Mixed Results from My Hifi

Hi all, I'm looking to get a more consistent sound from my system. Some CD's sound great. No complaints, others pretty mediocre. Most Jazz and smaller production CD’s sound wonderful, detailed, airy, all that audiophile stuff. But mass produced pop and rock are almost unlistenable. I call it the “wall of sound” syndrome, compressed, digital, bleah. The latest releases from Sheryl Crow, U2 and Coldplay sound awful (not withstanding anyone’s taste in music).

What can I do to improve the overall sound in my system so I can listen to all of my music? Add tubes, a new DAC?

I’m listening.
Nothing you can really do. Your system is simply telling you how the inidividual CDs sound. Some sound wonerful and some don't. That's the way life is.
Onhwy61 is right. Some CDs do not sound good. Your system is revealing the quality of the CD, not the system. A great system might sound less bad with a poor CD, but you're not going to make a bad recording sound good.
You say your systems has "Glass like clarity, but with a bit of a cold edge."

It sounds like it could use warming up a little to make it a bit more forgiving. This might not require changing components. First, to relieve congestion in the sound you could try pulling the speakers a couple of feet away from the rear walls.

Second, what's the room like ? Are the floors carpeted ? Any big windows ? Soft furnishings ? Too many hard reflective surfaces will tend to accentuate upper frequencies leading to a rather hard sound.
lots of hi end speakers are not the most satifying when it comes to rock, pop and classical/orchestra. you rarely hear a demo of a real world cd in a showroom anymore. i'm guessing you have monitors?
Massed produced Pop is notorious for terrible sound, with exceptions...I'd suggest just listening in the car or on a boombox since it won't matter...your rig sounds like it's a good one and there's no way to make those terrible recordings sound better..poor engineering.
My speakers are pretty close to the walls, on hardwood floors. There is a rug and upholstered furniture in there. Well, yeah, it's my living room. ;-)

I thought tubes might gloss over the sound a little and soften it. No? Tube Dac or Tubed CDP.
I may catch some grief for this,buttry Mapleshades' Ionoclast.I sell their gear and have demonstrated this device to many.Most don't believe it's the same disc.It takes the static bite out,and is useful on cabling too.
Contact Mapleshade for the 30 day money back option-that way I have no financial investment in this recommendation.
A very expensive additional piece of equipment:

The Cello Palatte

This unit, which is often on the used market and is no longer made, allows one to "remaster the CD." Although I can't afford it, it can do wonders for any system. The better the system, the more it can do.

1. wall to wall carpeting will have a huge effect (when was the last time you were at an audio dealer with bare wood floors?). I had an oriental rug on bare wood floors, then put in wall to wall (for my downstairs neighbor's peace...) and the improvement was not subtle
2. get into vinyl

Changing your system to make great recordings sound OK and poor recording sound OK is possible. It is a compromise that many audiophiles are willing to make in order to enjoy more of there music collection.

I have never had the Krell, B&W's or Rotel in my system, so I'm only going by hearsay. However, I've heard the B&Ws called bright, I've heard Krells called bright and I know the digititis from many CD players is often called bright. You might just have a system that is completely comprised of bright sounding components.

You might consider either adding a more musical or softer CD player, DAC or tube buffer to the system and see if that helps. You could also consider a warm sounding set of cables. These things could be tried for very little money as you could just buy here used and re-sell them if you don't love them.

Personally, I think your speakers might not be the best choice for your setup. If indeed they are bright sounding speakers (as I've often read) and you have hard surfaces in the room and they are close to the wall, they just might not work for all of your musical taste. Mabe a more "musical" or softer sounding speaker would allow you to enjoy more of your collection.

BTW, I once owned a pair of highly regarded monitor speakers that were unlistenable in my room. I have to think it was a matter of room and system synergy that caused them to sound so bad, because they were nearly universally loved by everyone that commented on them. You could have the same scenario.

So, you may want to choose to make your excellent recordings sound merely good and your Horrible recordings sound OK. It's a compromise, but it might be an appropriate one in your case.

Yes. I used to own the CDM 9NT speakers and as I recall, they were just a touch bright in the lower treble, as you have noticed. I think that coupled to your Krell solid-state integrated you may not be getting the most synergistic sound.

