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This review first appeared in the September 2008 issue of and can be read in its original German version here. It is herewith translated and presented to an English-only audience through a mutual syndication arrangement with As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end has a link below it to his e-mail should you have questions or feedback you wish to send. All images contained in this review are the property of or Ascendo. - Ed.

Reviewer: Ralph Werner
Sources: Analog - Acoustic Solid MPX turntable; Phonotools Vivid-Two and SME M2 12" tone arms; Denon DL-103, Ortofon MC Rondo Bronce, Shelter 501 MK II and Zu Audio DL-103 pickups; digital - audiolab 8000CD
Amplification: integrated - Accuphase E212, Myryad MXI 2080; preamp - bel canto PRe 3, Funk LAP-2; power amp - bel canto M300 monos, SAC il piccolo monos
Loudspeakers: Elac FS 247, Volent Paragon VL-2, Zu Audio Druid Mk4, Ascendo C8 [on review], Zu Audio Presence [on review]
Cable: low-level - Ecosse Baton + Symphony, Funk BS-2, van den Hul Integration Hybrid, Zaolla Reinsilber; phono - fis Audio Phono, WSS Silver Line; high-level - Ecosse SMS2.3, Ixos 6006 Gamma, Zu Audio Libtec
Racks & stands: Creactiv, Taoc, Liedtke Metalldesign Stand
Review component retail: starting at €5.800/pr

The box
Guess how many drivers are in this speaker? One? Being a coaxial transducer, identifying that what sits in the center of the driver is no dust cap is easy. A 2-way bass reflex then? Hmm, isn't that quite a voluminous enclosure for such a small driver? But Ascendo's C8 Renassiance is no standard bass reflex box. While admittedly rare in hifi circles these days, it's a band-pass solution. Inside the enclosure hides a 21cm Kevlar woofer. It communicates with the outside world via port. A 3-way then? Once you inspect the backside of our speaker, the correct answer becomes four even though via rocker switch on the terminal plate, you can defeat the rear-firing magnetostat (terminus technicus 'TOS unit', on which more anon) and turn the C8 into a 3-way again.

The outer appearance suggests that the drivers were deliberately hidden. Is it possible to scale back a speaker to raw essentials further still? Can the term 'box' be manifested in more archetypical fashion? This speaker is a veritable box of 28 x 80 x 40cm dimensions, albeit a perfectly finished and veneered box. Critical hobbyist woodworkers will look in vain for edge imperfections. Dead center on the front baffle sits the port, a good hand's width above it the coax driver. The rear baffle sports a stout biwire terminal with the aforementioned TOS unit switch and the actual magnetostat sourced from Swans which already cut a sleek figure on the face of the absolute audio perfect.

This box sits atop an 18cm high stand/plinth finished in veneer and piano gloss black which faintly suggests an over-dimensioned squared-off Pilsner glass. Cheers. "Prost" would be less fitting once we consider the cosmetic echoes of classic British monitors. Personally, the Ascendo C8 hits all my hot buttons. It is one of the most elegantly conceived speakers I have hosted yet. At least from my side then, a fat compliment is in order.

It certainly wasn't outer design considerations which hid two drivers from sight though but an outcome of the technical goals of the Schwabians. The three bigger Ascendo models as well employ band-pass systems. Ditto for the smaller C7 (albeit not the compact C5). And the 7 also pursues a Transducer-coupled Optimization of the Summed settle time (TOS), albeit with a dome tweeter 'round back.

From left to right, the "techno" team of Ascendo splits its duties into digital audio development (Jürgen Scheuring), loudspeaker development and QC (Norbert Heinz); and marketing and management (Stefan Köpf). With its RoomTools, Ascendo GmBH not only offers one of the leading professional softwares for room acoustics analysis but also designs digital room correction processors for example high-end brand behold. This focus naturally includes absorber/trap modules. It follows that loudspeaker manufacture benefits from such acoustical know-how and R&D indeed follows more scientific routes than wet kisses from a muse. It's most à propos then to start at the beginning, i.e. the footer.

