Philharmonic BMR v. Ascend Sierra (RAAL) Tower - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 29 Old 01-22-2019, 12:42 PM - Thread Starter
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Philharmonic BMR v. Ascend Sierra (RAAL) Tower

I recently compared these two speakers, and another member asked for my thoughts about the comparison. Having typed it out, I might as well put it here for anyone else who might be interested.


First, however, some important caveats. The biggest caveat is that in some ways this is an apples to oranges comparison. The BMR costs much less than the Ascends and is an entirely different form factor. Also, I don't know what the design goals were for each speaker...for all I know they may have been designed to fill different roles, which would be an additional strike against comparing them side-by-side. Another big caveat is that I know my hearing is imperfect (I've got some hearing damage from going to a lot of concerts without ear protection), and I do not claim to be the most discerning listener. Basically, I'm just some clown on the Internet with no technical knowledge and no special aptitude for evaluating speakers. Also I don't have a special listening room, and there is zero acoustic treatment in my room.



Perhaps the biggest caveat is that these are both excellent speakers, and most of the differences I heard were primarily because I was listening with an ear towards trying to hear differences. These speakers probably have more similarities than differences.


So, with all that out of the way, here are my thoughts that should be taken with the appropriate grain of salt.


The bottom line for me is that the BMR seems to have deeper bass, but it seems like it does so at the expense of the higher bass or lower midrange (I'm not sure which it is technically...I guess if I had to choose it would seem to be the higher bass frequencies to me). While the Ascend doesn't seem to go as low, it seemed flatter in that higher bass area. Since I already have a sub and plan to use it, I can easily cover the lower bass with the sub. With the BMRs, though, I don't know of a way to make up that (perceived) deficiency in the upper bass. Note that I haven't done any measurements, so this is all totally subjective.

One interesting thing happened when I was comparing the two. My girlfriend was doing other stuff in the room, and isn't into this whole audiophile insanity. While I was listening to a Rage Against the Machine song (I think it was Killing in the Name), though, she commented of her own accord that she thought the Phil sounded better. She thought the Ascend had too much bass, and the BMR had more midrange. The strange thing is that I thought the Ascend had more power to the midrange (or maybe what I'd call the upper bass), and the BMR had lower bass. Of course this could be owing to differences in what we each mean by "bass" and "midrange."

We continued to listen to some tracks while comparing the two, and in the end we both felt like overall it was a close call between the two. She still maintained that the BMR was noticeably better sounding on that RATM track. She didn't hear as drastic a difference on any of the other tracks, though.

Some of the tracks I listened to were Tool "Jambi," Beck (something off of Sea Change but I don't remember which specific song), Miles Davis "So What," Air (can't remember which song but it's the one that shows up on audiophile lists), and Cee Lo Green "Bright Lights Bigger City." There were probably others. The lower bass extension of the BMR was very noticeable on the Beck and Tool songs, for example.


At the end of the day I felt like the BMR could dig deeper in the bass, but it felt lacking in that "upper bass" region that's so important for a lot of the music I listen to. If I were choosing between them for a strictly 2.0 setup, I'd probably have to choose the BMR. Given that I already have a sub and want to use it (as well as add another soon), though, the Ascend won out for me.


Though I chose the Ascends over the BMR, and I tried to compare them in a fair manner, I can't sit here and say that cognitive biases didn't play into my choice. I went into this comparison having previously felt that the BMR didn't have enough in the upper bass for my taste. (Even that, though, is suspect. It's entirely possible that I grew used to speakers with boosted upper bass, and upon hearing a truly flat speaker I felt like something was missing. Or maybe that's not the case. Bottom line is I can't say one way or the other for certain.) I also bought the Ascends with the hope that they would provide the benefits of the BMR while giving me more in the upper bass. And what do you know? That's the conclusion I reached. This could easily be just a simple case of expectation bias.


Please don't take anything I've said here as a knock against either product. Both are excellent speakers, with more similarities than differences (though maybe when evaluated in a more scientific manner one does rise above the other...I make no claim to having done that). Both of these manufacturers should be applauded for making such high quality products at what are, in this hobby, very affordable prices relative to their quality.

