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Thread: New to Ascend with Sierra 1

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2018
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    Default New to Ascend with Sierra 1

    There seem to be few recent reviews of any of the Ascend speakers, so thought I would add one and introduce myself.

    I am a new Sierra 1 owner and thought I would give a little of my story and choosing the Sierra 1s.

    After a number of years in larger living spaces, about 3 years ago I moved with the wife into an apartment. Total area is about 850 sq. ft. 2 bedrooms and a living/dinigroom. Then kitchen. The living room area is a difficult space for audio due to space, shape and the opening into the dining area, and the hallway to the bedrooms and the bathroom.
    In spite of that I was relatively happy with the equipment and sound I had except …

    The journey for better sound started with FM radio. One of the bedrooms is my computer work space, and I like to listen to a local public station (XPN.org), and the apartment location has trouble with clear reception. So that began with a search of available HD receivers that I could plug into my computer room receiver. That was a Yamaha RX-V661 that was demoted from the living room since the HDMI switching had failed. After a lot of poking around I decided to try to locate a SONY XDR-F1HD or XDRS3HD on the used market as these are rated as some of the best HD radio receivers ever made. Purchased a XDRS3HD on eBay, and what a difference. Even when unable to lock on to an HD signal, the FM signal was much better, with nearly no IM distortion and noise. So on to the next step. I had an old Luxman M 120 stereo amplifier from the 80s that I loved, but the Luxman C 120 preamp was retired due to problems with the switches that were failing in spite of numerous cleanings. Did not want to use the Yamaha as a preamp. Space, sound quality, and all that. So searched for a low cost pre that I could use to feed the Luxman. Ended up with an Emotiva PT-100. Passed the Yamaha to one of my sons. Wow, what a difference. The speakers used in that room are the mains from a Yamaha Home theater package that I picked up cheap from a Radio Shack close out. Suddenly the sound from those speakers came alive and revealed things those speakers never output before. I am not saying they are/were good, but the Luxman amp certainly woke them up. So made some custom stands to raise them on the desk and happy with the sound there for near field listening from the radio, or the computer.

    That led me to the Living room which I consider the main listening room, and also the home theater room. The system there is powered by an Anthem MRX 510. It was driving DCM Timewindows from the 80s that have served me well for the last nearly 40 years, but I felt I was missing something. In addition, they were starting to fatigue me during long music sessions, but were okay for home theater. More on that later. As I said the space is difficult. A wall about 7’ 10’’ long is the only real spot to place the audio and the TV. The left wall is 11’ 6” and the back wall is 14’ 10”. The right wall is 8’. The hole that is not accounted for is the opening to the dining area, and the hall to the bath and bedrooms. Fortunately, the Anthem room correction fixes a lot of room issues.

    So on to search for new speakers for that area. Considered towers, but concerned about space needed for them, and since most are rear ported, and they have to be close to the front wall, I was really concerned about rear ported towers in that space. Also ruled out side firing bass drivers in towers due to space. 2 audio shops nearby to audition speakers, with a mix of brands and quality. One shop has well treated listening rooms and a mix of equipment to drive the speakers. I started with a $500 budget, but was willing to stretch that if I found something I thought I could work with and really liked. Listened to PSB Imagine Minis there, and thought their soundstage and imaging were great, but they are not that great off axis. Wanted to hear the Paradigm mini monitors, but only the Atoms were hooked up. I felt they were too small for what I wanted. While there listened to Paradigm Monitor 11v7, and liked those. Good imaging and sound stage and held up well off axis. But more $$ than I was planning. The other shop has a larger mix of brands, but the listening rooms have no treatment, and are awful for auditioning. The advantage is I could take demos home for a weekend to try in my environment. Listened to a range of bookshelf speakers there. The usual suspects like the Paradigm Mini, Elac Debut, KEF Q 150, Warfdale Diamond 210, and some outliers like Consonance Eric JR, and JAS MM. Found most of them to be disappointing. Thought the woofer in the Paradigm Mini was huffing too much. Staging, and transparency were missing in most of the others except the Consonance, but those didn’t come alive until reference volume and above. Ended up taking the JAS MM 1’s home for a weekend. That’s when the issues with the listening environment there became really apparent. What sounded good there, except for a lack of bass totally failed in house. They ended up sounding like toy radio speakers, and nothing the Anthem could do would make them sound acceptable.

