Last summer, Sharath Chandran, the highly knowledgeable proprietor of audio dealership Audire, in Chennai, India, where I live, invited me to attend an audition of the flagship loudspeaker made by German manufacturer Ascendo GmbH, which Audire distributes in India: the M-S Special Edition, with external crossovers. These humongous, man-sized speakers were impeccably finished and visually arresting. I was spellbound by their superb transparency and dynamic capability, and would rank them among the top few speakers that I have heard. They cost a staggering $74,880 USD per pair, and their girth means that they’ll work well only in larger listening rooms. However, as with any other manufacturer, technologies from these vanguard products ultimately trickle down to smaller, more affordable models, and it was one of those -- the Ascendo C6 -- that Sharath Chandran recommended that I review.
Ascendo, no stranger to these pages, was founded 15 years ago, and makes both home and pro-audio gear. In addition to building loudspeakers, they’re involved in optimizing the acoustics of listening rooms, studios, and large venues with proprietary softwares, and their acoustical consulting services include room measurement and design. They license their optimization algorithms to other OEMs for use in hardware devices. They also design and make aesthetically pleasing acoustic panels, custom-made to the customer’s requirements of size and appearance. They make loudspeakers in primarily three series: System, D, and C. The Ascendo C6 ($3990/pair) is the smallest floorstander in Series C, which can be considered their entry-level range.
The C6es arrived securely packed in two separate double boxes, along with a third box for the bases (included in the price). Inside each box was a svelte, diminutive tower that strongly resembled so-called lifestyle speakers; i.e., speakers designed more for appearance than for sound. My wife has always considered most speakers to be, at best, barely décor friendly -- and at worst, plain, ugly boxes. When she gently caressed a C6’s smooth, white, piano-lacquer finish and commented on its attractiveness, I grew apprehensive -- was I stuck reviewing a pair of speakers designed more for high SAF (spouse acceptance factor) than for the accurate reproduction of music?
The C6 is small -- it stands only 35”H on its base, x 7.8”W x 8.2”D, and slopes gently back. Though aesthetically pleasing, this slant undoubtedly is used to better align the tweeter’s output with the height of a seated listener’s ears -- which Jürgen Scheuring, CEO of Ascendo, corroborated. The C6’s single coaxial driver comprises a 1” neodymium-driven dome tweeter and a 7” woofer with XP membrane. This driver, according to Scheuring, is used in all of their C and D models. He further stated that in this coaxial driver, the tweeter is behind the woofer, as opposed to other coaxial designs in which “negative time alignment” is achieved by placing the tweeter in front of the woofer. Negative time alignment, he explained, while providing the advantages of coaxial placement, would still not result in time alignment, which he believes is required for optimal sound quality. The grille is magnetically attached, which means that the front of the C6 has a smooth finish, sans unsightly holes for grille pegs. Despite its small footprint, the C6 weighs 28 pounds; the base adds another ten pounds.
The C6 is a bass-reflex design, with a port on the front baffle, below the coaxial driver. Around back is a pair of high-quality binding posts and an interesting feature in the form of a toggle switch. Labeled, in German, “Wand (W)” or “Freifeld (F)” -- that is, Wall or Freefield -- this switch is to be set depending on whether the speaker is placed close to the wall behind it or pulled out into the room. Scheuring told me that flipping the switch to W alters the lower-mid frequencies to minimize the effects of the wall.
Ascendo has an elaborate way of decoupling the C6 from its base and the floor: Four Finite Elemente Ceraballs are screwed into the bottom of the cabinet. The C6 is then lowered onto its base, which has cutouts to accept the Ceraballs; the base, in turn, has soft cones to decouple it from the floor. A four-pack of Ceraballs costs $229; the fact that Ascendo adds $458 worth of these devices to each pair of C6es proves that they take vibration management and decoupling seriously. At this price level, most speaker makers provide basic, inexpensive spikes, if any. The C6’s superb appearance and finish aside, it appears that some serious engineering and design have gone into it.
