Speakers, speaker cables or I’m getting old…

I began listening to my gear as it filtered in from various spots in the US. I bought cheap cables, as I waited for my cabling to arrive. I have a set of Heritage Specials, ran from a Pass X150.8. I noticed right out of the gate at what I would call “moderate” volumes there’s a frequency that “smears.” I’ve never heard this in any of my setups, have just read others reference it. Now, what I’ve noticed is as my gear has arrived and as the chain improved, it reduced, but is not gone and I’m unable to listen at louder volumes due to it.

The one item that’s yet to arrive are the speaker cables, currently on there is what was available at the moment, something very thin and cheap.

My prior setup was Harbeth’s off PL, and am very familiar with that sound. I’ve ran PS Audio BHK Mono’s off a set off Dyn Confidence and loved that too. I tend to believe it’s not the speakers. But rather the cheap speaker cables…Or, I’ve aged 3 years since I’ve had a 2ch setup, and my hearing has changed and I’m just more sensitive to certain frequencies. For the record, I’ve always been rather sensitive to an upper mid/higher freq sound, it pierces my brain. B&W + Mac comes to mind…ran that once as well.

The other oddity is that older recordings, or older remasters like Tom Petty Wildflowers and the off shoot releases from it sound amazing. Dave Matthews sounds amazing, Radiohead, Willie Bobo, so there’s a bunch that doesn’t generate that smear or sheen. I’m using qobuz. Really, anything metal related, Tool, Lamb of God, Metallica is a little harsh to listen to and moderate volumes.



My experiece has been that s the system gets better, the louder I can go without the harshness. This includes speaker cables, IC, and AC cables. A system is no better than its weakest link. Everything has impact IMO. Another plus is that recording that were unlistenable became more listenable. There's still good, better, best but few unlistenable. But I'm working on it.


I have had some similar experience as it relates to speaker cables and with Metallica, Tool and such on Qobuz.

  • Speaker cables:  I owned a pair of Rocket 33s, Blue Jean Cables and borrowed a friends Kimber Kable 12TCs.  The Blue Jean Cables didn't have the clarity and separation in the low frequencies of the others and for some music the Kimbers were harsh and reminded me of why I don't have B&W speakers.  Ultimately I went to Kimber Bifocals and the sound singificantly improved to my ears.
  • Qobuz:  When I upgraded from Bluesound node I tried the trial for Tidal and Qobuz.  I created a playlist and one day while grilling, a friend and I listened and randomly switched the streaming services.  I noticed two things - I appreciated the sonics of Tidal for some specific recordings such as Metallica, Tool, Boston, etc.  I also noted a few songs I wanted to hear were on Tidal.  

My last comment is as I've upgraded my system I have noted the playing db - and as my system improved the 'spaces of silence' between the notes are more drastic.  I used to listen at 85 db frequently because I thought it sounded better and I enjoyed the feeling of loudness.  No I notice 85 db doesn't seem as loud and I can have a conversation without raising my voice and sometimes I end up listening to music in th mid 60s and 70 db range. 

I initially thought this was driven by the increase in signal strength of a balanced cable.  I know think its the improved signal quality to the amp and the improved control on the speakers resulting in less noise between notes.  And I still could be wrong 😐


You're just experiencing something very important that cable deniers seem happily unaware of -which says a lot about their ears and / or systems-: the wrong cable can seriously bottleneck even the best system.

Yes, speaker cables can sound thin and bright and smeared. Nothing new here.

Mind you, I've been struggling in vain against a rather artificial / bright upper midrange for a while, blaming in turns my DIY speakers imperfect crossover or my room's imperfect acoustics, only to accidentally solve the issue by replacing the silver plated copper power cord on my preamp with a full copper one.

The audio chain is only as strong as its' weakest link.

While I wouldn't say cables are a tone control, they certainly have a bearing on the overall projected sound.

If you have nice gear, crappy cables can stand out like a sore thumb.

Could be the speakers for that kind of music. I had some Dynaudio Contour 20s and they didn’t like rock/metal much. New cables may help a little but I wouldn’t expect a full transformation.
I just sold Acoustic Zen Hologram 2. They didn’t play the greatest with my new Cornwall 4. I put on some old Straightwire Laser 8 cables I had laying around and there was just more slam, snare snap, life to the music. That’s when the AZ went up for sale. That said they played very well with other speakers. That said while noticeable it was not night and day by any means.  