    That led to the search expanding to the internet direct speaker sales. Of those I looked at and seriously considered, I narrowed it down to Ascend and Q Acoustics. Largely based on reviews and internet comments. The first to arrive were the Q Acoustic 3020i. Ascend went on vacation so I couldn’t place the order for them at the same time. Of the Ascend line, I decided to try the Sierra 1s. The CBM-170 definitely hit my price point, but after reading about the Sierras, and with the Summer B-Stock blowout I decided to stretch the budget and try those. Would love to try the Sierra 2, but that is pushing the budget too much right now. While awaiting the Sierras, I also tried a weekend of some AAD Incredible towers. Odd design with an upward firing rear sealed subwoofer. It didn’t sound bad in store, but I was worried about fatigue with them. It started in the shop, but since I had listened to a number of other speakers while there, I couldn’t be sure they were the cause. It turned out to be a big problem. I appear to be fatigued, not by high frequency, but by muddy mid frequency. Guess 300 to 1500 or so. Don’t remember the track, or album that made it clear, but it was a complex mix of instruments in that range, and it was pure mud. Everything just mashed together. That is the range where the Timewindows were also failing me.

    So, back to the Sierras and 3020is. For the price, the 3020is are impressive. Clean, articulate, good sound stage, reasonable off axis. A little weak in the lower mids, but rising the room gain with the Anthem takes care of that. As the Wirecutter says, “The Best Bookshelf Speakers for Most Stereos”. But note that I chose the 3020i, not the 3020 believing the better bracing and dampening of the cabinets, and larger cabinets for larger and deeper sound. Can clearly see the crossover point in the Anthem ARC traces, but it is taken care of well. On to the Sierra 1s which I am keeping. Greater depth, width, and height in the sound stage and simply incredible off axis performance. Can sit in a chair that is on the right side wall at about 60 degrees off the speakers and still hear separation and some sound stage. For those that like to know the placement details; the speakers are 11” from the front wall. The left speaker is 1’ from the side wall, and the right speaker is nearly at the edge of the front wall where it opens into the dining/hallway. They are at least an inch and a half in front of the equipment stands and TV. 5’ 8” between the centers of the speakers, and 9’ to the main listening position. Using A port plugs to dampen the wall reflections, but must say that the Anthem ARC sees only a little attenuation of the bass with the plugs installed, and the listening difference is slight. Initial listening was with some low cost adjustable stands which allowed playing with the mounting height of the speakers. Tried from 24” to 28” and decided to order 29” VTI VSP speaker stands. Playing with the height revealed that the couch on the far listening wall was absorbing a lot of the sound and raising the speakers so that the tweeters are above the back of the couch was the most enjoyable sound stage and ARC showed smoother response curves. The stands arrived, and were sand filled, and decided to update the cables to Belden 10-gauge 5T00UP from Blue Jeans Cable with their connectors. Main feed to the amp is from a Mac mini via iTunes. Have been converting CDs to ALAC, but there are some purchased at 256k and a few old pieces that are lower quality. Have been converting my vinyl to 16/48 ALAC. Would like to go to 24/96, but that upgrade will have to wait for now. Choices for ADC conversion have not seen much progress or offerings since the Edirol UA-3 that I have now. There are some studio quality ones out there, but are way beyond my budget, and I am not sure what they offer would be audible for my purposes. For studio mixing and sampling they make sense, but not for conversion of vinyl to digital. Looking a a few that are paired with phono stages to get to 24/96 in the $500 range.

