ascend sierra tower with raal or Focal Aria 936


I am trying to decide if I should buy either speakers. If someone has demoed both or purchased them can advise which one is better or should I be looking at some other speakers in $4000 range? I want a speaker which does not become fatiguing after a while. I have Parasound A21, Aesthetix Rhea, Audible Illusions L2B and cables are Nordost Tyr and nordost heimdall as speaker cables. I listen to Vinyl almost all the time. Thanks Guys.
couger4u
Absolutely the 936. Soooo smooth, absolutely massive sound stage. Height width depth like crazy. Unbelievably musical.  Maybe the most musical speakers Focal has ever made.  Even bigger soundstage and more holographic than the Electra line above the Arias.

The Sierras are nice but I absolutely guarantee if you’re worried about fatigue, you will regret that purchase. Remember this post in a few months and it’ll be the ultimate "I told you so" whichever way you decide. ;)
Thank you for your response contuzzi. I have read that the top end for focal speakers are too bright. Do you know if that is true? Thanks.
This guy has both of them, he says he likes the sierra better,.
read his review here.
http://www.avsforum.com/forum/89-speakers/2335977-newbie-review-thread-ascend-sierra-towers-vs-focal...
I don't have the towers, but I do have the Sierra 2's. I find them very non-fatiguing. The RAAL tweeter is excellent.
If you heard Focal speakers are bright, you heard that from someone who hasn't heard Focal speakers within the last 5 years or so.  Arias aren't bright at all and neither are the Sopras (properly set up).

I've seen that thread on AVS and I'd take that guys opinion with a grain of salt.  Very novice listener and even he was bothered by the sierras at first and "learned" to like them after all the AVS users convinced him to essentially.

Just find a Focal dealer to hear the Arias at and you'll see.
I own a pair of 936. Fatiguing? Let me put it this way... More than a few times have I been listening to an album and found myself listening beginning to end and still wanting to hear more. They're extremely easy to listen to for great lengths of time, yet they're thoroughly engaging. I completely agree with the praise heaped on them in this thread.  
Contuzzi:
I've seen that thread on AVS and I'd take that guys opinion with a grain of salt. Very novice listener and even he was bothered by the sierras at first and "learned" to like them after all the AVS users convinced him to essentially.
That's not what I got out of that thread at all.  The OP preferred the Sierra's in most of the songs in his speaker comparison, and there were fanboys for both the Sierras and the Focals trying to convince him.  I was impressed that this novice brought in some acoustic panels to improve the sound in his room.  That was not a novice thing to do.

I'm wondering what cougar4u decided to do, because I'm considering the Sierra tower as well and reading that it is being compared to speakers that retail for $4000 is impressive to  me.
Unless you're buying those Ascend at some sort of discount, you're not looking at a speaker in the Focal 936 price range. You're talking more like a couple hundred away from 948's and I'm sure you can talk a dealer down a couple hundred. Personally, I think the 936's are 98% the speaker the 948's are. 
My antique rig has a pair of ESS AMT1's in it and I've heard a lot of AMT-type speakers. I like AMTs a lot and if you really want to burn 4 or 5 grand on something with a pair of them, go listen to a pair of big ESS with that massive dipole on top. They do things no other speaker does so we'll. 
All of that said, ribbons and AMT's are far more fussy about placement than the Focal will be, though 936's will want some consideration and tweaking. I'm also skeptical of the dispersion claims made of AMTs. I think they're better than ribbons, but they have practically no forgiveness for vertical off-axis listening. It basically doesn't matter with the Focals. Nobody is listening to 936's or 948's on tweeter axis unless they play in the NBA. 
Just some considerations....
One thing about ribbons.  The school of thought on them is that they have specific characteristics such as being fussy for placement, and a narrow disbursing pattern.  

The Raal ribbon tweeter in the Ascend Sierra speakers is a game changer, and why both Salk and Philharmonic have now also turned to Raal for ribbon tweeters.  They are hand made and simply amazing. I'm sure Focal makes a fine speaker as well, but there you are paying retail, or discounted retail instead of buying from the manufacturer and saving upwards of 50%. 

