Perfect for Dolby Atmos & Co: A 3D home theatre set with any number of channels, each one fired with 1,000 watts and individually controlled via the network. This is the perfect 3D sound world of Ascendo AIA. A world once entered you won’t want to leave…
What makes five grown men on a perfect midsummer’s day afternoon sit in a darkened room of a former mill to view music films? The answer: The sheer joy of experiencing the perfection and previously unseen multi-channel capabilities of the system.
For five years, the developers of Ascendo have worked on developing a pioneering new home theatre project. The new system is fundamentally different from the company’s traditional speakers, so Ascendo outsourced this division and created a subsidiary named Ascendo Immersive Audio.
The first Ascendo AIA system offers up to 32 channels (and therefore explicitly suitable for Dolby Atmos, Auro 3D and DTS: X) is now installed and ready to play in Ascendo’s demo room in the former ‘Gallows Mill’ in Ansbach, Germany.
LowBeats home theatre expert Raphael Vogt and I were the first members of the press who to see the Ascendo AIA system in all its glory. And it was good. Impressively good. So impressively good, that we forgot all about the wonderful weather outside …
Ascendo AIA: The advantages of thinking outside the box
When true “High-Enders” plan to create a PA or home theatre, all you can do normally is simply nod your head and think, ‘OK, good luck’. Most audiophiles lack the insight or sheer nerve that is necessary when creating the additional power and higher levels which is the essential ingredient for a home cinema, the ingredient that makes a lot of impact and well, fun. And last but not least, they often also lack the technical capabilities to implement something as complex as a system consisting of 20 or more channels operating without interference.
With Ascendo the matter is of course rather different. Through their long experience among the higher echelons of speaker manufacturers, the Ansbach based company has developed an obsessive focus on quality. They have also Jürgen Scheuring in their ranks, who leads a multi-headed software team as his main occupation and this team usually develops applications that have little to do with hi-fi.
The ultimate home theatre system features a multitude of channels so how do you master this capability? Simple answer: digital mapping. Scheuring recognised early on the advantages of audio / video-bridge standards (AVB) – you need to know when and how to use it for your own purposes.
Scheuring: “The network designed by us would deliver any number of channels, but for now we have limited it to 32. That’s enough for all known current requirements and if necessary we can extend it at any time….” The following pictures show the creators of the new Ascendo AIA system.
The Ascendo AIA system …
… operates with fully active speakers, which each have a built-in DSP. Each speaker, respectively each processor in the speaker, has its own IP address on the network.
The speakers are connected with simple CAT5 cable, so the installer cannot mistake anything. It is controlled through software that offers an extreme amount of possibilities and can adapt each speaker with high precision to the system and to the respective position in the room.
For this, Ascendo AIA has developed an app so that the functions that are most frequently used can be operated via tablet or Smartphone. The screenshots in the gallery give you an idea how far-reaching this influence can be. The parameters of each speaker can be modified anytime.
The buyer has the opportunity to intervene in the system sound, but not necessarily has to do so. Of course, the system is set up at his home by the specialists and calibrated precisely to the customer’s request.
The speakers of the Ascendo AIA system
With such ambitious speaker manufacturers such as Ascendo it is safe to assume that this part of the system will be especially elaborate. The AIA system offers four different models: two satellites and two subwoofers. The satellite speakers differ in size, but not in the function or the thinking behind them.
In both models the credo is: point source (in the form of a two-way coaxial driver) plus great dynamics. In home theatre the Coaxial Cinema Reference Monitor (CCRM) speakers are superior to a classic multipath construction and they can be installed upright or horizontally.
The drivers of these speakers descend from PA technology: For the larger CCRM 12, it is a generously dimensioned 30-centimeter (i.e. 12 inch) coax produced by PHL, the smaller six-inch CCRM 6 contains a driver from the Italian manufacturer Ciare.
In both models great care was taken to keep the overall depth as small as possible. Attached here are the terms of reference for comparison.
We confess to remaining sceptical about the official values for maximum sound pressure. An actual 115 decibels with the small CCRM 6 and 125 decibels with the big 12 CCRM and the manufacturers from Ansbach would safely be in the Guinness Book of World Records!
From my knowledge of similar drivers, I know that these values are probably a little high. But no matter. I’ve heard the system and I would like to adapt an old Rolls-Royce saying: There is always enough level left.
Since they are active speakers, in both CCRMs the processors for the system integration, the active crossover and even the power amplifiers are integral. The digital amplifiers with 500 watts remain cool even at maximum capacity which obviates the need of a fan. Jürgen Scheuring: „With 1,000 watts per speaker, it is impossible to ever get into any dynamic troubles.“ This is an assessment that I can confirm after many hours of AIA hearing. But more on this matter later.
The two subwoofers differ only in their application and the size. They use the same woofers (one designed specifically for Ascendo 38 cm bass, which can implement an incredible stroke of more than 30 millimeters without distortion) and the same 1,000-watt amplifier.
The large SMS 15 has a bass reflex enclosure and is therefore innately a little louder and deep-reaching. The compact SMSG 15 is closed and a bit „quieter“ – but this is negligible as the SMSG 15 can be made to handle extreme low bass frequencies with the complex driving control.
The prices are not in the overview. However he CCRM 6 costs € 4,050, the CCRM 12 € 4.800, the smaller subwoofer SMSG15 is priced at € 4,200 and the larger SMS15 at € 4,700. When adding up to a 24-channel configuration – this process can easily make you dizzy – almost tipping an eye watering €100,000. But the very best always comes at a price…
All four speakers may be designed for installation in the AIA system, but are also available for any other configuration thanks to the extra (analog) XLR inputs. Why should such a fantastic subwoofer as the SMSG 15 not also provide sub-bass in a classic stereo high-end system?
