How to remove harshness from my digital gear

Some help would be appreciated here.

I want to replace my dac and transport(moon dac3+ classe cdt-1 trans)In my system whit my ears i find this combo harsh and bright. It is the reason why i want to replace it. I was thinking about raysonic or cary tube cd player but i cannot ear one of them before taking my descision.

Any one have experimented moon gear vs cary or raysonic.
Between cary or raysonic wich one would be the less bright and the more liquid.

MY system: Dynaudio contour s5.4
Moon w3 amp
Marantz sc11-s1 preamp
All my cable have a neutral sound signature

Thank you
All my cable have a neutral sound signature

What is your definition of the word "neutral". Many folks refer to revealing or bright cables as "neutral". While some realize that neutral means neither bright nor dark sounding.

I would recommend a tube preamp and/or some warmer cables.
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I have Dynaudio Contour 1.3mkII speakers. They can tend towards the "bright" side or knock your socks off, all depending upon what you feed them. They knock my socks off mostly everytime these days, except perhaps with the very worst digital recordings, very few in fact.

I feed them:

Squeezebox TOuch->audioquest TOSLINK digital IC ->mhdt COnstantine SS DAC -> DNM Reson IC -> Audio Research sp16 tube pre-amp -> DNM Reson IC ->Bel CAnto ref1000m monoblocks-> Audioquest cv 6 wires -> Dynaudios.

ARC tube pre-amp is the biggest key to avoiding digital harshness I would say. A good tube pre-amp or tube buffer as Elizabeth suggests might be the most effective way to tame the harshness in OPs case as well I suspect.

A good tube pre-amp might be the ticket.

I also have the Dynaudios well apart jut a foot or two from sidewalls and with tweeters facing to the outside of my listening position, not firing direct. That alone (speaker placement/orientation) is an easy tweak to try without changing anything. This also tend to enable a bigger and more holographic soundstage in my small 12X12 listening room as well I find. The Dynaudios are great at that when set up accordingly.

The Dyns also tend to have just the right amount of dynamic attack and bite in the higher frequencies, very revealing but without being harsh or irritating this way. I love that about them! The Esotar tweeters Dynaudio uses are fantastic, but seem to require a bit of proper taming in set up it seems in order to be well behaved, especially with many digital recordings.
There is a rumour that Raysonic has folded; There is still a website, but no dealers listed online. Well reviewed gear, you should contact Raysonic Canada. I was looking to buy one of their CDPs, but couldn't contact anybody.
Some of the best sounds I have heard at dealer showrooms over the years have come from Dynaudios set up this way, much farther apart and closer to sidewalls than many and with tweeters aimed mostly but not necessarily directly forward, towards the outside of sweet/prime listening spot, not at it.
I had a lot of digital glare in my system, I did two things. I bought a tube preamp and a Havana tube dac. Both of these made a huge difference in my system.
Think tubes either amp/pre-amp or integrated. That way you can tune your components to a sound which will be neither harsh nor bright (but not necessaruily out of the box with OEM tubes).

I'd don't know about your speakers but I have two different systems with all Dynaudio drivers (Silverline Bolere's and Paragon's). I have no problem driving them with all tubed systems, including tubed CDP's and DAC'c.

Raysonic is out of business. But they were faily well built and reliable. I've had a laser failure in mine, after 5 years) and had no problem with a local tech sourcing a transport (Sony) as well as a spare, and replacing it for about $150. Problem is if anything else goes wrong and the part has to be sourced from Raysonic you are out of luck. With the right tubes this will not be harsh or bright.

I don't know about Cary, but I've never heard anything about them suggesting they were warm at all, but the 303T tubed unit was well regarded tonally speaking.

FWIW, I am presently using a Marantz 11sa3, a Raysonic 128, and a Wadia 302 CDP ahead of a Primaluna Dialogue Two integrated driving my Silverline Boleros. Not perfect I think, but for me it is about as close as I am likely to get. The Primaluna is eminently tunable with some patience and a sonic goal.

BTW, the Marantz is a fine unit even if it is solid state! It is dynamic as all get out, resolving/transparent, and it is not bright at all:-)
You could give the EAR Acute a listen. They also make a DAC which I have not heard.
Since someone mentioned cheap tube gizmos, I will mention that it could be a cheap fix for you. I picked up one of those Yaquin SD-CD3 tube buffers with a decent set of tubes and it rounded things out pretty nicely for me. I have a bright room and it did the trick.
Before giving up on the Classe transport and the Moon DAC3 (is that the right model number, btw? I couldn't find any info on it), if you already haven't I would suggest that you try all three of the Classe's outputs (AES/EBU, coaxial S/PDIF, and optical S/PDIF) if the DAC3 can accept them. Also, I would suggest that for the AES/EBU and coaxial S/PDIF connections you try cable lengths that are either about 1.5 meters long, or that are very short if that is practicable (i.e., about 8 inches or less). See this paper.

IMO there is no such thing as a neutral digital cable, because the sonic effects of a digital cable will be highly dependent on interactions between its technical characteristics and the technical characteristics of the particular components it is connecting. And many of the key characteristics that are involved are usually unspecified and unpredictable.

-- Al
You can certianly add bandaids like tibe buffers and cables that compress the sound. However, you will be sacrificing detail, imaging and ultimately liveness.

I have completely eliminated harshness by reducing first the biggest problem tht causes this and that is jitter. Next I have eliminated the active preamp, which reduces ,distortion, ,noise and compression. Finally, eliminating as many ground-loops in the system as possible.

A better strategy is to find the cause of the problem and eliminate it, which in general causes the system to be simple with shorter signal paths.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I agree with Al and Steve, though both have far more experience than I do. I can say that my efforts to improve digital SQ were most fruitful when I focused on reducing jitter, which included...

1. Using a 1.5 meter S/PDIF cable.

2. Experimenting with a variety of S/PDIF cables until I found the best match for my equipment.

3. Adding a reclocker between the transport and the dac. The reclocker discards the S/PDIF timing data and reclocks with a high precision clock (an Audiocom Superclock 4).

4. Modding the dac to lower jitter. The dac's clock was replaced with a second Superclock 4, and the stock power supply with a custom PSU.

5. Reducing the effects of EMI/RFI, some of which is described here.

6. Experimenting with grounding schemes, as described here.

The collective results of these efforts to reduce jitter were less harshness, greater resolution, more harmonic accuracy, better imaging, and a more relaxed overall presentation. I should also mention...

7. I installed an apodizing filter (software) in my dac and it also improved digital SQ in a variety of ways, but I have no knowledge that apodizing has an impact on jitter.

I'm not saying that the recommendations from other folks won't help, but I suspect that the best place to start is jitter reduction, if possible.

Good luck.

While I don't necessarily agree with Steve N concerning the elimination of an active pre-amp. I do agree with his analysis concerning eliminating the problem and not trying to mask it with more boxes or cables.


do you mean your mkII's face "out" rather than the usual midfield "in" setup?

If so, by about how much (how many degrees angle)?
06-21-13: Czbbcl
While I don't necessarily agree with Steve N concerning the elimination of an active pre-amp. I do agree with his analysis concerning eliminating the problem and not trying to mask it with more boxes or cables.

I agree with you Chuck. To eliminate the problem of harshness with digital gear, one should buy an analog front end. Now THAT is getting to the root of the problem.

Most of the problem is related to the CD. Stock off the shelf CDs almost always sound harsh, tinny, thin, generic, boomy, grainy, two dimensional, distorted, uninvolving, boring and metallic.
Even with an analog front end, there is such a thing as a harsh cartridge. Analog or digital, start at the very source of the sound and go from there by isolating and substituting until you have identified the harsh contribution to your sound.

Enjoy the music.

do you mean your mkII's face "out" rather than the usual midfield "in" setup?

If so, by about how much (how many degrees angle)?"

