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Thread: S2-EXs, now at home

  1. #1
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    Default S2-EXs, now at home

    So, a while back I got to visit Ascend in California and I posted my thoughts on the S2-EXs. Despite the fact that I just upgraded to S2s in July, that impression stayed with me and I finally pulled the trigger on the S2->S2-EX upgrade. Having heard the S2-EXs at Ascend I knew more or less what to expect, but of course getting them in your own house with your music library is not the same as hearing them in the shop (so to speak) with different music.

    Motivation
    Why was I so interested in upgrading speakers I had upgraded less than six months before? Mostly bass. I've never been a huge bass-head but as I noted in my comments about my Ascend visit, this past spring—at the tender age of 49—I took up bass guitar and this has changed how I listen. A bass in drop-D tuning can play under 40Hz, which turns out to be something of a challenge for your typical bookshelf speaker, even the mighty Sierras. The room I have these in, my study, is pretty small (about 9' x 11') and I have had a small subwoofer in there to try to tackle that sub-40 material, but due I think mostly to the room, which has kind of weird geometry, I've never been totally happy with the integration. (It's probably not only the room, though, I think there are also some issues in the crossover region that have to do with the S2s having faster transient response than the sub. But I digress.) The room is too small for towers, so if I could get my existing Sierras to handle that stuff, well, that'd be awesome. So that was the hope, but hoping for bookshelf speakers that really handle sub-40Hz is kind of a big ask.

    Doing the Upgrade
    This was a snap, because I've now done this several times. Upgraded my S1s to NrTs, then to S2s, and now to S2-EXs. Also, when I upgraded my NrTs to S2s, I took the NrT parts to my office, and upgraded the S1s there. What always amazes me when I do this is the forethought put into the Sierra design. The Sierras were just obviously designed to make it easy to upgrade them. We are all so lucky to have a designer out there who thinks this way.

    The Result
    I may, in fact, have unique speakers. These were originally purchased in 2010 and are in the "light cherry gloss" finish. "Wait," I hear you thinking, "What 'light cherry gloss' finish? There's no such finish on the Ascend site." Correct. Dave stopped selling this finish years ago, and now I kind of wonder if I now have the only pair of S2-EXs in light cherry gloss. I have to say, the EX woofers are a definite aesthetic upgrade over the S2 woofers. Take a gander:

    S2EX_lightcherry_480w.jpg

    I still don't really care much for how the RAAL tweeters look—I think traditional domes, and especially the S1 domes, just look better. But now at least the woofers look nice and not so much like polished rubber. Love the phase plug, too.

    That's all well and good, of course, but these are speakers, so what we all really care about is how they sound, right?

    Well, there's good news there as well. I had pretty high praise for these when I heard them in Ascend's listening room, and no, they don't sound as good in my acoustically messy room as they sounded there—not a surprise.

    But they still sound great. Really, really great.

    Mostly what I was hoping is that I would be able to ditch the subwoofer and still be able to really hear the fundamental for low bass guitar notes. (Note: it's possible to hear the lowest bass guitar notes on speakers that don't go sub-40, but what is mostly being heard there are harmonics, not the fundamental. It's just not the same.) The S2 is rated -3dB at 41Hz, which is really good for a bookshelf speaker with a 6" driver, but it's not low enough for a drop-D bass, which hits just under 37Hz (the low B on a 5-string bass is around 31Hz!), so if you really want to hear that stuff, the speaker has to go lower. A lot of tower speakers can't even really do this well, which is why HT systems, even those with towers, really need subwoofers. Just for reference, the Sierra tower is only rated -3dB at 34Hz. Yep, that's right, for bass extension, the S2-EXs are actually rated to go a teensy bit lower than the Towers, -3dB at 33Hz. That's probably not actually an audible difference in bass extension for most people, but the fact that it's even close is bananas; the Towers are almost 30" taller and don't play lower.

    Anyway, so the numbers are well and good, but numbers like these never really tell the whole story. Can the S2-EXs really do it? If the goal is to get all the way down to the low bass guitar notes, the answer is a clear "yes." That's a huge win because it means I can go with a 2.0 setup and not have to fuss with subwoofer integration. Just beautiful, clean, articulate lows, really and truly into the 30s. When I heard them at Ascend I declared that Dave had broken physics with the EXs, and I stand by that. I still can't believe this from a bookshelf speaker. The BMR Philharmonitors have similar specs, but those are a lot bigger—more of a mini-tower than a bookshelf—and last time I checked, no longer available even at Salk. Maybe there's something else out there but I've not heard it or heard of it. (Yes, there are really high-end "monitors" with 10-inch woofers that go down that lower or lower, but again, still not really bookshelf speakers.)