    So back to the sound. The width of the sound stage is impressive, as is the depth and height. There are 3 things that are the most notable of the Sierra sound. One is the separation of instruments in the sound stage. With good recordings, each instrument is clearly there in its place and distinct from the others in the mix. Becomes most apparent in large band and orchestral pieces. Not a wall of sound, but a stage with the instruments placed on it both left to right and front to back. Second is that the articulation and clarity is maintained from low volume (60-64 dbA peaks 55 dbA average) to reference volumes and above. Third, and the what I feel is their strongest feature is the natural nature of the sound. By that I mean a piano is not just something that has a piano sound, but sounds like a real piano. An upright versus a concert grand is clearly audible. You can distinguish various cymbal strikes as different cymbals, and if I knew them better, I could probably tell you the size and maker of the cymbal and how it was struck. Meaning you can tell the difference between an edge strike versus one toward the center, and whether hit with a stick or a brush. With one track I was listening to, a drum beat that was there in other listening experiences was suddenly clearly a large conga struck by hand. Never realized that before. That struck me immediately while I was listening. My son (younger ears) noted that brush strokes on a drum were clearly brush strokes and not just a brushing sound. I would venture to say that you can identify the guitar make and model of each used in a performance, and what amplifier was used. The same goes for every instrument used. The voicing and timbre is so well reproduced that it becomes possible to recognize all instruments as unique makes and models distinct from other examples.

    I wanted to add that at the lower quality listening room dealer, I also auditioned the highly acclaimed KEF LS50s. They sounded great on a guitar track I had on my demo CD, but were not terribly impressive on some of the others, and had a noticeable drop in certain frequencies that caused some instruments in other tracks to recede to the point of disappearing. Would they have performed better in my environment? Hard to say, but I was not impressed enough to want to spend that money to find out. As most of this makes clear; you can probably call me a budget audiophile. I am not going to spend thousands on audio equipment for little improvements in sound, and I do not go out trying to find the latest and greatest audio reproduction equipment. I start with a budget, then try to find the best value sound that my ears will accept within that budget and my listening environment. I am 69 yrs old, and can’t speak to my auditory range, but think it is still pretty good. Pushing my budget means I am investing in heirloom pieces that I expect to pass on to my sons. I rate the Sierras as heirloom pieces.

    So now that I have heard this level of sound reproduction where to next. I would like to update these to NRT or Sierra 2 in the future, but the next step for me now is a replacement subwoofer. The present one is a Yamaha that doesn’t reach very low (maybe 35Hz), and I am sure the clarity and response is not there. Looking at the Rhythmik L12, RSL Speedwoofer 10s and SVS SB-1000. Being in an apartment, I don’t want earthquake sound. I would just like good clean bass down to 20Hz to supplement stereo. Home theater use is secondary to me. After that It will be time to look at filling out the surround stages and center with either HTM-200s or Wavecrest HVL-1s. Would love to put Sierras all around, but that is beyond my budget, and for me, the sonic improvement for movies would not justify the cost. It would also cause more WAF problems than I can accept. As it is, the Sierra 1s as the mains has stepped up the movie experience already. Do most movie watching via streaming service, so not all is multi channel to start, and amplifier effects only add so much to 2 channel sources. If more streaming sources decided to push multichannel sound through their servers it might become more important to me.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    3,867

    Default Re: New to Ascend with Sierra 1

    Quote Originally Posted by budjoe View Post
    There seem to be few recent reviews of any of the Ascend speakers, so thought I would add one and introduce myself.

    I am a new Sierra 1 owner and thought I would give a little of my story and choosing the Sierra 1s.

    After a number of years in larger living spaces, about 3 years ago I moved with the wife into an apartment. Total area is about 850 sq. ft. 2 bedrooms and a living/dinigroom. Then kitchen. The living room area is a difficult space for audio due to space, shape and the opening into the dining area, and the hallway to the bedrooms and the bathroom.
    In spite of that I was relatively happy with the equipment and sound I had except …

