Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

Have You Seen?


Over the course of one day this past holiday season, my neighbor Rob and I moved—by my calculations—almost 900 pounds of speakers. The list was as follows, with all weights per pair:

  • DALI Epikore 11—334 pounds
  • YG Acoustics Peaks Ascent—240 pounds
  • Aurelia XO Cerica XL—106 pounds
  • Estelon YB—176 pounds

It was like musical chairs for speakers. At that time, I’d just finished my review of the YG Ascent speaker and was ready to wheel in the DALIs, which arrived the day before, and decant them from their coffin-sized flight cases.


“I sure would like to hear those YGs at my place for a while,” said Rob, with a raised eyebrow, as we looked at the DALI speakers’ cases.

“You know what, that’s a good idea,” I replied. “Doug Schneider still needs to get some detailed photos, and I think your living room would be a great backdrop. Let’s do it.”

So the first order of business was to box up the Ascents. They’re extremely heavy, and I wasn’t comfortable just manhandling them down the laneway and up the front stairs to Rob’s place. The Ascents came well packaged, with fitted, velvety bags and simple but protective foam bases and caps. It didn’t take long to box them up.

Years back, my wife bought an E-Z UP canopy tent in a street sale for $50. It’s got a carbon-steel frame and it weighs a ton, so the seller threw in a nice dolly / hand truck to roll it back home. I’d have paid that much just for the dolly, which has more than paid for itself over the last decade. We used the dolly to roll the boxed YGs down to Rob’s place and galumphed them up the stairs to the main floor. At that time, Rob was using my Aurelia Cerica XLs, which I’d written about in a previous installment of this column. So the next order of business was to schlep the Aurelias back to my house. These guys aren’t too heavy, so Rob and I took an end each and trotted them, one by one, to my main-floor living room. There, we parked them on either side of the fireplace, next to the Estelon YBs.


But now I had two pairs of full-sized floorstanding speakers in my living room, which wouldn’t fly. Next step: move the Estelons down to my main listening room, and put them off to the side, so there’s room for the DALIs.

Next, back down to Rob’s. We decanted the Ascents, set them up with my Hegel Music Systems H90 integrated amplifier–DAC, and had a quick listen. It sounded fine, so we hustled back to my house, as we still had to unbox the DALIs. Lots going on—supply lines are getting longer and harder to maintain.

We wheeled one flight case in at a time and yanked the Epikore 11s out. Man, that Epikore is a lot of speaker.

Moving the speaker

We plonked the pair down in the general vicinity of where my Estelons used to sit, hooked them up, and fired up my Hegel H30A amp. I threw side 1 of the MoFi Ultradisc version of Van Halen onto the VPI and pulled the trigger.


Rob and I sat there in hushed awe as the DALIs treated us to a full-on concert experience. Despite the fact that my lower back was starting to sing out and tighten up, I sat through the entire first side with my jaw hanging down like a country Chaim Yonkel. You can read about the DALIs on SoundStage! Ultra—they’re one of the finest pairs of speakers I’ve had in my house and among the best I’ve ever heard.

At this point we were essentially done with the heavy lifting—we tidied up all the packaging and moved the DALI flight cases and YG Acoustics boxes into my garage. By the time that was done, it was early evening, so we nipped back to Rob’s for a more involved listen to the Ascents. In my review, I recounted my adventure in placing these speakers. They needed more boundary reinforcement than any other speakers I’ve heard in recent memory, but once I got them placed right, they sang and sang. I hugely enjoyed my time with the YGs, and Rob was similarly impressed, hence his maneuvering to get them down at his house. With my experience in mind, we moved the Ascents closer to the walls at Rob’s place than the Aurelias had been.

Moving the Ascents

They sounded damn good, with much of the crisp refinement, the superb delineation in the midrange, and the whomping bass that I’d enjoyed in my house. Still, something wasn’t right. The bass was a little loose, and the highs were a touch strident. I looked over at the Hegel H90 integrated amp and wondered whether it had the minerals to drive this large floorstander. At that time, I hadn’t seen the measurements for the Ascent, but I still had the feeling that it wasn’t the easiest to drive, despite YG Acoustics’ claim of 90dB sensitivity. The H90 is a little firecracker of an amp, but asking it to belt out heavy metal in a large room via these speakers might be a bit beyond its design parameters.

