Model: 5.1 Surround System (#21-1001)
Retail Price: $1100.00
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
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
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
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
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
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
Performance - 4.5/5
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