I purchased Sierra Towers and Horizon with RAAL tweeters after reading all of the rave reviews and comments here and elsewhere, and after a couple of weeks of off-and-on reviewing, I'm wondering if there's something wrong with the room or setup.
- Denon AVR-3312ci
- Ascend Sierra RAAL Tower (x2)
- Ascend Sierra RAAL Horizon
- SVS PB-13 Ultra
- Onkyo HT-S770 (L/R) for comparison
- Pioneer PDP-5080HD
I set them up so the mains are about 7.5' apart and 12' from the listening position. I calibrated them with Audyssey MultEQ XT using two listening positions (the two seats of the parallel loveseat).
Audyssey put the L/R at -1.0dB and -2.5dB, respectively. It put the sub at -4.0dB. It wanted to cross over the mains at 40Hz, but I didn't feel that was right, and set it manually to 80Hz.
The first thing I did was compare them to the crapbox Onkyo HTiB speakers I've had for about 15 years, the HT-S770. I streamed lossless music from my PC using Foobar2000 and switched back and forth using the 3312's A/B function, changing from a 2.1 DSP to Direct. I made sure to use various tracks I knew to be high quality and was familiar with. Diana Krall's The Look of Love, the live version of Hotel California from Hell Freezes Over, etc.
I was surprised to hear the mid-bass to be about equal between the two pairs, in loudness and quality. The lower bass was considerably better coming from the Sierra Towers (in fact, I could barely hear a difference when I turned the sub off).
What astonished me, though, was that the highs were much smoother coming from the Onkyos. I felt the Sierras were harsh, almost staticy at first. The Onkyos employ soft dome tweeters. Maybe I'm just more used to that sound. This is the first time I've experienced ribbon tweeters.
I also noticed that the soundstage wasn't much improved over the Onkyos. The perceived width was similar, with decent imaging from both that made it seem like the sound was coming from the center. I expected to be enveloped by the Sierras much more, with live music having that feeling like you're actually there. I didn't really feel that with either. It still felt like sound coming from speakers.
I could say that vocals were a little more prominent with the Sierras. The Onkyos had a bit of sibilance issues where hard S-es and T-s ended up sounding like SH and TH. The Sierras didn't have this problem.
For movies, I thought the two were about equal with dialog a little more clear from the Sierras, with the Horizon tackling that duty. Clear dialog was one of the main reasons for my upgrade, so I'm relatively happy here. However, I don't feel the 'presence' improved much, which was also something I was looking for.
My wife thinks I'm crazy for spending as much as I did when she feels the old speakers were 'just as good'. Which is insane, given that the Onkyos were part of a $400 set (including a sub and receiver) purchased a decade and a half ago.
That leaves me wondering if there's something else going on. Given the glowing critiques the Sierras have received when compared to much better speakers than the Onkyos, I am having a hard time believing my own ears.
Below are some photos of the setup (sorry for the mess) after I have removed the compared Onkyos (which were placed on the inside). Can anyone see any glaring issues with the room/placement? I also plan on getting some acoustic treatments to place behind each main speaker and on the right wall at the first reflection point, and a bass trap in the corner the sub is in.
Close up of the front:
Panoramic (the Onkyos I used to compare are sitting on the left side here):
Behind the listening positions: