Midrange Increasingly Harsh

Lately I've noticed some harshness in the mid-range, especially with violins, clarinets and female voice.  I recently bought a CD of female plainchant, and she hits the un-sweet spot so frequently I can't listen to it.  I don't listen at high volumes, rarely over nine o'clock on the volume knob.  The sound is not anything unnatural, just a less musical presentation and an unpleasant harshness.


I have twenty year old Forest Totems with their original cones, a Prima Luna Dialogue One amp which got new tubes about five years ago and an Arcam CD-73 which got a factory rebuild about three years ago.  I have neither the money nor inclination to just start arbitrarily replacing parts, but would appreciate some insight and guidance on likely culprits. 


John Cotner

New Ulm, MN




Good luck, JR.  Some good advice here ... definitely let us know what you find!!


As others have said, tubes are consumable.  So there’s that and also different tubes have different sounds.  After five years,  I’d replace at least the output tubes and if you liked the tubes five years ago, then buy more of the same.  But if you didn’t, try another company.  And don’t go cheap!  You get what you pay for.

Another thought.  What time of day do you listen?  I have had the exact same problem later in the evening, but not in the morning. Electric guitars, saxophone’s and women’s voices would hurt!

All the best.


jrcotner OP

First: Switch equipment: Isolate the Problem: preamp?/amp?/speakers?

Don't jump around changing tubes before you know if it is the speakers themselves or your amp or your preamp.

go from there

You might have tinnitus!

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus (pronounced tih-NITE-us or TIN-uh-tus) is the perception of sound that does not have an external source, so other people cannot hear it.

Tinnitus is commonly described as a ringing sound, but some people hear other types of sounds, such as roaring or buzzing. Tinnitus is common, with surveys estimating that 10 to 25% of adults have it. Children can also have tinnitus. For children and adults, tinnitus may improve or even go away over time, but in some cases, it worsens with time. When tinnitus lasts for three months or longer, it is considered chronic.

The causes of tinnitus are unclear, but most people who have it have some degree of hearing loss. Tinnitus is only rarely associated with a serious medical problem and is usually not severe enough to interfere with daily life. However, some people find that it affects their mood and their ability to sleep or concentrate. In severe cases, tinnitus can lead to anxiety or depression.

Currently, there is no cure for tinnitus, but there are ways to reduce symptoms. Common approaches include the use of sound therapy devices (including hearing aids), behavioral therapies, and medications.

What are the symptoms of tinnitus?

The symptoms of tinnitus can vary significantly from person to person. You may hear phantom sounds in one ear, in both ears, and in your head. The phantom sound may ring, buzz, roar, whistle, hum, click, hiss, or squeal. The sound may be soft or loud and may be low or high pitched. It may come and go or be present all the time. Sometimes, moving your head, neck, or eyes, or touching certain parts of your body may produce tinnitus symptoms or temporarily change the quality of the perceived sound. This is called somatosensory (pronounced so-ma-toe-SENSE-uh-ree) tinnitus.

Most cases of tinnitus are subjective, meaning that only you can hear the sounds. In rare cases, the sound pulsates rhythmically, often in time to your heartbeat. In these cases, a doctor may be able to hear the sounds with a stethoscope and, if so, it is considered to be objective tinnitus. Often, objective tinnitus has an identifiable cause and is treatable.

The first step is diagnostic—isolate the source of the problem before proceeding with random “solutions.”  I would start with figuring out if it is from both or one channel.  Preferably, use a mono recording where you hear a problem and, if you have a balance control, swing the balance from one side to the other and listen for a difference.  If you don’t have a balance control, try sitting much closer, and in the direct path of one speaker, then the other, to listen for differences.  The best approach would be to do switching at one end of the system until you find the culprit.  I suggest starting at the CD player.  When switching interconnects, it is best to have the system turned off or the volume all the way down.  Pull one channel and listen to just one channel.  Then do the same to listen to the other channel.  If the problem is in one channel, now switch the single channel left to right to see if the problem moves to a different channel; if it does, it is the CD player or its interconnect that is the source of the problem.  If it doesn’t it is something downstream.  If the problem is in both channels, it will be hard to definitely isolate the problem without trying other gear to see if the problem goes away.  If you have determined it is not the CD player, do the switching routine to determine if the problem is the amp or the speakers.  For this step, avoid playing with one speaker disconnected from the amp (tube amps don’t like this).  Hopefully you will hear any difference with both speakers playing,  If switching left and right speakers does cause the problem to switch channels, it is the speakers at fault.