Manufacturer: Ascend Acoustics
Model: 5.1 Surround System (#21-1001)
Suggested Retail Price:  $1100.00
Rating:

Ascend Acoustics 5.1 Surround System

When we first reviewed Ascend Acoustics CBM-170, we had high praise for them, especially in music.  Ascend Acoustics is part of a growing breed of speaker manufacturers, as they sell directly to the consumer.  By cutting out the middle man, they can offer more product for the money.  Ascend Acoustics also went out and got the best sub under $500, the HSU VTF-2,  and packaged it with their system.  We've already seen their CBM-170, but now we get a chance to sample their HTM-200 and HTM-200 center channel as well as a pair of CBM-170s.  

Look and Feel
While there isn't anything flashy about the looks of the CBM-170, they are certainly well made.  The CBM-170 appears to be a black cube.  The grills fit nice and tight, and the weight of the speakers makes them feel very secure when they are placed on stands.  The CBM-170 definitely have a "classic" speaker look.

The HTM-200 is the lower cost speaker offering from Ascend Acoustics.  At first glance, we were a little surprised at how small they are when compared to the bigger CBM-170.  Their small footprint will allow for easy placement as a surround speaker.  Like the CBM-170, the HTM-200 is well built.  It's flat black appearance and small size make placement for using them as surround speakers very easy.  The grills are fairly nice, probably a bit more sturdy and rigid than most speaker grills we've seen.

When unpacking the HSU VTF-2 the first thing we noticed was its rough exterior.  They've used an unusual texture on the exterior, which appears to make the enclosure a little tougher but be careful when moving the VTF-2 as it could easily scratch your walls.  Its basic black paint job and rectangular shape are not unlike most down firing subwoofers we've seen.  The VTF-2 features ports on both sides of the enclosure, making placement that much easier.  With only a small decal on the bottom of the front side, this sub's looks certainly aren't what makes it stand out from the crowd.

Look and Feel  - 4/5

Features
The CBM-170 features a 1" soft dome tweeter and ambitious 6.5" woofer.  There is a single rear port, located slightly above the tweeter.  A nice touch was the addition of threaded bolts to make mounting easier.  A nice, quality set of binding posts are found around back making solid connections a snap.  

 

The HTM-200 utilizes the same tweeter as the CBM-170, but features two smaller 4" woofers.  The design resembles that of most center channels you see with a tweeter wedged between two woofers.

Normally, subwoofers don't have much in the way of features, but the VTF-2 is the exception to that rule.  The VTF-2 uses multiple switches that makes for incredible tune ability.  A phase switch, a port tuning switch, variable crossover, and port plugs.  With all these features, we were able to place the VTF-2 in unusual places and still get great performance out of it.  A 150 watt amplifier powers the 10" down firing woofer.  

Features - 4/5

Performance
While we were familiar with the CBM-170's good performance, we were anxious to see how the smaller HTM-200, especially the center channel, would work in conjunction.  Also, we wanted to see how the many different elements of this system would come together and sound as a whole.

We used a Onkyo 595, Integra 5.1, and Outlaw 1050 to test the system in a variety of conditions.  We used the Onkyo 595 to test overall performance when watching cable/satellite broadcasts using the Dolby Pro Logic II decoding.  The Integra 5.1 and Outlaw 1050 were used in conjunction with numerous DVDs to test 5.1 digital home theater sound in the Dolby Digital and DTS formats.

The CBM-170's are very crisp, and provide a tremendous sense of depth.  Mid Range and treble were both produced with excellent clarity.  As noted in our individual review, while the CBM-170 provides tight, clean bass you'll still want to team it up with a sub to get room shaking bass.

The HTM-200's are very similar to the CBM-170's in sound.  They do seem to fall off pretty quickly around the 90hz mark, not giving much low bass.  The midrange is good, but obviously not as good as the CBM-170.  When using the HTM-200, we noticed a little wider dispersion of sound, probably due to the dual woofers.  This makes them a great choice for a surround speaker as its sound fills the room nicely.

The one aspect of this set we weren't thrilled with was the HTM-200 based center channel.  When listening to a 5.1 soundtrack from a DVD source, approximately 70% of all the information goes through the center channel.  We prefer a bigger, more full center channel.  This being said, an upgrade to the CBM-170 (System # 22-1001) based center channel would probably fix this problem.  While the left to center to right transitions were decent, we would like to see a beefier center channel to compliment the front soundstage.

What can we say about the HSU VTF-2 but amazing.  We measure everything we review in a price/performance ratio.  With that logic, the VTF-2 with a $500 price tag should perform twice as good as a sub costing $250 in our opinion.  We have no problem recommending the VTF-2 even with that reasoning.  To compare the VTF-2 and the Sony SA-WM40 is night and day.  While the Sony is a great sub for the money, the VTF-2 is a great sub period.  It performs beautifully on music and still recreates explosions and rumblings with room shaking sound.

We were in constant amazement that the VTF-2 only had a 10" woofer.  We expected it to be a better performer than the Sony, but we were surprised by how much better it was.  Another great feature is the tuning ability of the VTF-2 allows you to match the characteristics of the CBM-170 speaker perfectly.  While this 5.1 set is billed as a "Home Theater" solution, we found ourselves immersing in music for hours.   

Performance - 4.5/5

Overall
In the world of home theater, you usually get what you pay for.  In the case of the Ascend Acoustics 5.1 surround system, you get a incredible system, but you pay a budget system price.  We applaud Ascend for not trying to reinvent the wheel.  They found a great sub, packaged it with a great sounding speaker system and are offering it for an affordable price.  

By teaming this system with an Onkyo 595, you can have a great 5.1 home theater system for under $1500.  We haven't seen a package system that can offer this much performance for this amount of money.  This is one formidable "Home Theater in a Box".

Overall - 4.5/5