Small, two way monitors have traditionally been revered by those who sought precise stereo imaging in smaller rooms, and by those whose listening tastes leaned towards a smaller scale. There was the usual trade off; the lack of any real bass weight and compression at much higher volumes. Those who worshipped at the alter of classic BBC monitor sound were content with the warm, velvety midrange, at the expense of much musical information in the frequency extremes.
Much has changed recently as many speaker designers have overcome the usual shortcomings of mini monitors. Advances in cabinet construction, drivers, and electronics have provided a canvas for some companies to produce smallish two ways that offer the usual strengths, while greatly, if not in some cases, eliminating the weaknesses.
There are a few speaker models available that can play plenty loud without strain, offer credible if not outstanding bass, and the detail and complete presentation that are usually the trademark of multi-way floor standers. Current designs rock out with the best, not limiting their owners to smaller scale acoustic music.
Ascend Acoustics is a small company based in Southern California that offers a variety of speakers direct from factory to consumers. Not including a traditional distributor/dealer network allows Ascend to sell products at reasonable prices, and to keep the quality control high. The speakers are designed and assembled in the USA. The principal designer and head honcho is a gentleman named David Fabrikant.
The subject of this review is the Sierra-1 monitor speaker (MSRP: $898). It is a rear-ported two way that uses a 26mm soft dome tweeter made by SEAS of Norway, and a 5.25” proprietary driver. It is of medium sensitivity with published specs of 86.5 dB. The published frequency response is 44Hz – 22Hz. Nominal impedance is listed at 8 ohms. The cabinet is made of bamboo, an unusual choice that, according to Ascend, controls resonance. Creating the cabinet out of bamboo is also environmentally conscious as it is a sustainable natural material. There is also proprietary resonance control material in the cabinet the company calls VLAM. The speaker pairs are hand matched and measurements for each speaker are supplied to the customer.
My review samples arrived in espresso gloss. The finish quality was very impressive, and not just for this price point. There are two high quality speaker binding posts. The speakers were packaged very soundly, with an excellent manual and, as a classy touch, a pair of white gloves for which to handle the speakers. My first thought when unpacking the Sierras was, this does NOT look like an $898 speaker. It reminded me of models by other manufactures costing three or four times as much.
The Sierras are broken in slightly at the factory before shipping, but Ascend recommends an additional 50 hours. I did hook them up to my AV system and did not start any critical listening until the 50 hours was up. I did so mainly in my system comprised of Audio Research tube amplification, QED, Acoustic Zen, Transparent, and Kimber cabling, and my front end is a Naim CD player with external power supply. The speakers were placed on a pair of high quality stands filled with sand and lead. The room is relatively small, roughly 12’ x 10’. The speakers come with removable, acoustically transparent grilles, which I opted to leave off for all of my listening. The manual recommends the speaker be positioned so the tweeter is at ear level, which I did. My stands were slightly too short, so each speaker was also placed on a 4” block of myrtle wood.