Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1 Bookshelf Speakers


Two-way bookshelf speaker
Advanced crossover featuring OPPIXâ„¢
Custom 5.25" long throw mineral-filled PP woofer
Advanced 26mm soft dome tweeter w/ wave-guide
Custom tooled high-flow flared rear port tube
Audiophile quality 5-way gold-plated binding posts
Available in natural or piano-black finishes

User Reviews (8)

Showing 1-8 of 8  
gretchen   AudioPhile [Aug 04, 2010]

Teriffic speakers.Lots of detail and a very good soundstage.As good as Sonus Faber Concertinos and $2,200 Aerial 5B for less than half the cost.I got the gloss black.The natural bamboo looks really good and costs even less than in black.Highly recommended !

Creek cd player
PS Audio control integrated amp
PS Audio speaker cables
Martin Logan Abyss subwoofer

BBArlow690   Audio Enthusiast [Jul 21, 2010]

Right out the box, the Sierra-1s were lively and engaging. Now broken in, they're smoother, and even more engaging.

Bass is deep and tight. String basses on jazz recordings are satisfying without my subwoofer in the system. Pianos and cellos are rich and full. Cymbals are lush.

The Natural finish is lovely to look at. Bamboo is an interesting material, and as a woodworker I can vouch for the quality of the qorkmanship.

I find I'm listening to music almost all the time - a change from before. I want to go through all my recordings just to hear what they sound like through the Sierra-1s.

I don't know if I'll use my subwoofer with them. I'm sure I'll try it, but I'm not sure I'll keep it. We'll see.

These are outstanding for the price. They're replacing Spendor S3/5s, and there's no comparison in the way the Sierra-1s suck me into the music. And I liked the Spendors a lot!

THey are more than adequately driven by my Krell KAV-300i integrated, and handle the power well.

Highly recommended!

Bruce Barlow   Audio Enthusiast [Jul 21, 2010]

Right out of the box, the Sierra-1s were full of life and engaging. Now broken in, they are smoother, and even more engaging. I haven't felt the need to go back and listen to many discs of my collection until now. What they do with old Bill Evans recordings is nothing short of wonderful.

As a matter of fact, I'm listening to music much more that I was before the Sierra-1s. I seem to have a disc on most of the time.

The Natural finish is lovely, so they look as good as they sound. Bamboo looks like such an interesting material, and as a woodworker, I can vouch for the quality of the workmanship.

I'm delighted with how much deep, tight bass the Sierra-1s put out. String bass is deep, strong, and articulate. Pianos and cellos are rich and full. Top end cymbals are smooth. I have yet to add my subwoofer, and I'm not sure I'm going to. I'll probably try it, but I'm not sure it will be an improvement. We'll see.

This is an outstanding speaker at a great price. They are replacing my Spendor S3/5s, which just don't compare in the ability to suck one into the music.

They're attached to a Krell KAV-300i, which gives them a lot of power, which they seem to like, and handle well.

Highly recommended.

ediblestarfish   Audio Enthusiast [May 13, 2010]

To start this informal commentary (I'm no audiophile, I just want good enough sound), I'd like to thank Dave for making my internet streams sound terrible, and for making any badly synthesized instruments stick out like a shark crossing the highway wearing a fluorescent tutu.

I wanted to write a more detailed review, discussing the subtle details expressed by a speaker of this caliber. But then I might as well copy and paste from another review since I find a comfortingly similar list of conclusions, even though I'm severly lacking in any review credence.

The shortened long version:

The Sierra-1's sound so neutral, I was initially at a total loss to describe them after I first fired them up. Actually, I was terribly disappointed when I first heard them, as they simply didn't sound like anything. I looked for some characteristic in their music representation that could differentiate them from other speakers and all I could think was,

"Well duh, neutrality is the usual way to design a good speaker you idiot."

I gander many people have had the same experience. A sort of awkward yearning to point out something out of place, like the monobrow on that guy working at the electronics store (aha!) just so you don't leave that other shoe hanging.

