Help. System sounds thin and bright or harsh

Hope this isn't redundant tried to post in Tech Talk

Just moved my system to a new home/sound room and it still sounds harsh and a bit thin despite supposedly "warm" sounding Harbeth 30.1 speakers. This issue is not new and I had put the blame on the old listening room.  Can't figure out what the problem is. I listen loud at 80dcbl or higher and sit nearfield about 8 feet from the speaker plane. (sound is thin and bright from afar as well) I have experimented in both homes with speaker placement, toe-in and the like. Speakers are placed a lil over 3 feet from the rear wall and about two and a half feet from side walls.  I feel something is off. Perhaps a component or two that is known to be tipped up in the highs and a lil bass shy?? Also, I leave all solid state components fully powered up 24/7. (not the tubes)


Modwright/Oppo BDP 105 disc player  (all mods with tubed power supply and pricey NOS tube upgrades throughout)  Looking to replace once the harshness/bright issue is nailed down.

Parasound JC2 Preamp

Pass Labs X250.5 Amp

Harbeth 30.1 stand mount speakers

Puritan Labs PSM 156 power conditioner. (less "edgy" sound with it in system)

System is run all balanced with fairly costly Cardas interconnects.

All input is welcome. Thanks in advance.

Happy listening.




That sounds a little far from the rear wall.

The right location varies on room size and how reflective it is.  If the room is very lively to mid and treble it will act as a tone control, making it sound like you lack enough bass.

Back the speakers up to the wall and consider damping down the mid/hi frequencies in the room as well.

What kind of music do you listen to? If its anything with any amount of mid and low bass I think the Harbeth may be giving up on you at 80 db and 8ft away. I've never had a satisfying experience with loud music and small 2 way monitors without subs unless at fairly low volumes. Is it thin and harsh at lower volumes? 


All of your equipment including cables is known for being on the warmish side of neutral. 

Thanks for the replies.

Mofojo Sound is less edgy at low volume but still seems a thin NOT full at all.

Erik I am going to definitely pushem back to the wall. Very picky about set up and hate to touch when I THINK I got them dialed in.

Can't help but feel a component is letting me down. Ive heard the JC2 can be bright.

Also mofojo may be onto something about the loudness level. I listen to rock jazz blues and some classical. Great recordings sound good to sometimes stunning. But listening at low level right now and there's just no fullness. Something I've noticed for years but always chalked it up to the other listening room

Also Ive never heard the Modwright modded Oppo but I had given up on digital until my latest R2R dac. Makes everything sound “right” even sh…y recording to a point of course. Waay more meat on the bones is how I would describe but still very detailed. No idea if it’s neutral but don’t care. 

I’ve never heard anyone say bright when describing anything Parasound. 

I'm going to say the Harbeths are just not cutting it. Small two way speakers seldom do (unless you like a lean sound). You need a bigger 3 way to get the warm midrange you are looking for. 

Depending on how handy you are, or your free cash…

Either build or buy some acoustic panels.

good video on diy:


Oh yeah, a good r2r dac, or even a ds dac with various “warm” filters (mine is a gustard r26, generally in NOS, which replaced an smsl -su 10) but those with more free cash can find something more expensive for a small improvement. 

Lots of thoughts.  I don’t think your equipment including the DAC is terribly warm.  That said, it is not like you have obnoxiously bright stuff either.  

Thinness can come from a few places.  Tell us more about the room.  Carpeting?  Wall treatment?  Pictures, windows, curtains, etc…. How far do you sit from the speakers?  

Do you have a subwoofer?  Those start rolling off above 50hz and it is going to sound thin at lower volumes.  A good sub could help that out potentially.  That along could be your issue with fullness.  Regarding edginess, That could be a single component.  Might be the JC2, might be the pass.  I have a Modwright UDP 205 here paired with AGD amp and preamp and it is sweet and musical.  

I would  try a sub.  Let’s here more about your room but you might borrow an amp or preamp from your retailer that you work with to see if it helps.  

My first thoughts all centered around positioning. But it sounds like you have covered that. Secondly floor and wall treatments. It would be really helpful to us if you could upload photos of your system and venue to virtual systems under your UserID. Often, one look can completely redirect the discussion to some relavent factor. 

I have owned lots of Pass gear and the line that sounds more in line with your interests would be the XA line. They are much warmer and more natural. Tubes… everywhere and anywhere are appropriate.


Parasound preamps are not known to be particularly trebly or hot on the top… but a good tube preamp will definitely more to your liking… maybe used Audio Reseach or Conrad Johnson… Rouge can be a bit hot for tube gear.


