Warm vs Revealing—the struggle for balance

For me my upgrade path has been finding balance between warmth and dynamics/detail.

It’s looks something like this: find satisfaction (Raven Nighthawk + Tekton), get upgrade bug seeking more dynamics, get more revealing gear (Ma 352), feel fatigued, buy new tubes (Telefunken) and speakers (SF Olympica); want more dynamics (Mc 601 + c50), I immediately get tube pre because of fatigue (c2300), still too sharp (new tubes and DAC); excellent balance, but of course sell speakers, new speakers too revealing, buy Cardas cables to replace Wireworld (ahh just right for now, but may be a little more revealing might be nice).

And oh yeah, working on fixing the damn room problems!

Chasing the unicorn. 

Anyone else doing this back and forth?


Yes... that's a common problem that many struggle with.  In my experience, the best solution is to own tube gear that allows for a variety of different tubes to be used to fine tune the sound to your liking.   While tube rolling can be expensive, it's less expensive and stressful than having to swap components... and I find the experience of tube rolling more rewarding and educational.

It sounds like your problem might be bright gear not revealing gear. A system can be very revealing and not be fatiguing.

I’d start with a pair of speakers that you really like. Then get an amp which pairs well with those speakers, and so on. This may cost more and take more time to put together your system, but it’s better than constant frustration.

If you live in an area with an audio dealer or dealers, it may be cheaper and easier in the long run to work with a dealer, buy new and get a system that really floats your boat. Buying new from a dealer does not guarantee that, though.  If you go the dealer route, take your time, make sure you trust that he's got your listening enjoyment in mind and not just a sale.  He should allow you to try the gear at home before the purchase

Amps that can run multiple types of output tubes are, by design, compromises.  They don't optimize signal transfer of any output device,  so all possible output devices are not optimized with respect to signal transfer in their operation.  For some this is OK, even desirable, for others it's not either.  For those in the latter category, the sane course od action is choosing speakers based on their signal transfer and then having amplifier(s) built that optimize the output devices' transparency and are then tuned for the desired degree of warmth (i.e. distortion, which should be minimal if amplifier + output devices are well optimized) by choice of  coupling capacitors...in this way both revealing and warm can be had

I think, you are headed in the wrong direction. You don't really want to find warmth/detail balance, you want to find the sound that is as close to the reality as possible. Then you fine tune, including with tubes. 

I agree with tomcy6,  get the speakers that you like a lot and bring the best out of them. It will not be inexpensive.

For example, I currently use 4 different pairs of stereo speakers, several amps, sources (essentially multiple rigs), a multichannel rig, etc in 2 rooms. It covers the different flavors, signatures, etc with different types of music that I enjoy (while my moods fluctuate).

1 in 1 out when it comes to equipment/rigs is not a good idea at all (as you're noticing)....

Apparently,  "it is a common problem that many struggle with", as indicated by one commenter. So, let us probe a bit deeper into the psychological make up of many typical dudes. Stop telling yourself that the one sht you got is the greatest sht on earth somehow (because you paid for it and you are somehow the most intelligent dude that ever lived n all). Admit to yourself/acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of the sht you own (weaknesses exist in all kinds of cost no object gear too). Don't be a feral fan boy of one brand, etc i.e don't put all your eggs in 1 basket. Keep an open mind and keep some options open. 

Everyone that posts on Audiogon has the same situation as you....even if they don’t admit it. That’s the nature of this hobby..That’s why we’re Here.....Every time I get my system sounding Perfect....I’m online the next day looking to "make it better"..Trying to make it "more" perfect......Audiophiles may say they’ve found "audio Nirvana".....but they are really only lying to themselves....That’s why this is such a Fun hobby and such a "frustrating " one at the same time....I love it!!!!...We all love it !!!

Respectfully, speakers make a bigger difference in the final “color” of home audio than any signal component. They sit at the end of the chain and actually create the sound waves you hear. Peter Comeau is my sonic reproduction guru and his big baffle work for IAD’s Brit brands is music to my ears, literally.

With some great advice from the discussions here on vintage pro audio gain, cabling, DAC specs and WiFi streaming - my AE Techron serviced Crown PS 200 drives Wharfedale 85th Anniversary Heritage Lintons and a speaker level output REL T5i with non fatiguing perfection :)

Long story short (too late, right) I found that the pursuit of listening pleasure can reach an actual end point in signal resolution if you like and understand your speakers. It’s all about moving air when things are said and done.