After listening to them for a bit longer and conversing with myself some more, I did notice a few things, like: their tremendously low fatigue. I have a pair of Thiel CS 1.6 (purchased direct off some one-sided advice) which I'm not afraid to admit, sound better. They are clearer, with a larger and more seamless soundstage that sounds more natural and coherent. But I can't listen to them to for more than 15 minutes without my ears feeling like they are full of infectious fluid. Clearly I am not exactly happy with $3k US worth of speaker that sits in the living room as a merit badge, but I suppose they work fine if I'm in the other room.

But why would I want to be in the other room?

So winner by default in this comparison is the Sierra-1. Congradulations. I can listen to them right in my face all day, bereft of any work acompliments with no fatigue. I'm not sure something that encourages laziness on this scale should be legal.

To cut the sarcasm back, yes, the Sierra-1s do sound tremendously good for their price range, but yes, you can still get better sound if you pay more. In my case, a couple thousand more was suffieicnt. Albeit with highs that as cold, barren, harsh and lethal as the Patagonias. In their proper price category though, I fail to see any contenders in the retail space. Just a few internet direct alternatives I had considered, but ultimately dismissed on part of size, price, aesthetics, lack of casual reviews, and lack of more proven review history with publications that are paid by advertisers. (A pair of Salk speakers came very close however.) Sadly though, these Sierra-1s remain an icon for all but a tiny niche market--which at least makes for some esoteric bragging rights for those in the know.

Irregardless, I have very little to complain about. As many other reviews have waxed, the sound is clean, polite, neutral, yet still very detailed. To go significantly better, we're talking twice the price with small gains. The Sierra-1s set a rather high bar to measure up to.

If there was anything contentious about the Sierra-1s, I'd have to say they are about as sexy as a slick, aerodynamic brick with a blank face. So, to make them go faster, I ordered them in Piano Black; clearly the superior choice. I also set them on a pair of large manly metal stands that look out of place for a pair of small rectangles. Overall I think they look good, but nothing that can really be raved about needlessly at a fancy dinner party to the plebeians.

Then there is a bit about the high end sounds that I had read about. There is not quite the natural sparkle that you can get from some other speakers, even though the clarity and detail remain the same. Then again, I find that little extra sparkle about as comforting as watching some twit toss rocks at a killer bee hive I happen to stroll by. But some people like the killer bees--they feel it allows them to pursue that edge to be even closer to a natural source. I am not one of those that desires that sort of stinging closeness.

However, I really should talk more about the price, because that is the most astonishing thing of all. Those who are frugal and are not afraid to spend, yet still want high value should consider this speaker very strongly. No, the looks will not impress your frilly interior designer that drinks with pinky finger extended. No, they are not the end-all, be-all of sound quality. No, they will not impress you neighbor with more money and Bose products than sense. But they are damned good for the money, and just damned good irregardless. And I guess they are made into the US for those that are into that, but they are made in CA, so I'm not sure if that fully counts for some of you.

It's a good bookshelf that sides on simple and pragmatic reproduction of quality sound, at a good price, with good looks, and some honest to goodness goodness. It's hard to find a product that balances so many variables and trade-offs in such a competent manner, that it is something quite extraordinary.

Yes, I think I like them a lot. I bought them, so they are obviously the best.

I'd like to review the Rythmik F12SE I had bought at the same time as well.

In short, I feel I no longer have any choice for a sub in the same price category, thanks (or curses?) to Rythmik. That is all I'm afraid. No other sub has ever gotten rid of that gooey subby thickness that has plagued me. Strangely, I like to keep tapping on that aluminum cone to feel that weird resistance.

My final notes that I really should place first are that I had nothing but a good purchasing experience, and can wholeheartedly recommend the company and the products. Shipping too, was as humanly flawless as could be reasonable. All the items were undamaged, minus the courier service that seem hell bent on making all the outside box corners round.

My comparison equipment:

• Sierra-1 with Q-plug B
• Thiel CS 1.6
• Monitor Audio Silver 9i
• Audioengine A5

Nearfield on a Computer (intended system)
• Peachtree Nova as source, fed digital data from a computer and a stand alone CD player.
• Rythmik F12SE Subwoofer.