    Now, if you're trying to do movies or something in the music realm even lower than low bass guitar, though, like ultra-bass drums or synth bass that gets down into the 20s (e.g., the TRON: Legacy soundtrack, which really cannot be fully appreciated without a good subwoofer), then you will still need a sub. And while I do like the occasional crazy low stuff, well, maybe I shouldn't be trying to do that in a small room with bookshelf speakers in the first place. That's what the HT system is for.

    Now, it turns out there's another side benefit to the EXs that I certainly noticed but didn't fully appreciate when I listened to them at Ascend. Listening to them for a couple hours a day for the last week or so really highlights this: the mids are also better than the regular S2s. A bit more midrange detail and a little more... open sounding. Grr, sometimes sound is hard to describe—it's more subtle and harder to put into words than the crushingly-obvious (to me) improvement in bass extension. There's just a little extra... something, particularly around 400-500Hz or so. I notice it mostly in male vocals and, oddly, cello. I can't quite put my finger on it besides added detail (which is certainly there, but it's more than that), but whatever it is, it's better. Might be wider and more even dispersion. Also, in the lower mids, there's definitely more punch. I notice it most with toms—they just hit harder. The S2 Curv woofer is really excellent and I think somewhat under-appreciated (seems like the RAAL tweeter is what gets all the love for the S2s), but these EX woofers, these are just something else again. Suggestion: Get the MFSL master of [I]Dark Side of the Moon[/I and listen to Nick Mason's use of his toms on "Time"... just sit back and enjoy.

    That it's possible to get all this out of a 2-way bookshelf speaker at all is astonishing. Seriously, these things are an engineering marvel. Sure, the mids in the Towers are still a bit better and the Towers are also more efficient, but that's a 3-way design and, you know... a tower. I'm sure it's possible to do better in a 2-way with this form factor—I've never heard the "diamond" version of the Sierras—but the price tag of doing better is going to be pretty prohibitive.

    Speaking of price, that it's possible to get this level of performance out of a bookshelf speaker than can be had for under $2k/pair is really, really hard to believe. That you can buy these for under $1500/pair is pure, weapons-grade insanity. We should just all be thanking Dave that he's practically giving them away to us. Or, in my case, letting me upgrade over and over again...

    Recommendations
    So, to reiterate: If you are considering the S2-EXs, buy them __right now__, before the price goes up. This is lunatic-level pricing. I guess Dave is kind of in a bind because he wants these to be cheaper than the non-RAAL Towers, but even given that, how these are not $1950/pair is a mystery to me. That you can get these for only $50 over the stock S2 is simply madness.

    If you're considering upgrading your S1s or NrTs, upgrade straight to the S2-EXs, and again, be swift about it just in case. It's about $1000/pair which is more that doubling the price, but seriously, this is a totally different speaker than the S1. Do not be fooled by the fact that it's in the same physical cabinets as the S1.

    Now, if you have S2s and you're thinking about the upgrade, well, that depends on what you want. If you really care about the improved bass extension, then this is a no-brainer: do the upgrade. If that's not your main concern, you still might want to do it anyway just for the extra goodness in the midrange. Tougher call since it is over $650/pair.
    Sierra-2 EXs in study, Sierra-1 NrTs in office, HTM-200s in kitchen. Brother owns CMT-340s and dad has a pair of CBM-170s. I also own a Rythmik L22 sub. Obviously I will need to get Towers and Lunas at some point.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: S2-EXs, now at home

    Nice write-up!

  3. #3
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    Default Re: S2-EXs, now at home

    Wow -- thanks so much for the very detailed review and Happy 2020!!
    .
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    Good Sound To You!

    David Fabrikant
    www.ascendacoustics.com

  4. #4
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    Default Re: S2-EXs, now at home

    Quote Originally Posted by davef View Post
    Wow -- thanks so much for the very detailed review
    My pleasure.

