Dave Dabrikant

Interview: Dave Fabrikant of Ascend Acoustics

HFR – How/when did you first get into audio as a hobby? What was your first audio system?

Dave Fabrikant I think I was about 8 years old. I was fascinated with my grandfather’s audio system, can’t use the term “stereo” as it was a monaural system. The single loudspeaker, I believe it was a Fisher, was the size of a refrigerator. A few years later (I think I was 10) I blew up one of my father’s loudspeakers and I convinced him that I could fix it and make it sound better. That was not as easy as I thought it was going to be 😉

HFR – What is your all-time favorite speaker/amp combination?

DF – For a long time my favorite combination was a Spectral DMA-250 amp with matching DMC-20 pre-amp together with a pair of the original B&W matrix 801s. Over the past few years, I must say that the TAD Reference-1 mated with the right amp is amongst the best I have ever heard. But to be perfectly frank, I have a very special pair of Ascends that I absolutely love listening too and I feel compare well with some of the best I have ever heard. These are my current favorites.

HFR – How/when did you first get into audio as a career?

DF – I think it was 1982 — I worked as a tech in the service room of a popular A/V retail chain. When they started to outsource service, they moved me into “sales” where I spent most of my time locked away in the soundroom listening to all the different loudspeakers.

HFR – What is your favorite aspect of running a speaker company? What is your least favorite?

DF – My favorite aspect is that I am 100% free to design what I want to design, no matter how absurd. My least favorite aspect about running a speaker company is just that — running a speaker company 🙂 Oh, and marketing…I hate “marketing”.

HFR – Do you manufacture your speakers in house?

DF – Our loudspeakers are assembled inhouse using parts that are built for us from a variety of locations, including the US, Norway, France and Asia. Each and every loudspeaker is then subjected to rigorous QC testing before it is cleaned and boxed for shipping. A loudspeaker that we ship to a customer is typically assembled and tested 1-2 days prior to the day it ships, often being assembled and tested even that morning!

HFR – How come Ascend offers so few speaker models?

DF – Simple, because I spend years developing each model and I am a fanatic regarding performance. I have a problem with determining when performance optimizations are completed. I can’t ever seem to say “OK, it is finished”…obviously, I drive my vendors a bit crazy 😉

HFR – Will there ever be an Ascend floorstander?

DF – I guess that depends on how you define “floorstander” 😉 I do know what you mean though, and it is probably one of the most common questions asked of me. I believe we will someday offer a true “floorstander” but for now I am a firm believer that a subwoofer + “limited bass” loudspeaker is the way to go in order to achieve the most accurate in-room response. Generally speaking, the ideal room location for midrange and high frequency reproduction is not ideal for bass reproduction. With a sub + limited bass loudspeaker system, you can optimally place both the loudspeaker and subwoofer in order to achieve an overall more accurate in-room response.

HFR – What was the overall sonic/market goal for the 340?

DF – As with all of our products, we don’t look for a particular market segment or price point. Our loudspeakers are used by audio enthusiasts, audiophiles, professional and amateur recording engineers, college music rooms, churches…we have a very diverse customer base. The design goal was for a loudspeaker that offered accurate sound reproduction with the added output capabilities to fill large rooms with clean and effortless good sound.

HFR – What do you listen for when determining the quality of a sound system?

DF – If am familiar with the source material, I listen for the realistic reproduction of the source material. If I am not familiar with the source material, I try to listen to the subtle details behind the fundamental output of an instrument, such as a harmonic created by the pick hitting a guitar string, the breaths of a vocalist etc. I also listen for how balanced the system is so that no range of frequencies are emphasized or de-emphasized more than another.

HFR – In order from greatest to least, what do you think are the most important components in a sound system and why?

DF –

  • 1. the loudspeakers
  • 2. 2-7 the loudspeakers
  • 7. room
  • 8. 8-10, everything else

As to why…obviously the loudspeakers represent the single biggest influence on audio performance, as they are the component that converts the electrical energy into kinetic energy so that we can hear it. It has the most influence on the characteristics of what we hear. The room interacts with that kinetic energy so in my opinion, it offers more influence than any of the electrical energy components provided that those components do their job correctly.

HFR – What do you think are the most important aspects of a speakers’ design (cabinet, drivers, crossover design/components, etc.)?

DF – I would say all components are equally important, the performance of each component is determined by the performance of every other component.

HFR – In designing a speaker, do you rely more prominently on measurements or listening tests to determine the success of your designs? How do you know when a new design is “done”?

DF – I rely more on a very specific set of measurements that I have developed over the course of many years of evaluating and designing loudspeakers. I do extensive listening tests, but most of my listening is to familiarize myself with the character of the loudspeaker itself and to confirm that what I hear or can’t hear, correlates to my measurements.

As far as how I determine when a design is finished; I have no set formula for this and I find that this aspect often causes me great distress. With my latest design, I spent (wasted) about 4 months making a costly change to the magnet assembly of the tweeter, only to come to the conclusion that this change actually hurt performance and I reverted back to the previous revision. It was at this point that I realized I could do no more and I was done.

HFR – What are some recordings you use to voice/test/evaluate your designs?

DF – I try to use a wide variety of music, with each recording highlighting a different instrument and style but the majority of what you call voicing is done by precise measurements. I don’t like to use the term “voicing” as that implies trying to give the speaker its own unique sound, we attempt to try and remove any “voicing” the speaker creates such that what you hear is as close to the source recording as we are capable of accomplishing.

My own list of recordings constantly changes… Some of my all time favorites are Santana “Supernatural”, Nils Lofgren “Acoustic Live”, Sara McLachlan “Solace”, Roger Waters “Amused to Death”, various Jesse Cook recordings, a local band called “Venice” (fantastic vocals), Dave Matthews “Crash”, and many more…

HFR – What trends in the audio industry do you currently see that you find particularly alarming/encouraging?

DF – I am very encouraged by the rebirth of quality audio which I feel has been helped by the internet direct audio industry. At the same time, I find it somewhat alarming at the number of new ID audio companies entering the market and attempting to use this distribution method to give the illusion of passing savings to the consumer while in reality, the consumer is a “target” and the products are junk. Much like the well known white van scam, only instead of selling out of the back of a van, they are selling the products from a fancy website. Often, these websites don’t even offer a contact address or phone number.

HFR – Where do you see Ascend Acoustics in 5 years? In 20 years?

DF – I would like to see our controlled growth continue as we introduce one exceptional product after another. I see our customer base and sales volume expanding but never to the point where we are unable to provide the personal service and quality control measures that we are able to offer now. This is a delicate balance and something we have been able to maintain through the years, but it becomes increasingly difficult as a company grows.

I am most curious as to what the audio industry will be like in 20-years. With the popularity of the PC and the major advancements in PC- Audio, I suspect that eventually, the PC industry and audio industry will merge. When this does happen, I am positive that there will still be a large group of consumers who will relish the hours spent listening to good sound and you can bet we will be there to provide it!

Dave Dabrikant

James Greenberg and David Fabrikant (left) of Ascend Acoustics