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Placed accordingly, they became very coherent. Unexpectedly, the Ascendant proved to have a rather creamy saturated fulsome sound. At shows they often sounded harsh or vague and I became used to thinking of them that way. But placed precisely and powered adequately, they showcased traits I usually associate more with Harbeth or the Combak Bravo speakers. With emphasis on the latter, the Americans really did sound like one single slightly warm driver. The issue of baffle slant and grills was important too. The grills polarize reviewers and music lovers alike. When two Audio Systems folks delivered and placed the loaners, a discussion ensued. One of them claimed that one should only listen with the grilles as this removes a slight problem in the upper midrange (measurements show a slight depression there), the other that the only listening option is without the grilles because "a grille sucks the life out of the Avalons".

Both were right. One can set up the Ascendant for with and without. I eventually ended up without.  To achieve smoothness with the grilles (which are most probably used during measurements and the design process) and an open clean treble without them or the boosted midrange in the 1-2kHz region, I had to cross their axes right in front of my nose. Toed in like that, the Avalon was incredibly vivid and showed more harmonics responsible for sonic depth than my Dobermann. The latter as well as models from KEF and Monitor Audio create a splendid sonic picture but somewhat emboss the edges with brilliant speed and openness. The Avalon meanwhile was similar to the small Japanese Bravo which portrays the instruments and events in a more holographic fashion. This is an additional dimension not only of the soundstage proper but also of timbre and dynamics – what we recognize as pedigreed sound like the ennoblement of  a Sir in front of a name. This could be heard on each disc and on any kind of music. Classical and jazz sounded best however. Chopin’s Nocturnes were tremendous. This is a masterful recording of that difficult instrument, musically brilliant, slightly dense and with a clear first plane exactly as Stockfish main sound engineer Günter Pauler does it. The Avalons showed this immediately but did not emboss this feature. They simply showed it and then the sound reached deeper and became even fuller. This was similar on all XRCD recordings like the Bill Evans Trio Live.

Rock and electronics too were very interesting. I promised to return to the issue of recording quality and how the Ascendant handled it. The Avalons are rather merciless but in the case of recordings not by underlining harshness or splashy treble. What they won’t tolerate is compression. Discs recorded uncompressed—older ones like Julie London, more current ones like Danielsson/Dell/Landgren or those where compression was used very moderately like Danielsson & Możdżer—sounded phenomenal. But not Diorama’s Cubed. There the vocal band was raised, many instruments were used and slight chaos became the result. Here the Dobermanns fared better. While showing compression, they were still able to separate everything sufficiently to prevent the sound from collapsing. Here Cubed did not sound as bad as over the Avalons. It was still juicy with a very good rhythm and kick but the flattened tracks were flatter than necessary.

While talking rhythm, the Americans always were authoritative. A part of their recipe was a strong mid bass – when placed far enough away from the walls. This was a certain departure from linearity and needs to get mentioned clearly. It’s why the sound was so full and complete. Compared to it most loudspeakers sound thin even when they measure absolutely flat. This could be heard on all discs but was demonstrated best with Pasodoble by Danielsson and Możdżer. The contrabass was a bit larger than usual, a bit stronger as though the microphone was placed right in front of it. This wasn’t unpleasant—quite the opposite in fact—but not very accurate either. Frankly this is one of only two areas where more expensive loudspeakers will do better. The other is related to the slightly elevated and not perfectly smooth area above 1kHz. This is slightly hardened. It’s why proper set up and good electronics are so important. 90% of recordings won’t be problematic but on electronica and harder rock, transients in the mid/treble transition band were slightly emphasized. 

Those are the only two elements which would prompt me to buy more expensive loudspeakers than the Ascendant. The recorded acoustics could be shown better but when talking about the soundstage around the instruments, it was hard to complain about this extraordinarily creamy, smooth and vivid sound. That’s so not how I’d imagined the Avalons to behave. I was most impressed by what came out of them. The bass extended low and with color and only the lowest notes could have stood more control but integrated well with the rest to act like a lone widebander or dual-concentric. This was an exciting and very satisfactory sound with brilliant lower and mid treble. I was frankly unaware that a metal tweeter could do things I’d previously only associated with diamond domes or Oscar Heil transducers from ADAM or Burmester. The upper treble was not as resolved and precise as the SEAS in my Dobermanns to remind us why more expensive Avalons run with ceramic and diamond drivers. But I repeat, the final sound here was very coherent and creamy - a beautiful sound from a beautiful loudspeaker (and legendary brand as bonus).