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Ascend Sierra-1 Build Quality

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Sierra_grillon.JPGIf I had to describe it in a word, that word would be "pandemonium." That was what seemed to be happening in the audiophile community as Ascend Acoustics announced their new "reference" bookshelf speakers, the Sierra-1's. Long time lovers of the brand were putting their beloved speakers up for sale with the Sierra-1's on pre-order. Threads in various forums sprang up with titles as confusing as "Sierra-1's or New Car?" or "I've got 10 grand to spend, Sierra-1's?" Um… what? Sight unseen, ear unheard, the Sierra's were being compared and debated against speakers many times their price. Fanaticism? Rabid consumerism? Prescience? I just didn’t know what to think.

What I did know was that we had been trying to get a pair of Ascend anything to review. For whatever reason, we hadn't secured a review sample in a while and our adoring fans (well, readers and sometimes I'm not sure exactly how adoring they are) had been clamoring for one. Well, serendipity played her hand as the moon eclipsed the sun, the stars aligned, and somewhere an alien with three eyes but only one eyebrow looked at the heavens, confused. We had finally secured a review, but not just any review, a review of these highly anticipated speakers.

Build Quality

Sierra_inbox.JPGThe Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1s arrived well packaged, double boxed and protected by huge foam endcaps. The thin layer of foam fabric (for lack of a better term) shredded as soon as I touched it so it won't be able to be reused for the return trip. The box had a few dings on it but the speakers were completely undamaged. It is becoming more and more important as shipping companies in price wars hire more people with fewer and fewer fingers to handle your products carefully. I've literally had boxes falling apart from the abuse they've taken at the hands of these so called shipping "professionals." It is to the point now that I wouldn't trust most of them to deliver a piece of adamantium undamaged.

Sierra_grain.JPGBamboo. For those of you that don't know, bamboo is one of the few truly renewable "wood" resources out there. It is basically a grass and grows like crazy. It is both hard and flexible and can be fashioned into any number of items including floors, fences, bridges, toilets, drinkware, furniture, and apparently speakers. When I read that Ascend Acoustics had constructed the Sierra-1's out of bamboo, I thought, "Surely they mean that they have bamboo veneer." Well, no, they are solid bamboo, a choice that Ascend made to reduce cabinet resonances despite how hard it is to work with the material. Well, I don’t know anything about that but I will say that the look of bamboo is one of my favorites. The review sample I got was in the natural finish (I would have requested natural had I had the option) and was stunning. From a distance, it just looks like a strange wood grain but from up close, you can clearly see all the different little strips of bamboo that have been glued together in order to create the boards large enough to turn into furniture and speakers. Plus, it's renewable! You can go to bed feeling good that you saved a tree or something.

Sierra_back.JPGTaking a closer look at the speaker, you'll notice a few things. First, there isn't the normal "plastic binding plate" that you see on so many speakers. The high quality 5 way binding posts are mounted directly to the cabinet. Just below them there is a brass threaded insert presumably for wall or stand mounting. The rear port dictates that you give the speaker a little room between the wall and the back baffle. The binding posts make this not only a suggestion but a necessity. You just aren't going to get the back of this speaker that close to something especially if you use banana plugs like I do. There are no provisions for feet or included sticky rubber pads for the bottom of the speaker. The sturdy grill is held tightly on four little plastic nubs. While you can install it either way, only one is the right way. Just look at the label on the bottom, it'll tell you whether you have it on correctly or not.

Taking an even closer look at the speaker, the vertical sides of the front of the speaker are rounded but all the other edges are sharp. It seems that bamboo might be a little susceptible to wear as I noticed a few of the edges already dulled (straight out of the box). You can also see the interior grain of the bamboo where the edges don't exactly match up. This was only present on one of the speakers. With the piano black finish, you are unlikely to ever see such imperfections. Bamboo just has such a detailed grain that any little misstep in construction is likely to be noticeable. Ascend Acoustics assures me that the pair of naturals I received were amongst the very first off our production line. They are carefully inspecting each natural pair of cabinets for these types of defects and are actually matching pairs by hand. An similar defects found will be labeled as "B-Stock" and sold at a discount. To my mind (and wallet), this is just the sort of "defect" that's I'd be willing to accept.

Sierra_edge1.JPG     Sierra_edge2.JPG

Sierra_apart.JPGOpening up the speakers, I was pleased to see a cast rather than a stamped basket on the woofer. While the review sample wasn't shielded, the shielding option is something that I would suggest that everyone think hard about. For about 5% of the cost of the speaker, you won't have to worry about the magnets interfering with your display or (more importantly) anything with a hard drive near it. As HTPCs and music servers get more and more common, this is an issue that people should get more worried about. The cabinet was well braced (obscenely well braced actually) with a central brace between the woofer and the tweeter and corner braces at each of the corners. Match that with the 3/4" bamboo cabinet and you have an extremely inert box. The crossover was attached firmly to the bottom of the cabinet and appeared to be constructed of high quality components as expected for a speaker of this caliber. The interior was lined with what looked to be shredded fiberglass board in a mesh bag. It was nice in that it kept the entire interior really organized and neat. 

Sierra_brace.JPG     Sierra_crossover.JPG

Sierra_woofer_back.JPG     Sierra_woofer_side.JPG

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

jp_over posts on January 06, 2011 05:37
Nearprairie,

Any update on your purchase now that you've lived with them a while? Have you many a sub choice yet?

Thanks!
dcherne posts on April 10, 2010 22:22
nearprairie, post: 677565
The Sierra-1s arrived in time to offer some relief for the cabin fever running rampant on the glacier bound, near prairie.

WmAx, post: 677741
Nearpraire, now if you want the ultimate in SQ possible, you need to add a pair of stereo subs of high quality. You MUST use a proper active xover to split the signals to the subs and mains properly. I can recommend a very compact solution, that meets the absolute highest possible standards for music reproduction, if you are interested in making this critical upgrade. Do as I instruct exactly, and you will gain improved mid-range clarity at moderate to high levels, increased radically LF SQ and extension, and increased realism(solid extension to the low 30Hz range improves the realism and apparent ‘depth’ of recordings). Warning: my recommendation will not be the typical retail product advice you typically hear. I give usually unique, higher performance advice to make the most difference for dollars spent in the relevant situation.

-Chris

Ok Chris, I'll bite. What's your recommendation?
dcherne posts on April 10, 2010 22:16
nearprairie, post: 677565
The Sierra-1s arrived in time to offer some relief for the cabin fever running rampant on the glacier bound, near prairie.

WmAx, post: 677741
Nearpraire, now if you want the ultimate in SQ possible, you need to add a pair of stereo subs of high quality. You MUST use a proper active xover to split the signals to the subs and mains properly. I can recommend a very compact solution, that meets the absolute highest possible standards for music reproduction, if you are interested in making this critical upgrade. Do as I instruct exactly, and you will gain improved mid-range clarity at moderate to high levels, increased radically LF SQ and extension, and increased realism(solid extension to the low 30Hz range improves the realism and apparent ‘depth’ of recordings). Warning: my recommendation will not be the typical retail product advice you typically hear. I give usually unique, higher performance advice to make the most difference for dollars spent in the relevant situation.

-Chris

Ok Chris, I'll bite. What's your recommendation?
nearprairie posts on January 23, 2010 16:57
Roughly 26' x 28'
AVRat posts on January 23, 2010 14:23
Nice review, what's the size of your great room?
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