Not trying to hijack, but I’ve been reading that part of the “Warm vs Revealing” dichotomy is related to speaker baffle steps. The trend toward narrower speakers was part of the quest for precision in reproduction that cannot be easily managed by crossovers to create non-fatiguing musicality.

The recent popularity of ‘70s style big box speakers is not just their throwback appearance or their MidFi pricing. A 12” baffle keeps the baffle steps crossovers out of the sweet spot frequency for many instruments and vocals.

@retrocrownfan +1! The 12" baffle for an even transition between bass and mids has been largely overlooked by speaker designers over the past few decades. Skinny may be "in" for gals but it makes for problematic speakers!

I strongly agree with finding speakers that you really love. As has been previously stated, they will have the single greatest impact on the sound you hear. Use the other components to "color" things a bit. The other thing I'd say is when it comes to tube amplification, the tube matters. I went through a handful of 12a7 based preamps and was never happy. Once I put a preamp in with 6sn7 tubes it was a revelation. I got that balance of warmth and detail. I then sought out amps with the same 6sn7 tubes in the input and driver stages. As others have said, this took time and cost a fair bit of money. But right now, I don't have upgradeitis. I can just sit and listen to my system and enjoy the music it makes

I went through lots of amps and DACs and occasionally had problems with harshness (as you call it, lack of warmth). 

Once I siginificantly upgraded my DAC (Chord DAVE) and moved to low power SETs (and I've had several different ones), I've never experieneced harshness or fatigue as I continue to upgrade my system.

I don't think there is such thing as speakers that are "too revealing".  Speakers can be harsh but that is just poor implementation (by the manufacturer).  



Our preferences are all different, and we all have a unique "sweet spot" we need to achieve to let the music take us away. There’s not a one size fits all road map. It’s always a matter of striking a balance on all fronts (including baffle width). There’s no free lunch, and there are trade-offs with every choice. We need to pick our poison, and keep chasing down the weakest link. Sometimes "too revealing" is just excellent clarity in parts of the chain that points a finger at some other source of sloppiness or harshness, sometimes its simply a tonal imbalance that’s too bright. I suspect sometimes it’s just too loud of a volume level for a given recording. Your right though....it’s pretty elusive!

The room is significant, and so is how well your speakers interact with it. Best bet (IMHO) is to find speakers that you love that work well in your room, then buy amplification that drives them well and has a tonal balance you like. Tubes can offer great clarity, and options for fine tuning to taste.

IMHO, we've got push the resolution envelop past the point of "comfort" to learn which exit to get off on.  It's all part of the hit-and-miss experimental process.  Hopefully, time and money will also cooperative with this objective.


Love this! 

IMHO, we've got push the resolution envelop past the point of "comfort" to learn which exit to get off on.  It's all part of the hit-and-miss experimental process. 


I just don't agree that you can have too much resolution.  What causes harshness isn't too much detail.

The issue with revealing often has to do with looking for a midrange or tweeter curve that will cut through the room acoustics.

Treat your room first.

I just don't agree that you can have too much resolution.  What causes harshness isn't too much detail.

i agree with this

it isn't a tradeoff in a well built system

Resolution is way overrated which is why people pay top dollar for less resolving TVs.


Who would want to see Medusa in hi res? Try it and see!


MP3 rules! Hides all those rough edges...but its cheaper so that's right out!


inna            I think, you are headed in the wrong direction. You don't really want to find warmth/detail balance, you want to find the sound that is as close to the reality as possible. 

I agree. The best way to pursuit the reality is recreating the original music by comparison. The orig music is a reference and betters to all reproduced audio sounds. It is hard to compare your system sound and the orig music because your ears trick you always. You need to live record your sound system and compare with the original music.  Alex/Wavetouch

Well trained ears as a result of experience are the only way to know for sure what something should sound like.


And guess what?  No two pair of ears hear exactly the same which explains why we are where we are.

Oh yeah - been on both sides of that struggle too many times: Fun, dynamic and lively sound, BUT too aggressive and fatiguing, or leaving the midrange AWOL (a dry midrange is a non-starter for me, which is probably why I've gravitated to VAC electronics and Japanese cartridges over time). OR: smooth warm and lush romantic sound, seems perfect at first, but then I want some more sparkle up top and get bored.

The "baseline" ideal balance in my head can sway from day to day, or even drift over time.