Regardless, I could tell that Rob was ecstatic. He was cycling through song after song on his Spotify playlist, listening to the first 30 seconds of each before he went on to the next track. I didn’t mention anything about the amp.

Rob loving it

While the SoundStage! crew was putting the finishing touches on the Ascent review, I got a chance to look at the measurements. My hunch was right—the Ascent is a tricky load. As per our measurements at Canada’s NRC, the Ascent’s sensitivity under our test conditions is 84.2dB, and the impedance hovers around 2 ohms from about 50 to 400Hz. That’s a tough load, especially given the H90’s rated output of 60Wpc.

I gave Doug Schneider a ring. “Doug, I saw the measurements for the Ascent—I think we need a bit more firepower down at Rob’s place. Any suggestions?”

“Hmm. I think I might have just the amp,” he replied. “I’m coming down to Toronto this Friday. Will you be around?”

“Sure will,” I answered.

It turned out that Doug still had on hand the Kinki Studio EX-M1+ integrated amplifier that Roger Kanno reviewed a couple of years back on SoundStage! Hi-Fi. Doug regularly uses the EX-M1+ for his “System One” column, which is on SoundStage! Hi-Fi, as he says it’s neutral and powerful enough to drive anything that’s likely to end up in the system he’s developing, and elegant enough to fit in with the vibe Doug is trying to project in his column


Rob was taken aback by the EX-M1+. He comes from an audio worldview that’s—up to now—topped out at entry-level Rotel and Yamaha integrated amps. The Kinki Studio amp is a knockout, with its brass heatsink inserts and brushed-satin aluminum panels. It’s heavy, well built, and most stylish. The remote is also slick and well provisioned, with the volume controls prominently positioned, not hidden away in an ocean of buttons.

And it’s got balls. We measured 208Wpc at 8 ohms and 290Wpc into 4 ohms. Our measurements didn’t include a test at 2 ohms, but Doug seemed to think that it’d have no problem with the Ascent’s tricky impedance curve.

Ascents and Kinki

The only issue then was that we needed a DAC. The Hegel H90 has a superb built-in DAC, and it worked great with the Chromecast Audio dongle that Rob was using for a source. But the Kinki Studio is a standalone integrated amp without a DAC.

No audio deal is any good unless it involves a half-dozen people, right? Rob and I knocked on the door of our other audiophile neighbor, Ron, and explained our dilemma.

“I’ll meet you back at Rob’s—I think I’ve got something that will work,” Ron said. And with that, he disappeared back inside. Ten minutes later he walked in, Kramer-like, carrying a Meridian 566 DAC. “I bought this off Rich about a decade ago.” Rich is a good friend of mine who I’ve known since junior high school—I wrote about his turntable setup in my “For the Record” column on SoundStage! Ultra a while back. Ron and Rich know each other from working in the same industry. This really is an audiophile neighborhood!


“It’s old, but it worked when I put it away. Let’s give it a try,” said Ron, as he took the Meridian over to the fireplace. As he was hooking it up, he mused about another option he considered. “I’ve also got a Museatex Bidat that I got off Ed Meitner forever ago. But I think that might need new caps.” Waste not, want not, I guess.

It only took a little bit of fiddling and random button-pushing to get the Meridian working with the Chromecast Audio, and we sat back for a listen.

Ron and Rob

Even though the amp was ice cold, and the DAC hadn’t seen the light of day in years, we could tell something special was going on. The bass had tightened up dramatically, and I pulled the Ascents a bit further out from the wall.

What I didn’t note in my review, given that my listening room is dedicated to audio, is that the Ascent’s need for boundary reinforcement is an absolute godsend for situations where the stereo has to coexist with normal family goings-on. Most full-sized speakers need to be pulled way the hell out from the walls or they’ll sound boomy and annoying. When we got them in their ideal positions, the Ascents were still far enough back that they visually blended in with the fireplace and surrounding decor. They almost looked built-in, like they were meant to be there.

Ascents near the wall

And the sound! Here the sound quality approached what I got in my listening room. Via the Kinki Studio amp and Meridian DAC, we got deep, tight bass, and those same shimmering highs and crisp, defined mids that had so enamored me. In Rob’s room, the Ascents lacked some of the transparency and front-to-back depth that I’d heard at my house, but it wasn’t far off.

Later that night I got a text from Rob. Seems he’s getting a feel for this stuff.

Rob gets it

Jason Thorpe
Senior Editor, SoundStage!