    The journey for better sound started with FM radio. One of the bedrooms is my computer work space, and I like to listen to a local public station (XPN.org), and the apartment location has trouble with clear reception. So that began with a search of available HD receivers that I could plug into my computer room receiver. That was a Yamaha RX-V661 that was demoted from the living room since the HDMI switching had failed. After a lot of poking around I decided to try to locate a SONY XDR-F1HD or XDRS3HD on the used market as these are rated as some of the best HD radio receivers ever made. Purchased a XDRS3HD on eBay, and what a difference. Even when unable to lock on to an HD signal, the FM signal was much better, with nearly no IM distortion and noise. So on to the next step. I had an old Luxman M 120 stereo amplifier from the 80s that I loved, but the Luxman C 120 preamp was retired due to problems with the switches that were failing in spite of numerous cleanings. Did not want to use the Yamaha as a preamp. Space, sound quality, and all that. So searched for a low cost pre that I could use to feed the Luxman. Ended up with an Emotiva PT-100. Passed the Yamaha to one of my sons. Wow, what a difference. The speakers used in that room are the mains from a Yamaha Home theater package that I picked up cheap from a Radio Shack close out. Suddenly the sound from those speakers came alive and revealed things those speakers never output before. I am not saying they are/were good, but the Luxman amp certainly woke them up. So made some custom stands to raise them on the desk and happy with the sound there for near field listening from the radio, or the computer.

    That led me to the Living room which I consider the main listening room, and also the home theater room. The system there is powered by an Anthem MRX 510. It was driving DCM Timewindows from the 80s that have served me well for the last nearly 40 years, but I felt I was missing something. In addition, they were starting to fatigue me during long music sessions, but were okay for home theater. More on that later. As I said the space is difficult. A wall about 7’ 10’’ long is the only real spot to place the audio and the TV. The left wall is 11’ 6” and the back wall is 14’ 10”. The right wall is 8’. The hole that is not accounted for is the opening to the dining area, and the hall to the bath and bedrooms. Fortunately, the Anthem room correction fixes a lot of room issues.

    So on to search for new speakers for that area. Considered towers, but concerned about space needed for them, and since most are rear ported, and they have to be close to the front wall, I was really concerned about rear ported towers in that space. Also ruled out side firing bass drivers in towers due to space. 2 audio shops nearby to audition speakers, with a mix of brands and quality. One shop has well treated listening rooms and a mix of equipment to drive the speakers. I started with a $500 budget, but was willing to stretch that if I found something I thought I could work with and really liked. Listened to PSB Imagine Minis there, and thought their soundstage and imaging were great, but they are not that great off axis. Wanted to hear the Paradigm mini monitors, but only the Atoms were hooked up. I felt they were too small for what I wanted. While there listened to Paradigm Monitor 11v7, and liked those. Good imaging and sound stage and held up well off axis. But more $$ than I was planning. The other shop has a larger mix of brands, but the listening rooms have no treatment, and are awful for auditioning. The advantage is I could take demos home for a weekend to try in my environment. Listened to a range of bookshelf speakers there. The usual suspects like the Paradigm Mini, Elac Debut, KEF Q 150, Warfdale Diamond 210, and some outliers like Consonance Eric JR, and JAS MM. Found most of them to be disappointing. Thought the woofer in the Paradigm Mini was huffing too much. Staging, and transparency were missing in most of the others except the Consonance, but those didn’t come alive until reference volume and above. Ended up taking the JAS MM 1’s home for a weekend. That’s when the issues with the listening environment there became really apparent. What sounded good there, except for a lack of bass totally failed in house. They ended up sounding like toy radio speakers, and nothing the Anthem could do would make them sound acceptable.

    That led to the search expanding to the internet direct speaker sales. Of those I looked at and seriously considered, I narrowed it down to Ascend and Q Acoustics. Largely based on reviews and internet comments. The first to arrive were the Q Acoustic 3020i. Ascend went on vacation so I couldn’t place the order for them at the same time. Of the Ascend line, I decided to try the Sierra 1s. The CBM-170 definitely hit my price point, but after reading about the Sierras, and with the Summer B-Stock blowout I decided to stretch the budget and try those. Would love to try the Sierra 2, but that is pushing the budget too much right now. While awaiting the Sierras, I also tried a weekend of some AAD Incredible towers. Odd design with an upward firing rear sealed subwoofer. It didn’t sound bad in store, but I was worried about fatigue with them. It started in the shop, but since I had listened to a number of other speakers while there, I couldn’t be sure they were the cause. It turned out to be a big problem. I appear to be fatigued, not by high frequency, but by muddy mid frequency. Guess 300 to 1500 or so. Don’t remember the track, or album that made it clear, but it was a complex mix of instruments in that range, and it was pure mud. Everything just mashed together. That is the range where the Timewindows were also failing me.

