There are times in your career when you have to adjust your ‘benchmark’ or standards. One I will remember for the rest of my life is the Grimm LS1be. That loudspeaker has changed my vision on active loudspeakers and stereo hi-fi in general drastically. In the field of home theater… Ascendo. For several reasons…
We walk with Stefan Köpf – founder, engineer and co-designer – through the modest workshop in Ansbach, Germany. He narates a little bit about the history of the company which mainly consists of software for the pro industry, active speakers and since 2015 Cinema. However, Köpf has a slightly different vision of stereo hi-fi and cinema.
First of all, Ascendo doesn’t really believe in opschmuck. “Half the money goes into the housing. And that’s a shame,” says Stefan Köpf. “We prefer to invest in good performance.” We do agree. And in the case of a cinema, the speakers are built in anyway, so why pay attention to a nice cabinet. With stereo hi-fi, of course, it’s a different story. And the Ascendo Live 15, for that reason, just looks neat and tidy. Especially in high gloss… It’s still not overly bling bling…but it’s all right.
His reference to “good performance” allows us to dig a little deeper. What is good performance according to Köpf? “Good question… if you listen to live music, you’ll immediately notice that it’s often very dynamic. A piano, for example, is incredibly dynamic. A drum kit too, of course.” According to Stefan, there are almost no systems that can bring this dynamic performance. “Everything’s so polished these days. It’s supposed to sound “beautiful. But that’s at the expense of realism.”
There are two more things that Stefan Köpf quotes: phase and speed. Speed is crucial to make an impact. And is also associated with dynamics. After all: the bang of a stick on a drum kit has an impact. In order to be able to translate that impact, a fast and dynamic system is needed. And both the amplifier and the unit should be able to handle that.
Phase is crucial in both stereo and home cinema. In order to get that aspect perfect, measuring is simply necessary at a cinema. That’s why Ascendo’s active system (also the stereo versions) has a room correction system built in. Actually: correction without ‘room’, because this is also largely independent of space.
Via this system – which you can adjust via the laptop – every speaker can be adjusted independently. So you take one measurement per speaker in order to be able to correct time and response. Can it be done automatically? In theory the loudspeakers can be corrected via another system such as Trinnov, Dirac or system, but Stefan Köpf does not believe in automatic corrections. “It straightens everything out, but that doesn’t mean it sounds right.” So he does measure, but uses the measurements mainly for time-alignment.
A brief word about the speaker and amplifier designs. These are all done in the house. The amplifiers, electronics, units, cabinets… all developed in Germany. However, manufacturing has been outsourced. After all, there is only a handful of manufacturers who manufacture their own units. That is simply far too expensive for a (relatively) small manufacturer.
Assembly, control and shipping is done from Ansbach.
The performance of the demo system we’ve heard in Germany is… groundbreaking. This really was a reference shift for us. The speed, dynamics and authenticity of this system are unprecedented. We haven’t touched the limits of this system by a long shot. And that’s probably a good thing, because with 60,000 watts of power, 26 speakers and a fairly compact space, you can easily damage your eardrums for good. And we want to enjoy a few more decades of music.
One of the reasons it’s so easy is that there’s simply no distortion. The presentation is incredibly clean. No edges, no compression… nothing. And then it’s much easier to play very loud.
Another reason is the absolute tranquillity. Compare it to a W16 engine with 1500 hp… if you drive 180 in there, it’s incredibly easy. Try the same in a car with a 1.1 litre engine, it will be at its peak, resulting in much more noise and stress…
After all, this system is an omnivore. It can render a solo concert, a large orchestra in full glory, an exciting thriller or a crushing action film with the greatest refinement. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. A speaker is not for a genre… we can’t say it often enough. Both a hi-fi system and a cinema should in fact be able to display everything. Live registrations, thrillers, action… And Ascendo shows it can be done.
Awesome. For us the new reference in the field of home cinema. Point…