Ascendo technique
The C8's stand terminates in slightly rounded-over spikes to couple to the floor without damaging it - nothing unconventional yet but of course counter nuts are provided. The contact surface for the speaker sports five circular indents which receive heavy rubber pucks that fit into corresponding recesses on the speaker's bottom. This creates a decoupling between speaker and stand while remaining vibrations making it past the rubber pucks are grounded into the floor. The interface tolerances are tight and without gap even though -- you'll have to kneel to make it out -- the speaker actually floats above its footer.

As its sketch shows, the Ascendo innards divide into four chambers. The lowest is sealed to create the band-pass pressure chamber and, at its underside, houses the crossover. A floor higher sits the vented enclosure which acts as Helmholz resonator driven by the hidden woofer. The corner frequencies of this band-pass are 29Hz (the F3 of the woofer) and 90Hz which doubles as 18db/octave hand-over to the coaxial unit. The latter fires into its own rear chamber as does the magnetostat.

Ascendo's speaker developer Norbert Heinz is quick to stress a 'semi-symmetrical' band-pass to highlight the fact that its roll-off is shallower on the top than bottom. Particular care was taken to create a constant damping factor particularly in the bass for which the C8 runs two drivers after all, one outside, one inside. The loss of damping so typical for bass-reflex alignments below the resonant frequency is eliminated by the constant conditions of the sealed chamber. The credo here could be "control over the final dB's worth of voltage sensitivity". What had this admirer of impulse fidelity and soundstaging curious was the Ascendo C8's point-source nature. Active over eight octaves if we disregard the rear-firing unit, the SEAS dual-concentric is after all quite a small sound source for standard and even shorter listening distances. That transducer itself practices time and phase alignment with a physical offset between fabric dome and surrounding composite XP cone. Naturally, the network filter too influences time-domain performance as Ascendo would remind us. A dual-centric driver is additionally helpful to approach the generation of a perfectly hemispherical wave launch. Other makers might pursue different ideals but what I heard a year ago at a tradeshow in Hannover was promising indeed.

The rear-firing TOS unit appears pragmatic in that it doesn't merely lift output above 2.200Hz (its high-pass) but energizes the ambient field. Above this frequency, the C8, if desired, thus becomes a dipole. Would this increase the life factor or wash out the treble? The audition would tell...

While not months, a few weeks are certainly in order to have the Ascendo C8 reach its full potential. I never lend a critical ear before a week is over anyway. By then things sounded darn good already except for the bass. That seemed to lag behind not in terms of output but speed. To my surprise, it was this aspect that most changed with break-in. After about three weeks, everything locked in. Still, don't expect bass attacks that jump in your face or Klipschorn-type assaults into the gut. To these ears, the bass range of the Ascendo C8, after due conditioning time, is seamlessly integrated, shows good but not ultimate speed but above all, creates a wonderfully deep and clean foundation. There's zero flab, presumably due to the band-pass principle. I'm convinced that this bass cleanliness plays directly to one of this speaker's greatest strengths, namely soundstaging. But let's begin with tonal balance, one of the Ascendo's first virtues. It arrives in three facets as it were:

1. The C8 is full-range. Devotees of 7-meter organ pipes in stadiums may demur "not quite" but for 90% of all other cases, the Ascendo, being far from petite but not a battle ship either, delivers the full program. Sonically though, the latter image is quite applicable in terms of volume, scale and foundation strength (and on top, there's no limitation in the first place). A very complete loudspeaker then.

2. The Ascendo C8 is perfectly even-keeled and more characterized by what she doesn't do. There's no attenuation in the sub bass, no softness, no upper-bass bulge, neither full nor lean fundamentals, mids that aren't overly present or subdued, treble that's neither charmingly softened nor energetic... some might find an outright lack of personality in fact. That's precisely the point of course. The C8 is a brilliantly clean playback machine which doesn't 'participate' but flatly reports.

This even-handedness remains constant over higher and even punishing SPLs. The C8 never wavers and seems rock-steady. While the tonal virtue is more about what the C8 doesn't do -- no editorializing -- its second forté is about what is revealed: extremely fine detail particularly in the mid/treble bands. The smallest intake of breath between two phrases; string fingering; subtle wood noises which "sadly" made it to master tape - it's all there, albeit not in any forward manner or purchased with a presence region lift. Everything is simply obvious, the sonic data presented with the lightest touch. As nonchalant as this sentence reads -- a silent shoulder shrug as the entire commentary -- that's exactly how the Ascendo C8 goes about her business. Nothing is zoomed in on or extracted to silver platter but nothing gets overlooked either.

