This weekend I got a chance to listen to the new SE versions of the Ascend Acoustics 340s and 170s as well as the VTF-3 MkII. I had previously heard the original 170s a few years ago and was pretty impressed with them and I owned a VTF-2, so I was very curious to hear the new SE versions and the VTF-3. Three of us spent about 4 hrs listening to these guys, almost exclusively with music. Build quality is very good as expected, and they are quite attractive, especially the 340s on their matching stands. The VTF-3 was actually smaller than I expected. In profile (depth and height), it is about the size of the PB-12, but it seems much narrower in width. The Ascends are very attractive, I can’t see how people would criticize these speakers as looking plain. I’ll start with the VTF-3, since it is easy not much to say because it is a solid sub. It did well with everything we threw at it. It captured all but the very lowest of rumble on the Master and Commander cannon scene, though that may only have been because it was configured for max output rather than extension. Brian mentioned he could hear some port noise in max extension, so he configured it this way. It added just the right amount of support during music (80Hz x-over), keeping up with the Ascends in control and capability and blending very well. It doesn’t call attention to itself, it just does what it needs to – that has a lot to do with Brian calibrating it pretty much right on the nose so it integrated well with the system. No surprises here, this sub is excellent and should do well even in larger rooms. Next the 340s: They sounded a little different from the classic 170s I remember, but not in a bad way. They seem a bit more forward than the 170s, a little more aggressive than them in the midrange (which I guess is to be expected). When I previously heard the 170s, it was on some very nice gear (I don’t remember models, but it was most or all Musical Fidelity, same guy I bought my VTF-2 from) and I thought they had a bit smoother/softer midrange; that was a few years ago too though. These guys extract a ton of detail – the tweeter is very nice – very crisp without any glare or ringing even on one particular passage that I use to evaluate highs (Patricia Barber Café Blue SACD - Nardis). It is a complex burst of high hat and percussion that can tax a speaker. They also did well with Diana Krall Live in Paris dts DVD – piano sounded natural, stand up bass was tight and acoustic guitar was plucky. The 340s render female vocals well, and seemed to do really go well with acoustic guitar. Beck's Sea Change DVD-A sounded great, as did DSoTM SACD and various Porcupine Tree tracks. The more detailed the recordings seemed to really shine with these speakers. The 170s were surrounds and were mounted, so I can’t really offer direct comments, but they sounded similar and blended perfectly sonically. SPL wasn't an issue either, I'd expect these guys will be able to fill sufficiently large rooms well. I have no real complaints about these guys, but the only things I noticed that I would say were not strong points would be that their soundstage depth is not as good as some other (more expensive) speakers - not really a negative, just an observation. Their imaging is relatively narrow (my speakers are quite similar in that regard), and the fact that they are nearly too accurate sounding – almost a bit sterile. They don’t have ultra fine refinement that gives them a total 3 dimensional depth and a huge soundstage, but these are sort of minor, nit-picking points IMO, and certainly not what I would call weaknesses in the price class. IMO Brian was right, you’d have to step up quite a bit in price to really do a lot better than these guys, seriously. Hats off to the guys at Ascend for putting out speakers at this price with this level of performance. Do I recommend these speakers? Yes. Would I be pleased if I built a system based on these guys? Yes. Most of all, thanks to Brian for the great hospitality and use of his time, gear and home for the auditioning.