"Harsh" can be a result of out of spec distortion in any of the front end components. To rule that out you'll have to swap out each piece one at a time. If it solves the problem, then the offending piece can be sent for testing/service.

in your old room was your back up against a wall and now you are sitting out in the room?  

sitting up against a wall reinforces bass quite a bit.  

is the new room more lively / less furnished / less treated with drapes and carpet?  

also settings can change when gear is moved around.  could you be using the inverted polarity outputs on your preamp or one of them?  

Apart from a pair of REL T5x, I'd look at the tubes. Any idea what 6SN7s are fitted?  RCA VT231 or Ken-Rad 6SN7 are on the warmer side.

Thanks guys much to think about

Room is 13'2" wide in a loft with side walls extending 11 feet back from the front wall where the speakers are close to. Behind the seating position about 8 feet from the speaker plane is wide open in a loft of a two story home. Ceilings is vaulted 10 to 11 feet high as it is angled. Carpet is pretty thick. No room treatments as of yet.

But as Avanti1960 speculated I USED to sit against the rear wall in the old listening room and still didn't have the warm, full sound. Bass shy for sure. Now its wide open behind me except for a four foot high wall behind the couch or seat.

As for output tubes, I have two sets aside from the stock harmonix something or others. One pair is a set of matched Tungsol 6SN7's from upscale audio. The much better set is from RCA circa 1940's 6SN7 GT's.  Much more sparkle and "life" compared to the Tungsols. Tungsols help a tiny bit with edgyness but rob the sound. They can't compare to the NOS RCA's. 

Still playing with speaker placement but since I mentioned that this problem has followed me from listening room to listening room it leads me to think the problem is component related?? Maybe bad synergy. Maybe speakers really aren't up to the task for high volume but still sound thin at low volume  Call me crazy but even with all this the system has never sounded better, so I am re-invigorated to pin this issue down and upgrade if need be.  Its nice cranking the volume without disturbing neighbors.


The 30.1 are monitors and not designed for a cranked-up, full bass sound. 

I have the HARBETH 30.2 XD’s that developed a digital “edge” and excess brightness that needed to be fixed.

(A) The HARBETHs are driven by a very beefy high-current REGA OSIRIS integrated amp.
(B) High- end audio sources are two fold;


- BRYSTON BDP-1USB digital player/ streamer/ network player feeding its stablemate BRYSTON BDA-2 DAC

- each in an independent discrete 20A dedicated circuit.

- cables were the ethereal challenge and finsl piece of the fix,

THE FIX FOR ME: - Cables were upgraded to a better synergy match. Read on.

I had an all-NORDOST FREY Ag-over-Cu cables array from a prior system . With the introduction of the HARBETHs something was now off …I upgraded to an all-CARDAS array sequentially with an unusual final upgrade choice change in the speaker cables.

Was:All NORDOST FREY array.

NOW: an all-CARDAS array replacing an all-NORDOST FREY array,

CARDAS CLEAR XLR interconnects




(1): Careful model experimentation of cables matter

I was still frustrated by the cables upgrade lacking until Josh Meredith at CARDAS gave me a tip to fix it. Let me explain.

My sequential cables upgrade was ICs first, then the power cables, and finally the speaker cables.Each step was a sequential audio performance upgrade , but the legacy of the shotgunned flat ribbon silver coated copper ferrule NORDOST FREY speaker cables was leaving a residual “edge” that was still “off” with that annoying (albeit sequentially progressively less …)

I was torn between upgrading to the full Monty CARDAS CLEAR speaker cables or choosing the one model down CARDAS CLEAR REFLECTIONs. Josh Meredith at CARDAS ( hubby of Chief Operating Officer Angela Cardas Meredith ) gave me the key valuable tip fix,

He explained that they had a similar listening room to me with a lot of glass windows creating more acute stubborn hard reflection points. They started with CARDAS CLEAR speaker cables as part of their top model all-CARDAS CLEAR array, but it was still a lingering-issue for some brightness and digital edge. They now swapped down one model to the CARDAS CLEAR REFLECTION speaker cables ..,, a “warmer” signature tonality cable model …and presto ….. their problem solved. He said it’s their “go-to” model in bright or reflective rooms.

So I now followed his advice and did the same ,,,, CARDAS CLEAR REFLECTION speaker cables …and presto … problem solved for me too. Who knew? Go figger.