Incidentally, I had some well regarded focal speakers in my car.  I did not care for Focal's approach whatsoever.  Too bright/harsh.  I've owned the Sierra 2 which has the Raal ribbon, and I can tell you the highs are very resolving and detailed, but not ever harsh.  
I've never read one single review of the Aria series that's described them as bright or harsh. 
I also don't believe buying factory direct buys a better speaker for the money. Speakers generally command a price based on their qualities, not what they cost to build. 
Beyond all that, I'd never buy a speaker I can't hear first. Choosing based on hear-say, opinions, and reviews is like choosing a wife based on text messages. 
Well if you want to marry a pair of speakers, I guess.   The internet sales model is far different than the retail method, and is indeed based on what they cost to build.   The retail speaker brand will gin up its qualities and get print media types to "rave" about them so as to "command" a premium price.  Hey, its your money, spend as much as you want.



I seriously doubt what they ask has anything to do with what they cost to make. What's more, speaker companies hardly go around petitioning the likes of Stereophile to review and rave about their products. If a product is that good and that attention-getting at audio shows it'll be competently reviewed. 
If I had to choose between speakers sight unseen, some from a company renowned around the world for it's quality, engineering prowess, and for supplying the drivers for many other renowned speakers, and some from a company who's products I couldn't find with a search warrant, I'm going with the former every single time. 
Maybe there are speakers better than 936's, but I wouldn't dream of buying $4000 without extensively listening to my options. I'm always surprised when these kinds of threads pop up because nobody's opinion is going to matter in someone else's listening room. Ya just gotta listen to the things. The 936's we're the best I was able to find and listen to. If a manufacturer can't appreciate the importance of physically placing their product in the marketplace, but would rather depend on internet ad copy to win the day, I wouldn't take them very seriously. 
Just one guy's opinion... But it sounds good in my listening room. 
If you're surprised at this thread, then you must get surprised an awful lot, because EVERY audio forum is chock full of threads asking for owner's impressions of their gear. It's how people develop a short list these days as the internet has changed the game.

And of course you want to audition speakers before deciding, it doesn't matter if they cost $4000 or $40.  I'd rather audition speakers with my gear in my room over 30 days before deciding, rather than doing it in a sometimes badly set up sound room in an audio store, with a salesperson who may not know what they're talking about or who is pressuring me to buy now.  YMMV.
213runnin:  Assuming that Ascend is doing a charity by not just taking the extra money they would be giving to dealers is so short sighted.  Just because they are manufacturer direct means NOTHING.  If you were in their shoes, would you throw away profit for no reason?  If so, you’d be a terrible businessman.
@contuzzi, are you saying that Ascend's (or any manufacturer that sells directly to the consumer, in any industry) business model has no bearing on the way they price their products?  You not only said it means nothing, but you capitalized the entire word for emphasis.  Are you actually saying that their pricing is in no way whatsoever derived from the cost structure of their business model?
Contuzzi, the ID business model is far different from the B&M model.  No stores, no salespeople, no marketing to speak of and no ad campaigns.  Typically, they add a margin to the cost of their products and sell it in a marketplace that is probably very budget conscious.  

And, there is no 'extra money'.  If a given price drives a certain amount of sales, Economics 101 tells us that a lower price raises demand, and revenues.  We the consumers don't have to pay for B&M stores, marketing campaigns, fancy packaging\excessive bling in the product, nor the markup going from wholesale to retail.  

Plus, Ascend Acoustic speakers are Made in the  USA, including the cabinets.  I'm pretty sure any imported drivers come from Europe, not Asia, and for sure it's assembled in the USA, not some factory in China with disregard to human rights.
Again you’re assuming they’re taking the “let’s  prices low and just sell more” approach.  I’m sure they are in some sense, but not the the extent that you think.

Also, Focal speakers are hand made in France and they make all their own drivers.  This includes the Aria series.  So technically they are saving money there as well and keeping costs down too.

Remember, SVS and Emotiva were both Internet direct “value” brands, yet magically they are at the same prices via retail with full dealer margin now.