No they are angled slightly in, but located fairly far apart (9' or so in a 12'X12' room, and only 4 feet or so in front of my listening position on a couch close to rear wall. Tweeters are aimed well to the outside of my ears. Actual placement and orientation will vary per room, but having the tweeters not fire directly at you might be of benefit with some Dynaudios I have found. This produces a large soundstage with excellent imaging in my room. It's not a nearfield type setup like might also be used in similar tight quarters. It's an easy tweak to try before changing anything. I have found ways to make various gear combos, even all SS ones, work very well using this technique.

Also agree that getting a handle on jitter is important, but knowing how much of a problem that really is up front is not easily determined. reclockers and playing with digital cable lengths can only help, the question will be more how much in any particular case.

BTW I have other speakers (OHMs) running in other rooms through in wall speaker wiring from the same rig as the Dyns. Plus I've swapped speakers in different rooms from time to time. I believe the attributes the OP describes can be common with some Dynaudio speakers. Mine are definitely not as laid back as many. S

o getting a handle on the setup with those is definitley the first step IMHO before changing or adding anything. IT makes all the difference between audio nirvana Dynaudio is capable of delivering and a much compromised listening experience.

My setup with the Dynaudios in that small room is definitely one that demands your attention and then keeps you sucked in for the duration.
What most people think is digital harshness is usually something else in the system. No harshness from my Audio Research CD player. I stopped trying to mix and match transport, DAC and cable long ago and I am much happier.
Personally, I have not found digital harshness to be a problem with most any digital gear I have acquired in recent years, even with Japanese brands like Marantz or Denon. Using a player takes some of the guesswork out but my opinion is that most cases of digital brightness or harshness these days is due to other factors, not the digital itself. DIfferent digital gear will sound different on a revealing system, but I have not heard any sound inherently bright or harsh in my system for many years. There has always been a way to make it work, usually having to do with synergy of gear overall and room acoustics. Nothing uniqque to digital there! Its just the details of setup that might be needed to make the digital sound good may not be the same as with phono, for example, unless both sources are put together in a manner where both tend to sound inherently similar to start with.
Steve at Emperical Audio:

I know I have a great deal of ground loop hum (audible from the speakers at all times). How do i get rid of it?
The great news is that it's nothing that money can't fix. Many CD players (and CDs) have a glare or brittleness that can be annoying. I had good success with a modified Sonos fed into an NADM51 as a digital source but the Sonos lacked the ability to play higher resolution files. Therefore, I recently sold the Sonos and went a different direction.

My digital "chain" is now an external hard drive (and some thumb drives as well) fed into a Bryston BDP-1 which is connected to the NADM51 with a balanced digital interconnect. The NAD outputs via balanced cables to a Bryston MP26 pre-amp. My amp is a Brytson 4SST2 and my speakers are Harbeth SHL5s. My interconnects and speaker cables are all Signal cable.

I also feed the NAD with an Oppo 83 using a Wireworld HDMI cable. This allows me to play CDs, SACDs, and DVDA through the NAD and this also sounds great.

I may not have answered your specific question, but I think you start with the source and work your way thru the chain. I'm happy with my result.
Geoff - the CD sounds thin due to jitter from the badly formed pits. Rip the CD with dbpoweramp to .wave file and then rewrite onto a CDROM using a good writer and you will experience lower jitter. Reclock the CD transport and you will experience even lower jitter.

IME, its easier and less expensive to go the computer audio route to achieve lower jitter than CD players.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Robsker - there are two things you can do to eliminate hum, short of buying different components:

1) try changing the AC power for each component. IF they are all on the same circuit, this should minimize it, but may not stop it. Different phases from the panel will definitely cause hum. Lots of separate power feeds to a single system is usually disastrous.

2) Get a transformer buffer/isolator like the Final Drive or a TVC like the Music First to replace your preamp. This will break some ground loops.

Other things that can cause hum are: direct connection of a cable TV system to your system ground. Buy a Jensen RF isolator and insert in the CATV cable to stop this. Some components just have screwy earth grounding, so hum can be impossible to eliminate on these....