    So, back to the Sierras and 3020is. For the price, the 3020is are impressive. Clean, articulate, good sound stage, reasonable off axis. A little weak in the lower mids, but rising the room gain with the Anthem takes care of that. As the Wirecutter says, “The Best Bookshelf Speakers for Most Stereos”. But note that I chose the 3020i, not the 3020 believing the better bracing and dampening of the cabinets, and larger cabinets for larger and deeper sound. Can clearly see the crossover point in the Anthem ARC traces, but it is taken care of well. On to the Sierra 1s which I am keeping. Greater depth, width, and height in the sound stage and simply incredible off axis performance. Can sit in a chair that is on the right side wall at about 60 degrees off the speakers and still hear separation and some sound stage. For those that like to know the placement details; the speakers are 11” from the front wall. The left speaker is 1’ from the side wall, and the right speaker is nearly at the edge of the front wall where it opens into the dining/hallway. They are at least an inch and a half in front of the equipment stands and TV. 5’ 8” between the centers of the speakers, and 9’ to the main listening position. Using A port plugs to dampen the wall reflections, but must say that the Anthem ARC sees only a little attenuation of the bass with the plugs installed, and the listening difference is slight. Initial listening was with some low cost adjustable stands which allowed playing with the mounting height of the speakers. Tried from 24” to 28” and decided to order 29” VTI VSP speaker stands. Playing with the height revealed that the couch on the far listening wall was absorbing a lot of the sound and raising the speakers so that the tweeters are above the back of the couch was the most enjoyable sound stage and ARC showed smoother response curves. The stands arrived, and were sand filled, and decided to update the cables to Belden 10-gauge 5T00UP from Blue Jeans Cable with their connectors. Main feed to the amp is from a Mac mini via iTunes. Have been converting CDs to ALAC, but there are some purchased at 256k and a few old pieces that are lower quality. Have been converting my vinyl to 16/48 ALAC. Would like to go to 24/96, but that upgrade will have to wait for now. Choices for ADC conversion have not seen much progress or offerings since the Edirol UA-3 that I have now. There are some studio quality ones out there, but are way beyond my budget, and I am not sure what they offer would be audible for my purposes. For studio mixing and sampling they make sense, but not for conversion of vinyl to digital. Looking a a few that are paired with phono stages to get to 24/96 in the $500 range.

    So back to the sound. The width of the sound stage is impressive, as is the depth and height. There are 3 things that are the most notable of the Sierra sound. One is the separation of instruments in the sound stage. With good recordings, each instrument is clearly there in its place and distinct from the others in the mix. Becomes most apparent in large band and orchestral pieces. Not a wall of sound, but a stage with the instruments placed on it both left to right and front to back. Second is that the articulation and clarity is maintained from low volume (60-64 dbA peaks 55 dbA average) to reference volumes and above. Third, and the what I feel is their strongest feature is the natural nature of the sound. By that I mean a piano is not just something that has a piano sound, but sounds like a real piano. An upright versus a concert grand is clearly audible. You can distinguish various cymbal strikes as different cymbals, and if I knew them better, I could probably tell you the size and maker of the cymbal and how it was struck. Meaning you can tell the difference between an edge strike versus one toward the center, and whether hit with a stick or a brush. With one track I was listening to, a drum beat that was there in other listening experiences was suddenly clearly a large conga struck by hand. Never realized that before. That struck me immediately while I was listening. My son (younger ears) noted that brush strokes on a drum were clearly brush strokes and not just a brushing sound. I would venture to say that you can identify the guitar make and model of each used in a performance, and what amplifier was used. The same goes for every instrument used. The voicing and timbre is so well reproduced that it becomes possible to recognize all instruments as unique makes and models distinct from other examples.

