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Upgrade / Comparisons? Ascend Sierra RAAL Towers / Revel F226Be / F228Be

Shazb0t

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I just spent a few hours auditioning some movies with the new front stage.

I think the C426Be scared the hell out of Audyssey as it knocked down the center's trim to 5.5dB below the R and L speakers. I've never seen that kind of disparity before. I nudged it up and then played some busy scenes very loudly.

This is the cleanest center I've ever heard. Dialog is incredibly clear, dynamic, and detailed. It's also rock solid off-axis. There's virtually no discernable difference in clarity, response, or volume as I moved around to various seats. It's also incredible at moderate to lower volumes. This is where most centers tend to struggle. It retains high levels of intelligibility and dynamics even at a barley background noise volume level. The front three speakers create a massive and perfectly cohesive soundstage when called for just as easily as they do an intimate, confined space, and sometimes eerily so. It's been very difficult to peel myself off the couch. I never got the opportunity to listen to the Horizon center as it's been on back order. I'm sure I'd have been thrilled with it, but it's difficult to imagine a single speaker besting what I'm hearing out of the C426Be.
A solid center channel is a must for home theatre in my experience. The Horizon with RAAL tweeter is also a large dynamic center. Glad that you're happy with your purchase!
 
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mj30250

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A solid center channel is a must for home theatre in my experience. The Horizon with RAAL tweeter is also a large dynamic center. Glad that you're happy with your purchase!

I'm sure the Horizon is awesome as well, as it's essentially the same speaker as the Sierra tower, just smooshed and stretched into a cube.

I did order a pair of Sierra-2EX bookshelves for the living room, as well as a Duo center (the Horizon would not even come close to physically fitting up there) so I'll still be able to get my RAAL fix in. The Duo is the V2 version with the new crossover and other internal upgrades to address the resonance issue and other measurement messes found with the original.

In the meantime I've been in 2 channel mode with the Revels for much of the morning. They are just superbly balanced and an absolute pleasure to listen to for hours on end (this is a problem), especially after EQ. If I could magically merge these with the Sierra towers, I think the result would be a 100% perfect speaker for me. Maybe one day Dave will finally come up with the Sierra Tower XL.
 

minnend

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If I could magically merge these with the Sierra towers, I think the result would be a 100% perfect speaker for me. Maybe one day Dave will finally come up with the Sierra Tower XL.

I really enjoyed your shootout and follow-up conversation. Thanks for taking the time to do the comparison and share your impressions!

I'm interested in the technical aspects of this last comment. What would a best-of-both-worlds speaker look like? Is it RAAL + Revel's midrange + multiple 8" woofers? I've read that Revel is known for their "driver integration", but I'm not entirely sure what this means (time alignment, crossover design, controlled directivity??). Is that an area where the Sierra tower could/should be improved?

I'm currently using a pair of Philharmonic BMR Monitors, which I'm extremely happy with, but I think my end game is a pair of towers. Like you, I run with a pair of subs so I haven't worried about low end extension or multiple woofers. But perhaps both are needed if you want the "fuller", "more impactful" sound you're describing?

Getting at the same question from a different direction... I wonder if Philharmonic's BMR Tower is basically the Sierra Tower XL you're describing.
 
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mj30250

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I really enjoyed your shootout and follow-up conversation. Thanks for taking the time to do the comparison and share your impressions!

I'm interested in the technical aspects of this last comment. What would a best-of-both-worlds speaker look like? Is it RAAL + Revel's midrange + multiple 8" woofers? I've read that Revel is known for their "driver integration", but I'm not entirely sure what this means (time alignment, crossover design, controlled directivity??). Is that an area where the Sierra tower could/should be improved?

I'm currently using a pair of Philharmonic BMR Monitors, which I'm extremely happy with, but I think my end game is a pair of towers. Like you, I run with a pair of subs so I haven't worried about low end extension or multiple woofers. But perhaps both are needed if you want the "fuller", "more impactful" sound you're describing?

Getting at the same question from a different direction... I wonder if Philharmonic's BMR Tower is basically the Sierra Tower XL you're describing.