It’s not as simple as you think.
Post removed 
Yeah, I am surprised a lot. I don't value the opinions of total stranger all that much. The entire reason a professional review is worth selling ads and magazines is because those writers are continuously building a body of work that gives the reader an impression of what the writer is hearing and the reader can make personal estimations of the review based in their own impressions of the some of same gear reviewed. I've read plenty of amateur opinions accompanied by pics of their listening room repeat with big glass display cases, discombobulated architecture and room arrangement, and speakers jammed against a wall 4 feet apart, and there they are gloating about the awesome sound. One well written review tells me more than 1000 amateur opinions in a forum. 
A lot of companies sell factory direct with 30 day in-home auditions. That jazz makes me scratch my head. How do you break in a brand new speaker and tweak the room to their quirks in a month? A pair of Focal 1008Be, same price as Aria 936's take at least a week of 24/7 use before they're worth listening to. And what do you do with the third or half of the used speakers people send back? Are you really saving money when you have to throw away or deeply discount a significant portion of your production? Is their product really so good 2/3rds of the people who hear them simply must own them? I don't think such a product exists! I'm sure Focal never sees the kinds of returns Ascend sees, nor do they loose the money. 
Contuzzi,

1) I am not assuming anything.  They don't need to make as much on each pair of speakers because of what I've previously outlined.  


2)  The difference with Focal is, they have the manufacturer  -  wholsaler -  retailer chain.  They cost more because of this, and their marketing/ad costs.


213runnin: amazingly, you still don’t get what I’m saying.

Can you prove to me somehow that Ascend is passing on the savings of not going through a dealer network, not dealing with advertising cost, etc?

The internet direct brands want you to have that impression, but it makes no sense for them to do so. Did you just completely ignore the point I made about Emotiva and SVS earlier?

”they don’t need to make as much”  – spoken like someone who has no idea how a successful business works.  They will and should sell for as much as
they can get based on the perceived and actual value of the product.  Again, refer to my SVS and Emotiva examples that you seem to have ignored.
"They don’t need to make as much" is simply referring to what their costs are. Costs per unit, when one doesn’t have marketing, advertising, and a B&M chain to support, costs per unit are far less. So they don’t have to charge as much to attain a margin of 100%, or whatever they need to cover material and parts costs, salaries, utility bills, and a healthy profit. Typical margin for a company like Focal is probably over 300%.   That is, Focal would sell a given pair of speakers to a wholesaler (that cost them 1,000 to manufacture) for probably around 2,000, or 100% margin.  The wholesaler would sell to the retail shop at a profit, then the retailer sells to you at a profit, for a total margin of the original cost to Focal of easily 300%.

This is just simple economics, obviously you were not a business major. Don’t worry about it, you’re not the type of person who would understand examples like Emotiva and SVS, and how they have built up their brands, and changed their approach.


Please explain how they changed their approach to offer the same stuff for the same price but adding a gigantic margin for dealers off the top.  Oh, and the fact that they now advertise all over the place.  Explain it.
I’m not sure what you’re asking. Emotiva used to charge $899 for the XPA-5 amplifier. Today it’s $1599. Emotiva seems to be experimenting with a hybrid Internet Direct with dealer approach. I really don’t know what the costs are, but rest assured that a dealer is getting a profit from each sale, and so is emotiva.

With a true Internet Direct approach, there is only one level of profit margins, not 2 or 3.
You’re comparing two COMPLETELY different products at those price points. One a gen 2, one a gen 3, plus inflation. Plus the fact that they’re now made in the USA, plus the fact that they’re... you know... completely different.

Any other solid points you’d like to make?

Let me make this simple for you. I originally stated that there’s really extra substantial intrinsic value of an internet direct product at a given price point. There is no way that Ascend is selling a product that would sell for say $10,000 at retail, for $5,000 direct to customer just because they don’t have to deal with dealer/distributor cuts. No way they would be that dumb. If it has a consumer value of $10,000 why wouldn’t they sell it direct for say, $9,000 and keep the extra profit? I fully understand the point of “lower profit, but sell more” and to some minor extent there’s is an obvious SLIGHT bit of that but not nearly to the amount you suggested.



You can say this is Economics 101 all you want, and I’d agree. Basic short sighted overly simplistic economics. The real world of speaker/electronics selling is more complex than the basic simplicity you seem to be applying to it. There are so many more factors.

Look at Dollar Shave Club for a perfect example of the internet direct “advantage.”  Pay more for the same product and they laugh all the way to the bank.  


I believe there is no point in continuing this discussion, perhaps we can at least agree on that.

There are many factors on the Emotiva company, believe whatever makes sense to you.  I've been simplifying the discussion so those unfamiliar with business concepts could understand the basic issues.

One reason internet companies do not charge a full retail price on their products is specifically YOUR mind set. Many couldn’t be persuaded to try Ascend or Axiom or Aperion Audio or Hsu Research or Odyssey Audio or Oppo or any other such company. To succeed they have to discount their products to a point where enough are willing to try them out in their homes.

