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Ascend Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Review

Rate this speaker:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 2 0.6%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 8 2.4%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 49 14.7%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 275 82.3%

  • Total voters
    334
OP
amirm

amirm

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@AscendDF do you have a wider bandwidth plot that can show 'oil can resonance' of the metal tweeter?

Where does it occur?
Long time ago I expanded the bandwidth for distortion measurements. It shows there:

index.php
 

CleanSound

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"NFS Optimized"

Disappointing, hopefully not another company going similar route after the Chinese pushing the DACs to godknowswhat SINAD levels with NFB and other tricks to get to the top of the chart but forgetting about the most important - sound, something which is purely subjective and it's what it's about in this hobby - It has to pleasure the ears (and eyes!) and not a cold piece of electronics to plot a nice looking chart.
What a load of verbal flatulence. I don't even know where to begin. . .so I will just end it before I even try to begin.
 

jhaider

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It looks like the designer hit the presumptive design goal - which to be a little glib I interpret as PIR über allies - right on the nose. I'm sure the "score over Toole" crowd is going to outdo itself bestowing new crowns. But query whether that's the "right" design goal. The issue is that the path getting there is to throw everything slightly out of whack such that the averages please the eye. IOW, there's tinkering with the listening window (generally with an upper mids/lower treble depression) to balance out the PIR and sound power at the crossover. That is required because a basic flat waveguide is used, instead of a waveguide contour better tailored to matching driver directivities at the crossover. (All "baffles" are "waveguides," full stop..) So the transition is inherently problematic.

@amirm's listening results do not surprise me - the direct sound is a little meh, and undoing the tinkering that makes the PIR textbook improves the subjective result. I suspect based on experience that, in A/B comparison with a speaker with similar midband dispersion and headroom that does not make the same tradeoffs - i.e. a more tailored waveguide geometry allows on-axis is flattish and smooth, with the horizontal directivity is well matched at the crossover - the latter would be preferred by most. That few such speakers exist, let alone at a similar price point with like quality components and build quality, is a fair retort.
 
OP
amirm

amirm

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Thanks! In future speaker reviews can you please show this wider bandwidth
As I mentioned, this has been the norm for quite a while.
 

dav0043

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This is a review, listening tests, EQ and detailed measurements of the Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 bookshelf speaker. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $998 for a pair ($948 on sale).
View attachment 359703
The finish is nice enough. The cabinet feels quite heavy for its size and especially in the front indicating beefy low frequency woofer. I do wish the grill was magnetic though rather than plastic tabs that are more delicate. I did my testing without it and would have been nice to not see those holes.

Back panel put a big smile on my face:
View attachment 359704
See the "NFS Optimized" tag! A couple of years ago I tested an Ascend speaker and found the performance wanting. Needless to say, the company owner/designer, Dave, was not happy. But instead of taking his anger on me, he reached out to Klippel to learn more about the Near-field Scanner I had used to test his speaker. He quickly ordered one and started to revamp his speaker designs. We have seen an example of this in electronics area and benefits it brings to the company and its buyers. Such is happening here in speaker design.

It was with nervous fingers and ears that I went into this testing. Yes, there is another set of measurements out there but my testing differs enough to merit testing a user purchased sample. So here we go.

FYI, I ran the measurements by Dave (company designer) last night and they correlate very well with their internal measurements. There is a tiny bit of deviation in bass well below response of the speaker which is not material. And at any rate, I measured the speaker at 59 degrees F which tens to damp bass response a bit.

If you are not familiar with the measurements you are about to see, I highly recommend you watch my video on understanding speaker measurements:

Ascend Sierra-1 V2 Speaker Measurements
Let's start with our speaker frequency response measurements as usual:

View attachment 359706
On axis response is quite good with only small variations here and there which my higher resolution scan brings out more than other measurements. We see a couple of small resonances below 1000 Hz (see below for cause). And a dip around 3 kHz. But really, these are very minor. What is very remarkable is the early window response in dashed blue. It is so smooth and nice after 900 Hz. We can see that in detail in early window response:
View attachment 359708
This is what you get with closed loop measurements and excellent engineering folks! All the reflections so nicely sum together, likely better than any speaker I have measured! This means the speaker will be very room friendly and easy to place. To wit, putting everything together we get an excellent predicted in-room response:
View attachment 359709
Amazing that this is achieved in a passive speaker without DSP!