(2);AUDIO: SPEAKER CABLES - From Alan Shaw (owner and designer of HARBETH in support of experimenting with established speaker cable diameters)

The following excerpt echoed that beefier diameter CARDAS speaker cables were a better match for me than my very thin and flat ribbon NORDOSTs for my HARBETHs,


” … So, the moral of the story is this: the most important factor of the loudspeaker cable that you should select is the amount of metal in the cable core. More metal means lower resistance.

If the core is round (as most are) then the correlation is simple: the fatter the diameter of the metal core the better because the electrical resistance between amp and speakerwill be lower.

Thin and really thin cores should be avoided regardless of how exotic the metal material is claimed as the lack of metal in the core conductor will increase resistance. That will reduce amplifier damping, affect the frequency response of the speaker and give unpredictable results that will vary from amp/speaker combination.

Do not be fooled by the diameter of the external plastic sheath: what matters is the metal content of the core. The more the better, without exception….”



Your HARBETG speakers can perform a lot better if placed on quality build “ light” open-form design stands as recommended by HARBETH, (e.g. Tontraeger ...I have custom build bespoke clones done by a pro woodworker) and also properly positioned from the back wall and side walls ( min .75 m and 1 m respectively).
The HARBETHs are a thin-walled speaker stand design that resonate like a sound board on a STEINWAY.or STRAD. These open design speaker stands facilitate this. Heavy mass and rigid speaker stands are an impediment and disservice to their design.



Hey AK g  that sounds very interesting. "digital edge" seems to hit home as to what I'm hearing along with "brightness" . Can't believe just the cables could make a dramatic difference.  My speaker cables are not cardas.  I got to look closer tomorrow, but they are short and fairly expensive around $1200 or so AND are bywire with low pass and high pass spade leads at each end. I double up the leads to use all of the cable.  Might try just the low pass and see if that changes the sound, then I might have a base point to try different cables.  Thanks..

Stands are Harbeth specific open wood, four posters.

Sounds like you need to add sub(s) and treat your room or get full range speakers and treat your room. Also, if you toe your speakers in directly at your listening position that usually makes the highs sound more pronounce. Try less toe in. But most likely room treatment and increasing the bass will get you what you’re looking for. 

To me the Harbeth M30.1 sounds warm.and slightly rolled off in the treble. I wouldn't be able to make it sound bright. If you couldn't figure out the problem to the brightness issue with the 30.1, perhaps try M30. It sounds excessively warm to me, much warmer than 30.1.

You could be sitting in a bass null. Cutting the bass and hearing a lot more of the highs. I would play with listening position and speaker placement. Any way to measure the system? REW? Test tones and sound meter? That will tell you quite a bit.

@cymivka ,  I'm sorry to hear of your frustration. This must be especially annoying given the quality of your system. 

I agree with the folks who say try adding a pair of good subwoofers.  I prefer REL. 

Keep us posted. It's always nice to see one of our fellow hobbyists resolve their issue with satisfaction.

Try moving your speakers back towards the wall a bit to augment the bass and consider adding a sub.

Consider starting over with speaker placement using the Sonus Faber method.  Easy and effective.  Presented by Will (can’t remember his last name).  

you can always go back to your current setup 

 I have a small room with Parasound Halo, B&W 805d3, Arcam ST60 streamer and two Rel 7x subs. I don’t have expense cables and my room is 12x12 with some glass on sides. I have been looking to help make the bass cleaner for hearing bass lines for music. I read comments about bass nulls as well and the feedback was to add subs and using pairs will help cancel the nulls. Not sure I have all the terminology correct here. I used an XTZ room analyzer to adjust my subs and it helped. I have had some feedback to use a Minidsp Flex with subs and perform the sub-optimizer then use Dirac live adjustments to fix for room issues. Also a thought for myself is whether or not my ears are losing bass frequency? Not sure any of this fits for you as there is a lot of feedback on your question. Good luck

Got time to attack this situation today. gonna start with pushing speakers back against the wall, though most advise that Harbeths need space around them. Dont want to collapse the depth of the sound stage. Will also play with moving the listening position. Gonna also try changing out the amp as I have access to nuforce 9 mono blocs that will accept balanced feed. Gotta track down Pre and cd player if these other "fixes" havn't exposed the problem. ( tried the second set of balanced outs on the Parasound and one channel, the right, was clearly louder than the other...still bright, though.) Not sure about a bass null since the problem followed me from room to room.and through a myriad of speaker placements.  I feel like if an expert or fellow, experienced a-goner was in the room, they'd be able to help pinpoint the problem. Just about everyone says its hard to make the 30.1's sound bright.   Just may need to upgrade many parts (front end for sure) subs or even new speaks. If I had to make a wild guess I'd point an accusing finger at the Modwright,.  Thanks all for your suggestions. 