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post #2 of 29 Old 01-22-2019, 12:58 PM
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Very interesting that you would pick the BMR’s over the Towers in a 2.0 setup. You would think that with the extra dynamic headroom and possibly lower extension (greater cone area although they both spec with an F3 or 34hz) of the towers would be better than the BMR’s for a 2.0 setup.

Both are fantastic speakers though. Thank you for the write up.
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Leave it at 8 ohms and call it a day :)
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post #3 of 29 Old 01-22-2019, 01:23 PM
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I am curious what you were powering these with and what your listening levels were. Thanks.
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post #4 of 29 Old 01-22-2019, 01:30 PM
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yes, I have heard both, but not a detailed listen that would allow me to make a comparison and not in the same room...my friend Ray has the Sierra 2 towers, I have the Phil-BMR, so I have only heard them in mine and his room! All I can say is both were excellent and the clarity and detail at the high end was not enough different to hear any differences there. The bass, well, two different rooms, no way to compare.

Well, if you look at the flat response of the both speakers, it doesn't bear out a difference in midbass. I wonder if the speakers were interacting with the room in different ways. I know the BMR midrange driver gives wide dispersion and maybe that equates to the ear to mean less directional midbass? Meaning the Sierra might put more midbass directly at the LP, but not have the horizontal dispersion of the BMR?

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post #5 of 29 Old 01-22-2019, 01:31 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by jjackkrash View Post
I am curious what you were powering these with and what your listening levels were. Thanks.
I should've mentioned that. My apologies.


I did kind of a bastardized Harman approach to this. I compared only one of each speaker, and set them up next to each other. All music was played on my media PC through Foobar2000, downmixing stereo to mono (probably unnecessary since I was only listening to one speaker anyway, but whatever). The PC was connected to my Parasound P6 via USB. The speakers were powered by a PS Audio Stellar M700.


I was sitting about six-to-seven feet from the speakers. Listening volumes were in the range of what I'd call moderately loud. Basically the volume I'd likely set them at when sitting down for a listening session, rather than just "background" volume. They weren't set to what I'd call loud, though (and I'd define that as when I need to really raise my voice to talk with the ol' lady). As with the rest of my evaluation, you'll notice a conspicuous lack of scientific rigor here. I'd love to be able to do things better, but I can only accommodate so much nerdery in my life (and believe me, I try to squeeze in as much nerdery as humanly possible).

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post #6 of 29 Old 01-22-2019, 01:32 PM
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Did you do any measurements and do you have any pictures?
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post #7 of 29 Old 01-22-2019, 01:34 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Elihawk View Post
Well, if you look at the flat response of the both speakers, it doesn't bear out a difference in midbass.
Note that I can't rule out my own cognitive biases as the source of any perceived difference in midbass.


The ol' lady's perceptions are interesting to me, though, because she's totally disinterested in this.

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post #8 of 29 Old 01-22-2019, 01:35 PM - Thread Starter
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Did you do any measurements and do you have any pictures?
No measurements and there's not much to photograph. Imagine one BMR on a stand set up next to one Ascend tower. That's pretty much exactly what it looked like.

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post #9 of 29 Old 01-22-2019, 06:13 PM
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Originally Posted by fatbulkexpanse View Post
No measurements and there's not much to photograph. Imagine one BMR on a stand set up next to one Ascend tower. That's pretty much exactly what it looked like.
Thanks for the report. I haven't heard the Sierra towers, so I have nothing to add to your comparison. All I can say is that the BMR's are somewhat unique in their bass tuning. They are absolutely flat in the midbass, whereas I think the majority of speakers (or the most that I have tested) have a little bloom in that area. So they might well seem to have less oomph in the midbass, compensated I think by deeper extension. The tuning was a deliberate choice. I dislike any hint of heaviness on, say, male voices. But I can see where a little more output in that region might be enjoyable on the type of music you were playing. Another case of one speaker not being all things to all people. Thanks again for you observations. This isn't the first time I've heard that the Sierra Tower and BMR's are more alike than different.
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post #10 of 29 Old 01-22-2019, 06:36 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Dennis Murphy View Post
Thanks for the report. I haven't heard the Sierra towers, so I have nothing to add to your comparison. All I can say is that the BMR's are somewhat unique in their bass tuning. They are absolutely flat in the midbass, whereas I think the majority of speakers (or the most that I have tested) have a little bloom in that area. So they might well seem to have less oomph in the midbass, compensated I think by deeper extension. The tuning was a deliberate choice. I dislike any hint of heaviness on, say, male voices. But I can see where a little more output in that region might be enjoyable on the type of music you were playing. Another case of one speaker not being all things to all people. Thanks again for you observations. This isn't the first time I've heard that the Sierra Tower and BMR's are more alike than different.
Yeah I really can't stress enough my own shortcomings in evaluating speakers. Also I think, as I previously stated, it's a distinct possibility that I came into this accustomed to some over-emphasis in the upper bass. My primary speakers were the Monitor Audio Silver 10, and looking at measurements of those I see what appears to be a distinct boost centered around 100-500 Hz. I still love those speakers though, imperfect as they may be.