Close-in measurements of the port and driver show resonances very well suppressed:
View attachment 359710
Putting on our hyper scrutiny hat, we do see minor contributions from the port resonances in on-axis response. But as judgements go against countless other bookshelf speakers, this is excellent showing.

Sensitivity of the speaker is low side to get that deeper, flat extended response and that brings out issues with the woofer not being able to handle high SPL very gracefully:
View attachment 359711
View attachment 359712

But keep that thought when I evaluate this in listening tests.

I showed this tri-power sweep in the last speaker review and folks liked it so I repeated it here. Alas, 102 dBSPL was causing the speaker to nearly blow its mind so it is well outside of its design envelop:
View attachment 359713
The difference between 86 and 96 is too minor to be of concern.

Horizontal directivity is fairly well control especially considering that we don't have a deep waveguide:
View attachment 359715
The lack of waveguide is what allows the wider directivity which again, I will evaluate in listening tests.

View attachment 359716

Vertical directivity has the typical issues we see in non-coaxial designs so nothing of specific worry here:
View attachment 359717


Impedance is unusually high in this day and age, making the speaker an easier drive although lack of sensitivity means you still need lot of power on tap:
View attachment 359714

Here is our waterfall and step responses:
View attachment 359718
View attachment 359719

Ascend Sierra-1 V2 Listening Tests and Equalization
As I noted at the outset, I was a bit nervous about going into this aspect of the listening test. Would I like a speaker that is fully optimized with NFS in listening tests? Would I be biased to like it regardless? I always start with my female tracks and here, the response left no room for complaining. Sound was balanced with no aspect of the speaker standing out until a bass note activated a room mode which I corrected with my usual 105 Hz filter. I then listened some more. Am I liking this sound? Answer was, that it was pleasant but not exciting. Measurements showed that speaker was optimized for off-axis and PIR more than on-axis. Let's see what happens when we reverse this situation and flatten on-axis:
View attachment 359720
I started with Band 2, filling that small bass dip. That very nicely brought female vocals forward. That encouraged me to then pull down the two port resonances. Yes, the filter strength is very low but it was enough to change the character of the upper bass. Once all the filters were in place, I performed AB tests and boy, I really, really liked the results with this EQ. We are talking about subtle differences but the sound was more open and clarity was improved.

What was really nice was the spatial qualities of the speaker. Its wide directivity meant it projected a large halo around the single speaker I was listening to. This, combined with the tiny tweaks above made for stunning presentation at times. Some of my reference tracks sounded so good that my jaw fell on the floor!

I was expecting to hear distortion at elevated volumes but this did not materialize. Even at elevated playback levels where I could see the woofer moving back and forth, I could not detect any degradation.

The problem area with respect to distortion is in deep sub-bass region. Most bookshelves won't bother to play this range. The Sierra-1 V2 doesn't shy away and attempts to play them at full amplitude resulting in fair amount of distortion. Fortunately this only shows up in my "speaker killer" tracks. On all others, even deep bass was reproduced exceptionally well.

Conclusions
When I was offered this speaker for review at first I thought, well it was measured and tested elsewhere so maybe I need to pass. I am glad I did not and performed the review. We got to test a random production sample and managed to extract some other insights about the speaker. In a nutshell, the design is heavily optimized for off-axis and predicted in-room response which makes the speaker very room friendly and is critical in listener preference studies. The on-axis response which while excellent in this product class, shows a bit of variations. My informal testing shows that slight corrections to response yields subjective improvements in listening. Whether this translates to others or not, I can't say.

The high level picture is that company has made an incredible investment in instrumentation and optimization of its product and it shows. Likely ton of effort has gone into scan after scan to produce some of the best measurements I have seen. Having a Klippel NFS is one thing. Putting up with multi-hour scans for every test iteration is another.

It is my pleasure to add the Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 V2 speaker to my recommended list.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
The frequency response response is stunningly good, but the distortion in the bass region is stunningly poor. How does that warrant a recommendation? Did people stop reading after the frequency response? Did I misread the results?
 

Music1969

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The frequency response response is stunningly good, but the distortion in the bass region is stunningly poor. How does that warrant a recommendation? Did people stop reading after the frequency response? Did I misread the results?
normal for a bookshelf

Erin shows the distortion when 80Hz high pass filter is enabled (to simulate subwoofer)

Like the distortion will go down a lot

Maybe @amirm can do that too ?
 

Beave

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Erin shows the distortion when 80Hz high pass filter is enabled (to simulate subwoofer)

Like the distortion will go down a lot

Maybe @amirm can do that too ?

