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.
Philharmonic BMR Philharmonitor | Rythmik F12G | Parasound Halo P6 | PS Audio Stellar M700 | Oppo BDP-103