Living Room
• Classe Integrated Source Amp. w/ CD player. (I forget what model it is--it's old)
• No sub here! (I'm not moving that thing across the house)

docthemoose   AudioPhile [Feb 01, 2010]

The Sierras are part of an epic audition process, the goal of which is to replace a pair of Revel Concerta F12’s. In actuality, I’m attempting to find a suitable replacement for the speakers that preceded the F12’s, the musical and warm Linn Tukan -- the spousal unit’s all time fave and my selling of which she has yet to forgive.

The set up arrangement in our great room (approximately 27’x30’, living/dining/kitchen) was thus: Sitting atop 24” sand-filled stands there was 65” between the tweeters (flanking a 50” plasma TV); 15” from the rear port to the back wall; main listening seat was 12’ from the grill covers. Components at work were an ATI AT-1502 amp, B&K Reference 5 preamp, Sony DVD/CD player, Canare and Beldon cables, and an Energy S10.2 subwoofer, called into action during bang-zoom movies.

Issue: Location, location, location. I’ve been an A/V dweeb long enough to know placing a pair of speakers on both sides of a 50” span of glass and expecting the ultimate in undistorted, dimensional audio reproduction is an exercise in futility. Nevertheless, that’s the lay of the land here in Casa Nearprairie and the speakers chosen will have the ability to make the best of the challenging environment, plus they’ll probably have to look like cherry Linn Tukans, sound like Tukans, match the Shaker and Mission furniture like the Tukans, and so on and so forth.

Speakers auditioned:
Amphion Helium2, Aperion Audio 5B’s, Axiom M22, B&W 685, Hsu Research HB-1 Mk2, Monitor Audio GS10, Monitor Audio RS1, NHT Classic 3, Paradigm Studio 20, Phase Technology Premier PC3.5.

To welcome the exotic bamboo speakers way over here to the grain fed, redneck near prairie and commence with the warm-up/break-in ceremony I spun Patricia Barber’s Nightclub. First notes read, “Deep bass, broad soundstage, clear vocals, easy to discern all the instruments; cymbal and piano work on ‘Invitation’ was revelatory, tactile; may learn to like jazz.” Well doggie, Ellie May, them there loudspeakers sound like they can play music. Sit a spell and let’s see what else they can do.

Cowboy Junkies Trinity Session officially started the audition. On “Blue Moon,” Margo Timmons sounded her aching best while the stage placement of the background cymbals and rhythm guitar were unmistakable. On “I’m So Lonesome,” hair raised as Timmons inhaled and parted her lips before letting loose the first lyrics. Hoo, momma! On the other hand, the audible ambiance of the church where this live-to-two-track recording sounded better on Amphion Helium2’s.

The spousal unit wanted to hear cuts from Iz Kamakawiwo’ole’s Facing Future. The “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” medley caused tears to well. Iz sounded so pure, so right, that I wanted to believe in something, anything. On these speakers a ukulele played well and matched with such a soulful voice became a powerful thing.

Next came the chesty testy, Johnny Cash’s Unchained. Most bookshelf speakers ruin Cash, making him sound, thanks to the love hump tuned into the ports, like he sang with a chest full of tar-coated phlegm. What a joy to hear him sans respiratory coloration, just the man in black warbling and growling as he lived. “Spiritual” was, um, revelatory. As with the Helium2’s, the Sierras nailed the scale of the heavy guitar reverb that begins the song and when a cello joined to support the emotion in Cash’s plea at 3:40 the instrument also became another voice.

Holly Cole Trio’s Don’t Smoke In Bed was all that, too. Cole’s sexy sibilants on “Tennessee Waltz” and “I Can See Clearly,” were crisp and clear, on the brink of, but never strident or harsh; her seductively growly lines oozed with the right amount of throaty, vocal heat while the bass fiddle and piano simply sounded spot on.

The time came for some real music: Bluegrass. Once asked for a succinct definition of this genre I wrote, “Bluegrass is what jazz wants to be when it matures.” Anyway, too many speakers butcher bluegrass with the dreaded combination of glassy tweeters and wrongly located crossover frequencies. Nasal-driven high harmonies blended with banjos, mandolins and fiddles need room to breathe to sound anything near a live, acoustic performance and the Sierras provided a slightly forward but strain-free field for The Grascals, High Country, Red Molly, Ricky Skaggs, et al. Whoo-hah and boy howdie!