Thank you all.

My new speaker cables will be here this week, so not over rotating on any one thing.  But, they are the weakest link @coralkong and I believe my setup is fairly revealing.  

@overthemoon spoken like a true hobbyist!!!  I am beyond familiar with Fear Inoculum, which I’ll use to A/B Tidal and qobuz.  I can’t imagine there would be a difference, as sonically + digitally, it’s the same, right?


Try some equipment isolation from vibration, mechanical feedback from increased volume.  Good luck.

You didn't indicate your age, but if you've passed 60, get your hearing professionally tested.  The result will help you decide which changes in your system are likely to yield results, and which are chasing futility, if you have the typical freq drop-off for your age.

High gauge speaker wire might affect the bass, but your problem is most likely the room. Not being able to play loud is a VERY common problem due to too much energy in the 2 to 4 kHz region usually due to room reflections. Lack of isolation causes feedback if bad enough. Only turntables require isolation and most are not!

I have a friend who had this very problem. We put a MiniDSP SHD in his system and the problem disappeared like magic. 

Really, anything metal related, Tool, Lamb of God, Metallica is a little harsh to listen to and moderate volumes.

Go figure.  Give an update once you get the new cables settled in — what cables are they BTW?  You seem to be focused on speaker cables, but interconnects are just as important so what are you using there and what is your source, power cables, and power conditioning?  We don’t have all the details and it all matters.  

OP it's hyperacusis and I also suffer from it.Well made copper cabling throughout will help smooth out the sound,but ultimately can't undo bad or less than stellar recordings. Room treatments,DSP,and power conditioning help also.I love rock and blues music and finally achieved relief after adding a parametric equalizer to control those problematic upper mids.I'm not saying that's the right path to take for everyone, just my personal experience. I hope upgrading your cabling will be all you  need to get rid of the congestion and edginess.

You don't state your age, but I noticed that sometime in my mid-sixties, really loud music, especially live bands in bars, was offensive to my ears.  Could not stay in there.  Tinnitus was developing.  I still get great pleasure from my home setup, but at lower volumes.  And no more metal.

Yes, I should’ve been a little more detailed.

I went with PIne Tree Audio cabling for balanced/USB/power, and Audio Art cabling for my C20 power and speaker cabling.  

I’m running the PL X2.5, PS Audio DirectStream DAC, Innuous Pulse, PL X150.8, Inakustik 3500 and the Dyn Heritage Specials w/the Sub6.  I’m getting ready to test running my PL dedicated off a Shunyata Hydra Cyclops.

@mijostyn I 100% agree.  I have GIK Acoustic panels, and you’re correct.  There was some midrange energy building dead center, which is much tamer w/my mid trap set there, the other is behind my head.  I’m waiting for my isolation feet from Stack Audio.  I’m also waiting on a rack from Butcher Block Acoustics, along with some of their isolation platforms.  I’ve already taken the step to fill the stands with aquarium gravel.  They certainly resonated prior.

@jtcf Noted.  In both my prior setups I ran a DEQX Premate, unbelievable addition.  It’s limited though in the digital domain and setting them up is beyond an adventure.  But, once set up w/room treatments, it sounds unbelievable.  It is something I’m considering reintegrating, that or McIntosh’s MEN220.  I’ve tested one previously, another magic device.  Though, I won’t self-diagnose myself with a hearing condition, they certainly help smooth out those frequencies.

What you're experiencing is the sound of Heritage Specials vs Harbeth.  HS are overly detailed and can sound harsh and fatiguing, especially brand new out of the box.  I've owned Special 40s and loved that speaker, even more than the HS. Harbeth are super pleasant sounding speakers, even on recordings that are less than perfect.  Sorry, but this has nothing to do with the cables.  I've owned HS and every model Harbeth makes, except for the 40 series.  I liked the HS at first, until I realized I couldn't listen for very long, and the music became fatiguing, just like B&W.  I would suggest pairing your Pass to a different speaker that creates a more satisfying presentation.  

