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I still remember my first encounter with Ascendo speakers. It was at the Hotel Kempinski in Gravensbuch close to Frankfurt during the High End Show which since has moved to the M.O.C. in Munich. I then listened to the M-S system driven from a prototype CAT amplifier now known as JL3. As source they used a transport I can't recall and a digital preamplifier/processor Ascendo was working on at the time. The recording was Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy. For me it became an extraordinary experience. Ever since I’ve wanted to review these speakers. Year after year I'd check in with  Jürgen Scheuring at the show and talk to him only to hear the same promise – once Poland became an interesting market for the company I’d be the first to receive their speakers for review. It took 10 years but I finally did get my wish.

On the other hand perhaps it explains why I didn’t receive their most expensive model but rather the S.E. ZF3 as a fully greased effort above any regular model where the creators pushed each aspect of the design as far as possible. Was it a coincidence that both modules here used Finite Elemente Cerabase decouplers which I run in my personal system? Or six of the incredibly expensive Furutech FT-818 terminals which I was first in Europe to receive directly from Japan? I elected to believe that these weren’t coincidences but results of particular choices which seemed tailor-made for yours truly. Kismet.

Waiting for 10 long years of course can turn dangerous if it means you’ve erected an idealized memory of the now very distant first encounter. When a representative of Polish Ascendo distributor Sound Club placed the loaners in my room in the exact same spot that had previously hosted Avantgarde Acoustic’s Uno Pico, Hansen Audio’s Prince v2, Avalon’s Ascendant, German Physiks’ HRS 120 Carbon and Franco Serblin’s Ktêma, I felt deceived. Surely it wasn’t supposed to sound like that. The sound was raw, somewhat forward and certainly not coherent. I listened for a few days, then decided to call the manufacturer and ask him to collect the speakers. So I did.

Everything had been all set to return the speakers but some other products didn’t arrive on time and I had a few extra days with the Ascendos. I tried them once again and realized I’d previously made some minor mistakes. Those were small enough to usually not matter but in this case proved lethal by utterly undermining the chief Ascendo virtue of phase coherence. My first mistake was plugging the heavy Tara Labs Omega Onyx speaker cable to the lowest binding posts. If you opt to run a single cable, always plug it into the ribbon tweeter posts, then jumper from there. The Furutech posts are fantastic but one of their features makes it difficult to install spades. A plastic ring forces you to insert those from either the top or bottom. Ascendo’s post was too low to the floor so I had to enter diagonally hoping that the large diameter of the nut would properly transfer signal (as fixed this way the spade only made contact with one prong). Huge mistake. The contact patch must be exploited fully.

Second was placement. The Ascendo sounded best on Acoustic Revive’s RST-38 stands with their axes crossed in front of the listening position. Usually ribbon tweeters should point straight ahead or be toed in by only a very small amount. Another very important thing was that I’d I forgotten to invert absolute polarity since my single-stage Ayon Polaris III preamplifier presumably inverts it. I don't know if I'm right about this but it most assuredly improved the sound significantly when accounted for. Obviously proper absolute polarity is very audible with Ascendo.

These all were small items which many audiophiles refuse to acknowledge but with Ascendo you really ought to pay attention. The ribbon tweeter’s resolution is such that you will clearly hear very little changes in your system. After these adjustments I couldn’t believe how the sound improved after I’d already said all these not so very complimentary things to the distributor. I had to overcome pride, digest the lesson and finally start listen in earnest.

Part II
Now the Ascendo speaker offered the most balanced comprehensive sound from all the great speakers mentioned earlier. Was it the best sound? It's not about that. Serblin’s speakers for example better differentiated the mid and low bass, the Avalons offered a smoother midrange, the Hansens better bass extension and a bigger deeper soundstage, the Avantgarde horns a more palpable denser sound. Each of these outstanding speakers has its own distinct intrinsic character which one can easily point at. When it comes to Ascendo however there’s nothing to point at. Since I must give you some notion of their performance, I’ll go about it a bit differently than usual. You’ll have to forgive my semi poetic attempts since there’s no properly precise techno jargon which would articulate this type of sonic difference.

You need to talk about how it makes you feel. Those who reject this approach as poetry don’t understand the core issue at hand. They fail to make the connection with the vocabulary used to describe wine, cigars, literature and art. All of these endeavors depend on experiential descriptions rather than any standardized technical language. In my opinion at least experiential descriptions here become the most precise truthful descriptions possible.