My guess is that a Monarchy Audio M24 DAC/linestage will give you a smoother and more musical sound. It may soften the bass slightly (not diminish, just soften), but this could be a very acceptable alternative. I think very highly of the M24, especially when fitted with the Siemens E88CC tubes. It has very good build quality, sound quality, and it's a very attractive component, as well...
Please describe your equipment. I could be the combination of SE or SET and single drivers or the type of tubes your running. Push Pull seems to work excellently with Rock and Roll and SE or SET are my favorites with Jazz. Single drivers with SE and SET and multiple drivers with Push Pull and Rock and Roll.
Why are so many of you answering without actually clicking on his System page? Look at the system. Look at the room. The issue he's having is most certainly not with the production quality of the CD's. It is stemming from the system, and its interplay with the room.

Your combination of the Rotel CDP with the Krell amp and the B&W speakers will sound exactly as you described in many rooms, and by the small peek we're getting at yours, I suspect that your setting it is only exacerbating your problems. I am no expert on room acoustics. Others can chime in. I think you ought to start with some room treatments. Maybe a rug on the floor. Absolutely throw a soft cover over that plexiglass sheet that's on your audio rack, at least when you're listening to music. I would also consider a change in speakers. In my opinion, having heard the 7 and 9NT's several times, they do not produce a rounded, full-range sound necessary to convey pop/rock music to your satisfaction. Another option is to get a more full sounding CD player. Can you bump up your budget a little? In my opinion, you are pushing the limits of potential harshness with every component in your system,
including the cables, and most definitely including the room.

FWIW, we have very large horn speakers and a 200W SS amp/tube preamp, and I can play every single CD in our 1000+ collection, and NOT ONE sounds harsh, congested, or remotely unlistenable. Having spent thousands of hours in recording studios, I will agree that there is a vast range in production quality. However, Coldplay & Sheryl Crow could hardly be considered as crowded or congested arrangements in the first place. And they're production caliber is top notch. More often, if something is going to hiss at you, it would be as heavily guitar track-laden as Husker Du or Jane's Addiction. Definitely not the case with those artists you mentioned.

Your room, your components. Not the CDs.
It's not equipment or room that's the primary problem, IMO, it's the recording. Your classical and jazz cd's that sound great are probably recorded with 15 dB or more of headroom while the pop/rock stuff is probably recorded with only 3 dB of headroom.
Boa2 has some good thoughts. Also, try moving your speakers forward in the room about 3 feet or so. (I like to try 1/3, or 1/5, or 1/7th the length of the room). Your soundstage should grow quite a bit, with more spacing between instruments and a lot more depth of stage. Try it, you've got nothing to lose. Throw rugs, drapes, "Room Tunes" acoustical treatments and such may also be a good place to start. Happy listening.
In the original post 3 specific albums were mentioned and the sound was described as compressed and digital. I own 2 of the 3 albums and no amount of switching equipment or room acoustics will make them sound good. The recordings are not high quality (by audiophile standards). The problem with over compressed CDs cannot be corrected by EQ or even signal expanders. There are things that could be done to his system that might help a little, but only a little. If his happy with other recordings, then why change anything for the few bad ones?
I would agree that the recordings are the major culprit, the excessive compression on these type of recordings kills the intimacy and nuance, result, wall of sound. Extra brightness could be alleviated with equipment changes and major acoustic treatments. The acoustic treatments required may be too obtrusive for a living room which needs to serve other purposes as well.
SORRY, didnt notice the link for the photos. How, well, smart.

Listening room. Hard surfaces everywhere. Try a rug infront of your listening area. Move the speakers out from the wall, perhaps on the rug.
If his happy with other recordings, then why change anything for the few bad ones?
From his initial post: "But mass produced pop and rock are almost unlistenable." I took this to indicate that the three recordings he listed were but a few examples of a problem affecting a wide range of music. Maybe I've interpreted this incorrectly. I've heard all three of these CD's, and have never found them unlistenable from a sonics perspective. The components in his system, however, are highly likely to produce exactly the compressed, digital sound he describes, and only made worse by that room.
Having speakers close to the back wall will frequently make the sound congested. A couple of feet spacing will help greatly.

Hardwood floors are also not good, though I must admit hardwood is my first choice in flooring for other reasons.
Rugs can help, particularly if placed at the primary reflection point.

Drapes over large windows will also help a great deal.
"New Shimmer™ is a floor wax."

"No, it's a desert topping."

"No, it's a floor wax."

