Newbie with "bright" system

I recently bought a new power amp, and for the first time, my system now hints at recreating a music "venue" rather than playing songs. For this long-time music fanatic, this is incredibly exciting (I now realize I'm hopelessly hooked). Pushing onward, my current system seems "bright" and "harsh," causing listening fatigue at moderate to high listening levels. It also lacks believable bass detail and extension. Looking for low to moderately priced ($300-1500) incremental, high-value upgrades - I suspect cabling and receiver as pre-amp - what to upgrade first?
Arcam Alpha 8SE - CD player
Nakamichi AV-10 as pre/pro
Bryston 4BST
Bettercables IC's and biwire speaker cables
"Industrial" metal rack
Any insight/advice welcome. Thanks in advance for input. Mark
Like you, I had a bright system, and not being able to tweak the room (WAF is an issue) I had to try various gear and wires. Mark, you need tubes in your preamp in a big way and fortunately there's quite a selection to pick from. Some of the better Audio Research or Conrad Jonhson would fit the bill (I've owned several models of both), but if you can stretch just a bit more, I can't recommend Balanced Audio Technology enough. My BATVK30 preamp ($2100 used here on Audiogon) changed my system more than any other component I've ever had in the chain. My system is tamed now, thanks to the adding the BAT preamp, and then buying a "used" BATVK500 amplifier (with BATPAK). One other major change was going from a long run of single-ended interconnects, to Goertz Micropurl with balanced connectors. Musical? Oh YEAH!!!!!!
I agree with Jeff on the preamp. That would be an excellent place to start. I have no experience with the BAT gear, but you can pick up a used Conrad Johnson PV10AL for around $600 that would transform your system. It sounds like butter. I would hold off on the cables until you get a little further along with your system. Now this is something I do care about.
Simple dump the nakamichi and buy a neutral cable and you should be set. Nakamichi is brite sounding gear... Good luck and dont get stressed.
If you are worried about loosing the features that the "NAK" has by going with a tubed pre amp, try a Sonic Frontiers Pre amp. It's tubed but it's a neutral sounding unit with a touch of warmth that if sort of gives you the best of both worlds. It has a remote, surround bypass if you would like to venture into HT and a host of connections including Balanced ins & outs. Now is the time to buy anyone of the Line models because new editions just came out so the originals, (I have a Line 1), are going dirt cheap brand new. I think you can get them for $1399 new and about $1,000 used. It's really hard to beat at these prices.
Slap some Shakti "On Lines" onto you interconnects and see what happens. Sure you're paying $100 for 50 cents worth of material but, hey, if it works it's worth it -right?
I appreciate the feedback so far. I knew the "Nak" was a weak link, but this system pulls double duty as a HT rig. Have been looking at pre-amps and have read glowing praise for the BAT VK-3i in my price range (used). Does anyone have experience with this pre-amp in a similar system? Does it have a "HT" bypass like the SFL-1?
I have the BAT VK30SE and VK-500 w/BAT-PAK, just like Jeff. Fantastic products, but I don't think you need to drop that kind of change (around $6k used) if all you're looking to do is take the edge off a bright-sounding system. My recommendation is this: Buy some used Harmonic Technology Truth-Link interconnects. They impart a warmth to the sound that just might be exactly what you're looking for. If you buy used at a fair price, you can always turn around and sell them to get your money out if you decide it's not what you wanted. I've since upgraded to the Pro-Silway Mk II's, but the Truth-Link's have a definite warmth and richness to them. I've always thought they would be a great choice for a bright system. Good luck.
Quick follow-up...if your amp is brand new (you didn't buy it used), it probably needs some breaking in. New components often sound harsh and edgy until they get at least a hundred hours under their belt. I wouldn't do anything drastic until you're sure everything is sounding its best.
That CD player has a forward sound to it too. I agree the pre oughtta go, but the CD player's sound might need considering here as well. Don't get me wrong, I had an Alpha 8, and I loved it a bunch, not bright per se, but a forward british sound. The wrong interconnects and I could see you being disgruntled from harshness, fatigued even. Do the pre in first (this should likely solve all your problem), then you might try some different I/C's, if still not what you want.
MacM, thanks for the tip. I have, in fact, been looking into some used HT Truthlinks based on info found here and reviews. Would it be better to buy a pre-amp first before working with cabling? Thanks, Mark.
Oh yeah, my amp. I bought the 4BST used here with an estimated 60hrs on it. I've since added about 40-50 hrs. Chstob, thanks for your input (noted after my last post). Do you have any recommendations re: a tube pre? How much of a role does isolation/dampening play in performance? One dealer thought my first move should be to get a proper rack (Of course his favorite was Sistrum, for which he is a dealer).