The first such product I ever bought was an Emotiva XPA-3 for around $500. The equivalent amp from Parasound was about 3000. I was willing to save 2500 and possibly get an inferior product. Since then I’ve purchased many pieces from the Oppos of the electronics world.

Some will try, but many like you won’t. Do whatever makes you happy.
I also do not believe all internet direct companies pass along the savings. SVS and Emotiva showed that when they switched and pricing stayed the same for a lot of products while adding the standard dealer margin. 

I like Focal and others that design and manufacture all of their parts and drivers. There are a lot of companies that do not do any research and just buy off the shelf drivers. That costs less then doing research. 
I'm pretty happy laying out a few hundred bucks more for the certainty of hearing what I'm buying and supporting my local independent retailer. It's in their best interest to make me as happy as possible. Not the case with the factory direct crowd. 
The factory direct companies live or die by their online reputation, they have to make you as happy as they can.

I can only go by my own experience.  Paradigm is a loudspeaker company that designed and made their own parts and drivers for decades, and I owned their second from very top of the line speaker, the Signature S6, which cost over 5000.  I owned these speakers for 7 years, and ran them first with Emotiva gear, then Parasound.  In my time, I've also owned 5 other models from Paradigm, from the Monitor and Performance series.  

And I can tell you that you can get equal performance of those $5000 speakers for much less money from Ascend(I've also owned 3 different pairs of Ascend speakers).  I compared them side by side and could not believe my ears.  

Believe whatever makes you happy, and spend multiple thousands like I did.


That's great for you, but do you really believe people's tastes and listening environments are so monolithic that Ascend's products are ideal for most? The Focal Aria 900 series is broadly considered better than Paradigm's competitive products, and you're saying you loved them and you now love Ascend? I'm not sold on Ascend right there because I've heard Paradigms. They're nice, but I think Golden Ear has a solid edge on them with their AMT and I think the Focal 936 trounces them in terms of imaging, dynamics, and neutrality. Beyond that, people who love B&W's dark tone rarely like Focal. Ascend can't possibly be that ideal of a speaker. 
"Ascend can't possibly be that ideal of a speaker"
- kosst_amojan

"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out"
- the music label Decca, 1962, when announcing they were passing on signing the Beatles

"The earth can't possibly be round".
- Everyone, pre-6th Century BC
You forget the price of tea in China.

I’m sure not loosing a wink of sleep over not having heard some obscure speaker I’d never come across had I not clicked this link.

For the record, it was a well known fact over 3000 years ago that the earth was round. The ancient Egyptians not only determined it was round but accurately calculated it's size. 
The Raal tweeter used in the Ascend speakers is one of the best tweeters out there that I’ve heard, to me it sounds much better than the AMT tweeters used in the Golden Ear speakers that I auditioned.

 It sounds a lot like the one used in my Infinity IRS epsilons that cost $ 16,000.00 in 95.

 The Raal is slightly faster and as dynamic as a dome tweeter but with less high frequency extension than my epsilons tweeter,   it sounds very very good.

In my opinion no dome tweeter can match the sound quality of the Raal tweeter no matter what material they’re made out of, including diamond and beryllium, not even close.

 Everyone should go audition a good pair speaker that incorporates the Raal tweeter to see what I'm talking about, once you hear the difference there’s no turning back, just my opinion. 
Well now, kosst_amojan, that’s a fine way to go about living your life. Form opinions about things you’ve never actually experienced in person, and then cling to those opinions against all logic or opportunity. With that mindset, there’s no point in trying new foods, traveling to new places, or meeting new people. Everything that you need to have experienced at this point in your life has already been checked off the list. Whatever else one might say about living that way, you could surely argue that at the very least it’s frugal!
I had an extensive audition with a pair of Focal 936s, a local dealer was closing them out for $2k. I wouldn't call them bright, but they definitely have a cool tonal balance. If I hadn't known I was using a class AB amp with them, I would've assumed they were paired to a class D amp.

I can see why some like them, they're a decent speaker, but not at the price of $4k. IMO, the Monitor Audio Silver 8s (retail $2k) are better than the Focals.