I also spun Alison Krauss’ Forget About It. This CD was mixed to offer an up-close-and-personal, one-on-one kind of listening experience and when “Maybe” began it seemed as if the only thing between me and the bluegrass goddess was the pop screen on her ribbon mic. There is an urgent, sensual frailty to Kraus’ tight vibrato and the Sierras were as effective as the Helium2’s in recreating the intimate recorded presence.

They sort of rock and roll, too. To hear how the Sierras gave it up as the volume count escalated toward unity gain, Ozomatli’s Street Signs was called into service. A west coast fusion of rock, reggae, rap, Middle Eastern and Latino influences, this CD is crammed and compressed to the stops with lively, bouncing, speaker-challenging jams. Immediately evident, the Sierras held their own on the down low. Impressive bass; makes a subwoofer seem superfluous. They also did a good job of staying open and fighting off the usual hardening, glare, and shrinking of the sound stage that accompanies high volume playback.

Movies. The latest “Star Trek” played well with crisp, clean dialogue, excellent separation and steering during bombastic and moving action scenes, and a wide soundstage. Same for “Terminator: Salvation,” the Bourne Trilogy, etc.

Regardless of the flick, the mid-80’s SPL efficiency rating of Sierras, combined with having to work in a great room, required pushing the pre-amp volume level to zero dB to hear audio at anything approaching theater sound levels. While the Sierras never ruffled the carpet or peeled paint recreating myriad special effects, they did extremely well with complex, multi-soundtrack scenes and never left us guessing about dialogue or with ears buzzing from listening fatigue.

TV audio was a different thing. In our set up the Sierras were bass heavy at low volume, making programs sound a tad thick and the mid-range obscured. The recently auditioned Hsu HB-1 Mk2, on the other hand, was so good at this task they reminded me of studio monitors I’ve used to mix and sweeten soundtracks.

Summing up, the Sierra-1’s are truly impressive speakers. If you’re a beer budgeteer and wondered if you’d ever be able to afford Grade A sound, the Sierras are your ticket. From one who’s owned high dollar transducers, sold and installed mega buck models like six figure Wilsons and mixed audio in a few production suites, the Sierra-1’s are the real deal – honest to goodness, state-of-the-art, high-end speakers. They uncover a lot of nuance, have a very wide soundstage, can hold together while playing fairly loud in the right size room and, most importantly, do a fantastic job of playing the music much as it was recorded. Like the Amphion Helium series, but over $600 less, the Sierras nailed song after song and were never tiring to listen to. Where the Amphions surpassed was the reproduction of scale and their ability to play louder (in our setting).

Verdict: Recommended.

masmediaspace   Audio Enthusiast [Jan 21, 2010]

Ordered these a year ago new and now have a good feel for them. They started out in an open room with wood floors and didn't impress at first. Then again, nothing sounded good at that apartment. I've since moved to a carpeted space and have been listening to these every day for 9 hours while I work in a carpeted apartment and they are impressive.

They are amazingly clear, there's that palpable feel when listening to a well recorderd piece of live music. You hear the inhales, lips on a reed...the little things. Also, there's a sense of space and separation even though I have 2 speakers setup. This is the my favorite aspect of these speakers: their enveloping nature and the clarity/pureness of presentation. I've purchased a lot of gear in the past 8 years and these are the first speakers that make it hard to find fault with.

The highs/mids are excellent and I can't hear anything lacking in that range. I will say this: the very low frequencies aren't that of a floorstander but that's not really possible so I rate them accordingly. This does not stop me from happily running them full range. I don't even notice it 98% of the time due to the room and the proximity to my ears. I listen to bass heavy stuff and they have plenty of thump, just not bass < 50Hz, 1812 Overture type bass.

I must also comment on the fact that I listen to them every day for 9 hours! Most speakers would be fatiguing to me after this much use...I would find faults. I can't with these. In my 2 channel office setup, there's really no equal at the price. Or I haven't heard it.

Another aspect I love about these is the bamboo construction. They are heavy and solid; this is good in a speaker. Plus, they look great! Add to this with the fact that they are American made adds to my happiness with my purchase.