Musical Fidelity makes a tweak called the X10D that uses tubes to tame brassy sounding CD players. They are really inexpensive ($80-$115 is typical) and you could easily resell it if it didn't work for you. I've noticed that they sell very quickly. Hope this helps.
I think that the Truthlinks are a good choice. Or maybe some Alpha Core Sapphire's. I don't think that I would recommend the X-10D. I does soften up the sound a bit but it muddles the clarity. It is a good fix for the cheapest CD players until you can afford a good. But yours is above that. Also, when I had some Acurus amps. the Harmonic Tech Pro-11N power cable did a nice job of taking the edge off without running the others too bad. How about a PS audio Power Plant 300? Just saw one used here with the multiwave for under $900.
Why is everybody so quick to spend this guy's money? Before purchasing anything you need to carefully setup your system. Pay particular attention to your speakers. Play around with toe-in and speaker height. Also be sure to always leave your equipment on, it tends to smooth out the sound. In the long run, you'll be better served by acquiring equipment that is neutral sounding rather than trying to "voice" various components. One last point, while I'm not familiar with Sistrum, a good equipment rack and speaker stands are essential for a quality system.
Oh yeah. How is your room treated? DO you have a lot of reflective walls and surfaces exposed? Before you buy anything please address your rooms surfaces and other related issues. If your room sucks don't even waste your money on any heavy duty purchases and infact, you may as well stay with the NAK!!
Speaking as a fellow newbie, actually took a twenty year break to raise kids. I have assembled a second hand system in the past 8 weeks and experienced the same problems you are having. My system is Aragon 24K, 4004; NAD 540C CD, Magnepan MGIII speakers, Audioquest Crystal Speaker Cable, MAD Pearl IC Pre Amp to Amp and Green XLC from CD to Preamp. My listening room is in the basement with concrete floors (covered with carpet) and drywall. I covered the rear wall with relatively heavy indoor-outdoor carpet ( I just used seam tape and finishing strips-$100.00). This helped some but the edginess was still there. Next I replaced my speaker cable, Audioquest Crystals with Kimber Monocle ($275.00 used). The detail improved but the edgy brightness was still there. Currently I haveTMC Yellow interconnects pre amp-amp and TMC White CD-Pre amp. The brightness is gone but I also have lost some of the "excitement". The MAD IC's are silver coated ribbons while the TMC are all copper. I am looking for some copper/silver hybrid IC's to see if there is a way to achieve a compromise, maybe something like Kimber Silver Streaks. Hope this helps. I think audio is always going to be a work in progress. If it weren't for the money, this would be the fun of the hobbie. We can still think about Balanced, bi wire and tri wire, tubes and soon, SACD.
I recommend you to take a good look at your system set up ( give the Bryston enough break in time as well) as Onhwy61 suggest. You don't mention your previous amplifier, couldnĀ“t it be that you are noticing the difference between the two (you are used to the previous sound)?
Whithin certain limits you might be able to modify the presentation out of your source playing with shelf materials and footers. What is your metal rack shelves material ? What is the floor/ rack interface cones, soft? Try some soft ones like vibrapods under your CD player they do make a difference. Do you have power conditioning?
If you provide more info, maybe a fix can be found....
Jeff and Bruce, while I wholeheartedly agree with you on the tube advice, do you think it's a good area for a "newbie" to venture? We have tubes in our CD player, our preamp, and our monoblocks are tubes, so we are FANS. The “bloom oh the bloom” ! But,
Tubes take a lot of finesse and can be very finicky. I see this as one of those last tweaks that you do, not one of the first. It could be very frustrating.
I think that a person needs some time and experience under their belt before dipping into the tube realm.
Talk about snake oil salesmen, look at all the tubes that are available; and are the really NOS, etc? I think that folks can be taken more on tubes than any other tweak. This is just my own opinion and welcome others.
regards -
Wemmessie. Since you are now experiencing a slight "dullness" to your sound after room treatment, may I suggest a detailed, brighter, & airy but very smooth ITC? Thanks, I knew you wouldn't mind. Anyway, try Silver Audio Hyacinths. I have had great success with them running from my DAC to Pre Amp.
Sorry Mraybeck, I must defer to the infinite wisdom of other members, I am and for the immediate future committed to solid state. I think though, as a practical matter, you should wait on cabling until after the pre.
Thank you very much everyone. Wow, I'm offline for awhile and return to this great advice. I used to dabble in hi-fi (mid-fi actually) in HS and college. School and work requirements forced a hiatus. However, I am now re-entering through the back door of Home Theatre (perhaps one of its benefits to HE audio). I just added to 4B ST for two-channel and bought the Arcam (used) a couple of months ago. These changes really floored me and have now sent me on the quest.
