My thoughts on the Ascend 340SEs

Discussion in 'Speakers & Subwoofers' started by John Garcia, Jun 26, 2006.

  1. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    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.
     
  2. kevin tate

    kevin tate Stunt Coordinator

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    John, how is the VTF3 compared to your current sub?
     
  3. Colin Runner

    Colin Runner Agent

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    Would you recommend using an SVS sub (PC 25-31 for example) with the Ascends? I'm looking to build a new system at a reasonable cost, and these were both companies high on my list.
     
  4. Ron Temple

    Ron Temple Stunt Coordinator

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    I'm just cruising through...I was there too, so I'll answer your questions.

    The VTF3 is a great sub, but John's DIY Tempest is closer to an SVS Ultra in output and SQ. Nod to the Tempest.

    The 25-31 is also a great sub and will match with the Ascends very well. It's just a matter of calibration, room size and taste. IMO the VTF3 and 25-31 will sound very close, just a matter of liking the tube or box.
     
  5. TimJC

    TimJC Stunt Coordinator

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    Hey Ron,

    Since you were there too, what was your take on the 340SE's?


    Tim
    [​IMG]
     
  6. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    I thought the VTF-3 was a very nice sub; articulate and powerful and very good output for the size. I don't even think we were pushing it that hard. I agree with Ron, the 25-31 and the VTF-3 seem pretty close though I don't think the 25-31 will quite hit the lowest notes like the VTF-3, you'd have to step up to the 20-39 most likely to equal it down low, or maybe a PB-12. Not a whole lot blows me away after the Tempest [​IMG]...but a few have certainly impressed.
     
  7. Colin Runner

    Colin Runner Agent

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    I've got a pretty big room, ~4000 Cu. Ft, and Ron recomended the SVS PC 25-31 Plus. How does the PLUS driver compare to the VTF-3?

    Also, How much of a discount do you get if you order the HSU sub bundled with Ascend speakers?
     
  8. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    The Plus is a noticable step up from the VTF-3, IMO. It isn't just the driver, there's the bigger amp too.

    Ascend lists their pricing on the website for packaged systems and/or choose a custom system here.
     
  9. Ron Temple

    Ron Temple Stunt Coordinator

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    Hi Tim,

    I liked the Ascends quite a bit. John's compared more speakers and is quite a bit more articulate than I am about this, but here's my thoughts...

    Flat

    good imaging not great

    strengths are the midrange and Seas tweet ... there's a lot of detail there

    of the selections we played they handled all the genres extremely well

    weaknesses aren't really apparent...just a very nice speaker and package.

    I might have had them configured differently in the listening room, but cyberbri really did a fine job of calibrating and getting the most out of his setup. I think they (like most) speakers would benefit from more power, but I'm sure that's down the road for Bri anyway.

    One of the reasons I was so hot to audition these guys is I'm thinking of an upgrade. Like most I want a significant pump over my current setup. I'm definitely "bang for the buck" vs. "high end heaven", so the Ascends really interest me. My impressions are mixed, I really liked them, and yet, was perhaps expecting too much from all the praise I've read about them. Yes they are better than my current Polks, the midrange is similar, the tweets more refined and they image better, but I'd need to do an A/B in my house to convince myself how much better. Also, I wouldn't mind spending far more if subjectively I got more benefit.

    Hopefully Brian will let me listen again or bring them over sometime ;^) Definitely interesting...
     
  10. Brian_cyberbri

    Brian_cyberbri Stunt Coordinator

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    I just remembered to check over here on HTF.


    I've been experimenting with placement for my mains a lot, and I will be getting some room treatments (bass traps and 1st reflection point panels) soon. Room treatments should give me more of an improvement in sound than any equipment upgrade I could possibly afford or stretch to get.


    For placement, I experimented with moving the couch forward/back, and the speakers with placement, distance from the walls, toe-in, etc.