Yes, subs as are NOT out of the question as I think its pretty common "knowledge" that two are needed for proper two channel set ups. I've been reading that for years now.

Mofojo     Very curious about your R2r dac choice????   Denafrips??? Ive checked out a few based on another discussion I had about possibly ditching the Modwright or using the Oppo digital outs as a disc transport since the Oppo plays everything. You may have made a recommendation.. (didn;t see any pics on your profile and I hope to upload pics of my system soon) Pretty sure I want to a stand alone dac as the technology seems to change fairly often.



I suspect it’s the room. Throwing money at cables, other speakers, and so forth, seems ill-advised. And don’t some audiophiles just LOVE to spend lots of money in in their pursuit of Nirvana?

Perhaps contacting one of the acoustic panel companies for a consultation would prove to be beneficial. One of the most effective and economical improvements is SQ I’ve made was to assemble 2’ x 4’ x 6" bass traps for the front corners on my rather "bright-sounding" listening room. The 6 Owens-Corning sheets cost about $100, wood for frames about $35, and some inexpensive white burlap about $40. I plan to make a few more thinner (2") panels for first reflection points, and perhaps elsewhere.

Room treatment is on the agenda.  I went through this in the old place with stacking four foot bass traps in corners behind the spks and a massive wool and canvass behemoth behind the couch and an absorber on the wall just behind the seating position. Overdamped to say the least for the 30.1's. Had been trying to tame Harbeth slh5's that were just way too boomy for my apartment. With the 30.1's I took out all the treatments cept for the trap behind the couch and the absorber behind the seat and found I liked the sound much better. Going to try simple cloth or rug options in this new room just as a test once I determine that all the components are performing up to spec.  I've already checked out treatments for the first reflective points on the side walls. Wanna keep it simple and relatively cheap.

Someone mentioned toe in.  I barely have any at all. Adviser at Fidelis that distributes Harbeths said to point them directly at me with hard toe in.  No bueno in this room.  They are not firing straight out but I can see all of the inside walls on both spks.  Not sure if many have purchased the "Get Better Sound" book by Jim Simith.  It's loaded with all sorts of "free" tips...many which I am just up to tackling and sdI still am having problems.. 

Just pushed the harbeths closer to the front wall (from 3' 2" to 2'2")  tried before and after moving seating position forward. First impressions are it sounds a lot worse.  No increase in bass. This seems to run counter to the laws of speaker physics. LOL.  "Something" seems to be sucking some of the bottom end out.  I'm not a bass junky either and I realize the 30.1's bottom out at 50HZ. Excellent recordings are still tolerable but jeese this is crazy.  I am noticing that the volume is a lil higher to get the same sound level. That's a lil odd. So I'm compensating for something with the volume control. Maybe things are a little less lean...but not as loud.???  Isn't this fun!!!

Happy listening


I'm not familiar with your speakers, but FWIW since you're moving them around....

IME, floor and bass driver interface (distance between the bass driver and the floor as well as the side walls) goes a long way in determining bass reinforcement. I think someone suggested tilting back your speaker already but lowering your speakers height, which may seem counter intuitive, off the floor in combination with the tilt would make a better bass response. What I would try just to see if lowering the speaker would help just get them up about a foot off the floor (and tilted back so the tweeter axis is pointed at your ears). And go from there. BTW if you want to keep the sense of depth of image keep them as far away from the back wall as possible.

In my room traps and absorbers behind the listening position did not work out so well. 

Scott, @verdantaudio, mentioned it above. Swap components out.  Doesn't the Oppo have volume control? Or does it get disabled with the mods? If it still has the volume control remove the preamp and see how it sounds using the Oppo as the "preamp". I find it hard to believe there isn't something else going on with either a component or the speakers so I would sub out preamp first, then amp (if you have anything at all, even an old receiver) then sub the source. I have those Harbeths and have used Pass stuff with them. You could use dental floss as cables and it won't sound as bad as your saying. No way any decent quality cable will make that huge of a difference unless your listening at like 110dB. There's something else going on.

OP- are you measuring the back or the front of the speakers from the front wall?


The DAC is the Musician Aquarius. There's some reviews out there but not a whole lot. If you watch the youtube review by Tharbamer my dac is the actual one in his video as I made some trades with him. 

Several have mentioned if you place the speakers close to the front wall you will decrease the depth of your soundstage.