I live in a small apartment and my stereo is in a 15'x12' space at the end of the main L-shaped living space. So, I unfortunately do not have room (or money) for a separate 2-channel system and room treatment options are very limited. The floor is carpeted and there is a lot of soft furniture in the space. The walls are plaster and there is a marble fireplace at the first reflection point for my right speaker. I know, far from optimal, but there really is nowhere else in the apartment I can move the system. I have experimented with speaker placement and toe-in with some success.
The rack is an industrial metal-wire rack with flat feet (no cones) and I am not using any dampening/isolation devices. I am using a Monster Power HTS-3500 for my CDP and receiver (pre), but not the 4B ST.
So far, I am leaning towards some HT truthlinks as an interim change until I can afford a decent rack and then a pre. For the time being, money is pretty tight, so I hope to make incremental, high-value changes through research and the experience I have found on this site. I'm grinning with the knowledge that my modest system has a LOT of room for inprovement. Think of all the CD-pulling, listening sessions I have to look forward to after each upgrade! (helps ease the wallet sting:)
Any additional insight/suggestions on the path of musical fulfillment are warmly received. Any advice for this 'yung grasshoppa' on how to keep this hobby from becoming a financially-draining obsession that alienates me from all friends and loved ones - or should I just make peace with this right now? Happy Listening, Mark.
Mraybeck: Considering what your components are resting on at this time, I would (in your position)invest in Vibrapods at $24.00 per set of four and discuss with Craig @ Vibrapods how you can incorporate the Pods with your wire rack. The Pods and an inexpensive sheet of MDF may cure your sonic problems for very little money. Investing in cables, components etc. when your electronics are situated as they are will not have anywhere near as great an impact on the sound for the money spent as inexpensive isolation devices will. You have not even heard what your current setup is capable of as the source player and the other components are being hampered by vibration. Start with the CD player and your investment should be well under $30.00 including the platforms. If you happen to have a Maple cutting board hanging around then use it in place of the MDF. I am using more sophisticated isolation products right now, but will never forget what the first set of Pods did to my system (when placed on the source) and I still use them on a second mini system and now on the new CD burner with super results considering the small investment. I like to get the most out of what I have before moving on.
Mraybeck, in answer to your question--there are a lot of fine preamps out there that you'd be happy with. I've enjoyed the BAT gear that I've owned, but there are many others that would work well. Classe and Pass Labs come to mind as two that you can probably find in your price range. But back to what I said originally--if all you're looking to do is take the edge off your system, used cables are a cheap way to experiment. I agree that stands and isolation devices are important in a high-end system, but I'm not sure they will address the brightness problem as well as cables and interconnects will. Good luck.
Thank you Dekay and MacM for your posts. I need to remind myself that my enthusiasm should be directed with a little patience and fiscal judgement. I am planning to order some Vibrapods tomorrow. I will play with those while I keep an eye out for some used Truthlinks. Hopefully, this will help maximize my system while I save for the rack and pre-amp. Does anyone know of some relatively cheap, non-invasive (live in apt) room treatments/tweeks? Thanks again. Mark
Try the vibrapods with MDF (or small particle board )on the CD and let us know how does it go...Good luck
Just a follow-up: First, I want to thank everyone for their input. It is encouraging to know that I am not embarking on this odyssey alone. I purchased the Vibrapods and am using them on my CDP -> AMAZING what $30 can do for you with the right information. Imaging and detail improved dramatically and the system sounds much more tonally correct with guitar and pianos (with which I am very familiar). Nonetheless, I was still plagued with some high-end harshness that brought on listening fatigue at moderate listening levels. Next, I just added some HT truthlink IC's from CDP to receiver (pre). I have only had them in the system for about 2 days, but my initial impression is that, while it does tame the "brightness" somewhat, I have lost a little of the "shimmer" and detail of cymbals and high-hats. Bass seems slightly improved, and my soudstage is significantly widened, especially with midrange/voice. I ended up purchasing the HT's (good price), but the dealer "cooked" them for me with his demo disc. Overall, I am very pleased with changes in sound quality. I have taken to heart the advice that I should seek to maximize my current system before adding to it. Next, I plan to provide a stable platform for my entire system (and stop stacking!!!) with a rack - considering Salamander Synergy/Archetype. Thanks again, and as before, any additional insight/suggestions welcome. Happy Listening, Mark
Mraybeck, I used the Truth-Links before upgrading to the Pro-Silway Mk II's. The PS II's have better detail and sparkle in the highs, but they cost more and I wasn't sure if they'd help the brightness problem as much as the Truth-Link's. But if you're ever looking for an upgrade, consider the PS II's. They lack the warmth of the TL's, but I like them better in my system overall.
Dump the Nak and get a tube Pre amp.Rouge 66 is a good choice for under 1K used.