A new brand in the UK, Ascendo is a German operation that has been in existence for less than a decade. According to its website, it was only founded in 1999, as a Research and Development Corporation with backing from Germany's Ministry of Education and Research.
But its activities are wider than those of a straightforward speaker manufacturer, encompassing room acoustics analysis, measurement and associated digital processing. And a key presence at the 2007 Munich High End Show in May certainly gave the impression it has quickly become a major operator.
Most of Ascendo's speaker systems are large, massive and costly floorstanders, with elaborate and complex mass-loaded techniques for time-aligning the ribbon tweeters with the midrange drivers. But the C-series models, including this £1,500 C5 Monitor, are much simpler and more modest affairs, based on a solitary port- loaded 165mm co-axial driver.
It's a good size standmount, deeper than most and finished in black or white high gloss as standard, with nicely radiused edges, but there's no grille provision. Other high-gloss automotive finishes are available and as the paints come from the same catalogue, you can also order a pair to match the Porsche parked in your drive!
The drive unit is a combination affair, with a transparent moulded-XP-plastic bass/mid cone operating around a centrally mounted 25mm neodymium/fabric dome tweeter.
On the rear, alongside a single terminal pair, is an offset port and a switch that adjusts the crossover to compensate for either free space or close-to-wall siting. The effect of the switch is to reduce the impedance in the upper midband (500Hz -2.5kHz), boosting output level slightly and again above 12kHz.
Despite the room boundary compensation feature - and somewhat ironically, Ascendo's claimed expertise in room-acoustic measurement and analysis - the in-room tonal balance turned out to be this speaker's achilles heel, wherever it was positioned.
In free space and with the switch appropriately positioned, the effects of the elevated midband were clearly audible as a mid-forward sound with significant attendant coloration. This proved rather more intrusive with classical instrumentation than with more popular vocal material and was found more difficult to ignore.
But coloration isn't the only important factor in loudspeaker performance - indeed, it can be modified by changing either location or listening room. Leave the Monitor C5 on for half an hour to give the ear/brain time to compensate and its undoubted charm in other respects comes to the fore.
The really big strength of this speaker is its wonderful coherence through the crossover zone, bringing great realism to voice reproduction - Joni Mitchell's delicate phrasing has rarely sounded more convincing. Combine that superb crossover integration with the geometric accuracy of a co-axial drive unit, and it's easy to understand why this speaker also delivers pin-point image focus.
The alternative close-to-wall setting and positioning proved rather more effective in reducing the midband coloration. Unfortunately, this was accompanied by a decidedly 'fat' bass, which rather spoiled the overall effect. Although port blocking is not an approved option here, it did provide interesting results that could be well worth exploring.