    Right now I have the speakers about 15-18" in front of the front doors of the side shelvings flanking the TV stand, toed in pretty drastically. I believe they are nearly 3' away from the side walls as well. They are aimed at a spot about 2' give or take in front of the LP. This gives me a very tight center image for vocals, and moving to either side of the couch still has a fairly centered image - since the speaker on the opposite side is facing you, and the speaker on the closer side is aimed inwards more. This also gets me the benefit of still having the center vocal image more towards the center, rather than having the sound of the speaker closest to you drowning out the sound from the other speaker. I can get a strong center vocal image with less severe toe-in, but with that positioning the image crumbles completely to one side if you move to the side more than 6-8" or so to either side. So with conventional positioning, the sweet spot is pretty narrow. But I think I've been able to widen it quite a bit.

    I think they are about 8' and change away from the center LP, and about 7-8' apart. It sounds great for music. I'm still evaluating it every chance I get, but I think it sounds pretty good so far, with great center imaging. I may have to re-position them once I get my room treatments, too. Once I have a chance to listen to them more in their new positions, though, I'll have a better idea of my own thoughts on them. Ie., at lower volumes (under -30), the vocal center image is back a bit from the depth of the sound coming out of just the left/right sides, but when I turn up the volume in the -27 and up range, the speakers open up more, the vocals become fuller and more forward and into the room. I still want to evaluate some more multi-channel music and more DVD material to see how the soundstage sounds across the couch.


    As far as the VTF-3 goes, I was running it in Max Output mode, +/-1dB to 25Hz, +/-2dB to 22Hz, with both ports open. After the listening session with the guys, I plugged one of the ports and switched to Max Extension mode. This is +/-1dB to 20Hz, +/-2dB to 18Hz, per HSU's specs.

    Here are the curves, outdoors, from the test results here - Max Output, then Max Extension:
    http://www.dvdplaza.fi/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=157

    Max Output:
    [​IMG]

    Max Extension:
    [​IMG]


    Here's my in-room response at 1/6 octave, done while in Max Extension mode a few weeks back. This doesn't reflect my current response, but will give you an idea of Max Output mode's capabilities in-room. Max Extension would be much flatter and go lower, and I plan on doing another graph soon with the new calibration settings:
    [​IMG]

    I think I did this one in Max Extension when I first got the sub, before switching to Max Output the first time. It shows the difference in frequency response between phase setting = 0 (big dip) and phase setting = 180 (flat through xo range). The sub was in a slightly different position, and the couch may have been as well. But it just gives an idea of the response:
    [​IMG]



    After changing the tuning of the sub to Max Extension, I re-calibrated it, up from flat with the speakers (reading 2dB below the level of the other speakers, to reading 1-2dB over the level of the other speakers. So it's about 3-4dB hot now.

    What a difference. It was very impressive before, in Max Output mode and calibrated flat. But now I can definitely tell the difference in extension, with more kick at the low frequencies, and at lower volumes as well.

    I got a chance to check out John's system one night this week, and just from my impressions listening to my own music I'm familiar with is that the bass from my Ascends and VTF-3 Mk2 is a bit tighter and cleaner than it was in his room. Nothing against his sub of course, but I just find the VTF-3, and the mid-bass from the Ascends, to be very tight, controlled and musical, less muddiness in the deeper notes. That's just my impression from having listened to my own system a lot, and listening to his for a few hours.

    At extreme volume with WoTW (about -10 on DTS), the tripod rising scene, I felt my VTF-3 was showing a bit of stress. The first time I tried that scene, when I first got my sub, I had it at -5 in DTS, sub calibrated flat with the speakers in Max Extension mode. I could hear air rushing through the open port (I think I had the sub with the port facing the side wall - I remember seeing the closed blinds (about 8" above the top of the sub) behind it being shook. But I didn't have the slam, and switching to Max Output mode gave me an extra 4dB of headroom and no noise of air going through the port. But now, with the sub calibrated a little hot rather than flat, at -10 DTS the slam is there, plus more extension (and very little to no sound of air rushing through the port) - and I don't have to have the master volume as high.