    Just out of curiosity, do you have any other customers who have the light cherry gloss who have upgraded to the S2-EX? Id' be tickled if my speakers were unique.


    and Happy 2020!!
    Same to you, Dave.
    Sierra-2 EXs in study, Sierra-1 NrTs in office, HTM-200s in kitchen. Brother owns CMT-340s and dad has a pair of CBM-170s. I also own a Rythmik L22 sub. Obviously I will need to get Towers and Lunas at some point.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: S2-EXs, now at home

    Nice write up, I agree with everything you said, with 2 additional comments.

    1. The highs are also improved due to the use of a steeper roll-off in the crossover made possible by the
    EX woofer's ability to play higher in the frequency range.

    2. If you are considering buying the EX's, you probably should jump on them ASAP as I heard a rumor
    the price has been kept too low for too long and will be adjusted.
    Ed

  6. #6
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    Default Re: S2-EXs, now at home

    Quote Originally Posted by SunByrne View Post
    Just out of curiosity, do you have any other customers who have the light cherry gloss who have upgraded to the S2-EX? Id' be tickled if my speakers were unique.
    I honestly do not know and there is really no simple way to look up this info (we would have to go back and check individual invoices, a LOT of them) With that in mind, we can just assume you have the only pair of light cherry gloss Sierra-2EX on the planet
    .
    .
    .
    Good Sound To You!

    David Fabrikant
    www.ascendacoustics.com

  7. #7
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    Default Re: S2-EXs, now at home

    Quote Originally Posted by Mag_Neato View Post
    Nice write up, I agree with everything you said, with 2 additional comments.

    1. The highs are also improved due to the use of a steeper roll-off in the crossover made possible by the
    EX woofer's ability to play higher in the frequency range.
    I find this difference much smaller than the differences in lows and mids.

    2. If you are considering buying the EX's, you probably should jump on them ASAP as I heard a rumor
    the price has been kept too low for too long and will be adjusted.
    Yeah, current pricing on the 2 EXs is nuts, and these can't be sustainable for Dave. I'm surprised they've been at the intro price for as long as they have.
    Sierra-2 EXs in study, Sierra-1 NrTs in office, HTM-200s in kitchen. Brother owns CMT-340s and dad has a pair of CBM-170s. I also own a Rythmik L22 sub. Obviously I will need to get Towers and Lunas at some point.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: S2-EXs, now at home

    Quote Originally Posted by davef View Post
    With that in mind, we can just assume you have the only pair of light cherry gloss Sierra-2EX on the planet
    Excellent! I don't know why but for some reason this I find this makes me smile.

    Sierra-2 EXs in study, Sierra-1 NrTs in office, HTM-200s in kitchen. Brother owns CMT-340s and dad has a pair of CBM-170s. I also own a Rythmik L22 sub. Obviously I will need to get Towers and Lunas at some point.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: S2-EXs, now at home

    is there a big noticeable difference between the towers/raal and the 2ex?
    if you're buying again and have the budget to do either, which one will you get?
    i am extremely happy with my s2's in a 3.2 set up using a horizon/raal center but am now looking to go 5.2.
    i would love to fly to california, visit families and listen to both speakers at ascend but i just dont have the time to do it right now.

    i also dont want to order the speakers and return it.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: S2-EXs, now at home

    Quote Originally Posted by rysher View Post
    is there a big noticeable difference between the towers/raal and the 2ex?
    There's definitely a difference. You can see my thoughts about that here:

    http://forum.ascendacoustics.com/sho...ts)&highlight=


    if you're buying again and have the budget to do either, which one will you get?
    It would depend on what I'm buying for. If I were buying again for my study I would stay with the 2EXs. Can't really do the Towers in the small space I have there.

    However, someday I will replace the HT in my living room. There I will probably get Towers. The PSBs I already have in there are pretty good, though, so I'm not in a hurry to do this.

    i am extremely happy with my s2's in a 3.2 set up using a horizon/raal center but am now looking to go 5.2.
    If it ain't broke, don't fix it is always my motto.

    However, were I in your shoes, I'd give serious consideration to getting 2EXs for fronts and moving the S2s to surround duty. Buying 2 more S2s as surrounds would run you $1450, and you can get 2EXs up front for only $200 more. That would be a killer system.
    Sierra-2 EXs in study, Sierra-1 NrTs in office, HTM-200s in kitchen. Brother owns CMT-340s and dad has a pair of CBM-170s. I also own a Rythmik L22 sub. Obviously I will need to get Towers and Lunas at some point.

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