Eventually I’ve gotten my speakers & power amp combo "centered" where I want them for each room. That’s really the important anchor to a system IMO. It dictates the level of dynamics and scale a system can render. The amp in particular is a huge piece to me (I listen loud). Past that, I’m such an analog junkie I can (and do) roll cartridges, tubes and even phono stages all day to drift around that "center" as the mood strikes me.

There is an easy solution: more than one system. Headphones/earphones count as well in that.


Variety is the spice of life.  One must open their mind to other possibilities in order to enjoy all the fruits of life.

Where would Monet have ended up if resolution and detail were his goal rather than abstract impressions?

I have one system that is a somewhat older Icepower Class D amp and a newer one with latest greatest Hypex Class D. Same speakers essentially in both. If I had to choose just one I’m going with the newer Hypex based amp which delivers the best detail of any amp I have owned in 50+ years. So that’s that. Key thing is the new high res Hypex based amp is also not at all fatiguing to me with any speakers I use there, some more detailed, some less so.


Disclaimer: I have good hearing but older ears so high frequency nuances that might have bugged me when 21 years old hearing up to 20khz  probably no longer would.

I would also like to add that as one ages, hearing changes can impact on the way we appreciate a more nuanced (warm with some high end roll off) sound signature and a lower volume, I have found my very detailed speakers have now been tamed by a fully tube amplification section which suits me well at the moment.

Everyone has their preferred listening options, one that is easy and non-fatiguing, but I still find I love listening to my Class A amp,... sometimes. The rabbit hole runs deep, enjoy the ride,


"The issue with revealing often has to do with looking for a midrange or tweeter curve that will cut through the room acoustics."

+1.  And, well stated.

Anyone else doing this back and forth?

@w123ale No. Whenever you have increased detail that is also fatiguing (bright and harsh), the fatigue is often the result of distortion. 

You know you're making progress when the presentation is detailed and relaxed at the same time.


Where would Monet have ended up if resolution and detail were his goal rather than abstract impressions?

Early Manet.  And if you prefer Realism, or something other than Impressionism, Monet wouldn’t be your guy.  This isn’t really a strong argument for less resolving sources.   Different folks like different things.

Hey, My favorite way to get warmth and revealing is a tube preamp and a SS amp. I use ARC Ref 2se with a Luxman M10X. Even if you went with an much older preamp and went reasonable class D amp. Even some of the Chinese stuff as long as it can drive your speakers properly. It is the sound you car looking for. Rogue has great preamps that won’t break the bank. My first preference would’ve the preamp. It is the soul of your system. One of my favorite integrated amps of all time is the Rogue Sphinx. Tube input, 100w SS amp, and it it has a very nice phono stage for $1800 with the metal remote. I hope this helps. 

after reading this I've concluded that my daughter's amazon alexa is a Monet.


I guess my point is exactly that. Different strokes for different folks. In sound just like art. Do you prefer a high res detailed image of your water lilies or a more abstract impression? How about of Medusa? Maybe if enough detail is obscured and otherwise distorted you don’t change to stone? You never know! How much of that horrific recording of an otherwise enthralling Motorhead tune can a Motorhead fan even handle? Break out the filters! A strategically placed tube or two might do. OR just stick with mp3.  DSP anyone?



Fair enough. I misunderstood your post!  Reading for comprehension escapes me sometimes.

I can say.....I feel I have the perfect system with a perfect balance. I truly believe I am out of the race. It's been about 30 years.



@waytoomuchstuff + 1 “IMHO, we've got push the resolution envelop past the point of "comfort" to learn which exit to get off on.  It's all part of the hit-and-miss experimental process.  Hopefully, time and money will also cooperative with this objective.”

This captures it well for me. How does one know where the line is if you don’t find it and of course that line is ever changing 

Whenever you have increased detail that is also fatiguing (bright and harsh), the fatigue is often the result of distortion.

You know you’re making progress when the presentation is detailed and relaxed at the same time.

words of wisdom from ralph, well worth remembering as we tinker to improve our rigs

@mulveling and @mbmi yup. This is part of the fun of this. I have three systems that I’m always tweaking, because I’m a tweaker. That part of the fun for me and expense too of course.

BTW system is feeling just about right tonight with the Cardas cables in (Clear Cygnus). At first I was missing the snap of the Wireworld but the Cardas is having synergy with my McIntosh tube pre and monoblocks and the SF Amati (much more detailed than the Olympicas that it replaced). The system is much more welcoming now than it was.

