Head to Head Review: Ascend Acoustics CBM-170 SE vs Wharfedale Diamond 10.1

Discussion in 'Loudspeakers' started by 2ndammendment, Jan 22, 2014.

  1. 2ndammendment Junior Audioholic

    2ndammendment
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    I recently decided to upgrade my computer speakers. Being that I am an audio enthusiast, getting some tiny logitec speakers which most people consider as being “good” computer speakers wasn't going to satisfy my needs. Prior to this I was running some old Onkyo stand-mount speakers from a 7.1 HTIB(my first real sound system). While they were far better than most computer speakers that you can go out and buy from a major retailer, my ears have been spoiled by my SVS Ultra Towers which I have in my bedroom.

    Before I jump into the review ill first go over why I chose these two speakers, if you don't care feel free to skip to the important stuff. I tend to research things to death before I buy them. I spent a solid 2 weeks narrowing down the vast sea of stand-mount speakers out there in this price range. I narrowed it down to 3, the Wharfedale 10.1, CBM-170 SE and the Emp Tek E5Bi. At the time I didnt have enough money to get all 3 so I went with the first 2.

    Wharfedale Diamond 10.1

    [​IMG]

    I decided to go ahead and purchase these speakers for auditioning because people praised them for their smooth sound. Everyone mentioned that they are very easy to listen to. I myself am very sensitive to high frequencies and cant stand any sign of sibilance. I find myself having to tone down the treble on most cheaper sound systems I come across. I prefer a neutral speaker, sometimes with a slight touch of warmth to make for a non fatiguing listening experience. They are also gorgeous. Some people don't care what their speakers look like, only if they sound good, but to me speakers are a form of art.


    [​IMG]

    The 10.1's came in about a week before the CBM-170 SE's so I had some time to try them out on their own. First impressions were that they are certainly very smooth. There was no sign of harshness to be found. However I felt that something was missing. I let my girlfriend who has a good pair of ears give them a listen. I brought her along when I went and listened to Hi-Fi setups costing 50k when shopping for my SVS Ultras, so shes somewhat educated. Without saying anything to her she came to the same conclusion that I came to. While they are smooth and easy to listen to, they sound a bit too relaxed to the point of losing detail. She put it very well, “It sounds like I could reach out and pull off something thats covering the speakers” (note, all speakers I evaluate are done with grills off, because thats how I like to keep them).

    Ascend Acoustics CBM-170 SE

    [​IMG]

    I decided to get these as well because of the overwhelming amount of positive reviews. I read through at least 100 user reviews and NEVER read a single bad review. Thats saying something since speakers are so subjective. The first thing I noticed when these came in is that they are BIG. A fair bit larger than I expected. Also, something I was prepared for, they are somewhat ugly frown.gif ….in my opinion. Ill be honest, I'm not too impressed with their fit and finish. The black matte paint doesn't bother me, its things like the non flush face plate, rear plate and screws. Some other reviewers have mentioned that Ascend Acoustics doesn't spend money on fancy cabinets or finishes(on this model)but instead chose to put the money into the components. Fair enough, if its indeed true, I can respect that design approach. So...how do they sound? My initial impressions are that they are in-fact a neutral speaker. I wish they had a bit more bass but ill get into that in a second when I compare them to the 10.1s



    This is a comparison after all, so lets get to it.


    [​IMG]

    I set my AVR to Pure Direct and used banana plugs in order to switch the speakers out as quickly as possible. Auditory memory is very very short and while I wish I had a way to do AB-X testing this will have to do. Right away I noticed that the two speakers sounded quite different. The CBM-170's sound a lot more neutral and forward compared to the 10.1's. When listening to Lindsey Stirlings Crystallize the 10.1 sounded as if the violin was located behind the plane of the monitor, the CBM-170's sound a fair bit more forward. I did find something I didn't expect to. I did all my listening in pure direct(no subwoofer), the 10.1s with a 5.25” woofer appear to have more bass than the CBM-170's with their 6.5” woofer! I cant really explain it, it might have something to do with the fact that the 10.1's have dual rear ports vs the CBM-170's single rear port. I am confident in saying that the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1's are in fact not a neutral speaker, they do color the sound in my opinion. If I had to pick a colored speaker though, I would much prefer the 10.1s coloration to that of a cheap speaker with over emphasized hi frequencies.

    [​IMG]

    At this point I think its safe to say that the Diamond 10.1s are going back. I will emphasize however that I don't think they are a BAD speaker by any means. They sound quite good and for long listening sessions with a near-field placement they aren't a bad choice to consider – especially if you prefer a warmer sound. I myself use to be a fan of very laid bad high's, before I started seriously getting into audio I would turn down the treble quite a bit. As Ive matured and started listening to more and more expensive setups ive grown to appreciate a more balanced sound. That and I cant hear up to 24khz like I use to be able to when I was 16 smile.gif I think the younger me would have preferred the 10.1's to the CBM-170's. However, those looking for a neutral speaker that is fairly clear and revealing given its price point, the 170 SE's are the way to go between these two. On the other hand if you want a stand-mount with great bass, easy to listen too, stunning looks and fantastic fit and finish I would get the Wharfedales. I'm going to be sad to see the Wharfedales go, they are stunning to look at and my sample had impeccable craftsmanship.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2014
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  2. ImcLoud Audioholic Ninja

    ImcLoud
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    I love wharfedale speakers and the 10.0 and 10.1's are the weak point of that line, not a bad speaker just not as good as the larger driver units, the 165mm friver has a much better sound and is used in the rest of the line... 10.2 bookshelfs will sound totally different. I own a set of the 10.0s they are nice and very capable near field but I don't think I would like them for full range..
  3. BoredSysAdmin Audioholic Warlord