    BTW, my room is about 2600sf (14.5' wide by about 18.5' deep, with another 4' or so in part of the back of the room connecting the front door to the dining room), with a regular door-sized opening in the left side wall at the back of the room. The sub is placed near the front right corner, out along the right wall about 5' or so, with maybe 4-6" clearance along the side of the sub to the side wall. The ports of course face the front wall where the TV is. My surround channel 170SEs are mounted on the side walls maybe 4' back along the walls, 6' up off the ground, aimed forward and down towards the LP.


    Here's my gallery, although the speaker positions aren't current:
    http://gallery.avsforum.com/showgall...ppuser/7455862

    One picture (close-ups of speakers and sub are in the gallery above):

    [​IMG]


    Ron and John are welcome to come over again and check out how it sounds again after my hours and hours of tweaking layout. Maybe after I get my room treatments so they can also see how much the sound can be improved with a few panels. And yeah, I could take them over to your place, Ron, so you can check them out in your own room.
     
  11. Brian_cyberbri

    Brian_cyberbri Stunt Coordinator

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    Ignore this. I just realized it's not set to "email notifications" by default here unless you change it in your personal settings...
     
  12. Ron Temple

    Ron Temple Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks Brian...how'd they sound with more power?
     
  13. Brian_cyberbri

    Brian_cyberbri Stunt Coordinator

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    More power? I haven't tried them with more power. I didn't take them to John's place. His room and setup is so different anyways that even listening to them there with my own receiver would make them sound very different.
     
  14. Ron Temple

    Ron Temple Stunt Coordinator

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    I thought you were taking them over to John's to experiment...[​IMG]
     
  15. eskendir

    eskendir Agent

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    John, I am considering upgrading my speakers form my current Mirage Omni setup to either the Ascend 340 or three NHT M-6 acroos the front. Since you have heard both, the Ascend and the NHT M-6, which one would you consider to be the better speaker, ignoring the price difference between the two? My listening preference is 90% HT 10% music of all kind execept hard rock.
    P.S. I don't like bright speakers. For reference I don't consider Paradigm studios bright but do consider Klipsch bright. I like my speaker to be a bit dynamic since my set up is geared more towards HT. Thanks for your input.
     
  16. John Garcia

    John Garcia Executive Producer

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    That's a tough one. It has been a while since I heard the M6s, but I preferred it to the Studio 40. I would actually say the Ascends sound more like the M6 than not, with the M6 probably being just a tad more crisp (not too crisp for me) in the highs due to the alum. tweeter. I prefer a more laid back speaker, but I would be happy with either the M6 or the 340 in my system. Neither is quite as bright as the Studios, IMO, which is one of the reasons why I would be more likely to choose them.
     
  17. eskendir

    eskendir Agent

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    Thanks for your quick reply, John. Your response however made it even more difficult to choose between these two. Since my room is 12 x 25 x 8, I thought the NHT might play louder and cleaner and is a more dynamic than than 340SE hence better fit for HT in a large room. Is this assumption about right?
     
  18. ryan.p

    ryan.p Stunt Coordinator

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    Ron what Polks do you own? I been thinking about going with the Polks or Axiom myself. I prefer a more crisp detailed type of sound that is a bit forward but not overly bright or harsh. It sounds like the Ascends are a bit on the laid-back side of things and as such would not do my tastes justice. I have heard the Axiom M80 Epic 500 set-up and a full Rocket set-up and both were quite impressive. However, the Axioms had more detail and never once sounded bright to me -just lots of detail and awesome over-all balance. Care to share your thoughts?
     
  19. Chris Quinn

    Chris Quinn Screenwriter

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    The M6 is a sealed speaker and has 86dB efficiency to the Ascend's 92dB efficiency. It is going to take 4 times the power to get the same volume out of the NHTs as the Ascends.
     
  20. eskendir

    eskendir Agent

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    I meant M6 will play the louder without distortion and strain in my large room. If you can comment on the differnce in SQ between these two, I am all ears. Thanks.
     

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