"Wait! You're both right! New Shimmer™ is a floor wax and a desert topping!"
I agree with Boa2 that it's likely the problem stems from the equipment and the room acoustics. I think people who say that so many of their recordings sound poor because their system's are sooooo revealing are kidding themselves. The vast majority of recordings can sound pleasing if the system and room acoustics will allow it. I have a very resolving system and only a very small portion of all my recordings sound poor. The bulk of my recordings sound either very good or spectacular. This is what you should be shooting for.

In this poster's case, certain solutions were offered that could work well. Changing equipment, using a tube DAC, using an equalizer, and looking at room treatments, especially to address early reflections, could all work very well.

I would probably look at options for room treatments first, try the tube DAC and/or different amp second (fine-tuning the system cabling [interconnects in particular] might also help considerably). The EQ route would represent a viable option if the other measures failed or were not possible due to the dreaded WAF...
I'd think a Krell amp powering B&Ws in a room with hardwood floors would be as bright as the Coppertone™ girls cute little bum. Nice looking system by the way.
Its called digititus, I used to get it really bad. In my opinion the only cure is to get into vinyl. I no longer have a digital source in my system. I know people who own very expensive players or transport/DAC setups (Riemyo CDP-777, Esoteric X-03, Esoteric separates, Marantz $7500.00 player, Krells new 505, Krell SACD standard, Expensive Wadia gear etc.) I myself have owned Krell, Sony SCD-1, and Sony CDP-777es.

I find a lot of the problem to be in mastering (or lack there of). I agree there are a few cds that sound good, but I've yet to find one that compares with a great piece of vinyl on a good system. Switching from digital to analog was the best move I ever made. Just wish it were cheaper to do.

Happy listening to all (even the people who are going to attack me for my learned the hard way views) - John
I have these on CD;
"Rush of Blood to the Head"
"Wildflower"[best sound quality of the bunch]
"All That You Can't Leave Behind"
"How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb"
The layered images,texture fine,but they congest up loud.
Equalizer and dead car interior helps them a lot unfortunately.
I'm dissapointed with the Lanois/Eno egineered U2 disc.
Go buy a cheesy Pioneer or Radio Shack "audio system," pop in your favorite disappointing CDs, and then sit back and let the "magic" happen. By the way, I'd recommend having a wine or two while you're at it.

No other way to fix this problem.
Some recordings are better than others, that's for certain. But the recording does not by itself go from sounding balanced in the mastering studio to unlistenable in your home without the compromising effect of your audio system, which most importantly includes the space in which you are listening. Do you honestly think that all of these above-mentioned artists make a $500K recording only to then find it to be unlistenable on their own stereo? Methinks not.
Hmmmmm... It sounds like to me that you are getting mixed results.

Have you ever tried getting static results?

Please pay the receptionist on your way out.
Most of my prog-rock vinyl sounds wonderfull. Led Zeppelin, FZ even the first presses sound terrible on vinyl and CDs.
The solution is preamp with tone controlls for any rock listener period.
Hmmmm, lets see, so far you have, change your DAC/CD Player, change your amp, add tubes, add room treatment, new floors, rug on floors, carpet your floors, add desert topping to your floors, buy new CD's, don't listen to pop rock, buy vinyl, go to the doctor and get a script for digititus, purchase Radio Shack gear and drink liberally, get an equalizer, push-pull, no SET, no, no stick with Solid State and add more power, listen in your car, move your speakers, cover your plexiglass with something soft and wooly, it's hopeless; you're SOL, life sucks, everyone's shit stinks.

Tired of the madness?

Three words: Clever Little Clock.

...enough said.

Sorry Marco, the correct answer is light up a fatty, kick back, relax and enjoy. Oh yeah, and you'll want something to snack on.
This is great, lots of responses. Thanks guys.

A rash of divergent opinions. Marco is right, I'm screwed.

Think I'll go to Spearitsound and tease 'em for awhile today.

I know EXACTLY what you mean. I think there are several great suggestions and age-old audio rules in the threads above. I second the posts that urge you to consider auditioning different speakers and trying vinyl. If not vinyl, there are good tube CDPs to be had.
Could one of the numerous people recommending adding tubes to Hammergjh's system please explain how a tube circuit corrects for, lessens or otherwise modifies the effects of compression on the audio signal? Hammergjh specifically mentions compression and the wall of sound effect as things he has issues with.
Aw, now Timrhu, this stuff's supposed to be very serious. You're having WAY too much fun there...what do you reccomend for a snack to improve sound staging?