As far as a best-of-both-worlds speaker, for me it would the Revel's mid-upper bass performance and larger soundstage combined with the sparkling, open naturalness of the Sierra's high end. For higher quality, well-mixed rock music like, say, Tool or Nine Inch Nails, the Revel's shine. The music sounds bigger and better balanced with more mid-bass thump and impact. The Sierras still sound largely great, but they lose a little bit of coherency and can tend towards more thin and shrill with certain tracks. The same is mostly true of big orchestral pieces. I definitely don't think a bunch of big drivers are needed. For me, the dual 6-1/2s on the F226Bes seem about perfect for my room. Some of that may be psychoacoustics combined with a bit of confirmation bias, but I don't feel that I'd gain much if anything in my room from bigger drivers than these (I had dual 8" Emotiva T2+ towers before).

I think the Sierras and Revels meet somewhere in the midrange, where both are absolutely excellent. From there they tend to best each other in opposing directions, at least with subs integrated. Again, I spent little time with them in full range. The Be tweeters are exemplary, and are probably the best I've heard outside of the RAALs, but they do take a back seat to the latter. I did listen to a few minutes of ~$30,000 B&W diamond speakers that absolutely knocked my socks off, but that was well over a decade ago, so who knows how I'd react now.

I gave a lot of consideration to the BMR towers. I opted against them for a few reasons:

They're not massive, but are a little bigger than I'd prefer for the space.

Their frequency extension and bass output are very impressive. I felt that this performance is a good chunk of what you're paying for and would be mostly wasted given the use of an 80Hz crossover.

There isn't really a matching center available. I suppose that a BMR Monitor might have worked, but it wouldn't have been an ideal solution in my setup.

I'm super impatient and there is a wait list for them.

Of course, having never heard them, you could be right and I may have missed out on my "perfect" speaker! I'd still love to hear them some day.
 
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aarons915

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Conclusion: Whether my preconceptions got the best of me or whether they were simply proven true (I leave that for you to consider), I ended up fairly close to where I expected to. High end detail and texture, particularly with vocals, are really hard to beat when you hear the RAAL tweeters. The Revels' beryllium-led waveguides put up a respectable fight, and even pulled ahead in certain cases, but overall, there's just something sweet, natural, and magical about the RAALs. The Revels did provide that extra oomph and dimension I was after. It's just a shame to have to unload the Sierra's high-end to get there.

What to do? Well, I want my cake and I want to eat it, too, so, the plan is to ultimately sell off the Sierra towers and upgrade the bookshelves in my living room to 2EXs. That way I can have my fun in the basement "theater", and sink into the couch in the living room to enjoy some acoustic goodness. YOLO and such...right?

More obvservations / thoughts to come as I EQ and spend more time auditioning.

Good shootout. It does seem like your expectation bias played a bit of a role but not too bad, it was still better than what most people do. It would be really interesting to repeat your songs blind with someone switching to see if your impressions change. I've also personally found that comparing a single speaker of each with a mono recording is much easier to spot differences, this probably helps more than comparing blind but I think that depends on how much we are personally affected by sighted bias. The only reason I say that is because comparing the measurements of the F226 and Horizon (we don't have the towers with RAAL yet but they should be similar), the F226 seem to have "brighter" or more detailed highs both on-axis and in the early reflections, based on that I would think the Sierras would be a bit more laid back. Also, remember the Sierra 2 EX actually use the different 64-10 RAAL and will sound different than the one used in the towers but it's actually wider dispersion and they do measure a bit on the bright side which might be what you prefer.

I do agree with normalizing the bass in some way between speakers with different bass output but I prefer comparing without subs and using high pass filters and/or EQ to make both similar because that also seems to make it easier to spot differences in the range you should be most concerned with (80Hz +). I don't like using subs because different speakers will blend differently with them so whichever happens to integrate better is going to sound better in the bass, easier to just not include them IMO. I can't imagine the Sierras not playing as loud as most people care to listen when crossed at 80-100Hz and properly integrated with subs so I wouldn't personally let the bass sway my decision.

The good news here is that you'll likely have a good system with any of the speakers you've auditioned or plan to buy.
 