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
FWIW, I never play CDs directly on my system anymore. THey get ripped to music server and played from there using Squeezebox or similar network player with external DAC. This approach takes a lot of the guesswork and uncertainties associated with more error prone real time reading of data on an optical disk and the potential effect of this on jitter, etc. out of the process. Not to say that jitter might not be lowered even further in each case resulting in better clarity, resolution etc., , but I find this puts things in a pretty good place soundwise in terms of no inherent harshness in general. Just my experience.....

Also its worth saying that there will ALWAYS be some CD recordings that are inherently bright due to the way they are produced and mastered. Many newer rock/pop "loudness wars" type recordings come off relatively harsh compared to others. Many others that are mastered and produced better do not. More loudness generally means more of whatever there is in the recording to start with, good or bad. When the waveform peaks get clipped in the process, which is not uncommon in many modern pop/rock recordings, well, there you go, it is what it is and best you can do is damage control.
Robsker, good comments by Steve, of course. I would add that if you already haven't things I think you should do early on (in addition to his item 1) would be:

(a)Verifying that the hum is in fact due to a ground loop, rather than being generated internally within an individual component.

(b)If it is in fact being caused by a ground loop, identifying which two interconnected components (together with their AC power wiring) comprise the loop.

Both of those things can be accomplished by a process of selectively disconnecting components from the system, and TEMPORARILY using cheater plugs (3-prong to 2-prong adapters) on the power plugs of suspected components.

If you eventually determine that the problem is due to a ground loop between two specific interconnected components, inserting a quality transformer/isolator between them, as he indicated, should resolve the problem.

BTW, and this pertains to the OP, ground loop-related noise can be present on digital as well as analog signals (assuming that the digital interconnection is electrical and not optical). In the case of a digital signal it will not manifest itself as hum, but can be a significant contributor to jitter, and therefore to harshness. Differences in the type and length of the digital cable that is involved can make a difference in the severity of that effect, although with little or no predictability.

-- Al
Audioengr wrote,

"Geoff - the CD sounds thin due to jitter from the badly formed pits. Rip the CD with dbpoweramp to .wave file and then rewrite onto a CDROM using a good writer and you will experience lower jitter. Reclock the CD transport and you will experience even lower jitter."

There are many reasons why CDs sound harsh and I think badly formed pits is probably one of them, as the Nespa photon device seemed to illustrate. However, the badly formed pits are not the end of the story, not by a long shot. To name a few other reasons: scattered background laser light, mold release compound on the surface of the CD, out of round condition of the disc produces excessive wobble, transport not level during play, magnetism build up in the CD, static charge build up on the CD surface, structureborne vibration. In addition, there are many other reasons why CDs often sound harsh, thin, etc. that are probably too controversial to mention in this discussion. We'll save those for a rainy day.
Surely the most obvious answer is to look at your speakers or find the right source that complements your amp and speakers as-is.

It's going to be very hard to solve this if the root cause is really the tweeter levels in the Dynaudios. That's really a function of the crossover design (may need a change of resistor to attenuate the treble - not easy if DIY challenged), room acoustics and speaker placement.

I think many DACs sound quite different, so that would be the easier thing to change. I don't think it's a question of tubes being the only answer here, either. Take your pick depending on your price and then go audition.

Some suggestions: NAD M51, Audio Note 1.1, Metrum Hex, AMR DP777, Naim DAC, Resolution Audio Cantata
1st thing. Isolate, isolate, isolate form therest of your setup. Do this before anything else.
"Most of the problem is related to the CD. Stock off the shelf CDs almost always sound harsh, tinny, thin, generic, boomy, grainy, two dimensional, distorted, uninvolving, boring and metallic."

Really, you have all of those problems? I don't have any of the problems you mentioned.
Rrog, I can certainly understand what you mean, everything's relative. Weird the way we get used to the distortions , eh?
Has anyone actually done a scientific survey of such things as "magnetic buildup" on a CD, "static buildup" on a CD, etc.? These things should be easily measured and quantifiable. And, if they exist, it should be easy to measure the efficacy of products claiming to reduce these anomalies.

Honestly, I find it hard to believe that a non-ferrous entity like a CD could support *any* "magnetic buildup". I can see how a the polycarbonates used for CDs could support a static charge. But it would certainly be instructive to know just how much is this charge and how effective are the products claiming to reduce this charge...