@toddcowles while I'm not saying this is your specific issue, I have a local contact who's complaining about the exact same issue you are now and he also runs those same AA cables you have now, fwtw.  Coincidence, i don't know.  They did not have the problem until they ran those cables you have now. Will be interesting when you report back about the upcoming changes you'll try next.  If you plan to keep the HS speakers, I believe you can make adjustments elsewhere, maybe.  

Also, not to derail you too much, but what preamplifier are you running wiht the X150.8 amp?

I heard that amp at a show a few years back at a show with some efficient Zu Audio speakers, and holy cow it just sounded terrible (overly fatiguing) with the volume turned up. All I could think of at that moment if they were to continue to run those speakers, was for them swapping out the preamp and swapping out the cables for something a little more forgiving, perhaps.  Will be interested in your update after you swap some of that out and try others. Best of Luck. 

Great a miracle cable hunt to go with the Easter egg hunt. So is it fact, fiction, old age, stupidity, or placebo ? Yosemite Sam “I hate that rabbit”  that was another Looney Tune.


@ericeagleson I agree, I wouldn’t compare them, and both have special qualities that I adore.  I won’t agree or disagree with the cable comment, but I’ll share my experience when the the current $1/foot wire is swapped…I”m reserving judgement there.  I’ve never gone too in-depth with cables, so I don’t have an inherent bias towards any brand or thought position on it.  On my prior systems I invested heavily into Shunyata.  I swapped out the Shun Hydra setup for a Nordost QX4 and Qbase, that certainly changed the dynamics.  This time, I opted to go entry level on the cabling.  I believe I’ve spent a grand total of $2k on all of the cabling, including the Ethernet cables.  I would say this is really my first experiment/experience with an effort around taking time with the cabling.  

@decooney I don’t have their speaker cables running, yet.  It’s $1 General special running now.  I have their C20 power cables and will be running a set of their midrange speaker cables.  I’ll keep you updated.  I’m running the Pass X2.5.  I do know there is a PL fan cohort that abhors the .8 series.  I’ve ran the XA60.5’s and they certainly were very organic sounding, really enjoyed them.  The one note I would say is they are current monsters, efficient speakers will dance.  I did go with copper cabling.

Update, given what I’ve heard thus far and without a doubt, new speaker cables will improve it.  I can already tell there’s things I really like about this speaker and there are things I really like about the Harbeth SLH5’s, so I bought a set of SHL5+ XD’s.  

The mid-bass on these little puppies is excruciatingly good, esp for their size.  I’ll likely keep them for a bit, may build a second system out of them.  Again, thanks for the comments.

@toddcowles I am Beta testing a DEQX Pre 8 as we speak. It will be a lot easier to set up than the premate and it has a way faster processor running 64 bit floating point. It has much higher digital limits. It also has a Volumio processor so it streams high res sources. It also has a Dynavector designed phono stage MM phono stage in it. For people who do not want to multi-amp their system there is the Pre 4. The bass management is excellent. We have not gotten the Equalizer program yet and the remote still does not work. We are supposed to get a big update last week. It seems Australians run at a slower pace than Americans.

@toddcowles All you can do is the old "Trial and Error" in your system, because everything effects everything.  You have to figure out what's causing the brightness in your system by, I think, first, switching out your cabling.  I personally believe that somewhere within your current loom of cabling (interconnects, speaker cables, power cables) is where the brightness issues in your system are coming from.  Of course, it could be something else.  Happy listening.  

@rolox ,

+1. It does get old after awhile, doesn't it? 

In any event, 

@toddcowles , give the new cables a shot and see where it gets you. You'll probably be pleasantly surprised.


@mijostyn That’s nice to hear, but hasn’t the DEQX been in Beta for about 4 years now?  I concur, the bass management, the room and speaker correction is next level.  But to still not have EQ curves from them, man.  Hard to stay relevant when your product can’t iterate w/n it’s own software stack, or you can’t find devs to assist.  

@coralkong Yeah, I did not spend much time or money on cabling and don’t fancy an endless pursuit being a cable hobbyist.  I can say, there’s a massive difference between super cheap cables and ones that cost $100 - $500, my current experience.  I’ve had expensive cables, and wouldn’t say my experience with the less expensive ones has diminished any of my enjoyment.  What I will say, there’s a prevailing thought that if you begin w/expensive cables, one must continue along that path of increasing costs to improve a signal chain.  This logic I question.  