Lastly, I'll compare them to my Paradigm Studio 20s that I like a lot. The edge goes to the Sierras as they are more transparent and the presentation more engaging. I must say that I love my Studio 20s as well and they are an excellent bookshelf which I also recommend.

Clarity, imaging, not fatiguing at all in near field listening, beautiful finish, excellent service

lowest bass frequencies, wouldn't fill large rooms

Other equipment:
Paradigm Studio 20 v2
Ascend Acoustic CBM 170SE
JBL 4408
Rotel RA 970 BX
Rotel RX 1050

KevinR   AudioPhile [Oct 24, 2007]

Exceptional bass. Very neutral sounding, neither forward or laid back. Seem to excel at all genres of music. Easy to drive.


Very little at this price point. Given their weight at 20lbs each, mount them on a high quality speaker stand.

I purchased the Sierra-1 bookshelf speakers (natural finish) for a second system being driven by a Rotel integrated amp and Cambridge Audio CD Player. I had an opportunity to place them in my primary system, side-by-side with my Paradigm Signature S2 speakers. Amplification was with an integrated tube amp at 40 Watts. Usually, speakers that cost considerably less than my Paradigms don't fare well in comparison. The Sierra-1 was the exception. The mid-range was open and detailed. The bass was exceptional for a bookshelf. The soundstage was wide and deep. Tony Levin's bass on "Liquid Tension Experiment" came through with exceptional detail. Vocals were neutral, with no sibilance. Orchestral music, such as Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, came across with no congestion. They maybe were lacking a little bit in authority compared to the Paradigms. The best thing I can say is that they were non fatiguing.
I eventually moved them to the spare room, with Rotel amplification, and a Cambridge Audio CD Player. I use them in 'nearfield' listening, and am just as impressed with the quality of the sound with the cheaper solid state system I am using, as I was with my tube-based system. I have them on 29" sand filled stands.
If you are looking for a reasonably priced bookshelf speaker (< $1000) for two channel or home theater, add this to your short list.
BTW, the product model year is 2007.

Equipment used:
PrimalLuna Prologue 2
Jolida JD100A CD Player
VPI Scout Turntable
Jolida Phono Preamp
Rotel RA02 integrated Amp
Cambridge Audio D500SE

Similar Products Used: JMLabs Focal Bookshelf
B&W DM600
Paradigm Signature S2
KevinR   AudioPhile [Oct 20, 2007]

Neutrality, Price, Bass Response, Finish


Very little at this price point. Give the weight (20 lbs) and rear porting, I would mount them on a quality stand and give them room to breathe.

I purchased the Sierra-1 reference monitors (Natural Finish) to use in a spare room. I had a chance to listen to them side-by-side against my main Paradigm Signature S2 bookshelf. Other such comparisons usually resulted in a humiliation of the competitor. The Sierra-1 is the first speaker, at less than 1/2 of the Signature price, to compete effectively. The soundstage is wide (outside the speaker), though not as deep. This is a very neutral speaker, neither forward or laid back. The bass is outstanding for a bookshelf speaker, though not with the same authority as the Signature. This is a very 'fast' responsive speaker, responding well across all genre's of music. Tony Levin's bass came across as fast and articulate in 'Liquid Tension Experiment'. The complexities of Mahler's resurrection symphony from Fischer's account also were rendered believable. Vocals too, sounded natural with little sibilance or chestiness. They didn't make me want to put my Paradigms up for sale, but they certainly were not embarrassed to stand side-by-side with them. I also didn't feel the need to dial in my sub-woofer (Paradigm PDR-10) during the listening tests.
If you are looking for a reasonably priced monitor to use in a small to medium size room, for two-channel or home theater, add this to your short list. They are also offered with magetic shielding (add 40 bucks to the price).

Equipment Used:
Paradigm Signature S2 speakers
Primaluna Prologue 2 Integrated Amp
Jolida JD100 CD player
Jolida JD9 phone preamp
VPI Scout/JMW9 Tonearm/Dynavector 10x5 cartridge
Nordost/iRiver/Audio Art cabling

Similar Products Used: My long term Paradigm Signature S2 stand-mount speakers.
Also have compared with Focal JMLab, Polk, and B&W speakers (sub $1000).
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