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mj30250

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Good shootout. It does seem like your expectation bias played a bit of a role but not too bad, it was still better than what most people do. It would be really interesting to repeat your songs blind with someone switching to see if your impressions change. I've also personally found that comparing a single speaker of each with a mono recording is much easier to spot differences, this probably helps more than comparing blind but I think that depends on how much we are personally affected by sighted bias. The only reason I say that is because comparing the measurements of the F226 and Horizon (we don't have the towers with RAAL yet but they should be similar), the F226 seem to have "brighter" or more detailed highs both on-axis and in the early reflections, based on that I would think the Sierras would be a bit more laid back. Also, remember the Sierra 2 EX actually use the different 64-10 RAAL and will sound different than the one used in the towers but it's actually wider dispersion and they do measure a bit on the bright side which might be what you prefer.

It's difficult to explain, but I wouldn't say that the Revels were either brighter or warmer in the traditional usage of the terms. I think the ribbon tweeters throw a bit of a wrench into the typical adjectives that often get tossed around during speaker comparisons. If both used domes it would likely be easier to label one or the other as brighter or warmer. I do consider the RAALs to be laid back. I wouldn't describe the Revels that way, exactly. This probably sounds counterintuitive to the Sierras having more detailed highs, but it's not simply because the highs had more energy behind them or that the mids / lows were always recessed exactly. It's almost as if they are softer and smoother but at the same time more detailed and crisper. Perhaps that's the "magical" quality that they are often tagged with possessing. Now we're getting super scientific!

I do agree with normalizing the bass in some way between speakers with different bass output but I prefer comparing without subs and using high pass filters and/or EQ to make both similar because that also seems to make it easier to spot differences in the range you should be most concerned with (80Hz +). I don't like using subs because different speakers will blend differently with them so whichever happens to integrate better is going to sound better in the bass, easier to just not include them IMO. I can't imagine the Sierras not playing as loud as most people care to listen when crossed at 80-100Hz and properly integrated with subs so I wouldn't personally let the bass sway my decision.

I agree. Had this been a more traditional "which speaker is better" type of shootout that would have been the way to go. Time contraints compelled me to dedicate my efforts and energy into determining which speaker was better in my room with my setup. Ideally I'd have also EQ'd both sets of towers, but I can only load one profile into my receiver, and it takes nearly a minute swap in a different one. That's simply too great a length of time to pass in between listens. Additionally, I played several tracks multiple times between each set of speakers to confirm what I was (or wasn't hearing) from one or the other, making EQ'ing even more impractical.
 
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RMW_NJ

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Also, remember the Sierra 2 EX actually use the different 64-10 RAAL and will sound different than the one used in the towers but it's actually wider dispersion and they do measure a bit on the bright side which might be what you prefer.
Dave actually offers an unadvertised version of the 2EX that uses the 70-20XR. Not sure of the price difference, but might be worth it for the lower distortion and ability to cross lower.
 

PNWer

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It's difficult to explain, but I wouldn't say that the Revels were either brighter or warmer in the traditional usage of the terms. I think the ribbon tweeters throw a bit of a wrench into the typical adjectives that often get thrown around during speaker comparisons. If both used domes it would likely be easier to label one or the other as brighter or warmer. I do consider the RAALs to be laid back. I wouldn't describe the Revels that way, exactly. This probably sounds counterintuitive to the Sierras having more detailed highs, but it's not simply because the highs had more energy behind them or that the mids / lows were always recessed exactly. It's almost as if they are softer and smoother but at the same time more detailed and crisper. Perhaps that's the "magical" quality that they are often tagged with possessing. Now we're getting super scientific!



I agree. Had this been a more traditional "which speaker is better" type of shootout that would have been the way to go. Time contraints compelled me to dedicate my efforts and energy into determining which speaker was better in my room with my setup. Ideally I'd have also EQ'd both sets of towers, but I can only load one profile into my receiver, and it takes nearly a minute swap in a different one. That's simply too great a length of time to pass in between listens. Additionally, I played several tracks multiple times between each set of speakers to confirm what I was (or wasn't hearing) from one or the other, making EQ'ing even more impractical.
I have Philharmonic BMR and Slims,both used with Rythmik sub. However recent addition of BMR Towers provides additional enjoyment.
All used the same RAAL tweeter and BMR mids, but Towers ScanSpeak 8" make more impact.
Piano music attacks give more live music feel.
 

bkdc

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Which speaker are you keeping? :)

This is the exact choice I am considering -- keeping Ascend Sierra RAAL towers or considering the Revel F226Be. But since I'm running dual SVS SB3000 subwoofers, I wonder if the low end performance and slam of having subwoofers will cover up the Ascend's deficiencies in the lower mid-range. The sparkling highs of the Ascend with female vocals and string instruments really are hard to beat. I don't play my speakers at volumes loud enough to result in tweeter distortion.
 