I noticed how this speaker doesn't forget secondary voices, meaning that when the music densifies, an orchestra lets loose or an electric guitar moves into the foreground, the quieter parts in the background don't diminish or drop out. A holistic view remains regardless of crowdedness. Not only does the Ascendo remain stable at high outputs, she remains stable also when faced with myriad actors on the stage; like a juggler keeping more than 3 or 4 balls in the game.

All of the above -- tonal neutrality and powerful resolving power -- are virtues which grow on you over time. They aren't spectacular wowie stuff. It's more like listening for two weeks to eventually nod with a "yes, that's how it should be". I don't wish to commence a discussion on what's right (honestly, I'm a pragmatic hedonist when it comes to that) but I will say that the Ascendo C8 stimulates the feeling of being right, clean, correct and true. That appreciation thereof should entail more than a 5-minute quickie doesn't diminish its worth. Au contraire. But there is one aspect that's spectacular. Soundstaging. How the Ascendo C8 beams the performance stage into my living room is among the very best I've yet experienced.

The presentation is never forward. Where you'd perceive stage edge 'live' is more or less ground zero between the speakers from whence you enter the stage. And it nearly appears as though one could really enter. It's no diffusive sonic aura -- which I don't mind, it's simply not this -- but more the infamous window on the music which is thrown wide to reveal a broad opening through which to view the performance. And behind this window is something so real -- so goes the illusion -- that the stage actors appear ultra precise and with body, with clear gaps between them through which one might stroll.

Does this sound too extreme? Perhaps. I readily admit that this effect depends on circumstance. I tend to listen in the near-field, with the sidewalls 1.5 meters from the outer speaker edges, ceiling 2.5 meters high. Hence evil early reflections to dilute the stereo image aren't my biggest concern. And it also varies with recording. But just as vitally, the point source and time alignment concepts of the Ascendo C8 weigh in. To repeat, above 90Hz, there's a single sound source upfront. Payback of implementing a dual-concentric driver to near perfection is simply a shockingly realistic rendering of stage width and enormous depth focus. Here the Ascendo C8 is outrageously good and, with loveless performances, nearly too much so. When the recording engineer mumbled "left, right, center - and then we'll park one there smack in the back" and assembled the lot rather crassly, a transducer of the Ascendo's caliber tracks such sins without flinching or soft focus. But if you bother with hardware of this quality, you'll apply equal discernment with your software.

It's interesting how the rear-firing ambient-field booster -- sorry Herr Heinz, the TOS unit -- adds to the effect. Actually, there's three effects, one purely marginal: treble output gets a lift but merely a skoch. More relevant is the "space vibe" which gets a bit more expansive, with more oxygen in the room. When the CD spins but the music hasn't commenced yet or stopped already, do you know the feeling of tapping the dark with your ears, as though walking with a blind man's cane? This gets easier with the TOS and the boundaries of an empty room become more apparent. Perhaps that's a minor subtlety but it's nice to have. Or take live recordings. I've never accepted that audience applause occurs behind the stage as is typical for most recordings and stereo setups. I won't claim that the C8 conjures up a surround world but 'canned live music' with activated rear ribbon sounds more persuasive; audience and music aren't as far removed. Perhaps that's no surprise as applause is a mostly diffuse noise where to increase the ambient energy field is likely not a bad idea.

To return to image specificity: A mediocre recording will continue to sound mediocre no matter how much you futz with the TOS switch. But that's not the Ascendo's fault. In general, I found "a shot of TOS" very agreeable as it connected the musicians closer together. The precise impressions of bodies, of instruments and voices remain untouched but the (artificial?) laser relief of certain recordings gets toned down. Regardless of whether the ribbon is live or not, the effect will much depend on the surrounding space. Whether you fancy it is ultimately in the ear of the beholder. To my ears, with TOS is a touch more realistic. Good that you're given the option.

