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  1. #1
    Forum Regular Mike Anderson's Avatar
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    Causes of sibilance and high-freq harshness?

    I've been experimenting with my setup a lot lately - not changing out any components, but moving it around my room, and trying out different placement of the various components.

    I've noticed that at times, the setup can sound very harsh and unpleasing in the high frequencies; it's a grating, very annoying feel. At other times, it sounds incredibly smooth and enjoyable; it's so relaxing I just bliss out.

    It seems to sound different every time I turn on the system, even if I haven't moved things or changed the music I'm listening to. All I know is that it's a high frequency thing (including high mids - think of a high trumpet, guitar lead, soprano, bells, that sort of thing.)

    So what's going on?? What is causing my rig to sound awesome on some occasions, and crappy on others? Is it all in my head, or is it something else?

    My speakers are Magnepan 1.6qr, powered by an integrated amp (Pathos Logos), fed by a Benchmark DAC1. Speaker cables are Speltz anticables, bi-wired.

    Any clues? Is this all a matter of room placement? I've got wood floors and a fair amout of window area, but that doesn't explain why my sound is so well-tamed at some times, while harsh at others.

    Or could it be a problem with my interconnects? Should I be arranging my interconnects a certain way, to keep them away from the power cables, or from each other?

    Any help is appreciated.
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  2. #2
    Shostakovich fan Feanor's Avatar
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    Just one observation

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson
    ...

    It seems to sound different every time I turn on the system, even if I haven't moved things or changed the music I'm listening to. All I know is that it's a high frequency thing (including high mids - think of a high trumpet, guitar lead, soprano, bells, that sort of thing.)

    So what's going on?? What is causing my rig to sound awesome on some occasions, and crappy on others? Is it all in my head, or is it something else?

    .....
    As for you, sometimes my system just doesn't sound so good even though I've changed nothing and am listening to the same music. I ascribe this to stress and/or fatigue. When I'm tired I often be come hyper-critical of the sound. It seems I hear the same sorts of flaws as you do on those occassions. And I have decided, yes, it is mostly in my head; at the very least I image the tiniest of flaws to be huge.

  3. #3
    Silence of the spam Site Moderator Geoffcin's Avatar
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    A little science;

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson
    I've been experimenting with my setup a lot lately - not changing out any components, but moving it around my room, and trying out different placement of the various components.

    I've noticed that at times, the setup can sound very harsh and unpleasing in the high frequencies; it's a grating, very annoying feel. At other times, it sounds incredibly smooth and enjoyable; it's so relaxing I just bliss out.

    It seems to sound different every time I turn on the system, even if I haven't moved things or changed the music I'm listening to. All I know is that it's a high frequency thing (including high mids - think of a high trumpet, guitar lead, soprano, bells, that sort of thing.)

    So what's going on?? What is causing my rig to sound awesome on some occasions, and crappy on others? Is it all in my head, or is it something else?

    My speakers are Magnepan 1.6qr, powered by an integrated amp (Pathos Logos), fed by a Benchmark DAC1. Speaker cables are Speltz anticables, bi-wired.

    Any clues? Is this all a matter of room placement? I've got wood floors and a fair amout of window area, but that doesn't explain why my sound is so well-tamed at some times, while harsh at others.

    Or could it be a problem with my interconnects? Should I be arranging my interconnects a certain way, to keep them away from the power cables, or from each other?

    Any help is appreciated.
    Check the times that you think your system sounds great and write them down. Do the same for the times that you think things sound harsh. My guess is that a pattern will emerge to this effect, and that you will be able to see the cause.
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  4. #4
    Class of the clown GMichael's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Geoffcin
    Check the times that you think your system sounds great and write them down. Do the same for the times that you think things sound harsh. My guess is that a pattern will emerge to this effect, and that you will be able to see the cause.
    Maybe inlude things like volume, source, who's with you & mood.
    WARNING! - The Surgeon General has determined that, time spent listening to music is not deducted from one's lifespan.

