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Usually there’s a very clear routine procedure for any audition. Alas the Ascendo commenced with a master class on how shockingly real sounds can draw one irresistibly into the music. Nic Bärtsch’s Ronin/Stoa is one such fabulous album. What to say about the System F though? Here the problems began. Who knows, perhaps it was simply great music, period?

This would include great detail, full bandwidth and expansive dynamics, all compliments of first-rate mastering as seems the norm for the ECM label. Two full weeks passed chasing music across all genres before the first Ascendo related sentence ever got typed into the laptop. A bit of distance from any object of desire never hurts...

Expectations for any €12.700/pr speaker naturally are steep. For five figures, I personally want it all. That’s admittedly somewhat naïve. Even in these rarefied strata, character traits remain – and perhaps more so? An Audiaz sounds different from a Zu Audio from an Absolut Audio…

Part of the Ascendo System F character is a certain non character if you’ll pardon a zen paradox. The sound was monitor correct and highly accurate, the polar opposite of enhanced or forward. Even though I knew full well that this isn’t actually possible and mere literary license, it did sound as though incoming signal was transformed into equivalent sound pressures without any commentary or fingerprints whatsoever.

Change an interconnect and I had on hand a change akin to a CD player swap with other speakers – or just as often not. Move the preamp two shelves lower and it was clear as day that’s where it sat and not there. The transparency of the System F was no joke but deadly serious.

The obvious flip side was that not all material was bliss. Finicky isn’t the right word because for me at least results remained palatable no matter what. Specific constellations simply came in as clearly second best. Sonic setbacks tended in the direction of rounder, less differentiated and more boring. At this level, it’s about splitting hairs and counting peas. Still, with the System F one knows quickly when the moons align. When everything locks in, the magic warrants the efforts. Afterwards one wouldn’t settle for  less. This shines a light on system optimization as a joyous pursuit to get an inch ahead – and then another and another.

As is mandatory for a studio monitor, Ascendo’s System F is tonally neutral – down into the infrasonics where walls flex under sufficient levels and appropriate fare; well, at least windows rattle and doors. Very nice. Not only can the F dish it out however, she does so with elasticity and definition. Most importantly, bass is handled with high differentiation. The tires never spin, there’s no upper-bass belly, no soggy gut below the belt. A loveless lean Pop number which desperately cries out for some bass augmentation will be hung out to dry and sound like its bad self. A properly captured double bass meanwhile sounds livelier and actually richer. This goes beyond hearing real sub 60Hz action which is often more imaginary and merely hinted at. It remains just as true for the next octave up where pitch accuracy is cleaner, more intelligible and stripped of surrounding masking effects. Don’t assume academic bass from that. For down and dirty, I fancy The Kills’ No Wow which growls, rattles and cracks something fierce through any number of drum machines shenanigans. And the Ascendo got seriously down for great boyish fun.

Duty and liberty
: I really can’t say anything about the purely tonal qualities of the mid/treble bands other than extremely balanced. I could list various absentee tendencies but that would get boring quickly. Suffice to say that I have very rarely encountered anything this bereft of localizable tendencies. Period.

For the Ascendo, it seems to be shoulder-shrug certainty not to get involved in tone sculpting. That’s been penciled into her duty ledger and resolutely crossed off. There it also mentions "true SPL stability for Chrissakes" and "don't shortchange us on macrodynamics". Check. Without diminishing these dutiful accomplishments, we now best move on to the liberty actions where the System F shines with resolution and dimensional portrayals.

Here it's not merely a question of how subdued a signal may get before it eludes capture. The F harvests things all the way down into the recorded noise floor. It’s also a function of how the most pianissimo of passages are rendered. Someone for example inhales quietly. When a speaker manages to show that, one delights in its resolving power. On closer inspection, it’s often too lit up however - as though someone inhaled through their teeth. It's often too diffuse and scattered. At the very edge of audibility, the Ascendo manages to serve up living breathing beings in clear definition and tangible textures by tracking all their smallest of intentional or unconscious noises. When first following Nic Bärtsch thinking a cut over, I had to giggle out loud when I reflexively opened my eyes to see who was disturbing my session. Aside from three or four LEDs, my night-time dark room showed nothing. But I could have sworn someone was in the room with me. It just did not sound like the speakers. Spooky!

One could admittedly question the necessity thereof to appreciate music. For myself, I can categorically deny it. What’s more, it also didn’t sound live but more intimate and immediate - at least when compared to the same Swiss formation’s concert in Berlin’s Radialsystem which I attended last summer. No doubt it was a great concert. Even sonically no efforts were spared. But I didn't feel as closely and directly connected as at home. Neither did I sit in the performers’ laps but five rows off stage of course. And during a concert, I don’t give a twig if the drummer’s chair squeaks. Even at home I could do without. When everything else is perfection however, then even such apparent superficialities push me that little step deeper into a suspension of disbelief to undermine the separation of "the music plays there and I am here".  Then one buys into the illusion hook, line and sinker. Someone is there in the room three meters away from us who breathes and plays. What a crazy hobby this is; but what pleasure too.

The Ascendo System F handles anything related to noises and transients shockingly real to blur the distinction between suggesting some activity in yonder corner and the illusion that somebody is really there. Let’s now leave the world of incidental noises and get to sounds or better, sonic textures. The higher a speaker’s resolution—that still remains the key phrase—the more accurate its portrayal of textures. Here too the F is very convincing. But first a bit of phraseology.

Contrary to noises, sounds consist of mixed frequencies mathematically (harmonically) related to their fundamental which determines the pitch. Then there's the perception of tone color.

This differentiates between a violin and trumpet playing the same tone. It relies on the spectral distribution of overtones and their relative amplitude; plus that instrument’s characteristic attack and decay which together make up a kind of sonic fingerprint ID.