    I wanted to add that at the lower quality listening room dealer, I also auditioned the highly acclaimed KEF LS50s. They sounded great on a guitar track I had on my demo CD, but were not terribly impressive on some of the others, and had a noticeable drop in certain frequencies that caused some instruments in other tracks to recede to the point of disappearing. Would they have performed better in my environment? Hard to say, but I was not impressed enough to want to spend that money to find out. As most of this makes clear; you can probably call me a budget audiophile. I am not going to spend thousands on audio equipment for little improvements in sound, and I do not go out trying to find the latest and greatest audio reproduction equipment. I start with a budget, then try to find the best value sound that my ears will accept within that budget and my listening environment. I am 69 yrs old, and can’t speak to my auditory range, but think it is still pretty good. Pushing my budget means I am investing in heirloom pieces that I expect to pass on to my sons. I rate the Sierras as heirloom pieces.

    So now that I have heard this level of sound reproduction where to next. I would like to update these to NRT or Sierra 2 in the future, but the next step for me now is a replacement subwoofer. The present one is a Yamaha that doesn’t reach very low (maybe 35Hz), and I am sure the clarity and response is not there. Looking at the Rhythmik L12, RSL Speedwoofer 10s and SVS SB-1000. Being in an apartment, I don’t want earthquake sound. I would just like good clean bass down to 20Hz to supplement stereo. Home theater use is secondary to me. After that It will be time to look at filling out the surround stages and center with either HTM-200s or Wavecrest HVL-1s. Would love to put Sierras all around, but that is beyond my budget, and for me, the sonic improvement for movies would not justify the cost. It would also cause more WAF problems than I can accept. As it is, the Sierra 1s as the mains has stepped up the movie experience already. Do most movie watching via streaming service, so not all is multi channel to start, and amplifier effects only add so much to 2 channel sources. If more streaming sources decided to push multichannel sound through their servers it might become more important to me.
    Thank you for posting such a wonderfully detailed review and for comparing the Sierra-1 to many other highly regarded speakers!

    Please send us an email or give us a call to discuss your subwoofer options.
    .
    .
    .
    Good Sound To You!

    David Fabrikant
    www.ascendacoustics.com

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Location
    Just outside Pearland, TX
    Posts
    67

    Default Re: New to Ascend with Sierra 1

    Quote Originally Posted by budjoe View Post
    I would like to update these to NRT or Sierra 2 in the future, but the next step for me now is a replacement subwoofer. The present one is a Yamaha that doesn’t reach very low (maybe 35Hz), and I am sure the clarity and response is not there. Looking at the Rhythmik L12, RSL Speedwoofer 10s and SVS SB-1000. Being in an apartment, I don’t want earthquake sound. I would just like good clean bass down to 20Hz to supplement stereo.
    You want the Rythmik. There is a reason these are the subs that Ascend sells; they are the cream of the crop for good clean sound.
    Sierra-1 NrT in study, Sierra-1 in office, HTM-200s in kitchen. Brother owns CMT-340s and dad has a pair of CBM-170s.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Posts
    300

    Default Re: New to Ascend with Sierra 1

    Maybe use the HTM 200SE's as their surround speakers, as a low cost option. I thought that Ascend might even have them in the demo room as well, in case you wanted to fill out a surround sound speaker package, since it was mentioned in the review.

  5. #5

    Default Re: New to Ascend with Sierra 1

    DO talk with Dave about best balance of value. I have now purchased and listened to the HVL-1. They are CHEAP! If I were you, with a budget that is between Sierra 1 and 2 in front, I'd seriously consider HVL-1 for the surrounds and maximize $ up front. To me, the HVL-1 sounds like a Sierra 2 (I have no Sierra 1), but less detailed, less extended on the top, less extended on the bottom, and, if you crank them up, a bit boomy. However, adding a sub significantly improved their clarity and reduced the bass bloom. As an HT surround, with a sub, in the rear, they might be adequate. I initially had an HVL-1 on the left and an S2 on the right, in the front, and it did not sound out of place. To me, the sonic signature is very similar. They might be the first, truly low priced speaker that I can actually listen to without cringing. Why did I get them? I got them on a lark, at the current sale price from Ascend, as spares potentially for a guest room or garage, or a gift. They are front ported! I don't know if they are discontinued. Maybe I should get a spare, spare pair... (too many speakers!)

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