advice on brightness

i just set up my first system and although the excitement hasn't worn off, i have become aware of a pronounced brightness and sibilance in the sound.

my set-up is very modest and any advice would be greatly appreciated.

-Audio Refinement Complete integrated

-Harmon Kardon dvd25 (not the best for CDs, but it does have a good DAC: Wolfson XWM8740 Delta Sigma 24-bit/192kHz, same one in Arcam CD82)

-Athena AS-B1 bookshelf speakers

-AudioQuest Type 4 speaker cables (terminated with bananas)

-Straigh Wire Symphony II interconnects

i'm hoping i can resolve the brightness with different interconnects. my budget is around $150.


I just had a "brightness" problem. I purchased a pair of used Tyler Reference Monitors and set them up with my Linn Ikemi and Plnius 8150 int. amp. I use HT Truthlinks and Pro 9 speaker cables, Shunyata Black Mamba PC, etc. and never experience the brightness with my old speakers (B&W Matrix 803s). I found out that two of the binding posts on the speakers were loose (two small nuts on the inside of the speaker needed tightening). Problem solved. Make sure that all of your connections are good a tight.

Also, systems need time to "burn-in" Use it a lot for two weeks or more before you begin changing cables.

Happy listening,
I can only comment on the ARC integrated which is what I have in my second system. This may or may not help with the brightness, but a Shunyata Sidewinder Gold power cord is a perfect synergistic match for the Complete and it shouldn't break the bank for a good used one($225.00). Some good interconnects from your source will help as well.
Try Cardas Quadlink 5 interconnects. They should add a bit of warmth, and are definitely within your price range if purchased used.

Its your Source. Sell it and apply the extra money to a better source.
...tryin' to think of something other than applying to your system Valhalla speaker wires and interconnects or something mega-uga.

Firstly, I'd try to unterminate your speaker wires and use a bare-wire connection to your speakers and to the amplifier if possible; bananas in general do not provide the tight contact and only expencive locking ones are OK to combine a contact quality with convenience of plugging them on and off. Clean wires off once per week or two with 99% alcohol or any you'd find professional cleaning fluid.

Spray the volume control of your amp with anti-oxide fluid or replace it with DIY stepped one(piece of cake actually) from

Increase the angle of radiation of your speakers by placing something under: halfs of tennis or ping pong balls, hockey pucks.

Tweak your CD-player with the sam budget tweaks such as pieces of hockey pucks, halfs of tennis balls...
Power line conditioning and room acoustic treatments, anyone? Come on!
Speakers - according to the NRC's measurements, your speakers have a broad peak from about 750hz to 1500hz. This will overemphasize high vocal fundamentals, like sopranos, and instruments in the same range as a soprano voice and will more likely be perceived as brightness than a peak in the treble higher up. After dipping into the treble, there was also an on-axis rise from about 7khz up through 10khz and beyond from which you might perceive some sibilance or sizzle.

Walls, doors and windows reflect everything. So does the ceiling. Height of speaker stands. Toe-in. I wouldn't toe them in. Furniture. Leather and wood are reflective.

It isnt your amp. Your amp is a pretty good one to use with those speakers in fact. Nor can cables add any excess energy. Maybe there are cables that can function as tone controls in quieting the top end some, but there aren't any that can deal with the problem in the upper midrange (old school definition of midrange). I really doubt that your cd player is a problem either.