A few more noteworthy items: I've listened a lot to the Ascendo over the last few weeks. This is a speaker which stimulates curiosity over forgotten albums -- how might this one sound? -- which had me predominantly prime the pump for two reasons: I could (and how!); and, dynamic constrasts at conversational levels are too low for my taste. There clearly is an output level at which the Ascendo C8 perks up and your inner sergeant goes on salute. That requires a bit of sound pressure. If you intend to accompany a dinner party with background washes or live in a noise-sensitive neighborhood - hmm, you might run into issues. Just shy of room levels is where the fun commences in earnest and I'd be surprised if you could resist the temptation of 'louder'. From here onward, the Ascendo C8 offers good dynamics without moving mountains. To avoid misapprehensions by review analysts however, let me be clear that good doesn't mean mediocre but good.

To run the C8 off weak-chested amps would not be a good idea. Which doesn't mean gigantomania is essential but 15 luxurious class A watts might or might not do the trick. SET amps? For breakfast perhaps. You'll be running a number of drivers and a bit of go juice is definitely called for. I tried four different amps listed in the intro and all did the job. Granted, none were micro-power flowers or space heaters (though the latter would have been interesting). During this musical chair adventure I once again noted how transparent this speaker is, what a great tool it makes to ascertain where in the chain, from album to speaker, each contributing elements shines or doesn't.

The Ascendo C8 Renaissance is a really pretty piece of furniture with timeless and clean lines - self-confident yet not flashy. That she doesn't win a design award is simply because we don't give those out. But this speaker isn't merely a new cosmetic interpretation of the monitor theme, it also delivers sonically on the visual promise.

As monitor, she eschews showiness in favor of correctness. Extremely transparent and unassailably certain, she performs her job without fuss, on the money and without self importance. I quite believe that the Ascendo C8 is bound for classic status. She remains within financial reach for many serious music lovers; looks unique yet timeless; and most important, is a complete, well-balanced and long-term satisfying speaker. Many HighEnd swappers who change speakers each quarter will finally arrive and enjoy their tunes for years.

To quickly reiterate the sonic traits of the Ascendo C8 Renaissance:
  • Despite appearances to the contrary, this is a true full-range speaker which paints the impression of a complete, solidly grounded soundstage of large scale.
  • Tonally even-handed, the C8 betrays no preference or hot spots and sounds perfectly clean and distortion-free. Nothing blurs or is late, nothing turns hard or pointed. The midrange melts, the treble is open, grain-free and finely nuanced, the bass abysmal but properly damped, i.e. nothing softens around the edges. For my taste, the latter could simply exhibit more speed.
  • Soundstaging is shockingly real, with a tall and wide expanse of nearly abnormal depth. Image specificity and body dimensionality are high and the rear-aiming TOS unit allows fine-tuning of perceived acoustics and listener preference. The tendency with TOS engaged is for greater airiness, stronger venue ambiance with life recordings and audience participation; and 'squared-out' studio productions gain a better integrated stereo image with improved outlines around individual voices.
  • The Ascendo C8 is SPL approved and can generate true pressure. Conversely, a certain minimal level is desirable below which dynamic contrasts attenuate. Dynamics kick in with room level and a powerful punchy amplifier pays additional dividends. Stay clear of underpowered amplification. Overall dynamics are good but not state of the art.
  • The Ascendo C8 is an unbelievably informative speaker which reveals the smallest of nuances, albeit never in a nervous or overly analytical fashion. The presentation is relaxed and non-spectacular but highly accurate.


  • Model: Ascendo C8 Renaissance
  • Concept: 3-4 way design / dual-concentric point source above 90Hz / proprietary band-pass solution for bass / switchable, rear-mounted Magnetostat for dipole radiation above 2.2kHz
  • Finish options: Walnut und Tineo standard / Rosewood and Bird's Eye Maple high-gloss €300 surcharge / further veneers and custom lacquers upon request
  • Sensitivity: 88 dB/1W/m
  • Nominal impedance: 6 ohms
  • Dimensions: 28 x 110,5 x 40 cm (WxHxD)
  • Other: Biwirable
  • Website
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