I have found that to not be true in my dedicated listening room with acoustic treatment all across the front wall, side walls, rear wall and ceilings.

Plus, there is no TV between the speakers (remember it's a dedicated listening room), and no rack of gear between the speakers.

My speakers are B&W 803 D3s with the backs of them 8" from the front wall and get a wonderful 3D soundstage if the recording is done well.

Schitt Audio has a few inexpensive passive EQ devices.  I use Roon, which conveniently has a built-in DSP function.  Guaranteed to ameliorate audiophile angst and make listening a lot more fun.  😁 

A more costly, but effective device is the DSpeaker Anti-Mode 2.0 which has gotten high marks from Robert Greene @ The Absolute Sound, and others.

There are no perfect audio components, rooms, recordings, or ears.

Okay….couple thoughts.  The move closer to the wall is giving you a bit of gain which is common.  You get about 3dB from the wall.  Move into the corner and it will jump to about 6dB.  But you will lose refinement. 

I am not seeing good measurements of those speakers but I do believe Harbeth s are best when toed in toward the seating position.  What you can’t assume is that you are getting a softer, less edgy sound because you are off axis.  I have a set of speakers that I make where they absolutely brightest when they are toed in about 10%.  When you toe them into the seating position they border on dark.  I am not saying it will be best fully toed but you should try it.

you have a tough room from a setup perspective.  You can do a few things.  You can experiment with treatments both to soften the treble and to enhance the bass.  What would be most interesting would be to get a full range microphone and measure at your seating position the frequency response.  This will let you see what the room is doing to the frequency response.

finally, there is nothing obviously causing the edginess you are experiencing.  I do run into this when there is a mismatch in terms of gain and impedance between components.  Too little or too much gain can or too weak or too strong of a signal from any component leads to that hard edginess.  

might want to try a preamp with adjustable inputs and outputs.  

My guess is that there is a setting somewhere in the preamp or Oppo that is completely not obvious and takes diving into several settings/screens to get to that was accidentally set.

Just wondering, you don't think this has anything to do with the modding of the Oppo?

One other thing….you don’t have any of your cables coiled do you?  Depending on insulation levels, you can get capacitance or inductance when cooling that can negatively impact performance. This can be a huge issue with ribbon style cables.  

Hey all    really do wanna get back to much more toe in as Im' missing notes that used to jump out but I can't do it yet..vocals get too in your face at higher volumes. (wasn't quite as bad an issue in the old listening room)

Mismatch in outputs could explain a lot. The Oppo does have variable volume that I  currently have set at 86 out of 100. I believe Modwright recomends full 100 for more "oomph".  Probably CAN try the Oppo as a pre amp. Never have but now I have a good reason.

Tomcar asked how Im' measuring speakers from the rear wall....from the rear of the speaker not the front. Now at 2 feet two inches. Trying that for awhile along with seat position moved forward a bit. Probably gonna throw some extra toe-in to see what that suggested.

Using cloth at first deflection points on side walls now til I order the real deal down the road.  Still think it could be a source issue as very good recordings sound pretty good/engaging. To me the system sounds very anemic off axis.  

no coiled or ribbon cables...FYI  And I have suspected the Oppo being modded. Never heard it on its own...shipped it straight to Modwright for all the bells and whistles.. Have not been impressed with claims that tubes will last thousands of hours. Changed out an identical set once just for fun and couldnt believe the difference the new ones made. Old ones were not even a thousand hours old. Who knows, maybe a bad batch.   I'm itchin for a new front end..dac and MAYBE transport.

As for the Oppo settings. They are pretty straight forward punched up on a tv screen. .Gone through them many times. Of course once settings are confirmed, I turn tv off and hit the "pure audio" button

@cymivka "I'm itchin for a new front end..dac and MAYBE transport."

That could be the ticket.

Very interesting. Sound from the system in a test last night dropped out to there was no meat on the bones of the sound.  so bad I quickly changed tubes for the oppo output...still very anemic and brittle sound.  Decided to power the whole system down overnight. Nothing even on stand Transformer going hay wire capacitors overloaded.  Anyone experience this before???

I listen all day every day. I think that during the day when the Internet is busy, the streaming signal is thinned out. If you listen on a Sunday morning versus Thursday afternoon at 5 o’clock, I bet you’ll find your system sounds different. I can’t prove anything but I think that the people that run the Internet know what signals are important and what was urges music, and they thin out the ones that are music because they’re not as important as other files. There it is that’s my crazy theory