Great responses in this thread—nice to know I’m not alone in my journey.



I completely understand. I struggled with that the first couple decades or more of my pursuing the high end. Part of the issue was I was dealing with solid state equipment in the 70’s - 90’s. I could write many pages on the subject.

Today, you can get warm / detailed solid state and very detailed tube equipment. However, different companies specialize in different sound types. So, it is pretty easy to mix stuff and get a bad outcome. I have run out from Magico speakers demosmore than once… not because they are harsh speakers, but because they are so fast and accurate… paired with the wrong equipment and they can sound terrible.


So, from reading your post I believe you are moving too fast. One must be really careful and methodical… and slowly build a system one carefully chosen component at a time with the end in mind. Start with the right speakers.

Let me underscore something someone else said. Shooting for the sound of real music can be an incredibly helpful guide (although not a requirement , nothing wrong with shooting for something else). I could write tons on this. But my systems started converging on great sound when I learned what real un-amplified music sounds like (amplified music throws a layer of amps and speakers making it impossible to be a standard to which compare your system to.) In the beginning I just wanted it to sound better to me… the problem was that some music would sound better, but most would sound worse.

Every chance I got for over a decade I would listen to every acoustic instrument I could, jazz clubs, symphony, 7th row center for every concert for ten years. The result was I had a clear understanding of what the music should sound like. This made the objective clear.

To get to where you want to go: First step, find the right speakers. For me it was Sonus Faber, first Cremona, then Olympica, and now Amati Traditional. These speakers when fed with the right signal are as natural and musical as you will find, while being very detailed. Once you have the speakers, you want to listen to them, break them in for at least 500 hours, so you know the sound intimately. Then, given what you are hearing choose a preamp, then amp.

There is a very well known combination of Sonus Faber speakers, with Audio Research electronics and Transparent interconnects that delivers highly detailed, natural, musical, realistic sound (see my system… I did not use the rule of thumb, I got there by swapping and upgrading for forty years). Also, Wilson Speakers and Rowland for holographic, if you mostly listen to rock then McIntosh and B&W speakers are a classic.

What is key, is not to blow up the system and start again quickly with a whole bunch of new equipment. Spend a lot of time finding your speakers… then step by step swap in carefully chosen components to achieve the sound you want.


If you have not yet read Robert Harley’s book, The Complete Guide to High End Audio, I recommend that as your next step.

If all of this sounds like more than yo are up for. Go to a city. Find a dealer that you feel like you can trust and have home help you put together a complete system. 

The pursuit of resolution for its own sake is not the road to go at all ...

Synergy between components and acoustic optimization go toward musicality : which is details and relaxed sound at the same time as put it very well by atmasphere... 😊

I enjoy that on my two system , speakers and headphone... This is why i am in love with my two low cost system... They are impossible to upgrade at low cost , only at 10 times their basic cost... 😊 but i dont need to go there to be happy...

@ghdprentice thank you for the thoughtful response. I’ve just ordered The Complete Guide to High End Audio. Great suggestion. Take it slow is a good idea. I have the Amati Traditions— great speakers — and I think are good match with my Mc gear.

I like the idea of going to a city to listen to a variety of gear. It’s a journey and that is part of it.

Getting to see some live music would be a good baseline for sure because it’s been a long time and honestly I have no idea how it is supposed to sound.

@Carlsbad2 - The issue is to avoid always chasing revealing.

Having a ragged upper end, which is different than another ragged upper end, makes a new (to you) tweeter sound revealing, in that it will accentuate things you didn't hear before. So it's a merry go round.

Before determining speakers are too warm, too bright, too something...toe in, toe out. 


‘Thank you for your response. 

On the subject of the sound of music. I grew up with cheap systems of the 70’s and live concerts… The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Moody Blues…etc. in really good venues and towers of amplifiers and speakers. I actually thought cymbals sounded like tsssshhhhh, and that correct treble was mostly (now that I know) high frequency hash and distortion. As my systems got better the high frequency got quieter and quieter and from amid the tssssss emerged the sound of touch of a drums stick hitting brass and it resonating resonating. 

Well, if you have got Amati’s… then great place to start. No need to go for different speakers.

@jji666 glad you mentioned toe in as this can be a great way to manage overly strident treble. This has definitely been a tool I have used to manage my system’s treble.