  5. #5
    Forum Regular PAT.P's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GMichael
    Maybe inlude things like volume, source, who's with you & mood.
    I would add how sober were you at time or how sedated.Music does'nt sound the same when I had a few .

  6. #6
    Forum Regular Mike Anderson's Avatar
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    ^^^ Music always sounds better to me when I'm intoxicated too. However, I'm on the wagon at the moment; in fact, one of the reasons I'm pursuing the audiophile hobby is to find a way to relax and bliss out without alcohol.

    As far as it being "in my head" -- I should clarify what I meant. I'm fairly sure it isn't something I'm imagining, or something dependent on my state of mind or mood. I was actually wondering if there was something different about how my ears were functioning. I think maybe my ears are more sensitive at some times than others.

    However, my wife notices it too, at times.

    So making a list of things that seem to work is a very good idea, and I'm going to do that. I'd been doing it mentally, but I will start to be more systematic about it.

    FWIW, I just re-positioned everything for the thousandth time, and, for now anyway, I seem to have an arrangement that works quite well.

    I think I had a very problematic corner of the room, and I also think I have a problem with hard surfaces in various places. Moving them around and covering them up seems to work fairly well, but it's also a little unpredictable.
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  7. #7
    Forum Regular PAT.P's Avatar
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    I had problem with my system with a sony receiver,when I bought my Yamaha with automatic speaker calibration it work fine.I also added a surge protection ,power conditioner /filter .Dont know much about your speakers maybe Florian could help you on this one.
    Last edited by PAT.P; 02-26-2006 at 09:24 AM.

  8. #8
    Mutant from table 9
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    I know exactly what Mike is talking about.

    But I say, turn the question on its head. Don't ask "Why does it sound bad sometimes?" Ask "Why does it sound so good sometimes?"

    Just Friday night I was listening to a new cassette, yes cassette, and it sounded terrific. Absolutely perfect. It was an album I've been looking for for years. Never have seen it on vinyl or CD. Found in in a cutout bin on cassette for $2.00.

    Friday night, combined with new music, good find, 12 year old rum (scotch is for grandpa's), and winding down from the week equal good sound.

    Listening to music is recreation. In other words, we continually re-create the event. Human senses are notoriously unreliable and subjective, despite what the golden ear crowd thinks. Two people see the same car wreck and have a different perception of what happen. Hear the same conversation and hear different words. Watch the same movie and disagree as to what they saw on screen. Accordingly, even if we re-create the same listening experience, it can be different every time, even if all the variable are the same. Sometimes it will be bad. Sometimes good.

  9. #9
    M.P.S.E /AES/SMPTE member Sir Terrence the Terrible's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson
    ^^^
    As far as it being "in my head" -- I should clarify what I meant. I'm fairly sure it isn't something I'm imagining, or something dependent on my state of mind or mood. I was actually wondering if there was something different about how my ears were functioning. I think maybe my ears are more sensitive at some times than others.

    However, my wife notices it too, at times.

    So making a list of things that seem to work is a very good idea, and I'm going to do that. I'd been doing it mentally, but I will start to be more systematic about it.

    FWIW, I just re-positioned everything for the thousandth time, and, for now anyway, I seem to have an arrangement that works quite well.

    I think I had a very problematic corner of the room, and I also think I have a problem with hard surfaces in various places. Moving them around and covering them up seems to work fairly well, but it's also a little unpredictable.
    I think you have found your own answer. Hard surfaces create very loud reflections. When these reflections are combined with the direct output, the mid and the highs can sometimes sound quite "hard" or loud. This will throw the balance of the speaker system out of wack to the ears. If you cover those hard surfaces up, or move the speakers away from them, then the speakers natural balance stays relatively intact. Hard untreated walls that are parallel to each other are one of the worst, Corners are the worse for main speakers as it interacts with room modes more efficently. . Close proximity to glass tables, mirrors, windows will cause the high frequencies to sound diffused or louder than the rest of the audio spectrum.
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  10. #10
    If you can't run-walk. Bernd's Avatar
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    Hi Mike,