And you should question the logic, diminishing returns to say the least. It’s not a case of Cable denier blah blah, but rather if it works for you and your happy great. But years and relentless posts telling of what your supposed to and or learn to hear is crap ! And that is yawn ! 


@toddcowles The whole unit had to be designed around a new processor, COVID damage. It was released for beta testing 3 weeks ago. very high resolution EQ is coming. The only thing they completed before releasing the units was the correction software along with the crossover programming. There is going to be a big update shortly. I have no qualms at all. It is more capable than any other 2.2 channel processor on the market. 

@mijostyn Ahhh, that timing aligns…I remember seeing their pressers for the new lineup, then poof, gone.  

It’s good to hear, I owned one for a few years and tried multiple times to get rid of it, due to the digital limitations.  Even with that limit, it just couldn’t be bested and I kept it for a long time.  I look forward to their new release.

@1971gto455ho I remember meeting Noel Lee in the late 90’s, as the car audio boom took off.  That guy could sell steak to a Vegan.  I often hear the same vigor in mystifying words, terms, and effects with today’s cabling.  


"My last comment is as I've upgraded my system I have noted the playing db - and as my system improved the 'spaces of silence' between the notes are more drastic.  I used to listen at 85 db frequently because I thought it sounded better and I enjoyed the feeling of loudness.  No I notice 85 db doesn't seem as loud and I can have a conversation without raising my voice and sometimes I end up listening to music in th mid 60s and 70 db range."

My old set up I was driving Buchardt Audio S400 MKIIs, driven from a Denafrips Thallo amplifier. This set up required more volume to get the best sound from the combo.

I have seen the same thing recently in my system. In the past month or so I've upgraded to Clayton Shaw Caladans (93db sensitive), and the newest CODA S5.5 version with most recent upgrades. This set up with more sensitive speakers and incredible class A power from the CODA, I find myself not needing to always crank the volume to get great sound, and I'm listening more frequently because I can listen at more reasonable levels.

Everything has begun to settle in. Some isolation bits arrived from Butcher Block Acoustics, swapped in the Harbeth H5 XD’s, along with the new speaker cables. The hiss and sheen on the higher frequencies are no longer present. Tomorrow I’m dropping in a MSB Analog DAC. FWIW, I did A/B using the Inakustik with everything plugged in and using a Shunyata Cyclops dedicated to just the amp. I prefer the later, the biggest difference I noticed was a slightly deeper/cleaner bass. Nothing earth shattering, but something I’ll keep.

Thanks for the input.



if the kimber kables you listened to were harsh then you likely have listened to a fake pair. 

lots of fake kimber kable cables out there. 

I also have Heritage Special’s . They take a good long time to break in. I drive my HS with an Aestheix Mimas . Speaker cable is Audience FrontRow. I don’t have ANY issues. Sound is sublime. 

@sudnh There may be lots of fakes but it wasn't the case.

Kimber recommended 12 TCs for my system and they were downright bad - the sound was muddy and harsh.  They weren't a good fit for my system to my ears.

Kimber was easy to work, and that's why I tried the BiFocal XLs.  I think they are awesome and I also use their KTCG XLRs interconnects.  Also of note, Kimber Kable sometimes sells demos and trade-ins on eBay.  

Your amplifier and the speakers are great, but perhaps there is not the best synergy.

I tried Pass labs 250.8 mono blocks with my Dynaudio Confidence 60 and they sounded very good, but I preferred my Accuphase A46 and Mcintosh Mc 611, and zero brightness with both.

@zszwedo I do think the Dyn + Pass combo is magical for many.  I like them, but have been A/B’ing the Harbeth SLH5 XD’s and the Dyn HS.  Very different speakers.  Comparing them for my personal tastes, I’ve opted to go with the Harbeth’s.  They’re using the Esotar tweeter from the Confidence line, I too have owned a set, but I think that tweeter sounds best when paired with their 3-driver  Confidence line.  Granted, if one isn’t in the Confidence price budget, this is a great speaker in lieu of that.