I’d add managing a big window behind my listening position has been important. I’m working with a studio design engineer and he showed me the treble spike the uncovered windows was creating. When we covered the windows with a pile of pillows the spike disappeared and the SQ was much more measured—working on getting some window treatments that are acceptable to the family. The room definitely is a part of the equation as we tweak our systems to our liking. Lots of hard surfaces are going to increase fatigue but a well treated room presumably can handle more detailed speakers with causing harshness.

The balance IMO has to do with the parts in the components you are using.  They are usually lower grade resistors and capacitors.  PLUS the AC filtering is usually non existent.  You can filter AC noise with filter chokes and that usually provides more clarity and reduces noise that impacts harshness.  Then upgrading capacitors in the power supply also adds to that benefit.  Cleaning up the noise usually provides more clarity and detail without the harshness.  Capacitors like V-Caps usually provide greater separation of instruments and vocals in my experience so you get better images and better soundstage.  These improvements are a much cheaper way to go that cable changes, room treatments, etc.  PLUS they are consistent with system changes.

Happy Listening. 

Audio Equipment is designed to transfer embedded recorded data to the point it becomes sound, a sonic entity within a space.

The equipment is specifically designed to enable a perfectly functioning Human Audible Range of 20H to 20Khz to receive Soundwaves at these frequencies.

Sound produced within a Audio System is a Transferal of Electrical Energy into a Soundwave. Not all electrical energy is transferred through a circuit designed for Audio equally, this will result in a variety of description about a audio device in relation to how it interfaces with different partnering devices within a system.

The Soundwave is produced as a result of a Mechanical Operation produced by the function of the Drivers belonging to the Speaker.

The Soundwave is functioning within a Specific Environment that is very different from the environment selected for the designing and testing of the Speaker Drivers.

There is without doubt Electrical Energy that when processed to the point it passes through the Xover can have a trait that when becoming Sound, is a Trait that has a limited amount of attraction.

There are Speakers that when converting the Electrical Signal to sound can quite easily produce sound that has a limited amount of attraction, the enclosures used for the Speakers can also add to other Traits that offer up something in relation to a audible sound that has a limited amount of attraction.

The Room in use to have sound produced in will also receive energy that will be transferred into something that is different from the Sound produced by the Speakers Driver. These additional sounds created by the Room are in many cases very audible and will have a limited amount of attraction.

The pursuit of the ideal sonic is unique to each individual, as equipment choices and listening environments are all usually bespoke.

The next bespoke choice for each individual and one that will be unique to each, is for how Transparent through to Rich they like the sonic to have a detectable presence. For this one there is a vast amount of preferences, and for many they may never discover their ideal soulmate, during their expression of interest in audio.  

@w123ale as I read your original post I was nodding my head yes.As you already see you definitely aren't alone. I'm at the point myself where I know my room needs a little more help but my overall satisfaction is 90+% with how the music sounds.I don't want to replace anything and throw off the balance. I just replaced my CDT reluctantly expecting the worst, days or weeks of tweaking.Big sigh of relief when it fit right in and was an improvement.

There is no question that this struggle is frustrating but a couple of things you might want to consider:

1. At least you understand the struggle and the sought after solution -if there is one.

2.Given that the recording engineers that are involved in the recording process for the material you are listening to are also afflicted with which is best and that confusion likely manifests itself in the recordings you listen to--i.e. one is too subdued without enough detail and definition and the next is waaaaay too sharp/harsh but with a lot of detail.  

 I am going to suggest that no one system is enough to deal with these two issues since there is no consistency from one recording to another. What you are doing is very good for the economy if not good for your personal economy but I wonder if there is any one system/combination of components that is going to be pleasing from one  recording to another.

3. I just bought a Van Morrison recoding and hands down it is the worst recording I have ever heard-there is no system that could fix this recoding. I have reached a point where I wonder if some recordings are presented with the thought in mind that a re-mastered and better version can be sold next year. Top flight performers and their recoding companies can afford the best engineers and likely already have the best equipment but yet some of the recordings offered are unlistenable.


We talked about this earlier in the forums. Get yourself an equalizer from Schitt. It inserts between the preamp and amp and adds a nice way to adjust tone without a negative impact on the sound quality. Then you might be able to dispense with other expensive tweaks. It has been positively reviewed.

Once you settle on which kind of sound, warmer or cooler, pleases you the most, you just have to keep experimenting with different gear before you can finally achieve true audio satisfaction.  Just that simple.