Right out of the box, the Ascendo C6es sounded mildly incoherent and muddled, with flabby bass. Jürgen Scheuring suggested I burn them in for at least 30 hours -- I ran them for about 50 hours before commencing my critical listening.
I began by positioning the Ascendos exactly where I’d placed my reference speakers, Harbeth’s Super HL5s: 42” from the front wall and 24” from the sidewalls. Accordingly, I set the toggles on the Ascendos’ rear panels to F (Freefield). Hearing a slight midbass emphasis, I moved them farther out into the room, but this didn’t solve the problem -- the key lay in moving the C6es another 6” away from the sidewalls. Listeners with small rooms will need to take care to place these speakers well away from room corners, especially when using the Freefield setting. I preferred to listen to the Ascendos without their grilles, which produced an airier, more open sound.
I began with Natalie Merchant (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Nonesuch). In “Maggie Said,” Merchant’s distinctive voice was rendered very cleanly and realistically, with palpable presence. When I closed my eyes, her every lilt and inflection was distinctly audible, creating the eerie illusion of an actual singer in my room. I so thoroughly enjoyed listening to this album that I played it all in a single sitting.
Ambrose Akinmusire’s virtuoso trumpet playing was utterly captivating in his The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint (16/44.1 FLAC, Blue Note). The brassy blat and bite of his horn in “Marie Christie” was very convincing, with no unwarranted exaggeration or distortion. I listened to more jazz trumpet: “Ferrara Napoly,” from Avishai Cohen’s Introducing Triveni (CD, Anzic 9643400144), features a blistering performance from Cohen, with a poignant, soothing melody juxtaposed with buoyant, soaring highs -- an absolute delight. The Ascendo’s reproduction of the high frequencies was detailed, airy, extended, and, most important, smooth and soothing -- I could sit through long listening sessions without fatigue.
“Scorpion Tail,” from jazz musician Claudio Filippini’s Facing North (16/44.1 WAV, CamJazz), begins with a double-bass solo by Palle Danielsson. I’d heard this track many times, but this was the first time I’d clearly heard Danielsson’s breathing. Though musically trivial, it highlighted the C6’s retrieval of ambience and detail and overall powers of resolution. Throughout my listening sessions, I felt that veils were lifted, letting me hear deeper into each musical event.
I then listened to Coldplay’s Ghost Stories (24/44.1 WAV, Parlophone). The electronic synth bass in “Midnight” was literally visceral, throbbing through my body almost as powerfully as if I’d supplemented the speakers with a subwoofer. The Ascendos’ reproduction of bass frequencies was sufficiently extended and texturally tight. However, with some recordings I experienced a mild ripeness in the midbass that I presume was mostly an artifact of my small listening room’s acoustic rather than an inherent deficiency of the C6.
Moving on to male vocals: Bob Dylan’s close-miked storytelling in “Scarlet Town,” from Tempest (16/44.1 FLAC, Columbia), revealed his gravelly, nicotine-cured voice with startling immediacy. Matt Berninger’s haunting baritone in the National’s Trouble Will Find Me (24/44.1 FLAC, 4AD) was equally well revealed. These speakers served voices, male or female, exceptionally well -- they nailed the midrange, where most voices and music are tonally centered.
The C6’s ultimate forte, however, was its preternatural ability to “disappear” into the soundstage, a common trait among coaxial-driver-based speakers. In “Caminos,” from the New Gary Burton Quartet’s Guided Tour (CD, Mack Avenue 7320310742), the C6es created an illusion of Burton’s vibraphone floating about 2’ above the speakers, the music shifting gently from the right to the left of the stage as his mallets struck the bars with pinpoint but holographic imaging. In this regard the Ascendos mimicked the behavior of minimonitor speakers -- they were aurally invisible. Their soundstages’ lateral expanse was good, as was the depth, with subtle layering cues clearly evident -- but the C6’s slight stature precluded the pair of them from throwing a taller soundstage than I’m used to.