    I agree with most what Slumpbuster said, apart from the Scotch thing, listen you-I am no Grandpa!!
    When I completed my listening room last summer, I started with a bare room and bit by bit added things.First reflection absorbtion were very important. I also have a fairly large window and by adding some drapes and some large leaved Plants (not of the smoking variety) I tamed the brightness and sibilance. Since your speakers are radiating front and back I am sure a couple of strategic placed plants would go some way in smoothing the sound out.
    However mood does play a part and sometime it does not gel and yet the next time I listen, it is all singing and dancing.
    Also the power could get polluted at certain times. I ran a completely separate spur and consumer unit, and filter units which makes one hell of a difference.
    Hope you can sort it out.

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  11. #11
    Audiophile Wireworm5's Avatar
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    Not having heard your system one can only speculate on what your hearing. I suspect that your source player is not as good as it could be. Myself since upgrading to a better universal dvd player I never get bored with the sound anymore.
    However in my experience listening to music has more to do with your mind being able to process the info than hearing assuming there is nothing wrong with your hearing. When I first listened to my stereo for extended listening sessions, were talking many hours a day for a few weeks. Eventually listening fatigue set in and my mind could no longer absorb music. When fatigue sets in nothing sounds good and music becomes irritable. At this point you just need to take a break for a few days and give your mind and ears a rest. Eventually though with as much as 40 hours of listening a week of listening I no longer experience listening fatigue.
    I generally listen to music fairly loud, louder than what most people are use to. Now when I play music for a friend he doesn't hear the details or subtlies in the music that I do. Why because the loud music is overloading his minds ability to process the info.

    Oh Chit I got to get ready for work. Anyways keep listening and eventually you'll overcome listening fatigue.

  12. #12
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    To me, harshness is the nature of the recording and how it was mixed. Not necessarily the "quality" and/or detail of the recording, rather the timing and spatial characteristics of the sounds. That is what I find fatiguing. Old recordings can be great, modern can be awful. It seems to be how many tracks were laid upon each other with little regard to the final product. Many years with Vandersteens made me sensitive to this. My current speakers are more dynamic and detailed, however, they can be more fatiguing. It all depends upon the material being played.

    Your initial post does not say whether it is the same music you are listening to.

    FWIW, my wife put in a Nickelback album this weekend. It was fatiguing beyong belief. What a horrible recording, it must have been designed for MP3 headphones and nothing else.

    jocko

  13. #13
    If you can't run-walk. Bernd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jocko_nc
    To me, harshness is the nature of the recording and how it was mixed. Not necessarily the "quality" and/or detail of the recording, rather the timing and spatial characteristics of the sounds. That is what I find fatiguing. Old recordings can be great, modern can be awful. It seems to be how many tracks were laid upon each other with little regard to the final product. Many years with Vandersteens made me sensitive to this. My current speakers are more dynamic and detailed, however, they can be more fatiguing. It all depends upon the material being played.

    Your initial post does not say whether it is the same music you are listening to.

    FWIW, my wife put in a Nickelback album this weekend. It was fatiguing beyong belief. What a horrible recording, it must have been designed for MP3 headphones and nothing else.

    jocko
    I agree with that. I find that many modern recordings suck beyond believe and are damn right unlistenable.
    I bought "Hard-Fis" debut two disc set and the recording is just horrible.
    Also Van Morrisons latest, where the quality of the recording is good, the pressing (I am on my third copy) however is shocking. It sounds like a third hand cast off.
    Why has the quality declined so much?

    Bernd
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  14. #14
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson
    \I've noticed that at times, the setup can sound very harsh and unpleasing in the high frequencies; it's a grating, very annoying feel. At other times, it sounds incredibly smooth and enjoyable; it's so relaxing I just bliss out.
    RF can be a factor in many modern environments. It manifests itself as an edge on the top and an increase in overall noise level. Have multiple CD/DVD players, cable boxes, wireless computer hubs, etc.? All of which potentially throw out lots of RF energy back into the AC.

