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This review first appeared in the May 2010 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read this review of the Avalon Ascendant in its original Polish version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or Avalon. Ed.

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacuła
CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air 
Phono preamp: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Preamp: Leben RS-28CX 
Power amp: Luxman M-800A
Integrated amp: Leben CS300
Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann
Headphones: AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro 600 Ω
Interconnects: CD-preamp Wireworld Gold Eclipse 52, preamp-power amp Velum NF-G SE, speaker cable Velum LS-G
Power cords: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9100 (CD) and 2 x Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC7100 (preamp, power amp)
Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip
audio stand Base
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD, turntables change continuously, as do cartridges
Review component retail: zł 45.930/pr in Poland

Avalon is a legendary but not legacy company. They did not gather appreciation, recognition and respect over many long decades in small steps but stormed straight to the top. Company owner and protagonist Neil Patel (each project has its own engineer) created a company which in cosmetic terms builds iconic loudspeakers. His Avalon Eidolon is perhaps the most copied speaker in the world for its diamond-faceted enclosure.

Then there are Avalon’s preferred drivers, almost exclusively ceramic cones and diamond domes. Only the woofers may occasionally embrace Nomex or Kevlar. That’s exactly the case with today’s entry-level Ascendant. Something else that distinguishes Avalon the brand are prices. They used to only offer from expensive to very expensive products. Only recently more affordable options became available. For counterbalance, Avalon also introduced the incredibly expensive Sentinel. Hence nothing really changed. Taking this into account, one might rightfully conclude that Avalon is overpriced and tries to dazzle us with unusual shapes and drivers. I think some audiophiles would agree.

I too could were it not for the choices of real professionals whom I respect. I think of speaker ‘guru’ Martin Colloms of Hifi News and HifiCritic using the Avalon Diamond; of Mr. Winston Ma, owner of First Impression Music who uses the Avalon Isis for evaluating his master tapes and final discs (and earlier ran Diamonds – please look at his system here). To me that’s meaningful.

Even so, I personally was never touched by the sound of Avalons. I listened to them many times at shows where they proved never more than passable. Now my review session of the Ascendant suggested that probably the speakers in my prior encounters were never properly set up. Something simply must have been wrong. This does not happen often but the Avalons require ultra-precise positioning. If we don’t pay proper attention, they might sound okay but really, there’s only one single spot in any given room where they will sound as they should. And the burn-in… the company talks 300-400 hours and then you have to add settle-down time even if they have arrived already preconditioned. This is something Jeff Dorgay mentioned in his review: "The more time you spend with the Ascendants, the more you realize what masterpieces of fine craftsmanship they are."

Sound: Discs used for this review - Bill Evans Trio, Bill Evans Trio at Shelly’s Manne-Hole, Riverside/JVC, JVCXR-0036-2, XRCD; Danielsson/Dell/Landgren, Salzau Music On The Water, Act Music+Vision, ACT 9445-2, CD; Deep Purple, Perfect Stranger, Polydor/Polydor Japan, 25MM 0401, LP; Depeche Mode, Fragile Tension/Hole to Feed, Mute Records, 12BONG42, 2 x 180g, maxi-SP LP; Diorama, Cubed Deluxe Edition, Acsession Records, A114, 2 x CD; Frédéric Chopin, The Complete Nocturnes, piano: Gergely Bogányi, Stockfisch, SFR 357.4051.2, 2 x SACD/CD; Jean-Michel Jarré, Zoolook, Disques Dreyfus/Polydor Canada, Jar 5, LP; Julie London, Julie Is Her Name. Vol. 1, Liberty/EMI Music Japan, TOCJ-90014, HQCD; Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert, ECM/Universal Music Japan, UCCE-9011, gold CD; King Crimson, In The Court Of The Crimson King, Universal Music Japan, UICE-9051, HDCD; Lars Danielsson & Leszek Możdżer, Pasodoble, ACT Music, ACT 9458-2, CD; Shota Osabe Piano Trio, Happy Coat, Sho Studio of Music/First Impression Music/Lasting Impression Music, LIM K2HD 031, K2 HD CD; Thelenious Monk, Briliant Corners, Riverside/Universal Music Japan, UCCO-9220, CD; Thom Yorke, The Eraser, XL Records/Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10001, CD; Wes Montgomery, Incredible Jazz Guitar of... Riverside/JVC, VICJ-41531, K2 CD; William Orbit, My Oracle Lives Uptown, Guerilla Studios/Linn Records, AKH 351, 2 x 180g LP.

Figuratively speaking, the Ascendants don’t forgive much and praise even less. Before I get to that, I would like to summarize what follows by noting that these are classy high-pedigree speakers which performed better in my home that any Avalons I’d previously heard at shows, presentations or informal listening sessions. The Ascendant frankly sounded splendid, in many aspects superior to my own Harpia Acoustics Dobermann. This wasn’t true across the board—I will talk about that later and I also had to be very thorough setting them up—but they performed so well and were so interesting to listen to that my review period was pure pleasure. Now I know far better what I miss in my Dobermanns and what their successors will have to improve upon.

But first about forgiving; or rather, the lack thereof. The Avalons quickly show errors in the preceding signal path and flaws in the recordings. Yet they treat those elements differently than the Dobermanns by being in fact friendlier towards the recordings. I will return to this. The system for the Ascendants must be maximally balanced with a focus on bass control and a lack of upper midrange forwardness. Any step away from this—a slight loss of discipline in the lower frequencies or hardened attacks around 1-2kHz—will be revealed very directly. It is interesting how this does not make the sound unfriendly. It can in fact translate into a sound that’s more attractive than the natural sound, being more saturated and direct than what we hear live in acoustic settings.

But it does take time to ascend the Ascendant to its peak. Placed in the same spot as the bigger Dobermann, the Avalon had a bit too much mid bass. This is fairly normal. My room isn’t large and the loudspeakers do not stand far away from the walls. I know the room very well though and know exactly what I must take into account when evaluating speakers placed in it. This is usually enough but wasn’t for the Avalons. They needed to be placed further into the room to make their elevated range fuse with the rest of the spectrum. With the Harpias I managed that by plugging their ports. I tried to with the Avalons (their ports fire down) but the changes were minimal. Hence I needed to place them further away from the front wall.