Now I experimented a bit more with speaker positions. I moved the Ascendos back until they were only 8” from the front wall, though still 2.5’ from the sidewalls, and flipped their rear-panel switches to Wall. I cued up the title track of Kenny Wheeler’s All the More (Soul Note 27312 12362). Concentrating on Wheeler’s trumpet, which imaged at the high left of the stage, I noticed that the image remained as sharply focused as it had been with the C6es set to Farfield and sitting farther out in the room. The soundstage depth, though slightly diminished, was nonetheless acceptable. Normally, this sort of speaker placement totally collapses soundstage depth, but not this time. Last, though there was a slight increase in bass reinforcement -- only to be expected from speakers placed so close to the wall behind them -- it wasn’t excessive enough to interfere with the music.
Harbeth’s stand-mounted Super HL5s have been my reference speakers for three years now. They’re not only much larger than the Ascendo C6es but, at $6500/pair, 50% more expensive. I thought this would be an unfair comparison.
I was wrong. The Ascendos bettered the Harbeths in overall transparency and resolution, letting me hear nuances in the music far more easily. They were also better at painting sonic images more visibly and believably while more convincingly “disappearing” into the soundfield. On the other hand, the HL5s threw a taller stage, and were better at reproducing the scale of the music. The HL5s displayed greater top-octave air in cymbal strokes, perhaps due to their supertweeters, but the C6es’ highs were generally smoother. The two speakers went almost equally low in the bass, but the HL5’s bass was tighter, and this stand-mount design didn’t excite the room as much as did the Ascendo floorstanders. Of the two, the Ascendos were the more neutral and balanced overall; the HL5s had a warmer midrange. The highlight of this comparison was the C6es’ greater flexibility in placement -- the Ascendos were far more forgiving of close-to-wall placement. The Harbeths need at least 2’ to 3’ between them and the front wall before they’re listenable.
As I began this review, some of my preconceived notions about small, lifestyle-friendly floorstanders raised doubts about the Ascendo C6’s abilities.
Well, I’m happy to report that I’m now a convert. These speakers have shown me that a diminutive, furniture-grade floorstander doesn’t have to be all about compromises in sound. The quality of the C6’s reproduction of human voices was consistently among the best I’ve heard at or above this price, and their imaging and soundstaging were perhaps the best I’ve heard from floorstanders in my room. The smoothness of the Ascendo’s highs, and its superb resolution of details, are also class leading. At the other end of the audioband, the C6’s bass was quite wholesome and well extended.
A bonus for the buyer of the C6 is its flexibility in placement -- the Ascendos will deliver high-quality hi-fi sound in a living room without the listener having to move them back and forth into listening and idling positions. To top it all, this can be done without antagonizing one’s significant other. Ultimately, the Ascendo C6 proved that pleasing appearance, placement flexibility, and great sound need not be mutually exclusive. If you’re looking for a loudspeaker for your family or living room, and need great sound without worrying too much about front-wall proximity, the Ascendo C6 should be at the top of your must-audition list.
. . . Sid Vootla
- Sources -- Music PC running JRiver Media Center 19, M2Tech Evo Hiface USB-to-S/PDIF converter with battery PSU and master clock; Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player used as disc transport
- Digital-to-analog converter -- Ayon Skylla II
- Amplifier -- Symphonic Line Kraft 250
- Preamplifier -- Lamm LL2.1 Deluxe
- Speakers -- Harbeth Super HL5
- Cables -- Kimber Kable Select 1011 interconnects and 3033 speaker cables, AudioQuest Cinnamon USB cable, Creative Cable Green Hornet digital, Audio Art Cable Power 1 Classic and Shunyata Research Diamondback power cords
- Power conditioner -- Sine 30A
- Room treatment -- GIK Acoustics 244 panels (6), Echo Busters panels (2)
- Racks and stands -- SoundFoundations equipment rack and speaker stands
Ascendo C6 Loudspeakers
Price: $3990 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Bonndorfer Str. 19
Phone: (49) 721-95139929