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mj30250

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Which speaker are you keeping? :)

This is the exact choice I am considering -- keeping Ascend Sierra RAAL towers or considering the Revel F226Be. But since I'm running dual SVS SB3000 subwoofers, I wonder if the low end performance and slam of having subwoofers will cover up the Ascend's deficiencies in the lower mid-range. The sparkling highs of the Ascend with female vocals and string instruments really are hard to beat. I don't play my speakers at volumes loud enough to result in tweeter distortion.
I still have both, but the F226Bes ousted the Sierra towers from my main setup. They are simply better composed and offer a fuller sound with certain types of music.

However, keep in mind that Dave at Ascend now has a Klippel NFS in-house which was used to help upgrade the Luna / Duo and design the brand new LX bookshelf speaker. Unless you're in a rush, I'd be inclined to sit tight and see what else might be appearing in the not-to-distant future. ;)
 

Alice of Old Vincennes

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I still have both, but the F226Bes ousted the Sierra towers from my main setup. They are simply better composed and offer a fuller sound with certain types of music.

However, keep in mind that Dave at Ascend now has a Klippel NFS in-house which was used to help upgrade the Luna / Duo and design the brand new LX bookshelf speaker. Unless you're in a rush, I'd be inclined to sit tight and see what else might be appearing in the not-to-distant future. ;)
Gee, Dave now has a Klippel. Wonder whyyyyy?????
 

Alice of Old Vincennes

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Which speaker are you keeping? :)

This is the exact choice I am considering -- keeping Ascend Sierra RAAL towers or considering the Revel F226Be. But since I'm running dual SVS SB3000 subwoofers, I wonder if the low end performance and slam of having subwoofers will cover up the Ascend's deficiencies in the lower mid-range. The sparkling highs of the Ascend with female vocals and string instruments really are hard to beat. I don't play my speakers at volumes loud enough to result in tweeter distortion.
Keep the distorted sparkles. Ear fatigue unless distortion avoided at low volume.
 

Alice of Old Vincennes

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It's difficult to explain, but I wouldn't say that the Revels were either brighter or warmer in the traditional usage of the terms. I think the ribbon tweeters throw a bit of a wrench into the typical adjectives that often get tossed around during speaker comparisons. If both used domes it would likely be easier to label one or the other as brighter or warmer. I do consider the RAALs to be laid back. I wouldn't describe the Revels that way, exactly. This probably sounds counterintuitive to the Sierras having more detailed highs, but it's not simply because the highs had more energy behind them or that the mids / lows were always recessed exactly. It's almost as if they are softer and smoother but at the same time more detailed and crisper. Perhaps that's the "magical" quality that they are often tagged with possessing. Now we're getting super scientific!



I agree. Had this been a more traditional "which speaker is better" type of shootout that would have been the way to go. Time contraints compelled me to dedicate my efforts and energy into determining which speaker was better in my room with my setup. Ideally I'd have also EQ'd both sets of towers, but I can only load one profile into my receiver, and it takes nearly a minute swap in a different one. That's simply too great a length of time to pass in between listens. Additionally, I played several tracks multiple times between each set of speakers to confirm what I was (or wasn't hearing) from one or the other, making EQ'ing even more impractical.
Ribbon tweeters are niche for a reason.
 

hdkeith

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This is my biggest concern. Those ribbons are just so good. The midrange on the Sierras is excellent as well. It's that mid to upper bass region where I feel things sound a bit on the thin side. If these darn Revels would ship already I could put this to bed pretty soon!
I wonder if this is due to the small drivers?
 