"Most of the problem is related to the CD. Stock off the shelf CDs almost always sound harsh, tinny, thin, generic, boomy, grainy, two dimensional, distorted, uninvolving, boring and metallic."

>> Really, you have all of those problems? I don't have any of the problems you mentioned. <<

Indeed. Most of my CDs sound pretty darn good. But I'm sure my system doesn't have the resolving power needed to suffer from these doubleplus ungood maladies...

-RW- Less is more. War is peace...
RL - there are all kinds of things that make it harder for a CD transport to read a CD, including:

1) out of round CD
2) warped CD
3) mal-formed pits
4) static charge - creates forces on the head
5) electron energy level in the polymer - can be affected by exposing to certain light frequencies
6) coating on the CD - just like multicoated lenses - changes refraction and makes it easier for the laser to penetrate the polymer
7) edge treatments - reduces the reflected energy inside the polymer

Try any of these on a truly resolving system and you will hear an improvement.

This is one reason why I don't bother with CD's anymore. Just play tracks on my SS drive.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I'm surprised nobody as ever discussed the use of DSP effects processing with computer audio files. For example, I have used an effect within Foobar called PSP Vintage Warmer with excellent results. Even while processing audio tracks on the fly, I have never experienced drop outs or pops and clicks due to lack of computing horsepower. In my experience, just tweaking some of the presets I was able to get remarkably close to the tube sound that I like while rolling off the highs to satisfactory levels to where my ears experience no loss in quality. I agree that jitter reduction is fundamental, however I guess you can throw a number of expensive cables, unorthodox tweaks and buffering devices at your setup but I don't honestly see how it's any different then just altering the file to your taste digitally. I also think that a clever enough developer can most likely replicate the "house sound" of any brand of audio gear and create a sound signature that can be applied via DSP effect such that swapping gear in an out of your system would seem pointless. Good way to kill an engaging hobby, I guess - but aren't we pretty much "there yet"?
Good comments from Audioengr regarding CD read problems, but as a Redbook man with an ARC CD5, I find it ironic that as the demand for CD is dying, the mastering and production quality of a CD is at an all-time high. (very high quality for jazz and classical).
"06-23-13: Geoffkait
Rrog, I can certainly understand what you mean, everything's relative. Weird the way we get used to the distortions , eh?"

Like the distortions in vinyl?

in your advice to me re: ground loop hum, you stated that cheater plugs are to be used TEMPORARILY. If their use stops the hum... why can that not be the cheap, easy permanent solution? Can damage or something be caused?

Thanks for your advice.
Sloth - I recommend against using any kind of band-aids to solve system issues, however there is a role for DSP and that is:
1) speaker correction
2) room correction

With the advent of ultra-transparent EQ tools like that in Amarra player, this is not only possible, but will elevate the SQ of any system.

Most speakers don't have perfect crossovers or room response, so they need a little EQ.

ALL rooms have resonances on both axis. Reducing the effect of these room resonances improves bass clarity significantly and makes bass much more enjoyable.

I use this EQ in all of my systems and at shows with great effect (many best of shows).

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Lowrider - what can I say? Its the internet and free MP3 music that killed the CD.

Better transfer them to SS memory before the ones you have start degrading. They eventually degrade.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Hi Robsker,

There have been a number of debates here about using cheater plugs as permanent solutions to hum problems, such as in this thread. As might be expected, opinions are divided. Some people do just that, while others argue fervently that it is a serious safety risk.

I believe that the following comment I made in that thread is indisputable, assuming that the equipment is in good physical condition:
If a fault were to develop in [a component] that shorted the AC line voltage to the [component's] chassis, there are various scenarios in which that could result in both a shock hazard and a fire hazard. How great are those risks? Very, very small. But it cannot be said that they are zero.
-- Al
I don't think you could go wrong getting a Metrum NOS DAC to solve most of the harshness issues. It may help rejuvenate your Classe transport as it did my Linn Genki... cant make it perfect but lets you hear what the transports true limits are.