I would look at speakers from Salk Sound.
I have owned both the MA Silver 8's and the Sierra towers with RAAL (bought slightly used for just under $2000). I did side by side conparisons in my room. The Silver 8's are fantastic speakers for the money, particularly the midrange of their 3-way design. The bass is plentiful (enough so that I had to use the port bungs). But they are a little closed/congested sounding - the tweeter/highs are ok - and the soundstage was pretty flat with no depth. That was always my struggle with them. And this is where the Sierra tower with RAAL ribbon comes in to play - far more open, airy and natural without being bright. The cabinets are extremely well made (and by hand in the USA) - much better than the MA's. They are a *little* light in the bass department (but do go down to 30Hz without issue) so if it's bass slam you want the Silver 8's might be a better choice. But I use a room correction convolution filter with a bass curve to even that out. I sold the Silver 8's and don't think I will need to look at speakers for a long time.

Haven't heard the Focal 936's but I have heard the standmounts and the upper end was good but not near the RAAL ribbon. I think you would have to spend a lot more to noticeably improve upon the Sierra towers with RAAL. Another other option might be Salk.

I also do think that there are savings to be had with the ID business model. My local Monitor Audio dealer says that wholesale for the Silver 8's is well under $1500 a pair - there is typically a 1/3rd markup on a lot of audio gear. Thus why one can often get a much lower price than msrp on this stuff from a dealer. This isn't like selling Apple Laptops where dealers have tiny margins of 10%. There is a lot of gravy in the audio dealer sales channel. So the $2000 msrp Silver 8's probably sell to the distributor for $1000+ who then sells to dealers for $1300+. Compare that to a pair of Sierra tower RAALs that msrp at $2800 and probably cost somewhere above $2000 to produce (complete guess). Of course, the only way that MA can sell speakers that cheaply into the dealer network is by producing in china, which does have economy of scale benefits and does not necessilarly mean that quality is any less ... 
IMO, if you want speakers that are non-fatiguing for long sessions, the best you can do for $4k is move to the BBC inspired brands from Harbeth, Spendor, Stirling, ProAc etc. I have yet to come across any floor standing models that aren't fatiguing after a couple hours. Sometimes the Brit speakers need a sub, depending on the room, but they're well worth the hassle.

I haven't heard the Sierra towers, but someone on A/V Forums did an extensive comparison between the Aria 936 and the Sierra towers and preferred the Sierras by a slim margin. However, I think he was using the conventional tweeter Sierras. 

Hopefully you'll keep us updated with your experience. 
nquery, interesting comparison with Monitor Audio.  When my dealer dropped the Paradigm line back around 2005, they went with Monitor Audio.

I've never thought that any speaker brand is a one size fit all proposition.  And of course, many differing tastes and preferences.  Some want a speaker to add plenty of bass and or have a hot top end.  A pair of Tannoys I have push the mid frequencies, and they are nice for some music.  But if one wants true accuracy, detail and resolution without coloring the sound, many brands need not apply.

The trick is finding speakers that inspire you, and then getting electronics that compliment them.  For accuracy and an ability to recreate the most difficult instruments without getting harsh sounding, Ascend with the Raal tweeter is one option.  The fact that they operate outside of the retail system seems to trouble some greatly.
@bcgator 
I live to do new and different things. Only a fool who's never met me would make a statement like you did. I don't, however, go around kicking in people's front doors to try their food and listen to their obscure speakers. When I come across things I give them a fair shake. I sure wasn't looking for Focals the first time I heard them. I'd never even heard of them back then.  
Am I seriously supposed to wring my hands, pee my pants, and chew my nails to the quick because I didn't listen to every $4000 on the planet and one might be better than mine? I don't have time for that jazz. 
Pee your pants?  Whatever bcgator said, you are over reacting I think.  Cougar4u started this thread, and probably regrets it!
Eh... My point is that we're talking about some obscure internet speaker compared to one that anyone who knows audio has probably heard of, if not actually seen, listened to, and read professional reviews on. I came across some weird speaker with fancy stone cabinets a year and a half ago. Same kinds of "this is the crowning achievement of humanity" hype Ascend's page was littered with. Did anyone actually go look at their page? Whoever authored that travesty of advertising should be fired. It's like the guy couldn't help but gloat about the speakers paragraph after paragraph after paragraph after paragraph! It's called overselling and it's a bad thing. Anyone ever heard of Digital Phase speakers? I doubt it. They sound pretty good, but you'll need to kidnap a dude named Daryl in Tennessee to get a pair. The reason I heard them at all was because the guy had the common sense to open a small storefront and get those things out in the world as much as he could.