hdkeith

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Looking forward to read your impressions. I personally own a full set of Ascend Acoustics Sierra speakers, including Sierra Towers w/RAAL, Horizon w/RAAL, Sierra 2s and Sierra Lunas. Also own Revel M106s, M105s and C205. Also owned Revel M126Be for a short period to compare with the Sierra Towers. To my ears, the Sierra Towers wins compared to the M126Be. The Sierra Towers high end is definitely more detailed. I also run my Sierra Towers crossed over at 80Hz as a pair of Rythmik Audio G22s subwoofers take care of the low ends. But definitely I would like to read your impressions because if I do upgrade my Sierra Towers w/RAAL it would be with Revel PerformaBe speakers. But for me, I don’t think it would be an upgrade and more like a lateral move.
How loud can the Sierra Towers get? My concern coming form towers with 8 inch drivers going to dual 5.25” drivers the low end may be weak for me.
 
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mj30250

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I wonder if this is due to the small drivers?
Maybe partially. It's likely more due to the design of the drivers and the overall speaker system versus simply the size of the bass woofers alone. Of course, as your volume and distance from the speakers increase, physics will eventually drop a hard stop on you, at which point you will need additional displacement.
How loud can the Sierra Towers get? My concern coming form towers with 8 inch drivers going to dual 5.25” drivers the low end may be weak for me.
That depends on how you are defining "the low end", and again, how far you will be sitting as well as how your room interacts with those frequencies. As I mentioned in a few posts, it was the mid-upper bass region where I thought the Sierra towers were a bit leaner than I'd like. At an 8' listening distance, the speakers stayed clean and composed at the most loud I'd ever listen which would be around 90dB average with dynamic peaks of over 105dB. I also use an 80Hz crossover w/ dual 15" subs to cover what I consider to be the low end.

Also as mentioned earlier, Ascend is now using a Klippel NFS to aid in speaker design / upgrades. If you have your eyes on the towers and are concerned with low end performance, hang in there.
 
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hdkeith

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Maybe partially. It's likely more due to the design of the drivers and the overall speaker system versus simply the size of the bass woofers alone. Of course, as your volume and distance from the speakers increase, physics will eventually drop a hard stop on you, at which point you will need additional displacement.

That depends on how you are defining "the low end", and again, how far you will be sitting as well as how your room interacts with those frequencies. As I mentioned in a few posts, it was the mid-upper bass region where I though the Sierra towers were a bit leaner than I'd like. At an 8' listening distance, the speakers stayed clean and composed at the most loud I'd ever listen which would be around 90dB average with dynamics peaks of over 105dB. I also use an 80Hz crossover w/ dual 15" subs to cover what I consider to be the low end.

Also as mentioned earlier, Ascend is now using a Klippel NFS to aid in speaker design / upgrades. If you have your eyes on the towers and are concerned with low end performance, hang in there.

Thanks. Curious when they may release something, I have a nasty itch I am trying to scratch right now. My room is 18'x15'x8' and I it about 14 feet from front of speakers. Small doorway left of listening potions, otherwise all enclosed. It is not unactual for me to be listening in the 90-95db range with many part breaking through 100db. My Monolith 9X arrives this week, next up is a speaker decision.
 
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mj30250

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Thanks. Curious when they may release something, I have a nasty itch I am trying to scratch right now. My room is 18'x15'x8' and I it about 14 feet from front of speakers. Small doorway left of listening potions, otherwise all enclosed. It is not unactual for me to be listening in the 90-95db range with many part breaking through 100db. My Monolith 9X arrives this week, next up is a speaker decision.
That's a decent distance, but as long as you are using subs, you might be alright.

Here are 96dB distortion measurements taken by Amir for the Horizon center speaker, which uses the same drivers as the RAAL towers:

Ascend Acoustics Horizon RAAL tweeter upgrade distortion Measurement.png


This is pretty respectable until you start getting into the lower bass. Of course with the towers you'll be using two speakers and will gain a little headroom.

Based on the distortion performance of the woofers in Ascend's new LX bookshelf speaker, one could reasonably predict a significant distortion drop if those bass woofers were used in an upgraded tower. If you're looking to make a move soon, Ascend also has a history of offering upgrade kits for their existing speakers as they rarely change cabinets. You could always grab a pair of towers now and see how they perform for you, with a good chance of there being an upgrade available sometime in the future. Obviously, as nothing has been announced yet, I have no idea what would net out to be the lower cost option between that route and just buying upgraded towers outright.
 
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