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I used the Ascension in a few different settings, but mostly to connect a Bryston BDA-1 DAC directly to a Bob Carver Black Magic tube amp. No preamp was in the signal chain since the Carver has a volume pot. I also used it to connect the DAC to a Music First Audio transformer based Classic V2 passive line stage, driving an Audio Research VS55 amp. I rotated a few other familiar cables in and out for a few days to get a handle on the Ascension's sonic personality, then let it sit in place for a good six weeks.
Once settled in, the Darwin team's numerous performance tweaks paid off because, quite simply, the Ascension proved to be a real revelation. The enormous soundstage, regardless of musical genre, became a recurring theme in my listening sessions. Another Ascension characteristic was how much recorded detail it allowed to come through the speakers, but not at the expense of body, flow, and coherence. No spotlighting. It made great recordings more pleasurable to listen to while exposing bad recordings for what they were without any sugar coating.
With time, the Ascension improved; more nuances of various recordings came through, like the acoustic guitar strumming in “Sour Girl” from the Stone Temple Pilots' classic No.4. The album’s closing epic track, “Atlanta,” gained a sense of scale and drama that approached what I heard live in a recent performance by Scott Weiland, the band’s on again, off again lead singer. I also found it easier to follow the various guitar parts in “I Got You”, another standout track from the album.
Rhythm And Repose -- an excellent 2012 album by Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard, of the Frames and the Swell Season -- is wonderfully recorded. The Ascension, more than any other cable I have used, allowed the warm, yet precise production to shine. Hansard's clever arrangements and heartfelt songs are difficult not to fall for, and the Darwin cable cut right to the chase, allowing this song cycle to flow beautifully.
Young British songwriter Laura Marling's beguiling new album, Once I Was An Eagle, was simply ravishing as presented by the Ascension. The album is very nicely produced and throws in a few new twists on Marling’s overall sound. We get her heavy Joni Mitchell and Neil Young leanings with some Eastern motifs thrown in, which gives the album a Led Zeppelin III feel, of all things. All the gorgeous nuances and emotional inflections were there, with the Ascension delicately framing the whole picture.
I ran through a variety of more offbeat favorites to see if there was anything that could trip up the Ascension, but to no avail. It remained coherent and drew me into the music regardless of genre. I listened to a lot of world music during the review period, including albums from Bombino, Rokia Traore, Salif Keita, and Raghu Dixit. In all cases, the music flowed with liquid ease, and that same coherence, despite some rhythmically challenging recordings.