Next time you find yourself in the Denver area I'll be happy to give you some time in front of the Sierra towers.
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post #11 of 29 Old 01-22-2019, 10:57 PM
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Wish I had the money. I'm in your area and would really love to hear those speakers, especially the BMRs. Appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.
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post #12 of 29 Old 01-23-2019, 02:18 PM
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Yeah I really can't stress enough my own shortcomings in evaluating speakers. Also I think, as I previously stated, it's a distinct possibility that I came into this accustomed to some over-emphasis in the upper bass. My primary speakers were the Monitor Audio Silver 10, and looking at measurements of those I see what appears to be a distinct boost centered around 100-500 Hz. I still love those speakers though, imperfect as they may be.


Next time you find yourself in the Denver area I'll be happy to give you some time in front of the Sierra towers.
Thanks for the writeup.....................and for your welcome humility!

I tested three speakers a couple of years ago and came to the conclusion that I would have been happy with any of them in my secondary 2.2 music room!

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post #13 of 29 Old 01-23-2019, 02:52 PM
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way back in the day we had lots of hype about speakers being designed for a certain genre...I still think this is true. the speakers probably just voiced different.

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post #14 of 29 Old 01-23-2019, 04:13 PM
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Just an observation: placement has a huge effect on mid-bass performance.
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post #15 of 29 Old 01-23-2019, 06:41 PM
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The other thing to think about in this comparison (and thanks to the OP for posting his thoughts)...The Phil-BMR is 1350/pr plus shipping, so lets say 1450/pr. The AA Sierra towers are going to be around 2800/pr with shipping, so almost 2x the cost, depending on the cabinet chosen. So really, the fact that the Phil-BMR is very close to a speaker 2x its' cost is very impressive!
From a price standpoint, a comparison to the Sierra 2 bookshelf would be a more fair fight...although that is a two way speaker!
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post #16 of 29 Old 01-23-2019, 06:43 PM - Thread Starter
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Well, the story's not over. I set the BMRs up again. So far I'm not missing the Ascends...
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Originally Posted by fatbulkexpanse View Post
Well, the story's not over. I set the BMRs up again. So far I'm not missing the Ascends...
funny how that happens with speakers , one day one pair rules , next day , the other..i think it happens to a lot of us..i get the feeling your going to end up flipping a coin & being happy however it lands

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The lower tuning may be giving you a leaner upper bass. The Audioholics -3dB point (using 88dB as the reference output on their groundplane curve) is about 54hz. The -10dB is 35hz which is reasonably good but way off the quoted spec of -2dB @ 34hz. I'm only making note of this as I had someone comparing the woofer here to another Scan-Speak and asking about the discrepancy in bass extension.
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post #19 of 29 Old 01-24-2019, 05:27 AM - Thread Starter
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funny how that happens with speakers , one day one pair rules , next day , the other..i think it happens to a lot of us..i get the feeling your going to end up flipping a coin & being happy however it lands
I'm going to return the Ascends. Even if they are slightly better, they're not twice the price better. At this point I'm not even sure the Ascends ARE better, considering all the expectations I had going into the comparison and the conclusion I came to that even if they are better it's not by much at all.
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The lower tuning may be giving you a leaner upper bass. The Audioholics -3dB point (using 88dB as the reference output on their groundplane curve) is about 54hz. The -10dB is 35hz which is reasonably good but way off the quoted spec of -2dB @ 34hz. I'm only making note of this as I had someone comparing the woofer here to another Scan-Speak and asking about the discrepancy in bass extension.
Setting up the BMRs again I've got the sub crossed at 80 Hz and it seems to make a big difference from how I had it set last time I had the BMRs set up on their own. I think I had the sub crossed way too low that time.