    If so, you may benefit from shielded power cords and/or power conditioners.

    rw

  15. #15
    Forum Regular Mike Anderson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wireworm5
    Not having heard your system one can only speculate on what your hearing. I suspect that your source player is not as good as it could be. Myself since upgrading to a better universal dvd player I never get bored with the sound anymore.
    I'm fairly sure that's not the problem. Music is stored on a hard drive in FLAC; the digital signal is sent off-board to a Benchmark DAC1.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wireworm5
    When I first listened to my stereo for extended listening sessions, were talking many hours a day for a few weeks. Eventually listening fatigue set in and my mind could no longer absorb music. When fatigue sets in nothing sounds good and music becomes irritable. At this point you just need to take a break for a few days and give your mind and ears a rest.
    I'm aware that your ears get fatigued, but I didn't know it took a couple days to rest them. I always figured overnight was good enough. Other opinions about this?
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  16. #16
    Forum Regular Mike Anderson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by E-Stat
    RF can be a factor in many modern environments. It manifests itself as an edge on the top and an increase in overall noise level. Have multiple CD/DVD players, cable boxes, wireless computer hubs, etc.? All of which potentially throw out lots of RF energy back into the AC.

    If so, you may benefit from shielded power cords and/or power conditioners.

    rw
    I do have lots of electronic gadgetry, of course.

    Presently, I'm using a Furman power conditioner, left over from when I used to do a lot of recording.

    Any recommendations, specifically on power cords? I've always thought it was a bogus tweak, but I'm willing to try anything at this point.

    I moved away all the electronics I could, in addition to covering up hard surfaces, and right now it's sounding good, but not excellent.

    And I should point out that yes, I'm holding constant the specific pieces of music I'm listening too.
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  17. #17
    Forum Regular Mike Anderson's Avatar
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    I don't know why I didn't do this before, but this narrows things down:

    I plugged a pair of high end Sennheiser headphones into the Benchmark DAC1, and it sounds gorgeous. So that rules out my ears/head, and puts the problem downstream of the DAC.

    So it's either:

    1) the cables from the DAC1 to the amp, which are fairly high end XLR cables going into balanced XLR inputs on the amp;

    2) the amp;

    3) the speaker cables (Speltz anti-cables, bi-wired)

    4) the 1.6qrs - doubtful;

    5) the room (most likely candidate).

    So basically I'm going to look for more ways to soften up the room. So far I've got all the glass anywhere near the speakers or at a possible reflection point covered. It sounds OK, but not as smooth and sweet as it sounds in the headphones.

    So what should the next step be as far as room treatment? The ceiling? The rear wall? Ficus trees behind the speakers?

    Advice appreciated as always, thanks.
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  18. #18
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson
    Presently, I'm using a Furman power conditioner, left over from when I used to do a lot of recording.
    Presumably though, you don't run your power amp through it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson
    Any recommendations, specifically on power cords?
    Well unfortunately, the better ones I have are kinda pricey. This is most definitely a case of try-before-buy. One reasonably priced model is from DIY Audio called the Redcoat:

    Redcoat

    I built mine acquiring the components from Parts Express.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson
    I moved away all the electronics I could, in addition to covering up hard surfaces, and right now it's sounding good, but not excellent.
    Ideally, you would also be using dedicated AC line(s) for your components. When I had my basement listening room built, I had the electricians install two.

    I think that RF rejection is the one villain that conventional cable metrics simply ignore. It has nothing at all to do with LCR. You must have an increasingly more typical modern home containing a number of digital devices in order to test their efficacy. In each of the systems I use shielded ICs and power cords, I get a quieter, smoother "non-loud" sound.

    rw

  19. #19
    Forum Regular Mike Anderson's Avatar
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    Presumably though, you don't run your power amp through it.
    Why presumably? I do, actually. Should I not?

    Any solid research you can point me to regarding the effect on sound of RF through power cords? I know people talk about it, but I'm interesting in seeing some kind of objective analysis of it before i spend serious money on it (and I don't even have an outlet that'll accommodate that cord you linked to!)