Erin shows the multitone distortion when an 80Hz high pass is enabled.

That's an entirely different animal from total harmonic distortion, which is what Amir measures (and Erin shows that too, in different graphs from the multitone distortion). Harmonic distortion is measured as the distortion products for a single tone, so the only thing you would get by mimicking an 80Hz HPF is that the plot would just start at 80Hz but otherwise wouldn't change.
 

Music1969

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Erin shows the multitone distortion when an 80Hz high pass is enabled.

That's an entirely different animal from total harmonic distortion, which is what Amir measures (and Erin shows that too, in different graphs from the multitone distortion). Harmonic distortion is measured as the distortion products for a single tone, so the only thing you would get by mimicking an 80Hz HPF is that the plot would just start at 80Hz but otherwise wouldn't change.
Yes so would be great for amir to do multitone distortion
 

Prana Ferox

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I will say, I don't like how the website shows renders of speakers, instead of actual speakers... makes it effectively impossible to evaluate the finishes. I know you guys know what piano black looks like, but I'm more curious about the more wood-y ones.
 

Beave

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I will say, I don't like how the website shows renders of speakers, instead of actual speakers... makes it effectively impossible to evaluate the finishes. I know you guys know what piano black looks like, but I'm more curious about the more wood-y ones.

Their website has a section for customer pictures. There you can see different finishes in different rooms.

https://ascendacoustics.com/pages/customer-gallery

Sometimes it's had to tell the difference between the satin cherry and the satin espresso, unless the lighting is good and bright. If you want to see lots of pictures of each finish, your best bet might be to do a Google image search for something like "Ascend sierra cherry" and "Ascend sierra espresso."
 

Redman43

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This speaker and review shows clearly that measurements are just one part of the equation. It measures beautifully yet, it needs EQ to sounds it's best. Hopefully this will sober up some people here that seem to pray to the "measurement god" although I, for one, am not holding my breath on that one ;)
This is also a great argument AGAINST amps without tone controls. In my humble opinion, amps that have no tone controls should be penalized out of the start box so to speak.
 

Beave

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This speaker and review shows clearly that measurements are just one part of the equation. It measures beautifully yet, it needs EQ to sounds it's best. Hopefully this will sober up some people here that seem to pray to the "measurement god" although I, for one, am not holding my breath on that one ;)
This is also a great argument AGAINST amps without tone controls. In my humble opinion, amps that have no tone controls should be penalized out of the start box so to speak.

No, that's not at all the takeaway message. What we have from this review is the preferences of one person, in one room, with one set of songs. That's it. Not everybody is going to agree on the same EQ. Not every room is going to benefit from the same EQ. Not every recording is going to benefit from the same EQ.

Not to mention that the EQing he did was quite subtle, meaning the "beautiful" measurements got him (Amir) really close to just what he likes.
 
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"NFS Optimized"

Disappointing, hopefully not another company going similar route after the Chinese pushing the DACs to godknowswhat SINAD levels with NFB and other tricks to get to the top of the chart but forgetting about the most important - sound, something which is purely subjective and it's what it's about in this hobby - It has to pleasure the ears (and eyes!) and not a cold piece of electronics to plot a nice looking chart.
I really can't figure out if this is
1) elaborate trolling
2) satire
3) genuine audiophile flavoured confusion and ignorance
 

daniboun

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I have been a drummer for years and I played on a DW bamboo snare drum. I have always liked the tonal properties of this wood) This is the first time I have seen speakers with an internal bamboo structure) interesting! 20mm thick vertically laminated bamboo, internally
 

DanielT

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That was a good speaker.:D

One thing that it also shows, refutes, is the claim that in a in a two-way construction the bass- tweeter should be placed extremely close to each other on the baffle for best results. But this is absolutely not the case, on the contrary, it can have more negative than positive effects.

In this case with the Ascend Sierra-1 V2, the drivers are not placed as close to each other as possible. Yet, or perhaps even because of that, the speaker measures well.:)

Suitable driver placement on the baffle, c-c distance between drivers, depends on the type of slope on the crossover and crossover point. Kimmosto, the creator of vituixCAD, writes about c-c distance and the effects, risks regarding lobing in this thread:

 

JeremyFife

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Thanks for another interesting review.

Nicely illustrates some of the compromises involved in choosing speakers (to say nothing about designing them in the first place!). Choice here around room placement and on/off axis listening.

Ascend continue to impress. Really nice :)
 
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