No clue as to how tubes might lessen/modify the effects of compression, but then again I wasn't one to make that suggestion. I would like to know more about that desert topping myself. I do think that tubes do tend to take the edges off the harshness of some rock, or music with extreme dynamics, but I don't know if that's what folks who appreciate that type of music really want. In general, tubes tend to sound a bit lagging in speed while, in general, SS keeps up with fast, congested, complex music a bit better to my ears, which leaves me tending to prefer SS when listening to the limited amount of that type of material I enjoy. Otherwise I like the softer edge of tubes for most of my musical tastes. I imagine it has something to do with the way the two handle clipping and add certain types of distortion and feedback to the signal. One only need look at a sine wave produced by each to note a marked difference in how each handle a signal. But what I really understand about the physics of all of it can fit on the tip of a stylus. My guess'd be that the tube advocates here are ignoring the very specific hurdle of the compressed signal / wall of sound, and focusing on the kinder, gentler, take-the-edge-off school of thought that might suggest that listening to music with lots of extremes densely packed into a Tazmo / Whirling Dervish package is easier on the ears with tubes.

Now I'm just waiting for the cable camp to chime in! The discussion's just not complete without a good hearty debate on power cords and speaker cable....ohhh and let's not forget power conditioning! You guys are slipping!

Had you considered a digital EQ,to EQ the bad recordings and run bypassed on the good ones?
Tpsonic, not sure what you're referring to. "Digital EQ to EQ". What devices do you have in mind.

To update a bit, I went to Spearitsound in Boston and listened to a handful of CDP's. A nice alternative I found was the McCormack UDP-1. I con't care about the SCD and DVD-A playback, but the CD playback was smooth and detailed. Sibilance was reduced to near insignificance. Sounded pretty damn good for a mere 2500 bucks on close out. Conrad Johnson owns McCormack now. The updated UDP-1 is 4 grand.
I changed from SS to Tubes, because all the music just sounded kind of harsh. I have tried KT66 SE, 2A3 SET, a 5881 push pull but have become hooked on a EL34 based unit. They all sounded quite different, but the EL34s just sound so gutsy. I have regained my love for listening again. Now that I have gotten older, 47, tubes just sound less harsh to me.

Audiogon has allowed me to try out equipment and find what was right for me. I still recommend changing your room, more damping material.
"Audiogon has allowed me to try out equipment and find what was right for me." AYe-men, Brah!
Sorry for the delay.What I meant was that if you were using a transport/DAC,then you might employ a unit like the Z-Systems RDP-1.It is a digital parametric EQ and digital volume control.It is inserted between the transport and DAC,thus allowing the DAC to drive the amp/amps directly.
There is one available here for $995 (Audio Pimp).
Black CD-Rs (memorex) act as an equilizer. You might try those (Assuming your CD transport / player can play them).
The albums you name sound best in a car but they should still sound very good on your system; they will sound slightly boosted in the mid range and overly compressed.

As with many CD's lately, they have been mastered to sound loud (meaning somewhat more than the usual compression between Studio Mix and Master is added)

Just like loud TV ads...there is a war on to make CD's as loud as possible....there are even forward reading digital devices that have been developed to help engineers compress the sound.

Coldplay was done at Sterling Sound

U2 was done at the Bernie Grundman Mastering

Sheryl Crow was done at Gateway Mastering

All were mastered by "pros" on outstanding gear but even pros have to respect producers/artists desire for a loud (=compressed CD). After all they are the clients and pay the bills.

Not many domestic speakers can properly handle the dynamic range of a studio mix, which is another reason used to justify compressing the sound.

Sorry to break the bad news....but you can spend all that money on a great system only to be disappointed by the instructions given to the Mastering Engineer...

Try stuff done by the Mastering Lab. They seem to be better than most.

If FM rock stations and what you hear during the daily commute were less responsible for rock CD sales then no doubt we could all enjoy better quality mastered rock CD's, just as we do with some other genres....
a dab of cool whip on the tonearm shell head tends to take the edge off and add sweetness to an otherwise dry recording; listening drunk softens brittle or bright recordings, I find a good single malt scotch minimum 12 years old is best; on dull recordings I like to put my hands behind my prodigious ears and cup them, drawing my outer ears forward - that can help provide more detail and 'presence'; I've been collecting records since about 1964 and there's no doubt some labels sound better than others: old RCA records from the 60's are excellent, 1970's and later recordings from Warner Bros and Columbia are pretty good, ATCO records were usually pretty bad, Capricorn records from the 70's and 80's were OK. No doubt in my mind that the label (mfr) matters.