    Thanks,
    Mike
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  20. #20
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson
    I do, actually. Should I not?
    Many high current amps are limited when run through conditioners.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson
    Any solid research you can point me to regarding the effect on sound of RF through power cords?
    No. That is the reference I made earlier where I'm not aware of a *lab* who has tried to simulate a home environment with all sorts of digital gear in the lines. I purchased some of mine from a shop that had a full refund policy. Another set I heard first on a friend's system and he brought them over to my house as well to hear the results.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson
    ...and I don't even have an outlet that'll accommodate that cord you linked to!
    If your components do not support a detachable IEC cord, then the discussion is academic. There is a product, however, called Power Wraps (I think) that will work with a captive cord designed specifically to trap RF.

    As I said earlier, this is very much a try-before-you-buy kind of product because of all the system and environment variables.

    rw

  21. #21
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson
    I do, actually. Should I not?
    Many high current amps are limited when run through conditioners.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson
    Any solid research you can point me to regarding the effect on sound of RF through power cords?
    No. That is the reference I made earlier where I'm not aware of a *lab* who has tried to simulate a home environment with all sorts of digital gear in the lines. I purchased some of mine from a shop that had a full refund policy. Another set I heard first on a friend's system and he brought them over to my house as well to hear the results.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Anderson
    ...and I don't even have an outlet that'll accommodate that cord you linked to!
    If your components do not support a detachable IEC cord, then the discussion is academic. There is a product, however, called Power Wraps (I think) that will work with a captive cord designed specifically to trap RF.

    As I said earlier, this is very much a try-before-you-buy kind of product because of all the system and environment variables.

    rw

  22. #22
    nightflier
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    "I do, actually. Should I not?"
    Many high current amps are limited when run through conditioners.

    E-Stat, I presume you are not referring to conditioners with specific sockets for amps like the Monster & Panamax ones?

  23. #23
    Music Junkie E-Stat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nightflier
    E-Stat, I presume you are not referring to conditioners with specific sockets for amps like the Monster & Panamax ones?
    I don't pretend to know the answer for all the various products, but the short answer is yes with the ones I'm familiar with. I don't have the time now, but I should be able to find threads giving the specific reasons that have to do with how the filtration is handled. I have two Monster conditioners myself, although I use those in my HT systems. With one of those, I use a 500 watt (all channels driven) NAD T763 receiver and go straight to the wall via a JPS Labs Power AC cord. All the remaining gear goes through the HTS-3500.

    rw

  24. #24
    Forum Regular hermanv's Avatar
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    My system also seemed to vary from day to day. Two things I learned; it always sounded better late at night, which I presumed to be power line noise, or even acoustical noise form the world at large. I never did buy a power conditioner. After replacing my vacuum tube pre-amp with a passive and getting better cables, the problem did get much less noticable. So it could have been RFI or at least that was some part of the problem.

    Still, the sound quality would get gradually worse, so I'd drag out the cable cleaning chemicals and carefully clean and treat every connection. This was needed about every 6 months, sometimes as often as 3 months.

    Ditto with the CD cleaner disk, not as noticable but the music did seem to have more life and sparkle after the CD player laser was cleaned, again about every 6 months. This probably depends on how many disks you play.

  25. #25
    Forum Regular Mike Anderson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by E-Stat
    Many high current amps are limited when run through conditioners.
    Is there anyway I can tell if that's happening to me? These are the specs for the amp:

    Output power: 110W RMS @ 8 Ohm, 220W RMS @ 4 Ohm
    Frequency response: 2Hz-200KHz 0,5dB
    THD: <0.05%
    S/N ratio: >90dB
    Input impedance: 100 KOhm

    Quote Originally Posted by E-Stat
    If your components do not support a detachable IEC cord, then the discussion is academic.
    I'm talking about the outlet on the wall. Looking at the photo in the link you posted, it doesn't appear to be a standard three-pronged plug on the male end of the cord.
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