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Setting up the BMRs again I've got the sub crossed at 80 Hz and it seems to make a big difference from how I had it set last time I had the BMRs set up on their own. I think I had the sub crossed way too low that time.
If crossing over at 80 Hz, would the BMR have much of an advantage over the Mini Philharmonitor? Or at least, not as large of one? I'm pretty sure that the Mini is no longer available but trying to understand how things work.
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If crossing over at 80 Hz, would the BMR have much of an advantage over the Mini Philharmonitor? Or at least, not as large of one? I'm pretty sure that the Mini is no longer available but trying to understand how things work.
I'm the last person who could give an intelligent answer to that, particularly because I've never heard the Mini. You'll have better luck asking in the dedicated Philharmonic thread, I think.

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post #23 of 29 Old 01-24-2019, 07:38 AM
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Setting up the BMRs again I've got the sub crossed at 80 Hz and it seems to make a big difference from how I had it set last time I had the BMRs set up on their own. I think I had the sub crossed way too low that time.
Yes, 80hz would be much better. The BMR driver has very low sensitivity and power handling and would definitely benefit from a higher crossover point. A compression test from the NRC would be helpful here - maybe Dennis will post the one he received from the lab in Canada.
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post #24 of 29 Old 01-24-2019, 07:49 AM
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If crossing over at 80 Hz, would the BMR have much of an advantage over the Mini Philharmonitor? Or at least, not as large of one? I'm pretty sure that the Mini is no longer available but trying to understand how things work.
I actually bought the Mini Phils and then was part of the BMR roadshow this summer so I can answer this. As far as the bass is concerned, no there isn't a huge difference if crossing at 80Hz, the big difference is really in regards to the midrange driver really rounding out the speaker. I actually built a pair of Zaph ZA 5.2 to compare to them because they use the identical midwoofer with a dome tweeter, I wanted to hear exactly how the RAAL would compare. Anyway, what I noticed was that the Zaph speakers sounded a bit more open and natural which I attributed to the narrowing dispersion of the midwoofer between 2-3k. The BMR solved that problem completely and then some through the BMR driver so I'd definitely say the BMR is worth it over the Mini Phil, unless you happen to prefer a laid back sound then the Mini Phil might be preferable. The bass is very good though too, I have dual subs equalized flat from 20-100Hz and when I switched from subs to running the BMR full range, there wasn't much difference except for just a bit in the lowest octave.
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post #25 of 29 Old 01-24-2019, 07:53 AM
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My question about this comparison is with the mids and highs since the designs are so different, I get that the bass might be tuned differently on each. The Sierra tower uses a 5" midrange and the 70-20 RAAL crossed over around 2k compared to the BMR midrange crossed somewhere above 3k to the 64-10 RAAL. Do you not notice much difference in the mids and highs?

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I'm going to return the Ascends. Even if they are slightly better, they're not twice the price better. At this point I'm not even sure the Ascends ARE better, considering all the expectations I had going into the comparison and the conclusion I came to that even if they are better it's not by much at all.
that doesn't surprise me at all.. phil audio seems to be the everyday value juggernaut ...

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post #27 of 29 Old 01-24-2019, 08:39 AM
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Originally Posted by aarons915 View Post
The Sierra 2 uses a 5" midrange and the 70-20 RAAL crossed over around 2k

I thought it was a 6” Seas woofer on the S2?

Leave it at 8 ohms and call it a day :)
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post #28 of 29 Old 01-24-2019, 08:46 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aarons915 View Post
The Sierra 2 uses a 5" midrange and the 70-20 RAAL
I don't think that's quite accurate: http://www.ascendacoustics.com/pages...srm2specs.html

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post #29 of 29 Old 01-24-2019, 09:07 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Russdawg1 View Post
I thought it was a 6” Seas woofer on the S2?
Quote:
Originally Posted by fatbulkexpanse View Post
I don't think that's quite accurate: http://www.ascendacoustics.com/pages...srm2specs.html
Thanks I corrected it, I meant the Sierra tower, the speaker we're discussing.
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