Drapes, soft furniture, room treatment. Or replace the speakers.
I agree with paulwp except for one issue, that is toe in. One of the ways of reducing side wall reflections is by EXTREME toe in. Try pointing the axis of the speakers inward well past the the listening position, say 45 degrees from straight ahead and see if that makes any difference in the peak, then bring them back towards the listening position til just before the peak become evident again. You may find that this will focus your center image and expand the listening position as well. Good luck.
Dont try to fix your system with wires, first of all you may want to look at some different speakers, then some nice speaker wire. Next start to work on front end and try to wire intire system with same brand wire as much as possible! If your room is bright you may want to address this area also. I think the speakers are the problem. What ever you do dont try to fix system with wires, as you'll never get there! Hope this helps!
Inexpensive wires can easily cause HF sibilance, particularly silver wires. In order to eliminate this, you will need continuous cast copper or silver or what I call "Perfect Crystal" wires. There are no cables except maybe some Harmonic Tech that are like this and also in your price range. I would recommend looking for used cables.
Sticking with the same brand of interconnects, Straightwire Rhapsody II intercoonect is a warm, fully bodied cable. This should tame your HF problem.
Phoenix Gold uses continuous cast, single crystal copper--if I'm not mistaken--and it's very reasonably priced...
Sorry about your brightness problem. Unfortunately, the cure may be complex since any incompatability between your components could be the cause including your speaker cable and interconnects. You might want to try the Cable Company 1-800-FATWYRE in order to see if your speaker wire or interconnects are the problem. You can rent almost any brand from them for very little money which you ultimately get back if you purchase anything from them. I had a similar problem a few years back until I started using MIT 750 Magnum Speaker Cable. Also found Transparent Audio speaker cable made a big difference in the bright department. Welcome to high-end audio. Loads of detail, soundstaging, deep bass, etc. BUT! Creating a system that is a great synergistic match resulting in great sound that you can listen to for long hours - that my friend is the hard part.
Summarizing this discussion I want to point out that wires being currently used do not bring an extra brightness and considered to be worm and great sounding for the budget.

Audo Refinement components are less likely to bright eather along with the speakers.

HK components do tend to sound bright as any of the poor quality transport.

If you somehow can stretch to $250 over $150 existing you can get Marantz CD67se used
thanks for all the advice!

thanks Paulwp for giving me a breakdown on the speaker as well.

i'll give the system a little more time to break in and try out different room arrangements before i buy anything new.

i'll try my friend's Straightwire Rhapsody II interconnects to see if it makes any difference.

i'm also thinking about trying out the Harmonic Technology Truthlinks.
Try experimenting with some different upgrade AC cords; if that's no help, then AC line conditioning to quiet down the line noise may help you out - both of these approaches did it for me when in a similar situation.
I don't have a quick fix for you. Actually, I have a question about the brightness you hear. Is it bright compared to other similar budget systems you've heard?

Here's why I ask. While you have a nice first system, almost any system in a similar budget range will have a degree of weaknesses. Brightness is often the problem because the components (especially speakers) will not be totally neutral and full-range. In addition, solid state components at a budget level will usually have a degree of glare and artifacts that can be associated with brightness. Budget CDPs are particularly bad in this area especially when attempting to listen at higher volumes.

What's the solution? Unfortunately, there probably is none at $150. My advice would be...

1. Don't stress over it. The curse of this hobby is that everytime you reach a certain performance plateau, you then want the next level. Trust me, you will probably one day have a system 2-3 times as expensive as your current system and still find things you want to improve. Ironically, it's that goal and potential for achieving something more that makes the hobby fun.

2. With $150, there ARE a few tangible things you can do to improve your sound. Unlike other suggestions, I would NOT start exchanging cables. Your cables do seem to favor the speed and clarity side versus warmth and liquidity, but they are plenty good enough for your current system. I wouldn't waste time and money on lateral $150 cable moves.

Instead, I would look at various tweaks for $150 that could improve your system more than you might think. In particular, room treatment and isolation devices would be where I would focus your attention. Almost any budget CDP responds well to isolation devices and they are relatively inexpensive or can be DIY. Same is true for room treament.

Despite having over $6000 retail in amps, $4500 in a preamp, $4000 in speakers, $2000 in CDP and $1000 in cabling, my system would still not reach its potential and keep me listening for hours if I didn't have a properly treated room and some of the inexensive but effective tweaks I use. Tweaks are also fun and teach you even more about how important EVERYTHING is to achieving the best possible sound.

Good luck
Well said, Labtec. I concur. Please take note, Derek.
thanks labtec,

i might try a friends' cable this weekend, but i don't plan on buying anything new...

maybe as you suggested, a few tweaks once i move it into a bigger room (thicker carpeting, thicker curtains).

i'll probably save my money for speaker stands too...(too bad they only sell sand in 50 lb bags though, i guess i'll be making a donation to the local children's playground after filling the stands).

for now i'll get a maple cutting board and vibrapods for my dvd player...

I would say that the biggest bang for the buck is going to be a good used CD player. My recommendation is a Rega Planet. It's very musical for the money, not harsh and bright like the HK. Get good components before looking for tweaks.
$150 a pair speakers will have siblance. Don't spend any money on any tweaks or cables until you replace them.

I am with those who suggest a used CD player.