cschang on the AVS Forum. Curtis is a great guy; he and I listened to various audio tracks and a few movie scenes (more on that later) and chatted about the audio market, speakers, receivers, etc. Very pleasant to talk to, and he knew his stuff about audio components. The Ascend 340’s are just like the center channel that you see on the website, but their crossover is tweaked to make them more suited to standing vertically as opposed to being on top of a TV. They are not available on the Ascend website, but are if you call Ascend. We listened to a few random music tracks in various genres, some tracks from a Stereophile demo disc, and my favorite bass-and-mids-test suite. We then watched a few scenes from The Matrix and Star Wars Episode II to get a feel for the HT aspect of the system. Just as a disclaimer, audio listening is very subjective. This review is MY opinion of these speakers. My tastes are more for a sweet, laid-back speaker (but still well-defined…never muddy like Paradigm) that has good solid presence, a wide soundstage, and that integrates well with a sub for both music and movies. With music, the Ascend 340s sounded good. They wonderfully reproduced acoustic guitar on The Eagle’s Hotel California. Very agile, very good definition and separation; the best I’ve heard in a speaker pair under $1k and definitely the one of the best I’ve heard overall. There was very little if any coloration, and the speakers sounded a little forward. They were not at all fatiguing, an aspect that Klipsch has in spades. In fact, they were the only speaker that I classify as “forward” that I would consider buying. I think they would be better described as being neutral, however, since my tastes are pretty far on the “mellow” side, as opposed to “accurate”. Anyway, when I pulled out my bass-and-mids-test suite (AFI, Dre, and U2), I was surprised at how well the mids and bass were handled. Granted, they didn’t go down very low, but what bass they DID make was really very nice; not so tight that it sounds castrated, but never boomy, never exaggerated. I’d heard this from others before, but I didn’t really understand/appreciate how good this aspect is until I heard the speakers for myself. When paired with the Hsu VTF-3 sub that Curtis has, the bass/lower mids were almost perfect. Next we moved on to the movies. We watched the scenes in the Matrix where Neo is fighting the dudes on the roof, and when he goes to rescue Morpheus. In Star Wars, we saw the part where that one guy is chasing Obi-Wan in the asteroid field. Everything I said about the speakers sounding a little too forward and shrill (please keep in mind, what is shrill to me is perfect to others and not enough to yet others) disappeared in the movies. Being fast and accurate was a definite plus, and the speakers were very enjoyable. They didn’t distort very much even at high volumes, and the Hsu always provided more than enough floor-shaking gusto for the effects. A couple of times throughout the session, I caught myself forgetting that I was auditioning speakers and getting too into just watching the movies with the good surround sound. The 170’s sound very close to the 340’s except that they only go down to about 70 Hz instead of 55 Hz, and they sound a TAD more laid back. They also don’t get as loud as quickly. Overall, these are very excellent speakers. If you are in the market for a set of speakers from anywhere between $1000 and $2200, DEFINITELY look at a set of Ascends and a Hsu or SVS subwoofer. I haven’t heard an SVS, but with so many people liking them, I’m sure you can’t go wrong there, either. These blow away much more expensive speakers such as Paradigm Monitors, and to a lesser extent, Studios, which all sound too muddled to a great many people besides myself. Bose? Don't make me laugh. Axiom? Too shrill. Any HTIB besides maybe NHT? Don’t even bother. Buying anything less is simply not worth it. This is the cheapest system that you can get that sounds GOOD. I mean really good. These speakers will sound better than stuff that costs twice as much, and compete with stuff three times as expensive. I haven’t heard close to every speaker out there, but I’m willing to wager that the Ascend’s bang-for-the-buck is unparalleled anywhere in the industry. Whew! Thanks for reading all the way to the end. If you’ve heard Ascends, please share any comments you may have about them, and if you haven’t (you should!), please feel free to ask any questions about them.