    BoredSysAdmin
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    Thank for that useful information. I sorta confirms my previous beliefs and measurement. I have heard diamond 9 series and they are warm and laid back. I did like the sound, but ascends are maybe not too pretty, but they are really fine device.
    Btw: you picked the wrong EMPs - E41 is the one you want to compare it vs

    Also stepping up your budget a bit there aperion intimus 5b and recently heavily price reduced NHT Classic 2 High End Speakers & Stereo Equipment | Subwoofers, Home Theater Systems - sale ends soon
    Intimus 5B Bookshelf Speaker Pair - Intimus Family - Speakers By Family - Aperion Audio
  4. PENG Audioholic Warlord

    PENG
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    I remember the much older Wharfedales book shelf speakers from years ago and had similar impressions. Their floor standing speakers maybe quite a different story if you can believe those good reviews. I also agree they look much better than the 170, no comparison at all.
    PENG,
  5. Irishman Audioholic

    Irishman
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    You bought both pairs from a retailer to review, and then returned both pairs after the review was done?!?
  6. ImcLoud Audioholic Ninja

    ImcLoud
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    I think the OP is keeping the 170's...
  7. Irishman Audioholic

    Irishman
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    Oh, wow, this is why I don't respond to posts before my second cup of coffee. :)

    I could have sworn he was going to pick the Wharfedales.
  8. ImcLoud Audioholic Ninja

    ImcLoud
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    The cbm170's are a hard speaker to beat, IMO they are the best value in bookshelfs for under $500, if you can get past the black box looks, you can not dislike the sound of them, they are flat, strong, and clear... The best value in HT is a set of 170's with a 340 center, fluance surrounds, and a vtf2 sub, it costs around $1300 and can't be touched by any other setup I have heard for the price, but it is all business, looks are not the strong suite, that is for sure...
  9. Bryceo Banned

    Bryceo
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    He picked the ugly speakers :(
  10. Irishman Audioholic

    Irishman
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    Are the Fluance surrounds voiced the same as the 170's?
  11. AcuDefTechGuy Audioholic Slumlord

    AcuDefTechGuy
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    I think most people consider "neutral" to have a plane behind the monitors, not forward (in front of the monitors), which is considered by some to be "bright" and "fatiguing".

    Most big time speakers like Linkwitz Orion, Revel Salon2, KEF 207/2, etc., are neutral with the soundstage plane BEHIND the speakers INTO the wall, not forward towards you.
  12. ImcLoud Audioholic Ninja

    ImcLoud
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    They sound very good together, I haven't tried the more expensive ones yet, but the $99 ones are really nice for the money... you would expect cheap grille design and connectors, but its actually entry level grade all the way around...
    [​IMG]
  13. Irishman Audioholic

    Irishman
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    If your explanation is correct, then I've been misunderstanding "bright" and "fatiguing" for years now! I've long understood those terms to describe a loudspeaker's performance which refers to how it reproduces its highest frequencies. I've also understood it to be synonymous with "sibilant" - a characteristic of its fr curve. In other words, a bright speaker (like a classic horn, for example) produces sound that is emphasized in the highest frequencies, as opposed to a "smooth" speaker, which drops off at the high end.

    ADTG, what you're describing with regard to the sounds' position relative to the front of the monitor, sounds more like imaging and soundstage characteristics, not sibilance or brightness. Am I misreading or misunderstanding you here?
  14. ImcLoud Audioholic Ninja

    ImcLoud
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    Everyone thinks of that stuff different, I think forward bright speaker when it is offset to have a stronger off balance high end and couple that with a harsh sharper than the material really is sound and you have klipsch...

    I like laid back, neutral, speakers with defined highs, smooth mids, and undistorted bass. So the highs should be crisp and separated {soft domes are nice for this but ribbon, planar are growing on me}, the mids should be sultry and smooth {seems to be better with a 2 way design vs a midrange and tweet}, and the lows should just be accurate, play how they sound in real life, no mechanical sound, no extra vibration, ect... {A subwoofer will do this best for me}....

    Everyone likes something different..
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  15. zieglj01 Audioholic Spartan

    zieglj01
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    Whatever is the best so-called value in speakers is still subjective - and will continue
    to be so, till the end of the world.

    However one thing for sure, there are a lot of nice speakers to choose from.
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  16. 2ndammendment Junior Audioholic

    2ndammendment
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    I wasn't aware of the E41s. It looks like they aren't being made anymore.

    I also own the Intimus 6T towers and I think they are a good speaker. I'm not convinced they would be better than the 170s although I don't doubt they would have better mid bass
  17. j_garcia Audioholic Jedi

    j_garcia
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    Ugly doesn't matter to sound :D

    I've heard the Diamond 9s (not the 10s) and felt similarly to you - I liked them, but they weren't quite getting me going. I could be satisfied with them, but I found the 170SEs and 340SEs much more engaging and good with pretty much all material (meaning fairly neutral).
  18. zieglj01 Audioholic Spartan

    zieglj01
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    This is a way, many describe different sounds
    Describing Sound A Glossary - Head-Fi.org Community
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  19. Kruz Audioholic

    Kruz
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    Thank you for doing this comparison
    Kruz,
  20. 2ndammendment Junior Audioholic

    2ndammendment
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    I forgot to add that when I ran MCACC the 10.1s needed a 4.5 dB boost at 16khz to measure flat and the 170s only required 0.5 dB when placed in the same position. Even when corrected though the 10.1 weren't as detailed and clear as I would have liked. I attenuated the 170 at 8khz and 16khz by -1.5db like I usually do. (I don't feel MCACC does an absolutely flawless job, I had to the same to my Ultras)

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