The cases of the four Ascendo AIA speakers consist of stiffened MDF and are extremely tough – but the finish is not as classy as found on other Ascendo models. Why should they? These classy matt-lacquered System speakers should not attract attention.
They are designed to be incorporated into the home theatre environment without distraction. Like all Ascendo speakers, the AIA models are made at the factory in Ansbach where production manager Michael Rissling customises, checks and ships them with the great care and attention.
Manufacturing at the Gallows Mill
Where grain was ground and stored many years ago, today large speakers are being made. The production of the transducer is also done on the premises of the former „Gallows Mill“, as well as the demonstration, for which Ascendo AIA has developed a special „room-in-room“ construction.
The image gives an idea as to how the individual speakers are mounted. Since the amplifiers (and processors) are plugged directly into each box, an additional electronics compartment is superfluous; only a computer / server must be nearby. The demonstration system has ‘only’ about 24 channels, which in terms of the size of the demo area is sufficient. Most people will be shaking their heads thinking, „I beg your pardon, 24 channels? Aren’t there 5.1 – which make six – enough?“
No. The new Dolby Atmos process really needs a minimum stocking 7.2.4 arrangement, i.e. with seven satellites, including centre and rear speakers plus two subwoofers and four ceiling speakers. But even with Dolby Atmos the number of channels is virtually unlimited as it is with Auro 3D.
On the Ascendo website there is a very helpful overview of possible configurations for the various audio formats : AIA surround sound systems. And my experience leads me to this conclusion: the more channels the better, assuming of course, you can adjust them all as precisely as with the AIA system.
Holger Biermann’s auditory impression of the demonstration:
My expectations were huge after earlier discussions with Jürgen Scheuring and Stefan Köpf (Sales and Marketing Director). The Ascendo AIA approach is correct and logical so that in reality it must sound just fine.
In fact my colleague, Raphael Vogt had ( as always on these occasions) brought along a 3TB hard drive containing some of the finest multichannel recordings. They include all available Dolby Atmos samplers that I know well and have experienced extensively on various occasions (Demos Onkyo, Teufel) before.
However the AIA system in Ansbach is playing on a completely different and much higher level. The enhanced detail from the Dolby sampler is impressive, i.e. when a sheet falls to the ground: The effect appears to make the sheet be present in the room and when it gently falls down the sensation is simply stunning.
And that’s exactly the idea: sound events are extending the two-dimensional image drastically backwards and upwards. And that creates the Ascendo AIA system in ways as I have not heard even in the big IOSONO systems from the Fraunhofer Institute. With my eyes closed there is a very real three-dimensional effect.
Of course, I get the same impression with music. A live recording of Lee Ritenour is overflowing with fine details, guitar overtones and a realism that would satisfy even the best high-end stereo systems.
We are not only talking of absurdly deep bass but clear and realistic bass as loud as you like; we are also talking of stable space imaging and projection that positions individual instruments with striking realism – including behind the listener.
Raphael Vogt’s auditory impression of the demonstration:
Building a good cinema compels one to combine the seemingly impossible. Core of each film sound is the soundtrack. So a good theatre system must deal equally well with pop music as with a symphony orchestra. The sound-image must be delivered in all directions, bundling diffuse, sharp, gapless information with clear separation. Finally for effects in the bass and the ultra-low bass, inexhaustible reserves add up already for classic 5.1 at a reference level of a whopping 121 decibels! Can all this really be controlled with a sound delivered without droning or distortion, even without compression? You think that can’t work? But, it does!
The trailer from Dolby and Auro showed that the demonstration system can do more than you’re used to, and I am already quite accustomed to using my own fully active 7.1.4 setup in an acoustically optimized room at home. The set plays as a successful synthesis of concert-PA and high-end speakers. Here everything is rendered insanely direct and really plastically tangible by the discrete space imaging of surround sound reproduction, felt with the whole body – and that has little to do with the volume alone. Luckily I had the foresight to bring along some live music discs which was a good thing. Whether the gigantic stadium concert of Mylène Farmer, an intimate club concert of B.B. King or the surround mix of Pink Floyd in High-Res on the Blu-rays of various box sets, they all played as realistically as you could dream of. The spread of coarse and fine dynamics and the directness without aggressiveness provided by the Ascendo AIA speakers are really on a different level and way above the capabilities of the classic hi-fi system. Finally Geoffrey Heinzel surpassed all in the Auro-3D field with a stunning recording of fireworks displaying in coarse dynamics. Everyone knows the squibs that shoot the rockets skyward. Well they sounded so terrifyingly realistic. Dry as a bone, and bone shattering. I never imagined this quality of reproduction possible. The firework display that Ascendo AIA set off here is really terrific!
Conclusion Ascendo AIA: Sound quality is catching up
I once again feel that home theatre sound can truly keep up with the (continually improving) image. Admittedly the expense is enormous. But that experience! Those of us that have long voiced concerns on the inadequacies of classic home theatre systems can take solace here: The Ascendo AIA is very close to perfection.
Editor’s Note for all English speaking friends of LowBeats
Thanks for visiting LowBeats Magazin. At present it is an all German language site, with just the odd feature and review in English. We are aiming to present much more content in English for our readers – but in the meantime, we invite you to take a look at the few articles listed below or to check out LowBeats in German.
From the team at LowBeats
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